• Browsing all articles in ABCs of Writing

    The Winter Writing Doldrums

    Posted Posted by David Duhr in ABCs of Writing     Comments 19 comments
    Jan
    27

    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
    Jan
    20

    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
    Jan
    12

    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

    Your 2017 Accomplishments

    Posted Posted by David Duhr in Inspiration     Comments 6 comments
    Jan
    6

    Last week, at the very end of 2017, we asked you to look ahead and share with us your literary goals for 2018.

    (If you haven’t done so yet, you should! We’ll be checking back on these throughout the year.)

    But sometimes it feels, what with all of these “tell us your goals” posts we publish, that we don’t take enough time to acknowledge our accomplishments; to point to the goal we set weeks, months or years ago and say, “I did it. I hit that goal.”

    So now that we know your literary goals for 2018, we want to know: What did you accomplish in 2017? read more

    In 2018, You Will!

    Posted Posted by David Duhr in Inspiration     Comments 34 comments
    Dec
    30

    Call ’em resolutions, if you must; we prefer to stick with goals, or even simple desires.

    Either way, 2018 is almost here, and all of us want something out of writing and literature this year, be it to finish a major project, read x-amount of books or a particular writer’s entire output, or simply to become a better writer.

    Just like last year, we want to hear about your 2018 literary goals… in the form of a sentence-completion exercise.

    In as many or as few words as you’d like, complete the following sentence:

    “In 2018, I will ______________” read more

    Writing Exercises for Travel Delays

    Posted Posted by David Duhr in Strategies     Comments 7 comments
    Dec
    22

    Today is my first day of Christmas vacation with the family, and my main task today was to pick up my sister from the airport at 2:30, a ninety-minute or so round trip. Which has now been scrapped, because her plane just taxied right back to the gate, and she’ll be spending the next four to six hours (if all goes well!) at the Austin airport.

    It’s hard to handle holiday travel with grace, even when your flights take off and land on time and without issues.

    If you’re stranded at the airport and feeling anxious, frustrated, or just plain old bored, you might try some writing exercises for a little bit of self-soothing.

    Here are three that I’ve tried in the past. Do you have your own? Share them with us below! read more

    A Fine Bogey Tale

    Posted Posted by David Duhr in Strategies     Comments 8 comments
    Dec
    15

    Another thing I learned in Scotland: When Robert Louis Stevenson is asleep, do not wake him.

    In my edition of The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, Peter Harness writes in the afterword that the story “came to Stevenson, almost fully-formed, in an opium-induced nightmare.”

    Of that night, his wife, Fanny, says, “I was awakened by cries of horror from Louis.” So she woke him… and he was furious. “Why did you wake me?” Stevenson shouted. “I was dreaming a fine bogey tale.

    That fine bogey tale became Jekyll & Hyde. He wrote the first draft in three days. Then he burned it! He wrote the next draft in six days, a rate of over 10,000 words per day. And of course he was sick as hell the whole time.

    I wonder how the story might have changed if he’d have slept through to the end of the nightmare? Might it have been even more frightening? read more

    What’s Your “Sad Waste of Brains”?

    Posted Posted by David Duhr in Finding Time to Write     Comments 8 comments
    Dec
    7

    Last week at the Writers’ Museum in Edinburgh an object and placard in the Sir Walter Scott section caught my eye: It was a chess set that belonged to Scott, and the accompanying text described the author’s view on chess.

    In essence, he understood the appeal of the game (he’d played it often as a young man), but why, he wondered, would someone spend so much time studying and practicing and playing it when he or she could use that time to instead learn a new language?

    Surely,” he said, “chess-playing is a sad waste of brains.”

