Tag Archives: Stephen King

Reading for Writing

This is the third guest post for Rachel Kwon: she appeared during the Winter 2017 session with an excellent first guest post in January; and she contributed her wonderful second guest post for the Summer 2017 session. I hope you enjoy this post as much as I do!

This is a guest post from Rachel Kwon, a member of this summer’s Online Writing Group:


“If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.”
—Stephen King

(Note: I’ve never read a Stephen King book.)

Stephen King Books

Kwonita is the Kween of Books

When I was a kid, our local public library had a checkout limit of 30 books. I would hit that limit almost every time, mostly with young adult series like The Baby-Sitters Club, The Boxcar Children, and Goosebumps. (Judge me not!)

I tend to think it’s a red flag if I’m considering having somebody in my life (for friendship, a relationship, or any other ‘ship) and they say they don’t read or that they don’t like reading. I firmly believe it’s true that if you say you don’t like reading, you just haven’t found the right book.

In January of this year, I started a book club. I’ll be honest—mainly I just wanted a reason to drink a reasonable amount of wine with my friends while talking about books (and not having to be in a bar). It’s evolved into a book exchange, where each of us brings a book (or book recommendation, for the library-goers) and gives a brief synopsis and personal thoughts on the book.

Reading, and talking about reading, has been invaluable to my writing. Hearing people’s perspectives on other writers’ writing in person has really been illuminating.

At our last meeting, one of our book clubbers brought a book called Hey Ladies!, a fictional collection of emails and group text message exchanges among a group of women. She seemed kind of embarrassed to bring it, since most of the others had brought novels or serious nonfiction pieces. We did poke a little fun at her for bringing such a “popcorn” book, but ultimately I ended up taking that book home, because I wanted a fun, easy read.

I wonder if some of these people who say they don’t like reading had some experience when they were younger reading something they liked, and somebody else made fun of them, thus discouraging them from reading. That makes me sad.

My writing has evolved as my reading has. I used to read mostly fiction, and mostly things that were assigned to me, written invariably by dead white men. (Well, they weren’t dead when they wrote them, but you know what I mean.)

I also used to write mostly when I had to, for school or work, though I usually enjoyed it. In my old life, as an intern in surgical training, I had to write all the patients’ progress notes every day, often for up to 30 patients. I was probably the only resident ever who enjoyed writing those notes as much as I liked operating. As I got more senior, I would often read other progress notes and wonder what the real story was, because they were so hastily written, obviously penned by some overworked intern who could barely grasp the full picture of the patient’s journey.

Now, in my current life, I do a fair bit of editing others’ work, which is actually a pretty fun combination of reading and writing. I don’t have to face the terror of a blank page, and I can also contribute a bit of my writer’s eye and help supplement the narrative when necessary.

From reading books about kids with more interesting lives than mine, to reading frivolous books with friends, documenting the clinical stories of sick patients, editing other people’s writing, and doing some writing and reading of my own, the common threads have been the push and pull of reading and writing, and I think any writer would agree that their reading has had an impact on their writing.

Week Two: Winter 2017 Online Writing Group

This is week two of the Winter 2017 edition of the Lake Projects Online Writing Group, and I begin this week’s goals post with a call to action: this week, be the hammer. You all had a good start on your projects last week, so this week, don’t lose your momentum. Keep whacking away at those nails until your foundation is able to stand on its own. Be the hammer.

Hopefully you all saw last week’s addendum about our three new group members, and this week we’ve got everyone together in a single, beautiful group. So let’s go!

Week Two Goals:

Alena: I’ve been writing essays for scholarships this week instead of working on my two short stories. I’ll return to them for Week Two. My other goal is to start reading Solaris by Stanislaw Lem. I know this isn’t technically a writing goal but reading helps develop writing skills so I’ll include it.

Anne D.: My Week Two goal is to polish up a few pieces and see where that takes me.

