• Creative Writing,  first draft,  novel writing,  writing fiction

    At the Beginning – Again

    Walking through fog. With the headlamp on. Low. Paraphrasing a quote from E.L. Doctorow. This is what it’s like to write a novel. I keep telling myself that as I move forward, ever so slowly. These first infantile steps, as if I’ve never taken them before. “It’s like driving a car at night: you never see further than your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” from E. L. Doctorow, The Art of Fiction No. 94, interviewed by George Plimpton in The Paris Review. But I have. Three times. I have conceived and birthed three whole, healthy novels. (Well, two healthy ones anyway. My first was ill-formed…

  • Creative Writing

    I Give Up!

    No, this is not an announcement. I am not even thinking about giving up on my novel. In fact, revisions are going rather nicely. Though I’ve been inundated with other obligations over the last two weeks, when I return to my manuscript, I see that my vision is becoming clearer and the suggestions that I fought against back in the fall are resulting in a much better story overall. I am, for better or worse, in sickness and in health, married to the long, slow, sometimes torturous process of completion, even if it – and sometimes it threatens to – kill me. Nonetheless, over the last few weeks, a couple…

  • connecting,  Creative Writing,  Getting Published,  writing advice

    Guest Blogger Lena Roy: We are writers, hear us roar!

    The web of support that frames my life as a writer was first anchored in a writing workshop taught by Madeleine L’Engle, author of A Wrinkle in Time. Sitting at the feet of the author of one of the most influential books of my childhood, I gained not only a richer understanding of literary craft, but a spirit of generosity, nurturing and acceptance that has guided my work, my relationships with other writers, and my teaching. Through that web, I recently connected with another writer, Lena Roy, whose ties to Madeleine are not only creative but familial. I’m honored to welcome Lena, Madeleine’s granddaughter, to The Writers Circle. Her debut…

  • Creative Writing,  practical advice,  revision,  tips and tricks,  writing technique

    The Meandering Plot, or how to figure out what’s next

    Plotting is a delicate balance of intention, intuition and flexibility, of knowing what path to follow without losing track of all the other forks in the road. We generally sense our story’s direction – its main thrust and the ultimate objective of our tale. But along the way, we trip and wander. Other events and characters step in with subplots, histories, and desires of their own. And themes appear that deepen our telling, even while they confuse and distract us. In early drafts, meandering is good, at least to a point. If we stick too closely to an outline or plan, we lose opportunities for our subconscious to bring us…

  • Creative Writing,  editing,  revision,  writing technique

    Taming the Wilderness

    All of us struggle with revision. It is undoubtedly the most anguished part of the writer’s craft. Earlier this week, one of our Circle bemoaned the challenge. “I wrote the entire manuscript in a few months. Now it’s taking me weeks just to revise a single chapter.” Believe me, I understand. I’ve felt the same frustration. But I’ve come to realize that revision is as much about another draft as it is untangling the emotional ties we have to our existing creation. Writers make much of the daunting blank page. But I say first drafts are incredibly freeing. You can do anything you want, write anything that comes. If you…

  • connecting,  Creative Writing,  critique,  editing,  Mentors,  revision,  Writers Groups

    Deconstructing the Reconstruction

    Taking criticism is never easy, no matter how expert, apropos, or kind. We can feel our bodies seizing up, our hearts palpitating, our minds starting to whirl with refusals, excuses, explanations, denials. Of course, my original is perfect! They just don’t understand! But if we chose our readers wisely, usually we find they’re right. Maybe the solution isn’t exactly as they suggest, but there’s a kernel of truth in their issues and insights that we would all be wise to examine. I confronted this working on my latest revisions. My good friend Marina had given my manuscript a thorough, thoughtful once-over and we’d spent hours discussing her comments and suggestions.…

  • connecting,  Creative Writing,  Finding time to write

    Don’t Quit Your Day Job

    None of us can deny that day jobs eat up valuable time for writing. We accept but resent them, knowing that bills do pile up and, unless we are fortunate recipients of the largess of a trust fund, inheritance or a well-padded spouse, most of us have little choice but to forfeit some portion of our soul’s calling to fulfill the need for shelter, clothing and food. Many writers, especially those young or idealistic enough to believe we will one day “break out”, take on (intentionally or otherwise) dull jobs that eat our souls, but supposedly keep our minds clear for our literary vocation. I spent years as one of…

  • Creative Writing,  critique,  editing,  revision

    A House A-Crumble

    I had a dream last night that my house was crumbling. The front stairway, made of concrete, was so precarious it broke beneath my feet as I tried to mount. The porch displayed its gray, rotted wood in the cloud-light, and the front door was hanging on its hinges. Into this wreck, I entered optimistically, skipping when the stairs collapsed, my hammer hanging from my work-pants like a decoration. I felt certain that everything around me could be spruced up to perfection. I already had a plan to center the stairs (they were dangling far off to the right) and to tear off the front railings so the porch would…

  • Creative Writing,  discipline,  Great Writers,  power of words

    Mediocre Books and One-Time Wonders

    We all hope and pray that the writing we’ve been slaving away at for weeks, months or years is brilliant, publishable, praiseworthy. Sometimes we’re right. More often than not, it seems, we’re wrong. This doesn’t necessarily mean that we’re bad writers. I found two links this week that brought home the point that every writer, no matter how skilled, talented, lauded or adored, sometimes misses the mark. And some of us (God help, please no!) have only one really good book within us. Take note of “Great Writers, Bad Novels” in last week’s Wall Street Journal. I particularly love the honesty in Flannery O’Connor’s quoted letter to a friend: “It…

  • connecting,  Creative Writing,  Getting Published,  inspiration,  Mentors

    Guest Blogger: Susan Barr-Toman, author of “When Love Was Clean Underwear”

    Guest blogger Susan Barr-Toman comes to us as real family. Though I personally haven’t met her yet, most of us know her sister Mary Mann from her time with The Writers Circle and now in her new, all-consuming capacity as the editor of Maplewood Patch. As Susan’s blog post shows, she too struggled and doubted and finally, indeed at the very last moment, found acceptance and success. But Susan has come to realize that, even without that bound volume with her name on it, writing has given her a lot. I’m sure we can all relate to that. Be sure to come to Susan’s reading next Friday, May 7, 7:30…