Talk is Cheap, Writing is Deep; Workshop with Joni B. Cole

Of course I signed up for a Writer’s Workshop entitled Good Naked.

On Saturday morning, I take a flash-scan inventory of the participants waiting inside as I reach to open the glass door of the Burlington Writers Workshop. I instantly take note of the blond, alpha female. I have no idea she is Joni B. Cole until after I have claimed the empty seat next to her.

“I have three questions,” she says. “What did you have for breakfast? What makes the perfect breakfast? …and why are you writing?” Twelve would-be, could-be writers are provided with this means of breaking the ice while providing introductions around the table.

I made a spinach omelet that morning “…and it was the perfect breakfast,” I say. “I write to expose the truth. I want to find authentic ways to tell my stories without falling upon cliches in thought or words.”

Lastly, Joni confesses to a breakfast of 4 cups of coffee and a donut. Then, we began the work.

“The prompt is: I’m not sorry. Write for 11 minutes. Go,” she commands and I write:

I’m not sorry. We all have our individual paths, challenges obstacles gains, losses, surprises, disasters, blessings and curses to overcome. I am your father but I am also someone else’s kid. I have had the same kind of wins and losses that you’re experiencing. I have asked myself why, many more times than you have because I have been on this Earth for seven decades. So, do not expect an apology. I have yet to get one and I do not struggle with unfulfilled expectations.

I have often wondered why things seem to take place as if there was or is an external Force at work. Do you believe in destiny? Is there a reason why some people seem to win without trying while others struggle, hopelessly failing and failing again in a downward spiral? I believe there are significant events that mark points of decision. Some see them as turning points in retrospect — that time when you had to choose. That choice takes you forward or knocks you back. The choice is what matters. And, there are those who choose to freeze, making no choice at all, the ultimate failure.

I bought Joni B. Cole’s latest book, Good Naked: Reflections on How to Write More, Write Better, and Be Happier and abandoned any restraint on marking it up with a highlighter. This book deserves to be marked up. Joni’s book will spawn a rich collection of writer memes and words to write by. I ask her to sign my copy but I can’t read what she wrote. It does not say: Talk is cheap. Writing is deep. Taking action is even deeper. But that's the message I get from her. I say this to myself because I promise her I will write a review, and publish it in Amazon and Barnes & Noble. This is that review:

The first words I have underlined in my edition of Good Naked say, “What book? At the moment all you have is a feral pig.” Joni makes me laugh aloud. She will make you laugh again and again. On page 9, the second thing I underlined is a writing prompt: "Goodbye. I’ll miss you." She says, "Just put those words on the page and keep writing…"

I miss Joni B. Cole. I miss reading her latest book but I have a copy of her earlier work, Toxic Feedback: Helping Writers Survive and Thrive to soothe any grief. That title was published in 2006 and much like Good Naked, Joni is neither toxic nor unclothed but she bares her heart. That’s why I love her. She takes risks, choosing to level with everyone, be they a reader or a student in one of her workshops. Rather than place herself on an imaginary pedestal, she truly believes that everyone has a story to tell. Her goal is to empower anyone she encounters with confidence and a firm kick in the ass to get started. She allocates no time to waiting around for inspiration. Stop planning your next great novel and start writing.

“All behaviors and ideas are generative, building on the ones that came before. What this more realistic view of creativity means is that you are always in the flow.” – page 21. In other words, writer’s block is just an excuse to do nothing. The British call it being “work shy.” Joni wants those who follow her to have faith that out of the muck of whatever you write, there will be pearls worth retrieving.

“We need to respect even our predrafts. We need to recognize the value of every stage of the development of our manuscripts because if we don’t, we are always going to be apologizing, and are likely to overlook the crucial role that every draft serves in the creative process.” – page 86.

So this is my promise kept to Joni B. Cole, realized as a deep admiration for her work. She devotes her life to empowering others through her books and her writer’s workshops. If you are stuck, looking for inspiration, or in doubt regarding your value as a writer, Good Naked will light a candle in the dark spaces of your soul.

The last words I have underlined, on page 188 say, “I think the best choices in life, as in writing, come down to the answer to one overarching question: What is in service to our story?”

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