• Browsing all articles by David Duhr | WriteByNight Writers' Service

    Writing Exercise: TALK!

    Posted Posted by David Duhr in Strategies     Comments No comments
    Jun
    24

    TL;DR version: This just in: People like to talk about themselves! That’s why this week’s writing exercise is to  conduct an in-person interview with anyone of your choice — family member, co-worker, stranger — and then write: a summary of the experience; a letter on the interviewee’s behalf to a new pen pal; or whatever you want, really. And let us know the results in the comments below.

     

    I’ve been working on a new writing project that includes oral interviews with a variety of people. And do you know what I’ve discovered? People like to talk about themselves!

    Astonishing, right?

    But here’s something that actually has been a surprise: In nearly every interview I’ve done so far, the subject has talked about something unrelated to the topic at hand but equally, if not more, interesting. read more

    June Story Club: A Crooked Still Life

    Posted Posted by David Duhr in WBN Story Club     Comments 7 comments
    Jun
    17

    TL;DR version: Our second selection for the WBN Story Club is Margaret Malone’s essay ”A Crooked Still Life.” What follows is a bunch of gobbledygook about why I picked it, and then some instructions on how to participate. If you want to skip all of that, the link to the story is at the end of the post. Enjoy!

     

    Great work, story clubbers, in discussing our first entry, Tobias Wolff’s “Bullet in the Brain.” I think we did it justice. (They is, they is.)

    This month let’s do similar justice to a piece of nonfiction from an Oregon writer, Margaret Malone, which comes courtesy of a recommendation from WBNer Steve C.

    “A Crooked Still Life” was published in November 2013 by Oregon Humanities. It tracks Malone and her husband’s journey from Oregon to Boston, where he undergoes proton beam therapy to remove what remains of a tumor behind his left eye. read more

    Adriana Cloud on Bad Poetry, Inspiration and Reading Everything

    Posted Posted by David Duhr in ABCs of Writing     Comments 10 comments
    Jun
    9

    TL;DR version: We’ve hired another talented writing consultant, London’s very own Adriana Cloud. In her Q&A, Adriana talks about bad high school poetry, writing through a lack of inspiration, and reading outside of the genre you’re working in. These are the things I want us to discuss this week. See the bolded “Your turn” sections for discussion questions.

     

    As you will have noticed if you regularly look for updates to our website — which, why wouldn’t you?! — we’ve taken on yet another talented writing consultant, Adriana Cloud. Adriana lives in London but received her M.F.A. at Emerson College in Boston, where she also worked for Harvard University Press and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Her chapbook is titled Instructions for Building a Wind Chime.

    Today I want us to discuss a few topics drawn from Adriana’s Q&A, which you can read here. read more

    Does Every Book Have a Lesson?

    Posted Posted by David Duhr in ABCs of Writing     Comments 20 comments
    Jun
    3

    TL;DR version: Is “reading like a writer” really a thing? Charles Baxter kinda/sorta says “Eh, not really”; Stephen King says every book has a lesson. What say you? This week in the comments below, I want us to discuss this concept of reading like a writer and how — if at all — you do it.

     

    Here at WriteByNight we’ve always been proponents of the idea of reading like a writer; of using reading as a tool to help us grow as writers, through learning what to do and what not to do, learning what works and what doesn’t work.

    But a recent interview with one of our favorite story writers, Charles Baxter, got me wondering if I actually do read like a writer, or if I just pay lip service to the idea.

    In the September 2016 issue of The Writer’s Chronicle, Baxter is asked to talk about what he has learned from some of his favorite writers.

    “This is a very American question,” he says, “with pragmatist assumptions. What do you ‘learn’ from your reading? In my case, sometimes nothing. Fiction doesn’t typically yield up lessons or tools for me. I know, I know: when we’re reading like writers, we’re always supposed to be learning something, but I’d rather just be taken away to Storyland.” read more

    One True Sentence

    Posted Posted by David Duhr in ABCs of Writing     Comments 24 comments
    May
    27

    TL;DR version: WriteByNight’s newest writing consultant and coach, Robert McDowell, tells us that his favorite piece of writing wisdom comes from Ernest Hemingway, who wrote, “Write one true sentence.” But what does that mean? And how do we do it? That’s what I want to find out, from you. Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below.

