Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Literary Discovery

I have been a regular listener to the weekly podcast from the NY Times Book Review. And I've always thought it timely, interesting, and full of the latest publishing news. But I've recently discovered Word for Word from American Public Media. It's a great podcast for writers. Writers talk about their work, read their work, give invaluable insight. The shows run about an hour, so they take a bit of pod space and take time to download sometimes, but they are worth it.

As usual, you can find the podcasts on iTunes.

Writing and Listening,
David W. Berner

Sunday, December 27, 2009

A New Year's Goal

I never liked resolutions for the New Year. The process always felt forced or ritualistic instead of real. Truly, why not make a resolution at ANY TIME OF THE YEAR?

But, given the tradition and the element of obligation the New Year brings, maybe a little literary goal, a literary resolution wouldn't be a bad thing.

Five literary goals for 2010...

1. Read more. I always read a bunch, but the more your read the better you know your craft and the better you write.
2. Write more. I can always write more, absolutely. And "finding the time" goes right along with this goal. It's part of the package.
3. Go Deeper. I have always asked my students to "go deep" when working on their writing, especially nonfiction or memoir or personal essay work. But I want to go deeper, explore harder, uncover bigger boulders.
4. Submit more. I have always submitted my work, but I need to be more focused on submitting to journals and literary magazines.
5. Listen more to my heart. I have always done this, maybe to my detriment, but I believe the more I listen for what's in my heart, the more true my writing will be.

Use mine, write your own, but either way - think about some resolutions that make sense for your work. Or, simply, your life.

Happy New Year!
David W. Berner

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Gift for the Holidays

I asked a friend the other day for a holiday gift suggestion for her daughter. I had already considered getting her a book, and sure enough, my friend said, "A book would be a good idea."

Note to self - Go with your gut.

I have found, over and over again, that giving a book as a gift is about the best present one can offer. Even if the recipient is not what you might consider a "reader." I have found that when I give a book, even to someone who is not what many of would consider a bookworm, I am rewarded by the response. And the recipient almost always reads the book! Many times they say to me, "You know, I don't read much, but..." Yep, they read it, liked it, and enjoyed the process.

The key of course is matching the right book with that non-reader. The subject matter must somehow resonate. But, if you take care in the choice, you'll get your rewards.

Buy a book, give a book this holiday.

Oh, yes. Don't forget to sign it inside - a personal note about how you selected this title or why you believe the book is perfect for them. That little touch says a lot.

Happy book buying!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Working in Audio

If you are a writer, and not trying to record your works, reading your work aloud, you are missing an opportunity. When I teach writing at Columbia College Chicago, it is mostly for radio work, audio. I always ask the students to read their narratives, their essays, commercials, public service announcements out loud. It's imperative for radio work, of course. But it's also a wonderful process for any kind of writing.

Reading your work aloud helps you to "hear" the rhythms, the pace and flow of the writing - all key elements for good writing, no matter the delivery system - radio, magazines, journals, books. It also helps you "hear" what is working or not, to "hear" the music of the language. Try it. You will see what I mean.

Plus, working on reading your works out loud helps you be a better presenter of your work at readings, presentations, seminars. And it gives you another creative dimension. You also don't need to work in a recording studio to do this. GarageBand on an Apple commuter makes it very easy to record your work. Purchase a decent microphone, plug it in, and get started. If you are recording at home, throw a blanket over you head when you read. This will give a "warmth" to the sound, as if you were working in a sound-proof studio. It's a neat little trick.

And don't worry if you don't have a traditional "radio voice" - YOUR voice is the best for your work. Read and interpret, give the words life, lift them off the page. And have fun, it will show in the read.

Try recording your work, try it and then do it often. It will help create better stories. I promise.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Revelations Deeper Than Ever

I mostly write creative nonfiction, and mostly memoir. The "I" word shows up a lot in my writing. I've written before about how memoir can be a frightening place to go. For memoir to be successful, it has to be honest and requires the writer to go deep into the narrator's soul. The narrator, of course, is the author. Personal stories take a lot of guts.

The other night a friend offered a suggestion to me about my recent writing on fatherhood. I'm working on a collection of fatherhood stories, all personal. The suggestion was one so deep and profound, it nearly knocked me over. The friend had observed something in my writing, related to my connection to my father and grandfather, linking directly to how I relate to my two sons. I won't go into all of it here, but it was incredibly intuitive, perceptive. I must now find a way to work this into the focus of a story. It's now a goal.

The point is this: no good writing of personal experience always requires uncomfortable moments. The writer has to squirm a bit to be sure the writing is touching the nerve centers. And when it touches the nerve centers of the writer, it surely will touch the nerve centers of the reader. And that is what any author wants - to resonate with the reader.

This is not to say all writing has to be profound, sad, close-to-the bone, but it must come from somewhere deep in the heart, the head, or the soul. Even if it takes someone else to point that out.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

To Nobel or Not to Nobel

I get a kick out of people who say President Obama shouldn't be getting the Nobel Peace Prize, as if he should have skippped the ceremony and told the Nobel committee to give it to the runner-up. He wasn't about to do that, of course. And his words at the ceremony today were remarkable. He linked the Afghanistan surge to peace, he was humble and honored, and I am proud to have a President who is thought of that highly in the international community.

You can debate whether he "deserved" the prize, or whether it came too prematurely. But, consider this - the United States has a much better reputation in the world than just a few years ago, and our foreign policy is now less about cowboys and indians, and more about diplomacy, talking, and yes, peace. The worth of transformation is evident now and will be, even more profoundly, years from now.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Holiday Gifts

I was out shopping for holiday gifts the other night. Yes, actually going into stores and not clicking through websites. Although, I must admit, most of my shopping this year has been online.
Still - I couldn't help myself be reminded how wonderful a bookstore is at this time of year and what treasures are there for great holiday gifts.

I have a three suggestions this year for super reads...

The Farther Shore by Matthew Eck. A beautiful, haunting war story. It's taut and elegantly written.
The Night in Question: Stories by Tobias Wolfe. He is one of the best short stories writers working today. Absolutely marvelous material.
Riding the Dog: A Look Back at America by Thomas E. Kennedy. Great personal essays filled with incredible insight.


Any other ideas? Good books on your list?

David B

Tuesday, December 1, 2009


Hello all.

This is the beginning of this writer's new venture - a regular author's blog. And your chance to respond, comment, question, and write! Certainly, I would love to hear from those who have read my book - Accidental Lessons - or have read or heard my other works. But I'm also interested in you and your stories. A true blog should be a conversation and that is why you are so welcomed into this process.

I will be writing regular updates, but the blog doesn't resonate or engage unless you take part. I encourage you to write a few words about the creative process, writing, teaching, football, music, love, hate, war, poverty, health care - anything that strikes you, because all of it is part of the human condition, and all of it is worthy of a story. We all have stories to tell - little ones, big ones, medium-sized ones - and they are all welcome here. In fact, I would encourage telling your stories and sharing your writing. Writing is a wonderful art, but we need readers to make it work, right?

Thanks for contributing!

David W. Berner