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 its more creative, or that shes
avoiding the reenactment of her mothers tired
life. The product leaves much to be desired. Roast lamb
really isnt very good well-done in salsa. Cashews
are seldom found in tomato soup for a reason. We hope
you wont write like this dear woman cooks. You
dont have to reinvent the wheel or the novel
"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 cant
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 havent grabbed them then, youre 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 . . . "
"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. Youre a writer, not a courtroom
"The two questions were 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?"
"We imitate fictional characters. How many men
still play Hemingway who played his own characters?
Byrons heroes in his narrative poems inflamed
a generation of young men and sometimes young women
who wanted to play those parts too
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
"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
"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 Ive
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 creations way. We all
have notions of what we should be
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 dont only fake orgasms;
people have faked orgiastic appreciation of many things
that bored and even affronted them, from the Grand Canyon
to their partys heroines and rhetoric, to the
current literary fad or lion . . ."
"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 dont publish
people I dont know." I never forgot it and
never held it against the editorI 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
So You Want To Write
PUB DATE: August, 2001
CATEGORY: Writing / Self Actualization & Self Help
TRIM: 6 x 9
PRICE: $14.95 / Paperback Original