Category: Reading/Writing (Page 1 of 80)

How a story starts

“What Form It Will Take” by Roxana Robinson

I start out with a particular moment that I find troubling, or compelling, or devastating. Sometimes it’s a moment that I’ve been part of; sometimes it’s something that I’ve watched happen; sometimes it’s something I’ve heard about. That moment itself is always drawn from life; it’s always a moment that I find deeply disturbing. If it’s powerful enough, then I need to write about it.

My task then is to write a narrative that will make that moment become as powerful for you, the reader, as it was for me, the writer. I must describe a landscape, introduce characters, and create the action as it unfolds, but all of this is directed toward the creation of that last vivid moment—difficult and breathtaking—that I found so compelling.

This is often how it starts for me as well. Not always, but often.

It’s like the eye of a storm. Everything else can swirl around in chaos — characters, setting, plot points, language. It can all be thrown about, changed, destroyed. But what’s at the center, that emotional core, that’s where you as the writer have to stand and stay and make your home. That’s where you have to bring the reader. Into the heart of it all.

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The twist in M. Night Shyamalan’s overnight success

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It’s midnight and I’m rewatching The Sixth Sense. Probably not the best life decision, but whatevs. I’d actually been thinking about this movie the other day. The clever storytelling. The phenomenal performances. The simple, sharp writing.

Cole: Everyone got upset. They had a meeting. Mom started crying. I don’t draw like that anymore.

Malcolm: How do you draw now?

Cole: I draw… people smiling, dogs running, rainbows. They don’t have meetings about rainbows.

As usual, I did some quick googling and wiki-ing, to learn more about how this movie came to be. I knew it was writer/director M. Night Shyamalan’s breakout hit — but what I did not know is that he had been making films for years before. Years and years and years, in fact. Ever since he was a kid. And all during school. Throughout college, and onward. He was always writing and directing. Always practicing. Always improving.

I thought The Sixth Sense was his first. I thought he was an overnight success.

Instead, he’s a perfect reminder that “overnight success” typically comes after tons of hard work. Which is just as special — just as remarkable of a story — if not more so.

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A few things I’ve written recently

“The Big Three Oh” with Angie Liang for Just Between Us

In 2015, Angie and Kristan turned 30. The milestone was both more and less momentous than they expected…

“How to Buy Your First House” for Just Between Us

Step 1: Convince yourself that you do not need a house. Your 2-bed, 2-bath condo has plenty of space. You and your husband never even go into the spare room. You only have guests a few times a year, you hardly cook, and you have no kids. (Unless you count your dog…) The condo is fine. You do not need a house.

Step 2: Start browsing real estate websites anyway.

“What’s in Your Bag of Tricks?” for Writer Unboxed

Since I was about 9 years old, all I’ve wanted is to be a writer. Some of my strongest memories are of sitting in my own little room at my parents’ print shop, surrounded by filing cabinets and spare computer parts and dusty paper samples, filling the hours between school and dinner by scribbling stories into notebooks. Back then, the words seemed to flow so easily, like water, like magic. Now? Not so much.

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Roxane Gay and writing about oneself

“Having a Heart, Being Alive” by Roxane Gay

I am a fiction writer who stumbled into writing nonfiction. Though I had written a handful of essays as a younger writer, I spent most of my time writing stories and trying to lose myself in the lives of imaginary others.

I also resented how as a woman, it seemed like to write nonfiction, I had to savage my own life to find stories people would be willing to hear. I wanted to keep my stories to myself.

When I began to write more essays, I thought carefully about the choices I would make in exploring myself. What parts of my life was I willing to expose? What parts of my life was I willing to share? I didn’t want to simply bare my pain and have that be enough. At the same time, I was tired of carrying my past around, unexamined.

Why do these explorations of myself matter? How do I make them matter? How do I make my words more than catharsis, more than mere excavations of pain?

I’m still finding my way to the answers to these questions.

There are never going to be universally satisfying answers to these questions. That’s okay.

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Good news

ICYMI, that “new thing I can’t talk about yet” was announced yesterday. Writer Unboxed, the wonderful online community that I’ve been part of as both a reader and contributor for years, is partnering with Writers Digest to create an anthology of advice for writers. You can read more about it here.

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I’m honored and excited to be a part of this project. I was invited to contribute an essay, was offered a few topics, and ultimately chose to talk about envy.

Envy is sort of an ugly, uncomfortable subject — and it’s something that I used to feel a lot. Other people’s good news would make me feel bad about my lack of. I fell into the trap of believing I was doing something wrong, or was less deserving somehow.

These days, I rarely if ever feel envy. I’m only human, so it does still happen on occasion, but even then, I’m able to dispose of those feelings pretty quickly. Therefore I thought I might have something helpful to say on the subject, and I hope readers of the anthology will feel the same.

I’m also looking forward to reading the anthology myself. Based on the wisdom and wit that my fellow contributors already share daily at Writer Unboxed, I know that their essays will be useful, entertaining, and encouraging company for my journey.

I had this thought a few months ago, and I’ve been storing it, waiting for the right moment and the right way to share it.

I think there’s a phase in every writer’s life where each new book deal just makes you jealous. Then there’s the next phase — the happier, truer phase — where you think, “That could be me someday.”

Another bit of good news was made public recently.

My friend Kayla had to sit on this tremendously exciting development for weeks. I’m so happy for her, and so inspired by the path she has walked to get here. As I said on Twitter, Kayla is proof that hard work, perseverance, positivity, and kindness can pay off.

Years ago, my joy for Kayla probably would have been lined with a bittersweet aftertaste. Just as sincere, but partnered with a longing and frustration that had nothing to do with her. Now I have nothing but love, as they say. It’s a healthier, more productive place to be — and that is always going to be better for the work. And in the end, isn’t the work what this is all about?

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