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Taming the Shaggy Beast: Letting Your Novel Write Itself

The laconic comedian, Stephen Wright, once said, “I’m writing a book. I’ve got the page numbers done.” Now there’s a man determined to tame the shaggy beast, as Henry James called the novel form. I don’t know about you, but I think I’d prefer a few more practical strategies for getting the job done than just imagining you’ve gotten to the end by putting the numbers on blank pages. So with that in mind, let’s start with the notion that our novels all exist, fully formed, in a pre-vocabulary state, and are just waiting for us to find the words [...]

By |2019-08-11T16:00:35-04:00August 11th, 2019|Uncategorized|0 Comments

Don’t Wait: Write!

Cathy and I decided to make a little weekend getaway after the Fourth of July, so we headed up to Ohio Amish Country. We love the rolling hills there, the sight of haystacks in the pastures, the cows and sheep and goats, the sound of horseshoes clip-clopping over pavement as a horse and buggy passes. We were surprised to learn that the Amish are favoring bicycles as a mode of transportation these days. On Friday evening, as we drove into Berlin at dusk, we encountered a steady stream of bicycle and buggy lights in what used to be known as [...]

By |2019-07-08T08:28:15-04:00July 8th, 2019|Uncategorized|4 Comments

Driven by Desire: Character and Incident

"What is character but the determination of incident?” Henry James wrote. “What is incident but the illustration of character?” The desire need not be for something grand, but it does need to be intense enough to put a character into action. Take, for example, the father in Holly Beth Pratt’s “Nighttime Ride.” Here’s the opening paragraph: The dad had a sweet tooth; it was something fierce. When it got ahold of him, no matter where he was—clearing invasives on the job, taking the kids for a weekend, eating his one-pan dinner—he had to satisfy it, like if he didn’t it [...]

By |2019-06-17T07:35:54-04:00June 17th, 2019|Uncategorized|0 Comments

Lives of Splendor: Characters and Free Will

This morning at breakfast, a large group—too large to sit at a single table—came into the restaurant. Half of them sat at one table, and the other half took an adjacent table, which was behind where Cathy and I were sitting. I really didn’t take much notice of them until I heard a man’s voice behind me say, “Aaron, do you want to sit over here?” Mind you, at this time, I had no way of knowing whether the Aaron being addressed was a male or a female. “Aaron,” the man said, “do you want to be a little girl? [...]

By |2019-05-20T07:35:37-04:00May 20th, 2019|Uncategorized|2 Comments

Ten Precepts for the Writing Life

Here on Mother’s Day, I offer these ten precepts for mothering the craft:   1.         Accept the fact that the majority of people have no idea how a writer works and has no appreciation of what a writer does. That guy at the gym who squints at your Iron Horse Literary Review tee-shirt with a puzzled look? There are millions like him. There are many more like him than there are like you. There’s nothing you can do to change that fact. Put the thought of it out of your head and keep writing.   2.         Make your writing part [...]

By |2019-05-13T07:11:30-04:00May 13th, 2019|Uncategorized|13 Comments

The Last Time: Using the Past to See the Present and the Future

Last night, at The Ohio State University, we commemorated the conferring of MFAs on this year’s class with a gala reading from their work. We call this event Epilog. I’ve always wondered why whoever named the event didn’t go with the preferred spelling, Epilogue, but, no matter, the meaning is the same: an addition that comes at the end of a literary work. So here we are at the end of things, which, as we all know, is really the beginning of something else, something yet to be defined, something yet to come. I’m thinking about how writing about last [...]

By |2019-04-29T03:46:37-04:00April 29th, 2019|Uncategorized|4 Comments

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|4 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