Finish Your Book

August 20, 2019 § 10 Comments

I’ve found ‘one weird trick’ that gets me to the end of major projects:

Doing one thing.

It seems so simple, and yet this morning I:
Checked email
Made breakfast
Gave feedback on pages
Tore apart my closet looking for a thing I tucked away while I was on vacation, and had hidden so well I couldn’t find it (my closet is now extremely tidy and partially Konmari-ed)
Dealt with the air conditioner repair men
Washed dishes

You get it. Chances are, you do it too. And it doesn’t make us bad people, or even bad writers. We’re human. We got stuff to do.

But three months ago I really needed to finish a website. I made it my “weekend” project, and worked only on website copy and pictures and html code until I was done. No editing, no other writing, no reading, no errands. It took four days. But it’s done.

Two months ago I needed to finish a book proposal. Weekend project. Blinders on. Six days. But it’s done.

I don’t have kids and I set my own work hours and my spouse is beyond supportive. But it’s still hard to pick one thing, figure out how to tackle it, and do it until it’s done. It’s hard to stay focused when totally legit things want our attention (I did shower and cook dinners).

That’s why so many writers love retreats. A blissful week away in which someone else cooks and cleans, and no-one can “Hey Mom!” or “Ummm…Dad?” or “I need that presentation” you. But even on retreats it’s hard to get started. And if you’ve only got a week, you need a plan. A big-picture view of what needs doing and how.

At home, you can enlist a writer friend. Split an Airbnb for a week, read each other’s manuscript before you go and give specific, prescriptive feedback about what to work on in what order. Not “your book should be like this” but, after hearing your goals, “Restructure the plot, then fix the ending, then rewrite chapters 8-10.” Check in with each other daily for accountability.

But if you have time and funds, we’d like to suggest a retreat…that comes with a manuscript read. (This is where the ad part starts!) Brevity Editor-in-Chief Dinty W. Moore and Social Media Editor Allison K Williams would like to invite you to Costa Rica.

Next May, we’ll be hosting 10 dedicated writers in a luxury eco-lodge overlooking the Pacific. Organic food that you don’t cook. Beautiful grounds you don’t mow. Probably sloths. Definitely monkeys. But most importantly, we read your entire manuscript before you arrive, and with you, make a work plan to finish a draft, a proposal, or your book, before you leave. Don’t have a book yet? Write the first draft with us, and we’ll read it when you go home. Either way, it’s a chance to focus deeply on the work that’s most important to you.

If a travel retreat isn’t in your bag, grab a friend and start picking dates for your own week of fabulous productivity. But if you think finishing your book in tropical paradise might be for you, we’d love to spend that time together.

More information about Rebirth Your Book retreats. (If you’re already close to done, there’s room for two more in Italy in October!)

Allison K Williams is Brevity’s Social Media Editor. Please say hello if you’re at Hippocamp!

Ten Reasons Why Women Writers Can’t Write 10,000 Words, Written by a Woman Writer

June 12, 2019 § 36 Comments

brianna bellBy Brianna Bell

Last week Jeffrey Goldberg, mansplainer-in-chief at The Atlantic, wrote an article appearing to suggest that women can’t write 10,000 words. Women across the world nodded their heads in unison, “Yes, Mr. Goldberg,” they said. “Finally a white man who understands us.”

I can’t write 10,000 words, because I’m a woman, of course. I can write 700 words, however, and a listicle is even better for my short attention span. As the wise Mark Twain once said, “write what you know,” and what I know is why I cannot write 10,000 words.

Here are the reasons:

Women can’t write long features because we’re so busy talking

I know that women can be long-winded, but that’s when we’re using our mouth, using our fingers to type is a completely different thing. Besides, women don’t need facts and figures to back them up when we ramble on with our words. If only we spent less time talking, we could have the gumption to write long-winded stories like white men can.

We are too busy with our families to write 10,000 words

Women work really hard to balance it all. But some dreams are just too big and insurmountable. Sure, we can write a 2,000-word feature in Good Housekeeping, but we cannot write a full cover story of 10,000 words. We can’t even read those cover stories—we skim them quickly between soccer practice or driving our elderly parent to their dentist appt (we can’t even write the full word, appointment, appt will do). There is no time to read 10,000 words, and there is definitely no time to write 10,000 words.

We prefer the personal essay

Women are such deep feelers. My feelings are so deep, an ocean can barely contain all the feelings I have, about all the things. The personal essay is perfect because it requires only feelings, no research or statistics.

The women who can write 10,000 words, write books instead

There are some women out there that are capable of writing more than their grocery list. But these energetic women decide to focus their time writing books. Although women don’t like reading 10,000-word magazine features, we love ourselves a good book. There’s nothing like chick lit and a hot bubble bath to relax us after a long day of balancing it all.

There already is one woman doing it

It is important to fill quotas, and I don’t think it’s right for men to dominate with their 10,000 words without a little bit of a challenge. Luckily, there was that one woman who wrote a cover story that one time, and so now thankfully we can say that we’ve already done it. There’s no need to put too much pressure on ourselves.

