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ON WRITING, RACE, AND RANDOM REFLECTIONS

What Keeps You From Writing?

Did you plan to start on that new writing project yesterday, but then discover that your oven needed cleaning—urgently? You simply couldn’t stand the flaky grime one more day. Or the phone rang just as you sat down to begin and two hours later you realized you allowed yourself to get caught  Read More 
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Middles

I’ve read books that start so well I think contentedly, Ah, this one I’m going to like; but fifty or seventy-five pages in the prose goes flat, the plot grows confusing or boring, and I close the book in disappointment.

Yet as a writer I understand: it’s easy to bog down  Read More 
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Details

The details you use to ground your writing are like the spices you sprinkle on your food. They give it life and make it uniquely your own. When I cook petrale sole it’s too bland unless I splash ginger powder, garlic, and red pepper into the pan. Sometime I sauté a green onion,  Read More 
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CIRCULAR NARRATIVE

I love circles, especially in writing, where the author cycles back at the end of an essay or book to a reference from the opening. Joseph Campell’s book The Hero With a Thousand Faces defined this pattern in drama, myth, and religious ritual: a protagonist, forced from home, leaves the ordinary world to  Read More 
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The Joy of Writing

“You must have so much discipline!” non-writers exclaim when they discover my profession. “Do you write every day?” They gaze in wonder.

“A writing day is a good day,” I say. “The hardest part is not writing. When there’s too much else I have to do, so my mind won’t settle down.  Read More 
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Pruning Your Prose

Every year we have the stunning Japanese maple in our back yard trimmed by a gifted gardener. Each time, I’m astonished to see the graceful structure of the tree’s inner limbs, their beauty revealed after excess branches have been cut away.

One of the great joys of writing, for me, lies in  Read More 
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The Role of the Writer in Perilous Times

I’ve been sitting at my computer wondering if it’s selfish to be staring at the screen, searching for the perfect word, when our democracy is under threat? What is my role in times like these; what can writers do?

Searching for writers’ impacts in previous eras I think first of the long,  Read More 
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Satisfying Endings

Recently I was outraged after I finished the last pages of a novel I’d loved. “What?” I railed. “How could the author abandon one of the two main characters, let her disappear so completely I’ve no idea of her fate. Give me a hint. One sentence, please!” We do get a scene  Read More 
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The Courage to Write

“It is always a thrilling risk to say exactly what you mean, to express exactly what you see,” wrote the marvelous author Patricia Hampl. Each sentence we write boldly asserts, This is my viewpoint and I believe it worthy of utterance.

That takes courage, especially for women constantly defined as “other,” with its implication  Read More 
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The First Sentence

“The opening sentence should be like an arrow shot from a bow: it will shoot through the entire text.” The late biographer Henry Mayer, a generous man, once gave me this advice. I’d approached him after a reading for his biography of abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison, and when I asked him a question he offered to meet me for coffee.
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