Anne H.: This week I’m going to continue making notes on “Save the Cat,” and I’m also going to continue reading the Elmore Leonard novel Get Shorty; and after I finish reading the novel (almost done!), I’m going to watch the movie. I think the novel and movie are similar to a project I’m working on, so I’m using them as a study. [You all know how I feel about Elmore Leonard.]

Cynthia: My Week Two goal is to write at least a paragraph a day. Baby steps. [Those are the cutest kind of steps!]

Kate: Coming soon…

Laura: I worked a bit on my short story last week, but I have another once-over to do before submitting it. That’s my goal for this week: to submit to two magazines (one I just found out about last week; another I’d intended to submit to is closed for the winter, so I’ll keep it in my pocket until they’re open) and to a contest. This week I’m also going to start to begin the outline for my new course.

Lisa: So…I did absolutely nothing during week one. My goal for Week Two is to write the three pages I wanted to write in Week One. Wish me luck! [Good luck!]

Matt: The first week has been productive; I’ve completed the basic process of reorganizing my framing device and feel that I am well on my way to where I need to be. Sadly this has only reduced the overall size by about two thousand words, or about point-zero-zero-two percent of the total mass of the book, but it’s a start.

Now that I have a new shape, for this week I go back and start again, revisiting where I began, armed with the knowledge of where it ends up. The framing device has a narrator and I am still finding her voice.

The frustrating thing is that I also keep finding more stories, hidden inside the little cracks, and it’s hard not to want to tell them. How do you deal with knowing so much about these characters, knowing stories that want to be told but also knowing that they probably don’t need to be told?

Noëmi: My goal for next week is to write at least about 500 words. I don’t know whether I want it to be a short story or a blog-post or something else.

Rachel: I met last week’s goal to compile all my essay ideas in one concrete place: I bought a little notebook at Muji, gathered all my idea scraps, and wrote them in there. For next week, I will plan to write a first draft of an essay about an old Dutch lady I met at the post office last week who tried to cut in front of me in line (don’t worry, we became friends by the end). I’ll shoot for 1,000 words for the final draft.

Robert: Week Two goal: continue working on my novel. Week One progress: wrote 1500 words.

Sarah: Week Two goals: my thesis course is back in session. To stay on task in the course I need to write everyday. I need seven pages this week and I have ten to edit. I did well with my Week One goals so I’m energized to wrap up this paper. Oh and I need to finish my blog post.


This week, in addition to telling you all to be the hammer, I wanted to talk a bit about how writers break up their writing. The long and winding road that got me to this idea started last week as I determined how many books I would set as my goal for this year’s Goodreads reading challenge.

See, last year I set my goal as fifty books, but by the end of 2016 I’d only read thirty-two, and I’m always a little disappointed when I don’t meet my goal. I know that I spent a lot more time last year reading academic publications for my two graduate classes, which don’t count toward my Goodreads goal, but I think that I also missed my goal because I read a number of big, fat books that took me a long time to read.

Sad. It's so sad.

Sad. It’s so sad.

As I thought about the number of big, fat books that I read in 2016 — A Brief History of Seven Killings (688 pages), Villette (657 pages), It (1,116 pages), City on Fire (911 pages [though, full disclosure: I started this in 2016 but I haven’t quite finished it yet]) — I thought about Infinite Jest, because thinking about long books invariably brings me to thinking about Infinite Jest (1,079 pages [a couple hundred of which are footnotes (yes, you do need to read the footnotes)]).

And then (bear with me; I’m almost to my point), as I thought about how reading It is such a wholly different experience than reading Infinite Jest is (in every aspect, including the simple act of turning pages), I started thinking about how both writers had broken up their books into small sections, sections so small, sometimes, that they were only a page or two.

And this kind of a break up of a long piece into small sections — maybe authors call them chapters, but frequently they don’t — is useful in a piece of any length, but especially when you have something that’s upward of six or seven hundred pages. Stephen King knows this; he is a prolific writer in terms of books and in terms of pages (It is not King’s only book over 1,000 pages, and he frequently publishes novels that are 800 pages or more [for better or for worse…]), and he usually breaks up his books into small, non-chaptered but numbered sections that are sometimes only a few paragraphs.


