What the Teacher Learned in Class

Several months ago I heard John Irving speak at the Music Hall in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. A few months later I heard Margaret Atwood at the same venue as she read from her latest book and was interviewed. Both authors were engaging and dropped various jewels of insight that readers and writers could grab. Yet …

Constructing a Novel–The OutlineRead More »

I overwrite at times. I don’t mean long phrase-upon-phrase, clause-upon-clause, description-upon-description sentences as, say, Virginia Woolf does. If I were capable of writing sentences like this from Mrs. Dalloway— The British middle classes sitting sideways on the tops of omnibuses with parcels and umbrellas, yes, even furs on a day like this, were, she thought, …

Less Can Be MoreRead More »

I wrote a post a few months ago about how a children’s movie used an important plotting technique—that is, when a protagonist solves one problem, she or he should be confronted by a worse problem. Now advice from a documentary filmmaker, whose mother is a student of mine. Ginny was frustrated with the plotting of …

Hollywood Does It AgainRead More »

Further on the subject of practice. It may not necessarily make perfect (although a cat practicing the art of sleeping does appear to reach perfection), but practice does make better. And more practice makes better faster. That was, more or less, my daughter’s conclusion after completing an assignment for her high-school sociology class, which required …

Thirty DaysRead More »

As I wrote earlier, I sometimes begin a new session of classes with a lesson I call Beginnings. And so I did again with the new winter class in Newburyport. Rather than going to the local bookstore to look for terrific openings, I checked books that either I, my son, or my daughter own. I …

Back to BeginningsRead More »

As an editor, teacher, and writer, I always read with an eye toward learning about the writing craft. My books on writing could take flight in a strong wind, so many scraps of paper stick out of them, marking important points that I want to teach or use in my own work. The most easily …

Know Thy CharactersRead More »

I love long, lyrical descriptions in books and stories. Not necessarily Henry James, but I enjoy exact and detailed descriptions of people and places. Some readers do not. They are happy with the bare bones so they can rush on with the story. Writers vary too, some preferring to tell a reader precisely what a …

More Than Simple DetailsRead More »

The September 2012 issue of Shambhala Sun contains an intriguing article by Andrea Miller entitled “Pure Fiction.” Miller talks with three novelists, two of whom practice Zen or Buddhism. The third, although not a Buddhist, has been influenced by Buddhism. All three writers, and Miller, make interesting connections between Buddhism or Zen and fiction, but …

What the Lion DidRead More »

Along with the two writing classes I teach, for the past two summers I have led a four-day writers workshop at Twin Farms in Wakefield, NH. I have never had a poet in any of my classes, but two poets have attended Twin Farms both of these past two years. One of those poets, Anne, …

PoetryRead More »

I often begin my fall classes with a lesson called Beginnings. I choose opening sentences from several works of fiction and nonfiction, and then discuss with the students what we can glean about the books from those first sentences. For example, from the opening of Anne Enright’s The Gathering—“I would like to write down what …

BeginningsRead More »

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