Lit Starts | Well-known writers’ collective offers “how-to-write” books, workshops

Writing is serious, hard work. But it’s also fun, which is why Lit Starts (Abrams), a new series of pocket books by San Francisco-based Writers Grotto authors is an excellent opportunity to explore the craft.

Writers Grotto, founded in 1994, is a collective of more than 100 professional writers, including journalists and novelists, podcasters and poets, comedians and filmmakers, playwrights and publishers. Members have written New York Times bestsellers, feature films, and television series, and have won everything from Pushcarts to Pulitzers.

To introduce the books, writer/educator/blogger Constance Hale and other Writers Grotto members involved in the series are leading writing workshops at independently-owned Bay Area bookstores this month. At Mrs. Dalloway’s in Berkeley on September 19 (the only East Bay venue), the flash-writing is all about action. Bonnie Tsui, a longtime contributor to The New York Times, author of American Chinatown and writer of the Writing Action book’s introductory essay, leads the session. (Learn more about the series and workshops.)

The first four books in the series address writing humor, dialogue, character and action. Each slim book offers an introductory essay on the topic, followed by up to 50 prompts and fill-in pages to complete the exercises.

Constance Hale is the San Francisco–based journalist and the author of the four cheeky writing manuals, part of the Lit Starts series. She can be found at
(photo courtesy of Writers Grotto website)

“The books are dead serious about the craft and give people helpful information,” says Hale. “But at the same time we tried to make them fun and cool looking. They’re easy-to-use little workbooks, but they’re smart and go to the heart of what we believe is important.”

That paradox becomes real when people in a 60-second exercise are asked to pick synonyms for a particular adjective, or in another example, are tasked with replacing humdrum verbs with more provocative alternatives.

“That seems easy—any first grader can do it—but it’s really hard to come up with a whole bunch of synonyms in a minute and a whole bunch of good ones. You might have 15, but if they are all the most common ones, you won’t win the contest,” says Hale. “That’s how writing is.”

“That’s what separates the great writers: they think about every word.”

Writer/educator/blogger Constance Hale

Of course, there is no one, perfect word or way to write. Hale, Tsui and other professional authors approach writing from multiple angles: flash writing using a prompt, free writing in which a person simultaneously creates and discovers a path to follow, and more. “All of us (both professional and novice writers) may welcome prompts because it takes you to a new place. There’s a part of writing that’s conscious and there’s another place that’s imaginative. The best of us want to have all of those muscles developed.”

The Lit Starts book events conclude on September 25 at Writing Humor at Green Apple On the Park in San Francisco. Writing Memoir and Writing Science-fiction Fantasy are scheduled to be released next year.

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