“Thou Shalt Not Write About Pet Death” (and Other Commandments Moses Never Brought Down)

As a high school English teacher, I can remember teaching a unit on admissions essays. We had many resources, of course, and almost all of them warned of clichés and clichéd topics. One of these verboten topics? You guessed it: pet death. Pet death is an entry drug to bad writing, the experts warned. Admissions …

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How Abstract “Sets” into Concrete

Abstractions are hard---to write about successfully. Especially when concretes have to do all the talking for them. As Exhibit A, I give you the concept of "silence." It's basically a nothing that is something. But how do you describe it? If you look at a long list of abstract nouns and pick one to write …

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The Siren Call of Submittable: Part 2

Yesterday I wrote at length (for me) about ways Submittable has shifted the playing field for writers and literary magazines alike. Today: How Submittable fosters bad writer habits. For literary magazines, Submittable giveth (to the bottom line, as magazines keep 62% of reading-fee proceeds) and it taketh away (the ability to staff readers who can …

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Insights From a Man Booker Judge

October 16th. You know what that means. It's Man Booker Day, the day five judges will meet at a secret location in a not-so-secret city called London to pluck a winner from the shortlist (it should take eight hours or so). What's in it for the authors? Most excellent sales, for one thing. Not that …

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Why Do Some Poems Inspire You To Write While Others Don’t?

After Roman Coliseum-like spectacles like yesterday's special Senate hearing on the pending Supreme Court nomination, one can't help but curl up in a ball of despair or read poetry. I chose poetry. It took my mind off ugly things and reminded me of what can be beautiful in life. For succor, I chose my copy …

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Walking the Thin Line: Nostalgia vs. Sentimentality

No matter how long it has been since you sat behind a school desk, you carry that school desk with you throughout life. For better or worse. With memories good and bad. For teachers, the bittersweet memories consist of two pasts harmonizing fitfully: a student past first and a teacher past second. Perhaps no poems …

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Writing Is a Solitary Pursuit, But…

Writing is a solitary pursuit, yes, as well it should be. And it seems best suited for the early morning hours. But first things first. If you have a dog, you have a perfect excuse to walk it in pre-dawn darkness. Only this morning there was the full moon, making the headlamp unnecessary, and that …

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Richard Russo’s Advice for Beginning Writers

James Salter once said, "As a writer, you aren't anybody until you become somebody." I can just hear you now: Tell me something I don't know, fool, but Richard Russo includes the quote before his first essay in the collection, The Destiny Thief, for a reason: becoming somebody in writing is about as far-flung difficult …

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Dillard and Chee: Writing Teacher and Student

I just finished Alexander Chee's essay collection How To Write an Autobiographical Novel. The thing about essays written in the first person is the effect. As is true with first-person POV novels, you begin to feel as though you know the author. Of course you do not, but the conceit is there, and at times …

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Rules for Writers: A Baker’s Dozen

Here are some suggested daily habits for writers. It's OK if they are broken because that's what resolutions in habits' clothing are meant to suffer! Still, let us amuse ourselves as if rules are hard and fast: If you have little or no discipline around technology, keep a writing notebook. Buy the best damned notebook …

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