Tuesday, June 28, 2011


Some things that are not in my novel:

This might explain why I was so relieved to read this month's Poets and Writers, in which agent Emily Forland speaks about Susanna Daniel's novel, Stiltsville, which was not "narrated by a flamingo, or written in interconnected haiku."

Because these are the things I worry about, you know, when I'm not worrying about all the other stuff, like laundry, who is or isn't smoking weed, and who happens to be dating the most popular girl in school.

*I totally want to read this.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Some Thoughts about the Workshop

I've been thinking about the model of the workshop, how to make it better, what makes it work for the students, what makes it exciting. A lot of it is about trust, and even more of it is about doing the work. A careful and thoughtful reading goes a long way.

And then I came across this Ray Bradbury quote on the Advice to Writers website:

You can’t learn to write in college. It’s a very bad place for writers because the teachers always think they know more than you do—and they don’t. They have prejudices. They may like Henry James, but what if you don’t want to write like Henry James? They may like John Irving, for instance, who’s the bore of all time. A lot of the people whose work they’ve taught in the schools for the last thirty years, I can’t understand why people read them and why they are taught.

Of course, he's right. Teachers do have prejudices. If you take enough workshops by different instructors someone contradicts someone else. We all mean to do the most good. What's a writer to do?

More than anything, I think, writers need to live, and they need to trust their guts. Live for real. Be risky. Get your heart broken, get in a fight. Have a baby. Go broke. Bleed a little, or a lot. Nothing's more boring than a story by a student who hasn't done anything. And then trust it. Trust yourself to know when you've tapped into that bloody pulp where the best stuff comes from.

Recently, I found a graffiti workshop offered at a local arts center, and I asked my teenage son -- who is fascinated by the artform and would like (with my blessing) to graffiti one wall of his bedroom -- if he wanted to take the class over the summer.

No way, he said. He looked at the brochure; read the description; weighed the possibility.

Why not?

Because, he said. I want to do graffiti. I don't want anyone to think that I learned it in a workshop.


Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Plan B

Amanda Palmer has been leading an ongoing Twitter conversation called "Fuck Plan B." If you use Twitter, think about following her. She's smart and funny; she answers tweets, and she doesn't spend all her time talking about herself.

That said, I'm going to talk about myself, and my own decision to Fuck Plan B.

As Tina Fey said, I don't have a Plan B. I do have a Plan G -- in the form of a working spouse. Still, my decision not to work makes things tight. Would it be better to work full time, or even seriously part time and have more money for stuff? For cable? For a car that doesn't have a detached exhaust system? Maybe, but probably not.

I realize that not having a Plan B is different when you're single, when you're the only breadwinner to begin with, but not having a Plan B isn't necessarily about not working. It's about not compromising. It's about knowing what you want, and then making that possible, however you have to.

I've had Plan B's: advertising, publishing, teaching. And not having a Plan B is scary. When I think about my kids going forward I want them to be safe and comfortable, and not having a Plan B is neither. They could be miserable cubicle workers. Or, they could find something they really love and go for it, fly in the face of fear or convention and step out in faith that things will work out.

They do. As Annie Dillard says, Right now you are flying. Right now, your job is to hold your breath.

Sunday, June 12, 2011


I ran into a former student recently and we ended up talking briefly about a friend's novel-in-progress. I said it was great. I've read a lot of it, and I believe in it.

Well, the former student said, a lot of it still reads like a first draft.

I said something mundane, like Sure.

But what I was thinking, and what I'm still thinking is that of course it does. Of course it does, and that doesn't make it weaker, or less than what it will eventually be. It makes it a draft. A novel-in-progress.

I've been teaching creative writing for nine years. If I had been bothered by things sounding like first drafts I would have quit -- roughly nine years ago. Very, very rarely have I encountered students who probably shouldn't be writing at all. Very, very often I have students who are writing what will eventually become great, but that need encouragement. Along with the praise, they need to see the weak spots, the spots where they rested, where they didn't push hard enough, or trust enough, or bleed enough. Sometimes, these pieces could be way, way better. And when I tell you that, it's because I believe it can be. And even when these pieces are rough, it's important to look past them, at what they can be.

Annie Dillard says, "there's another way of saying this. Aim for the chopping block. If you aim for the wood, you will have nothing. Aim past the wood, aim through the wood; aim for the chopping block."

Not just with the writing, but with the critique too.

I try hard not to pretend I know more than my students do. I try hard to be entrenched. To be, like a war journalist, embedded with the troops. We're all doing the same thing, at different speeds, at different times, while juggling a lot of other stuff. I am my own first draft. You can stop there, or you can look past it, to what else I might be.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

New Blog, New Pashion

Look at these books in the background.
They don't have titles!

Maybe they are just books waiting to be written.