     

    In our continuing effort to provide you the best match possible for our one-on-one writers’ services, we’ve taken on a new writing consultant and coach, Robert McDowell. Robert served as an editor at Story Line Press for twenty-two years, and for ten years he co-edited the literary journal The Reaper. He’s also the author, co-author, translator and editor of four E-books and fifteen print books.

    In Robert’s Q&A, which you can (and should!) read here, he cites a famous line by Ernest Hemingway as his favorite piece of writing advice: “Write one true sentence.”

    But what does that mean? read more

    Are Your Fictional Characters Based on Real People?

    Posted Posted by David Duhr in Strategies     Comments 18 comments
    May
    20

    TL;DR version: I’m writing a novel with characters based on real people I hadn’t seen in decades. Then I saw them. It was weird. So this week I’m wondering: Do you base your fictional characters on real people? What are the benefits, what are the pitfalls? What tactics do you use to observe the people around you, and how do you translate those observations to the page? Let us know in the comments below.

     

    I’m writing a novel about a group of former co-workers of mine from the late-’90s. These are people I haven’t seen in nearly two decades. At least three of them have died.

    But when I write, I can close my eyes and envision their manners of speech, their physical attributes. I ask myself, “What would [name of the real person] do or say in this situation?” Sometimes the answer to that is appropriate for the fictional scene, sometimes it’s not. But even when it’s not, that train of thought usually leads me to the right station.

    It seems to help me move forward, basing my characters on real people and then slightly altering the details.

    For the moment, I’m even using their real names. read more

    Bullet in the Brain

    Posted Posted by David Duhr in WBN Story Club     Comments 18 comments
    May
    7

    TL;DR version: Our first selection for the WBN Story Club is Tobias Wolff’s “Bullet in the Brain.” What follows is a bunch of gobbledygook about why I picked it. To skip all that and read about the story club process, scroll down to “Logistics.” To skip all that and just read the story and join the discussion, scroll down to the section titled “The Story.”

     

    The thing to remember about best-laid plans is that I’m a real dum-dum. Twice this week I read through and took notes on my inaugural selection for the WBN Story Club, Stuart Dybek’s “Hot Ice,” a wonderful story that I was prepared to talk about for weeks or even months — a story that is, as I learned only last night, not available online.

    In the immortal word of Rick Perry, oops.

    In fact, none of the stories from The Coast of Chicago are available online. (Legitimately, that is; I did find some of them at one of those sketchy Russian sites that illegally reproduces copyrighted material.)

    Sorry, Dybekkers, but you’ll have to wait. read more

    Can We Learn Anything By Rereading Our Published or Abandoned Writing?

    Posted Posted by David Duhr in Strategies     Comments 8 comments
    Apr
    29

    TL;DR version: Why is rereading our own work so difficult? Or are you one of those lucky few who enjoy it? Can we learn about ourselves as writers by rereading our old writing? Try this exercise: reread something of yours you haven’t even thought of in years. Record your feelings as you read it. Then print out a new copy and attack it with a red pen. Explore your edits. Do they tell you anything about how you’ve changed as a writer? Report your experiences to us in the comments below!

     

    I have this teeny-tiny problem when it comes to rereading my old writing: I absolutely hate doing it. It hurts my brain and makes my stomach sour.

    Earlier this week I wrote the following in an email to a WriteByNighter: “Part of why I have trouble rereading anything after I publish it [is that] I always want to go back and rewrite certain passages, and I can’t do that anymore because it’s too late. It’s difficult for a writer not to want to tinker and tinker and tinker some more.”

    It’s as if I’m never satisfied with the final product. In fact, it’s as if I never even have a final product, but rather a product as it looks like when my deadline arrives. read more

    Micro Fiction Challenge: Fun with Sp*m

    Posted Posted by David Duhr in Micro Fiction Challenge     Comments 45 comments
    Apr
    22

    TL;DR version: In this new Micro Fiction Challenge, we’ve bumped the word count to fifty(!) and are offering multiple prompts, rather than just one funky word. Using as your opening one of the five sp*m comments below, write a fifty-word or shorter story. Multiple prizes are up for grabs. Type or paste your story in the comments.

