Our Available Wilderness: Using Personal Experiences and Memories to Elevate Fiction and Nonfiction

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Our Available Wilderness: Using Personal Experiences and Memories to Elevate Fiction and Nonfiction


In Our Available Wilderness, author and publisher Robert James Russell will examine how we can strengthen our writing, both fiction and nonfiction, using our own memories and experiences, as well as all of our senses, to elevate our work to a publishable level. 

The Midwestern states are often called “flyover country”—people tell us our homes, our landscapes, do not matter. But, of course, they do. We all have a story. Stuart Dybek once said, “Each of our lives are beautiful,” and that is the basis of this workshop: How can we strengthen our writing using what has happened to us, what we’ve seen? What elevates a story or essay, the pieces you read in books or online? Good fiction is populated with truths from our lives, and astute authors call upon their memories to round out the emotional landscape of the characters and illustrate events, resulting in writing that is more real and lived in, drawing us further into the fold. It’s the details, colored in with personal experiences, that push the work to a higher level and stay with readers, inspiring—or unsettling—for years to come. 

Russell will address the adage of “Write what you know”—often erroneously called restrictive—discussing how it’s anything but, how our lives are a gift, how no one can write just like you. We each have a sea inside us, mountain ranges where stories and visuals and important conversations reside. Our goal is to look deep, dive in, scale up, and harvest these moments. 

Russell will teach writers how to tap into memories and physical senses, why physical and place-setting details are essential to good writing, and how our own histories are rich with stories worth telling, no matter the genre. Writers will leave this workshop with a renewed sense of pride in their personal experiences. In addition, Russell will discuss important resources for writers, examples of fiction and nonfiction that instruct and move us, and resources for getting pieces published. This workshop is designed for writers of all levels and backgrounds. 

When: Friday, December 1st, 6:00pm-7:30pm

Saturday, December 2nd, 9:30am-3:30pm (Lunch break at noon)

Sunday, December 3rd, 9:30am-3:30pm (Lunch break at noon)

Where:  Iowa Writers' House, 332 East Davenport St

Cost: $265 ($235 early bird pricing through September 1st)

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