Fiction Is About the Unspeakable

I read a wonderful essay posted to Glimmertrain’s bulletin that I wanted to share with you. It’s called “All of Old. Nothing Else Ever. Ever Tried. Ever Failed,” by the writer, Silas Dent Zobal. I think it nicely gets to the heart of what writers try to do, and that is, they try to write about life’s difficulties. Maybe “difficulties” is to tepid a word. In Zobal’s case, it’s death he can’t write about. But there are plenty of other experiences that, based on your own personal history, would be torture to tackle. Here’s what he says happens every time he tries to write about death. Continue reading

There Are No Throw-Away Details

A few weeks ago, I went to a writers conference and sat in a great session about detail, taught by Hallie Ephron. She asked us all to think of a character from one of our stories and then imagine what was on that person’s desk at work. (Or you could imagine what was on the person’s dresser at home, if he/she doesn’t work. Or perhaps the job isn’t located in an office, in that case, what does the personal workspace look like?) Continue reading

Scenes: Back to Basics

Last Friday, I saw the movie Prometheus, Ridley Scott’s prequel (sort of) to Alien. It’s not great. In fact, it’s hugely disappointing. Bad plot, lame characters and unintelligent action/reaction.

Events happen that don’t have anything to do with events prior to them nor do they influence events following them. Too frequently, I was left wondering, “What was the point of that scene?” It reminded me, among other things, how important a good scene is and how necessary it is for driving the action forward.

In The Scene Book: A Primer to the Fiction Writer, Sandra Scofield writes: “This is what is common to all stories in all genres and media: Each part of the story is there for a purpose that serves the story as a whole.” Continue reading

Not-So-Literary Jobs of Famous Writers

I have a day job. I edit content for the Discovery News Tech website. I also have a life that fills up with lots of activities that have nothing to do with writing. So squeezing in the time to write feels just like that, a squeeze. Sometimes I fantasize about how wonderful it would be to not have a job, and simply focus all of my energy on writing fiction. But I wouldn’t be able to pay the bills. I’m not alone in this wishful thinking, and that’s a little consolation. There are plenty of writers in the same boat, working a day job to pay the bills and squeezing in the time to write. You might be one of them. Take heart knowing that plenty have come before you, working jobs that had nothing to do with writing fiction. Here are a few: 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

The First Sentence


Lately, I’ve become preoccupied with story beginnings. I blame a writer’s conference I went to where I had to turn in the first 250 words of a short story. I was amazed at how little I had conveyed in those 250 words. (I wrote a post about it, which you can read if you want to called “Beginnings, the First 250 Words.”) Last week, I submitted a short story for the first time to a literary journal. As part of the online submission process, I had to copy and paste the first 300 words of my story into the form, along with the title and my name and then attach the word document. I’m guessing that the readers read the first 300 words and if the story pulls them in, they’ll open up the attachment.

Now I’m reading Stein on Writing by former literary agent Sol Stein. In the chapter where he talks about beginnings, he focuses his discussion on the first sentence. About it, Stein asks: Continue reading

A Year Without Revision

My writing life has changed quite a bit in the last couple of years. Just a few years ago, I wasn’t writing at all. I had gotten to a point, after quitting an MFA program I didn’t like, where I thought my writing was the worst it had ever been. It was a combination of not only producing ghastly stuff but having enough knowledge to realize it. I put away my drafts, packed them into a box, moved to another town and put the box in the basement. Over the course of four years or so, I embraced the satisfactory notion that I wasn’t a writer.

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Writers, Start Your Engines

Currently, I’m reading Sol Stein’s craft book, Stein on Writing, which contains a wealth of information and tips to improve one’s writing. Stein is a playwright, an author and has worked as a literary editor in New York for thirty-six years. I want to share one of the many pieces of advice he has, something that has been churning over and over in my head since I read it. It’s this: Continue reading

No One Will See Your First Draft

If you feel like you’re spinning your wheels with writing and you need a dose of inspiration, read these quotes from author Neil Gaiman, listen to the podcast interview with him, and/or watch the commencement speech below that he gave to the 2012 graduating class of the University of the Arts. I especially recommend that you watch the commencement speech.
On first drafts:

For me, it’s always been a process of trying to convince myself that what I’m doing in a first draft isn’t important. One way you get through the wall is by convincing yourself that it doesn’t matter. No one is ever going to see your first draft. Nobody cares about your first draft. And that’s the thing that you may be agonizing over, but honestly, whatever you’re doing can be fixed.

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