What the Teacher Learned in Class

When I was talking to a friend about my two new books, Lost Mothers and Every New Beginning, she asked me what had been the original idea for Lost Mothers, that first spark that had lit the fire that became the novel. This is my favorite question—as I imagine it is for many writers—because it is so easy to answer. In my experience, there is always a moment, an incident, a conversation, even the appearance of a stranger, something a writer saw or experienced that sticks with her and either slowly or quickly grows into a story idea, a group of characters, an expanding tree of story lines. I know what the original idea was for every book I’ve written.

In one of my writing classes last week, a long-time student, Vicki, made two comments that inspired this post. First, she talked about a new writing exercise she was practicing. She writes for five minutes without stopping, and everything she writes is one sentence. “It’s not that hard once you get used to it,” she …

Thanks to All My StudentsRead More »

Every year, I do a class that I call Beginnings. I look at the beginnings of several fiction and nonfiction books and note the ones that I consider particularly well written. (And occasionally the ones that are poorly done.) Sometimes I simply pull books off my shelves. Sometimes I prowl the new releases at my …

Beginnings Once MoreRead More »

I posted several months ago about how one of my students went from a short story to a screenplay, coauthoring the screenplay with a friend of hers, Mark Battle. Mark is a filmmaker, and they have now gone from screenplay to film. During the summer Mark gathered a cast and crew and a 1991 Toyota …

From Screenplay to FilmRead More »

In one of my advanced classes, three of the four students have been in class together for a few years. The fourth student joined more than a year ago. So they are all deeply familiar with one another’s novels (as am I, of course). One of the students, Brian, has been working on a marvelous, …

Writing by CommitteeRead More »

In the August 30, 2015, issue of the New York Times, an essay in the Magazine section caught my attention. Called “Standstill,” by Sam Anderson, it is an essay about “the political world’s obsession with the moment.” Acknowledging that modern humans weren’t the first to consider “the moment,” Anderson looks back to the Greeks to …

KairosRead More »

I got an email from one of my students last week. A short story she brought to class earlier this year is now a screenplay. Not only that, it is going to become a film. There’s a director, a cast, props, probably even coffee and doughnuts. A little backstory, though, to explain how Pam went …

From Short Story to ScreenplayRead More »

A student in my writing workshop has been working on a novel for the past year. When Vicki first presented the just-begun novel to class, she read a beautifully written prologue that followed a middle-aged man as he drove through the countryside outside of Memphis, back to where his father once had a farm. In …

What You Know When You ReviseRead More »

Once a year or so, I teach a lesson in my adult writing classes called Beginnings. (I’ve written about this before, here and here.) I scour bookshelves—my own or the local bookstore’s—in search of excellent opening sentences. It’s not that easy. Many opening sentences, of fiction and nonfiction, are at least good, but too many …

Beginning AgainRead More »

A student and I exchanged book recommendations recently, in which I didn’t like the ending in either book, and my student, Brian, didn’t like the ending in one of them. The book we agreed on was The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox by Maggie O’Farrell. The one we didn’t agree on was Divisadero by Michael …

EndingsRead More »

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