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Bad Advice


Bad Advice Wednesday: Naming is Knowing

categories: Bad Advice / Cocktail Hour

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Redwoods

 

I always noticed it in student work, but you see it in the big-time books, too.  “He stood under a tree.”  My question as a reader is always: what kind of tree?  It’s a lot different standing under a white pine and a white ash.  Your feet are in needles in case one.  In case two, old leaves.  The woods are darker among pines, too.  If it’s a Douglas fir, you’re in the Pacific Northwest.  What’s the right tree for Tokyo?  For Kolkata?  For Brisbane?  For your town, as well.  A bird flies by.  What kind?  Gray Jay?  That tells us something too–those camp robbers like wild places, a bit of elevation.  A bug bit him.  A bug?  Not a mosquito?  Horsefly?  Blackfly?  Was it cloudy?  What kind?  I like the precision, I guess, but there’s something more, the names of things. And the names of things carry within them states of being, unstated inferences, geographies, even eras, also music, the rhythm of the particular, of a place. Continue reading →

Bad Advice Wednesday: Teaching Creative Nonfiction? Here’s the Best Craft Book on the Market!

categories: Bad Advice / Cocktail Hour / Reading Under the Influence

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Are you teaching writing?  Is it about time to order books for fall semester?  May I suggest Writing Life Stories?  No reason to be humble–it’s the original and greatest book on making creative nonfiction–and the best by far, often imitated.  And while it’s aimed at the creative writing crowd, it’s also very useful in the composition classroom, a complete course, and perhaps particularly suited to the community college setting, or anywhere non-traditional students appear, from high school to grad school and beyond.  You get from it what you bring to it, in other words, and it self-adapts to whatever level the reader/writer/teacher approaches from.  It moves seamlessly from Getting Started to writing memoir, then uses the memoir exercises as evidence for the writing of personal essays, then uses both to aim at public writing, including journalism and the formal essay.  It’s got advice on publishing, too.  It’s fun for students, which makes it fun for teachers, and it’s filled with exercises to do both in-class and on the fly, or to assign.  Or for teachers who’d like to get some of their own writing done, goddamn it!  The tenth anniversary edition, with Kristen Keckler, is thoroughly up to date, and replaces the old edition.  Several sample essays form a mini-anthology, and the huge reading list in an appendix collecting great books in all creative nonfiction genres is famous, often borrowed!  Among the many charms of Writing Life Stories is its price: $16.95, which means students actually afford to buy it,  and most opt keep it.  Plus, you know me! I’ll do an email chat with your class. I’ll walk to your university no matter where in the world, and I’ll talk to your class while you put your feet up and plot your novel!

“Bill Roorbach’s WRITING LIFE STORIES is brimming with valuable suggestions, evocative assignments, insights into the writing process, and shrewd common sense. I can’t wait to try some of this ideas in the classroom and on myself. This writing guide delivers the goods.”
–Philip Lopate, THE ART OF THE PERSONAL ESSAY
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Bad Advice Wednesday: Why Not Say What Happened?

categories: Bad Advice / Cocktail Hour

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Robert Lowell

One of the most-asked questions at writer’s conferences and here on the Bill and Dave’s Bad Advice hotline is about the dangers of hurting or offending or simply alerting people who will appear in a memoir or even, disguised, in fiction.  Here’s a particularly cogent version of the question, which we’ll keep anonymous by request:  “I’m planning a memoir of my growing up partly in Nigeria, partly in London, mostly in the Chicago area.  I’m terribly worried about offending my mother, who is sensitive about some of the material in the book (my father ended up in prison, and rightly so).  Also, I’m worried about my children reading this material, as they are Continue reading →

Bad Advice Wednesday: Create a Tour!