And Marlon James, author of A Brief History of Seven Killings, knows this, too. James broke up his Man Booker Award-winning brick-of-a-book into smaller first-person sections, each told by one member of his cast of about a dozen or so characters. And relative newcomer Garth Risk Hallberg, author of the 911-page impromptu-weapon-against-home-invasion City on Fire, breaks his long book up by short chapters, too (also by character p.o.v., though third person, not first like James’s). I don’t have a picture of Hallberg’s book because it’s downstairs and I forgot to do it and I’m too lazy to leave my chair. So you get Tolstoy instead.

Anna Karenina was so big and fat that sometimes it's broken up into two books!

Anna Karenina is so big and fat that sometimes it’s broken up into two books!

And all of this segmentation can help you organize your story, too. It can help you organize the writing of the story (it’s easier to tell yourself that you’re going to tackle just one character’s account from that one afternoon when she was running errands and ended up getting car-jacked rather than the entire swirling narrative of all of your characters and what in their lives led up to that one car-jacking and their lives in the days that followed it); and it can help you organize the overall narrative arc as well. If your big work is broken up into smaller segments, you may decide that your story is best told out of chronological order and instead told according to character, or according to location. Once you’ve decided what’s best, just move all of the bits from each character together and you’ve got your story. So easy, right? (hahahahahahaaaa! writing is so easy!!!!)

Breaking your work up into small sections will also help your reader; because books that are broken up into smaller sections are much, much easier to read. As I started reading City on Fire in bed at night, it was easy for me to tell myself, “Oh, just one more chapter, it’s such a short one.” And then, the first night I’d started it, it was 1 a.m. and I was two hundred pages in. Boom.

For those of you who are working on short pieces, think of the breaking-up of your story in more traditional narrative terms: onset (leading up to the [usually unpleasant] main conflict); conflict, resolution. This three-act organization is typical in films and easy to understand, so use it as your guide. You likely won’t organize these three sections numerically once your short piece is finished; in fact, your story might take place all in the same place in a very short amount of time and you’ll have written a single scene. But thinking about this segmentation might help you to get through the drafting process.

And for those of you who are working on very short pieces (this is me), I have only this advice: just sit down and f*cking write it.

Okay, that’s my long-winded advice for this week! In case anyone is curious, I’ve set my 2017 reading challenge for only forty books; let’s see how I do.

Write, on, everyone!

Just one more for good measure (YES I JUST DID THAT!)

Just one more for good measure (YES I JUST DID THAT!)











Five Exciting Things That Happened Over Spring Break

Tomorrow I go back to school after having a week off of classes for spring break (#springbreak2016whoohoo!). Trevor has been busy at the studio, and we weren’t able to plan any kind of a getaway, so instead, I just hung around Camp Crystal Lake with Roo and did a whole lot of nothing.

But there were a few interesting, nay, exciting things that happened. I decided that I would recount them here for you so you could get a real taste of what a fast-paced life I lead.

Number Five: The Library Stole My Heart!

Three weeks ago I picked up Stephen King’s latest collection of short fiction, The Bazaar of Bad Dreams, at my local book joint, the Crystal Lake Public Library. The book was marked as a “Hot Pick,” which meant that it could only be checked out on a seven-day loan, and it couldn’t be renewed. It’s a good-sized book, coming in at just under five hundred pages, so I was disappointed when I had to return it having only read half. But moments after I dropped my copy into the “Returns” book slot, I wandered to fiction and saw that there was another copy of the same book on the Hot Picks shelf; so obviously I grabbed it. Excellent loophole, CLPL!

But this second copy was, alas, due last Saturday, and I still wasn’t finished. I had about a hundred pages left to read, but I thought, hey, that’s okay, it’s short stories and will be easy to pick up whenever I see it again. So I returned it, and figured that sometime after the semester’s end, I’d pick it back up.

