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Bad Advice

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!

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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

categories: Bad Advice / Cocktail Hour

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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

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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 →

Bad Advice Wednesday: Do Something For Someone Else (from the archives)

categories: Bad Advice / Cocktail Hour

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How to get published, how to get an agent, how to be a better writer, these are all high on the list of common questions we get asked here at Bill and Dave’s.  Where there’s not a bit of desperation in the question there is often anger, and where the anger has faded there’s sometimes sadness, maybe a whiff of self-pity.  Or is that me, feeling all those things no matter where the writing takes me, often in equal measure with pleasure, even elation (but that comes most often in the making, sitting at my desk alone, lovely, soon to be dashed).  What I’m proposing today is forgetting about our own careers (or lack) and thinking about what we can do for others, what we can do to make the world a more hospitable place for art, and for artists, which is to say for writing and writers.  Doing for others may be your key to success, and is certainly the key to happiness.  Herewith, 30 suggestions for writers, and an invitation to suggest more.  Karma, anyone? Continue reading →

Bad Advice Wednesday: Need a Job? Be a Writer First

categories: Bad Advice / Cocktail Hour

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Do not listen to this man…

Oh, I’ve seen such anguish on FB and elsewhere about the thin market in college jobs for writers.  More jobs will turn up, of course, and somewhere, right now, someone’s writing up a job description that sounds a lot like you.  But that September job list really is depressing. Then again, if you’ve set out to be a writer, why let the job statistics for teachers bother you?  Yes, you need a way to make money, but what difference does it make how you get there, if the whole point is to buy time to write? Continue reading →