Read the interview here on Jane Friedman’s site. I’ve mentioned Jane Friedman before. Her site is like the Fort Knox of information for writers. Gold standard, gold mine, gold star–okay, enough. Some days I think my blog should simply be: check out Jane Friedman, repeated two or three times a week.
So much to read on editing and writing and publishing, so little time . . . so I often miss things the first time around. Or read them and file them somewhere on my computer. (I am most definitely not of the clean desk, focused mind school of thought.) This interview is a few months old. Apologies if you’ve already seen it.
April Eberhardt is an agent in the Bay Area, who’s embraced the changing landscape of the publishing world. This interview presents a good overview of that world in general, and good women’s fiction in particular. I urge you to check out her site as well.
What I particularly want to call out and re-emphasize is her recommendation to writers to read. My first creative writing teacher in college made form, function, and imitation assignments: write a poem in the style of ee cummings, a Shakespearean sonnet, like that. That’s one way of learning to write by reading. There are others.
For me reading and writing are like one compound activity. As I read I notice pacing, story arc, characterization techniques, choice of details–dozens of things I’m not even necessarily consciously aware of. It becomes something akin to muscle memory that I bring it to my own writing.
And when I teach or coach writers I almost always encourage them to read something that their work reminds me of in some way or for some specific purpose.
Read on and write on!
Of course when we’re writing, the first sentence we put down on paper (up on the screen) isn’t always (often) the final first sentence. We rethink and revise before publishing. But we need something to get us going. And I think it’s inspiring, sometimes a direct trigger to my own writing to read lists like this.
What is going to happen next?
That, of course, is a question I ask myself after almost every single sentence (and sometimes word) when I’m writing a poem or a story or working on a novel. I think it’s a good question for narrative non-fiction as well, even when we think we know full well what happened next in the scene we’re reporting.
Enough said. Here’s Stephen King’s take on 50 best opening sentences.
If you live in the SF Bay area, if you’ve long wanted to write or book, or are stuck in the middle of the book, join me at Book Passages in Corte Madera for six Sundays beginning April 17 for a workshop on narrative techniques in fiction and non-fiction.
Click here for details and to register for the workshop.
You’ll get personal feedback on your chapters, stories, outline, and an honest assessment on how and where you might seek publication. You’ll get advice on making and executing a plan to publish your work from an editor and publisher with more that 40 years in the publishing business, who has edited everything from NY Times Bestsellers to amazing tales of other worlds, non-fiction and some fiction. (You can find more information about me on this site.)
I usually only work one on one, at a much higher cost to writers. So this is a rare opportunity of good value and an opportunity to hang out with other writers. There aren’t that many spots left. The workshop is limited to 10.
Join me if you can. (And if you can’t, please pass this invitation along).
This post is a version of the dog ate my homework, or why I haven’t posted anything for two months. Around that time I posted my intention to do a one line writing practice every day, inspired by an article about a NY Times videographer. It was going to be a little side project, an exploration, while I did my real writing and work–this blog, two manuscripts I’m in the midst of, and some editing and consulting. Well, life intervened in the form of a medical crisis (I’m on the mend) and a hugely disruptive leak that forced me to move out of my condo for a period of time only days after surgery (I’m still not home).
And practically the only writing I’ve managed to do is those one-liners, recorded in the “notes” section of my phone. And, at the end of the year, I’ll have an archive of a kind I’ve never had before.
Being on the mend, I’m turning my thoughts to other projects. I’ve found a few interesting articles to post about. Watch for those in the coming days.
And I’m working on a workshop I’ll be teaching coming up next month (April 17th) for six weeks at Book Passages in Corte Madera, CA (for those of you who might be in Northern California). Here’s the link: Workshop information.
There’s very little I love more in the world that talking with writers about what they’re doing, sharing techniques, giving feedback, helping them shape their work. This workshop will be a chance to do it in a small group. There will be assignments designed to help you dig deeper; feedback on your work in progress; and fun!
Write on, through thick and thin. Don’t think about it too much. Just sit down and do it. That’s my instruction to myself for this week.
This post comes under the do as I say, not as I necessarily do. And what I have to say here is nothing new under the sun. People have written whole books about this (Julia Cameron, Natalie Goldberg, and so many others). I’m saying it again because a small story in the New York Times at the end of the year struck me. A video reporter made a one-second video (almost) everyday for a year. As I read Daniel Victor’s article about his experience I translated it into a writing exercise that I’ve just begun.
I’m kind of a technidiot (shh! don’t tell). So I’m not going to make a one-second video everyday, although I did recently video my grandson successfully navigating his new skateboard for the first time. What I’m doing is writing a caption to the one-second video, moment caught in time, in my head.
Today’s is: Give up the concept of buttoned down.
One line, once a day. Maybe nothing will come of this. Maybe I’ll get bored. And, maybe, just maybe I’ll learn something about myself and my work. Maybe a germ will grow into a bigger idea. Maybe a poem will be born. Or a bit of character description and back story for my novel in progress. So I’m going to try it. Click here to see the article.
Say what? Yes. Research your own story. Everybody has a story. And everybody’s story fits into some larger picture–family, community, corporation, school, world. How does yours fit in where?
