• Browsing all articles in ABCs of Writing

    Literary vs. Genre Fiction: Your Reading & Writing Habits

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

    For this week’s new episode of Yak Babies we discuss so-called literary fiction: What does the phrase mean, is it little more than a marketing term, how is it distinguished from genre fiction, etc.

    Growing up, I read only genre fiction, except for assigned books. Like I wrote about a couple of weeks ago, I started with the Hardy Boys, and then eventually moved into Stephen King, Dean Koontz, Clive Cussler territory. On the podcast I speculate that all teenagers are drawn to genre fiction, and then I say something like “No teenager wants to read Ann Beattie.”

    It would’ve been more accurate to say “Few teenagers” rather than “No teenager.” Of course there are teens out there who love Ann Beattie. But I think the spirit of what I’m saying is true.

    But here’s your chance to prove me wrong!

    Your turn #1: As a teenage reader, were you drawn more to genre fiction or to literary fiction? Why? read more

    What Is Your Desert Island Book?

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

    The other day I was watching the episode of The Office where Ryan starts a fire and the gang mills around in the parking lot playing “Desert Island.” Each person gets to choose three books, and Jim reminds them that these are the books they’ll be forced to read over and over again for the rest of their lonely lives, barring rescue.

    Dwight chooses the Physician’s Desk Reference, but then goes on to say that the book is hollowed out, and inside he has matches, a knife, whatever other survival gear. And then, “in case I get bored,” he also chooses a Harry Potter book.

    Like these things do, it got me to thinking about what my desert island books would be. And when I think of anything related to books or my own writing, I naturally wonder about all of you too.

    Choosing three books seems too easy. Choosing one is difficult.

    Your turn: What is your one desert island book? And, most importantly, why?  read more

    Music While You Read, Music While You Write

    Posted Posted by David Duhr in ABCs of Writing     Comments 36 comments

    In this quick Yak Babies bonus episode, my personal pals and I discuss whether or not we listen to music while we read or while we write.

    I do not. At least, not if I’m reading or writing at home; I won’t put music on.

    But if I’m doing those activities in public, at a bar or coffee shop or what have you, I don’t mind the music. It doesn’t distract me. In fact, I think it adds to the experience; I imagine I’d struggle to write or read in a quiet, musicless bar. (Musicless. What a weird-lookin’ word.)

    I’ve tried listening to music at home, and it just doesn’t work. Why, then, does it help me when I’m in public? I dunno. It’s just woven into the experience, I suppose. It’s part of the ambiance.

    Your turn: Music while you read or while you write, yes or no? If no, why not? If yes, what kind? Headphones or not? And what purpose does it serve for you? Let us know in the comments. read more

    “Purr” Gold: The Hardy Boys & Childhood Pride in Reading

    Posted Posted by David Duhr in ABCs of Writing     Comments 65 comments

    It’s no mystery why Hardy Boys books are almost unreadable: lame plots, terribly stilted dialogue, flat characters who remain wholly undeveloped, even after nearly sixty books. Not to mention the lack of verisimilitude of two characters who are eternally eighteen and seventeen and seemingly never attend school.

    But boy did I love those books as a kid. I don’t think I read all fifty-eight of the original series, but I gave it the ol’ Frank and Joe Hardy high school try.

    I read plenty of ABC and Dr. Seuss-level books, but the Hardys are what first grabbed me and made me curious about the world. Those guys went everywhere, man, and I read at a fever pace just to keep up with them.

    But not only were these books fun and adventure-filled, they also gave me my first feelings of pride as a reader. read more

    Whatever You’re Most Scared Of

    Posted Posted by David Duhr in ABCs of Writing     Comments 8 comments

    In Beatlebone, a novel I wrote about in last week’s post, “Books I Return to Again and Again (and Again),” Kevin Barry includes an entire chapter, ostensibly nonfiction, about his process researching and then writing the book. It’s such an odd and fascinating decision; somehow it works, and is among my favorite parts of the book.

    There’s a line in that chapter that I find particularly interesting: “Whatever it is that you’re most scared of surfacing in your work, you can be sure that it’s nearby.”