We get distracted easily

There’s nothing like a woman who flits about, from one task to the next. One minute she’s folding a load of laundry, the next she’s paying the heat bill, and then she remembers her Starbucks date with her high school friend Sally, so she’s flitted off to that. Expecting a woman to stay focused for an entire 10,000 words on a single story is an impossible expectation.

I know I said that this would be 10 points and 700 words, but I’ve been writing this at my kitchen island while my three kids, two cats, and a dog all begged for snacks and entertainment. I simply cannot finish, which proves that Mr. Goldberg was absolutely correct. Us women cannot be trusted to write 10,000 words.

For this woman writer, 590 words will do.
Brianna Bell is a Canadian freelance writer with work published in The Independent, CBC, and The Globe & Mail. She has never written a 10,000-word feature.

My One, My Only

May 16, 2019 § 2 Comments

thorntonMichaella A. Thornton, in a flash essay from our May 2019 issue, released this week, writes beautifully about her one, her only child, and what the stranger in the grocery store will never understand:

I will not show you photographs of my pin-pricked stomach, a quilt of blue, green, and yellow bruises with Band-Aids of the solar system over fresh injection sites. I will not show you the hardship of lying prostrate on our marriage bed, ass in the air, gritting my teeth as my husband administers the long, nightly needle, progesterone shots to keep me pregnant. He never complains; he never tells anyone else what he is going through either. I will not show you our loneliness together. I will not show you him holding a fresh, perfect baby as the doctors put my organs back into my body, as I throw up into a kidney-shaped pan, crying over and over again to my newborn daughter, “I love you. I love you so much.”

The rest of Thornton’s lovely essay can (and should) be read here.

The Dance Between Fiction and Nonfiction

May 15, 2019 § 3 Comments

castro-photo-1In her insightful craft essay, “Genre as a Vessel for Presence,” in our May 2019 issue of Brevity, Joy Castro explores the slow-dancing, inseparable relationship between fiction and nonfiction:

Both fiction and nonfiction can weave history, myth and legend into their narratives; both can investigate the limits of form. Both, at their best, are rooted in risk. My creative nonfiction is highly shaped and always already subjective, necessarily reliant on my faulty memory, idiosyncratic perceptions, evolving interpretations, and changeable feelings. My fiction, on the other hand, includes a great deal of accurate research, statistics, real places, the actual price of half a muffaletta at Central Grocery in New Orleans. A recently published short story is factually accurate in almost every respect, but its mood is entirely different from the way I felt when it all was happening. During the events, I felt bliss, but the story is sad. In the most intimate and important sense, then, the text falsifies what happened. Yet a neutral observer could testify to its truth.

That’s just a bit of Joy Castro’s wisdom and analysis. Read the full craft essay here.

Genre as a Vessel for Presence

Whenever Men Think I’m Smiling

May 14, 2019 § 1 Comment

Meganmp_davis Pillow Davis bares her teeth in the newest issue of Brevity, out just yesterday:

There are men all around me. There are all men and me. So I stare straight ahead. I drink my coffee. I let him touch me, because it could be worse, it could be worse, it could always be worse and then in the middle of the next sip of scalding coffee that I bring to my lips come the memories, descending on me like a flock of birds: the time when I was ten and a waiter cornered me in the dark restaurant hallway and ran a finger down the side of my breast and said wanna fuck—the time I was twelve and wore my first bikini to a pool party, and my father’s friend walked up and put his hand on my shoulder as he talked to my dad and with the other hand, pulled gently at the string of the bikini top, letting me know he could untie it any time he wanted—the time I was fourteen and in London on the Tube late at night and the drunk man got on and pressed his erection up against me again and again and I did nothing because I was terrified and then he stumbled off at the next stop—the time when I was sixteen, and the boy I thought was a friend grabbed my breast and kissed me with whiskey breath before I was able to push him away—and the time—and the time—the time the time the time the time and then the man turns and looks at me and the memories flutter and wing away.

This is just a bit. Read the entire brilliant essay here.


Brevity’s May 2019 Issue: Startling, Melancholy, Angry and Fun

May 13, 2019 § 2 Comments

3 coverOur 61st Issue has launched, featuring a range of startling, melancholy, angry, and funny flash nonfiction from Patricia Foster, Och Gonzalez, Gordon Grice, David L. Ulin, Sheree Winslow, Jeff Newberry, Liza Porter, Sarah Beth Childers, Megan Pillow Davis, Jenny Apostol, Deborah Thompson, Caroline Crew, Suzanne LaFetra Collier, Jennifer Anderson, and Michaella A. Thornton.

In our Craft Section, Joy Castro explores the slow-dancing, inseparable relationship between fiction and nonfiction, while Randon Billings Noble defends “themelessness” in assembling an essay collection.

With paint can photos by Elizabeth Fackler.

Why English/Creative Writing is the Most Important Discipline Post the Apocalypse

May 2, 2019 § 6 Comments

Nik book fest high resBy Nicole Walker

It was after one of four Provost candidate presentations at Northern Arizona University that Julie Piering, Chair of the Philosophy Department, pulled me aside. She asked, have you heard of the Great Survival Debate, modeled after a long-standing tradition at the University of Montevallo in Central Alabama? I said, yes. I’m on Facebook. I’ve heard of all the discipline jousting events. She said great. And thus, I was signed up .

