Straight from the Quill — notes from the writing workshops
10 Truths for Emerging Writers (hint: think slow)
I heard from an emerging writer recently who said she’d been crushed, devastated, destroyed by the feedback she’s received on her book, which she recently self-published, and by the lack of sales. She was so convinced it was brilliant. Now she feels as though readers are idiots or else she’s utterly deluded. Either way, she’s…Read More
Oh My, The Things I Don't Know
How many times are we told to write about what we know? Too many. I’ll be honest — I’m a magpie, by which I mean I’m someone who’s easily distracted when previously unnoticed bright shiny objects catch my eye. I believe this is a wonderful quality for a writer. Sure, we need discipline, stick-to-it-ness, focus…Read More
Watch the Birdie . . .
One of the greatest habits a writer can develop is that of observation. Observation is a form of discovery — we look at the mundane, the ordinary, and because we pay attention to it we see it in a new way. A visual artist may sit down in front of something — say a crow…Read More
What's more important, plot or great prose?
My Best Beloved was recently at an insurance industry conference, from where he sent me an email saying he was in the midst of a discussion with an associate about literature. I can’t tell you how gratifying it is to think of business folk taking a break from discussions of annuities and risk prevention to…Read More
The Cranky Muse
Last month during the Sharpening the Quill writing workshop I lead here in Princeton, one of my students mentioned that although her lifelong dream has been to be a writer, she’s been plagued over the past year or so by a series of illnesses that have kept her from writing as much as she’d like. …Read More
Paul Muldoon — A Poet in the Prison
Last week, Paul Muldoon, Pulitzer Prize and T.S. Elliot Prize winning poet and poetry editor of the New Yorker, came to visit the weekly class I teach at a prison here in New Jersey. The classroom is in the basement of the prison. Bright primary-colored squares on the floor tiles, and pale blue walls strive…Read More
What Can't Be Taught
Being a writer, I write, but I also teach creative writing. I teach a workshop once a month in a lovely bright room in a cafe in Princeton, New Jersey; and I teach once a week in a dim, goatish-smelling, basement cubbyhole in a prison in Bordentown, New Jersey. Except for the setting, and perhaps…Read More
Fame and fortune — step right up!
“Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart.” — William Wordsworth Someone I’ve never met recently accused me (via, not surprisingly, an anonymous blog comment somewhere) of being a liar and a cynic because I lead monthly creative writing workshops. This person stated I was essentially conning people, making money by offering false hope…Read More
Slipping past the troll
Do you remember the Scandinavian beastie of folktale known as the Troll? Trolls often guard bridges and won’t let you cross until you’ve paid them (or perhaps they won’t let you pass at all, but will simply eat you!). They are much larger than humans and particularly ugly. They are frequently said to be extremely…Read More
A City of Crumpled Paper
During my prison writing class this week, one of my students approached me and said he wanted to talk. Like all the men, he wears khaki scrubs and enormous khaki lace-up hiking boots (which seems a rather cruel joke). Like most of the men, he towers above me. I always forget how short I am…Read More