Tag Archives: writing

Fresh fiction Wednesdays.

A quick update (again), sorry. I’ve been doing a lot of reading that I can’t wait to reflect on and share, but for now I’ll just share a little bit of writing I did last night. It’s an excerpt and it’s very rough for now, but it feels so good to be creating again. If you like it, check me out there every Wednesday for more fiction bits. And check out the other four days/writers. Their (mostly) poetry pushes limits and always demands a reread.

What are you doing on this hump day?

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The Low Hum of Reality

Last week I talked about how I discovered Anne Roiphe and started reading Art and Madness, her memoir on the glam and not-so-glam parts of writing. I finished the book on the train ride into work this morning, and I’m already ready to start reading it over again. Alas, I’m moving on to Joyce Carol Oates’ A Widow’s Story.

But before I do, I must pause in my awe of Roiphe’s prose.
Continue reading

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Where We Live: In a pile of snow

By Melanie Yarbrough

The Where We Live series is chance to travel to all the different places that writers and readers live, in a deeper sense than simply geography, but the mental and emotional space they inhabit during their creative lives. Interested in contributing your own Where We Live? Check out previous entries and send us what you got.

I awoke yesterday at 5 am to the sound of snow plows driving back and forth down Cambridge street then fell back to sleep to sad dreams about all of the snow disappearing while I slept. I woke again at 730 and smiled out my window for about a half hour, just watching it fall and understanding the incredible warmth of my bed.

The snow day ended up feeling like any other day I work from home (a capability that is double-edged sword, it turns out) except for the amazing view. This morning, with the streets plowed and the buses back on schedule, I came into the office, half-wishing I could just stay in my PJs and work from home again. But when the train surfaced halfway to Newton, I was ecstatic. Frantically editing a story that is increasingly late to my writing group, I had to keep pausing to take in the untouched white landscape of the suburbs.

I read a Robert Hass poem the other day, “The Problem of Describing Trees,”  and one line in particular struck me:

No. There are limits to saying,
In language, what the tree did.

Aha! I thought. That’s exactly how I feel about language; that is our constant assignment as writers, to push our language, ourselves and our readers. The indelibly late story I was working on deals with snowy surroundings, winter time, animals and nature. Since descriptions of setting are usually something I have to work on during the editing and revising process, those moments of breathtaking views on the train end up supplying me with more than just a nice picture to send to my dad. Can’t describe that person your main character runs into on the train? Go take the train; find them there. Have no idea what hundreds of crows sound like all together? Me neither, which would (attempt to) explain why I sat listening to a YouTube video over and over of just that.

Research doesn’t always happen in a library. Keep your eyes peeled and your pen ready and let the settings describe themselves to you.

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The Anti-List List

A friend of mine tweeted last week that he was compiling his top ten list of top ten lists for 2010. We get it: It’s exciting and SEO-friendly and clever given the final two digits of this year to compile lists. But the truth is, we spent a whole year living this year, why drag it out? I, for one, am looking forward to 2011, and am in full support of others creating more proactive lists, like HTMLGiant’s “Do These Right Things.”  I’m writing goals for my writing and my reading, and I’m more than interested to hear what yours are. Don’t confuse this, I’m not talking resolutions, the dreaded word that drums up words like “diet” and “gym” and “anger management classes” like in those Bing! commercials. No, I’m talking about goals and productive uses of our sometimes inane tendency to compartmentalize and organize useless-to-organize things like time.

Here are a few of mine:

1. Revise and complete at least five stories to submit.

2. Visit the library on Monday evenings and Saturday mornings to read AgniThe New Yorker, Plougshares, and The Paris Review. (TAKE NOTES.)

3. Read two to three books a month. Review one a month.

4. Create a schedule for reading and interacting with other book blogs, book bloggers, and fiction writers.

5. Get new ribbon for my typewriter and send working stories to trusted friends.

6. Write more letters. Even if they don’t write back.

7. Travel to DC, England, New Orleans, Miami, and Seattle.

Like I said, those are just a few. The list will grow and shrink and be crumpled up and thrown at a wall as the year progresses. The important part is that I spend more time doing the things it contains rather than focusing on perfecting it.

So tell us your lists: of books, of goals, of recipes you want to try, of literary magazines you plan to subscribe or submit to (or both).

– M

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Being Inspired By Now: Letters to a Fiction Writer

Alas, I’m in love with a book again. Granted, I’m only 22 pages in, but like so many young married kids say on their Facebook pages,”When you know, you know.”

Frederick Busch’s collection of letters from established fiction writers to their apprentices promises to change my life. Encouragement is vital to success. As of late, I’ve been feeling uninspired, untalented, and underwhelmed in my writing life, often writing more on Twitter and text message than on my typewriter. But I’m making an effort to stifle my own insecurities by just shutting the hell up and writing.
In Monica Wood’s The Pocket Muse: Endless Inspiration (No. 2), she lists the “Top Three Tips for Staving Off Writerly Despair”:
1. Avoid the ones who expect you to fail.
2. Avoid the ones who expect you to fail.
3. Avoid the ones who expect you to fail.

But what do you do when you’ve managed to surround yourself with people who care about and support you and insist on reading your senior BFA thesis despite how bad you now recognize it to be? Who do you avoid with no parents trying to convince you to go to law or med school, instead leaving you sweet notes saying how proud they are to be your father? Well, you just doubt yourself, of course. It’s the loudest and quietest voice—no one but yourself charged with arguing and disproving it. It’s never your own stupid voice that ignites your competitive spirit and hastens you to prove it wrong. Oh, what a difficult, tortured, blessed life.

But before this turns into some hack self-help session, enter Letters to a Fiction Writer, edited by Frederick Bush. Himself a fiction writer, he addresses his introduction to an agent who rejected his novel years before, sending him this note:
Dear Mr. Busch,
Ah, if only you wrote fiction as well as you write letters of inquiry.

According to my sense of humor, it’s a funny note. But Busch uses the sarcastic and dismissive note to illustrate the purpose of this compilation: to encourage. He celebrates the community found among writers and highlights letters not solely from the recognized “greats” but from those who actively took (and are taking) part in mentoring and nurturing the younger of their breed.
He purposely leaves out letters from Joyce, Dickens, Hemingway, and Flaubert because of the characteristic self focus and promotion found in their letters. They do not advance his purpose: to create a “book… of counsel and sustenance.” (10)
The letters are authored by “writers [who] offer their language to members of the eccentric extended family of fiction writers…” (10) Busch promises me that I am “about to receive the wisdom of those who know, from the inside of the process, what a writer might need, from time to time, to hear.” (11)
The first letter, from Lee K. Abott to his son Kelly, recounts a defining moment between him and his own father: “In 1963, my father, drunk on Ron Rico and history, was taking seriously, in a way I hadn’t or couldn’t yet, what it means to be a writer—that ours is an obligation, maybe like that the saints have, to make sense of what, singly or as a tribe, has befallen us; that we, those with the language and the imagination and the memory, must bring shape and order to all that’s locked away; that we, yeah, must write it all goddam down—all that bedevils and beleaguers, all that mystifies and frightens, all that’s revealed, literally and figuratively, when the ‘past’ is sprung open before us.” (16) I teared up.
He closes, instructing Kelly, and all of us (thanks to Freddy), one last time: Write it all goddam down.
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