What is "Doom Eager"?

Lorrie Moore, from "Better and Sicker"
"Martha Graham speaks of the Icelandic term "doom eager" to denote that ordeal of isolation, restlessness, caughtness and artistic experiences when he or she is sick with an idea. When a writer is doom eager, the writing won't be sludge on the page; it will give readers -- and the writer, of course, is the very first reader -- an experience they've never had before, or perhaps a little and at last the words for an experience they have."

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Authors choose their favorite books of 2010

Authors choose their favorite books of 2010
Salon.com's Laura Miller shares notable authors' picks for best books of 2010. Check it out!

Most of my reading in 2010 was in the YA genre. This year I really liked Jessica Blank's realistic 1980's coming-of-age story Karma For Beginners (Hyperion Teen), Kimberly Derting's debut thriller The Body Finder (HarperTeen), and Carrie Vaughn's fantasy tale of a girl and a dragon Voices of Dragons (HarperTeen).

Monday, December 20, 2010

Why we love bad writing

Why we love bad writing
Laura Miller muses on why so many of us love bad writing in her article posted at salon.com.

I have to admit, as much as I despise "bad writing," Miller has a point in her article: the masses love quick to gobble up, easy to digest, filler plot-heavy novels. I imagine it's much in the same way many of us like fast food, plasticware, and disposable razors.

Last night before calling it quits for the day, I read a few chapters of Tolstoy's Anna Karenina. No, I couldn't read it quickly. And, yes, the Russian names are near impossible to sound out in my head; I end up glossing over them. But there is something to reading Tolstoy I can't get from reading Nicholas Sparks or Jodi Picoult. For me, it has to do with the craft of a sentence, the quality of character development, the fine construction of a paragraph. My father used to tell me, You pay for quality. I guess I still believe that.

I'll take a few chapter of Tolstoy over an entire Dan Brown novel any day.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

a comment on art by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. was specifically addressing the benefits of attending university creative writing programs when he wrote, "The primary benefit of practicing any art, whether well or badly, is that it enables one's soul to grow." Most of us writers won't get the opportunity to attend an established writing program. But many of us can be blessed enough to hook up with a supportive and talented group of writers, hopefully for critique groups, or workshops and conferences, or just to share the "rapture and misery," the moments atop the mountain and the dark nights in the gutters of doubt and insecurity. If our soul is to grow through the practice of our art we can find encouragement and security in the company of other practitioners of the art.

Don't know a single soul who writes? Try one or both of these online communities:
WritersCafe.org or Fictionaut.com

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

writing as a "series of permissions"

I love this quote from writer Susan Sontag. It's taken from her essay "Directions: Write, Read, Rewrite. Repeat Steps 2 and 3 as Needed" reprinted in the 2001 publication of Writers on Writing: Collected Essays from The New York Times.
"Writing is finally a series of permissions you give yourself to be expressive in a certain way. To invent. To leap. To fly. To fall. To find your own characteristic way of narrating and insisting; that is, to find you own inner freedom."

I think it's important to realize our "own characteristic way of narrating" is uniquely our own and that we must insist on giving ourselves permission to express it. Much can be learned from workshops, critique sessions, writers programs and the like, but ultimately the writer must take what she has learned and find her own way.

Follow the link below to read Sontag's essay.
"Directions: Write, Read, Rewrite. Repeat Steps 2 and 3 as Needed"

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

my morning at a storage auction

Every time I turn on the television these days, I see commercials for the handful of new "reality" shows centered around auctions and "picking" antiques. You know the ones, they star gruff-looking, everyday types who make their livings from buying other people's junk and reselling it for a profit. The latest of these genre of shows are the storage unit auction shows, including Auction Hunters and Storage Wars. I'll admit I got more than a little curious. You mean you can buy abandoned storage lots and turn around and sell people's junk for a tidy profit? Okay, I'll bite! So, today I attended my first storage lot auction.