But then — but then — on Monday, my first day of spring break, I went to the library to check out some movies for my week-long couch potatoing, and the book was back on the shelf. Score! But wait! I grabbed the book and was waiting to check it out when I flipped it open and saw that my book mark was right where I had left it! KWHAAAAAT???!!!!!


Yes, that’s right! Whatever wonderful human at the circulation desk checked my book back in did not remove my book mark. What a great way to start a spring break, right?! I finished the book that day and returned it, so hopefully some other lucky soul is enjoying it right now.

Number Four: Knives Are Sharp!

Thursday night I was fixing dinner (stove-top lasagne) and was having a pleasant time, just chopping up my vegetables, listening to my latest audiobook (Charlotte Brontë‘s Villette [good, good]). I was about to start sauteing (pot on the stove, olive oil heating up) but I needed to open my packet of Tofurky Italian sausage; so I got my big fat knife and plunged it in, and caught a nice chunk of my middle finger. I almost passed out (I’m weak in the stomach for all blood that is not made of corn syrup and red dye 40) and had to put dinner on hold until Trevor got home from work. And now I have this damn stupid gross cut on my finger and I’ve had to wear a rubber glove to take a shower and I don’t think my left hand has been really clean for a couple of days (there’s still blood underneath my fingernail [yeah, I know: gross]). I decided I would not include a picture of this. You’re welcome.

That should teach me to never eat Tofurky again.

Number Three: The Birds!

This jerk bird tried to break into the house:



For days I’d been hearing something flying into the window, but I always looked at the top, where birds sometimes hang out under the eaves. But I was in the kitchen filling up my coffee mug on Friday morning and this guy flew into the bottom of the window, just beak-firsted right in there. I figure he was either trying to perch on the sill (he could hold this pose for about one single second) or he was legit trying to break into the house and steal my stuff — probably all of the dryer lint, thread, and newspaper he could get his little orange beak on.

He did it a few more times and then took off somewhere else. I think he and his family will build their little cardinal home in one of our bushes, like they did last year. Maybe he was trying for a warmer kind of place inside the house rather than out, but I am not having it. It’s a slippery slope to a whole lot of horror.

Number Two: New Publication!

On Friday, the amazing website Bitch Flicks published an article I wrote for their Women Directors theme week. It’s the third one they’ve published of mine, and I love writing things for them; it’s a great excuse to do “research” and watch a bunch of great movies and t.v.

Women Directors Screen Shot

This should probably be number one on my list of exciting things, but since I wrote and submitted the article before spring break, I didn’t want to give it the prime spot.

Number One: Signage!

Trevor got me a Camp Crystal Lake sign for the house!



For those who don’t know how exciting this is, let me tell you: this is very exciting.

Because we live on a lake and a lot of the houses were originally vacation cabins, many have lake house “names.” Some people give their house a straight forward name (“The Fort” is one of our neighbors), and some people make up puns based on their last names. People get really into this and hang signs — some simple, some elaborate.

And of course as soon as we moved here, we knew we had to get a sign for Camp Crystal Lake. Because we live on CAMP CRYSTAL LAKE HOLY CRAP! (if you don’t know why this is so exciting, please read this and know that I have very strong feelings about these movies [all of which I own and maybe I will loan them to you one at a time]).

And now we have a sign! Trevor’s going to treat it to make sure it won’t warp or crack in the weather, and then we’ll bolt it to the garage for everyone to see. I am so happy.


And that’s it! Of course, there are some other things that happened this week, and some things that I learned, but these didn’t make the list because they weren’t that interesting. Things such as, there is a limit to how much grading one human being can do in a week; it’s a good idea to leave the house at least once per day, just to make sure you haven’t napped through the zombie apocalypse; ice cream is delicious; and showers are great but don’t have to be taken every day.

And now, I will leave you to finish my lesson plan for my morning class and remember that I have a closet full of clothes that are not the same t-shirt and jeans I have been wearing for eight days (not literally the same: variations on a theme [well, maybe the jeans are the same]).

Have a good week!

