Sunday, May 31, 2015

Microfiction Assignment: Day Five

Previous exercises here:
Day One: Intro and Drafts
Day Two: Get Concrete
Day Three: The A-to-B Journey
Day Four: A New Draft 

You now have two revised drafts: one from yesterday, and one from the day before. Choose your favorite.

Today your assignment is to tighten your sentences. In a 100-word story, this will, obviously, be very important.

-How many words can you take out while retaining the meaning and the feeling of each sentence?

-Are there still any vague, nonspecific words?

-Are there any sentences, phrases, or words that are already implied?

For example, in a story of mine that was edited by the great people at Tin House recently, one sentence read, “she rose like a marionette on strings at the sound of his voice.” The copy editor suggested cutting “on strings,” because it's already implied by the word “marionette.” It can be hard to spot these things, but if you read over your words a few times with an eye to doing that specifically, you may be surprised at how many words you can cut. This is an exercise that will serve you well in all your writing.

Set your timer for fifteen minutes and revise your story by tightening it as much as possible. Can you get it down to 100 words?

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Microfiction Assignment: Day Four

Previous exercises here:
Day One: Intro and Drafts
Day Two: Get Concrete
Day Three: The A-to-B Journey 

Today, put aside the revisions you did on Days Two and Three. Set your timer for five minutes and write another first draft: One hundred words about anything. Look at the picture below for inspiration, if you want.

Now set your timer for ten minutes. Revise what you just wrote, with an eye to both specifics and an A-to-B journey, as discussed before.

How did that go? Are those things coming more easily now? 

If they aren't yet, give them time. Consider writing another five-minute draft later today. And another tomorrow morning when you wake up.

Next: Tighten Up Your Sentences 

Odilon Redon, The Boat (Virgin with Corona), 1897
Go here to see it larger. Make it as big as possible on your screen. Really look at it.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Microfiction Assignment: Day Three

Previous exercises here:
Day One: Intro and Drafts
Day Two: Get Concrete

Look over your rewrite from yesterday.

Now we're going to glance again at the stories we read on Day One, noticing where they start (Point A), and where they end (Point B). Determining this isn't an exact science. Here are some ideas about what the A-to-B progressions might be:

In “derelict,” we move from a zoomed-out, distant view of the yard—seeing it as if we're passing by—to a zoomed-in view, or at least sense, of the inhabitant of that yard, its resident consciousness: the “weathered body freckled with birdshit,” “the punched-in shadow still aglint with thoughts.”

In “Bras” we move from a man the narrator desires, who doesn't want her back (“You can have any guy, he says, meaning, besides me.”) to another whose macho posturing suggests he wants to to be desired (he “talks big hunting game and football”), but whom the narrator decides to leave (“I tiptoe through [the kitchen] in the morning.”)

What about “Furniture?” What do you think the progression is there? Does the narrator come to any realization about his childhood by the end of the story?

Now mentally sketch an A -> B progression for your own story. If it already has one, think about how to strengthen or clarify it.

Don't worry about getting this “right.” This is an experiment. You're just going to try it out; you can always change it later.

Set your timer for ten minutes and rewrite. Don't worry about word count for this draft.

Next: Day Four: A New Draft

Summer Classes and Services

The Tuesday Morning Workshop in Croton will continue to meet at intervals throughout the summer:

June 23 and 30th
July 21 and 28
August 4 and 11

Sign up for the late-June classes by 6/1 and get both for $90.

Individual classes are $50: let me know by the Friday before the class you plan to attend.

You can submit up to 3,000 words each week, and there will also be plenty of in-class work, focusing on different aspects of storytelling.

In each class I'll check in with everyone about their writing challenges and goals, and we'll talk about strategies to help you get where you want to go.

The Thursday evening class in Croton, Get Comfortable, is a fun, easy, low-pressure class. It will meet:

June 25
July 23 and 30
August 6 and 20

I'll be teaching at the Young Writers' Conference in Westport, CT  offered by The Company of Writers, July 6—17. Click the link for details.

There may be some teen classes in Croton in the second half of July. Please let me know if you might be interested so I can include you in my mailing! 

