Tag Archives: How to Write

Wild Mind: The First Rule of Writing Practice

28 May

Every weekday morning, I practice writing for one hour.  It’s a lot more fun than the scales Mrs C- had me practice on the piano when I was 5, and the aim is the same: I’m rehearsing the fundamentals.  Writing practice is my trip to the word gym, the way I keep fighting (or writing?) fit and work on my technique.

But how does one practice writing? As posted earlier, I follow the 7 rules outlined by Natalie Goldberg in Wild Mind: Living the Writer’s Life.  They work for me.  There are probably as many different answers to this question as there are writers, considering those who don’t intentionally practice.  Yet I suspect Ms Goldberg’s first, most fundamental rule is a necessary one for any successful practice, and that rule is,

Keep your hand moving.

Why is this important? Continue reading


Words, Words, Words: Good Quotes on…Story Structure

14 May

“In the first act set forth the case. In the second, weave together the events, in such ways that until the middle of the third act one may hardly guess the outcome. Always trick expectancy.”

–Lope de Vega, 17th-century playwright

This quote is taken from an excellent post from the always-excellent blog “Observations on Film Art” from Kristin Thompson & David Bordwell. This post debunks the three-act structure as law and gives some historical context. SHOCKING REVELATION: Aristotle, often quoted by screenwriting gurus, doesn’t talk about three acts. Horace did, but he’s a bit less glamorous, right?

Five Reminders That Help Keep Me Focused & Stare Down Doubt

4 Mar

I work hard, but not always smart. My mind does not move in particularly linear ways and I’ve had to learn how to ask the right questions to keep working effectively, or even just to keep working. Combine this lateral thinking with a systemic way of learning and a pefectionist’s eye for detail and you get someone who can waste a lot of time on unrelated or nonessential parts of a project.

Having clear, concise goals goes along way to keeping me focused. But that’s not enough: in order to keep myself on task, I have to deal with those voices that question what I’m doing.  This is especially important if I my goal is an exploratory one, where I have a general direction but not a crystal clear picture of where I’m headed.

A lot of these demons have come up recently, and I was forced to address them. I did this by creating a list of reminders for myself. They are answers and rebuttals to the most common arguments those neurotic little critters in my head throw at me to knock me off track.

The following five reminders give me a weapon with which to fight back, whether I need a swatter to knock out the flies of doubt, or a canon to blast the flying bullshit monkeys out of the sky. Continue reading

Raw and Unprocessed Writing Practice (100% Organic)

2 Mar

Every day I do an hour of writing practice. The core of this practice is what I call freewriting, similar to stream of conscious, but often directed by a basic prompt, such as “I remember” or “I know.” Also, when I come across a memory, I tend to surf the wave of it, letting it carry me forward, but following it from beginning to end. For me, stream of conscious tends to be much more associative and fractured.

Done right, it’s an act of meditation and a great way of generating material for my writing. It is not, in itself, good writing. Writing practice is about uncapping the part of your brain that creates and letting it bubble out like frothing champagne. Thinking about it being good writing just gets in the way, and keeps me from developing trust in my voice.

I’ve decided to post the results of the first round of today’s freewriting here. It’s a 10-minute segment that’s raw, unedited and typo-ridden. The only tweaks I’ve made is where I mistyped a word that would be illegible without a gentle nudge by me. Here it is: a little sloppy slice of my writing practice. Continue reading

How to Write…Novels (Feat. Tom Robbins)

22 Feb

I’ve never completed one his books, but I’m confident saying that Tom Robbins is one of my favorite writers.  I confess that I stopped half-way through Skinny Legs and All, but not because I didn’t enjoy it.  There was just  a phase I went through I never completed a book (a phase I call college.)

Now, logically, I’ve picked up with a completely different Robbins book,  Jitterbug Perfume, and am about half way done. Despite my commitment issues, I can tell you why my opinion isn’t gonna change. There’s too much about his language to love: he’s playful but tragic, polystylistic but coherent, and his stories are dense but they frickin’ move move move.

So you can’t understand how I was aghast to find out that he writes his novels one word a word at a time.

This begs a question: How in the flaming heck does he do that?  In this interview I found at januarymagazine.com, he explains exactly  how he writes. If I’m honest, I still don’t understand how he pulls it off, but I like what he has to say.  I’ve excerpted the best sections here and put a link to the entire interview at the bottom of the page if you’d like to read the whole thing.


About three and a half years is the average [time to finish book.] This book [Fierce Invalids] took 39 months. Just in the writing of it. Then there’s the editing and all that which probably adds almost another year onto it.

I set myself a goal of two pages a day. Some days I get it, some days I don’t. If I’m writing dialog I can usually get more than that because I can write dialog fairly quickly. But the descriptive passages, the philosophical passages where I’m paying even more attention to imagery and to metaphors and similes and figures of speech, that comes very slow. I write very, very slowly and I try never to leave a sentence until I think that it’s as perfect as I can make it. So I’ll just go sentence to sentence, almost word to word. Plug along.


When I begin a book I have only the vaguest sense of how the plot is going to shape itself and no sense at all how it’s going to end. You wouldn’t know that from reading this book, because the end ties in with the beginning, I think, absolutely seamlessly and smoothly.

But I have no idea. When I introduced those themes at the beginning of the book I had no idea where it was going to take me. And that’s the adventure of it, for me. That’s the fun of it. That’s what keeps me doing it every day. But in order to do that and to make it appear as if I knew everything in the beginning it demands a tremendous amount of concentration and energy. At the end of every writing day I feel like I’ve been wrestling in radioactive quicksand with Xena the Warrior Princess and her five fat uncles.


What I try to do, among other things, is to mix fantasy and spirituality, sexuality, humor and poetry in combinations that have never quite been seen before in literature. And I guess when a reader finishes one of my books — provided the reader does finish the book — I would like for him or her to be in the state that they would be in after a Fellini film or a Grateful Dead concert. Which is to say that they’ve encountered the lifeforce in a large, irrepressible and unpredictable way and as a result their sense of wonder has been awakened and all of their possibilities have been expanded.

At the same time, I don’t think that a novel is supposed to be a guide book to happiness any more than it’s supposed to be a journal of one’s personal pain and frustration, which most novels are today, unfortunately. I think the novels that are most important are those that are more on the order of those coyotes that howl on the hills outside of town. Something mysterious and wild and hypnotic.

The whole interview can be found at: http://januarymagazine.com/profiles/robbins.html.