It’s the eve of the Maui Writers Conference, which they’re now calling the “Hawaiian Islands Writers Conference” because of its new location on Oahu, but like Coke Classic, I’m guessing the new name won’t stick. New names don’t seem to catch on, do they? Just like that restaurant in Princeville Shopping Center on Kaua’i. I think its name is CJs, but everyone still calls it Chuck’s, because that’s what it was for years and years. But John and Shannon Tullius, I’ll try to get it right.
Anyway, on the one hand, it feels like the first day of school here at the Ala Moana Hotel. Everyone’s a little tentative, going around introducing themselves, saying things like, “Where are you from?” and “What do you write?”
And, then, on the other hand, it’s like a high school class reunion. I arrived in Honolulu earlier this morning. Right after I registered for my hotel room, I registered for the conference. After getting that business out of the way, my first stop was the book store, of course. It’s a converted meeting room loaded with the books of authors who will be speaking here this weekend, as well as several banquet tables covered with a decent selection of books on writing. Standing in the doorway was none other than Patricia Wood—wearing her trademark color, white. I wrote about Pat’s rise to literary success for OutriggerHawaii.com. Before she could finish telling me all about the five days of the writing retreat, another woman approached. Turns out, she and Pat attended the retreat together last year. Then, someone else—another Maui, er, Hawaiian Islands Writing Retreat groupee—asked Pat to sign her book, Lottery. It was a parade of people. There was laughter and hugging and guffawing. When yet another woman entered the fray of frivolity, I gave up trying to figure out whether it was author Ann Hood or Anne LeClaire whom Pat was extolling in our halted conversation and started browsing the books.
“Oh, Kim, Kim,” Pat said. “I want to introduce you to, well, you know her. Everyone knows Jackie.”
Turns out, the newest person to the reunion was bestselling author Jacqueline Mitchard. As in, Oprah Book Club. The Deep End of the Ocean. Jackie and I discovered we grew up in neighboring suburbs of Chicago. Cool.
There was one short “pre-conference” workshop this evening led by Joe Ortiz. Joe’s bio in the conference program says he’s working on a “mini-self-help-memoir” with the working title, Why I Play Piano in a Coffee Bar. But his published body of work is more cooking related. Apparently, a couple of his books were nominated for the Julia Child Cookbook Award.
Joe spent the better part of an hour sharing techniques from artists to free up creativity. Did you know Matisse would paint standing up, using a long brush to draw on a canvas which he placed on the floor? The idea is to bypass the controlling left brain and inhabit the creative right brain as quickly as possible.
By the title of Joe’s memoir, you won’t be surprised to learn he even played a few notes on a portable keyboard in the hotel’s ballroom. Here’s where things got interesting. In jazz, Joe said the key is all about “motif.” Because I am not a musician and know very little about playing music, I looked up “motif” in my dictionary. (No, I did not drag my favorite monster dictionary from home; they only let you check one bag for free these days, you know. I looked up the word online.) The fourth definition for “motif” falls under the heading of music and reads, “a short prominent sequence of notes forming the basis for development in a piece of music.”
Think of motif as the left brain and creativity as the right brain. In writing, we want to go from left to right. The repeated sequence of notes will get us there. It’s a conscious means to reach the unconsciousness, where creativity abounds.
Here’s how all that translates to writing, according to Joe. Select a character from a piece of your writing. Then, write a short, short story (give yourself a set time, say 5 minutes) with alternating sentences of plot, dialogue and description, repeat, plot, dialogue, description, repeat, plot, dialogue, description, until time runs out.
Hopefully, at some point in the process, you’ll physically feel something. “When we go into our right brain, our body tells us,” said Joe. “That’s the good stuff.” That’s also when our mind wants to break out, when we start to hear other things, and when a new pattern emerges.
“That’s when it becomes beautiful. That’s art,” said Joe.
So, go ahead and give it a try. And let me know what happens.