    Barry proceeds to write about the thing he’s most scared of. For him it’s sentimentality, something that permeates Beatlebone and, apparently, his own life, even though he doesn’t want it to.

    I just finished reading this book for the fourth time, and this time around, I forced myself to think about what I’m “most scared of surfacing” in my writing.

    What are you most scared of surfacing in your writing? Let us know in the comments below. Use a pseudonym if you’re shy. read more

    Books I Return to Again and Again (and Again)

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

    A few weeks ago I wrote a post where I talked about how I’ve never read Philip Roth and then listed a whole heap of others writers and books I’ve never read.

    This week, I want to list for you every book and writer I have read.

    Nah, just kidding. Although, as I’ve written about before, a few years ago I did start keeping track of every book I read.

    I had cause to scan those lists recently, and I took note of some titles that pop up often, not every year, but with a frequency that makes them stand out.

    Rereading is interesting. I think there are three reasons I reread: read more

    What Is Your Strangest Writing Experience?

    Posted Posted by David Duhr in ABCs of Writing     Comments 17 comments

    This week we’re pleased to introduce our newest writing coach and consultant, Caro Clark. Caro comes to us from New Orleans, where she moved to pursue an MSW from Tulane after earning an MFA from the University of New Hampshire.

    To learn more about Caro, read this Q&A, and if you’re interested in working with her, let’s discuss during your free writing consult.

    My favorite question from these staff Q&As is “What is your strangest writing experience?” Caro’s response is a particularly good one:

    “One time I wrote a piece of fiction about a man from a remote seaside town who I gave the occupation of being a fisherman. Five years later, I met and dated that very person with that very name, first and last. In the story he died at sea. In real life, we broke up.”

    What is your strangest writing experience? Let us know in the comments below. read more

    Jugglers & One-Track Writers

    Posted Posted by David Duhr in Strategies     Comments 17 comments

    There’s a guy I hang out with who’s a writer. He’s working on a memoir, and has been for a couple of years. Right now, he’s setting that book aside.

    To write a white paper.

    On auto tires.

    For money, of course! It’s a day job. Auto tires are not a passion of his. (Did you ever notice that we never say “car tires,” only “auto tires”? Or am I making this up? But we say “car battery” rather than “auto battery”; “car horn” rather than “auto horn.”)

    But he said something interesting: “Whenever I have to do a big white paper, I need to stop working on the memoir. I only have enough headspace for one [writing project] at a time.”

    I’ve known many writers who operate the same way. One-track writers, let’s call ’em. read more

    Gaining — or Regaining — Your Focus

    Posted Posted by David Duhr in Strategies     Comments 14 comments

    A few days ago, some Twitter pundit made a crack about Bull Durham being overrated and the Durham Bulls responded by calling the pundit overrated. It was all very silly, but it kept being tweeted into my timeline, so I had to see it again and again and again.

    It reminded me that Kevin Costner keeps living out what I imagine were his boyhood fantasies of playing baseball: Bull DurhamField of Dreams, one of my guilty pleasures (and a movie that’s arguably better than the book), and the just plain godawful pile of treacle For Love of the Game.

    Whenever I think of that movie I remember a recurring theme where Costner, as an aging ex-superstar… ugh, who cares about the plot. Whenever the crowd noise is getting to him, he takes a deep breath and then shuts out the noise by saying to himself, “Clear the mechanism.” It’s just so stupid.

    But the spirit of it is something I think about a lot, especially in regards to writing: How do we clear the noise and focus? read more

    Losing Your Writing

    Posted Posted by David Duhr in Dos & Don'ts     Comments 16 comments

    On the weekend of April 13, I finished a long draft of the book chapter I had wrestled with all week. I clicked save, then shut my computer. Monday morning, when I restarted, the computer had reset itself to factory settings. Wiped clean. As if I’d just bought it and brought it home.

    A few minutes later, after Justine helped scoop me off the floor and out of the fetal position, I restarted the computer. Everything came back. My computer was clearly having some Monday-morning fun with me. I wasn’t amused.

