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Following Your Characters: A Cure for Hesitant Starts

Cathy and I wanted to go out to dinner last night. Surely we aren’t the only couple whose conversation about where to dine goes like this:   Me:  Where do you want to go? Her:  I don’t care. Me:  I don’t care either. You pick. Her: It doesn’t matter to me. Me:  One of us has to care.   And so it goes, a process of indecision, similar to the one that often paralyzes a writer when trying to get a new piece off the ground. Sometimes the problem is a lack of confidence. Maybe the writer feels all attempts [...]

By |2019-04-15T06:11:30-04:00April 15th, 2019|Uncategorized|0 Comments

“’Oh, Glory’: Persistence and Courage in the Writing Game

The 145th running of the Kentucky Derby is a month away, and partly for that reason, I’m thinking this morning of Secretariat, the 1973 Triple Crown winner and one of the greatest thoroughbred racehorses to ever run. I’m thinking about him while I’m running on the treadmill, recalling the scene from Secretariat, the 2010 movie about him and his owner, Penny Chenery Tweedy, in which he and a horse named Sham set a blistering pace in the Belmont Stakes, the final jewel in the Triple Crown. At the three-quarter mile marker, Sham began to fade. By the time Secretariat entered [...]

By |2019-04-08T07:09:32-04:00April 8th, 2019|Uncategorized|2 Comments

Writing the Second Draft

Cathy and I spent the afternoon clearing out our landscaping, which mostly involved cutting away old growth to make way for new growth this spring. It strikes me that moving from a first draft to a second one involves a similar process. After we know exactly what our piece is exploring, we have to cut the old to prepare for the new. The old—that scene, that image, that line, that thought—has served us well. It’s made possible the complete draft that we have before us. We should thank it for its service and file it away somewhere for possible future [...]

By |2019-03-25T07:29:51-04:00March 25th, 2019|Uncategorized|2 Comments

Ten Quotes to Sustain Us

I don’t know about you, but from where I sit in the Midwest, this has been a long, hard winter. Spring keeps delaying its arrival. The writing life can be like that. It can give us gray days, isolation, disappointment, and downright gloom. We all know a life spent writing is full of peaks and valleys, but sometimes we tend to forget that coming down usually means an eventual upturn. We fall prey to our own insecurities and doubts. We lose our focus. We can even lose our joy. Here, then, are ten quotes about writing to sustain us while [...]

By |2019-03-18T07:46:38-04:00March 18th, 2019|Uncategorized|6 Comments

The Gatekeepers Be Damned: Finding Your Way

I remember well those years when I wondered whether anyone would ever publish my work. I was forty-one when my first book came out, a mere whippersnapper compared to Delana Jensen Close of Dublin, Ohio, who, at the age of 95 celebrates the launch of her debut novel, The Rock House. It would be easy for me to dismiss this story—the book is a romance novel that Close self-published. The gatekeepers, of whom I suppose I’m one since from time to time I guest-edit issues of literary journals, serve as outside reviewers for university presses considering manuscripts for publication, and [...]

By |2019-03-11T09:02:31-04:00March 11th, 2019|Uncategorized|8 Comments

Here We Are at the End

I’d like to continue the conversation I started last week concerning how to end a piece of writing with resonance. Here are some further thoughts from a post I ran in 2014 as well as some examples from both fiction and nonfiction. Emily Dickinson said this in an 1870 remark to Thomas Wentworth Higginson:  “If I read a book and it makes my whole body so cold no fire can ever warm me, I know that is poetry. If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry. These are the only ways [...]

By |2019-02-25T07:53:00-04:00February 25th, 2019|Uncategorized|2 Comments

It Don’t Mean a Thing: Listening at the End

Duke Ellington recorded his jazz standard, “It Don’t Mean a Thing” (lyrics by Irving Mills), in 1932. The opening of the song questions the value of music that doesn’t possess a certain measure of resonance: What good is melody? What good is music? If it ain’t possessing something sweet The lyrics go on to speculate on what makes a song memorable: Now it ain’t the melody And it ain’t the music There’s something else that makes this tune complete, YES It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing  That swing—a certain something, rhythmically, that creates an unforgettable [...]

By |2019-02-18T07:54:42-04:00February 18th, 2019|Uncategorized|2 Comments

The Value of Silence to the Writer

Cathy and I just got back from West Palm Beach, Florida, where we went to see the traveling Downton Abbey exhibition, and also to just get away to somewhere warm. Besides the exhibition, we had no other plans. We ended up doing a lot of people watching, and we spent a day poolside. Most of all, we let all thoughts of our jobs and our responsibilities go right out of our heads. In other words, we shut out the noise of the world. It strikes me that this is exactly what we writers need to do from time to time. [...]

By |2019-02-11T16:10:22-04:00February 11th, 2019|Uncategorized|5 Comments

Deepening the Essay

I have to apologize for my absence from this blog the past two weeks. Two weeks ago, Cathy and I were in New Orleans celebrating the wedding of our friends, Kristen and George, and then last Sunday an unexpected hospital stay prevented me from posting. So, a chosen vacation and then one chosen for me. Such is life. The trip to New Orleans was a good one, even though the weather wasn’t quite as warm as we’d hoped, but soon after returning I came down with a nasty cold, and somehow in the week that followed my sodium level got [...]

By |2019-02-04T07:26:13-04:00February 4th, 2019|Uncategorized|8 Comments

A Creative Nonfiction Writing Activity

We’re off to a start of a new semester here at Ohio State University, and I’m teaching an advanced undergraduate creative nonfiction workshop. I came up with a writing activity for our first meeting--with a nod toward Dinty Moore whose own activity inspired this one--and I want to pass it along to you. The activity is designed to generate material, while also inviting some consideration of how to make that material have depth and significance. The first step is easy. What’s a favorite toy from your childhood, or what’s the toy you always wanted that you never got? The indirect [...]

By |2019-01-14T06:02:28-04:00January 14th, 2019|Uncategorized|4 Comments