Week Four: Winter 2016 Online Writing Group

It’s the final week of our winter writing group, and we’re wrapping up with some great work! Anne, Lisa, Robert, and I started school this week, but we’re still plugging away; it’s easier to write before the student essays start rolling in…

Updates and Week Four Goals:

  • Anne: I am going to continue with my notetaking from Burroughs and other sources. It is working — I’m getting specific ideas and motivation for my WIP [work in progress]. I’m even having the nerve to say that I have a WIP!
  • Laura: I started my outline and this week I’d like to keep working on it; I’d like to get a very rough outline of the whole book done by the end of this week. I don’t usually outline, but a mystery novel is new to me, and I think that something so focused on plot needs better organization than I usually give it.
  • Lisa: This week, I’m hoping to write two pages. It’s been busy, but I’m sticking with it!
  • Matt: For all intents and purposes, I have assembled my first draft. I am more comfortable with some parts than with others. It’s a pretty big milestone and I’m heavy with ambivalence, but trying to give myself the space to actually appreciate the fact that it is a milestone. It’s okay to celebrate, even though I’m not finished. Right? [YES, MATT!!]
    What I want to do this week is prepare some questions, both general and specific, as I regard the manuscript and get ready to share it with my volunteer readers. I’m not interested in burdening them with any thoughts that may color their initial reading experience, but they are all aware that they are test subjects. They’re not reading for pleasure (at least not exclusively?) but for feedback. And I know readers approach that process in different ways, so if anybody actually wants any guidelines or ideas about the sort of feedback I need, I would like to be ready with them. In any case, I will need the questions eventually. Now that I finally know what my story is, I hope to learn what the thing is about. Ask myself all those basic questions that a more responsible author would have asked years ago. But I don’t really like to work that way.
  • Robert: I wrote 958 words in the last week. The first week of school was busy of course! For this last week I will still strive for 250 words a day, 1750 for the week.

I like to read about other writers’ processes, and one of my favorite writer-on-writing is Stephen King. I recommend his book On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft; he writes about his early writing life, the car accident in 1999 (he was hit by a van), and coming back to writing after being physically unable to do it. It’s a great memoir and King has a lot of pearls of wisdom for novice and veteran writers alike.

You can get a glimpse of some of the things he writes about in On Writing in an interview he did with The Paris Review as part of the magazine’s “Art of Fiction” interview series. The Paris Review has been running this series for decades and decades, interviewing writers like Vonnegut, Nabokov, Angelou, and so many more. You can get a collection of some of the best, or you can do a quick Google search and find the one you’re looking for.

Paris Review Art of Fiction

Happy reading, and good writing this week, everyone!


In an effort to do something with the next two hours of my life that doesn’t involve getting anxious about tonight’s performance of God of Carnage, I’ve decided to give you all a mash-up of the random little dodads that have been happening in and around Camp Crystal Lake.

A few weeks ago, I posted about our trip to Maine for our friends’ wedding. There were a couple of mini-adventures that weren’t directly wedding-related, so I didn’t include them. But here, in our miscellany post, they’re perfect!

Cristen and Jayson took us to the Glen Cove Motel for a spectacular photo shoot:

Glen Cove Motel 1

Trevor and Jayson

Glen Cove Motel 2

Jayson and Cristen

Cristen and Laura

Cristen and Laura

So, it’s clear that I look good as a lobster and that I will pursue this as my next career.

We also went to the Maine State Prison gift shop. The products — beautiful woodwork and leather goods — are crafted by the inmates. The detail in everything from the wooden salad bowls to the model ships is meticulous, and the prices are reasonable. If we’d had more room in our suitcases, we’d have gotten a lot more. We picked up a couple of gifts for friends and family, and of course, something for ourselves:

Maine State Prison Travel Mug

While we were in Maine, I figured out the likelihood that we’d be able to sneak over to Bangor for an afternoon drive past the house of my favorite writer, Stephen King. Roadside America lists his house as an attraction (weird, right?) and I really, really, really, really (really) wanted to go check it out.

