Brief Excerpts from…
So You Want to Write 

By Marge Piercy and Ira Wood

On what to read:

"If you want to write a memoir, read memoirs. If you want to write science fiction, read science fiction. Often in workshops, participants will ask us to recommend a "how to write" book – like this one. But the truth of the matter is, the best books you can read on how to write are books that are in the genre you want to write in … We have a dear friend who hates cook books. Whenever she makes a casserole or creates a soup, she insists on inventing from scratch. She thinks it’s more creative, or that she’s avoiding the reenactment of her mother’s tired life. The product leaves much to be desired. Roast lamb really isn’t very good well-done in salsa. Cashews are seldom found in tomato soup for a reason. We hope you won’t write like this dear woman cooks. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel or the novel …"

On Beginnings:

"The beginning is the most important part of your story or your novel, because whoever does not read the beginning will never read the rest of it. You can’t take the leisure to develop slowly in the first few pages . . . Basically you can count on an editor reading your first page in a short story, maybe the first two pages; in a novel, you can count on the first ten pages. If you haven’t grabbed them then, you’re sunk. I am not saying, get your sex and violence up front. That is what a lot of writers do, but in fact it turns off as many people as it turns on, and too much of either right there may draw your pornographic voyeur but get rid of the rest of your potential audience . . . "

On Dialog:

"Many writers of non-fiction, of memoirs and autobiographical novels, write long passages of absolutely boring and sometimes incoherent dialogue. Then they justify the mess by saying, "But this is exactly what people sound like." Or worse, "I taped it … "Your book is rarely the place for an exact transcription of human speech. You’re a writer, not a courtroom stenographer …"

On memoirs:

"The two questions we’re most frequently asked in personal narrative workshops are these: ‘How exactly do I organize the telling of a story as large as my entire life?’ On a more personal level, the question that seems to plague every writer contemplating a memoir: ‘Is my story interesting enough to tell?’"

On Viewpoint:

"We imitate fictional characters. How many men still play Hemingway who played his own characters? Byron’s heroes in his narrative poems inflamed a generation of young men and sometimes young women who wanted to play those parts too … An acquaintance of mine in college had an affair with an instructor based on the fact that both of them passionately wanted to live in a Henry James novel, in the late style."

On Naming characters:

"Each character must be given a name. That name can suggest ethnicity, can define or not define the sex of the character. The name can suggest character. We all can remember names of the characters of Charles Dickens that define a type perfectly. Ebenezer Scrooge. Uriah Heep. Tiny Tim. Madame Defarge. Harold Skimpole. Mrs. Jellyby. Wackford Squeers. Basically you must believe you have chosen the true name of your character. Sometimes you will find that after a draft, you may change the names of one of your important characters. This is because as you have come to know them, the name is no longer appropriate …"

On Descriptions:

"Descriptions are places where writers feeling their oats often let themselves go and readers nod off, put down the book or at their kindest, skip …"

On Research:

"Interviewing is an undervalued art. As someone who has a lot of experience with being interviewed, I can tell you it is something usually done poorly. It requires empathy and direction, tact and a sense of tactics, patience and flattery. The best interviewer I have ever experienced is Studs Terkel; the best I’ve ever watched in action is Barbara Walters on TV. Both are extremely skilled and both massage and stroke the object/victim/target. Neither means harm but both are relentless and yet open, curious, for the moment a little in love. Love is a form of attention and so is interviewing …"

On Work Habits:

"Shame can get in creation’s way. We all have notions of what we should be … Sometimes we are ashamed of what moves us or how much we are moved; at other times we feel we ought to have been moved and we try to pretend. We don’t only fake orgasms; people have faked orgiastic appreciation of many things that bored and even affronted them, from the Grand Canyon to their party’s heroines and rhetoric, to the current literary fad or lion . . ."

On Rejections:

"The most honest rejection slip I ever received was from a West Coast poetry zine. The editor wrote, "I like your poems, but I started this journal in order to publish my friends, and I don’t publish people I don’t know." I never forgot it and never held it against the editor—I often teach one of his poems in my poetry work shops . . . "

On Cover Letters:

"For book-length fiction and memoir, in our experience, over-long cover letters, like packages that have enough tape on them to withstand a category three hurricane, mark the writer as an amateur. The function of a cover letter is to introduce yourself and your credentials and to provide a brief over-view of the work. The work will stand up for itself. There are certain things you can include that might give you a leg up …"

back to:
So You Want To Write
PUB DATE: August, 2001
CATEGORY: Writing / Self Actualization & Self Help / Reference
PAGES: 224
TRIM: 6 x 9
ISBN: 0-9679520-2-6
PRICE: $14.95 / Paperback Original 

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