TBT: Day 30: Marching into the Void

This post was originally published March 30, 2013, and is one of my favorite posts ever.  It has been revisited in honor of Throw Back Thursday.  (Also, I find it amazing to remember that we once had over 50 participants!  I was much better at gathering the forces that year.  Next year, we’ll aim for more!)


By guest blogger Lenore Gusch

Back when I was still a student, complaining about being in school, how all of my time seemed to go to studies that didn’t have anything to do with my writing, and how much more creative I could be if I just had more time to myself, everyone warned me that life after graduation would be different, and maybe not in the ways I wanted. No more deadlines. No more workshops and writing prompts. No more interesting literary internships. No more instant writing community at my fingertips. My motivation to keep at it would have to be entirely my own.

It was true. I graduated, and suddenly was writing into a void. The writing community that had nurtured me for four years went missing.

Many of us on the March have been lucky to keep in touch with our writerly friends from school or to find our own new writing communities. (I still send drafts and story ideas back and forth with a few of my close friends.) Some have been even luckier to go on to MFAs, lead their own creative writing classrooms, or find other careers that foster their continuing to write. But I suspect that out of the fifty-six challengers this month, there are just as many of us who are not surrounded by a single other writer in our day to day lives. (My boyfriend sometimes jokes that he is illiterate, which, although completely untrue, still sends chills down my spine. He rarely reads and never, ever writes.) Many have other full time careers, significant others, and/or families commanding their attention. (Lots of it!) And still, we write on. For some reason, we insist upon it.

A lot of the posts on this March have been about doubts. “Why am I doing this?” “Am I crazy?” “Is my writing any good?” “What is the value of art, anyway?” Some of these are easier to answer, like the first one. Revisit Jennifer Simpsons blog to see why a whole slew of writers are sticking with this insane endeavor. Some of them are more problematic, like the second one. (Only you can tell you how truly neurotic you may or may not be, and why, and if you’re really crazy, you probably won’t be able to tell!) I tend to get hung up on the last one. What is the value of art? What is the value of writing? Why is it important that we tell stories to one another? Are there better things I should be doing? I have a deep belief built from groundless faith that it IS important. That it is, perhaps, the most important thing that humans can do while they’re stuck here together on the earth. But when it comes to articulating this to a society-at-large which is less and less invested in art as a measure of success and happiness, I often falter.

As a student, I had a built in excuse when I needed to go “work.” Now, when I have to explain to my boss why I don’t want to work full time at the douchey steakhouse downtown, or why I don’t want to go to yet another family dinner with my pseudo-inlaws, I can’t play the student card. I just have to be a degenerate recluse who isn’t motivated by things that make sense, like making as much money as possible, finding a career, starting a family, yadda yadda yadda. Instead, I’m just messing around with this weird hobby that few people really “get.” (I thought about writing a whole post on how society tends to measure success, and how we fit in—or don’t—as writers, but it goes down such a bitter rabbit hole that I thought better of it.)

Still, we are compulsive. We are crazy. We are going to do this thing no matter what, right?

Playing by the Mississippi river.  Absolutely not writing.

All that being said, I will be the first guest blogger this month to confess that I totally, utterly failed at reaching my Writer’s March goals this time around. Partly, it was just bad timing. The busiest month of the year at the douchey steakhouse is March, and I was working twice as many shifts as I usually do, which left little time or energy for anything else. Then, I spent a week in New Orleans with my two best friends and my illiterate boyfriend, where I ate and drank and napped to excess, cooked, read, took pictures, biked around the city exploring and listening to great live music. I had a wonderful, wonderful time. I never picked up a pen the entire time I was there. So partly, it was timing, but partly I was unwilling to be that crazy degenerate recluse who skips out on that breakfast with friends or that last beer in order to go home and write. I didn’t demand it.

