Archive for November, 2012

Write with structure

November 26, 2012
Dear Writers,

You have probably figured out by now that the key to successful writing is structure, structure, structure.

You should have an introduction that sets the story in time and place, about 500 to 700 words long. (See the page on Setting the Story in Time and Place in the right-hand column under pages.)

You should have a section that expands on the introduction which develops the background of the elements of the introduction.That section could be about 1000  words.

Then you could have a chronology that takes us back to the origins of the story and comes back to the present time.That might be 700 words.

Then an ending that ties the piece together. It might tie back to the opening. It might ask or answer the question: What’s next?
Or what was learned. It might end with a strong quotation from one of the characters, as did Hiroshima.

When you come Thursday, be prepared to describe your stories in terms of the these sections. I’ll be calling on each of you.

The biggest problem beginning writers have is lack of structure. They tend to jump around. Put everything you know about a topic in one place. Think of the paragraph as having topic and a purpose and make sure you put like with like. For example, you might have a paragraph, or two or three in which you describe a character and give his background and description.

The best way I can describe the process is to ask yourself, What am I trying to do in this paragraph? What is my topic?

And don’t feel bad that it’s  as struggle. The novelist Phillip Roth just retired from writing fiction at age 80, after publishing 30 novels to much acclaim. He said writing was frustrating and humiliating. The writer Thomas Mann said that writers are people for whom writing is more difficult than for other people.

I’m working on a book proposal and realize it is going to be a slog. Once in a while I get  good turn of phrase and a fresh insight. But mostly it’s  slog, and the slogging makes me want to go wash the dishes or read a book or sharpen pencils. Anything but write. But once I have accepted that the first draft is going to be a slog I’ll just keep at it until I have a first draft. It will be ugly. It will need a lot of revision.

But at least I will have something to revise.

Also remember. During the first week of December everyone must come in for an hour to discuss their final revisions.


Broadening your horizons

November 16, 2012
Dear Writers:
With the holidays coming up you might want to spend some time developing yourselves as writers and artists.
I highly recommend the show on war photography at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. This is a huge show, ten years in the making, covering wars from the 19th century to today. You will see the famous photographs and the less famous. There is so much to contemplate, such as maps of Iwo Jima, a piece of rock in the South Pacific that many men died fighting for and defending. (Did you see the Clint Eastwood films about this battle, about five or six years ago? Flags of our Fathers and Letters from Iwo Jima. You could rent them.
My other recommendation is the new Steven Spielberg movie, Lincoln, with Daniel Day-Lewis. I plan on seeing it tonight. It focuses on the last four months of Lincoln’s life and the struggle about how to free the slaves. It’s based on a book Team of Rivals, by Doris Kearns Goodwin, that reveals the inner workings of Lincoln’s cabinet. It’s getting rave reviews. Day-Lewis demanded and got a year of preparation to play the role, and insisted on being called Mr. Lincoln during the shooting. A method actor if there ever was one.
I’m writing this because I want you to realize that there is much more to education than the classroom. You must continually educate yourselves through reading and seeing films and art. The great professor John Dewey said, “Education isn’t preparation for life, it is life itself.”

Next Week: Read Hiroshima

November 9, 2012

Read it, really read it. Understand how the opening is set up, how it sets the story in time and place. Don’t be a passive reader. Be an active reader.

What I’m asking you to do is to read like graduate students, and like writers. Read it with an eye to the point of view.

The story is written in chunks that are about five to eight paragraphs long.Notice how he makes transitions. Study the transitions and come prepared to discuss a couple that you think work well.

Above all notice the details. This is very important for your own writing. You must learn to tell a story with details. Even in an academic paper, you have to focus on details. Be prepared to single out some details in the book. You can do this by using sticky notes.

Notice, too the understatement. Mark particularly good examples. I’m expecting everybody to share something next week.


For those who missed (Jonathan, Dorothy and Reggie) you need to make an hour long appointment for a writing conference, preferably on Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday. Here’s the schedule so far: Monday: Gaylynne at 1, Dwayne at 2. Wednesday: Brandi at 10, Kenneth at 11, Immanuel at 3.


I can handle appointments Tuesday afternoon.