Turning words into comfort, weapons, and the most widely embraced artform of our time
During many of the most recent political shifts toward conservative nationalism, be it in Europe or in America, I have heard the call that artists must take up the mantle and create, that this must become a period of renewed drive, and that poetry, among the many arts we need now more than ever, will lead the way back to brighter times.
I have my doubts. Certainly not about the power of poetry to provide solace in trying times or to lift the veil on hypocrites and racists. Instead I worry about poetry’s ability to do so in an effective manner. I should add that my doubts do not stand in defiance of trying, but if we’re going to turn our art into tools of comfort for allies and into useful weapons against oppressors, we’d better make damn sure we’re not working inside an echo chamber. Read More
It happens to all of us at different points in our writing lives: we hit a stretch where we can’t seem to finish anything, or the ideas have dried up faster than morning rain on an Arizona highway. It happened to me this last year when I finished one novel and was excited to start a fresh project, except each novel idea I started fizzled out. They weren’t right. Same went for a few short stories I had rattling around in my head. I’d make it halfway through before casting each aside. Even poems felt forced. I felt stuck. I WAS stuck. And I was breaking Neil Gaiman’s wise and important rule: “Whatever it takes to finish things, finish.” It was a hollow, scary feeling.
But instead of sitting back and waiting for inspiration to strike, I tried a few of the methods below to jumpstart that old excited feeling, to help me start something I could finish. I picked these up from other writers, so it's not like these are fresh, original ideas, but they helped me out, bit by bit. I’m hoping that if they worked for me, they’ll work for you. Read More
Watching a twelve-year-old child working a typewriter is a special kind of magic in our modern era, magic enough all on its own, but when he finishes and says he wrote about his feelings on police brutality and runs off to give it to a friend, that’s not magic, that a game changer. Read More
About twelve years ago I received a poetry rejection from a magazine editor who shall remain nameless (because I can’t remember who it was for the life of me). This editor told me he rejected my work because the poems were all about myself, the poet, writing poetry, and nobody cares about “I” poems anymore. While this was (and remains) untrue in the wider sense, it took me years to understand what this editor meant by his rejection. Read More
No writer is done learning, and some methods and "tips" we learn evolve over time and take on new dimensions. I did a lot of writing in 2017, not all of it as successfully as I wanted, but throughout the ups and downs I learned a few things (and re-learned even more) that might also help you too. Good luck in 2018! Read More
As a writer, films about writing can come across as inspiring and rejuvenating, or as extremely hokey, or, I admit, both (looking at you Finding Forrester…"you the man now, dawg" still makes me cringe). When I’m feeling uninspired, ill, depressed, tired, or suffering through writer’s block (thankfully, this is rare), settling in for a good quiet film alone can help take my mind off things, while at the same time stoking the desire to get back in front of the keyboard. Here are some of my favorite films that make me want to sit down and write.
Additional note: I should say this is not what I’d call a list of the BEST films about writers or writing, but movies that get me feeling better about wanting to writing. They’re a bit of an endorphin shot in the creative arm, a cinematic sugar high to get me started, if you will.
Final note: I’m always open for suggestions about other inspiring films about writers/artists, especially since this list is admittedly narrow in its scope (white male writers of the 20th century). So please fire away with your favorites and I’ll be sure to watch! Read More
Every other year or so I sit down and re-watch the bizarre television phenomena that was Twin Peaks, and it always revives my appreciation for David Lynch’s strange genius. It was as eerie and captivating as The X-Files and True Detective (eh, season one maybe) and for a season or so it had the intense following of Game of Thrones or Breaking Bad, and despite some amusing 80s-styled haircuts and clothing, the show holds up. Created by David Lynch and Mark Frost, with a bevy of other writers to help—including Emmy nominee Harley Peyton, Saturn nominee Robert Engels, Barry Pullman, Tricia Brock, and others—the show became known for its blend of murder mystery tropes, soap opera camp, and spectacularly eerie dream sequences that included a dwarf talking backwards, flashing lights, a giant, white horses, and hip jazz numbers.
Most of all, Twin Peaks was (and remains) a storytelling playland where writers can discover all manner of tips and tricks for their own use. Here are some things that I found helpful with my own writing, and maybe they’ll help you too. Yes, many of these pertain to mystery, crime, noir, and horror stories, but you never know when you might be able to add elements of those genres into your own stories. Read More
As I begin yet another revision for yet another novel, I’m reminded of a few revision and writing/outlining tips that have always helped me in the past, and that I plan to employ in full force again. Not that I’m some sort of bestselling author passing down the key to the city or anything, but you never know what tip will make that new draft feel like a breeze. I’ve mentioned some other tips before (HERE and HERE) but here are a few of my favorites that I’ve picked up along the way, and maybe one of these will help you too.
