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Workshop for writers started

Chrysler Szarlan
By Courtney Llewellyn

Reminder Assistant Editor

WILBRAHAM Feeling stressed? Bored? Depressed? Writing may be the activity that can save your life. That's what author Chrysler Szarlan believes.

A former resident of the Hill Towns (like Cummington and Windsor), Szarlan said that she's been writing forever. She produced her first poetry at age five. Her resume lists her as an actor, an attorney and a writer, but its the latter profession that she's stuck with.

"I was unable to discover any writers' groups in this area," Szarlan said. She did not relish the long drives to Northampton or Amherst for groups in that area. "That was the impetus to start a group here."

Szarlan started writing novels about five years ago and recently had her first novel published. The tale started a short story and then "blossomed" into something much larger.

"It was quite a process," she said. The writers' groups in Northampton and Amherst helped her along her way during that process, but when Szarlan moved to Wilbraham she decided she needed to help beginning writers locally.

"All the lessons in my writers' workshop are geared for beginner writers," she explain. "It's for all those people that say they have a great idea for a novel but don't know how to get into it."

"If you're writing in isolation, it's easy to give up," she said. "I developed the Save Your Life writing classes to offer new writers in the area some guidance in a supportive atmosphere."

Her first series of classes will be held Wednesday evenings from 6 - 8 p.m. at the First Congregational Church in East Longmeadow, from July 25 - Aug. 22. "It's all about gaining confidence," she said. "I think the novel form is actually easier for a beginning writer than short story or poetry. Longer writing projects are messier and more forgiving."

She chose to hold the classes in East Longmeadow because it is easily accessible from Springfield and the surrounding towns.

Lessons she'll be reviewing with the 10 writers who sign up for her workshop include how to structure a story using things like outlines, index cards or even the leap method, which involves jumping from one part of a story to another and then connecting them.

"This is a way for people to grasp their project and explore what tools work best for them," Szarlan explained.

Her most potent advice is to read. "You need to read to be a writer," she stated. She believes Stephen King to be a fantastic non-fiction writer on the topic of writing, as is Natalie Goldberg.

The title of her workshop, Save Your Life Writing, has a dual purpose. "Writing brings us closer not only to our inner selves but also the world around us," Szarlan said. "And any act that does that, and makes us really wake up and pay attention, has the potential to save us from anxiety or boredom or depression, to really enrich our lives."

The other purpose? "It would make a great title for a series of projects," she said. She's currently working on a self-help book ("Writing Can Save Your Life") and has ideas for things like "Motherhood Can Save Your Life" or "Dogs Can Save Your Life."

"The 'Save Your Life' writing classes can help you get your book project going, and you don't have to leave Hampden County," Szarlan said.