Sunday, June 28, 2015

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Opportunity for young writers

David Levithan and Billy Merrell are putting together an expanded edition of The Full Spectrum and are looking for essays about lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, questioning and other queer identities by writers under 21.  If you have a story you want to tell, go to for details on submitting.  Deadline is August 1st!

Friday, June 26, 2015

Step by step

I've had a certain chore on my long-term to-do list for quite a while. I've kept putting it off because it had no true deadline and because I didn't really want to do it. It was annoying, I didn't know quite how to do it, and I anticipated some technical difficulties. I was going to have to compose text, find and resize and insert images. It was one of those tasks that was theoretically simple, but in reality could be fraught with glitches.

Today I decided that since the whole task was so off-putting, I would break it down into chunks and just make myself do one chunk. I would compose the text, and not worry about formatting or anything else. As soon as I broke it down that way, I felt great relief. And once I had written the text, I decided to tackle the next step: find the images I needed, and insert them. That turned out to be a snap (I had unwittingly organized the images in what turned out to be a very convenient way--yay for Past Me, making it easy on Current Me!), so I tried resizing the images. The last time I had done this, I had great difficulty, but this time it worked easily.

I ended up finishing the whole task. But I never would have started if I hadn't broken it down into manageable steps. I have to do that a lot; in fact, it's the only way I manage to write a book. Writing a book is complicated and takes a long time. So I break it down into daily pieces, such as: Write a scene. Revise 10 pages. Insert chapter breaks. And so on.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

At the center

There are many motives and reasons for writing. I've been trying to get at the core of mine. I think it may be this: I see certain things about the world, and I want to write them down in a way that will make other people recognize them--whether they say, "Yes, I've always noticed/thought that, but I believed I was the only one," or, "Yes, that's exactly the way it is, but I never realized it or saw it expressed that way before!"

Knowing what I'm trying to do can help bring me home when I get lost in the middle of a project, or between projects.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

How I spent my summer weekend

--spending quality time outdoors with my husband
--watching young hawks fledge
--pruning useless adverbs from a manuscript
--calling my dad
--reading on the porch
--weeding old papers
--taking in the news, searching for the gesture that can start change, seeking the light in the darkness

Friday, June 19, 2015

The ability to see the world as other than it is

"Over the years, I've also encouraged my students to learn how to dream beyond the world they lived in and imagine ways in which life can be made fuller and more compassionate. The ability to see the world as other than it is plays a major role in sustaining hope. It keeps part of one's mind free of the burden of everyday misery and can become a corner of sanity as one struggles to undo the horrors of an unkind and mad world."
--Herbert Kohl, "I Won't Learn from You," and Other Thoughts on Creative Maladjustment

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Try that new thing

When the same old same old isn't working, it can be helpful to try something new.
Whether it's impulsive, or the culmination of a long-held wish, that change of scenery or different viewpoint can work magic.
At the very least, it's a break before returning to the ordinary. At best, it can be the start of a new journey.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Chapter breaks

I'm thinking a lot about chapter breaks today, since I've been reworking them in my novel-in-progress.

Ideally I want to end a chapter on a cliffhanger, but a chapter also needs to have a feeling of completeness--the way a paragraph does, the way a scene does. There's a reason that certain scenes are grouped together to form a chapter. And so I hunt for those spots where I have both completeness (such as, when I'm about to shift to a new place or focus on a different character or subplot) and suspense (ending on a question, or a foreshadowing, or when something unexpected has just happened).

My last editor was very good at pointing out less-than-stellar chapter endings, and asking me to do more with them.

For this book, I'm realizing I want shorter chapters--I love short chapters anyway, as both a reader and a writer--and I now have many more chapters than I did yesterday.

We'll see if this work holds up tomorrow. That's the thing about revising: I usually can't tell if something works until I've stepped away from it and come back to it.

Monday, June 8, 2015

The things around us

I saw an art exhibit this past weekend in which everyday objects figured prominently. It has reminded me to look twice at my surroundings, at the familiar objects that make up my world but that I have stopped thinking about. Just as I have my plates and shoes and posters, my contact-lens case, my toothbrush and phone and pillowcases, my characters have their own worlds full of the things they encounter daily, the things they use with hate or love or indifference. A character knows how to jiggle the doorknob of her apartment to get it to open; she has seen that particular crack in the sidewalk every day; she knows the mildewy smell of the basement.

Every story has a setting, and almost every setting has things in it, things that are familiar to the characters. I don't mean that we need to describe all of these things--description that is just a catalog of furnishings bores me--but a few objects may deserve notice on the page. And the rest will form a backdrop; the rest of the objects will suggest themselves from the few details we do provide. We will also find (and leave) clues in how a character treats his surroundings: Are his things precious to him? Is he careless? Does he hoard? Does he take out his anger on his physical surroundings? Does he seem to think he doesn't have the right to take up space? What does he have hidden away, that only he knows about?

Thursday, June 4, 2015


I have been busy, but that isn't really the reason my blog posts have been less frequent lately.

It's because I'm in a listening phase.

I made the time to write blog posts, but whenever I sat in front of the template, I found that at that moment I wanted to be receiving words rather than giving them. Listening rather than speaking. So I've been reading a lot and thinking a lot, storing up the words and energy and ideas that fuel each new phase of writing.

Online, silence often looks like absence. But sometimes, it's just about listening.