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.
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. Continue reading
“You should know more than what you put on the page. The reader can sense that.” — Susan Orlean
Credit: Tim Green / Flickr Creative Commons
“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners. I wish someone had told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase; they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know that it’s normal and the most important thing you can do is DO A LOT OF WORK. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you finish one piece. It’s only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take a while. You just gotta fight your way through.” — Ira Glass
Credit: Steve Bowbrick
I’m still coming down from my six days in Marin County where I took a writing workshop with Ron Carlson at the Writing by Writers conference. I spent some time the last couple of days transcribing my notes and downloading images. I came across the one above this morning, a panoramic view of Bodega Bay. It’s a gorgeous spot and the only reason I saw it is that I went off course, along with the two other women I shared a rental car with.
To MFA or not to MFA. That has been the question for me as of late. I was leaning toward the MFA. Here’s why: I wanted more time to write and I wanted the potential networking opportunities. Well after explaining this to a friend, who helped me get down to the nitty-gritty, he wondered couldn’t I make time and network in other ways that didn’t require me to quit my job (yet) and fork over tens of thousands of dollars? Continue reading
Hat tip to Flavorwire for shining a light on this piece of advice published on Letters of Note. It’s from F. Scott Fitzgerald to the aspiring writer at the time, Frances Turnbull, who sent him a story for comment while she was a student at Radcliffe. (The Turnbulls owned a summer house called La Paix, which Fitzgerald rented in 1932-1933 and where he wrote portions of “Tender Is the Night.”) Continue reading
A writer’s ability to evoke emotion is the one skill that separates the greats from the mediocres. I’ve been compiling advice, articles, chapters, blogs posts and more that explain how a write can evoke emotion. So far, all of the examples, tips, and devices and I’ve read explain what to do, and I wrote about this yesterday in my post “Fiction Should Evoke Emotion.” But I think where might be equally important.
The most important thing a piece of fiction can to do is evoke emotion in the reader. This is the goal of all art, isn’t it? To evoke emotion? The question is, how do the great writers do it? I’ve been digging around on this subject quite a bit lately and I have to say, I’m not finding much. It surprises me. I’d expect to see every craft book devoting entire chapters to the topic. I would expect to see entire books devoted to it.
I’m just starting to explore the idea of emotion, so expect more entries on this topic. For now, let me just share a few resources with you that may be helpful. Continue reading