    Good thing he didn’t live to see Hungry Hungry Hippos. read more

    You’re Never Too Old to Write

    Posted Posted by David Duhr in Inspiration     Comments 15 comments
    Nov
    30

    Annie Proulx, in her recent NBA acceptance speech, said this: “Although this award is for lifetime achievement, I didn’t start writing until I was fifty-eight, so if you’ve been thinking about it and putting it off, well…

    OK, so lots of trolls playing “Gotcha” point out that Proulx published stories in her thirties and a collection at fifty-three, and that she was fifty-six when her first novel came out.

    Who cares! Proulx’s point is, you’re never too old to start writing, and you’re never too old to find literary success, however you may define it. read more

    Meeting Your Favorite Writer

    Posted Posted by David Duhr in ABCs of Writing     Comments 6 comments
    Nov
    16

    When Roald Dahl was six he begged his mother to take him to meet Beatrix Potter, author of The Tale of Peter Rabbit.

    Potter was eighty then, and working in her garden when the pair showed up. She asked what the lad wanted. Young Dahl said he’d come to see Beatrix Potter. Potter replied, “Well, you’ve seen her. Now buzz off.”

    Potter didn’t like children.

    Dahl spent a lifetime not liking adults. read more

    Honestly, Abe: Editors Are the Worst

    Posted Posted by David Duhr in ABCs of Writing     Comments 8 comments
    Nov
    7

    Last week our friend Pete Greulich passed along what he called a “little bit of editing nostalgia from the 1860s.”

    While reading an Ida Tarbell bio of Lincoln, In the Footsteps of the Lincolns, Pete came across a passage detailing a kerfuffle between Lincoln and an editor who wanted to put one of Abe’s speeches “in pamphlet form for circulation.”

    The speech was his February 1860 Cooper Union address, an anti-slavery oration that is often credited as a major reason he won his party’s presidential nomination later that year.

    In other words, a speech that changed the course of our history.

    And yet… well, just like haters gonna hate, editors gonna edit. read more

    Does It Take a Village to Raise a Book?

    Posted Posted by David Duhr in Strategies     Comments 17 comments
    Oct
    24

    TL;DR version: Should you share your work, or even your ideas, before the writing is done? Or should you keep it to yourself until “The End” so that you don’t risk losing psychological steam? Share your thoughts and approaches in the comments below!

     

    Last weekend I had a workshop with my writing group in which we discussed the new opening to the book I’m working on. This was the first time the gang had seen anything from this WIP. I was hella nervous.

    But their feedback was warming and encouraging, and their comments were helpful. Better yet, two of the guys alerted me to a flaw in my prologue that I would never have spotted on my own, and which would have been harder and harder to fix the deeper I got into the book.

    Such feedback is a major reason why it can be useful to have beta readers, or even beta idea-bouncers-off-of.

    But there can be a dark side to sharing your work, or even your idea, before it’s fully cooked. read more

    Jeanine Walker and Early Writing Influences

    Posted Posted by David Duhr in ABCs of Writing     Comments 5 comments
    Oct
    7

    TL;DR version: This week we welcome to the WriteByNight team our newest coach and consultant, Jeanine Walker. In her Q&A, Jeanine cites her ninth grade English teacher as a major influence. When asked about our influences, many of us will name writers we admire. But what about the people who impacted us at a young age? Let’s discuss below.

     

    If you’ve visited our Staff page recently you’ll have noted that we’ve hired a new writing coach and consultant, Jeanine Walker. Jeanine, who lives in Seattle, received a Ph.D. in creative writing at the University of Houston and runs writing workshops in and around Seattle.

    To learn more about Jeanine, take a peek at this Q&A. If you’re interested in working with Jeanine through one of our signature one-on-one services, contact us for a free consultation to discuss.

    What jumped out at me in Jeanine’s Q&A was her response when we asked about her writing influences. Most of us will immediately begin rattling off a list of writers we admire and perhaps have tried to emulate. And Jeanine does do that, eventually, naming writers such as Mary Gaitskill, Marie Howe, and Ruth Ozeki.