Here is the Scenario:  For the debate, we imagine that the electric grid has failed or has been attacked and, after some time, nuclear plants were abandoned and the inevitable meltdown caused death, destruction, and the annihilation of society as we know it.  The survivors, represented by the debate audience, are moving as far from the radiation poisoning as they can to begin building a new society. The group of academics invited to participate in the debate will fight for the LAST spot in the group that will journey into the wilderness with the coveted axe to build a better, safer society.

Each participant will be given 5 minutes to introduce their field and present their argument for why their discipline should be given the final spot in the new society.

My Response:

We have been preparing for the apocalypse since Hector’s body got dragged around the city gates. Troy burns. Pick up your household gods. Move on. Start again.

Literature readers and writers imagine the end every day. Book after book. We lit folks and creative writers are invested. We’ve studied every angle. A quick Amazon title search includes Princess of the Apocalypse, Apocalypse Taco, Operation Apocalypse, Wake Me After the Apocalypse, Scooby Apocalypse, California Poppy Apocalypse (OK, that’s a t-shirt but no one representing the garment industry is here so I’ll take it), Jack’s Apocalypse, One Hundred Apocalypses and Other Apocalypses and Apocalypse Darling.

I had a book called Salmon of the Apocalypse that got picked up by a publisher. It was about how to prevent the end of the world through cooking.  I renamed it Processed Meats, which does recall Cormac McCarthy’s The Road and that book’s baby-on-a-stick like a rotisserie but the publisher thought that Processed Meats was too gamy, so he made me change it to Canning Peaches for the Apocalypse, which I happily did because I had been working so hard to write that book and get it published, but then a couple of months later, the publisher decided, even though his books had won the William Styron Award, that publishing books is hard and closed up shop so my book never came out: dead it its own mini-bookpocalypse.

This is why writers will be the best for the apocalypse:

Writers can handle disappointment.

Writers can handle gruesomeness—see rotisserie baby a la Cormac McCarthy.

Look. There will be no internet during the apocalypse. You won’t be able to just Google how to make fire or how to hotwire a Harley Davidson. All those books about the apocalypse—they are study guides. You have to be able to read them for their deeper meaning, like what is a flint? and what is a spark plug? and how long does gasoline last anyway?

My department chair, Steve Rosendale, who abandoned me to my own devices for this presentation, did provide a helpful 3-point list of reasons why Literature should win. Citing our sources will be of utmost import in the apocalypse, in order that we may remember how we have to manage without the Chairs of our Departments now. So I quote NUMBER 1: “before philosophy (before!) the main way of transmitting memes or culture itself was story.” End quote. Remember, we won’t have Facebook or Twitter, so we’re going to have to transmit memes, together, in person, around a fire that we built thanks to those apocalypse books that described how to use a bow drill. It’s also known as fire bow, fire drill, fire by friction, and rubbing two sticks together. On the Internet, there are photographs of how this works, but in the apocalypse there won’t be. There will only be us, and, literature, which will supply the synonyms for bow drill and those creative creative writers who will see that a chopstick and a Matryoshka doll make an excellent fire drill. Also, we are the ones who know how to drive Harley Davidsons, the official motorbike of the apocalypse.

NUMBER 2: My Department Chair, Steve Rosendale also provides this: “poetry derives from the mnemonics of storytelling and certain features of language itself — rhyming makes the story more reliable to transmit.”

He additionally offered, NUMBER 3 “In an apocalypse these basic cultural capabilities will make English the most important discipline — mainly poetry.”

So, in final defense of literature, and to celebrate my upcoming collaborative, apocalypse-adjacent essay collection The After-Normal: Brief, Alphabetical Essays on a Changing Planet, I have provided for survival, a rhyming sonnet so that we may still speak, using mnemonics of story telling and rhyme, our stories:

The Five-Minute Apocalypse

The lights are out. Vultures. Cannibals too.
Well, it is a lot like Flagstaff at night
except without screens, which doesn’t feel right.
We sit around the campfire, Spam in lieu
of s’mores. Let the old kind of carbon spew.
We tell stories about the playwright who
warned us against fossil fuel as birthright.
Should have listened! Now, on canned meat, we chew.

As Language defined us, we defined it.
Every house, school, shop, bus, plate, spoon and cup
began with word first. Then was built to fit.
All gone, on words, regret, and Spam we sup.
It’s getting dark. Time out. Our last match lit.
At least English knows when their time is up.

Nicole Walker is the author of the forthcoming collection The After-Normal: Brief, Alphabetical Essays on a Changing Planet from Rose Metal Press and of Sustainability: A Love Story from Ohio State University Press. Her previous books include Where the Tiny Things Are, Egg, Micrograms, Quench Your Thirst with Salt, and This Noisy Egg. She edited for Bloomsbury the essay collections Science of Story with Sean Prentiss and with Margot Singer, Bending Genre: Essays on Creative Nonfiction. She’s nonfiction editor at Diagram and Professor at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff.


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