Teaching lessons in unconscious writing

Robert Wolf, a former columnist for the Chicago Tribune, will host a series of writing workshops in Michigan City this weekend.

MICHIGAN CITY — Robert Wolf wants prospective writers to lose the editor in their heads, and let their unconscious take over the creative work.

And to this end he’s hosting a series of writing workshops in Michigan City.

“This shop is really about freeing people up and teaching them to improvise and get rid of the editor that’s in their head,” he said. “For years I’ve had an editor that lives in my head, and he’s not a nice guy. Tells me I’m using the wrong word, or no comma goes there. I want to let the unconscious do some of the work. It opens up new sounds, new ideas, new rhythms.”

Wolf, who’s a former columnist for the Chicago Tribune and has been holding writing workshops across the country for the past 30 years, will be bringing his lessons to Michigan City this weekend at The Nest, 803 Franklin Street.

The writing activities will kickoff Friday at 7:30 p.m. with a reading of stories from Wolf’s publishing house, Free River Press, written by everyday people. The event is free and open to the public

The writing workshops will be held 10 a.m. Saturday and Sunday. The cost for each day is $30.

According to a press release from The Nest, Saturday's workshop is devoted to learning techniques that develop spontaneity, like Jack Kerouac’s method of spontaneous prose composition and Gertrude Stein’s stream-of consciousness technique for creating portraits of everyday objects.

Participants will go to the nearby streets to practice Kerouac’s method and use objects in The Nest to practice Stein’s.

On Sunday, participants will read “October in the Railroad Earth,” Kerouac’s first work of spontaneous prose, then write their own improvised story or revise an earlier one, The Nest said. Then they will read examples of imagist poetry (Ezra Pound & H.D.) and imitate these examples.

Wolf said he started hosting these workshops as a way to create a collection of American autobiographies. It began with a writing workshop for the homeless in Nashville that ran for two years and resulted in five books. Then Wolf moved to Iowa and ran a workshop for two winters there, creating three books. He has since expanded to San Francisco, Chicago, New York and other cities in the U.S.

“I had actually taught college and GED at the New Mexico State Penitentiary,” he said. “Then when my wife and I moved to Nashville, I had to invent a living for myself, and since I loved GED work, that’s what I said I wanted to do. So I got a job teaching GED for the homeless. But most had high school degrees and some had college degrees, so there was no point in teaching them GED, so my boss said improvise, and that’s how I started.”

He said the Michigan City workshop is focused on developing spontaneity in writing, which is different from his past workshops, which focused more on illuminating what a specific town or region of the country was like.

“I’ve done workshops for cowboys and their wives out in Texas and New Mexico,” he said, “to let people know in Los Angeles and New York know what it’s like to live out there and what their work is like.”

Wolf used to write the Family Fare column for the Chicago Tribune, as well as entertainment features delving into such subjects as professional wrestling, rugby and the occult.

But as far as this weekend is concerned, he just wants everyone to have fun.

“That’s going to be the main thing,” he said, “to get people to fall in love with writing if they’re not already in love with it. It’s going to be a weekend of experimentation.”

For more information, contact the Nest at 219-262-5200, or visit their page on Facebook.

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