Moments of Grace ~ from Dani Shapiro

Still-Writing-by-Dani-ShapiroHere, in Still Writing: The Perils and Pleasures of a Creative Life, Dani Shapiro speaks of flawed, unpredictable, risk-taking, rule-breaking prose (my favorite kind):

“These instances of creative daring are moments of grace. They are moments when we get out of our own way. They break the rules, and break them beautifully. They arrive with no fanfare, but there is no mistaking them. They glide past our hesitation, our resistance, layers of reasons why we can’t, we mustn’t, we shouldn’t. They are accompanied by an almost childlike thrill. Why not, the whole universe seems to whisper: Why not now? Why not you? What’s the worse thing that can happen?”

I admit I’m reading and rereading this book like a bible. Somewhere along the line, I got in my own way, I think. I stopped taking the sort of thrilling chances that made writing such a blast for me. It started to matter too much what other people thought. Now, I’m writing things and not sending them out and not sharing them in an attempt to get back to that. I’m having fun again. I’m getting out of my own way.

Readers, stay tuned, as soon I’m going to post a recent conversation with my amazing writer friend, Avital Gad-Cykman, who has a beautiful flash fiction collection coming out from Matter Press. She herself is fascinating, so it stands to reason that her stories are, too. And her work exemplifies the sort of fresh originality and risk-taking that I so admire and attempt in my own work. I can’t wait to share the interview with you!

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.

Start at the point of most contentment: Amy Hempel

amy hempel

“One thing I have learned is that I can get interesting results if I start at the point of most contentment, the most satisfying moment, instead of the most jeopardy. The idea is to overturn an expectation, maybe the expectation of drama, of coming up against something. So the question becomes: what does calm feel like? And how can you make it compelling? In these cases the writing becomes sensate in a different way—you put a slight polish on what is ordinary. The first story I ended up doing that way was “The Rest of God” in At the Gates of the Animal Kingdom. I was just describing a happy day. But then, of course, I couldn’t completely get away from habits; the story contains a close call. A couple almost drowns. But they don’t drown. And they go on to have a very lovely picnic. The sculptor Elyn Zimmerman did this in her Palisades Project in 1981. She proposed putting a huge strip of polished granite on the west bank of the Hudson River, over the craggy stone of the palisades. In the proposal, you see the palisades as we know them, divided by a ribbon of stone polished to reflect the sky above and water below. It’s simple, beautiful, thrilling.”

Amy Hempel, interview from the Art of Fiction, No. 176, Paris Review

So, my challenge for today(and yours, too, if you’d like): Begin a story at the start of the point of most contentment and tear it down, slowly, from there. See what happens.

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!

Writing Wisdom: Harding, Horrocks, & Cross-Smith

Some things I’ve read recently by some of my favorite writers that have fired me up, taught me something, and/or inspired me and maybe you too!

This, from Paul Harding, author of Tinkers (one of my favorite novels) and Enon (which I haven’t read yet):

“Your books will suffer from bad readers no matter what, so write them for brilliant, big-brained and big-hearted people who will love you for feeding their minds with feasts of beauty.”

The rest of his 5 Writing Tips can be found here, at the Publisher’s Weekly site,

And this, from another favorite writer, Caitlin Horrocks (you should read her collection, This is Not Your City, if you haven’t yet…I reviewed it at the Lit Pub). Here is what Horrocks says about “the bad idea”:

“…as a writer, the things that are difficult are the things I want to do, and I want to encounter work as a reader that takes the same attitude. I don’t want short story writers to willingly give up any more ground, to decide before they’ve begun that the story form just can’t encompass a densely lyrical, multigenerational suspense story. With a car chase.”

The whole article, part of the Kenyon Review Credos, written by KR editors, can be found on their blog here: “The Glory of The Bad Idea.”

And lastly, this, from the lovely, generous, and extremely talented Leesa Cross-Smith, whose debut collection, EVERY KISS A WAR, is now available for pre-order from Mohave River Press (and you should get it because it’s a gorgeous book):

“I know it’s gonna sound generic, but FIND YOUR OWN VOICE. Also THERE IS ROOM FOR YOU! It can be very, very overwhelming when you see how many (other) writers there are, but there is room for you too! You have something to say, to teach! You never know how you can be a blessing to someone. And work hard at it. Never, ever give up.”

This is part of her interview at Kerry Winfrey’s Welcome to Ladyville blog as part of a series of interviews with Creative Ladies. You can read the rest here: Creative Ladies: Leesa Cross-Smith.

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.

Etgar Keret's Ten Rules for Writers from Rookie Magazine

Read this in Rookie Magazine and it brought me so much joy: Etgar Keret’s Ten Rules for Writers.

As I work on revisions of my short story, a story I feel like I’ve been working on forever, I found #9 and #10 especially resonant:

9. Let people who like what you write encourage you.
And try to ignore all the others. Whatever you’ve written is simply not for them. Never mind. There are plenty of other writers in the world. If they look hard enough, they’re bound to find one who meets their expectations.

10. Hear what everyone has to say but don’t listen to anyone (except me).
Writing is the most private territory in the world. Just as nobody can really teach you how you like your coffee, so nobody can really teach you how to write. If someone gives you a piece of advice that sounds right and feels right, use it. If someone gives you a piece of advice that sounds right and feels wrong, don’t waste so much as a single second on it. It may be fine for someone else, but not for you. ♦

Thanks, Etgar Keret and thanks, Rookie Magazine! I’m glad to have discovered you!