What I’m Reading Right Now: On Moral Fiction

A while back, EriOn Moral Fictionka Dreifus had recommended John Gardner’s On Moral Fiction, a slim volume dedicated to writing and literary criticism from the POV that an artist has a moral responsibility to their audience, and that art criticism should in part address how well the creator of a work of art has met that responsibility. The book dates from 1978, and it’s amazing how well it (thus far in my reading) stands up over time.

I’m only about three chapters in, and what strikes me most Continue reading

The Desire to Write a Sequel vs the Desire to Write a Story

I already posted once this week, so I’ll probably keep this one short, but I wanted to make sure I do my new little Wednesday thang so I don’t lose my groove.

I mentioned in my last post that while reviewing the proofs of my soon-to-be published middle-grade novel, I had an impulse to write a sequel. You know that old tune sung by Marlene Deitrich, “Falling in Love Again?” That’s how I felt about my characters on this weekend’s run-through. Continue reading

Glixman in a Fix on Approach: Got the Cover for My Next Book & Checked the Proofs

glixman31Yesterday, I turned in my comments on the proof for my next book, the novelization of Glixman in a Fix. It’s weird reading something I wrote a couple years ago, already. I think the manuscript is in pretty good shape. We’re IY”H expecting the book to hit stores just before Pesach.

The good news is that I made myself laugh more than once, and I still find the characters charming after all this time. When I read the last page, I contemplated writing a sequel just so I could hang out a little longer with Mendel, Ari, Ilan, and Yehudis.

The bad news is that friends and colleagues are now telling me how they all want to buy my book. This leads to a potentially awkward conversation.

Some of the aforementioned friends and colleagues primarily have read my adult work. They read my essays in Tablet, my fiction in Inyan. I think that many of them expect me to sound the same in this book…but since the initial audience was so different, I sound very different in Glixman. I’m kinda afraid how they will react to it.

Readers out there, have you read something from a favorite author that just didn’t strike your fancy?

And writers, have you written something and then felt the desire to warn your usual readers away from it?

Writing Groups Run for Pay Are Useful…But Not the Same as No-Fee Writing Groups

After last week’s post, in which I explained how to set up and run writing critique groups and manuscript swaps, I got some feedback, and I’d like to address one of the issues that came up.

What to expect if you pay for a professionally-led writing group:

There are many writers/editors, who run critique groups for a fee – and I am among them. Usually, the organizer will do at least some of the recruitment for you, and they have genuine expertise. (Although I suggest you check on this – recently, I came upon a writer who offered advice – for a fee – to a person in a field of writing it turned out they knew nothing about. There’s nothing wrong with asking for a reference even if the person is a published writer of note. Not all writers know all fields of writing, and not all writers are good at running critique groups.) Good writing group leaders are familiar with the “writing group format” and may have a very gentle and efficient way of keeping participants on-task and well-behaved. They will often arrange the logistics of the location/conference call/whatever.

Interestingly, since participants usually pay in advance for a series of meetings, they are more likely to show up. I have a close friend who is a personal trainer, and she says her clients have the same attitude: If you pay in advance, you are more likely to show up, because you know your absence will cost you money, and yet you will get no benefit from that money. For a fledgling writer who really, really needs a fire lit under their tuchas to make them show up regularly for a writing group, this has a big advantage over a free model.

I know many, many people who have enjoyed and learned a lot in writing groups run by a paid professional. A really good writing-group-for-fee is worth the price you pay. However, I don’t classify them with lay-led, no-fee groups for a number of reasons. Examining these will help a writer decide which model will work best for them. Continue reading

Step-by-Step Guide to Setting up a Writing Critique Group or a Manuscript Swap

A little birdie told me what to write about this week.

Okay, I’m exaggerating. But recently, quite a few people have either asked me how to advance their writing skills (answer: join a critique group) or how to arrange a critique group or what they should do if they cannot attend a critique group. And while I’ve discussed critique groups on the blog before, I think it’s worth a new blog post dedicated to this topic, because I’ve been helping run critique groups for nearly five (or is it six?) years now, and I’ve learned a lot.

Why Join a Critique Group?

You only will grow as a writer if you write regularly. But motivating yourself to write regularly, with no deadlines, is challenging. Getting useful feedback can also be challenging. For instance, you might have a close friend or relative read it, but will they be objective? And you could take a class, but that might involve spending money. (Note: I think it can be worthwhile to take writing classes – but I don’t have much spare change and won’t assume you have it either.) You can remedy all these problems with a single solution: the critique group.

How to create a critique group:

Continue reading

Whoops! Missed my Wednesday post.

Ack! I’ve been trying to post weekly on Wednesdays, and I completely spaced this week. (I’ve got a good excuse – all my kids are on vacation.) Anyway, I’m taking a moment to write something now, before Shabbos, to make sure I stay in the groove.

I struggled to make a writing deadline last Friday and actually missed it, in the end. This is very unusual for me. I rarely experience writer’s block, but here it was and I was feeling very, very low.

I finally finished the story and turned it in on Tuesday. What got me over the hump?

  1. Advice from members of my writing group.
  2. Contemplating why I couldn’t write.

That second one flipped a switch in my head from “I just can’t finish this story!” to a frenzy of writing in which everything just poured out. It turned out that I was simply approaching the story from the wrong direction. So here’s my…

Writer’s tip for the day:

If you are stalling out while writing a story, approach things from a different direction. Change the POV. Change the tense. Change the genre. If the writing is emotive, write it with clinical dispassion, and if you are writing with that dispassionate voice, mix in more emotions. If you have been focusing on dialogue, start writing a description of the scenery, or vice versa.

Or, my favorite piece of advice for fiction writers, have a long talk or “interview” with your characters. How do they perceive the central conflict of the story? What do they think will happen next?