    My first move was to save the chapter to my flash drive. Then I took my second breath of the day.

    We all have our technology horror stories. This one had a happy ending, and served as a reminder for me to always, always, always back up my work.

    Others of my stories have not ended well.

    read more

    The Creative Writing MFA: Yes or No? Maybe.

    Posted Posted by David Duhr in Dos & Don'ts     Comments 17 comments

    The MFA in writing: Some of us have it. Some of us want it. Some of us wouldn’t touch it with a pole. And some of us might be considering it, especially here at the end of a school year, when we stop partying for a moment and start thinking about our futures. For a moment.

    I know some of you wonder if I did an MFA, and/or if I recommend doing it.

    If you want the fun answer, listen to me and my podcast pals discuss it in this week’s episode of Yak Babies, “Is a Creative Writing MFA Worth It?

    If you want the quick one, it’s yes, no, maybe, and more. Or, in the words of my co-host Aaron Block, “The question is unanswerable, because it’s all possible answers.” read more

    Writing Through Upheaval

    Posted Posted by David Duhr in Strategies     Comments 16 comments

    It’s been a nutty couple of weeks.

    We’re trying to move our website from one host to another, partly to address the problems you’ve encountered the past few months with our comments section: not receiving notifications; not being able to reply to another comment; not being able to comment at all!

    We’re also working on relocating our office.

    On the home front, we lived out of suitcases for a week, and spent an additional week sleeping in our living room because of a leak in our bedroom. Add to that some travel — international and domestic, expected and unexpected — and… well, like I said. It’s been nutty.

    And winter just won’t end!

    Both Justine and I are working on writing projects, and so this week’s question is: How does one write through such upheaval? read more

    Books as Gifts vs. Bookstore Gift Cards

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

    I was on a bus back from Boston Monday — returning home after a weekend full of recording a new books podcast; more on that later! — and in front of me was a college-aged couple talking about shopping for gifts.

    “Like, don’t get me a video game,” the guy said. “Get me a gift card to my video game store. Unless I ask for a specific game, which I won’t.”

    His companion agreed, sharing an anecdote about how her dad tried to buy her some comic books and they were all wrong. She appreciated the thought, she said, but what her dad actually did was create unnecessary work for her.

    I get it. We know what we want better than anyone else ever could, and gift cards are a nod to that. They’re also much more convenient for the giver — too convenient, even — and super impersonal.

    Me being me I started thinking about gift cards in relation to books, and whether I love ’em or hate ’em, or if I somewhere-in-between ’em.  read more

    Recollections That Nudged at Me

    Posted Posted by David Duhr in Inspiration     Comments 21 comments

    (In this week’s post, Dana Frank, author the new novel The Moon Can Tell, shares with us her journey from book idea — twenty-five years ago — to publication here in 2018. Share your thoughts in the comments, and/or feel free to ask Dana any questions you have.)


    My novel, The Moon Can Tell, started — twenty-five years ago — as recollections that nudged at me, trying to become a story that, perhaps, I should write down.

    It sounds vague because it was. I didn’t know what I was doing. I only knew that writing it down felt right and gave me some sort of relief. Back then, I didn’t know I was a writer. I had no mentors, no one to say, Wow, I like the way you write.

    Fact is, I was already, and have always been, a writer. I think like a writer, and I see like a writer. I just wasn’t writing it down. read more

    Words & Phrases You’ll Never Write

    Posted Posted by David Duhr in Rants & Raves     Comments 39 comments

    Earlier this week I got an email from WriteByNighter Ken H. asking if I ever experience “that fingernails-on-chalkboard sensation” when I read certain words or phrases.

    “People who feel inclined to take up writing have likely read their fair share of groaning prose,” Ken writes. “There are certain phrases and terms that are so hackneyed they feel to me like someone trying to shove an unsharpened pencil in my eye.”

    I couldn’t immediately come up with any, though as soon as I publish this post I’m sure two dozen will rush to mind.