His house has a cobweb gate! A cobweb gate! (Photo credit: Pixdaus)

But Trevor refused (why? why, Trevor, why??), and realistically, we didn’t have time (I guess that’s why [boo! (j.k. I love you, Trevor)]). So I guess that means we’ll have to book another vacation just to Bangor. From this vacation, I settled for a copy of Carrie that I snapped up from the Stone Soup Books in Camden.

Carrie Paperback

Is this book as good as stalking one of my literary heroes? No. But it’s a good book.

The rest of my haul from Stone Soup Books

The rest of my haul from Stone Soup Books

A couple weekends after we got back from Maine, our neighbors, Joe and Mary, invited us to go boating with them at a quarry they hang out in Cary (the town over from Camp Crystal Lake). They go to the quarry to water ski, BBQ, sit on the beach, and enjoy life. We very thankfully joined them and had a great time.

Quary Horses

These are the horses that hang out by the quarry.


Quarry Beach

The quarry has a nice sandy beach

Quarry swimming raft

We absolutely jumped off of this diving board.

When we got home, we (read: Trevor) built a fire on the porch. It had been a moderate day and the night was clear and cool. We stared at the fire for a few hours before going to bed. It was great.

Summer Fire

On the Fourth of July we went to the Lakeside Fest in Crystal Lake. We drank some beer, ate some ice cream, and watched a lot of teenagers put their lives in the hands of this death machine:

Lakeside Fest Zipper


Trevor assembled our planter, and I got our miniature garden going a couple of days ago:

Raised Garden

And last night we had dinner with my old roommate, Jenn, and her husband Jeremy. Jenn and Jeremy live in Seattle and are visiting for the weekend; I have performances tonight, Saturday, and Sunday, so I was so happy they were able to meet us for dinner the night they flew in. I haven’t seen them in years and years, but we picked up right where we left off and had a great time while stuffing ourselves with Thai food in our old Wicker Park neighborhood.

Me and the amazing Jenn!

Me and the amazing Jenn!

And that’s all of our random news from Camp Crystal Lake!

Now, I’ve successfully focused on something other than my nerves about tonight’s show! We have three more shows, so you should absolutely come to see it. It’s cheap. It’s short. It’s been well reviewed. And it’s full of swear words!



You can make a reservation by calling 815-455-8746 or emailing Jay Geller at jgeller[at]mchenry[dot]edu.

Check back for more posts about the God of Carnage Family, Friends, and Fun weekend with the Power clan and our Glen Cove Motel friends Jayson and Cristen; and for posts from our final week of the Lake Projects Online Writing Group. See you soon!

Week Two: Online Writing Group

It’s the second week of the Summer 2015 Online Writing Group!

It sounds like most everyone is on track and that makes me so happy! But I’m going to be the outlier and admit that I didn’t meet my goals for week one. I could tell you that I’ve been busy rehearsing for a play (I have!) or that I’m useless if I don’t go into the office where my little pomodoro picture is hanging on the wall (I am!), but you all know that all excuses are bullshit. This week I was just a slack-dog.

Yes, the person running this group is a slack-dog. What’s a slack-dog, you ask? Here you go:

Slack-dog \ˈslak ˈdȯg, ˈdäg\ : one who does not do her weekly writing

Pictured Right–Slack-dog \ˈslak ˈdȯg, ˈdäg\ : one who does not do her weekly writing   Pictured Left–Regular-dog \ˈre-gyə-lər, ˈre-g(ə-)lər also ˈrā- ˈdȯg, ˈdäg\ : one who does do her weekly writing (if writing =  eating, sleeping, running, and pooping)

So now you know what you’ll turn into if you miss your weekly goals! It’s not really that bad; but I do hope to look like a normal human again next week once I’ve done some writing.