We’ve established during this month together that, for whatever reason, this writing thing makes us happy. It fills some need in us. My advice is: embrace the fact that you may, indeed, be a crazy reclusive degenerate. Stop justifying your motives to yourself and others. If you need to work less (ya know, for “the man”) and write more, demand it. If you need more time alone, demand it. If the only way you can produce anything is with Ziggy Stardust playing on repeat at top volume, demand it. Society be damned! When you start to do more of what makes you happy and fulfilled, low and behold, you will become a more productive member of society anyhow. You will become a better lover, parent, and worker because your neurotic, creative itch will be scratched, and then you can contentedly go about other things.

Now that I’m getting ready to march out into the void again, I regret that I didn’t take more advantage of all the lovely advice and writing prompts this month. I wish that Writer’s March could last all year. I want to run around screaming “No! Don’t leave me! Don’t go! I don’t want to be alone again!” But the spirit of the March can carry on!

I try to read something, write something, and play at least one instrument every day, for any amount of time, even if it’s just five minutes. It’s sort of a mini-March that I keep in mind all year long. Here are some things I do to that help:

  • Set goals. They don’t have to be as extensive as what you chose to do in March. They don’t have to be daily. But as Sam keeps assuring us, they really do help.
  • Keep in touch with your writer friends. (Some of these bloggers have their own blogs you can follow, for example.) Even if they are only virtual, remember that you are not the only crazy one. Exchange work if at all possible, and if you’re lucky, find people who will give you honest critiques.
  • Buy a book of writing exercises, or look them up online, and play with them when you don’t feel like working on other projects.
  • Ask friends for writing prompts (even then non-writerly friends) and then give them the results (even if they don’t care).
  • Read as much as possible. I always think of reading as brain-food. Without enough brain-food your brain will be too hungry to write when you sit down to do it.
  • Remember that you don’t need to justify what you’re doing—to yourself or anyone else. 

Good luck out there. I’ll miss you!

Dreams and Dissertations, Poetry and Prose, Inspiration and an Eaglet Named Hope

by Marisa PC

A week or so ago, I dreamed that I attended a combo pool party and poetry reading, which featured Dana Levin and Jessica Helen Lopez. In the dream, both poets read, and then we ended up talking in the pool. It was nighttime, the pool was lit from beneath the water’s surface, the colors of the dream were turquoise and muted gold and night sky, but those details are merely atmospheric. The happiness I felt upon waking told me the importance of the dream: that I should partake of more poetry.

An interesting message, given that I’ve been doing just that. I’ve recently read Dana’s Banana Palace, Bonnie Arning’s Escape Velocity, Mark Doty’s Paragon Park, and I’ve started Jennifer Givhan’s Protection Spell. Classic poems by W. H. Auden and e.e. cummings have echoed in me, soothing and stirring me during these difficult political times, while Lisa D. Chavez’s “In an Angry Season” and some of Jericho Brown’s more recent work does the same. And since the presidential election, I’ve attended nearly a dozen readings, maybe more, and found myself grateful to hear the work of up-and-coming poets I’m lucky to know, poets like Crystal Zanders and Colby Gates.

I’ve kind of been wanting to try my hand at poetry again, even though I know this “hand” to be prose-laden, too literal, leaden. This morning I drank my coffee and read poetry and had an eagle-cam streaming online, and I scribbled three poem portions. And look, I don’t know whether they’ll be poems. They’re really just scribbles right now, but isn’t that the way we start?

The poetry I was reading this morning? It was MFA student Aaron Reeder’s dissertation, From the Kingdom of the Lost. I’m on Aaron’s committee, and I started reading it last night. I prefer to read poetry dissertations twice—once to get a sense of what the manuscript as a whole is trying to do and another time to see how the individual poems are puzzled together to achieve that end. But as I read Aaron’s work, I could already see the book in the manuscript; that is, I understood that I was reading a fully realized poetry collection. It had me in its grip, tightly, tenderly. I was a passenger brought along on an emotional journey, and near the manuscript’s end, I suddenly found myself in tears. Big, drippy tears.

