Joyce, Wallace, Woolf and More Wrote in Fractals


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. Continue reading

The Year of Reading Women


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.

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How to Make Your Writing as Good as Your Ambition



“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

Cafe Sounds for Creativity

coffitivityOne of the first posts I wrote here had to do with finding the right place to write. For me, that meant sitting in the library. But after a few months, my creative juices dried up. I think the space was too quiet. So then I got a desk for the bedroom at home and rearranged the furniture and began writing in there. But that place had too many distractions. Dog, kids, man. A couple of weeks ago, I found the absolute perfect place and it’s not so much a place as it is a website.

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The Quiet Solitude of Writing Away

Last week I spent my time in Provincetown, Ma., at the Fine Arts Work Center. I was there to attend a workshop taught by Pam Houston. But I think I was also there to see what it was like to get away and write. I’m considering applying to some residencies and I thought my time in PTown would be a good test to see if I was productive or if I would go crazy. Fortunately it was the former. Continue reading

Read Your Sentences Aloud

I read this post from a friend of mine and was reminded of something John Cheever wrote in the forward to his collection of stories. He said, “My favorite stories are those that were written in less than a week and that were often composed aloud.”

At about the same time that a read that post, a poet friend of mine suggested reading my sentences aloud while composing. I’ve found that the technique works best when it comes time to hone and shape a sentence, not necessarily in the first draft. For me, the first ugly draft is about getting the ideas on the page as best I can. But at some point, I’m interested in crafting beautiful sentences that contain just the right words. That’s when it makes sense to start reading them aloud. Try it and let me know if it works for you.

Related Post: Sentences Are the Pack Mules of Literature

Photo: Wonderlane / Flickr Creative Commons

Embrace the Fiction of All Things

There was a wonderful essay in the New Yorker this past week, written by Keith Ridgway. Ridgway is a Dublin-born writer and author of six books, including one collection of short stories. He begins the essay, “Everything is Fiction,” by saying, “I don’t know how to write.” Continue reading

Don’t Get Trapped in the Blogmire

I’ve only been writing this blog for about five weeks now, give or take a few days. And in that time, I’ve noticed something a little disconcerting. People — by that, I mean “writers” — are spending too much time writing blog posts or reading other blogs — so much time that it’s distracting them from actually writing fiction. Why just yesterday morning, one blogger I follow announced that he was no longer going to maintain his blog. He was cutting back, he said, because the blog was taking up too much of his time. He wrote, “I haven’t even looked at my novel in six months and she’s getting pissed with the lack of attention.” (I won’t mention any names.)

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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