    But mostly we want to know yours. Ken is collecting these phrases from his fellow writers, so I thought I’d open it up to you all: Ken’s fellow writers.

    What are some words or phrases that make you groan as a reader and that you’d never ever ever use as a writer? read more

    Literary Albatrosses: Books I can’t get rid of

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

    While writing last week’s post on reading retention I scanned our bookshelves for titles to discuss and spotted some books that I’ve never read but have carted all over creation.

    The Autobiography of Mark Twain, for example, all 4.2 pounds of it, which I have packed four times now and never cracked open. From Florida to a different place in Florida to a different and worse place in Florida to Austin to New York, this giant book has come with me, spiking my moving costs (it almost needs its own box) and then collecting literary dust until I move again.

    I always manage to convince myself that, someday, I’ll read it. But when I finish a book and scan my shelves for the next, my eyes skip past this Twain monster every single time. It’s to the point where I am about 97.5 percent certain I’ll never read this book.

    But when it becomes time to pack up and move, I become more than 97.5 percent certain that I will.

    Do you do this too? What is it? read more

    Reading Retention: Forget the book; remember the experience

    Posted Posted by David Duhr in ABCs of Writing     Comments 13 comments

    You know that feeling when you get to the end of a paragraph or page of whatever you’re reading and you realize you have no idea what you’ve just read?

    I have that problem all the time… with entire books. Because my reading retention is atrocious.

    I’m currently reading a book about Shakespeare, and over the weekend, while thinking about my terrible retention skills (and totally ignoring the words as I continued reading them), I suddenly felt a sort of defeatism that almost made me drop the book and walk away.

    If I’m not going to remember any of these facts and anecdotes, I thought, what’s the point of reading this book? Or any book?

    I’ve spent the week thinking about this. Here’s where I landed.

    read more

    The Winter Writing Doldrums

    Posted Posted by David Duhr in ABCs of Writing     Comments 19 comments

    I’ve been in the writing doldrums lately. Since before the holidays, I’ve had one, maybe two good writing sessions. My book is stalled.

    It’s not that I’m worried about it. I care enough about this project that I know I won’t abandon it.

    But I do wonder: Is it a seasonal thing? Am I a warm-weather writer? Maybe when I feel cooped up by the cold, with cabin fever closing in, my creativity freezes.

    We talk often about our favorite times of day for writing. “I write in the morning,” we’ll say, “when my mind is a blank slate, before the day’s garbage starts to pile up”; or, “Only at night, after I’ve waded through the day’s garbage, can I turn on my creativity and write.”

    But in the same way that time of day does, maybe time of year can influence our writing patterns and habits and productivity? read more

    Do Book Reviews Influence You?

    Posted Posted by David Duhr in ABCs of Writing     Comments 37 comments

    I have a friend (I know; shocking!) who is getting back into reviewing books after a nearly two-year layoff.

    He quit because he decided that nobody reads book reviews anymore, even in (or especially in?) major newspapers and magazines, and so all of the time and effort he puts into a review — for little to no pay — is pointless, because the review itself passes like a fart in the wind.

    He hasn’t changed his mind, but he’s giving it another chance mostly because he misses doing it.

    My own layoff has now exceeded two years. Sometimes I miss it. Reviewing is how I got my start writing professionally, so I’ll always have a soft spot for it.

    Still, it often did seem pointless.

    read more

    Your Favorite Passage

    Posted Posted by David Duhr in ABCs of Writing     Comments 15 comments

    Have you ever written a line or a paragraph that’s so good, you almost wonder if it’s something you subconsciously memorized from a book someone else wrote? Someone far more talented and capable?

    It’s a wonderful feeling, to surprise yourself with your own talent. You always know it’s in there, somewhere, lurking, but you (being the self-doubting writer you are) aren’t often able to see it. Even when other people do!

    But then you bust out with a line that stops you in your tracks. Immediately it feels foreign. “I wrote that? But it’s so good.”

    Let’s take a look at some of those lines, together.

    In the comments below, paste or write out your favorite line or paragraph from your written work. One of those passages that made you realize, “Holy hell, I am a talented writer!” read more

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