Fifty Random Sentences or How to Face the Blank Page…an exercise for when you’re stuck

I’ve sorely neglected the writing tips/exercises aspect of this blog because I’ve been writing so much lately! I promise to get back to it, but in the meantime here’s a link to my 50 random sentences exercise which originally ran in Lascaux Review:

Fifty Random Sentences or How to Face the Blank Page

Read*

Read Flannery O’Connor. Read Joy Williams. Read William Maxwell.william maxwell Read about the universe. Read about neuroanatomy. Read “On the Origin of Species.”

Yes, really!

Yes, really!

Read “Nine Stories.” Read Tolstoy. Read Carson McCullers. Read Edward P. Jones. Read Willa Cather. Read Yasunari Kawabata. Study atlases and maps. Read E.B. White. Read fairy tales. Remember that “fresh new voices” can come from people over forty. Find those writers and read them. Read Shakespeare. Read Amy Hempel and Lydia Davis. Compare. At least once a week, read a book published by a small press. Read, read, read poetry. Learn the names of all the insects that inhabit your backyard. Or make up names for them. Read Freud. Read graphic novels. Read prose poetry and flash fiction. Study the dictionary. Read a book about a place you never heard of from a writer whose name you can’t pronounce. Read naked. Find and read a newspaper from the day you were born. Or any old newspaper. old newspapersLearn another language, then read a novel or poetry in that language. Read “One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish” out loud with no children present.one fish two fish Read philosophy. Buy a thick notebook and write “Sentences I Love” on the cover. Fill it up and buy another one. Read collections of short stories. Read both print and online journals. Read the history of the town you grew up in. Read Jane Austen and Edith Wharton and the Bronte sisters. Read Katherine Mansfield and Shirley Jackson and Kõbõ Abe. Read Grace Paley. Read Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Read long into the night until the characters walk around in your dreams. Read “The Dead” at least one winter afternoon a year. And if your mother or your aunt or your grandmother want to tell you their stories, drop everything you’re doing and listen.

*Originally published as one of my writing tips for Lascaux Review.

Fifty Random Sentences or How to Face the Blank Page…an exercise for when you're stuck

vintage-typewriterRecently writer/editor Wendy Russ asked me if I would again contribute a small piece of writing advice for Lascaux Review. (Here is my previous article: Read). I decided to share with their readers an exercise I’d devised and that always seems to work for me, no matter how stuck I am. Some people have already written to me to tell me they tried it and now they have some great first drafts!

Soooo, if you’re stuck right now (and I am, frequently), go and have a look:

Fifty Random Sentences or How to Face the Blank Page.

I’d love to hear back from you if you had success with this exercise!

If your mother wants to tell you her stories…my writing advice at Lascaux Review

Flannery O'Connor

Wendy Russ at Lascaux Review asked me (and other writers) to contribute a small bit of writing advice to the site while their 2nd annual flash fiction contest is underway (see details HERE and submit!)

And here is what I had to say:

Read Flannery O’Connor. Read Joy Williams. Read William Maxwell. Read about the universe. Read about neuroanatomy. Read “On the Origin of Species.” Read “Nine Stories.” Read Tolstoy. Read Carson McCullers. Read Edward P. Jones. Read Willa Cather. Study atlases and maps. Read E.B. White. Read fairy tales…

The rest is HERE. Thanks, everyone, at Lascaux Review for inviting me to contribute.

Gratitude, Submitting, Grace Paley & What I've Been Up To

This past week I sent out a short story to 13 journals and two short story contests. It feels like a gigantic accomplishment in itself. For various reasons, it has been a “quiet” couple of years for me as a writer. At one point, I felt I’d never write a short story again. I felt that removed from my creative life. So regardless of what happens with this new story, I feel a renewed sense of hope and enormous gratitude for having this new story in my hands, a story I’ve worked hard on and like a lot.

And I read a really smart (and timely, for me) article about submitting one’s work by Joseph Scapellato at the Gulf Coast blog. I loved all of it, particularly this:

“Whatever you do, don’t wait until you feel 100% certain that your strongest, biggest, or sharpest work is 100% ready. Instead, wait until you are 75% certain that your strongest, biggest, or sharpest work is as ready as it can be at this point in your life as a writer, right now, today.”

That just makes so much sense. The rest of the article is here.

Grace PaleyI read an amazing interview at the Paris Review with Grace Paley here: Grace Paley awesomeness.

She said this and it is exactly how I feel, too: “The sound of the story comes first.”

And she said this about what she was doing before she was a published writer, valuing that time and seeing how it led her to writing her stories:

“I was working part time. I was hanging out a lot. I was kind of lazy. I had my kids when I was about twenty-six, twenty-seven. I took them to the park in the afternoons. Thank God I was lazy enough to spend all that time in Washington Square Park. I say lazy but of course it was kind of exhausting running after two babies. Still, looking back I see the pleasure of it. That’s when I began to know women very well—as co-workers, really. I had a part-time job as a typist up at Columbia. In fact, when I began to write stories, I typed some up there, and some in the PTA office of P.S. 41 on Eleventh Street. If I hadn’t spent that time in the playground, I wouldn’t have written a lot of those stories. That’s pretty much how I lived. And then we had our normal family life—struggles and hard times. That takes up a lot of time, hard times. Uses up whole days.”

I read this perfect quote from Flaubert: “Do not read, as children do, to amuse yourself, or like the ambitious, for the purpose of instruction. No, read in order to live.”

I read all the tweets from people who attended AWP and felt nearly equal parts despair and relief. I recognized the fact that my hurting hip would not survive one hour at the book fair let alone four days walking around the conference and snowy Boston. I’ll be in better shape for Seattle.

I judged a flash fiction contest for Flash Fiction Chronicles. I wrote a book review for Necessary Fiction. I wrote a tiny craft article for the beautiful Lascaux Review. I was interviewed. I read beautiful fiction that inspired me and an amazingly well-written essay on growing up in the Cold War years by Susan Detweiler in the current Missouri Review.

It is already March, but I have a sense of excitement and hope around 2013. I can’t even really say why, but it feels so good and I am grateful.