I used to cry all the time over the least little thing. Now I’m crotchety and crusty and cranky, and I don’t cry so easily, so the fact that Aaron’s work had me in big, drippy tears speaks for the level of his accomplishment. Once I’d finished my reading and my crying and my coffee, I walked the dogs, and when I got home, I scribbled some scribbles that I like to pretend may go toward poems.

This is where I admit, as we approach the end of the Writer’s March, that I’ve done little else. I haven’t come close to achieving the goals I set four weeks ago. But I’ve submitted some finished pieces, gotten a positive rejection from a top-tier literary journal, done a couple of line-edit-level revisions, toted around notes for a novel in hopes of working on it, dashed off some notes and done some reading for another piece I’d like to work on, and oh yeah, scribbled some pretend-poetry scribbles that maybe just maybe someday will grow up to be prosy little poems.

No matter my lack of complete success with the Writer’s March, I’m exiting this month with renewed inspiration and determination. Some of that has come from my participation here, but most of it has come from working with the four MFA students whose dissertations I’m lucky to be reading. These MFA students, they are ending this month (whether or not they’ve participated in the March) by meeting a huge goal: the completion of their dissertations. Each of these students has constructed a book-length work. Aaron’s is a poetry collection. (Look for it soon!) And I’m also working with a fiction writer and two creative nonfiction writers.

Celia Laskey, the fiction writer, has put together a novel in stories called Under the Rainbow. Last summer on a hunch that it would be good, I volunteered to read it. I was right: It was good. In fact, it was better than I’d expected. Truth be told, I offered to read Celia’s manuscript because of its subject: An LGBTQ task force moves to a town voted the most homophobic city in America with the intention of creating opportunities for education and inclusivity. Each story is told from the point of view of a townsperson (the majority of them straight and terrifically conservative) or a task force member. I well remembered my time as a student in fiction workshops and how distressing it could be to have readers who just didn’t get my queer themes and characters. I hoped to be a good reader for Celia and a sounding board as she worked through her revisions. As usually occurs when I read another writer’s work in progress, I became involved in the storylines and found myself caring deeply about the characters, queer and straight alike. And beyond that, I found myself studying Celia’s manner of storytelling—how she manages to employ first-person POV and show each of her characters fully and actively, revealing not only how they appear to other people but also what their inner lives and most private hopes and disappointments are. I can’t wait for the day I hold a published copy of Celia’s book.

I finished Cat Hubka’s manuscript, The Price of Admission, just yesterday morning and am blown away. I’ve known Cat for a number of years now; I worked with her when she was an undergraduate. As I turned the pages of her memoir, I saw how she’d incorporated the work we’d done together with all the work—so much work!—she’s done since. At the end of our first semester together, Cat met with me. She talked with me about one of her four sons, Mike, who died in his late teens. In our meeting, she told me she loved him and wanted to write about him. Though he is not the focus of Cat’s dissertation, Mike is threaded through its pages, as are her other sons, as are a number of other people who have played important roles in her journey into and through the early years of her sobriety. Because I have known and worked with Cat for a while now, I knew portions of her story, but reading her work allowed me insight into many aspects of her life that I hadn’t guessed at. I feel such tenderness for my friend, even at the parts she may refer to as “assholery,” and I feel pride in seeing that she has something original, compelling, and sometimes startling to include among recovery narratives.

Tomorrow I receive Ana June’s manuscript. I don’t know its title yet, and I don’t know how she has navigated the stories from her life that she may tell in it. In our conversations about writing, Ana has spoken of connections between the physical health of the body–specifically the woman’s body–and the assault on the environment, so perhaps these themes will be woven through her work. And as with the other MFA students whose work I’ve been reading, I’m sure I’ll be engaged, amazed, and inspired.

