‘WRITE LIKE Chekhov’ gets to the core of his work

WRITE LIKE Chekhov is the latest in a Series of WRITE LIKE workshops, designed to model our writing on specific practice of a writer as our model.

Illustrative experiences of WRITE LIKE: The young writer who’d never read Hemingway, flattered to be told he wrote like him, horrified to read Old Man & The Sea, glad to be set straight on the effects that earned the accolade were found in A Farewell To Arms, four decades earlier. An older woman who learned being a “Smart Mouth” was simply how professional satirists keep in practice, in Dorothy Parker’s book. The writer who discovered that he shared much more with George Orwell than a passing interest in dystopian fiction. The writerswho discovered that Nature writing could be poetry, or a story about fishing with your kid. The writer who learned how Mark Twain landed a joke.

This is done in a room, with other writers —including a facilitator (me) who is trained to find something to admire in every writer. So, we are also looking at the practice of our colleagues, gleaning approaches and techniques we admire. It doesn’t mean we have to write standing up, be a mean drunk, or get overfamiliar with guns. It doesn’t mean LIVE LIKE Hemingway. Especially if there are better models for your particular lifestyle, writing style and their complex interface.

And it should be noted here that every observation is coupled with an exercise.It’s all well and good to say right better or right like this or that. The trick is as in theater or any other art form: do it.

So what have I learned about Chekov? And how will we activate that in writing. In an hour and a half

There are a pair of famous often quoted ‘Rules for Writers’ attributed to Anton Chekov. They are generalized rules for writing he shared his writer brother when he was 25. They capture nothing of what is unique to Anton’s work. But they do point to some interesting developments ACROSS his work.

Chekhov articulated 6 specific principles that point to his future development. They are not often quoted because they go against favored practices of many writers: Anton is not -pertinent example- a fan of overtly socio-economic or political speeches in plays. So, Chekhov is not the ideal model, if you want to write political speeches. But if you like emotional monologs, you need to know about the Chekhov Rant. And if you find undercurrents of a socio-economic nature in Chekhovian drama, you have the support of the best observers. 

Speaking of scholarship, I took a dive deep enough to get down into the murky world of translation, where one scholar Identified 8 techniques that they feel define the unique aspect of Chekhovian Mood, across 145 translations. If you find that ineffable atmosphere in Chekov as compelling as I do, you will want to work with these 8 elements.

And translation brought up the topic of tragic sensibility and national character. I spent time with this because I have a writer who is a fan of my courses, who is brainy and philosophical, who is multinational, and who speaks Russian. Chekhov himself was interested in national character. And Chekhov felt Russians lacked a tragic sense, or more correctly that his ability to see it was a function of a dialog between laughter and death.

If you’re a fan of the ineffable, the intangible, the poetry that emerges out of silences, you’ll find that. But it is not just a magic wand you wield; you still have to know the magic words. And even with the right words, there’s a necessary frame for the work.

You don’t need any background in Chekhov to participate. But you will need to write.

WRITE LIKE Chekhov a workshop with Tim West

A suggestion (from a Meisner-trained actor I admire but don’t know) to promote the course via my website struck me as eminently sensible. I was particularly keen to see theatre folk take an interest in Chekhov’s dramaturgy.

My course in PLAYMAKING (v. V-VIII) and monthly WRITE LIKE Series for 2021 are going quarterly in 2022. 

PLAYMAKING I-IV and WRITE LIKE Hemingway, Dorothy Parker George Orwell, Mark Twain drew returning writers, always a good sign. Writers evidently responded to both approaches.

Breaking PLAYMAKING down into Dialog, Story, Stagecraft and Development made it possible for students to offer up their works-in-progress at any time, knowing that the discussion would be pertinent to their own work. Students used exercises learned in session to further scripts outside of the workshop.

And WRITE LIKE allows writers to model our work on very specific, widely-read and well-known canonical authors who evince an interest in their own process. Repeat students were attracted to connection of their own practices as a writer with a positive  ‘best practices’ model from a familiar and successful professional practitioner.

So many writing courses are predicated on a prescriptive ‘rules-based’ approach. That is not my own practice, and as an artist and an educator, I deeply distrust it.

If ‘Rules’ work for you, fine, do that. They just never have, for me. If art were about ‘Rules,’ the practice of it wouldn’t so evidently privilege the Rule-Breaker tribe. And just about every list of ‘Rules’ notes that exceptions are not only permissible, but advisable, once we have internalized the Basics.

The Basics, however, are already internalized, latent in the writer. Writing advice that starts with “Rules’ for Basics are oriented toward absolute Beginners as practicing artists or creative writers. This is because beginners are the students who provided the major market for most teachers of writing. Any subject becomes increasingly more difficult to teach, as learners approach Proficiency. So, how do we get at that growth? How do we conduct a course so that writers of any skill levels are served?

The key is the connection to your OWN writer’s practice. There are LOTS of generalized ‘best practices’ for writers. The more canonical authors we’ve all been exposed to provide specific models in practice, for for analysis and deployment. So do your own favorite writers, who may not be generally own, but are still susceptible to your analysis.

So, as a teacher, I take the time most writers don’t have to conduct multiple deep dives into an admired individual writer’s practice. We’ll connect that with you, and your awareness of your own practice. Why do you want to WRITE LIKE this writer? What is it in the work that draws you? Let’s dive into that.

So — writer, playwright, thoughtful theatre artist — if you enjoy Chekhov’s writing, and think you might benefit from a closer look at his dramaturgy, this workshop will help you detect and develop useful techniques for your own writing practice.

3:00-4:45 Sunday NOV 14 Fall for Writers at San Diego Writers, Ink.

2021-11/14 (Fall For Writing) Write Like: Chekhov with Tim West