Who Is CD Mitchell?
Christopher D. Mitchell received a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from the University of Memphis. Over the years, he has taught a variety of college level writing courses including advanced creative writing. He has published two books (Alligator Stew: More Stories from Delbert, Arkansas and God's Naked Will and other Sacrilege: Stories), six short stories that appeared in anthologies, fourteen separate works of short fiction, and nine creative nonfiction pieces. He has received several awards including the Silver Medal for Best Short Fiction from Florida Authors and Publishers Association in 2014. A man of great talent and a generous heart, CD has offered to teach Southeastern Writers Association's first ever online teaching workshop. Many of you know CD from former SWA June conferences at St. Simon's Epworth by the Sea.
SWA President Amy Wethington interviewed C.D. about his workshop plans:
AW: What can we expect from this exciting online class?
CD: I will critique writing exercises performed during the class and most of the in-class work will revolve around editing and rewriting five page sections from participant’s own writing.
AW: What will the participants need?
CD: All that will be needed to participate will be five highlighters of different colors and two excerpts of five pages from two different pieces of your own work.
AW: Wow! That sounds fantastic. Tell me more about what you are planning.
CD: Here is what I have in mind. I have been with your group twice now. They are all mostly advanced writers. So I thought I might use a lesson I did with my advanced fiction writing classes at the University of Alabama. The classes were centered around a theme of “Developing your Style as a Writer.” Many times writers feel like all they have to do is tell a compelling story and find a good editor to correct their grammatical mistakes. But telling a good story is only half of the task. The way a writer composes his sentences and paragraphs allows the writer to develop his own style and facilitates his storytelling. I would start with some very basic grammar. I introduce them to simple subject verb object sentences.
Example: Dick ran up the hill. Jane carried the bucket.
From there I introduce them to coordination and subordination and how to use a semicolon. The object is to show the writers in the class how sentences are varied to provide additional meaning and to change patterns of writing so our stories don’t read like nursery rhymes. Students were then challenged to select five pages from their own writing and to go back and analyze each paragraph to see how they could vary their sentence structures. If a paragraph has five subject-verb-object sentences, then the student can use either or both subordination and coordination to add some variety and change the tone of that paragraph.
AW: Sounds awesome!
CD: As a part of this lesson I also work on using and writing with nouns and active verbs. I challenge students to take different colored highlighters and to go back through the first five pages of one of their stories to highlight all adjectives, adverbs and be-verbs (any inactive verb such as be, being, been, was, were, would, could, should, etc. Then they are encouraged to re-write those sentences eliminating all of those words.
AW: That’s a valuable exercise that I’m sure will be a great help to improve writing skills.
CD: I use examples of writers who are experts in this technique whose writing seems to crawl right off the page because they use so many active verbs. I also give them five pages of my own writing to go through and highlight all of my use of inactive verbs.
AW: So eliminate be-ing verbs like is or was and change them to active verbs like run or ran.
CD: Exactly. When they read the first five pages of my writing, mindful of my use of active verbs then they can begin to see who their own favorite writers do the same. Most aspiring writers read these things and never realize it is a conscious effort on the part of the author to write this way. This type of writing then becomes a habit. The best thing about this approach is that most of the time the writers spend critiquing and rewriting their own work! Sorry I ran so long but I thought I’d share with you some of what I have in mind. Some may thing this is boring, but it can truly advance writing skills. People simply groan when they hear “Grammar”.
AW: No worries regarding length. I appreciate knowing what you are thinking regarding content of your workshop with us. Grammar is underrated but remains relevant to good writing.
CD: The best writers have truly unique ways in connecting and combining their sentences. Once writers become aware of these things and start writing using these techniques the skills become habits that truly affect your writing for the rest of your life! I am working on a write up of this for you. I have the lessons ready but this will take some time for us to set up a way to do this and for you to advertise it. I anticipate giving some advance instructions asking participants to gather at least five different colored highlighters and to have printed off five pages from two different pieces of their own personal writing.
AW: I suppose they could also use highlighter tools in word and do this all electronically… for those of us who don’t have ready access to a printer or are environmentally conscious. So when do you think this will be up and running?
CD: We should be able to get this done by late June I should hope. The problem I am running into right now is we are getting crazy busy at work. Enough time has lapse since the tornado we had here that construction work is incredibly busy and we are now in our normally insanely busy time of the year. But don’t worry, this will not keep me from doing the classes. I’m looking forward to paying it forward as they say. I’ll get to work on that handout so it can be distributed to the participants. That way they’ll have it in advance and can print it off and or look it over in advance.
AW: I love handouts so that’s a great idea. Alex can post them on our member only page as soon as you get them ready.
CD: All right! I am excited to do this for the group. You have such an impressive group of writers and PEOPLE! It is my humble honor to serve such a dedicated group of writers. I am simply paying forward the time that so many talented writers I love and respect have selflessly given to me. I can only hope I can share some things that will truly make a difference!
AW: We thank you! We are deeply grateful to you and your generous offer to help us become better writers.