Here are Everyone’s Week Two Updates & New Goals:

  • Anne: This week I plan on continuing my writing at a slow pace and to FIND time for myself to write this week come hell or high water. I will begin some research for another novel in stories that has been rattling around in my brain for the past month or so. I don’t want to give too much away (in case it doesn’t work the way I planned) but it will be about a local historic hotel in my area that has been closed for some years now. This hotel is important to many people in the area and I want to show the history of this place and why it was so important. I want to at least have a rough draft of this going by the end of the eight weeks, but maybe get around five pages written, or at least get an outline written for this week. It’s mainly going to be a research week but I will try to get something written. I have decided that the novel in story format will work perfectly for this project as well. This novel in stories is going to focus more on the place and the lasting impact this hotel has had on the area residents. As for Circus Man, it’s still going along, slowly and I will be doing more research for this as well this week. *
  • Anuar: So far my writing has been going pretty good and I was able to finish all my goals. My goals for this upcoming week are the following: add at least two chapters to the book I’m writing; and write a guest post. (Anuar’s guest post will be featured next week!)
  • Bev: Continue work on spring break letter (minimum 3 pomodoros), which is taking longer than I thought it would; continue researching agents (minimum 2 pomodoros); and re-read intro to 7 Bridges and cut even more spurious content (minimum 2 pomodoros). (I’m so glad the pomodoros are working for you, Bev!)
  • Bonnie: (Bonnie is out of the country, so we’ll assume she’s met her goals and is processing her Ireland experiences for the project she’ll start when she returns.)
  • Curt: Baby steps : Write every day. Aim for 1500 words at the end of the week.**
  • Laura: Since I came woefully short of my first week goal, my second week goal is to open the story, and just start working. I’m going to analyze the first page to see if I’ve clearly answered Lisa Cron’s three questions (see below), and if not, I’ll start my work there.
  • Lisa: I will be trying to get through another five pages this week. So far, so good. 🙂
  • Mary: Week two goal is to edit my blog post. (After I finish writing it because we all know I didn’t finish. [thank you, Mary, for being an amazing slack-dog, too! I feel better])
  • Matthew: (Matthew contributed this week’s guest post [it’s going up tomorrow, so check back!], and he has met his goal for this week.)
  • Mike: Week two goal is to complete an outline of the new story, consolidating the existing drafts of the two previous stories, and the notes from the earlier workshop on one of the two stories.
  • Robert: I’m at 40,700 words, so I wrote maybe 700 – 1000 words. We are busy prepping for our vacation, so I didn’t expect to get much done. Once the vacation starts, well, I don’t think much writing will occur. That’s how it goes. When I return, then I’ll get back to the project. But I’ll be reading this blog! Keep on writing, fellow writers! (Thanks, and safe travels, Robert!)
  • Samantha: My week two goals are to begin to rewrite the first chunk of the story, as I have reread it and hate it to bits. (I told Samantha she has to hate it so that she can rewrite it and make it amazing.)
  • Steve: Draft of Mendelssohn paper by June 10.

*Anne, this sounds amazing! I have two books to recommend for you: 1. Hotel World by Ali Smith–it’s not a collection of short stories, but a collection of narratives/voices centered around a hotel. Smith is a terrific writer and it’s an interesting book. And 2. Haunted by Chuck Palahniuk. Although I am confident that this is not the genre or style you’re working towards, I’m going to recommend you read Haunted for an example of a novel through short stories as well as first person [sort of] narration. Be warned, though, that Palahniuk is at his graphic best (worst?) in this book, especially with the story “Guts.” (writers, what other stories-as-novel do you recommend?)

**Curt is new to the group. His eight-week objectives are to complete at least three chapters of Book 2 (of his Legacy of the Guardians series); maybe finish one of several short stories that have been stuck in limbo for so long; send another round of query letters to agents for Book 1. Welcome to the group, Curt!

All right, so everyone (besides me) seems to be on track and getting it done–good work, writers!

This week, as part of my slack-doggedness, I started reading Wired for Story: The Writer’s Guide to Using Brain Science to Hook Readers from the Very First Sentence. This book, by Lisa Cron, is a marriage of the two things I love: books on writing and books on brains.

