Suspend Your Disbelief

Posts Tagged ‘Get Writing’

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Writing the Novel You Don’t Want to Write

“Writing a novel—for me, at least—is like answering a craigslist ad placed by a group of people seeking a roommate. You meet them; you like them; you move in; but within a short period of time, all of them have moved out, and new people have moved in, and these new people, it turns out, are the ones you’re going to live with for the next few years.”


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Get Writing: Just That I Love It

In the illuminating introduction to her Selected Stories, Alice Munro considers the recurring setting of her fiction: “The reason I write so often about the country to the east of Lake Huron is just that I love it.” She goes on to describe how memories of particular images from that geography will motivate her stories in their earliest, most daydreamy forms. For instance, Munro describes the image of “snow falling straight down” that served as the seed of a story. In its finished form, there’s no reference to that image, no trace for the reader to dwell on, but all […]


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Get Writing: Word Salad

Some of the students loved words like “denial” and “dysfunction.” Characters in fiction “had issues.” It was the early 90s and people talked like this. I’d just gotten a flyer in my mailbox announcing the World’s Best Short Short Story contest sponsored by Florida State University and the late Jerome Stern. I made copies of the 1991 winner, “Baby, Baby, Baby,” by Francois Camoin. We read it out loud. Everyone admired the story’s energy and wild inventiveness. “Baby,” I wrote on the blackboard. I asked everyone to name a food. “Rutabagas,” said the country singer. “Pigs’ knuckles,” said the clown who liked to shock […]


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Get Writing: The Backwards Telescope

When I was in high school, I took a playwriting class, and we’d sit there–all of us sixteen, seventeen, eighteen–reading our work aloud around the table. Our teacher, who was about thirty, would give us pointers: that speech is clunky; this character hasn’t said anything for ten minutes. But sometimes he wouldn’t say a word: he would look at us, hold his palm in front of his face for a moment, then let it drop to the table, as if he were offering us an invisible treat. We didn’t really understand this Zen gesture at the time, but I can […]


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Get Writing: On Desire

Desire is the writer’s best friend. When you know what your main character wants, you have your entire story. When someone wants something–badly–he or she will get up off the couch and try to attain it. The object of desire might be a new winter coat (“The Overcoat” by Gogol), a boy (“City of Boys” by Beth Nugent), money for a family member’s medicine (“King of the Bingo Game” by Ralph Ellison), a business contract (“Like a Bad Dream” by Heinrich Boll)–it doesn’t matter, as long as the desire is concrete and the character can pursue it. The character’s desire […]


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Get Writing: Be Authentic

Write what you know without simply writing what you know … Write What You Know. I’ve never felt wholly comfortable with this phrase. I tell my students to abandon the literal idea of it on the first day of class. How bored and boring we’d all be if that were all any of us ever wrote. There needs to be an imbalance—more fiction than fact. Be Authentic. I ask my students to be authentic on the page instead, to create relatable characters navigating real stories. Our goal as storytellers is to engage our readers and spark a reaction in them […]


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Get Writing: or rather, Getting (Back to) Writing

Even the most dedicated writers go through “not-writing” phases, deliberate or accidental ones. And when we return to our writing desks after that week or month or year away, our fingers and voices may feel…rusty. How do we get back that indescribable “it,” the voice that drives our prose and compels us to write it? The following exercise has helped me get my groove back on more than one occasion. It’s adapted from an assignment used by my former teacher Blanche Boyd (Terminal Velocity, The Revolution of Little Girls), who designed it for beginning writers–yet its usefulness extends to writers […]


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Get Writing: Scene and Summary, Minimalist and Maximalist

I have a problem telling stories. Sometimes in my excitement it’s difficult to gauge how much detail a friend, or a reader, actually needs to know. Because while not all details are important to understanding the events, to me, often the details are the most interesting part. So, if I’m trying to describe how late the train was, so late that it made me miss my doctor’s appointment, instead I might end up talking more about the argument I eavesdropped on while waiting for that train, and the maroon, bedazzled pumps of the woman who was hissing at her partner. […]


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Get Writing: Stolen-Form Stories

As part of our teaching theme this month, we’re sharing some of our favorite exercises in our “Get Writing” series for classroom (or personal) use. Enjoy! Last week, Michael Rudin suggested that stealing a first line can help you overcome that new-story inertia. Here’s another larcenous twist: instead of stealing a line, steal a form. For this exercise, write a story in the form of some other piece of writing—a grocery list, an obituary, a set of instructions, liner notes, the back of a cereal box, a help wanted ad, a press release, a weather forecast… The less literary, the […]




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