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

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

The Ending Is an Invitation

Recently, I attended the Muse & the Marketplace writers conference sponsored by Grub Street. I wrote a piece last week about how I came away from one of the sessions with a new sense of what makes a great story beginning. Another session focused on story endings.

The speaker for that session was Robin Black. I will paraphrase her here, but she said that a writer doesn’t create an ending in order to close a story down, but instead writes the ending in a way that opens the story up. Think of the ending as a “giving,” she said.

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Summer Workshop in P-Town With Pam Houston

Exciting news. I found out this week that I got the very last available spot for Pam Houston’s Advanced Fiction Workshop at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown. A week of talking about structure, narrative tension, voice, point of view, dialogue, beginnings and endings. I’m psyched. I’ll let you know how it goes.

And wouldn’t you know it? Just after I heard about nabbing the last spot for the workshop, I was introduced to to Cynthia Martin’s Catching Days blog in which she interviews various writers and asks them how they spend their day. Here is how Pam Houston spends her day.

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Get Lost

In the beginning, writing teachers tell you, “Write what you know.” But as far as I can tell, writing fiction is about writing to find out. You discover new people, places and things. You discover yourself. It’s particularly poignant in fiction because, on the one hand, you’re making it up as you go along. But at the same time you’re creating a fictional world, you’re also exploring it and uncovering things you didn’t know. That’s the joy and the pain of it. Mostly pain. It can be discouraging, because often you feel as though you’re on the right path, when suddenly you find that it’s not the way out and you have to back track, that is, revise. I offer this encouragement. Get lost in the woods and don’t be afraid. You’ll make a path and find your way out. Trust the process. Be brave.

From Donald Barthleme:

The writer is one who, embarking upon a task, does not know what to do … The not-knowing is crucial to art, is what permits art to be made. Without the scanning process engendered by not-knowing, without the possibility of having the mind move in unanticipated directions, there would be no invention … Writing is a process of dealing with not-knowing.

Photo: pat00139 / Flickr Creative Commons