A couple of weeks ago and somewhat by random, a discussion in our writing group came around to George Saunders. As part of it, I mentioned a 2013 review of his short story collection, Tenth of December, by Maureen Corrigan, and how I was surprised that Corrigan had said, even emphasized, that she’d never heard of Saunders — a MacArthur Fellow, who has made regular appearances in the New Yorker. I thought maybe I remembered it all wrong, but the review is here and I stand by my earlier recollection.
This fantastic video on Vimeo (below) from Jacob T. Swinney could be the best five minutes you’ll spend today. It shows the opening and closing scenes of famous movies, displayed side by side.
I’ve written a few posts here about beginnings and at least one post about endings. But once you have your story finished, whether it’s a piece of fiction or creative nonfiction, take some time to compare the first page or so to the last. What is the first image you’ve created for the reader and what is the final image you’re leaving behind?
The Vimeo video is all about movies, but go now to your book shelf and pull down a couple of your favorite novels, short stories, or essays. Read the first page and then read the last.
Here’s one from my shelf: Stewart O’Nan’s novel, A Prayer for the Dying (which by the way, is a beautiful example of second person). The opening scene presents a small, active town in the heat of summer. Read More
Finding time to write is a big issue for all writers, including myself. It’s downright frustrating when free time doesn’t match up with one’s creative impulse.
Recently a Fresh Pond Writer asked me for some advice on finding time. I’ll tell you what I told her: It’s all in your head. I don’t mean to sound condescending. What I mean is that you have to decide to do or not do. There is no try, as Yoda says. It’s the difference between looking for time to write and making time to write. It’s about prioritizing. Read More
If you’re writing a novel or a memoir, the following exercise might be helpful. It came up recently while I was working with a Fresh Pond writer on his memoir. This writer was really trying to nail the opening chapter, and so I suggested that he select five of his favorite memoirs (published by others) and analyze the first 15 pages.
For writers who never did well in math, you might be surprised to learn that literature contains fractals.
Fractals are geometric figures made of small components that have statistical characteristics identical to the whole. If you zoom in on a fractal, you see the same shapes again and again no matter how far you zoom in.
In the world of math, fractals are used to analyze and describe snowflakes, crystal growth, galaxies and coastlines.
It seems they can describe language as well. Read More
I’ve started writing my drafts in longhand. If you’ve taken one of my workshops, you’ve probably heard me advocate for putting pen to paper. You may have even argued with me about how ridiculous it sounds in this day and age of computers. Pfft! Writing by hand (eye roll). It takes too long.
I was skeptical and resisted the advice for a long time. And then one summer, I decided to create a mini writing retreat for myself. I rented a place in Gloucester for the weekend and when I awoke that first morning to the light coming in so gentle and the birds chirping, I didn’t want to disrupt the ambience with the garish glow of an electronic machine, so I decided to sit with my coffee and pen and notebook. To my amazement, I wrote nonstop for three hours. Not only that, I didn’t hate it.
It takes months, and then suddenly I have a finished short story that I want to submit for publication. Many journals ask for a cover letter and I’ve spent some time perfecting my own, which I want to share with you here. I continue to find ways to improve it, but here it is with brief explanations embedded.
The writer writes.
As an on-and-off again fiction writer, that very obvious notion eluded me for years. I put writing aside, put it off, did something else, cleaned, cooked, watched television, worked out or just about any other activity that didn’t involve writing, all the while wondering why I couldn’t finish a story. Read More
There’s an important essay going around that, if you haven’t read it yet, you should read now before finishing this post. It’s called On Pandering by Claire Vaye Watkins, who is known to me by her fantastic 2013 debut collection of short stories, Battleborn, which won five literary awards.
The essay is actually a speech Watkins gave as a lecture during the 2015 Tin House Summer Writers’ Workshop. Either way, the content rattled me.