The Call of Nonfiction

November 18, 2012 § 3 Comments

We are receiving an increasing number of e-mails asking us to solicit nonfiction submissions from readers of this blog, so we wonder, do readers of this blog want us to post these calls for submissions?  You can vote here, and then jump down to see the call from Soundings Review:

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Soundings Review, the journal of the Northwest Institute of Literary Arts, invites you to submit your work.  Our deadline approaches, and we are low on nonfiction submissions, a trend we hope you, the nonfiction writer in search of a home for your well-crafted essay, can help us reverse.

Our submission guidelines can be found here: http://www.nila.edu/soundings/submissions/ We look forward to reading your work.”

Field Guide to Flash NF Launches Soon

August 23, 2012 § 3 Comments

The book is at the printer right this moment, and Rose Metal Press has opened the pre-order process.  The Brevity corporate towers are awash in champagne and caviar this morning, and much dancing:

ORDER HEREThe Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Writing Flash Nonfiction

The Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Writing Flash Nonfiction, edited by the invaluable Dinty W. Moore, is a lot more than flashy. These thoughtful, thought-provoking essays and exercises have the paradoxical effect of slowing down our attention and encouraging an expansion of the moment, while seeming to be saving writing and reading time. A very useful compilation.”

Phillip Lopate, author of Art of the Personal Essay

“Flash-in-the-pan? Hardly. The flash nonfiction genre has staying power, and The Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Writing Flash Nonfiction will show you why. Opening with a thorough and informative history of the genre, renowned writer, editor, and teacher Dinty W. Moore assembles a cast of writers who share their expertise, suggest writing exercises, and provide exemplary mod­els of the best flash nonfiction being written today. This book is required reading for any writer, editor, or teacher of the brief nonfiction form.”

Rebecca McClanahan, author of The Riddle Song and Other Rememberings and Word Painting

On When Writing Can be Abandoned

July 31, 2012 § 5 Comments

 

Brevity editor and founder Dinty W. Moore discusses A Buddhist Take on Writing in Psychology Today.

So which is true: know when it is time to fold the tent, or never give in—never, never, never, never? How does one know which rule applies? How can anyone be sure of when to stubbornly move forward on a plan versus when it is wisest to shrug and call it quits?

This is a hard question for writers, myself included. I know from experience that it is wise to not give up on any project too early. The fruits of multiple revisions, of fresh eyes, of those wonderful breakthroughs where after months of struggle you suddenly see exactly what a manuscript needs, are real and they are part of the magic and joy of being a writer (or really a creative person of any sort). But sometimes you have to move on. Sometimes you have to say to yourself, “This is not a failure, because I’ve learned so much from trying, but at the same time it is never going to be the story I want it to be.”

In both instances, I think it is a matter of faith, and a matter of having that faith without what Buddhists call “attachment,” the insistence that only a particular outcome is acceptable. In one instance, you have to have the faith that dogged and determined work will get you to the goal, even as the goal seems to be moving further away rather than nearer. In the other instance, you have to have faith in yourself, believing that a major setback will not lead to an eternity of failure, that setting one idea aside will be rewarded by another idea coming in eventually to take its place.

Either outcome is an achievement; you move forward and succeed, or you succeed later, under different circumstances. But too often we cling—attach—to one outcome, and end up drowning ourselves in a sea of disappointment because we grow too tired to swim anymore. Well maybe we can’t swim, but often we can still pull ourselves over to the side of the pool, crawl out, and rest a while on the cool tiles.

 

Editorial Intervention: Thoughts from Craft Editor Julie Riddle

May 30, 2012 § 3 Comments

The good folks at the PressGang blog interviewed Brevity craft editor Julie Riddle recently, on finding work, accepting work, rejecting work, and working with the work to make it better.  Here are some of Julie’s guiding philosophies:

Weak submissions are numerous and are easy to identify (too didactic or simplistic; predictable or conventional; sweeping generalizations; weak structure or style; lack of voice). Strong submissions – pieces that are tight and cohesive, that have something new to say or that arrive at clarity/understanding in new ways, with language that is fresh and surprising – are rare and stand out.

It’s the work in the middle that can be challenging to make decisions about. Especially when there’s been a dearth of strong submissions: the mediocre stuff starts to look pretty good and I begin talking myself into thinking they’re better than perhaps they really are.

Deciding on submissions is largely done through gut instinct. I’m still learning to trust my instincts. I allow plenty of time to consider pieces – I read submissions several times over a period of days. Clarity often comes in the in-between time.

And ideas on how to approach the editing process:

  • Locate the strongest opening and closing paragraphs. They aren’t always the first and last paragraphs of the piece. Sometimes the essay begins in the second or third paragraph and the first sentences were the author clearing her throat. Sometimes an essay ends with the second-to-last paragraph and the final paragraph was the author wrapping up meaning with a pretty bow.
  • Eliminate redundancy. Sometimes writers don’t trust that the reader will “get” what they mean and will make their point twice, implicitly and explicitly.
  • Untangle awkward sentences. Move a paragraph or sentence elsewhere in the piece to tighten/clarify the section it had been in and support/enhance the section it joined.

