‘So you’re a writer? Let me ask you, where do you get your ideas?’

When you’re a writer, one of the most common questions you get is about where your stories come from. I don’t know about other writers, but in my experience, stories begin like a loose thread you one day notice on your shirt. Smarter people will get the scissors, cut it off, and toss it aside, but not you. You’re compelled to pick and tug at it because there’s something satisfying about drawing it out.

The more you work it, the more your shirt unravels. Before long, the seam is open, and you can see something of what you look like underneath. You keep pulling, and eventually, the sleeve is in tatters. You keep going, and often, the thread jumps off the seam. That’s when it becomes grueling work.

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Anatomy of an Ending

There is a popular sentiment that stories, like life, are about the journey, not the ending. I think good fiction has to differentiate itself from life, so stories are about the journey and the ending.

Maybe I’m hopelessly morbid, but I think about death all the time. I know I’m not the only one, but how I’m going to check out is constantly on my mind. It doesn’t frighten me or stop me from living, but like a good story, I do want to know how it all ends. Like reading a good story, though, I’m not eager to get there. It’s a paradox. I don’t want it to end.

You can stop psychoanalyzing me now.

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On Jonathan Franzen’s Rules for Novelists

In November, Lithub republished a list of ten rules for novelists by Jonathan Franzen that had originally appeared in the Guardian in 2010. It apparently raised a stink on the Internet. Reading the list now, I see why it was divisive. Some of his rules are obvious. Some are preposterous or pretentious. Overall, it’s just not a helpful list.

All of this is in my humble opinion, of course (this is my blog after all). Franzen has accomplished far more in his writing career than I probably ever will, but I see reflections of some broader issues in the literary community here that I feel the need to comment on.

To be clear, this isn’t really about Franzen’s list. This is about the impetus of some of his ideas. And admittedly, it probably reveals more about my own philosophies than Franzen’s, so take it for what it’s worth

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Confidence in Writing

Last week, a young writer asked if I had any insecurities about my writing. My initial response was, yes, of course I have insecurities. I wouldn’t be a writer if I wasn’t on some level insecure about my writing (and in general about everything for always and forever).

However, after some retrospection, I realized I’m in a much better place than I was when I started.

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A Picture May Be Worth A Thousand Words, But An Imagination Is Way More Efficient Than That

If you had someone encourage you to write when you were young, he or she may have said, “paint me a picture.” As it turns out, this would be the worst advice anyone would ever give you. Even more dire is it may be the foundation of what many people believe to be good writing, and it’s evident as one of the most pervasive problems I see in the work of new writers.

Sometimes I think, maybe one day, I’ll get to teach a creative writing class. I think I would really enjoy it, and I think I could be reasonably good at it. In these times of grand fantasy, I consider the lessons I might bestow upon the next generation of writers.

Chief among them would be, as the writer, you’re not the painter. You’re the person at the paint store. Your readers aren’t using your imagination. Your readers are using their imaginations.

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I Survived A Writer’s Worst Nightmare, And All I Got Was This Stinkin’ Blog Post

Today, I recalled that I survived an author’s worst nightmare. I gave it some consideration, smiled off a painful memory that became bittersweet in context, and moved on with my thoughts before yanking myself back to ponder it some more. I thought maybe the experience could be useful for another writer. Therefore, here we are.

In college, I was on the selection committee for a student-run literary mag run. I also submitted a poem for consideration. You may already see where this is going.

Setting aside the amazing ethical conflict of being allowed to sit on a submissions committee and submit, there’s a much more practical reason this shouldn’t ever be allowed. Continue reading “I Survived A Writer’s Worst Nightmare, And All I Got Was This Stinkin’ Blog Post”

Writing Tips, Episode 2: Verbs

It’s been a while (ten months, in fact) since I wrote about writing. I never intended for the topic to be a regular feature, but that is too long, especially since this second tip is the integral other half of a sentence. Good thing you’re not paying for this.

Verbs are the key to powerful prose. My first tip is all about the subject of a sentence. That is, the thing that is performing an action. This tip is all about that action.

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Writing Tips, Episode 1: Subjects

When I sold my first novel, I knew I would have to create a website. And when I started building that website, I knew a blog was going to be a part of it. It’s sort of obligatory these days. Most of my contemporaries have them, but one thing I decided I didn’t want to do was post writing advice.

I worried it would invite criticism. I worried that, once I started writing for writers instead of readers, my writing would enter a realm I just didn’t want it to be in.

But I’ve been writing and editing for a long time. It’s a big part of my life, and I feel like I should share it. I have this blog, so it makes sense to put it here.

So this is the first in a series of blog posts that will present a wide range of writing tips, from the practical to the theoretical, from the granular to the big picture. Continue reading “Writing Tips, Episode 1: Subjects”