Three Inspirations

When I am teaching (as I am all the time now), I tend to think more conversationally than when I am abiding inside my head, spinning tales. Lately, it seems there’s been a lot I’ve wanted to share that’s excited  and inspired me. Here are three of those items: 1) Haruki Murakami’s memoir, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running At first, I was almost disappointed in the fit-of-my-shoes and tracking-of-miles-run-in-a-month mundanity of the book. But after I finished it, the full impact of his practice as a runner, his inevitable decline in the face of the body’s mortality, but his perseverance nonetheless, gave me the triumvirate of the writer’s being: the brain (lover of plot and planning, of revision, perfection and an impossible certainty), the storyteller (crazy, intuition-driven, passionate troubadour, who can do everything you hope and more if the brain will shut up), and now, the athlete. This is the writer who knows that how it feels to get the words down is irrelevant. The key is to put in the miles, to go the distance, to establish and maintain daily routines. 2) Robert A. Heinlein’s Five “Rules for Writing.” 1) You must write. 2) You must finish what you write. 3) You must refrain from rewriting, except to editorial order. 4) You must put the work on the market. 5) You must keep the work on the market until it is sold. In a remarkable little essay, Robert J. Sawyer then takes us through each rule, showing us how fully half of all people who want to be writers fail to follow each rule....

A Wing or a Prayer? Approaches to Writing a Novel

I am in the process of ushering some folks through the planning stages of writing a novel, in preparation for my upcoming course, Gathering Your Materials, which will operate in conjunction with NaNoWriMo but go much further. Somerset Maugham is sometimes credited with saying, “There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.” Someone else talked about writing a novel as being like driving across the country in the dark: you can only see the three feet in front of you in the headlights, but you can go all the way like that. (The original quote, needless to say, is a heck of a lot more elegant.) The main thing I’ve learned from both writing and teaching is that it doesn’t matter how it is done, it matters only how *you* do it. When I taught in the creative writing program at Pratt Institute, I worked for a whole year with fifteen creative writing majors. One of my assignments for them was to create a contract with themselves and me for the work they would do over each semester and how that work and its quality would translate into a grade. Each student had to contract individually, and what I noticed was that everyone came in to our initial conference and said something like, “I tend to write abstract poetry, so I am going to focus on narrative.” Or, “I tend to write really long, epistolary novels, so I am going to try flash fiction.” If they found that they stayed up for long weekends, hardly sleeping, and produced copious quantities of prose,...