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    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 19 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

    Your 2017 Accomplishments

    Posted Posted by David Duhr in Inspiration     Comments 6 comments

    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

    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

    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

    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

    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

    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

    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

    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

    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

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