It’s very late—early, actually—and I’d like to bring these musings around to a point, but I’m not sure I’m going to succeed at that. Obviously, I’m not going to succeed at fulfilling my Writer’s March goals, either. But I want to thank all of you who have written for the blog, especially founder Sam Ocena, and I want to congratulate those of you who have accomplished some or all of your writing goals for the month. I am inspired by you, as I am by the MFA students whose committees I have the honor of serving on, and that inspiration is energizing. I’m going to go forward from this time and partake of more poetry—and more prose too. Best of luck to you as you end the March and the month of March. Here’s a video of an eaglet named Hope fledging—that is, flying from the nest for the first time earlier this month. May we all fly on strong wings. May we lift one another up.

video from American Eagle Foundation, Northeast Florida webcam, 2 March 2017

The Last (Soundbite) Supper

Guest post by Randi Ocena


First of all, do you like how I worked that pre-Easter reference in the title there?  Second of all, did you know that several well-known scholars believe The Last Supper actually occurred on April 1st? And did you also know that some lesser known scholars believe April Fool’s Day originated as a lighthearted attempt to cheer up that otherwise sad and somber occasion? (That last bit may not be true, so best not go repeating it to your friends and colleagues.)

Anyhow, here is the final installment of podcast recommendations, suitable for writers of all ages, genders, and religious affiliations.

Creative Writing Career  

This one is all business, but in that casual Friday sort of way.  Each episode typically features one guest writer, plus a notable hosting panel of writers from all across the board (books, screen, videogames). Topics are highly specific for each episode but wide-ranging across the series and include things like not screwing up your great novel with a crappy query letter, keeping the attention of young children for more than two seconds, and choosing the right tags in descriptions of your book for the online market.

Writing Class Radio

Sometimes writers like to overshare. Sometimes we don’t share enough.This podcast is all about the oversharing. One episode that stands out is perhaps “I Fart, You Fart, We All Fart and Most Of Us Deny It.” Also “How To Tell Your Inappropriate Story” which includes the phrase “he grazed my uh, anatomy” and some background cat noise & guitar music with whispering.  Fiction, non-fiction, laughing, crying. It’s all here, sometimes all at once.  It took a couple of episodes, buy I’m a fan.

Story Makers Show

Before I try to sell you on this last podcast, I’d like to get two minor gripes out of the way that nearly stopped me listening to it beyond the first 11 seconds:  1) Whether the title refers to a show belonging to two story makers or whether it refers to a show intended for all story makers in general, I’d like to see some possessive noun punctuation in there . In short, I find the absence of an apostrophe in the title distracting, as evidenced by the fact that I am mentioning it at all. But then, I am also disturbed by the use of mismatching hangers on my side of the closet, so whatever. 2) There are 11 seconds of electronic noise (music?) at the beginning of the show which shouldn’t bother me, but I feel strongly compelled to mute it.

All that aside, this is a good show featuring the usual writerly podcast fare: Interviews, Q & A, advice, readings. So why mention this one when there are so many others like it?  Partly, I like that it adds some academic depth & heart to the usual craft discussion without being pretentious or mushy.  But mostly, I like that it is a show dominated by scores of sharp, witty, diverse and talented women. Seriously, just try finding a straight white male writer on this show. I haven’t yet.  (And straight white guy readers, please don’t get offended. Some of my best friends are straight white guys, really.)

And lastly, for dessert, I leave you with this.

This” is a hyperlink to a  whole list of more writerly podcasts, a list written by someone other than me.  Some of it will be familiar to you by now, but I don’t have enough ears or hours to listen to every last one of them.  I hesitated to include it here without the proper vetting first.  But just like the time I failed at marriage by hiding cookies in the furthest reaches of the pantry to protect Sam from potential poisoning by untested cookies, I cannot win at blogging by trying to protect you from potentially crappy or harmful podcasts through extreme vetting or religious popquizzes (comedic callback & political elbow nudge in one go…Ta-da).

So with that I say, listen with discretion and I hope you’ll find something to like. Or as my mother says, be safe and have fun, in that order.

So until next year, friends–Happy  listening, happy writing, happy marching. And many other happy things too.



