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

A Writer’s Writer: May Sarton

Every writer I know keeps notebooks (whether “real” notebooks or virtual) where they write or record things other (usually more well-known) writers have said that strike them as helpful, or just plain lovely. These notebooks are usually also the repository for other random thoughts the writer might have: story ideas, books they want to read, authors they want to check out – basically anything that might pertain to their writing life.

Going back and looking through these notebooks is a favorite activity of mine. I count it as “real work,” which means that when I go through these notebooks I am actually finding all sorts of potential “jumping-off points” for my own work. This is very helpful when I am casting about for what to work on next, or when I need a break from what I am working on.

I often share quotes from other writers on Twitter, but many of the authors I like best do not share their observations in 140 characters or less. With that in mind, I offer some of my favorite quotes from random notebooks – quotes that I liked so much, I felt compelled to find a pen and notebook to record them. (Seems like a somewhat arcane task, nevertheless…) Continue reading