Thursday, January 28, 2010

J.D. Salinger and Writing Groups

J.D. Salinger, author of The Catcher In The Rye, died today. He is famous not only for this hugely popular novel, but also for holing himself up in New Hampshire for more than 40 years and refusing to publish another word after 1965. The news stories of his passing all mention that he told a neighbor he had written more than a dozen novels, without any desire to publish them while he was alive.

If they get published now we'll have a chance to see if they are as good as Salinger's best work, or if his increasing isolation had taken the edge off his writing. Writing is a lonely profession, but many writers have found that it helps their work to get some feedback from other people. Whether it's a friend, a relative, an editor, or a writing group, writers usually need some kind of sounding board for their work, to see if they're communicating their message accurately. A writer like Salinger, who removed himself from the world and didn't let anyone see his work for so many years, could have lost his bearings in that cocoon he lived in. His writing could have deteriorated into incomprehensible drivel, or self-inflating pomposity, simply because he had nobody to say, "Listen, J.D., this passage really needs some editing."

It will be interesting to see what readers think of these novels when they get published. They may enhance Salinger's reputation, but they may also trash it.

If you want to look into a writing group, there are many options. Here's one I just found: Welcome to

It's a new site, but it promises to be a good resource for writers who want to find a writing group, whether one that meets online or in person.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

A Very Short Story

The Hemingway style was brief. Condensed. He once wrote this very short story:
For sale: baby shoes, never worn.
 It was only six words long. Wired Magazine once asked a group of writers to write a very short story, and published the results. They're here, and they're all entertaining. It's hard to pick a favorite, but I like Eileen Gunn's a lot:
Computer, did we bring batteries? Computer?
Six word stories are fun to write. They're super condensed, like haiku. Try one -- you may find that you enjoy writing a very short story once in awhile.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Creativity Tools for Writers

Got writer's block? Maybe you need some creativity tools. There are all sorts of creativity tools online, and they'll get your brain charged up, stimulate ideas, and help you get the words flowing. I came across this list of creativity tools awhile back, and I bookmarked it for future reference. It's got 101 sites to spark your creativity, and you'll find sites with: daily writing prompts, brainstorming techniques, idea starters, idea organizers, games, exercises, mind maps, and lots more. It's worth a visit, because at least one or two of these creativity tools will probably be all you need to get your writing back on track. 

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Hemingway And The Iceberg Theory

Ernest Hemingway was a powerful influence on me as a young writer. I still believe in his "iceberg theory", which he described as: 

"If a writer of prose knows enough about what he is writing about he may omit things that he knows and the reader, if the writer is writing truly enough, will have a feeling of those things as strongly as though the writer had stated them.  The dignity of movement of the iceberg is due to only one-eighth of it being above water."  
This is why Hemingway made his stories so short. They are like icebergs, with a lot going on underneath the surface. He revised his stories rigorously, making them tighter and yet more suggestive with each revision. He packed a lot of meaning into a small amount of words. Read "A Very Short Story" by Ernest Hemingway, and you'll see what I mean.

I have always felt that Hemingway was a better short story writer than novelist. His short fiction is so strong, but it seemed like the longer form of the novel was hard for him. There's a quote from "A Moveable Feast", his great book about being a young writer in Paris, where he says he had worked so hard on learning how to write taut, condensed stories that writing a novel seemed like an impossible task. He couldn't imagine himself writing something that long.

Whatever you think about his novels, he is one of the great short story writers in English. You can learn a lot about writing from reading his short story collections.

And following his iceberg theory.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Speed Write!

Can you speed write?

"That's not writing. That's typing," Truman Capote said when he heard how many thousands of words the young Jack Kerouac wrote each day (I'm paraphrasing that quote, but you get the idea). Sometimes, though, you need to just type. The best cure for writer's block is to just sit down at your keyboard, turn on an alarm or timer, and type till the buzzer goes off. You don't edit, you don't correct misspelled words, you don't try to choose the right turn of phrase, or metaphor -- you just type.

If you do this I guarantee you'll turn out a lot of words. Some of them will be utter dreck -- in fact, a lot of them will be utter dreck -- but you'll get your creative juices flowing, and usually you'll find the germ of a good idea in the middle of all those words. Sometimes you get lucky, and a really great idea, or sentence, or paragraph comes out of what you wrote.

When you speed write you turn off the internal critic, that little gremlin inside who constantly tells you you're not good enough, and that the sentence you just typed is stupid, wrong, and will damn you to hell forever if you let anyone see it.

Here's a great site to teach you how to speed write: Write or Die by Dr Wicked. You can set a time limit and a word count, and then you just start typing. If you stop typing before you reach your time limit, there are visual and auditory cues to get you writing again (try the kamikaze mode!).

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Flash Fiction Writing Group Helps You Polish Your Stories

If you want to get better at flash fiction, you may want to join an online writing group. This is a group where you submit stories by email and other members offer helpful criticism. When someone else submits a story, you are expected to comment on their story also. This is a great way to get feedback on your stories, and you can get better as a writer from it. Not all criticism is useful, but you'll definitely get some good ideas from an online writing group. Sometimes the group members will tell you where they got their stories published, and that will alert you to good markets for your own work. I've had a great experience with a group called FlashXer, on Yahoo Groups. There are some friendly, helpful people on this group, which is led by Michael Kechula, who must be one of the all-time flash fiction champions. He has had hundreds -- probably thousands -- of stories published in the last 6 years, and he is a good source of information and helpful critiques. There are other groups out there, but this is the one I have had the best experience with. One thing I like about FlashXer is that several times a week Mike sends out a writing prompt, so you don't have to come up with an idea on your own. You just take Mike's prompt and write a story around it. You can learn more about FlashXer here

Friday, January 8, 2010

New Books Search Engine

In my quest to make this site more useful for writers, I have added a Google Custom Search box. It is customized to search for Web sites that are specific to writers and publishing. It's fast, and it gives targeted results that will open in a new window in your browser. It's on the right side of the page, just below my picture. I hope this is useful for you.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Tips On Self-Publishing

Here's an excellent blog post about self-publishing. What To Do When You Can't Afford An Editor offers some tips from author Sharon Lippincott on how to get good feedback on your manuscript when you can't afford to pay a professional editor to look at it.