I’ve finished my Tana French detective series and didn’t want to go to bed without another book in hand. (Nevermind there are three on my bedside table).
I began browsing my bookshelf, which is semi-organized: books I’ve read and loved. Books I want to read. School books. Writing books. and, of course, Poe books
I also have something mixed in that would seem, at first glance, not to belong. Books on psychology, the law, philosophy. I assume many writer’s bookshelves are this way.
A writer needs a wide variety of knowledge.
I know we have google at our disposal; however, I find reading books about, for example, the Psychology of Marketing allows me to get an in depth look that a wikipage or a few short articles are not going to give me. This allows me to create a more realistic character or more thorough background to make the story more believable.
For West End, I needed to understand two things, the idea of an absent or unloving mother, and the different forms depression can take. Anxiety runs throughout my work from Of Strays and Exes to Life of Clouds – which features children affected in different ways by the disappearance of their father.
I’ve heard handymen say they are the jack of all trades. I think writers are akin to that. We need to learn many things in order to live many lives.
I spent much of my time in grad school trying to please a certain teacher and understand the secret formula for a short story.
Up until that time, I’d only written novels (or novellas), longer pieces of work in which I developed the characters and followed a plot. These felt full and complete.
Writing one small selection vexed me.
So I read and read and researched and attempted one time after another to create a successful short piece.
I suppose there is no formula and no one right answer, which is what I was looking for – the correct answer.
Of the things written in grad school, the one instructor I attempted to satisfy deemed them mostly unworthy.
It wasn’t until near the end of graduation that an instructor said “half of that story was the best he’d ever read.”
He didn’t tell me which half.
However, almost all those stories have been pulled out, dusted off, and accepted with few edits. Hence – dear teachers – they were good! I had learned something; I had accomplished something. (I must be doing something right, over 30 published in the last few years!)
There may not be one right answer, and there’s no secret, nor is there a hidden formula. Short stories need to get to a point, need to have conflict, need to show a budding of growth – perhaps.
If you’ve reached a point in your story where you’re stuck, or perhaps some small thing is niggling at you, tell yourself what it is before you go to sleep.
There’s a number of things I’ve done in order to enhance or forward my writing – and the above is one of the things. Margaret Atwood recommends the same.
But I’ve gone further. I was writing a poem and I knew one line wasn’t quite right. I kept going over it and over it and could not seem to find the right words in the right order to bring the poem together. As I went to bed that night – I told myself to dream about it.
At 4am, I woke up with the line! I scribbled it in the notebook (which sits next to my bed) and turned over to go back to sleep.
Not only do I tell myself the problem I’m dealing with in my writing before I go to sleep, but I also think about different story lines for my characters. This keeps me juiced, so to speak, with inspiration. The next morning, I’m ready to hop out of bed and write.
Sometimes, of course, this backfires and I want to write then and there – which I do. But most of it can and does wait for that dreaded blank page the next morning.
I was doing an exercise in a seminar I was taking. I was given an article; a long, seemingly rambling, however, well executed nonfiction piece on the downfall of certain companies. Just writing that sentence feels painful. Why did I waste my time?
But, see, it turned out not to be a waste of time. In a lecture, recently, a similar topic came up and I was able to give a reasonable discussion about how this downfall relates to the business of writing.
Wow – I did not see that coming.
That is something I’ve always done, however. I’ve actively added to my body of knowledge by reading far and wide, not limiting myself just to my genre or even just to fiction.
What I’ve found is that this adds depth to my characters, validity to my narrative, realism to my stories. I’m don’t limit myself, therefore, my characters seem more authentic.
In $I.00 Stories, I developed the homeless man from articles I’d read about mental illness and the homeless. In West End, I was able to add more depth to my character having read psychological texts on motherless daughters.
My advice is always – read far and wide and don’t limit yourself. Read when you’re waiting in line at starbucks, read before bed, read when you wake up, or you’re waiting to pick up your kids, or meet your friends. Get off of facebook and twitter or stay on those sites and subscribe to the digital magazines.
I hear people say – I don’t have time to read. Yes. You. Do. Find where you’re losing time and capture it.
Take a very common thing from your kitchen and write a poem about it.
It will most likely become a poem about something else.
Share in our Facebook group!
I think I’m going to try a spoon. (There’s actually a pretty famous poem about a spoon – by Billy Collins)
Many posts in writers’ groups and questions in writerly gathering surrounds the fear of family or friends finding out what they are writing.
Surprisingly, some of these are fiction writers. Although many are memoirists, poets, fiction writers and essayists are also concerned with offending someone they know.
My response to this is: They’ll probably never recognize themselves! The truth is many people see themselves far differently than others do.
Furthermore, studies show that we remember events differently; to be more accurate, we remember different details of the same events, and our memories are not as reliable as we’d like to think.
Legally, in memoir, if names are changed, there is little a person can do if they do recognize themselves. One attorney told me: They’re welcome to write their own version of the events.
Fear should never hold a writer back. A small change in details or location can allow for some question if someone does think the story might include them.
Even if you think you’ll never publish it – write it. You’ll feel better!