To begin, a confession: I never wanted to write a blog. A few years ago, when I was getting my first web site, my designer, who specializes in authors’ web pages, said, “You’ll need to do a blog.” I told him I didn’t want to do a blog. He said, “But you have to. That’s what will draw people to your web site.” So with much resistance, I began.
In the years that have passed since then, I’ve been surprised by how many people from across the country have told me that they read my blog. It’s gratifying to know that something I said may have been helpful to someone else’s craft and/or teaching. I’m very grateful to all of you who have allowed me to enter your writing rooms or your classrooms via this blog.
When I began, I feared I wouldn’t have anything of value to say. I still fear that I repeat myself to the point of no longer being helpful. Then I remember what it was like when I was first starting to develop my craft. I found helpful books such as E.M. Forster’s Aspects of the Novel, Flannery O’Connor’s Mysteries and Manners, and Rust Hills’s Writing in General and the Short Story in Particular. I found The Paris Review’s Writers Interviews, and the letters of Anton Chekhov. I jotted things down in notebooks, advice about the craft of writing that I still rely on. Bit by bit, I became part of the conversation that had been going on long before I arrived and will continue long after I’m gone—the talk we have to talk in order to do what we do with more skill. I was finding these books, articles, interviews, letters for the first time, but many had found them before me and many would find them after me. In fact, for thirty-five years, I’ve been helping other writers find them by recommending them to students and friends. I’ve spent a long time trying to pass on what I know, which is usually something I picked up from someone else.
It’s with great pleasure, then, that I announce that these blog posts that I never really wanted to do have now led to a craft book, Telling Stories: The Craft of Narrative and the Writing Life, to be published by the University of Nebraska Press.
I’ve learned in the years I’ve been writing this blog that I do actually have some things to say about craft and teaching. I’ve often treated the blog as an extension of the classroom, using it to think further about things that came up during a workshop and then to take what I’ve been thinking about back to my students for their consideration. I’ve also found that writing the blog makes me articulate how something works in particular pieces of writing and how it sometimes doesn’t. Talking about craft makes me a better writer and teacher. It reminds me that I shouldn’t let students get away with off the cuff observations without something of substance to back them up. It helps me deepen the level of discourse around the workshop table. Writing about craft often helps us discover what we think and gives us the words with which to argue our positions. Writing about craft better prepares us for participating in the ongoing conversation among writers.
It didn’t take me long to fully realize how much I loved writing these posts. I suppose I’ll keep doing them, at least while I still have the feeling that they’re being helpful to folks. When I finally stop, as, of course, I’ll have to someday, there will be at least this one book from this one writer who timidly and reluctantly entered the conversation and found he had a few things to say.