Saturday, September 2, 2017

“Finding yourself in a hole, at the bottom of a hole, in almost total solitude, and discovering that only writing can save you. To be without the slightest subject for a book, the slightest idea for a book, is to find yourself, once again, before a book. A vast emptiness. A possible book. Before nothing. Before something like living, naked writing, like something terrible, terrible to overcome. I believe that the person who writes does not have any ideas for a book, that her hands are empty, her head is empty, and that all she knows of this adventure, this book, is dry, naked writing, without a future, without echo, distant, with only its elementary golden rules: spelling, meaning.”
—Marguerite Duras, WRITING

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Registration Now Open for Year of Your Book Fall Session

Register now for Year of Your Book fall session at the Hudson Valley Writers' Center. Newcomers welcome! Use the CONTACT ME form to send me an email if you'd like more info. I'm always happy to hear about your project and answer your questions.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Grant for Writers With Kids

If you're a writer who's raising one or more kids, check out the Sustainable Arts Foundation grant. Deadline August 31.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Is Your Writing Good Enough? Part II

Recently I heard from a reader who saw my last post, Is Your Writing Good Enough?, and wanted to work with me. She wrote that she appreciated how I'd pinpointed an issue she was dealing with—thinking/feeling/knowing that her writing isn't "good enough"—but that she was curious how I, as a teacher, would actually go about helping a writer resolve it.

I told her that my (incredibly uncomplicated) secret is that 98% of what I do  as a teacher is to encourage, cajole, and nudge writers to keep putting words down. Not to stop because their writing isn't "good enough," but instead, to keep going, until it is.

To some people this sounds too disappointingly simple to be true. They want the secret formula: multicolored plot diagrams, trifold boards with index cards, exercises in dialogue and characterization and suspense, essays by great authors about their own process. I work with all of those things in my classes, along with giving feedback on writers' prose. I love doing all of that. But mostly, problems in writing are solved just by making yourself sit down and put words on a page for a certain amount of time every day. 

If you're having trouble doing that, which lots of people do, I'll talk in my next post about some strategies for making it easier. 

Monday, July 31, 2017

Is Your Writing Good Enough?

A few days ago I asked someone what stalled her in her fiction writing. The first line of her reply struck a chord with me: "Deciding that the writing isn't good enough."

Deciding that the writing isn't good enough! That's it, isn't it? It happens so often. I've been wrestling with the same thing in my own project this week, and asking myself why I would let this thought get in my way for even a second.

The person I was corresponding with happens to be a very good writer, and graduated from a top MFA program. But that doesn't stop the doubts. And also isn't even the point, because writing that you put your heart and soul and self and time and effort into will almost always become good enough, if you stay the course with it.

The process of finding your voice may take you down a path you didn't choose. You may discover you're a romance or YA writer when you wanted to be "literary" (or you could be both); or that you're "literary" when you're trying to churn out a potboiler to pay the bills. (That's what happened to Melville when he wrote Moby-Dick. And here's a great essay from the very literary Emily Barton about trying to write a potboiler: How a Dare Morphed Into a Full-Fledged Novel.) But no matter what your destiny is as a writer, it's not dependent on coming up with something magically "good enough" to earn you the right to go on to the next sentence. It's by keeping at it that you'll begin to hear your own voice and, eventually, enable your work to find its place in the world. 

It was interesting when Rob Spillman of Tin House magazine came to speak at the Yale Writers' Conference, where I've taught for several years, a couple of summers ago. He talked about the Vida count, a study done by Vida re: gender imbalances in publishing. He said one thing they found was that when women sent work to magazines and got a reply saying, "this is not for us, but we like your writing; please send more in future," they would often send no more to the magazine, treating the letter as if it had been a polite brush-off. Whereas men, receiving the same response, were much more likely to follow up immediately with new submissions. And this was part of the reason more men were being published. Tin House began to word those letters more strongly when addressing women, and it actually helped correct the imbalance in their magazine. I always think of this when I hear women (including myself) question whether their writing is good enough or whether people might actually want to read it. 

I often tell my students, especially those who belong to groups that tend to be marginalized in publishing: We have not only a right but a duty to the world to counter those doubts in our hearts and forge ahead. Otherwise the world of words will be full of Trump and Scaramucci tweets, and nothing else, because the most confident and blustering will be the ones who get their words out there. 

Describing how she helped change the landscape of the famously white male-dominated field of science fiction by giving life to realistic characters of color and female characters, Octavia Butler explained, "I wrote myself in, since I'm me and I'm here and I'm writing." 

Don't spend your energy asking if your writing is good enough to even be bothered with. Spend your energy writing yourself in.