Why Not? In Pursuit of the Picture

The question of “why” interests me less and less these days. “Why’s that?” inquisitive/cheeky readers might ask, and to be honest, I don’t know and I’m not terribly interested in knowing.

In his essay “Topic of Cancer,” which would become part of his book Mortality, Christopher Hitchens observes that just before finding out he had terminal cancer, he earned “million-miler” status with United Airlines and consequently “a lifetime of free upgrades.” While many people would deem that ironic, he doesn’t “see any ironies here”:

Would it be less poignant to get cancer on the day that . . . I was bounced from a coach-class flight and left on the tarmac? To the dumb question “Why me?” the cosmos barely bothers to return the reply: Why not?

Irony, in the way he’s using it, would imply a grand scheme, an existential system wherein he somehow merited esophageal cancer. But he’s not going to go there. He understands that life isn’t that cruel. He didn’t earn cancer like he earned his million-miler upgrades. Lots of people get cancer–why not him?


Ross asks an age-old question.

The query of “why” is often posed in writing workshops: Why does character X do Y? Why is the narrator telling this story? The workshop conversation can begin to resemble a police procedural in which the question of motive appears again and again, which on the surface may seem to be in service to the craft, but–I suspect–has just as much to do with writers’ hopes that a story or essay with clear logic will render life more comprehensible.

(At the risk of alienating all writers, I hazard the claim that prose writers are more concerned with “why” than are poets. At the risk of alienating primarily prose writers, I hazard that this is because poets are smarter. And, yes, this latter declaration risks alienating integrity-obsessed readers who recall my earlier assertion about being little interested in “why.”)

Among the one-liners rattling about my brain is this: “What I have been after all along is not an explanation but a picture.” From Annie Dillard’s classic Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, this sentence shook me when I first read it and has multiple times since. It embodies her wisdom: The writer’s task is to see–not to rationalize or elucidate, but to see. In another chapter of Pilgrim, she says, “What I call innocence is the spirit’s unself-conscious state at any moment of pure devotion to any object. It is at once a receptiveness and total concentration.” While seeing is often equated to maturity and cynicism, to Dillard it is innocence. It is beauty. It is devotion, attention, prayer.

I have a habit of turning to Dillard–as is evidenced by a previous post–because she can see like few writers I’ve read. And seeing is itself so demanding I don’t think I can do much more, as a reader or writer. I can’t answer the “whys” or even muster the energy to ask them. As fascinating as psychology and philosophy are, they can get in the way of living–and in the way of a good writing session.

My watery writing directive is this: Don’t allow the “why” to stall you. Don’t let it delay the shaping of a scene, the description of a character, the momentum of exposition. Focus on the scene, the character, the idea, without stumbling over sense. If some well-meaning reader of your draft asks “Why Z?” reply “Why not Z?” If the reader then muses, “But everything happens for a reason,” pick up your laptop and move to another room. Or, if using a desktop, pick up the reader and move them to another room.

To look past the thing to the question of motive or impetus is to reject the writer’s most essential function and to take upon oneself a burden that, especially in early drafting stages, the literary writer has no need to bear. Focus first. Focus with such ferocity you become innocent. The universe is neither kind nor cruel. It doesn’t coddle or condemn. To face what we are and where we are is itself the struggle.

Dive In!: Actions Speak Louder Than Thoughts

by Marisa PC

One day about twelve years ago, I met with Sarah, a then-MFA student in poetry, to talk about her first attempt at writing a short story. It was a good story, a good discussion, and a strong stride toward friendship. I wasn’t Sarah’s fiction teacher, but as her friend, I had the pleasure of reading each of her stories and hearing her ideas for fiction. I distinctly remember when she ran one of those ideas by me: “I imagine my point-of-view character as a man who has a large aquarium with tropical fish. He likes to sit in front of the aquarium and think.”

“Good,” I said, “but he can’t sit and think in front of his aquarium during the story.”

