Writing Lessons: Joan Mora

In our Writing Lessons series, writers and writing students will discuss lessons learned, epiphanies about craft, and the challenges of studying writing. This week, we hear from Joan Mora, an attendee of the Napa Valley Writers’ Conference and Oxford University’s Summer Program in Creative Writing. You can follow Joan on Twitter @joanmorawrites—Andrew Ladd, Blog Editor

One day last summer I drove by a cornfield, my eye catching now and then on random ambitious stalks, their tassels rushing toward the sun. Waving a good six inches or more above their neighbors, they defied nature. They stood out. They surprised me.

I stopped the car on the side of the road and stood at the edge of the field. I glanced past the masses of level stalks. My eyes darted from high flier to high flier. The unique stalks were taller, yes, and often twisted or bulbous or arched. They deserved my attention.

I snapped a photo and went on my way. But those stand-outs stuck with me.

I might be a loner, but I love being around other writers. I want to learn from them and with them. I want to fit in. During the past ten years, I’ve attended many conferences and enrolled in several fiction workshops or writing courses.

In August I participated in a fiction workshop led by Christopher Tilghman at the Napa Valley Writers’ Conference. He encouraged us to attend all the workshops and readings, not only in fiction, but also in poetry. And I realized that I must be a zealous cornstalk. I must stretch and reach for the sun. To write the unexpected, the twisted, the arched.

To write sentences and phrasing I haven’t read before. To share reflective thoughts that are uniquely mine, yet relatable to others. To catch readers off guard, leave them feeling drained or stunned or enlightened or frightened. To deserve attention.

On the plane to Napa, I had worried. Will I fit in? Now, I wonder, how can I stand out?

To submit your own essay to Writing Lessons, read our guidelines here.