On writing memoir, from Literary Hub

June 4, 2017

Literary Hub is a mine of advice about writing from people who have succeeded.

Here is an essay from Elena Lapping about writing a memoir, something some of you may want to do. Don’t think it’s easy.

Here are some quotes that resonate for me:

But memoir writing requires a special quality of fearlessness. You have to reach the point of being completely ready to let the world inside your mind and soul, to expose your fears and vulnerabilities, and be prepared for the consequences.

It is tempting to write a memoir with yourself as its hero and most interesting part. It is, after all, about you, and written from your personal point of view. But the surprising thing I discovered is that the memoir writer is actually a character actor rather than the star of the book.

You must know the chronology of your story. I can’t stress this enough.That’s why the course is called narrative. Don’t write an essay. Find a story.

One of the biggest mistakes I made in my first draft was to write without any regard for the chronological sequence of the events. I wanted to feel free, and it seemed to me that I could achieve the greatest level of literary freedom by focusing on themes rather than timeframes. The result was an unintelligible mess, a narrative as confusing as it was playful.

You must know who you are before you begin writing rather than expecting to find yourself in your finished book.

I think this is tremendously important:

The great playwright and screenwriter Samson Raphaelson once said: “Imagination is the capacity to see what’s there.”

How to become a writer

June 2, 2017

Here is advice  by a fine writer, Rebecca Solnit from an interesting newsletter you might want to subscribe to.  She has ten tips. She is solid and down to earth and realistic and idealistic. I like all that.

The advice is posted on a website called Literary Hub, and you can subscribe. I just learned of it from the friend of a friend, and I decided to subscribe. You might want to look around on it and see what you find, and what you can use.

More on incompletes

December 21, 2016

Dear Writers:

Thank you for your patience. My goal is to give every paper a close and helpful reading. I will be sending you emailed comments and markups. We will meet in the new year. If you have a story that is not up to a B, I will work with you on revisions and help you get up to the standard.


Story of a failed romance

December 11, 2016

“Something Between Us” is a story that appeared in the New York Times Sunday magazine today, and is well worth reading. The subtitle is “For a young Nigerian man and woman, it might have been love.” It’s an “as-told-to” story. The writer, China Oduah, interviewed the young woman, who wished to remain nameless.

Notice how much action and reaction there is in the story. If I had to describe this story in one word, it would be regret.

In your writing life, keep in mind that all stories are not about success. More often they are about failure. Can you stand to look at failure and learn from it? Can you even be grateful for the lessons of failure?


Final grades etc.

December 8, 2016

Dear Writers,

I realize there is a lot of confusion and possibly anxiety about grades. I’ve been overwhelmed with reading papers and may have to give some incompletes on Tuesday until I can straighten things out.

My goal is this: to read everyone’s story completely and give comments and a markup. Private conferences are not going to be possible. Email exchanges and phone calls are possible.

As soon as you get my remarks let me know if they make sense to you. For some of you the result will not be a perfect story, but a major step forward in understanding what you’re working with.

In the best of worlds we would have had 15 students and I would have know each of you individually and would have worked closely with each of you on your story. That has not been the case. But I am determined to give each of you individual help and if we have to do some followup work in January, so be it. I want each of you to feel that you have got a handle on your story and have learned something that will help you on future projects.

Best thing to do right now is communicate by email. Use the berryhillmk@tsu.edu.

It’s going to be complicated by with patience and good will we will get through this.

Your editor,

Michael Berryhill

What an essay lead looks like

December 2, 2016

Essays are about ideas rather than stories, though narratives may be part of the argument in an essay. You can talk about the argument in an essay, but it would be rare to talk about the argument in a narrative.  Narratives have themes, but rarely arguments. Here’s an essay lead from a recent New Yorker article by the great Nigerian writer, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie:

America has always been aspirational to me. Even when I chafed at its hypocrisies, it somehow always seemed sure, a nation that knew what it was doing, refreshingly free of that anything-can-happen existential uncertainty so familiar to developing nations. But no longer. The election of Donald Trump has flattened the poetry in America’s founding philosophy: the country born from an idea of freedom is to be governed by an unstable, stubbornly uninformed, authoritarian demagogue. And in response to this there are people living in visceral fear, people anxiously trying to discern policy from bluster, and people kowtowing as though to a new king. Things that were recently pushed to the corners of America’s political space—overt racism, glaring misogyny, anti-intellectualism—are once again creeping to the center.

As you can see this is pure argument and opinion. There’s no narrative in this at all. It’s a different kind of writing, useful and worthwhile, but completely different from narrative writing.

Some advice about characters

November 30, 2016

In 1983 I wrote a story about the University of Houston creative writing program in which the essayist, novelist and poet Phillip Lopate is quoted:

Lopate tells of the one-sided story in which a woman is married to a brutal man, or a man is married to a shrew. “I try to get them to see the other point of view. I make them write a monologue from the point of view of the despised character…I’m trying to get them to inhabit other people, and at the same time I’m trying to get them inhabit themselves.”

Lopate left Houston many years ago and has gone on to publish widely about essays.

No class Thursday, but quiz today Wednesday

November 30, 2016

Some students are confused. As I posted earlier, no class for Art of Narrative on Thursday night December 1. Just send me manuscripts. We’ll work it out one on one. Somehow.

But tonight, Wednesday November 30 I am giving a quiz based on last week’s lecture on narrative. This is a simple short answer quiz based on obvious stuff that I went over. It counts as a percentage of your grade in CM 501, Master’s Project class.

Friday candlelight vigil for Vonn Butler

November 17, 2016

VBCandlelight Vigil.jpg

Memorial Service for Vonn Butler

November 17, 2016