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WRITERS ON WRITING

 

The Most Important Words


Dawn Raffel is teaching a writing workshop at The Center starting April 16. Revising & Editing Your Work for Publication is an advanced class about how to see your work through the eyes of an editor.


 

I’ve been an editor for a very long time—let’s say several lifetimes in dog years—and I’ll let you in on a secret. Although your workshop colleagues will (ideally) read your entire manuscript carefully, generously, and kindly, an editor will begin making a decision in about a minute.

 

Yes, editors are people who love books, love writers, and love the thrill of discovery. If a good editor chooses to work with you, he or she will pay exquisite attention to every hiccup of language. But that will happen only if the editor makes it past the first few pages. The reality is that any editor who still has a job is faced with more manuscripts than there are hours in the day; editors (and agents and booksellers and prize committees) must, by necessity, read for elimination. A professional reader is not going to wait for you to redeem yourself on page thirty if she sees no prospects on page one. For that matter, real-world readers trying to make a decision in a bookstore or from an online sample are going to make a similar snap judgment.

 

Too often, writers fear that in order to get attention in an over-stimulated world, they need to open with a car crash, a zombie apocalypse, an explosion of expletives, an alternate universe, or prose that turns cartwheels on the ceiling. It’s not that those things can’t work, but they’re certainly not necessary, and unless they’re done exceedingly well, they backfire. What the editor is really looking for is presence on the page—a feeling that you, the author, are in control; that you have a deep respect for language and a well-made sentence, no matter how plain or ornate; that something is at stake; and that in addition to whatever plot you are hatching, you can create friction in the simple act of rubbing two sentences up against each other.

 

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Rejection of the Month

Photo credit: Carl Van Vechten

Gertrude Stein

 

Dear Madam,

 

I am only one, only one, only one. Only one being, one at the same time. Not two, not three, only one. Only one life to live, only sixty minutes in one hour. Only one pair of eyes. Only one brain. Only one being. Being only one, having only one pair of eyes, having only one time, having only one life, I cannot read your M.S. three or four times. Not even one time. Only one look, only one look is enough. Hardly one copy would sell here. Hardly one. Hardly one.

 

Many thanks. I am returning the M.S. by registered post. Only one M.S. by one post.

 

Sincerely Yours,
A.C. Fifield

 

WRITERS ON WRITING

Writing Dos and Don'ts

Marie-Helene Bertino tells you to be nice, be curious, and keep writing.


 

(I wrote some of these while I was in Paris and yes, I am bragging.)  

 

1. Don’t brag. Be nice. Anyone worth his or her salt talent-wise is humble and kind. This is because they understand they’ve been given a gift and people who have been gifted have special responsibilities and are thankful. Keep writing. Be curious about how different people live. Talk to everyone; doormen, waiters, motorcycle guys, your grandparents. Take time to get to know yourself because the problem with you will be the problem with your writing. For the converse reason, cultivate hobbies. Run and cook and sing and play the drums and rescue a dog or cat and hug your parents and kids and sister. Keep writing. Collect stories. Other people will tell you to read to excess, but I’ll let you slack on that if you promise to ask people questions then listen to the answers. 

 

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My first semester I was with Scott Snyder, who went on to publish a book, and Hillary Jordan, who has published at least two books, and Jennifer Epstein, who has published a couple books, and some other terrific writers whom I’m forgetting. It was an incredibly talented group.

 

Looking at what they were doing and at what I was doing, I did see there were some things I could do that not everyone could at that point. I had that discipline and I had a sense of trying to get my story to go somewhere that not everybody had, for example. But I had a lot to learn about writing carefully and writing smartly and being as exact as possible.

- See more at: http://centerforfiction.org/owen-king-interviewed-by-noreen-tomassi#sthash.9I8HxgOU.dpuf

My first semester I was with Scott Snyder, who went on to publish a book, and Hillary Jordan, who has published at least two books, and Jennifer Epstein, who has published a couple books, and some other terrific writers whom I’m forgetting. It was an incredibly talented group.

 

Looking at what they were doing and at what I was doing, I did see there were some things I could do that not everyone could at that point. I had that discipline and I had a sense of trying to get my story to go somewhere that not everybody had, for example. But I had a lot to learn about writing carefully and writing smartly and being as exact as possible.

