Sunday, April 17, 2011

Books to Re-Read

I am reading for the fourth time in years the book Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. I love this book, it inspires me, keeps me on track with my writing, just when I most need it. I'm writing some fiction and Anne's thoughts on how plot develops - worry about the characters and the plot will come - is just a wonderful piece of advise.

But re-reading Bird by Bird made me think about other writing books that should be re-read.

Here's a great list:

1. Bird by Bird, by Anne Lamott
2. The Writing Life, by Annie Dillard
3. Writing Begins with the Breath, by Loraine Herring
4. Ernest Hemingway on Writing, edited by Larry W. Phillips

Sometimes inspiration comes from the re-do, the re-read. Go back and take another look. It's bound to kick start your work.


Saturday, April 16, 2011

Making a Shift

I don't write a lot of fiction, but recently I pulled together a short story, of course, based on SOME fact. I'm not sure I know how to do it any other way. It was okay, but something was missing from the approach. It seemed, well, a bit lifeless. Then just a day ago while on a Southwest flight from a conference in Las Vegas, I had an idea. What if I changed the point of view? What if I changed the main character to the narrator? Because I have written so many personal essays and memoir, along with journalism, this little shift hadn't occurred to me, although in retrospect it now seems like a natural approach.

If in personal essay the narrator is YOU, then way can't the narrator be the main character in the fiction, as if YOU were that person. I know this may seem rudimentary, simplistic, junior high English comp class, but here is the bigger point...

When you are working on a story - any genre - and it just seems flat, awkward, off-balance, try making a shift in the POV. Try writing the same story from the narrator's point of view or another character's point of view. Maybe the girlfriend of the main character tells the story, maybe the mother, the father, a boss, a teacher. Sometimes this immediately brings new life to a story, a new sparkle that was missing in the older version. Have fun with it. Play around. It can give a once flat story some depth and texture.


Friday, April 8, 2011

Chicago's Storytellers.

In my career, I have done a number of readings, mostly portions of my memoir Accidental Lessons. But recently I have been expanding, exploring my storytelling and have been taking part in a couple of Story Club events, along with a event called Essay Fiesta later this month. (April 18th at the Book Cellar in Chicago, 7pm)

Last night I was at Uncommon Ground in the Wrigleyville neighborhood to read a story (First Date) from my new manuscript, Ghost Boxing.

But this is really beside the point.

Here is the real point...

The storytelling community in Chicago, and elsewhere, is really rockin'. There are over six storytelling groups (and probably more that I don't know about) in the city of Chicago, giving writers of all levels a chance to put their material out in front of an audience. If you have never done this before, try it. Make sure you work your "print" story for the "ear" and practice your stage presence. There is no need to be intimidated. There are plenty of first timers, people honing their craft, and learning to shape their stories. But there are also some brilliant performers from which to learn.

The genre - telling a story in front of an audience - is not like a traditional "reading" for an author. Oh sure, you can "read" the work - in fact, I would encourage NOT trying to do it off the cuff or by memory - but learn to bring that story alive with pauses, pace changing, vocal emphasis, whispers, yells, and living dialogue.

One of the more well-known events is The Moth, which is also a public radio show and quite popular. But Story Club, which I have been involved with lately, is wonderfully run and professionally handled. Another up and comer is This Much is True.

I encourage you, if you're a writer, take in an event, see what it's like, and then get out there. Plenty of open-mic opportunities exist. It is a superb way to get immediate feedback on your work. And, needless to say, tons of fun!

Actively reading aloud,

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Support is What a Writer Needs

Had the chance recently to contribute to a wonderful association's newsletter: National Association of Memoir Writers. Such good people. The association supports storytellers at all levels, with all kinds of personal tales to tell.

I hope that my words can somehow help just one of the readers. We all have stories to tell, we just have to know the best ways to tell them.


Friday, April 1, 2011

Reading for Writers...Inspired!

Read a wonderful article in Huffington Post this morning. I thought it was going to be the tired "here's what you should read if you want to be a writer" kind of story. And, it was, but just a little. What was different was this story touched on the writer's own journey and how the books listed would be helpful for the ART of writing, not the SCIENCE of publishing.

Seven Books for Writers- by Deanna Fei

Sure, we all want to be recognized as writers in print, on the web, whatever the distribution mechanism may be. But, writing - true writing - is not about publishing. It's about WRITING.
The list in the Huffington piece points out great choices. Some picks are found on my own list that I present at workshops, and like the Huffington piece, I believe these choices are true to the writing life, not the publishing life. Write first, rewrite second, and publishing will come.

Here's my list. Hope it helps.

  1. Writing Begins with the Breath: Embodying Your Authentic Voice

Loraine Herring, Publisher: Shambhala

  1. Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life

Anne Lamott, Publisher: Anchor

  1. The Writing Life

Annie Dillard, Publisher: Harper Perennial

  1. Telling True Stories: A Nonfiction Writer’s Guide

Mark Kramer and Wendy Call, Publisher: Plume

  1. Shimmering Images: A Handy Little Guide to Writing Memoir

Lisa Dale North, Publisher: St. Martin’s Griffin

  1. Inventing the Truth: The Art and Craft of Memoir

Russell Baker, Publisher: Mariner Books

  1. Ernest Hemingway on Writing

Editor: Larry W. Phillips, Publisher: Scribner

  1. The Spooky Art: Thoughts on Writing

Norman Mailer, Publisher: Random House