A Bird’s-Eye View

A Bird’s-Eye View (a new essay about the writing life)

“Maybe you just need some distance.” Words often offered as a gentle suggestion when perhaps your writing isn’t going as planned. Maybe you’ve even said these words to yourself. You keep re-reading the same pages, changing a word or a sentence. Then putting the original word back in. Looking at other drafts and deciding you should have stayed with Draft #3. Or maybe Draft #5 is better. Or maybe…

Therein madness lies. Or at the very least, frustration.

But you have to stick with it, don’t you? Persevere. Now’s not the time to wimp out. You always knew that Draft #2 was your best. Maybe the ending from #4 could be tacked onto Draft #2 somehow. That ending was really good. Some of your best work. Continue reading

Stick the Knife In: Then Twist

Stick the Knife In: Then Twist (a new essay about writing)

I’ve been thinking a lot about vulnerability lately. It’s no mystery why my thoughts keep going there – I’ve been writing a memoir about being a sister for the past two years. Naturally I would feel vulnerable writing about family, right? After all, the funny/but not funny joke in nonfiction and memoir writing classes is: “I want to write about my family, but I have to wait for them all to die first.”

That’s a bit extreme. But it does show the depth of vulnerability many writers experience when even considering writing about personal topics. And family is often one of the most personal. Of course there are many other subjects that are also personal, and require a writer to be vulnerable. Illness, physical or mental trauma, experiencing some event (either painful or joyful) out of the ordinary – all of these have their place on the vulnerability spectrum. Writing about any of them requires the writer to go inward, excavate, examine, and then turn that into engaging prose.

So much easier not to even go there. So much easier not to probe.

Continue reading

Snow Days

Originally published on newsworks.org, the online news source for WHYY (NPR) in Philadelphia

The Day Before – Hello. This is The School calling to inform you that, due to the upcoming winter storm warning, school will not be in session tomorrow. Please do not drop your child off at school “accidentally,” on your way to your Pilates class, and then claim later that you never got this call. You know who you are. And so do we. This message will now repeat.

Day One a.m. – What a rare treat to have the little darlings home for a day. I will use this unexpected gift of time and make it a special day. Outside the weather may be frightful, but our day will be quite delightful. Let’s see… First, I’ll make everyone heart-shaped pancakes, then we’ll snuggle up and watch a family movie. Or two movies – after all, we have all day! We can bake cookies later, then maybe a few games of Monopoly. Just some good old-fashioned family time.

Day One p.m. – The school called again with one of those damn robo-calls. Blah, blah, blah winter storm. I mean, when I was a kid we didn’t have “snow days.” And that was before global warming, when we used to have real snow. Hubbie was telling the kids the story of how he used to deliver newspapers on his bike in snowstorms worse than this. Then he got all pissy because they walked out of the room during the part where he had to dig in the snow when he dropped his dime tip from Mrs. Gianetti. Continue reading

In Our Writing We Trust

This new essay was just published in the literary journal The Tishman Review. Read here or visit http://www.thetishmanreview.com/

Whenever I teach a class about writing and publishing, there is always a student who asks, “Aren’t you worried your ideas will be stolen?”  This is probably because of my teaching philosophy, which is to share everything in the world I know that might help them.

I always answer, “No.  I’m not afraid my ideas will be stolen.”  In the first place, the very essence of an idea is that it can’t be stolen.  An idea is an intangible thing.  Add to it the writer’s voice; toss in her version of plot, character, and setting; and you’ve got something that can’t be exactly duplicated.

Maybe there are only two or three or twelve basic plots, as some writing teachers like to point out.  And maybe if that monkey sits at the computer long enough it will eventually type out Romeo and Juliet.  I tell my own students that most good stories are basically about three things: love, loss, or longing (or any two or all of these in combination).  On the surface that might not seem to allow for much creativity, but the beauty of it is that there are as many stories about love, loss, and longing as there are human beings. Continue reading