    But first she says this: “My 9th grade English teacher, Lloyd Sheaffer, was a huge influence. He read everything I brought to him to read outside of class for four years.” read more

    Who Wants to Publish Your Short Stuff?

    Posted Posted by Guest Writer in The Submission Process     Comments 18 comments
    Sep
    30

    TL;DR version: We have a guest writer this week, Windy Lynn Harris, author of the new release Writing & Selling Short Stories & Personal Essays: The Essential Guide to Getting Your Work PublishedWindy has stopped by to share some of her wisdom on the topic, including where to find markets for your short work and how to match your writing to the right publications. In the comments section, she wants to hear about what you’re working on and what sort of target publications you have in mind.

     

    There’s plenty of information available about how to get a book published, but what about all of the other great things you write? What about those short stories and personal essays? Short pieces get published every single day of the week. How can you get in on the fun? One of the biggest hurdles for writers is answering the question: Who wants to publish a story like mine?

    Let’s start by looking at the whole market. Many types of magazines acquire short stories and essays, including literary, consumer, genre, and small-circulation magazines. Some newspapers print essays, especially travel and lifestyle essays. read more

    Tom’s a Good Farmer

    Posted Posted by David Duhr in Inspiration     Comments 6 comments
    Sep
    17

    TL;DR version: I’m in a bit of a weird place, geographically and psychologically. So I wrote a letter telling you about it. The point? I dunno. You never know where you’ll find inspiration? Even if you’re not writing, you can still be engendering future writing?

     

    For the past three days I’ve been in a county whose population barely cracks 18,000. Back home, I can see 18,000 people in a day without really trying. The town I’m staying in houses 5,000 of those 18,000, and is the only incorporated community in this county of 600 square miles. I’m staying at the nicest hotel in town. It’s a run-down Ramada, base rate $65/night, and is worth nearly every penny.

    There’s a bookstore in town. It doubles as a liquor store; you can come in and browse books while sipping a local beer. Weekdays it closes at 5:30 p.m.; weekends 6:00.

    The town’s restaurant guide offers a dozen options, including McDonald’s, Pizza Hut, KFC/Taco Bell, the Kwik Trip filling station, and Subway.

    The 2010 census shows a population of about 5,200 people, 96.1% of whom are white. Agriculture makes up 49% of its economy. I was talking to a guy yesterday and he mentioned a successful area farmer. “Yeah, Tom’s a good farmer,” he said. I’d never before considered farming and talent level; that there are farmers good at farming and farmers bad at farming.

    My dad was born on a farm just outside of town. When he was zero years old, his family lost the farm. I guess maybe my grandfather wasn’t a talented farmer. read more

    Your Writing Fugue and You

    Posted Posted by David Duhr in Strategies     Comments 10 comments
    Sep
    9

    TL;DR version: If you lose track of all time and space when you write, you’re not alone. It’s (unofficially) called a writing fugue, and it happens to many of us. WriteByNighter Joe C. worries that his writing fugues are a problem: he forgets to eat, forgets to move around, forgets to pee. If a writing fugue leads to better writing but some physical discomfort, is it worth it? It’s a question each fuguer must answer for him or herself.

     

    Lately we’ve all spent a lot of time discussing process, inspiration, where we write, how we write. What kind of headspace we need to get into in order to produce words.

    WriteByNighter Joe C. emailed to ask us about his process, in which he goes into a sort of trance when he writes, losing touch with both the world outside and with his own internal workings.

    “It’s almost self-destructive, what I do,” Joe writes. “Basically, I forget to do a fuckn’ thing. I have coffee [and start writing] … and then suddenly it’s 4 p.m., my back is stiff, and I realize I’ve been holding my bladder to the point of pain. I lose myself completely, and it happens all the time. … It’s weird.  My question is if you know of anyone who experiences this same behavior when they write.”

    Justine and I had a writing professor who refers to this as a “fugue state.” It’s not the actual dissociative disorder — don’t panic! — but it does resemble it in some ways.

