The other day I posted about submitting work to literary journals.  Today I’m backing way the hell up …. do you hear the beep beep beep? …. and sharing some of the best advice I received this summer about writing.

Have I heard some of it before?  Sure.  But I’ve got a hard hard head and sometimes it takes 47 times for me to hear what I need to hear.


1.  What is your central question? 

2.  Show and tell.  Memoir requires the right mix of SCENES (dialogue, gestures, action), EXPOSITION (summarizing time and space, information delivery, backstory), and MEDITATION (thinking on the page, reflection, letting the reader into your head).

3.  Follow your obsessions.  The most ridiculous connections are often the most significant.

4.  You need to have a ridiculous amount of faith in yourself to write a book.  People know a lot about telling stories until the minute they see that blank page.

5.  Imagine sitting next to a stranger on the bus, telling your story.  Do they care?  Are they bored?

6.  What is (or should be) hardest to write is not what was done to you, but what you did.  If this is not the case, you may not be ready to write the story.

7.  Beware of the word “it.”  Every word in a sentence should be a real word.  (This sounds so simple, but I don’t even want to count how many times I’ve used “it” in this blog post.)

8.  Real suspense comes from what we already know.  Tell the reader upfront what to look for, what’s at stake.

9.  Stuck?  Maybe it’s one of your judges.  We have so many:  mother, friend, teacher, editor, child, mentor.  And one we don’t often admit to:  other writers.

10.  Memoir is shared discovery.  If you write your memoir and don’t really discover anything, don’t publish it.


See. Even Charlie rolls his eyes.

Agree.  Disagree.  Say so fucking what, you’ve heard it all before.  Wad this post into a tight crunchy ball and hurl it at the waste-bin in the corner.  Spit on it first if you need to.

Do whatever it takes, whatever works — then share what works with the rest of us.

What’s the best advice you’ve received lately?