February 11, 2012 · 10:10 pm
Sometimes you need to cover the truth to best expose it. This is what I decided as I sat in the parking lot behind my apartment building, a hammer in my hand and a crackling paper bag sitting on the cold pavement. The truth, in this case, was black walnuts. Notoriously tough to crack, this bitter, perfumed species native to 15 states does not succumb to nutcrackers. They do, however, help me think about how I conceptualize good writing and what a metaphor fanatic I am.
A little background: I ordered a case of these things for a locally-sourced meal not realizing it would take a research mission just to taste them. The most common advice I found for the home cook is to use a vise. Yes, a vise. Because of course you have one in the drawer right by the lemon zester.
I didn’t have the equipment for that, so I developed a technique involving soaking the nuts, placing them in a paper bag, and then whacking the heck out of them. Stay with me here. The writing/metaphor part is coming.
This nut-busting technique was not easy. I couldn’t see what I was doing and had to feel blindly for where to bring down the hammer, then painstakingly loosen each bit of nutmeat with a fork. But I had to admit this was the best way to go. Continue reading →
January 12, 2012 · 5:08 am
I wrote my first—and only—novel when I was 11. The author was a skinny, shy sixth grader, and, true to first novel form, my protagonist happened to be a skinny, shy sixth grader.
There were some differences. For instance, the boy this girl had a crush on was a green-eyed redhead, while there was nary a Ron Howard lookalike in my class. For another thing, this character associated with one of the bad girls—you know, the kind who smoked once in the girls’ room. Though I could conjure a rough tobacco smell wafting over the bathroom stall in the scene I wrote, the only cigarettes I’d come remotely close to were the Marlboro Light packs my father kept in his shirt pocket. But generally, the girl was me.
The resulting work was what the modern publishing house would call a young adult novel. I just remember it as a treat to write, with a plot that challenged me at times, but generally flowed from my hands. Continue reading →
January 4, 2012 · 3:44 am
Imagine an artist who wants to paint a landscape. She does not sit right down and start smearing colors across a canvas. Before the easel is even unfolded, she might take in her subject from a hillside and then work studies of trees and ponds and boaters in a sketchpad. Later, she could play with a spectrum of brush sizes and shapes to produce various textures on scraps of canvas, and peruse other artists’ takes on a similar scene. Or, if she’s anything like me, she’ll develop an urge to spackle a hole in the wall or scrub the grout in her bathtub, and get right down to it. After all of that, she can sit down to her piece.
A writer can do the same thing.
For the final installment of this miniseries on prewriting that started strangely and bounced back in time, I offer some straightforward advice, including examples of prewriting. You’ll even find it clearly laid out in two numbered lists: How to Prewrite and How Not to Prewrite. You’re welcome! Continue reading →
December 30, 2011 · 6:18 pm
For this next part, I would like to return to the first person and then take you back to the fall of 2007. If you’re still with me after the odd beginning to this series, let me set the scene. Your fearless writer guide is in her first graduate-level writing course, “Nonfiction Techniques.” Like each of the other students in the class, I have signed up to provide a writing tip during one of the classes. Mine falls on Halloween.
I dug up that tip and would like to present it to you now. Here goes. And don’t worry – even though this debuted on Halloween, I did not wear (and never have worn) Hammer pants.
(Keep reading for a fun bonus at the end!) Continue reading →
December 27, 2011 · 9:19 pm
Let’s say that last semester, you taught with an art professor who goes by this mantra:
Art is 80 percent thinking, 20 percent doing.
In writing, you’ve always believed in a similar concept, but could never articulate it very well. Then suddenly the prof delivers this sentence and you want to print posters about it, broadcast it on Facebook and Twitter, and check in when you pass this professor guy on campus – just to be the mayor of By the Genius’s Side.
So you know that in theory, this sounds good. Considering your next story idea or fleshing out your main points in your head must be brilliant. Until you start thinking about how much time that will take.
How can I afford the decadence of mulling ideas all over the place while my allotted writing time ticks away? You think. You realize that your blog readers – one, or even both of them, being fellow writers – may be thinking the same thing. Continue reading →