The First 15 Pages


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.

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Carving Out Time to Write


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

It’s Critical That You Type Your Critiques


I started a writing group, and last night was our first session. We spent our time on administrative things, such as setting a schedule to discuss each other’s writing and establishing some rules of play. One of the rules I wanted – and folks agreed to – was that readers would type up their comments for the writers. I’ve always felt that a writer learns more from this experience than the reader actually receives. To lend weight to my argument, I submit these ideas from Steve Almond, a Boston-based writer whose book of essays and flash fiction, “This Won’t Take But a Minute, Honey,” I’m reading at the moment.

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Data Mine the Work

Yesterday in my post, The Exploratory Draft, I mentioned the interview I read in The Writer with Adam Johnson. Johnson, like many writers, believes that successful stories come out of hard work. You have to put in the hours. He writes at least 1,000 words per day and he keeps track of his progress in a spreadsheet. He notes, among other things, the day, the time, the place he wrote, the story, and the number of words. He said that over the years, he’s been able to “data mine” his spreadsheet to see where and what time of day he’s the most productive. Continue reading

Stay With Your Crap

This past Saturday I had difficulty writing. I knew what the problem was right away. I have absorbed a lot of craft ideas as a result of writing this blog, which doesn’t sound like a problem. In fact, it sounds like an advantage. After all, I’m reading as a writer and seeing with greater clarity how some of my favorite writers master story. But I have the same 20/20 vision when it comes to my own work. Unfortunately, I’m seeing with great clarity the awesome crap I’m writing. I tried to stay in the room, but I got sick of the sight of my sentences. I was discouraged. Frustrated. I had to take a break. Just needed to back away from the computer before I tossed it over the balcony. I pulled out a craft book for some recuperative reading and stumbled upon this little nugget from Philip Roth in Nail Your Novel, by Rox Morris. Continue reading

A Place to Write

I’ve been doing this fiction-writing thing on and off for about ten years. Lately, it’s been more “on,” since I’ve been lucky and a lot of things are clicking, falling into place, making sense, etc. One thing that has become incredibly important to my writing, to the actual production of sentences that turn into paragraphs that turn into scenes that turn into stories, is the space I have found to write in.

It’s a library.

Previous to that, I wrote in the bedroom with the door closed. But it’s too cozy in there. I would get into my writing trance and get sleepy, and then fall asleep. It was embarrassing. And what a waste of time! I work a full time job and have about three hours per day, if I’m lucky, to squeeze in some writing. Here’s the other bad thing about writing in the bedroom, or at home in general: it’s also distracting. My dog barks. My boyfriend comes in to check on how I’m doing. I get thirsty. I get hungry. I have a wireless Internet connection. My mom calls.

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