Want a Workshop?
For those looking for a way to connect with other writers and get some high-quality instruction, I lead a small, intimate retreat on the North Shore of O‘ahu, where I grew up. The retreat is usually held in spring, with details on this site.
I do a limited amount of one-on-one coaching and editing. Please see The Prose Doctors for more on how that works.
I also happily give talks and lead workshops across the country to help professionals take their writing to the next level, or just perk up their prose. Sometimes these are for writers, sometimes for doctors, lawyers, merchants, chiefs. Send me an email via the Contact page to inquire about my availability and fees.
Here are some examples of my favorite talks and workshops, which can be tailored to particular audiences:
The Accidental Grammarian (or how a little wahine from O‘ahu ended up as “the sassy Safire”)
After a comical biographical introduction that includes the telling of “Little Red Riding Hood" in Hawaiian creole, I recount my bizarre experience of growing up on the beach in Hawaii (where I was “bilingual—in English!”) and share some unexpected lessons from Princeton and Berkeley. My real education as a journalist came at newspapers like the SF Examiner and magazines like Wired. Finally, I review the adventures I took in researching My books—through evolutionary biology, the evolution of English, the evolution of grammar, and the revolutions of writers as diverse as Shakespeare, Twain, Didion, and Díaz. (With a Bob Marley song and a Jo Ann Beard short story thrown in for good measure.) I end on a few secrets for wicked prose, culled from my irreverent books on language and literary style.
Total Risk, Freedom, Discipline (See this essay)
This talk explains and explores my writing mantra, which I borrowed years ago from a title of a show at the Guggenheim Museum. Discipline, for me, is the easiest part: Just get the butt in the chair by 10 am and keep it there for six hours. Freedom is a little harder to define, but it means getting myself unshackled and following rituals that help me free my time, my mind, my spirit. The risk is the hardest—it means not playing it safe, going to the edge, maybe writing something on spec rather than on assignment. Freedom and discipline are essential to my being able to be a professional writer. The freedom fuels me, keeps me creative; the discipline ensures that I get it done. But risk goes to the heart of why I write in the first place. It’s artistic, not professional: I want never to stop exploring, finding new vistas, and surprising myself.
The Seven Stages of Manuscript Grief (See this essay)
I walk writers through the seven discrete stages necessary for every manuscript. My humorous anecdotes help you understand the agony that comes before the ecstasy. I share not just the process of completing a manuscript, but also some practical tips on how to keep going.
Confessions of a Hybrid Author (See this essay)
This practical talk reveals how real authors actually scratch out a living. It combines personal anecdotes and reporting on recent studies about how websites and magazines really pay, and how advances really work (or don’t). I look digital and print, self-publishing and legacy publishing, writing and all other stuff (editing, coaching, teaching, landlording). I take a contrarian view on some of the hype about self-publishing (ie, how great it is. Not!), and then talk about why and when established authors might want to go the self-publishing or hybrid route.
When Your Inner Critic Is … Your Mother (Humorous tales from a writing coach)
I describe, frankly, the not-always-positive feedback I got from parents and others when I decided, post-college, that I wanted to be a writer. I reveal personal secrets and offer concrete ways that I have learned to quiet those internalized—and unhelpful—voices. I share strategies to conquer writers block. And I confront the painful reality of rejection, and how to deal with it. I draw from decades of personal experience here, as well as 30 years as a writing coach.
The Secret of Stick-to-it-iveness (aka, From Solid Midlist to Backlist Wonder in a Short 15 Years)
I trace, over 25 years, the importance of persistence. I quickly contemplate Edison’s “Genius is one percent inspiration, ninety nine percent perspiration,” considering how and why people I’ve known throughout the years gave up on their dream of writing. Then I get personal, telling the story of Sin and Syntax—its bumpy beginning, its dreaded “mid-list” period, and its emergence, after more than a dozen years, as a perennial seller with well over 100,000 copies in print. This talk is heavy on how important it is to believe in yourself, to adapt to an ever-changing world of publishing, to be entrepreneurial, and to never let rejection get the better of you.
NUTS AND BOLTS WORKSHOPS:
In each of the following workshops, which I tailor to specific audiences, I lead attendees through hilarious exercises to show them how to perk up prose. Evocative readings, witty challenges, and wacky contests encourage writers to stretch new muscles, disabuse themselves of bad habits, and duke it out in a war of words. I also give tips on how to cultivate the writer’s voice. We may romp a little through the history of English, bust a few myths of grammar teachers, and find inspiration in examples ranging from Shakespeare to Shake N Bake, Susan Orlean to Cormac McCarthy. The idea is to look closely at writing both lofty and low to help unlock a writer’s innate creativity. All sessions are perfect for writers in any genre who want to take their prose to the next level. No grammar competency required, but a sense of humor is a must.
Sin and Syntax: Making Sentences Sing
A Natural History of the Sentence: from the Swamp to Squidoo
Eight Ways to Skin a Sentence: Good Grammar for Great Writing
Finding Your Voice: Putting Your Soul (and wit!) into Every Sentence
Tracing the Narrative Arc: How to make a story rivet your audience
Notions of a Narrator: Exploring Voice, Point of view, and Subjectivity
First-Person Plural: Writing Memoir and Personal Essays
The World Is My Oyster: Writing about Food and Travel
ON THE BUSINESS OF WRITING:
Hang That Shingle: The Journalist as Entrepreneur
The Prose Doctor Is In: From Overhauling a Manuscript to Turning a Phrase
Demystifying the Book Business: What Every Author Needs to Know
I have been a speaker at these gatherings and professional associations:
Mokulē‘ia Writers Retreat (on O‘ahu’s North Shore)
Harvard’s Nieman Conferences on Narrative Journalism
The Latest in Longform: The Berkeley Narrative Journalism Conference
East Meets West: A Gathering of Literary Journalists in Berkeley
San Francisco Writers Conference
Los Angeles Times Book Festival
Hawaii Book and Music Festival
Maui Writers Conference
Honolulu International Film Festival
American Society of Journalists and Authors (ASJA)
American Association of Sunday and Features Editors
Asian American Journalists Association
Bay Area Editors’ Forum
California Writers Club (various chapters)
International Association of Business Communicators
Left Coast Writers Literary Salon (Corte Madera, California)
National Association of Science Writers
Princeton Women’s Network
San Francisco Chamber of Commerce
I have also led workshops at various institutions, including: Brown University (Warren Alpert Medical School), Harvard Medical School, KQED (Science desk), Mechanics Institute Library and Chess Room (San Francisco), the Providence Journal, Stanford University (Graduate Program in Journalism), Tufts University (Writing Across the Curriculum) and UC Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism.
I have been on the faculty at these schools:
The Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University
Harvard University Extension School
UC–Santa Cruz Extension
UC–San Diego Extension
The Writers Grotto
The Book Passage
The Writing Salon
Again, please send me an email via the Contact page to inquire about my availability and fees.