I'm also available for private editing, coaching and consultation throughout the summer. A consultation for new clients is only $30. Bring your dreams and goals and a bit of writing, and let's talk!

Mikalojus Ciurlionis, Scherzo, Sonata of the Summer, 1907

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Microfiction Assignment: Day Two

Click here for Day One: Intro and Drafts

First Revision: Getting Concrete and Specific

Read over your four drafts from yesterday. Choose the one that interests you most. It doesn't have to be the most polished.

Glance again at the three 100-word stories you read yesterday. Notice the concrete, specific details in each one.

What if the author of derelict had just said, “the yard looked neglected” instead of describing “a crumpled purple bathing suit blown from a clothesline; the splintered hen coop stacked with empty jam jars?”

What if the author of I Was Furniture had told us “my mother was overwhelmed and disorganized and we didn't have enough money and I felt ignored and unsafe,” instead of showing us “the burnt toaster left on the snow-covered roof,” “the toy box overflowing with decapitated toys, and, of course, the hot iron left dangerously near the bed?”

Can you see the difference? This is what writing teachers mean when they say, “show, don't tell.” 

It's something even experienced writers often have to remind themselves of. I think that's because we often feel the need to sum things up for readers, fearing they won't get our point. But often the point we try to make, with our conscious minds, is less interesting than the complex reality.

Trust your reader, and yourself. Enter the story without trying to understand it right away. Just observe. Show us what you see.

Set the timer for ten minutes and rewrite. Don't worry about word count for this draft.

Next: Day Three: An A-to-B Journey

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Microfiction Assignment: Day One

If you're one of my Yale Writers' Conference students, welcome! These are your optional pre-conference assignments. I'll post one a day for seven days.

If you're not one of my YWC students, have a look anyway! Anyone can do these. They'll help you practice all your storytelling skills—drafting, revising, shaping, polishing—in miniature. If you like these, feel free to send me a message and let me know!


Microfiction is a story told in 300 words or fewer. For the purposes of this assignment, we'll use a limit of 100 words.

For more on where to read or publish microfiction, here's a great resource list.


Goal: A finished piece of up to 100 words

Purpose: To practice writing, revision, and polishing, in miniature

Time commitment: 10 to 20 minutes of writing per day for 7 days, + some very short readings.

Day one: 

Here are a few pieces to read. For simplicity's sake, they're all from 100 Word Story.

derelict, by LJ Moore

Bras Left Behind with Bros, by Etkin Camoglu

I Was Furniture  by James McCready

Now you're going to write four quick stories of your own. You have five minutes to write each one. Do not spend longer than five minutes on each.

It's okay if your story doesn't have a shape or a point or if it isn't about anything. We'll get to that later.

Set your timer for 5 minutes. Write 100 words. Optional: take inspiration from the picture below. (Scroll down.)

Do this three more times: 100 words in five minutes X 3. Here are three more pictures, if you want inspiration.

Did you find your writing got any looser, faster, or more risky towards the end? Which is your favorite of the four pieces you just wrote?

Next: Day Two: Get Concrete

Felix Vallotton, The Ball, 1899

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

New Story

My story "The Thief" will be published in the Fall 2015 issue of Tin House!

Frank Stella, The Marriage of Reason and Squalor, 1959

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Lynda Barry's Four-Minute Diary Exercise

Hey, Lynda Barry's copying me!  Look at these two-minute writing exercises . . . that she posted three years ago . . . Okay, she's not copying me. But she is apparently an amazing teacher, and I wanted to share this diary-keeping exercise from her tumblr:

Check it out here.

What if you tried this for a week? What might it do for your writing? It doesn't matter whether you write fiction, nonfiction, or poetry. "To notice what it is you notice," as she says, is everything.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Call for Submissions: Origins Journal

Origins Journal explores the narrative arts through the lens of identity. We’re interested in distinct voices. Writing that tells us something about a character's roots or what makes her unique. Stories that transport us across town and country, beyond and within borders both physical and abstract, to discreet moments that change or define us. We publish poetry, prose, translation, interviews and flash fiction. Our fall issue will focus on the theme of shame. For full guidelines, visit us here:

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

In-Class Exercises from "Get Uncomfortable"

In-class exercises and a reading list from my current writing class, "Get Uncomfortable." You can do these at home. The idea is to think about the ways in which good fiction, and nonfiction, can spring from encounters with the world outside our familiar zones of comfort.

