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W r i t i n g   A d v i c e

Advice from Roberta:

1.  When words have energy, they feel alive. STOP whenever your words feel lifeless. This means you're going in the wrong direction. Cut every sentence that doesn't make you feel like writing more. Go back to the place in your writing that felt alive and  begin writing from there. Or choose a word or phrase from that place that has energy and use it as a timed 5-minute prompt to get you going again. 

2.  I like to take lived experience and turn it into fiction. To me that means finding a shape or structure in my material. Real life is much messier than fiction. After writing a very rough first draft, I begin to transform it by choosing details to expand upon that feel alive. I cut details that feel lifeless. In this way my fiction begins the process of surprising me. I never know in advance what my story will be. It's the process of discovering the story that gives me energy and gives my story llife.  


3.  It's sometimes helpful to have as a model a book or story that you love when you're writing your own book or story to see how the work was made. Use your own content but try--as an exercise--to duplicate the shape or structure, not to plagarize but to learn.

4.  When you feel stuck, divert your attention. Do something unrelated to writing. Make a call, make coffee, whatever-- When you're involved in something else, you create space for your mind to work on your writing--without your intervention.

5. When we talk about a plan, we are talking about the structure of your longer fiction. If you want to write from a plan, allow that plan to change as you write. New ideas will come to mind, new scenes, new characters, etc. 


Here is Basic Plan 1 for beginners:
1. How does the story start?
2. What happens in the middle?
3. What happens in the end?


Read the questions, then read the first one again and start writing immediately. Do the same for the other questions. Don't write more than a couple of sentences for each.

Remember that in a story or novel there is a problem or conflict that builds to a climax and gets resolved in some way at the end. Keep in mind that most of the drama occurs in the middle.

If you're not excited by your plan, change it as many times as you need to, until it has energy for you.

6. Structure and language are the two most important elements in creating a story, an essay, a longer work of fiction or memoir. Finding the structure is key. The language you use should fit the writing. (more about this in another post). 

Here are more basic questions to help you find the structure:

1. Who is telling the story?

2. Who are the characters?

3. Where and when does it happen?

4. Over how long a period of time?

7. Weight is a concept I've used for many years. What's important in your longer fiction should have more weight. Ex. A character's thoughts while walking across a lawn may take up 20 pages whereas the next three years in which nothing important happens to the character may be as brief as: Three years later... Aways cut the parts that bore you. If you are bored, the reader will be bored.

8. To create narrative drive in longer works, leave something out the reader will want to know in each chapter or in every few chapters. Remember to eventually pull each or all the threads together you've left open.



Advice from Other Writers:


"Risk keeps a writing project and also the writer vulnerable, open, off-guard, constantly changing, new, intoxicated, deeply immersed, in the midst of great adventure and also a great mystery. Writing then becomes a window into things otherwise off-limits: ultimate freedom and ultimate possibility. Who could resist this?"


—Carole Maso


"The beginning of human knowledge is through the senses, and the fiction writer begins where the human perception begins. He appeals through the senses, and you cannot appeal through the senses with abstractions."


--Flannery O'Connor


“To write out of not-knowing is to stay open to the possibilities; to discover what we cannot yet know. Otherwise, why bother? If I know where the story is going, I am not interested. Writing is mysterious, alongside plain old hard work...The creative process...has a deep wisdom., if we will surrender to it. The power of the unconscious rises to the page. It can be frightening. It is difficult. But it is in the vitality of this struggle between the writer and the word that we can create transformative work.”


---Terry Tempest Williams







What actually happened is only raw material, what the writer makes of what happened is all that matters.”


--David Shields, Reality Hunger​


"[R]esist the urge to rush through a story’s big, emotional moment(s). You can make a reader feel something by lingering in an uncomfortable place, just noticing. But it’s hard because you have to go through the discomfort yourself, on top of the general discomfort of writing."


—Kelly Luce


The great British novelist Graham Greene said that all good novelists have bad memories. What you remember comes out as journalism. What you forget goes into the compost of the imagination.”


--Robert Olen Butler, From Where You Dream


“The whole magic of a plot requires that somebody be impeded from getting something over with.”


--Renata Adler, Speedboat


I find I’m more ready to discard pages than I used to be. I used to look for things to keep. I used to find ways to save a paragraph or a sentence, maybe by relocating it. Now I look for ways to discard things. If I discard a sentence I like, it’s almost as satisfying as keeping a sentence I like. I don’t think I’ve become ruthless or perverse—just a bit more willing to believe that nature will restore itself. The instinct to discard is finally a kind of faith. It tells me there’s a better way to do this page even though the evidence is not accessible at the present time.”


---Don DeLillo



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