This is a four-week generative writing workhsop capped at 8 students taught in person at the Hudson Valley Writers Center in Sleepy Hollow, NY.
When I hiked (boast boast) in the Himalayan foothills, I noticed that the Nepalese climbing the stairs I was coming down, would often smile brilliantly: “Namaste,” they would say. Namaste, was said the way you or I might say: “Hi,” or “Cold enough for you?” Namaste—I was told—meant: “I bow to the divine within you.”
Many people write to express their divinity. They’d like to be outrageously popular, rich beyond the dreams of avarice. They would also like to be praised everywhere for decency, wisdom and beauty. What they will settle for? A touch of the divine.
The good news: in New York as in Nepal, we are all divine. The divine beast is what Freud called us.
The bad news: getting this quality into words can be extremely difficult. Though not always.
My father took me into his lap to read from a book about horses when I was five and he showed me how to act out the length of time taken off for a punctuation mark. I remember that you tapped your nose for a comma, pulled your ear lobe for a full stop. That was the last lesson he gave me. And yet I wanted to be a writer. I didn’t publish my first novel until I was deep into my forties, so I spent a long time gathering instructive quotations, hanging around with writers, holding jobs on the fringe.
I’d like to start each class with one or two pieces of advice that have held up for nearly a lifetime.
Then I will pass out an example of superb prose, and I’d like it everybody in the room to read it aloud. Then we can all settle down to write. Me too. You can be knitting a family history, a novel or even a dear John letter. During every hour of writing every student should feel free to come to me with a question. These sessions will last no more than three minutes. I want to be fair. I also want to get my own work done.
At the end of the class, I will take two pages from each students. These can be from older work or they can be emailed to me after the class. These offerings I will read in splendid solitude.
Those of you who want nothing but encouragement, encouragement and more encouragement, should tell me so, and that’s what you’ll get.
To want nothing but encouragement is not a shameful admission. Most writers need a larger cheering section than they will ever get. Those of you who want me to scrawl suggested changes on their drafts should say so.
This class will take place in-person at HVWC and will be capped at 8 people.
Ben Cheever edited The Letters of John Cheever and has published four novels (The Plagiarist, The Partisan, Famous After Death and The Good Nanny). He has written two books of nonfiction—Selling Ben Cheever and Strides. With illustrator Tim Grajek, he produced a children’s book tittled The First Dog. Ben taught writing at The New School for Social Research and in the Bennington MFA program. If you go to PCTV.76.org and type Ben Cheever into the search you can see him hosting a show started with Herb Hadad. Ben has free-lanced for The New Yorker and The New York Times. He’s chin-deep in a book on Canis Lupus Familiaris. He lives in Pleasantville, New York.