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    (Family) Secrets Secrets Are No Fun…

    Posted Posted by David Duhr in Strategies     Comments 18 comments

    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

    Writing Exercise: TALK!

    Posted Posted by David Duhr in Strategies     Comments No comments

    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

    Are Your Fictional Characters Based on Real People?

    Posted Posted by David Duhr in Strategies     Comments 18 comments

    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

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

    Posted Posted by David Duhr in Strategies     Comments 8 comments

    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

    The Writer’s Hiatus: Why and How?

    Posted Posted by David Duhr in Strategies     Comments 14 comments

    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!


    Image courtesy of https://captaincreps.com/

    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

    The Written Word: At Work vs. At Home

    Posted Posted by David Duhr in Strategies     Comments 14 comments

    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

    Let’s Talk About Our Common Writing Fears

    Posted Posted by David Duhr in Strategies     Comments 41 comments

    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

    Get *Further* Out of Your Comfort Zone

    Posted Posted by David Duhr in Strategies     Comments 26 comments

    A couple of weeks ago we challenged you to write outside of your comfort zone, however you choose to define that — location, posture, time of day, etc. Most of your responses were about location: public vs. private, outside vs. inside, that kind of thing. Some of you detailed your hesitance to ever write inside of any kind of comfort zone. I can get behind that idea.

    And although none of you shared the results of this exercise in the comments section (tsk-tsk), a few of you emailed your experiences to me, and within one of those, I found an idea for this week.

    (That hyphen in “tsk-tsk” comes courtesy of Merriam-Webster, whose Twitter account, incidentally, has become a Trump-taunting delight, for those of you who might enjoy such a thing.)

    (Oh look, fourth paragraph and I’m nowhere near my point.) read more

    Get Out of Your Comfort Zone

    Posted Posted by David Duhr in Strategies     Comments 18 comments

    Yesterday was a sunny and gorgeous winter day in New York City, topping out at near 65 degrees. It was so warm that in the afternoon I visited my spring/summer/fall writing spot, a series of benches overlooking Riverside Park, the West Side Highway and the Hudson.

    (The writing didn’t go well, but the experience was a pleasure.)

    While walking back home I passed a dude lying along the rock ledge pictured at left. I didn’t snap a photo of him, because creepy. But he was horizontal, on his back, his head on the hard wall, holding aloft a notebook in his left hand and writing in it with his right. To his left, a 25-foot drop (pictured below). An aggressive human or gust of wind or a surprise tremor and he’s a goner.

    I don’t believe I’ve ever seen a more uncomfortable-looking position in which to write. read more

    Holidays, Family & Writing

    Posted Posted by David Duhr in Strategies     Comments 16 comments

    Last week, a whole lot of you banded together to share the opening lines from your works-in-progress and give each other some encouragement. It made me happy. Like a warm, fuzzy community sort of feeling. Kind of like I (sometimes) feel during the holidays. Which … my oh my, will you look at the time.

    For the next few days, I’d like love for us all to help each other by sharing some tips and tricks for maintaining your writing momentum during the holidays.

    (To skip my stuff and learn how to get help and/or help others, scroll to the last paragraph.) read more

    An Exercise on “Having Written”

    Posted Posted by David Duhr in Strategies     Comments 23 comments

    torture-chair-122858_960_720I’m not what you’d call a strong believer in the whole “tortured artist” affectation, the writers who claim — actually, boast — that every word brings searing, gut-wrenching pain and to find inspiration the writer must rip or tear open his or her heart and soul and disgorge his or her blood and innards on the page. It’s all a little a lot too precious for my taste. And violent!

    I do believe that writing is difficult for many of us. It’s just like any other activity: for some it’s a pleasure, for others it’s a pain, but for most, it’s just something we do.

    Is it something that some of us must do? That’s another common idea: “I don’t want to write; I have to write.” I don’t fully believe that either (sorry), but if relying on such a device helps a writer create, then hey, more power. read more

    Books Become Bookmarks: The benefits of maintaining a reading list

    Posted Posted by David Duhr in Strategies     Comments 25 comments

    books-768426_640In an era in which we routinely track every penny we spend, every calorie we consume, and now every step we take, it strikes me as almost unbelievable how few of us keep a reading list.

    Documenting the books we’re feeding our own brains was something I assumed most serious readers did. But when I asked four of my closest heavy-reader friends, I found that none of them maintain any account of their literary intake. A few of them have a running list of books they want to read; but when a particular title’s time comes, they delete it from the list as if it were no more than a chore now completed.

    read more