     

    I didn’t write much this week. It happens. I was even going to do another “Things I Did This Week Instead of Write,” so that those of you who also didn’t write would have a place to safely say so and tell us why.

    But I figure even better than that is to offer something to write, something low pressure, in case you’re just looking for any excuse, an exercise or prompt.

    And we’re due for a Micro Fiction Challenge anyway. read more

    2017 Writing Goals Check-In: Mid-April

    Posted Posted by David Duhr in Inspiration     Comments 23 comments
    Apr
    15

    TL;DR version: Are you on pace to reach your 2017 writing goal(s), whether or not you made it public here? If so, congrats! Why not beat your chest about it in the comments section below? If not, why not? Is there anything any of us can do to help? And if you never did share your 2017 writing goal with us, it’s not too late! Simple finish this sentence in the comments section: “In 2017, I will ___________.”

     

    I don’t mean to hassle you or anything, but Tax Day is almost here, which reminds me that we’re more than one-third of the way through the year, which reminds me that it’s been a couple of months since we last checked in with each other about our 2017 writing goals.

    Gulp!

    OK, so right around New Year’s Day a whole lot of us made public writing resolutions by finishing the sentence “In 2017, I will…

    “…finish my second book,” Marcia S. said.

    “…write my first book and read 50 books….and make time for exercise,” wrote Sharon M. read more

    The WBN Story Club Returns! (Maybe)

    Posted Posted by David Duhr in WBN News & Events     Comments 44 comments
    Apr
    8

    TL;DR version: If you’re interested in being a member of the WBN story club, read on! If you’re not, well, there ain’t much point in you reading on. Here’s what I’m looking for input on: What kinds of stories should we read? Is one story and discussion per month a casual enough pace? What would you be looking to get out of such a club? Let us know in the comments below. If you don’t have any input but are interested in joining the club, just leave a comment saying “In.”

     

    A couple of weeks ago, when I asked to hear about your favorite books and favorite movies about writers and such, I also extended the idea of reviving the years-dormant WBN Book Club, resurrecting it as a short story club instead.

    A few of you expressed interest, with a desire to learn more before committing.

    So what follows is what I envision for this story club. I’d also very much like to get your input and ideas, because this will be a group thing. (Kinky.)

    If enough of you are interested in this idea, we’ll give ‘er a whirl.

    If you don’t have any ideas on any of this, but you want to be involved, simply comment “In.” read more

    The Writer’s Hiatus: Why and How?

    Posted Posted by David Duhr in Strategies     Comments 14 comments
    Mar
    30

    TL;DR version: Do you take a hiatus from your WIP between drafts? Why or why not? During that hiatus, do you think about your WIP or do you try to erase it from your mind? How long should these hiati (yeah) last? Should you work on another writing project during a hiatus, or put the writing implements away? Share your thoughts below!

     

    I’m working with a fiction writer who has just finished the third draft of his book but is now taking a break — “going on hiatus,” he says — before beginning the fourth and final draft.

    (For more on drafting, and on swooping versus bashing, join last week’s super fun discussion.)

    It always sounds so appealing to me, this going on hiatus business. Part of it is the word itself. Perhaps simply because they both start with the same letter, and because I’m a simpleton, “hiatus” summons images of Hawaii. It also makes me think of Carl Hiaasen (hia, hia, simpleton), who for a while was my vacation reading.

    Also, according to Merriam-Webster.com, the word comes from a Latin verb, “hiare,” meaning “to yawn.” (Is this post making you hiare yet?)

    But of course it has since come to mean a gap or an interruption in an activity. And for many writers, a hiatus has become a standard step in the writing process.

    It goes something like this:

    1. Finish a draft.

    2. Put that draft in a drawer. (Literally and/or metaphorically.)

    3. Don’t work on it for [x] weeks/months.

    4. Pull it out, reread it, and have a nervous breakdown.

    Let’s take a look at this, step by step. read more

    Do You Swoop or Do You Bash?

