Archive for the ‘Process’ Category

Unplugged: A Writing Retreat at Clare’s Well

June 16th, 2014 | Blog, Musings/Reminiscences, Process, Willie Earle novel | 24 Comments

Clare's Well

Clare’s Well 

I just spent four nights at Clare’s Well, a Franciscan Sisters’ Spirituality Farm in Annandale, MN, about sixty miles from the Twin Cities. For the time I was there, I was unplugged, in more ways than one. There was no Internet in my “hermitage,” though there is in the main farmhouse, where the nuns who run the place live. I went to get away from email and Internet, from TV, newspapers, news, music, airplanes passing overhead, traffic, city life, cooking and cleaning, my husband and dog, and most of all my distracted, busy self. I went there … Read More

A Writer Learns about Creative Process from Two Artists: Hopper and O’Keeffe

May 5th, 2014 | Blog, Process | 7 Comments

“So much of every art is an expression of the subconscious, that it seems to me most of all the important qualities are put there unconsciously, and little of importance by the conscious intellect. But these are things for the psychologist to untangle.” —Edward Hopper

hopper night office sketch

Hopper study for Office at Night

Whenever I’m trying to write something, it helps to remember that most works go through stages of a creative process.  Even something like this blog post—and I’m not saying I’m penning War and Peace here—follows a somewhat predictable series of steps. I never get what I’m after the … Read More

Examining a Passage from The Goldfinch

March 26th, 2014 | Blog, Craft, Novel Authors, Novel Reviews, Process | 8 Comments

The Goldfinch

The Goldfinch 

I posted earlier on the brilliant, beautiful novel The Goldfinch.  I had to do so in broad swaths, given how dense in character and plot the novel is, just to give you a taste of it. But now I want to go back and drill down on just one passage, to analyze what makes the writing—to me, at least—so marvelous. There are so many paragraphs I could choose, but I was particularly taken with the following description of how Hobie, the furniture restorer who takes in the young, homeless Theo, trains him in the art and craft … Read More

Salter and Aciman on the Past

May 8th, 2013 | Blog, Craft, Memoir Authors, Process | 3 Comments

Street in Rome (Photo by Sean O'Neill@oneillsdc5)

Portico d’Ottavia in Rome  (Photo by Sean O’Neill@oneillsdc5)

Those of you who follow this blog know that I’m teaching an online memoir course.  I’m captivated by watching my students grapple with and write about the past.  Here are two passages for writers and anyone else who muses about the nature of memory, one from a novel and one from an essay, both beautiful and thought-provoking.

The first is from the narrator of the novel A Sport and a Pastime, by James Salter:

Certain things I remember exactly as they were. They are merely discolored a bit by time, like

Read More

“APING” Guy Kawasaki with a Little Crowdsourcing of my Own

March 25th, 2013 | Blog, Process, Willie Earle novel | 8 Comments

APE: Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur by Kawasaki and Welch

APE: Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur by Kawasaki and Welch 

I listened to a webinar this past week on by Guy Kawasaki, who is BIG right now for his (self-published) book (along with Shawn Welch) on self-publishing: APE:  Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur.  I found the talk superficial and simplistic but maybe you get what you pay for (it was free).  I can’t judge the book by a 30 minute webinar, but Kawasaki is one smart guy, “chief evangelist for Apple” (what does that mean?  Is that an actual job?), author of 12 books, including Enchantment: The Art of Changing Read More

Vivian Gornick on Situation and Story

September 24th, 2012 | Blog, Craft, Process | 8 Comments


Vivian Gornick’s The Situation and the Story: The Art of Personal Narrative

In her short book called The Situation and the Story, Vivian Gornick describes one of the most useful and important ideas about writing that I know:

“Every work of literature has both a situation and a story.  The situation is the context or circumstance, sometimes the plot; the story is the emotional experience that preoccupies the writer: the insight, the wisdom, the thing one has come to say.” 

I just critiqued a novel where Gornick’s concept seemed particularly relevant.  On the whole it’s an amazing novel, Read More

What the Reader Needs…

September 5th, 2012 | Blog, Craft, Process | 8 Comments


The Antioch Review

“…to be conscious of what the reader needs and only what he needs…” 

I first encountered this bit of writerly advice in 1984 in The Antioch Review, in a piece written by Nolan Miller, who was then Associate Editor. It has served as a North Star of writing for me ever since.  

Miller was a short story writer and novelist who taught creative writing at Antioch College for over fifty years.  The Antioch Review, remarkably, has been publishing continuously since 1941.  It publishes fiction, essays, and poetry, from both emerging and well-known Read More

Henry James’ Weak Specification–eek!

August 8th, 2012 | Blog, Craft, Process | 10 Comments


“Office at Night” by Edward Hopper

I live in fear of weak specification.  I consider it the eighth deadly sin: wrath, greed, sloth, pride, lust, envy, gluttony and weak specification.  I’m guilty of it, I admit.  I’m only human, or, some would say, all too human.  I strive to overcome my weaknesses, to improve myself in every way (occasionally) but especially in the matter of weak specification.  I try to be diligent, only to find it sneaks up on me. 

I first heard the term “weak specification” years ago when I read a piece by Flannery O’Connor called “Writing Read More

Colm Toibin and “What is Real is Imagined”

July 17th, 2012 | Blog, Craft, Novel Authors, Process | 7 Comments


Colm Toibin

Colm Toibin

In an essay called “What is Real is Imagined” in the July 15, 2012 The New York Times, Colm Tóibín describes being back in the remote place on the Coast of Ireland which his family visited in the summers until he was twelve.  When he passes the house where his family once stayed, it’s his parents’ bedroom he sees in his memory with its iron bed and the cement floor, and the clover he smells is the same as it was in 1967.  Or, as he amends, because he is trying to dream that world of … Read More

Paulette’s Workshop on Writing the Book-length Work

May 17th, 2012 | Blog, Paulette's Workshops, Process | 0 Comments

Writing at MISA

Writing at the Madeline Island School of the Arts

Dear writing friends:

I’ll be teaching a workshop called The Achievable Climb: Writing the Book-Length Work at the Madeline Island School of the Arts in Northern Wisconsin October 8 – 12th.

The workshop will be useful to those working on either a memoir or fiction project. If you have a manuscript underway, or just an idea for one you’d like to begin, I’ll give you lots of ideas, exercises, feedback, and support. It’ll be a great time to get experienced, constructive instruction from me, to join the company of others “making … Read More