• Creative Writing,  power of words,  teaching creativity,  teaching writing

    The Authentic Illusion

    Everything is illusion, the Buddhists tell us – our lives and loves, our fears and troubles, the very earth and air and we ourselves. None of this is real. This concept is intended to help us let go of our attachment to longing, hunger, desire. But to fiction writers, it is almost a validation of our work. If everything is illusion, then the fictional world has as much significance as any. Think of the word “fiction” – something feigned, invented, a made up tale. And yet, in fiction we often discover and express the most profound human truths. Fiction functions to create its own reality and, through it, to reflect…

  • 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…

  • Creative Writing,  Great Writers,  practical advice,  tips and tricks,  writing technique

    Musing with Aristotle

    For me, the older the better as far as reading tastes and research go. For my latest novel, I’ve nearly memorized parts of Herodotus’ Histories. (Book IV is fascinating – really!) I’ve regularly perused Pliny the Elder, Strabo and Tacitus. OK, maybe I’m just a little weird, but I love hanging with the ancients. I recently returned to 2360-year-old roots for a clearer understanding of the elements of good fiction. Aristotle’s Poetics details six critical pieces: Plot, Character, Diction, Thought, Spectacle and Song. In our many discussions about writing, particularly on Thursday nights, we have argued over terms like “character-driven” and “plot-driven”. Both are essential and inextricably intertwined. Aristotle calls…

  • Creative Writing,  Finding your voice,  power of words

    The Writer’s Journey

    My son pulled a book from the bookstore shelf the other day that he thought might be good for my writing students: The Writers Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers. It is written for screenwriters (which I’m not – at least not so far), so I’d never noticed it before. But I was immediately drawn to the hedge labyrinth on the cover for its symmetry and symbolism, recalling my days at the Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine and my early search for my writer’s voice. It all began with the exploration of myth. I hadn’t thought of it in a while. I had long ago learned how to create…

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

    Peeling the Onion

    In his insightful essay, Found in Translation from last Sunday’s New York Times, author Michael Cunningham peels the many-layered onion of the authorial relationship. His initial premise is translation, which one immediately assumes means language to language. And it does. Every book is re-formed into something completely new when it is translated, effected by the subtle shifts of meaning and even comprehension that come from refocusing through a different cultural lens. But the layers of translation go deeper than that. Cunningham points to the truth that all of us are writing works in translation – that our conception can never be wrought in concrete form without undergoing a kind of…

  • 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,  digital media,  Distraction,  eBooks

    Reaching a “Singularity”

    It’s been a while since I wrote one of my “eBooks are transforming the world” rants. Maybe because I’m as confused as the next publishing professional. Maybe because the media world is changing so rapidly that none of us, no matter how diligent, can keep up. Maybe because I’ve given up trying to understand what’s going on. It used to be that the concept of “reaching the singularity” was far-fetched science fiction. As futurist and author Ray Kurzweil puts it, “The Singularity is an era in which our intelligence will become increasingly nonbiological and trillions of times more powerful than it is today—the dawning of a new civilization that will…

  • Creative Writing,  discipline,  Distraction,  Finding time to write,  Great Writers,  reading like a writer

    Reading in the Bathroom

    I foolishly started reading Anna Karenina this spring – twice, and then again this summer. Each time I was dissuaded by the time-swallowing responsibility of editing other people’s work. Beloved writer-friends and clients, you know I adore you. But every once in a while it is a relief just to hide in the bathroom between ream-length tomes and read something that requires neither a big red pen nor an editorial eye. I usually pick up The Atlantic, The New Yorker, browse the photos in National Geographic, or slog through one of that large stack of articles I’ve printed from the Internet. But the other day I stopped myself. No! Read…

  • Creative Writing,  Finding your voice,  Great Writers,  Mentors,  reading like a writer,  writers support

    We Are What We Read

    I’m lucky because my boys, ages 6 and 9, still let me read to them each night before bed. They’ve graduated from children’s picture books to novels that develop psyches – Narnia, Harry Potter, the wild, wondrous world of Roald Dahl. Recently I convinced them to let me read one of my own childhood favorites, From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, a mouthful of a title that has stuck with me since I read it when I was probably just a little older than my oldest son is now. At first I wondered if the book would hold up. Would the story be as absolutely captivating as…

  • Creative Writing,  Getting Published

    Guest Blogger: Marina Budhos, author of Tell Us We’re Home

    In a revealing email exchange between authors David Gates and Jonathan Lethem posted on the PEN American Center’s website, Lethem bemoans the author’s predicament in the digital age “where the novelists are supposed to shut up and blunder through the dark woods like Salingerian elephants with day-glo targets painted on their backs, entitled only to subvocal grunting when their periodic utterances are filleted in the instantaneous opinion-marketplace.” This is the world into which we thrust our heartfelt, blood-and-sweat issue; and there is little we dare say or do to combat the verbal scatter-shot that gashes our thick but ever thinning skin. My dear friend, author Marina Budhos, is standing these…