    Posted Posted by David Duhr in ABCs of Writing     Comments 31 comments
    Mar
    25

    TL;DR version: Are you a swooper — a writer who races to the end of a draft — or a basher, a writer who sweats blood making sure that every line is perfect before moving on to the next? Does this tell you anything about yourself as a writer, or as a person?

     

    Last week we had cause to lightly touch on Kurt Vonnegut’s semi-famous division of writers into two categories: swoopers and bashers. So this week, let’s talk a little about this and see if we can learn anything.

    First the definitions. This comes from Timequake, KV’s last novel, and, I do believe, the first one of his I ever read. Before I immediately went right out and read them all, and then read most of them a second time, and a few of them a third, a fourth…

    “Tellers of stories with ink on paper, not that they matter anymore, have been either swoopers or bashers. Swoopers write a story quickly, higgledy-piggledy, crinkum-crankum, any which way. Then they go over it again painstakingly, fixing everything that is just plain awful or doesn’t work. Bashers go one sentence at a time, getting it exactly right before they go on to the next one. When they’re done, they’re done.” read more

    Poll: Your Favorite Writing- and Reading-Related Things

    Posted Posted by David Duhr in ABCs of Writing     Comments 24 comments
    Mar
    18

    TL;DR version: This week I thought it would be fun to get to know each other by sharing some of our favorite writing- and reading-related things. What is your favorite novel; piece of writing advice; movie about a writer? Find those and more questions at the bottom of the post, and then answer ’em in the comments below. And don’t be afraid to reply to other people’s comments! Do you and someone else have the same favorite novel? Ask him/her what else he/she reads.

     

    Thanks in large part to our helpful discussion last week, as well as a Monday deadline for my writing group, I have been hard at work this week on my novel.

    Which, by the way, is called… well, I don’t know what it’s called. Some people say you should have a title before you start a project. Name a thing and it becomes a thing. But I know plenty of writers who will create a title only after the work is done. And that title often comes from the text. What do you think: title first, title last, or who cares?

    Point is, I’ve been writing so much fiction this week that I didn’t have time to write my blog post, which was called “How to Write More Fiction Without Sacrificing Your Blogging Duties.” (Title first!) read more

    Things I Did This Week Instead of Writing, Vol. 1

    Posted Posted by David Duhr in ABCs of Writing     Comments 32 comments
    Mar
    10

    TL;DR version: I didn’t write this week. Here is a list of some of the stupid things I did instead. What’s your list of stupid things you did this week instead of write? Let us know in the comments below. Maybe a little public shaming can give us all a boost?

     

    I didn’t write this week.

    Usually when this happens I claim a lack of time. It’s so easy to say that, isn’t it? “I didn’t have time to write this week. Maybe next week.”

    This is not how books get written.

    The truth is, I had plenty of time this week to write. Outside of essential activities such as work, exercise, meals, sleep, and bathroom things, I had many open hours.

    I’ll have probably the same amount of open hours next week, and the week after. So I figured a little public self-shaming, and the prospect of future public self-shaming, might give me some motivation to change this pattern.

    Below is a list of things I did this week instead of write, and how I feel about them. read more

    Would You Rather: Process vs. Product

    Posted Posted by David Duhr in ABCs of Writing     Comments 21 comments
    Mar
    4

    TL;DR version: What’s more important, the writing process or the finished product? Would you rather: Wake up one morning with a published book but no memory of writing it or experience the entire writing process but then burn your completed manuscript? Let us know your answer to these burning questions in the comments below. And thanks for reading (this summary)!

     

    I’ve been thinking a lot lately about process versus product: which (if either) is more important, and by what percentage; can you have one without the other; would you even want to.

    Last week my therapist and I were discussing writing and she asked me, “Why do you want to publish a book?” The room went silent for several long and painful moments. It almost turned (even more) awkward (than usual). The only sound was the ticking meter. (I think that’s from a Woody Allen film, but I can’t remember. A free book goes to whoever can tell me what the hell I’m referencing.)