categories: Bad Advice / Cocktail Hour

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My long-former student and great old friend Melissa Falcon Field had a book coming out, and mine had just been published, and so we put our heads together and thought–Let’s do some a reading together.  Just that.  And then we figured out where, adding one another to invitations already received, until we had several events lined up, then several more, from Maine to New York City, and back again.  We named it after an element both of our books share: TAINTED LOVE. Continue reading →

Bad Advice Wednesday: Don’t Know Where You’re Going

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So many people ask if I outline, if I know where I’m going when I start a story, a novel, an essay.  The answer is an inefficient but satisfying: No.  I’m not even E.L. Doctorow trusting that he’ll get where he’s going even though it’s night and his headlights only illuminate a small part of the way.  Because that implies he knows where he’s going, that it’s only the way in question.  I’m more like getting in the car blindfolded and seeing how far I can go before I crash.  Usually, the crash is more interesting than whatever magnificence I’d planned. Continue reading →

Bad Advice Wednesday: How to Get on a Roll, or, The Value of Momentum

categories: Bad Advice / Cocktail Hour

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I’m re-posting this, one of our very first “Bad Advice” blogs, since it goes with some things I’ve been saying in the “Just Write” class I’m teaching this term.

Momentum.  I say the word so much in my classes that I wouldn’t blame students if they walked out or threw bricks.  But I’ll say it again.  Mo-men-tum. Sometimes it seems to me that the whole writing game–the whole of life?– is contained in that one word.  How do you get in movement and stay in movement?  The question.   How to get rolling and, more importantly, keep rolling?

As for the “keep rolling” aspect (which, momentum being momentum, is the easier part) many people have tricks, usually some variant on Hemingway’s habit of stopping when you know what sentence you’re going to write next.  That’s not for me.  For one thing, if I know the sentence, I’ll write it down while I’ve got it.   For another, it’s just too rational.  “If I know what I’m doing I can’t do it,” said Joan Didion.  That’s closer to it.  Momentum, whether starting it or keeping it, is about the continued thrust into the unknown.  The decision–if it even is a decision– to move forward without or beyond the aid of reason.  Momentum is the march into darkness when your sensible (and fearful) side is telling you stay put in your clean, well-lighted brain.

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Bad Advice Wednesday: The Memory Game, Redux

categories: Bad Advice / Cocktail Hour

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Bill and friends, August, 1972#

 

One of the many curious things about the act of writing is the way it can give access to the unconscious mind. And in the hidden parts of consciousness lie not only hobgoblins and neurotic glimmers, but lots of regular stuff, the everyday stuff of memory. The invisible face of your grade school bully is in there, somewhere, and the exact smell of the flowers on vines in your grandma’s Continue reading →

Bad Advice Wednesday: Keeping Happy and Healthy on Tour

categories: Bad Advice / Cocktail Hour

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Last book tour I found myself getting depressed at times, a dark feeling overcoming me.  I’ve talked with a number of friends including Dave who have felt the same: you’re alone out there, and the great events (big turnouts, smart media, a feeling of partnership with your hosts) don’t always balance out the inevitable bad ones (Oh! We forgot you were coming!).  But also, may I repeat: you’re alone.  Alcohol, as always, is helpful and harmful in equal measure.  Food, the same.  Even a great meal and martini alone for the fifth night in a row is no boon.  But neither is an ascetic sandwich and early to bed.  Up at dawn! To the airport!  To the next city! Find the hotel! Grab a shower, and with luck a nap!  Find the bookstore or college or library! And then: it’s show time!  And repeat. Continue reading →

Bad Advice Wednesday: Tear Through That Second Half

categories: Bad Advice / Cocktail Hour

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vintage manuscript

I’ve been talking to several friends who are in the same spot as me–a novel or other book maybe half finished, 150 or 200 pages under the bridge (and awaiting revision), and that feeling of slowing down, of weeks turning into months, and months starting to look like years.  My big idea, which I’ve often done with shorter work, is this: I’m just going to bust out a very rough pile of pages, get myself to a (no doubt tentative) end, then go back and really write. Continue reading →