    And it happens to me all the time. read more

    Getting Back into a Groove

    Posted Posted by David Duhr in Strategies     Comments 21 comments
    Aug
    19

    TL;DR version: Help! I’ve fallen (out of my writing groove) and I can’t get up! After months of writing nearly every morning, and establishing a routine, I took two weeks off. Now that I’m trying to restart my routine, I’m finding that the words won’t come. When you fall off your routine, how do you get your groove back? Let me know in the comments below.

     

    For a number of reasons I shan’t bore you with, I haven’t written a word since August 1.

    For some of May and all of June and July, I’d been writing nearly every morning. I was in a groove and loving it. I established a pattern and stuck with it: roll out of bed, make coffee, go to the park, write by hand until satisfied (return home, pass out). I was beginning to see the finish line — far away on the horizon, but taking shape.

    Then I stopped. read more

    Oh, the Places You’ll Write!

    Posted Posted by David Duhr in Inspiration     Comments 14 comments
    Aug
    12

    TL;DR version: This week I’m wondering about the strangest place at/in which you’ve ever written. Where was it, how did it happen, did it work for you, and did you ever return? Spoiler alert: Mine is either in the middle of a graveyard or in the cereal aisle of a Charlestown, Massachusetts, grocery store. What’s yours? Let us know below.

     

    Sometimes inspiration comes in the most unlikely places. When that happens, are you prepared to pursue it?

    Like most writers, I have some go-to writing spots: two particular benches in Riverside Park; a favorite bar, dark and quiet during the day, darker and quieter at night; a specific seat at a specific Dunkin’ Donuts chain. The loft at my parents’ house. The Esplanade whenever I’m in Boston.

    These are places where I can sit still and write, while occasionally looking up to observe the things happening around me. read more

    (Family) Secrets Secrets Are No Fun…

    Posted Posted by David Duhr in Strategies     Comments 18 comments
    Jul
    23

    TL;DR version: Writing about family without stepping on feelings can be difficult. But when authenticity is at stake, which is more important: Loyalty to the narrative or loyalty to your loved ones? This week I want to discuss if/when writers have the right to take private matters public, and if so, whether or not we should pull our punches. Then at the end of the post I offer you a chance to choose my own adventure for me. Because, help!

     

    When writing about your family and/or friends, how do you strike a balance between writing honestly and sparing the feelings of your subjects? Is it possible to be both authentic and considerate? Is it a simple matter of knowing when to pull your punches versus when to swing full force?

    Every week we get at least one email or call from a writer wondering how to write about family without inflicting severe emotional damage and/or sowing discord. This week, the query comes from… me! Because I’m up against it myself. And I wrote a sort of choose your own adventure, and I’m curious to see which option you folks would go with. Or have gone with, since I know a lot of you have already worked through this topic.

    In other words: Help! read more

    A Midsummer Night’s Writing Goals Check-In

    Posted Posted by David Duhr in ABCs of Writing     Comments 17 comments
    Jul
    15

    TL;DR version: Now that we’re halfway through the year, it’s time to check in once again with our 2017 writing goals. Are you halfway, or more, toward your goal? Are you struggling, and if so, how can we help? Let us know in the comments below. And if you want to make a new goal, complete the following sentence: “In what’s left of 2017, I will________”

     

    OK, so we’re not quite to midsummer, and we’re a few weeks past Midsummer, but last week I realized that we’re about halfway through 2017. Because I’m a math genius. And being the caring, thoughtful, all-around swell math genius that I am, I began to wonder how your 2017 writing goals are going.

    Maybe you told us about them in January, when you completed the sentence that began “In 2017 I will________”

    And/or perhaps you updated them in April, the last time we checked in with you.

    Well now here it is July (gulp) and we’re just over halfway through the year (gulp), and so I think this is the perfect time to see where we stand. read more




    Latest Tweets