Cron’s first chapter begins the explanation of why humans crave story and what we writers can do to create a compelling first page and first line. In large part, writers must make sure to answer the following three questions (and quick!) in order to keep the reader engaged:

  1. Whose story is it?
  2. What’s happening here?
  3. What is at stake? (Cron 19)

As readers, Cron says, “we are looking for a reason to care.” So when we write, we must make sure to begin our story with a “ball already in play” (13).

I give you, then, a job this week, writers: re-read your first line and your first page. Will your reader be able to answer Cron’s three questions? If not, revise.

And to inspire you, here are some great first lines (because after reading Cron’s first chapter, I immediately started pulling books off my library shelves to read the first lines. [this, then, led to me rereading, in its entirety, my favorite book Franny and Zooey, thus further procrastinating my writing]):

“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.” (Pride & Prejudice, Jane Austen)

“I still get nightmares.” (House of Leaves, Mark Z. Danielewski)

“I was born twice: first, as a baby girl, on a remarkably smogless Detroit day in January of 1960; and then again, as a teenage boy, in an emergency room near Petoskey, Michigan, in August of 1974.” (Middlesex, Jeffrey Eugenides)

“Isserley always drove straight past a hitch-hiker when she first saw him, to give herself time to size him up.” (Under the Skin, Michel Faber)

“Someone must have been telling lies about Joseph K, for without having done anything wrong he was arrested one fine morning.” (The Trial, Franz Kafka)

“Jack Torrance thought: Officious little prick.” (The Shining, Stephen King)

“The circus arrives without warning.” (The Night Circus, Erin Morgenstern)

“Gerard Maines lived across the hall from a woman named Benna, who four minutes into any conversation always managed to say the word penis.” (Anagrams, Lorrie Moore)

“This was supposed to be a writers’ retreat.” (Haunted, Chuck Palahniuk)

“Never never tell, Maddy-Monkey, they warned me, it’s Death if you tell any of Them but now after so many years I am going to tell, for who’s to stop me?” (Foxfire: Confessions of a Girl Gang, Joyce Carol Oates)

“A spectre is haunting Europe — the spectre of Communism.” (The Communist Manifesto, Karl Marx)

“When the phone rang I was in the kitchen, boiling a potful of spaghetti and whistling along with an FM broadcast of the overture to Rossini’s The Thieving Magpie, which has to be the perfect music for cooking pasta.” (The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, Haruki Murakami)

“Though brilliantly sunny, Saturday morning was overcoat weather again, not just topcoat weather, as it had been all week and as everyone had hoped it would stay for the big weekend–the weekend of the Yale game.” (Franny and Zooey, J.D. Salinger)

“Who’s there?” (Hamlet, William Shakespeare)

“Early in the morning, late in the century, Cricklewood Broadway.” (White Teeth, Zadie Smith)

“We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold.” (Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Hunter S. Thompson)

“When Mr. Bilbo Baggins of Bag End announced that he would shortly be celebrating his eleventy-first birthday with a party of special magnificence, there was much talk and excitement in Hobbiton.” (Chapter 1, The Fellowship of the Ring, J.R.R. Tolkien)

“Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” (Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy)

“A green hunting cap squeezed the top of the fleshy balloon of a head.” (A Confederacy of Dunces, John Kennedy Toole)

“The person to whom this book is dedicated, Phoebe Hurty, is no longer among the living, as they say.” (Breakfast of Champions [Or, Goodbye Blue Monday!], Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.)

“I am seated in an office, surrounded by heads and bodies.” (Infinite Jest, David Foster Wallace)

“I am born on a Tuesday at University Hospital/Columbus, Ohio,/USA — /a country caught/between Black and White.” (Brown Girl Dreaming, Jacqueline Woodson)

Now, writers, go on and write, reflect, revise, and let us know how it goes. Check back tomorrow for Matthew’s amazing guest post. Good luck, and good writing!

Cron, Lisa. Wired for Story: The Writer’s Guide to Using Brain Science to Hook Readers from the Very First Sentence. Berkeley: Ten Speed Press, 2012. Print.