More here.

Not a Love Seat: Bret Lott on Writing from Your Own Chair

September 22, 2011 § 2 Comments

One of our favorite Brevity authors over the years (and, for that matter, one of our favorite authors in general), Bret Lott, was interviewed by Fiction Writers Review recently. His chair analogy addresses fiction writers, but those of us who write and teach nonfiction would do well to listen.  Lott reminds us (and our students) that the writer’s distinct self and experience, not mimicry, is what drives voice, persona, point-of-view, and what makes the writing worth our time:

This idea—writing from your own chair—comes from my being sometimes a little too exasperated with students who want to be Writers but who don’t yet understand that they already have something To Write. I was in class one day and simply trying to explain yet again that, as Flannery O’Connor wrote, anyone who has lived through his childhood has enough material to last the rest of his life, and seeing the students each sitting in his and her own chairs seemed an apt way to get them to understand that each of them owned a particular point of view and set of experiences, and that those were both held together right that very second in the seat each student was sitting in. That is, you already have a point of view and a story. But so very many writers want to leave that point of view and story—to walk away from themselves—in light of what looks like a better story and point of view held by a writer whose work they admire. They end up wanting to write like somebody else and about somebody else—they want to leave their own chair and go sit in someone else’s chair, a chair that looks oh-so-much-more attractive than their own. The problem with this is that the chair they wish to move into is already occupied, whether by Hemingway, or O’Connor, or Carver, or, or, or—that chair is filled. To sit in that chair would be impossible, because that chair only holds one person—it’s not a love seat.

The second idea entailed in this whole analogy or metaphor or whatever … is that what made Hemingway’s and O’Connor’s and Carver’s writing important and meaningful and real is that they wrote from their own chair. They didn’t walk away from themselves in order to go sit in someone else’s chair—so what does that say about your own chair? This: It is always and only your chair—no one else’s, just as the chair from which the great writers wrote was their own too. Lesson: Don’t leave you to go find your point of view and your story. You are all you have been given. There is going to be no out-of-chair experience coming your way. This is who you are, and from where you ought and need to write.

** Read the full Bret Lott interview here.

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Joan Didion: In a Room Literally Papered With False Starts

December 10, 2010 § 3 Comments

I am not sure what more I could tell you about these pieces. I could tell you that I liked doing some of them more than others, but that all of them were hard for me to do, and took more time than perhaps they were worth; that there is always a point in the writing of a piece when I sit in a room literally papered with false starts and cannot put one word after another and imagine that I have suffered a small stroke, leaving me apparently undamaged but actually aphasic …

What else is there to tell? I am bad at interviewing people. I avoid situations in which I have to talk to anyone’s press agent. (This precludes doing pieces on most actors, a bonus in itself.) I do not like to make telephone calls, and would not like to count the mornings I have sat on some Best Western motel bed somewhere and tried to force myself to put through the call to the assistant district attorney. My only advantage as a reporter is that I am so physically small, so temperamentally unobtrusive, and so neurotically inarticulate that people tend to forget that my presence runs counter to their best interests. And it always does. That is one last thing to remember: writers are always selling somebody out.

—Joan Didion, from Slouching Towards Bethlehem: Essays

 

Sue William Silverman and the Craft of Memoir

September 23, 2010 § 2 Comments

Brevity book editor Debbie Hagan takes a look at Sue William Silverman’s recent writing guide, Fearless Confessions, in our latest issue. Here are some excerpts from her review:

…Sue William Silverman begins by showing us what not to do. She takes us to the beginning of her career, as she’s sitting in writing class, facing an instructor holding up a magnolia blossom and saying, “Describe this.”

Silverman complies by writing, “The flower is white, the petals are soft, the blossom smells like perfume.”

“Unoriginal,” the instructor tells her.

Then the instructor tells the class to write using all five senses. Silverman jots down a paragraph about a homeless man. Most of her sentences sound rather predictable, but this one line stands out: “Sunrays clanged in his ears.” Clanged? Odd, until you realize that this man is hungover. This verb not only makes us sit up and pay attention, but deepens our understanding of this character.

Silverman shows us in Fearless Confessions how this one line changed her writing. In it, she saw how authentic details shape tone, theme, and voice, “[It] taught me one of the most valuable lessons of creative writing: how external sensory imagery is crafted – slanted – to create mood and emotion,” she writes…

One of my favorite sections of this book is chapter five It’s not enough just to find the right voice, Silverman points out. The memoirist really needs to juggle several voices, namely innocence (the time of the narrative) and experience (the wizened self looking back). I’ve shared this idea with memoir students, who either stare at me blankly as if I’m speaking Swahili or bolt upright as if I’d just handed them that long sought-after puzzle piece. I’ve never read (or heard) about this memoir technique anywhere else, but Silverman not only explains it, but illustrates it with clear examples…

Debbie Hagan’s full review is here.

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