Here’s an eclectic, but much thought about, list of things you might want to research as you figure out how to frame and position your story. I’ve also found that research can be a good cure for writer’s block or bump in the road.
- Top 40 songs the month your memoir starts.
- Headlines from your local newspaper or Time magazine for the period you’re writing about. What was going on in the world?
- Everyday things–grocery prices, inflation rates, gas prices, college tuition.
- The town(s) your ancestors/relatives emigrated from.
- Who you were named after.
- What your grandmother or grandfather did for a living. (I, for instance, come from several generations of crafts people and entrepreneurs. It turns out that not everything they did was entirely legal. Interesting for memoir or fiction. And good luck getting to the not entirely legal parts. It’s all whispers and innuendo.)
- Family secrets.
You get the idea. Here’s a few things you might do with that research.
Hypothetical: you’re writing about the time you made early career and relationship decisions, right after college. You graduated from college in say 1970. You probably remember how much you made at your first job and how much you paid in rent. But do you remember how much a gallon of gas was? Or a pound of hamburger or brown rice? What was happening in the world the month you graduated? (I happen to have graduated in 1970 and many campuses around the country were shut down. But I don’t remember the exact sequence of events, and if I were to be writing about my personal history I’d want the details of Kent State and campus protests to be woven accurately into that story.)
Hypothetical: you’re writing about an event in your life that could be affected by your family history–perhaps how old your grandmother was when your mother was born. And the family Bible, your Aunt Edith, and your childhood memory of grandma’s stories are all slightly different. To my way of thinking, there’s a couple of ways of researching this part of the story and deciding what to do with it once researched. You could dig to the bottom per official records and go with that story. Except people often lied about their birth date or their children’s for a variety of reasons. You could gather all the information, pick one version, and write that into your memoir. And you could tell the story of your research and the conflicting stories that you remembered and found. A, B, C or all of the above!
What story about your life do you want to tell? And what’s the surrounding story? Research can help you find a way into your story. Research can help you find bits of your story that you don’t know you know. Research can be fun!
I’d never heard of George Saunders until he published Tenth of December a few years back. I daresay many people hadn’t, even though it was by no means his first book, nor even his first prizewinning book. Saunders has been a writer for a long time. He is not one of those “overnight sensations,” who are most often no such thing. What he is is a writer who’s stuck to it and who had some good teachers. In a recent piece in the New Yorker he wrote about those teachers. You can read the article here.
Hope you like it!
- Eavesdrop on the bus, in a coffee shop, at a meeting, really anywhere works. Overhear and write down one snippet a day for thirty days. At the end of thirty days you can: (a) Use the overheard as a starting point and write a flash fiction, or a longer story, or poem from it. (b) Sample the whole, string it together to make it all into one time/place event, story, poem. (c) Something else of your choosing. (d) All of the above.
- Mini-notebook. I have a writing friend who mailed several friends a tiny notebook with a tiny pen. Write down one thing everyday he said. So the size of the notebook in some ways determines the form, content, substance. It’s interesting to think about how.
- Sign up for the November novel writing month–too late this year. I’ve thought January would be a better month. It’s longer, with fewer holidays. It’s colder (in most regions) and snowy or rainy (if we’re lucky–I live in California). So maybe there’s more incentive to stay inside and write.
- One sentence in variation. Write one sentence, then rewrite it 29 times, once a day.
- Timelines. Make a different one everyday for a project you’re working on or thinking of. It could be a timeline of a day, or a year, an hour. This is a good exercise for autobiography, memoir, and narrative non-fiction. (Yes, of course, and fiction.)
Practice, habit, and kicking ourselves out of a rut or a writer’s block. Writing exercises are good for all of that. Getting new ideas. Looking at the elephant from a different end. In the past, I’ve set myself 30-day exercises when I couldn’t write anything else. It’s magic folks, the act of writing can spur you on to more writing.
Please feel free to share these ideas with your friends, writing group, students. Please feel free to send them over to my blog to see more.
I once had a colleague who loudly opined that free advice is worth what you pay for it, a curmudgeonly attitude even in those pre-internet days. But who can put a value on what spurs you to write what you’ve always wanted to write? And who can put a value on your writing?
The tips in this article may come under the category of free advice. But they’re good and sold. Check it out. You may or may not be motivated by writing for yourself as opposed to others. You may or may not have the inclination and wherewithal to attend a writers’ conference and look for an agent. Read it once, maybe twice, then go to your computer or pick up a pen and just do it.
Take what you can use and leave the rest. Write on!
What can I add? is this a cautionary tale? An inspiration? If I had a dollar (or even a nickel) for every time somebody has told me in the last forty years that if I wrote a little bit everyday on a project I would have a finished manuscripts. I’ve never exactly been able to follow this advice, at least consistently. That said, I have written everyday and finished manuscripts. And it’s advice I give and endorse.
And while not everyone who wants to write is going to go to graduate school, we can all find someone–a consultant, an editor, a writing group–to give feedback. Maybe tell us where they get kicked out of our stories. Or who, that is which characters, they might want to hear more from or about. Or another book to read to inspire us through the slog.
What can I add? Write, write, write.