Two authors will be leading classes for writers this winter at Eagan's Wescott Library.
When writer's block kicks in, don't blame yourself. Blame your brain, says author and Loft Literary Center instructor Rosanne Bane.
The region of the brain that encourages creativity, she says, has to battle the part of the brain that responds to stress. "If we are threatened, the limbic system kicks in, and the limbic system doesn't care about our writing," says Bane, the author of several books, including the upcoming "Around Writer's Block: Using Brain Science to Write the Way You Want," to be published by Penguin Press.
All the things often touted as good writing practice -- seeing writing as a process, breaking it down into manageable chunks, making it a regular habit -- are backed by neuroscience, says Bane, who will conduct a class called "The Writing Habit" at Eagan's Wescott Library this winter.
"Sometimes it feels like this really big overwhelming process, and you don't know where to start," she says. "It's really about taking this writing goal and breaking it down into bite-sized pieces. People experience a lot less resistance with small pieces. I recommend that people commit to no more than 15 minutes [at a time]. What usually happens is that it helps them get past that initial inertia and they keep writing."
An avid dog trainer, Bane is also big on rewards, and she puts 50 cents in a jar whenever she sits down to write. "If I waited for my dog or puppy to run up and down a teeter-totter perfectly, she never would have done it," says Bane. "I had to break it down into lots of steps along the way and reward her."
She also encourages students to be comfortable with imperfection. "When your project is in the puppy stage of development, don't expect it to look like an adult dog," she says.
"I believe ideas happen in layers," says Sarah Tieck, who also will teach a spring writing class in Eagan. "Don't try to make it perfect before you start working with it."
A former editor at Minnesota Monthly, Tieck freelances and edits and writes nonfiction books for children. She says she tries to schedule practical activities that address problems she's had in her own writing. "I can't tell you how many creativity books that I've read and wanted to throw them against the wall," she says.
In publishing, "everything is changing so fast," she says. "We try to help them figure out how to navigate it." She also tries to get students to overcome nervousness about submitting their work for publication. "It's kind of scary to put your stuff out there, whether you've done it a million times or not," she says.
"Sarah was particularly delightful to learn from," says Agatha Vaaler of Minneapolis, who took a course with Tieck last fall at the Westcott library. "She's clearly accomplished, and she thought a lot about designing the class. I think she really wants to tap her students' creativity and see it flourish."
"She really humanized the experience of a writer trying to get published," she says. "She made us feel that we are all equals, that you don't have to be super-professionals to find yourself in print. After the class, I certainly thought I would be more likely and less intimidated to give it a shot." Vaaler now is working on an essay for a Feb. 1 deadline.
Liz Hewitt of St. Paul, a regular blogger who says she started thinking more about her audience after taking the course last fall, also has plans to submit.
"Through this class, I wrote an essay I really like," she says. "It's my goal to put it out there."
Liz Rolfsmeier is a Minneapolis freelance writer.