Where I’ve Been: Part 2 — In Class with Lydia Davis

For five weeks, on Tuesday nights in October and the beginning of November, I’ve spent a few hours in a room at the University of Albany with a few fellow writers and the multiple-award winning writer Lydia Davis.

My classmates — all published writers — were talented and well-spoken, even if a few weren’t as gregarious as others.

Speaking of gregarious, Lydia encouraged all of us to track metaphors in are daily lives — to include them in the things we overhear and read as part of our writer’s diaries — and that common abstract words like “gregarious” were derived from metaphors, because the word stems from a Greek word for “herd.”

As for what to include in our writer’s diaries, Lydia suggested that she writes “whatever goes into my mind that interests me.”

Most of the class was a writers workshop, reading fellow writers’ stories-in-progress and talking about them, which is always interesting to me. And we got to know each other by sharing what we’ve read in the past year — and that “reading diary” moment generated a long reading list for me.

In terms of talking about the craft of writing, Lydia shared what she called five different kinds of narration, which she wasn’t sure if she had ever seen before but thinks she may have made up as a way of taking a writerly approach to reading to discover what a writer was doing in certain passages (and how a reader may want to make use of those moments in his or her own writing).
These five categories aren’t anything new, but they offered a practical way of reading:

1. Action: characters do things
2. Comment: a reflection on something from a point of view
3. Description: things shown through sensory detail
4. Dialogue: characters talk
5. Exposition/back story: things get explained, or histories get filled in

It was all good stuff, and I enjoyed my fellow students’ writings immensely.

So even though this all came right in the crush of the new website I have been working on, I’m glad I was able to take part. And it was free, courtesy of the New York State Writers Institute.

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