Tag Archives: Advice

Real Life: What I Keep & What I Leave Behind When I Write.

“But it really happened.”

I was in an adult-ed writer’s group when I first heard this. I’d watched the woman speaking become tenser and grimmer as members of the group—gently and with compassion—suggested that the gruesome events on the page could be presented in a manner more conducive to engaging the reader.

She listened for only a few moments—sadly, this group did not have a ‘be silent while being critiqued’ policy—before unleashing, accusing the group of everything from indifference about sexual assault on children, to ignorance about how children really thought (this in response to our collective idea that 4-year-olds did not speak like 30-year-olds.) She shook as she lectured us on the horror of incest.

True that. Everything she said about her pain and suffering was true—but it still didn’t work on the page. My social services hat went on and I reacted to

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Guest Post: When An Agent Says Yes



A Guest Post By Kathy Crowley

It’s another gray morning for you, the long-suffering Writer-Querier.  As usual, you take a moment to steel yourself, then open your email for the daily parade of rejections.

The Flatterer: “Mr. J — Although you deftly draw us into this dark world of addiction, and I was moved by the protagonist’s struggles, I am going to pass on this one…” [DELETE]

The Economist: “I was certainly intrigued when I began reading your novel, however, in this challenging market…” [DELETE]

The All-Purpose Generic Not-That-Into-You: “I’m afraid I just don’t feel strongly enough about this….” [DELETE] [DELETE] [DELETE]

And then this one:

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Guest Post: But, She Digresses . . .(scroll down for The Muse)


A Guest Post

By Nicole Bernier

(Muse Post Below!)

You’re writing a tense scene, really in the thick of it: An aging actress is holding a handful of pills. She’s been offered the role of the star’s mother, rather than that of the star.

She lifts glass of water toward her mascara-streaked face, pills cupped in her other hand. She will miss the feel of crystal. The reader is with you, waiting for that actress to throw back her head, give a final cry of hopelessness and say goodbye to all that.

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Guest Post: Mighty Dog!

4 mighty-dog-can

A Guest Post By Kathy Crowley

A few evenings ago, I finished reading Anne Enright’s Booker Prize winning novel, The Gathering – a brutal, beautiful story built around a suicide, a wake, a large Irish family and a narrator who is angry and honest to the point of discomfort.  It left me breathless — not in a euphoric way, but instead in that sense of needing to breathe and not, somehow, being able to do so.  Although I am happy to report my breathing resumed, I still found myself inarticulate about the book and did what any person with a laptop and wifi does: I googled and read what other (more articulate) people thought.

Which brings me to Mighty Dog.

Once upon a time I was in a writer’s workshop with a young woman named we’ll call Lisa.  In addition to the novel which was her major project at the time, Lisa had a lot going on —  a day job, a mother who wanted her to hurry up and get married, an ability to keep the rest of us laughing, and a short story named “Mighty Dog”.  This was more than a decade ago, so many details are lost, but I do remember the closing scene of this story.  The protagonist — a wife whose husband is leaving her for another woman — looms over the couple’s tiny emaciated dog.  In tears, alone in her kitchen, she opens can after can of Mighty Dog, scooping and slopping the contents into the dog’s bowl. “Eat!” she screams at the dog. “Eat!”

Great scene, right?  You haven’t even read the rest of the story and I’ve already got you.  Not surprisingly, everyone in the workshop loved it.  Also not surprisingly, the story had flaws, and everyone had ideas about how to tweak this or fix that.  It is telling that I remember none of the flaws, just the power of the story and especially of that closing scene.

So Lisa worked on it.  She brought it back, and it was still good, but not quite right.  She revised again.  And again.  But by the last time I read it, I could feel the power of it waning.  Everyone could feel it, including Lisa, though none of us could put a finger on how or why. Somehow all these minor fixes had resulted in the narrative equivalent of a slow leak, and we could hear the coming rumble of a flat.

At some point, Lisa’s boyfriend (now husband, I think) whisked her away from us, first to Connecticut, then to Ohio (or someplace like that). The spirit of “Mighty Dog” remained, though.  We all felt complicit in the damage done to this  innocent story, and eventually, “Mighty Dog” became our workshop’s shorthand for killing the spirit of a story.  “I think I mighty-dogged it,” someone might say, or “I’m just afraid of mighty-dogging it.”

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Posted in Guest Posts, My Opinionated Self, Writing | Also tagged | 5 Comments