Take two minutes to answer each of these:

-What do you sometimes think you might write more about if it didn't make you uncomfortable?

-Is there a story you have been wanting to write but you feel like you can't for any reason? (Doesn't have to be identified as “discomfort.”) What is that reason?

-Have you ever been in a situation where you feel you failed to do the right thing? Was there a right thing to do? 

Think about a story you're working on right now, or would like to be. Think about the main character. If your piece is nonfiction, the main character is probably you. Or if the piece centers on one specific person, it could be that person.

If you like, you can run through these questions again with secondary characters.

Spend one minute on each:

-What is s/he ashamed of?
-Does s/he lie to herself or himself?
-Does s/he cause harm to another, or fail to prevent it? How?
-Does s/he live in a bubble? What's inside the bubble? 
-What's outside it?
-What are the advantages of staying inside the bubble?
-What are the dangers of stepping outside it?
-What are your character's strengths?

Spend two minutes on this:

-Are you going to push your character outside the bubble? How?

And in case you haven't seen it it, here's  the reading list for the class.

Konstantin Somov, Landscape with a Wicket, 1893

Monday, May 4, 2015

Reading List for "Get Uncomfortable"

Here are some suggested readings for May's Tuesday morning workshop, Get Uncomfortable. We'll be reading some short ones in class; the others are optional.

A common theme in all these stories is characters who live in a bubble of some kind and who either make, or fail to make, a transition from their safe, insulated, or familiar world into the unfamiliar, danger-fraught territory outside the bubble.

Some of these can be read in five minutes.

"The Garden Party"  by Katherine Mansfield, 1922
"Indian Camp" by Ernest Hemingway, 1924 (5-minute read)
     What happens when we look at the lives of others who live outside our bubble? Are we even capable of actually seeing what's out there?

"Car Crash While Hitchhiking" by Denis Johnson, 1992 (5-minute read)
     The narrator is a messed-up, helpless witness to others' suffering, who can't reach outside himself to touch them.
     Here's a reflection on the story by Jeffrey Eugenides.

"The School" by Donald Barthelme, 1981 (5-minute read)
     Schoolroom humor veers uncomfortably into tragedy. When hope returns, it's in the form of a giant gerbil.

"The Werewolf" by Angela Carter, 1979 (5-minute read)
     For a young girl, the familiar turns unfamiliar and violent. Or is she one one who changes?

"The Imp of Perverse" by Edgar Allan Poe, 1845
     “I am safe — I am safe — yes — if I do not prove fool enough to make open confession.” 

Patrick Heron, Green and Purple Painting with Blue Disc May 1960, 1960

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Get Uncomfortable

Good writing often comes from pushing against the boundaries of our comfortable worlds. From bravely encountering questions without answers, stories without happy endings, mysteries larger than words. Discomfort doesn't equal darkness. Outside the bubble lies sadness, yes, but deep joy, too. It's where we encounter the full range of human experience. This class will combine in-class work with opportunities to workshop your prose. 

     Tuesdays May 5 to June 2, 9:45 to 11:45 a.m. 
     at the Ajna Center, 75 S Riverside Ave, Croton-on-Hudson NY
     $200 for all five classes; $50 for one class

Get Comfortable

This is a Thursday evening writing class for those who are just starting out, are feeling stuck, or are returning to writing after a break. Get lots of encouragement and support while we get your pen moving with short, fun in-class writing assignments and homework. You'll be amazed at how much you write—and how good it is.   

     Thursdays May 7, 14, 21, and 28, 7 to 8:30 p.m.
     at the Ajna Center, 75 S Riverside Ave., Croton-on-Hudson, NY 
     $175 for the month; $50 for one class

Vincent Van Gogh, Basket of Sprouting Bulbs, 1887

Friday, May 1, 2015

Just Came Across This on Tumblr

Ludwig cosplay. From    ♥

(For those who don't know, this is a character from my novel Lives of the Monster Dogs.)

Ludwig cosplay from