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Bad Advice Wednesday Greatest Hits: Finding Time to Write

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Two missives this week, one from WriterMom, the other from Jean Witlow in Corvallis, Oregon, with very close to the same question.  WriterMom: “I teach four sections of composition at two different colleges, and have three kids, 6-8-12.  My husband is deceased.  I write an infrequent column for the local paper.  But that’s it for writing.  I want to know how to get my book written when I have no time and never will.”  She goes on to describe the book (almost a pitch—first advice: don’t do that—you come off like an infomercial or a flight attendant).  And it sounds good, a memoir of her husband and the risk taking that finally killed him.  Next, with as little punctuation as possible, Jean Witlow says, “Here I am finally with my MFA and my book basically written it was my thesis but needs some work and I’m goingcrazy because I can’t work on it half the time and I get a whole day and just sit there and don’t even write.  Very depressing, so I avoid it.” Continue reading →

My Shadow Syllabus

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  1. I’ll tell you exactly how to get an A, but you’ll have a hard time hearing me.
  2. I could hardly hear my own professors when I was in college over the din and roar of my own fear.
  3. Those who aim for A’s don’t get as many A’s as those who abandon the quest for A’s and seek knowledge or at least curiosity.
  4. I had bookmarked a citation for that fact, and now I can’t find it anywhere.
  5. The only way to seek knowledge is to open your hands and let your opinions drop, but that requires even more fear. Continue reading →

Bad Advice Wednesday: Greatest Hits

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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 backyard, along with most everything else, perhaps including borrowed memories, even false ones. Some memories are going to be painful, but some pleasurable, too. An awful lot is just informational, the stuff of lost days. Continue reading →

Bad Advice Wednesday: Hold Onto Your Delusions

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           When I played Ultimate Frisbee, I sometimes billed myself as “the greatest player of all time—by far.” Of course I wasn’t. It was meant mostly as a joke, an Ali-like brag and also a parody of some other Ultimate players I knew who, unrestrained by coaches or media or reality, could imagine they were the greatest that had ever played.

 

But it wasn’t entirely a joke either, at least not in my mind. Not that I ever objectively thought that I was the best player, either at the time or of all time. But I sure as fuck wanted to be. And I would contend that it was that desire, and the corresponding internal exaggerations of the glory that would befall me as my greatness was achieved–and, it went without saying, became clear for all to see–that was part of what drove me during those years.

 

It goes without saying that lofty ambitions are painful, especially when you fall short of them. An argument can always be made for a more “realistic” commonsensical approach and that is an argument I understand.

But there is something to be said for the fuming, fretting, planning, obsessing, worrying and of course constant working that is required to attain more. Obviously I am not talking about just Frisbee any more. One of the fascinating things for me about the writing program where I Continue reading →

Bad Advice Wednesday: Don’t Wait Till the Last Minute Like Me!

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It’s still Wednesday, by nine minutes. I just want to say: don’t wait.  Not only don’t wait till the last minute like me, but don’t wait. So many times an acquaintance with a great book idea or story to tell will describe it and then say: Can’t wait to get started.  What they mean by that is: I’m waiting to get started.  Till I have some time off.  Till the kids are grown.  Till I’m done with grad school.  Till, till, till, till, till.  Continue reading →

Bad Advice Wednesday: Balls to the Walls

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Counterbalance

 

I like to go balls to the walls.  I like to climb slow grinding mountain bike trails that make my heart pound against my ribs.  I like to feel my skin dampen until the wet collects and beads and finally runs in streams down my body.  I like listening to the shrill calls of birds and chipmunks squabbling while I spin my unrelenting rotations and take in the soft rough squish of my tires pushing over rocks and the hard twisting roots of sage and trees.  I like the surprise when a shining doe bounds over my path or freezes into quaking stillness, and we look across the stirring grass into one another’s face and wonder what will happen next.  I like to scan the changing terrain and plan how to ride through a sliver of open space where protruding rocks could catch my pedals and knock me to the ground or off the edge of the hillside.  I like to click through my gears with dead-on precision, meeting the changing grade in exactly the right moment to maintain perfect efficiency as I climb a long steep hill, swallow it’s mineral dust, and rise out over its crest, legs aching, lungs bursting, and no stopping, but ride on past that place to a farther, higher distance.  I like to come apart in the emerald landscape.  Let my bones break and my organs rip open into a gory mess.  I like the relief as my thoughts empty and the wounds I’ve been carrying tight in my gut and the set of my jaw and the muscles clenched around my spine and right there behind my twitching left eye pass out of me into nothingness.  And I say, See, it was all nothing.  See that. Continue reading →

Bad Advice Wednesday: Find Your Voice

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Allen Ginsberg

 

This week’s thought comes from Allen Ginsberg, who was born June 3, 1926, making him yet another vital member of the greatest generation that Tom Brokaw forgot to mention, and a few months older than my father, who regards him as a child of the sixties (like, blame him on my generation, but no).  Okay, Here it is, plenty to think about: “To gain your own voice, forget about having it heard. Become a saint of your own province and your own consciousness.” Continue reading →

Bad Advice Wednesday: Let’s Write Some Fiction

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Let’s write some fiction.  First, we need a character, a time, and a place, everything as usual.

Jack arrived at the shoe store at nine Monday morning as usual, tidied as usual, unlocked the door as usual at ten to the quiet mall. Continue reading →

Bad Advice Wednesday: Don’t Believe What You Think

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A great place for a personal essay to start is with a long-cherished belief.  Like that vitamin C helps colds, or that Jesus wasn’t married, or that the ocean is too vast to harm, or that such-and-such a writer is great or horrible, or that such-and-such type of music is boring, or that such-and-such city sucks.  And on and on. Continue reading →

Bad Advice Wednesday: Finding Time to Write

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How many of these objects really need to be made?

Recently writer and professor Shawna Kenney invited me to take part in an online class at the UCLA Extension Writers Program, visiting virtually by way of Blackboard.  Students asked questions, I did my best to answer, and discussion ensued.  I got permission from a number of students to use their questions, and I got permission from myself to use my answers.   Today my interlocutor is Andrew Ring.

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Hello, Bill it’s great to meet you. Writing takes a lot out of us and sometimes the motivation isn’t there; so what keeps you writing? What is it that inspires you to sit down and write, do you feel there’s a story that needs to be told that you can only tell?  How many times per week do you strive to write, are you always writing in the same spot for the same amount of time? Tell us a bit of your writing process Continue reading →