Sarah wrote the story. The POV character was too busy juggling his duties as the husband of a dying woman with his affair with another woman to sit in front of his aquarium and think. But the aquarium was there, filled with tropical fish who also needed caring for, and now merely a feature of the story’s setting. Sarah knew of her character that spending time contemplating his fish calmed him. She also understood, after our conversation, that letting him sit and think on the page would create a lull in the action, a lull from which the story might not be able to recover. Continue reading

If At First You Don’t Succeed: How Writing Resembles Dating

By Guest Blogger Cynthia Patton


You might not believe this, but writing and online dating have a lot in common. How do I know this? I’ve been writing (and sadly, dating) for a considerable period of time. Admittedly, I’ve been writing far longer, but after a decade spent using multiple apps and sites, I’m practically a certified dating expert. (Although my lack of success with said dating might undercut this claim.) In any case, I think I’m qualified to make a few comparisons.

For starters, writing and dating both require a proactive approach and a thick skin. Think rhino hide. They also demand that one embrace rejection as part of the process. If you are a writer of any genre, you know the drill. You send out work, it gets rejected. You brush yourself off and submit again. Continue reading

On Copying and Imitation as Practice, Not Plagiarism

by Marisa PC


Every semester, as I teach scene-writing, I dedicate a class or two to dialogue. The content and pacing of dialogue are themselves worthy of discussion, but they are not my subject today. Instead, I notice that in at least half the cases, my students have difficulty punctuating dialogue correctly and sometimes struggle to paragraph it as well. Each time I teach it, I reflect on why these technical particularities come so easily to me. I’m detail-oriented, sure, and blessed with an undying love of grammar and mechanics. However, I’m also aware that no one—no teacher in a classroom, I mean—took time to teach me the hows and whys of dialogue punctuation. I’ve decided I learned how to do it through the practice of imitation.

In high school, I was already full of original stories to tell, but sometimes when another author’s work inspired me, I would rewrite it. I would copy in longhand whatever words had caught my attention, because I wanted to experience what it felt like to have such amazing words unspool from my pen. In no way was my copying an act of plagiarism. It was, rather, an act of homage—and of apprenticeship. I kept whole notebooks of song lyrics and passages from poetry and prose that moved me. Once, I even copied an entire novel but changed the point-of-view character to the one I preferred. Quite possibly, my long, attentive copying sessions led me to learn dialogue punctuation. I’m fairly sure it led me to learn other things about writing, too.

Among the creative writing textbooks in my possession is one by Nicholas Delbanco called The Sincerest Form: Writing Fiction by Imitation. I haven’t used it with any of my classes, but I find it an intriguing approach. Delbanco introduces each chapter with a short story—Tim O’Brien’s “The Things They Carried,” Bharati Mukherjee’s “The Management of Grief,” and Flannery O’Connor’s “A Good Man Is Hard to Find” among them—and follows with a step-by-step analysis of each, along with ten exercises promoting imitation of the story. The exercises for O’Connor’s story, for example, include incorporating dialect to write a scene between two characters discussing the Grandmother, writing five different endings, and expanding the relatively small role of the mother. An anthology of other stories and exercises follows.

Perhaps you have objected, as so many do, to the notion of imitation as a vehicle toward learning. You have your own style, your own stories, your own original you-ness of writing. I get that, I do, but Delbanco makes a strong case for such practice, pointing out how often we learn by example in other ways. We learn to walk and talk by example, he points out. Actors study other people’s actions and intonations; artists in their apprenticeship attempt to reproduce what they see. Delbanco goes on. And I’ll join him in promoting imitation as a fair practice.

Today I invite you to copy several pages of a story, essay, or book you admire or several poems by a poet whose work inspires you. Use longhand, and feel the words. If you want to take the exercise further, try writing a short original passage or poem of your own that follows the structure and mechanics of the admired piece. See whether you can develop a sense of how the author or poet of the piece you’re imitating made each decision—from word choice and sentence structure to development of character or theme. And if punctuating and paragraphing dialogue gives you fits, by all means, copy a long, effective passage of someone else’s and take note of what the author is doing!