    Finally I said this: “I don’t know. I can tell you why I want to write a book, but I’m not sure I can tell you why I want to publish one.” read more

    The Written Word: At Work vs. At Home

    Posted Posted by David Duhr in Strategies     Comments 14 comments
    Feb
    25

    TL;DR version: I worry that my workday spent dealing with the written word ruins my productivity as a writing hobbyist (or whatever). I know that many of you who have writing goals in your personal lives also have professions that involve a great deal of writing, reading, editing, etc. How do you balance the two? At the end of the workday, how do you motivate yourself to go home and write? Please let me know in the comments below.

     

    Two weeks ago we manage to have a great discussion about our writing fears despite the fact that the post opened with me whining in my usual syntactically off-putting manner: “Sometimes I wonder if part of the reason I don’t write as much as I want to is that at the end of a day spent helping writers create, I don’t have enough left in the tank.”

    It’s sort of a busman’s holiday. Except, see, I’m driving the bus, the … the, uh … the word bus, yeah? And then when I’ve reached the end of the … of my route for the day, I … I … have to get back on the word bus, but as a passenger, right? And then sort of go back the way I came. But with someone else driving the word bus now.

    Does that makes sense? read more

    Micro Fiction Challenge: Duende (Again-de)

    Posted Posted by David Duhr in Micro Fiction Challenge     Comments 21 comments
    Feb
    18

    tl;dr version: The Micro Fiction Contest is a writing prompt with prizes. This week’s: Write a story, in 25 or fewer words, using the word duende, defined below. Leave your story in the comments section to enter. Prizes include a brand-new hardcover copy of Amanda Eyre Ward’s new novel, The Nearness of You.

     

    I don’t know if it’s a result of some New Year’s resolutions or what, but here at WriteByNight we’re suddenly flooded with your writing. It’s as if you’ve all banded together to participate in National Novel-Sending to WriteByNight month.

    aka NaNo-Sendo-WriteByNighto. Mo.

    By the end of the month I will have handled almost 750,000 of your words in February alone. Three quarters of a million words! Granted, many of them are repeats. You all use the quite a lot, and it feels like I’ve seen literally dozens of uses of and. But still.

    And that’s just me. Others of our wonderful staff are hard at work, too.

    In other words, y’all are killing it lately. And what’s better: The work you’re sending us is great.

    Clearly y’all have been positively overflowing with literary duende. read more

    Let’s Talk About Our Common Writing Fears

    Posted Posted by David Duhr in Strategies     Comments 41 comments
    Feb
    10

    tl;dr version: What I want from this post about common writing fears is for you to share, in the comments below, your biggest writing-related fear and at least one strategy you use to fight/face it. Do it anonymously, if you’d prefer. Because talking about our fears is scary business. And while you’re here, maybe lend some emotional support to a fellow writer, especially if you’re familiar with his/her own brand of fear. Tick “notify” to receive an email when someone replies to your comment.

     

    In therapy earlier this week I told my analyst that sometimes I wonder if part of the reason I don’t write as much as I want to is that at the end of a day spent helping writers create, I don’t have enough left in the tank.

    Enough what? would’ve been a fair question for her to ask. Creative juice? Am I allowed only x-amount of hours per day to think about writing? What, a science teacher can’t go home after school lets out and … do science?

    My therapist — because she’s good (i.e., annoying) — suggested that my problem has little to do with creative juices and much to do with FEAR. read more

    Writing Goals Check-in: February Edition

    Posted Posted by David Duhr in Inspiration     Comments 14 comments
    Feb
    4

    Just before the new year turned, we provided some space for you to write out your 2017 writing goals in the hopes that a little bit of public accountability might help you hit them. Your task was to fill in the blank: “In 2017, I will _______.

    The results ran the gamut. Some of you want to finish books; others want to finish anything. Many of you simply want to write more, or to improve as a writer. Some are on the lookout for a writing community, others talked about being chained alone in a room with nothing but a laptop and soup.

    The creativity expressed in this simple exercise shows that you all are capable of anything.

    But seeing as how the whole point of doing a public expression of your writing goals was to have some accountability, I think a regular check-in on those goals might prove beneficial. read more




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