I didn't find any treasures. In fact, I never even bid on a lot. But, I did find that going to the auction provided some real treasures for observing human behavior. The moment that resonates most for me was the look on a young man's face -- he looked to be in his early twenties -- when it dawned on him that he'd most likely overbid -- and by a substantial amount -- for a storage locker that contained a beat up, fake Christmas tree, a microfiber suede couch, a few (probably counterfeit) Coach handbags, and boxes of assorted old clothes and household items. I knew he was in trouble when he bounced on his toes in anticipation while the bidding got driven up to over $500. After the bidding stopped and he'd "won" the lot, he tore into the pile, looking for anything that justified his impetuous purchase.

The experience got me to wondering about the folks who'd abandoned the lot units. What were their stories? How had it come to their belongings being auctioned off to the highest bidder? How did they feel about strangers rummaging through their lives? What abandoned dreams were stored away in those cardboard boxes and plastic bins?

Reflecting on this morning, I'm left wondering if there's a story in the experience somewhere -- either on the side of the anonymous whose possessions were just auctioned away or on the side of the eager looking to score a windfall on the lost and abandoned dreams of folks they'll never met and whose "lives" they've just "won."

Monday, December 6, 2010

steps for staying "tuned in" for what you need

"Once you're into a story everything seems to apply -- what you overhear on a city bus is exactly what your character would say on the page you're writing. Wherever you go, you meet part of your story. I guess you're tuned in for it, and the right things are sort of magnetized." - Eudora Welty

Good source material for our writing is around us all the time. I think we are most "tuned in" to it when we are actively working on a writing piece. The following steps may help you stay "tuned in" for what you need for a writing project:

1. Make and stick to a writing schedule as much as possible. Neglecting your writing work leads to distraction and lack of focus. When we are not focused on our work, it's harder to "tune in" to the fabulous source material that surrounds us every day.

2. Be observant. Watch others and be attune to your surroundings. What does the day feel like? How does someone react to stimuli, to others around him or her, to conflict?

3. Listen carefully and with purpose. Catch and write down as soon as you can overheard conversations you think you can use later. Note an interesting or provocative turn of phrase. Notice the construction and syntax of spoken language.

4. Keep your writing project in mind as you go through your daily routine and living obligations. Working through scenes in your mind ahead of time will make it easier for you to write and to incorporate the source material you've encountered as it fits into your work.

5. Keep a notebook for each writing project, as well as a general notebook or journal to keep ideas and scraps of phrases and observations from your surroundings. Don't worry if you'll ever use anything you record or when you'll use it: just get it down. Write it down as soon as possible. We always think we'll remember that cool phrase or idea the next day, the next week, the next month. How soon we forget when we fail to write it down.

Keep the literary faith, friends. And keep writing!

Saturday, December 4, 2010

the problem of the struggling writer

While being interviewed for The Paris Review, writer Frank O'Connor was asked by the interviewer: "What about the problem of the struggling writer who must make a living?" Frank O'Connor answered with the following story:
"Now, that's something I can't understand about America. It's a big generous country, but so many students of mine seemed to think they couldn't let anyone else support them. A student of mine had this thing about you mustn't live on your father and I argued with him. I explained that a European writer would live on anybody, would live on a prostitute if he had to, it didn't matter; the great thing was to get the job done. But he didn't believe in this, so he rang up his father and told him he'd had a story refused by The New Yorker, and his father said, 'I can keep you for the next forty years, don't you think you can get a story in The New Yorker in forty years?' Well, this father was a man I understood and sympathized with, a decent man. But the boy felt he mustn't be supported by his father, so he came down to New York and started selling office furniture."

I got a check today from a client, a wonderful fellow who's retired and writes short stories about men who love women, who are entranced and manipulated by their feminine wiles, often times to the point of their own self-detriment. The check was for $60. It's not much, but it beats selling office furniture. As far as I'm concerned, anything, even being broke all the time, is better than geting sucked back into "making a living" but feeling used up and creatively dry.