In regard to the photo: Felix LaFollett is an African gray parrot who has his own Facebook page and is trainer to the people with whom he lives. As many of you know, I live with three parrots, and though they often repeat words, phrases, and noises, they are never merely imitating. Their gift of clear communication is one we humans should learn from and hope to emulate.

The Elephant in the Room

By guest blogger Bob Sabatini

Well, now, it’s been an interesting couple of months, hasn’t it? When I was asked once again to write a guest post for yet another March, the first thing I had to know was whether I would be welcome or encouraged to write about “the Elephant in the room,” because that would make a huge difference in how I would frame whatever I might want to say. And do you notice how I didn’t even have to specify which elephant I was talking about? Sam knew exactly what I meant when I asked her, and I bet you did too. It is safe to say that the recent election is one of the most polarizing events in recent memory. And since I am a guest (blogger) in this house, I wanted to be sure I knew the rules. Continue reading

Fret Not!* On the Reasons Behind the Rules for My Fiction Workshop

Guest post by Marisa PC (Tyger Burning)

Dec 2015-July 2016 004 (152).JPGIt’s that time of the semester again. The students in my fiction-writing class are getting ready to turn in short stories for workshopping, and I’ve had the nerve to give them rules to follow as they write—stuff like writing from the POV of a living human character who’s interacting with other human characters in a contemporary time and in a setting they’re familiar with. Don’t kill off a character in order to resolve a conflict, I say. Don’t write a story that begins or ends with an alarm clock, I say, or one that depends on coincidence or one that ends with the gimmick of “It was all a dream.” Don’t turn in a would-be episode of whatever’s hot on Netflix or at the movies. Don’t, don’t, don’t, I say. Amid all the don’ts, I include the all-important one, so important that it’s underscored on the list of content guidelines on my syllabus. “Genre work is forbidden,” I’ve warned, “and turning it in will result in a grade deduction and possible failure of the assignment.”

Inevitably, this rule makes the light go out of the eyes of about half my fiction students, while the others appear unfazed. The class—an intermediate-level undergraduate fiction workshop—has literary fiction as its focus, I’ve said, so the repetition of the rule should come as no surprise. Even as I hammer home what sorts of things I’m looking for in their stories, I wonder who this semester’s rule-breaker will be. Who will insist on setting a story on another planet or adding a dragon into the mix or having a zombie take a bite out of an expendable character or treating the reader to a day in the pet beta fish’s life from the pet beta fish’s POV? And is there any chance at all that that rule-defying risk-taker will compose a successful story? Continue reading

Marching across the dunes

(Note: There were a few missed messages about who would be writing the farewell post for the last of the month, so here is a ¡Special Bonus! farewell to March, the final “Monday with Bob.”)

By guest blogger Bob Sabatini

Hello! I hope A Writer’s March has been an enjoyable and inspiring experience for you. On this, the final day of the month, I’d like to take a moment to reflect on the challenge, not as the end of a process of growth, but as another step in the journey. A chance to pause and catch our breaths and take a look back before continuing this march on into April and beyond. At the beginning of the March, Sam shared a video of a commencement speech given by Neil Gaiman. One of the most striking devices Gaiman uses in this speech is the metaphor of the mountain. He gives the directions for anyone who wants to pursue a life in the arts to think of their goals as being on the top of a mountain, and to make decisions—life defining decisions, sometimes—based on what gets you closer to the top of that mountain.

After hearing the speech, I spent nearly a week trying to determine exactly what my mountain was. The conclusion I’ve come to is that I don’t have one. I am wandering—not exactly lost, but without definite purpose—through a desert where my horizon consists entirely of dunes. I clamber up to the top of one dune, slipping in the sand as I go, sometimes getting winded and needing to take a short rest, but getting there eventually. Then I take a look around and—still not seeing any mountains off in the distance anywhere—pick another dune and start the climb all over again. Continue reading