- See more at: http://centerforfiction.org/owen-king-interviewed-by-noreen-tomassi#sthash.9I8HxgOU.dpuf

My first semester I was with Scott Snyder, who went on to publish a book, and Hillary Jordan, who has published at least two books, and Jennifer Epstein, who has published a couple books, and some other terrific writers whom I’m forgetting. It was an incredibly talented group.

 

Looking at what they were doing and at what I was doing, I did see there were some things I could do that not everyone could at that point. I had that discipline and I had a sense of trying to get my story to go somewhere that not everybody had, for example. But I had a lot to learn about writing carefully and writing smartly and being as exact as possible.

- See more at: http://centerforfiction.org/owen-king-interviewed-by-noreen-tomassi#sthash.9I8HxgOU.dpu

My first semester I was with Scott Snyder, who went on to publish a book, and Hillary Jordan, who has published at least two books, and Jennifer Epstein, who has published a couple books, and some other terrific writers whom I’m forgetting. It was an incredibly talented group.

 

Looking at what they were doing and at what I was doing, I did see there were some things I could do that not everyone could at that point. I had that discipline and I had a sense of trying to get my story to go somewhere that not everybody had, for example. But I had a lot to learn about writing carefully and writing smartly and being as exact as possible.

- See more at: http://centerforfiction.org/owen-king-interviewed-by-noreen-tomassi#sthash.9I8HxgOU.dpuf....READ MORE
ESSENTIAL BOOK FOR WRITERS

Still Writing

by Dani Shapiro

 

Dani Shapiro's newest book, Still Writing: The Perils and Pleasures of a Creative Life, is a perfect walk through an imperfect process. She shares the tried and true rules that some aspiring writers may want to hear, like using the five senses, sticking to a work schedule, and avoiding clichéd characters; but it is the paces where Shapiro acknowledges the ambiguity of the process that stand out.

 

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WRITERS' STUDIO

Daniel Menaker, interviewed by Dawn Raffel

 


In a new memoir, the acclaimed author and editor reflects on William Shawn's New Yorker, the inner sanctum of the fiction department, finding his voice as a writer, making his way in the world, and simply refusing to quit.


 

Daniel Menaker is ambidextrously talented, gifted both as an editor and writer. He’s perhaps better known for the former, having worked for 26 years at The New Yorker —he was skating on thin ice as a fact-checker and copy editor until legendary fiction editor William Maxwell persuaded William Shawn to move his protégé to the fiction department. In 1994, during the Tina Brown regime, Menaker went to Random House as a senior editor, and after a short stint at HarperCollins, returned to Random as Executive Editor-in-Chief (he left in 2007). The dozens of writers with whom he's worked include Alice Munro (“the literary love of my life, friendly and elusive at the same time,” he writes on his website), George Saunders, Jennifer Egan, David Foster Wallace, Isaac Bashevis Singer, Pauline Kael, Mavis Gallant, and Elizabeth Strout.

 

Menaker has also written some extremely good books, including two story collections, a novel, The Treatment, and a book about the art of conversation, A Good Talk. His newest, My Mistake, is a wry, moving memoir, with a deceptively simple year-by-year structure. He writes with refreshing candor about professional “mistakes” that were often, in fact, felicitous or hilarious. He also lays bare his personal life, including the devastating death of his brother at age 29, his long, happy marriage to writer and editor Katherine Bouton, and his battle with cancer.

 

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WRITERS ON WRITING

How To Write a Novel: The Short Version


Gabriel Roth's workshop at The Center, "The Novel," begins on March 25. Here, his method for getting your opus out of your head and onto the page: 


 

You start by thinking about all the things a novel should do: tell a compelling story, create vivid characters and reveal them in all their particularity, illuminate the human condition in general, reveal ordinary experience with a vividness that enables us to see the familiar world anew, open fresh possibilities for language... you can easily spend a whole afternoon just listing the requirements, and you should.

 

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QUOTABLE

Photo Courtesy of Beowulf Sheehan

 

"Storytelling is the original time travel machine because once a story starts being told, everything in that story moves into the present and starts happening now."

 

 — Margaret Wrinkle in her acceptance speech for the Flaherty-Dunnan First Novel Prize, which she won for her novel, Wash. Read the full speech.

WRITERS SPEAK UP

WRITERS' STUDIO

Need a place to write?

 

Would you like to not have to spend a fortune for your literary sanctuary? Our writing studio is located in a beautiful, sky-lit space on our top floor. It provides the perfect setting for writing. We even provide M&Ms!  

 

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