1. Write a New Outline Between Drafts
This is something I’ve done off and on for years, but I have used this device much more often since hearing Gabriela Pereira, of DIYMFA.com, profess its benefits at a Writer’s Digest conference in 2014. Even if you had an outline before you began a first draft, and even if you feel you have a clear idea about what needs to change in draft #2 (or #14, or whatever), you'll absolutely strengthen your understanding of the current state of your book and reinforce your new ideas by writing a completely new outline before you begin the next draft. It may not have to be anything extensive, perhaps a page summarizing the major movements of your tale, but I find this step between your revision notes that you’ve jotted down and the actual book beautifully melds what you want to do with what you’ve done.
And for those who like to work without outlines at all, I certainly understand your sense of adventure, and I’ve written that way in the past as well, but I find a few road signs along the way with enough leeway for exploration and surprises has been the most enjoyable sort of journey. Read More
Self-editing is one of the most widely discussed “craft” topics for writers and everyone has their own B.S. methods and tricks. Most of the tricks are just common sense, such as AVOID IT AT ALL COSTS, because you will never not ever catch all of your own typos, but you can try! (And you should try…nothing is worse than typos. Not taxes, not typhus, not anything.) Here are a few things I suggest.
1. Oh god, just hire someone else to do it. They’re probably better at it than you. No, not probably, they are. I just read six websites that all said something like “The author is the best person to edit their own work” and that’s such a load of garbage. You are certifiably the worst, because you know the material too well. Find someone who doesn’t know it at all. Read More
The bad apples are out there in every field and occupation, and the publishing world has plenty of those wormy, half-trodden, utility apples lying about the orchard. The vast majority of editors and writers have amazing, productive, inspiring relationships, or at least working acquaintanceships, or at the VERY least they don’t hate one another, but sometimes those wormy bad apples come calling from both sides of the publishing lines.
I don’t intend for this to be a gripe session, not at all, but I do want to hold up some apples to the light and examine them with the hope that it makes the writing world a happier place to be. And it’s important to remember that these are cautionary tales, not the norm—so with that in mind, here are some things that bad-apple editors and writers should both stop doing immediately to make this publishing life a little easier on the rest of us. Read More
Whether or not you outline your entire novel before you begin or leave plenty of room for surprises along the way, many writers will reach a point where they struggle with a story. Maybe you wrote yourself into a corner. Maybe you’re having trouble bridging main plot points with smaller scenes of character development. Maybe the characters feel flat. Maybe you want to add an unforeseen subplot but nothing fits just right. Whatever it may be, story speed-bumps are out there waiting for you, but I’ve found a little “game” I like to play that can help flesh out a story idea and possibly turn a handful of outlined scenes into an expansive epic full of action, drama, and tension. Read More
No matter what genre of fiction you write, be it horror, mystery, YA, erotica, or more literary fare, there’s one very basic thing all fiction writers have in common—we LOVE coming up with perfect place and character names. I know some writers who seem to pull names of people, towns, rivers, roads, and ranches out of thin air, as if these fictional locales have always existed in the recesses of their minds. I can’t always do that, and maybe you can’t either, so here are some ways I go about gathering names for the characters and places in my own books and stories. Read More
I enjoy re-reading Stephen King’s On Writing every few years. Not only is his personal, humorous, accessible prose in the book a pleasure to read, but as I grow older and more experienced in the writing world, I find so much of his advice to be spot on. But there’s one particular tip in his book that seems to have struck a chord in my writing life. In the long run, the piece of advice he offers is very true…but it took me a few drafts of one of my novels to see the light, and to develop my own equation for coming up with a book that, at least to me, is complete and satisfying.
That piece of advice? Put on your mathematician's hat and get out your pencil, because this is one equation you’ll want to write down and remember, and then revise and make your own. Read More
*Previously published at the Writer's Digest blog, There Are No Rules. I blog there once or twice a month. Take a look!* Read More
I spent my December revising a noir/crime novel (I seem to spend most Decembers revising a novel) and I also had a recent discussion with two other writers about the revision process. Both occurrences brought to mind some tips you may find useful. Mind you these are rather simple pieces of advice, and everyone has their own process that works for them, but they might help you feel a little less like you’re swimming upstream during this vital step. I hope they help. Happy revising!
1. Use One File — This is especially true in fiction, but I advise all writers to write the early drafts in one Word file (or whatever software you use). Not only does it help keep a sense of continuity as you progress, but if you make a change that affects an earlier chapter, all you have to do is scroll up. It also makes a key word search much easier without having to open multiple files. I’ve seen novelists use a new Word document per chapter (I did with my first novel way back when) but it can become a confusing jumble of files once you get up to chapter sixty, seventy, eighty…