With today’s post, I am starting a new The Whole Megillah feature: Writing Chai. This ad hoc feature will focus on the writing life, craft books, courses, the struggles, the triumphs. I look forward to your participation! I am interested in guest bloggers for this feature, FYI.
Inspired by reading Dani Shapiro’s Inheritance, I took her book, Still Writing, out of my local library yesterday. I read it in one sitting, ignoring my usual Thursday night television shows. I tagged a number of pages.
Get Inspiration from Reading
Shapiro insists that to be a writer means to also be a reader. I couldn’t agree more. She notes she keeps certain books by her writing space. They include: Virginia Woolf’s A Writer’s Diary and the latest editions of Best American Short Stories and Best American Essays. This reminded me that I always kept Ursula Hegi’s Stones from the River (she gave a reading from this novel at the 2009 Key West Literary Seminar on historical fiction and it inspired me to write my short story, “The Guardian”) next to my computer.
Apply the Five Senses
Shapiro reminds writers that we need to keep our characters’ five senses in mind. This brought to mind Robert Olen Butler’s craft book, From Where We Dream, one of my favorites.
Have a Routine
Shapiro keeps to a writing routine of writing three pages a day, five days a week. I have no writing routine, although I love the idea of one. Could I commit to one in 2020? That said, I am continuing to write one poem a week with my poetry mentor with the goal of finishing my rough draft of my contemporary YA novel in verse by year’s end. I also have a goal of finishing my rough draft of my genealogical memoir by year’s end and have signed up for a 10-week online course at Creative Nonfiction to give me deadlines. How I’m going to manage this with my doctoral coursework and teaching five college courses this semester, I don’t know.
Engage in Organic Writing
Like Robert Olen Butler and Julia Cameron, Shapiro seems to favor writing drafts longhand. So do I. Shapiro writes, “Pick a notebook, any notebook. If you compose well in it, you will become attached.” She prefers the messiness of writing in a notebook, making circles, striking whole sentences. I bought maybe twenty notebooks while they were on sale during the Back to School sale at the local supermarket.
Action Is Not Plot, But the Result of Pathos
Shapiro quotes Aristotle’s Poetics to remind us that stories get read and loved because they use pathos. Because we want to know what happens to the characters, because we grow to care about the characters. She writes, “If you have people, you have pathos. We are incited by our feelings—by the love, rage, envy, sorrow, joy, longing, fear, passion—that lead us to action.”
As writers, we get to play with time. I think about Julie Zuckerman’s The Book of Jeremiah and Dara Horn’s The World to Come. We also get to play with form. Are we taking enough risks?
Check out Still Writing and see what inspires you. Feedback on this and this new feature welcome!