- I will watch the world every day with the eyes of a fly.
I’m assuming you know what flies’ eyes look like. But in case you don’t, think of disco balls with independent locomotion. You, personally, are walking through this incredibly vivid, visual, aural, tactile universe all day long every day with all the receptors you will ever need for brilliant fiction. USE THEM.
- I will record the world like an ADD stenographer, whether I think I can use what I’m recording or not.
Writers are the last people to know if they’re ever going to need any particular bit of real life. Just because your head’s in the clouds doesn’t mean you never come back to earth. You have to. That’s where you catch your breath so you can bounce into the clouds again. And while you’re here, you need to stock up on random stuff, or else your stories are going to be made of very thin, very cliche, very boring material indeed.
You don’t even have to listen to yourself record. Just be the stenographer. The sheer act of writing lodges it all in your head.
- I will write like Gertrude Stein on quaaludes and cut it like Edward Scissorhands on speed.
Stein wrote everything about thirteen times in thirteen infintisimally-altered ways and then insisted Alice B. Toklas read it back to her to see if it made sense. It did not. But it was the one way to discover that writing is about words—the arrangement and order of words—and if you’re not a meticulous enough craftsperson to care about the arrangement of your words, then you’re not a writer, you’re just a debutante.
Of course, Stein’s work is virtually unreadable the way it stands, so once you’ve given your system that gamma globulin shot of reality, you have to go back through and cull out every single thing that interferes between your vision and the reader’s imagination. That means 99% of it. Or 100%. Depending upon how meticulous you were.
- I will mentally plot a brief action scene every time I see anyone do anything.
Everything anybody ever does is a miniature plot: it has a point at which it starts, development of detail, and a final purpose. You know why you always find what you’re looking for in the last place you look? Climax!
Practice this on the most boring actions you see. Practice it on the most fascinating. Boring ones are simpler and more obvious, aren’t they? Ask yourself at which point you stop picking your nose.
- I will only write one line of dialog for everything
three five I think I need.
Actually, you can go ahead and write all five. But cut four of them. The rest are padding. And page-turning fiction has no room for padding.
You think literary fiction gets a free pass? Read some Dickens. Austen. Bronte. Balzac. Graham Greene. Proust. Dostoyevsky. Great literary artists never pad.
- I will explore my characters like a wrecking ball in an aquarium.
Everyone sees the shimmery, shiny reflection off their beloved characters’ faces first and foremost. That’s what you fall in love with. But there’s a tsunami inside every single individual roaming this planet, and if you can’t find that in your characters you can’t write anything interesting enough to hold a reader’s attention.
- I will delve into the hidden links between giraffes and ice floes, seashells and cell phones, shoelaces and aircraft carriers, vistas and thumbnails, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera every day before breakfast.
Because this is what art is: finding the hidden links that hold the bizillions of disparate elements of our physical world together. . .and illuminating them. And the best time to see those things are while you’re still groggy, with one foot in the dream world where those links make total, bizarre, self-explanatory sense.
Those are the knots we’re all so hungry to understand in this cosmic web of light in which we’re caught. You can’t describe the cosmic web. All you can describe are how the individual knots are tied.
- I will not write exposition for a year.
White noise. Interference. Leave it out.
- I will not write internal dialog for a year.
Seriously, guys. Exposition and internal dialog are just you getting between your story and the reader.
- I will make a habit of contradicting myself.
Because life is paradox, and the depths of paradox are the layers that make up real, three-dimensional, fictional worlds.
- I will never, ever, ever be perfect.
You think you’re going to squeak by this one, slip a little perfection in when nobody’s looking because, gosh darn it, sometimes you’re just that good? Sadness! You’re really not. So stop tying your thumbs together and let the infinity of possibilities teach you how to write.
P.S. Thank you to Shane Arthur for suggesting I set up comment subscription. I should have done it for this blog ages ago, but I probably would never have gotten around to it if you hadn’t mentioned it.
MILLLICENT G. DILLON, represented by Harold Ober Associates, is the world's expert on authors Jane and Paul Bowles. She has won five O. Henry Awards and been nominated for the PEN/Faulkner. I worked with Dillon on her memoir, The Absolute Elsewhere, in which she describes in luminous prose her private meeting with Albert Einstein to discuss the ethics of the atomic bomb. Read more. . .
BHAICHAND PATEL, retired after an illustrious career with the United Nations, is now a journalist based out of New Dehli and Bombay, an expert on Bollywood, and author of three non-fiction books published by Penguin. I edited Patel’s best-selling debut novel, Mothers, Lovers, and Other Strangers, published by PanMacmillan. Read more. . .
LUCIA ORTH is the author of the debut novel, Baby Jesus Pawn Shop, which received critical acclaim from Publisher’s Weekly, NPR, Booklist, Library Journal and Small Press Reviews. I have edited a number of essays and articles for Orth. Read more. . .
SCOTT WARRENDER is a professional musician and Annie Award-nominated lyricist specializing in musical theater. I work with Warrender regularly on his short stories and debut novel, Putaway. Read more. . .
STUART WAKEFIELD is the #1 Kindle Best Selling author of Body of Water, the first novel in his Orcadian Trilogy. Body of Water was 1 of 10 books long-listed for the Polari First Book Prize. I edited Wakefield's second novel, Memory of Water, and look forward to editing the final novel of his Orcadian Trilogy, Spirit of Water. Read more. . .
ANIA VESENNY, represented by Beverly Slopen Literary Agency, is a recipient of the Evelyn Sullivan Gilbertson Award for Emerging Artist in Literature and has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. I edited Vesenny's debut novel, Swearing in Russian at the Northern Lights. Read more. . .
TERISA GREEN, represented by Dystel and Goderich Literary Management, is widely considered the foremost American authority on tattooing through her tattoo books published by Simon & Schuster, which have sold over 45,000 copies. Under the name M. TERRY GREEN, she writes her techno-shaman sci-fi/fantasy series. I am working with Green to develop a new speculative fiction series. Read more. . .
JUDY LEE DUNN is an award-winning marketing blogger. I am working with Dunn to develop and edit her memoir of reconciling liberal activism with her emotional difficulty accepting the lesbianism of her beloved daughter, Tonight Show comedienne Kellye Rowland. Read more. . .
In addition, I work with dozens of aspiring writers in their apprenticeship to this literary art and craft.