Pam Houston Workshop Recap

By Stephanie Vessely

We often hear people say that writing is a practice, and it is. One must constantly work at improving one’s craft by forming sentence after sentence, day after day, year after year. But for writer Pam Houston, who was at BookBar Wednesday to teach a workshop as part of her Deep Creek book tour, the practice begins before the pen ever hits the page.

“For me,” she says, “writing begins in the physical world.” Writing is about paying attention, with all five senses, to the real things happening around us every day. Maybe it’s an overheard conversation, the way the sun reflects off of a pond, or a colorful vase on a table. It doesn’t matter what it is. What matters is to notice what you notice, even if—especially if—you don’t understand or know why you’re noticing. It’s also important to record the details of what you notice in a notebook or in a file on your computer, and not think about it too much.
Houston calls what she notices on any given day “glimmers,” and these glimmers are how she writes books. Her glimmers lead her—sometimes years later—to metaphor, juxtaposition, and narrative. And in her workshop Wednesday, she taught a few dozen women how to begin creating their own glimmer collection. The goal of each writing exercise she offered was to tap into the subconscious mind and delve into ever deeper layers.
My own exercise had me noticing the bracelet a woman nearby was wearing, which reminded me of something a psychic told me many years ago, which, once I remembered it, fit almost perfectly into what had been going on the week prior to the workshop. From there, an essay may be born. Houston doesn’t call her methods magic, but that’s what it felt like to me.