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Bad Advice

Bad Advice Wednesday: Walk a Mile in their Shoes

categories: Bad Advice / Cocktail Hour

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Ooh, those people and groups and activities and works of art and parts of the country and professions and foods and music and movies we hate.  Musicals!  Someone said to me recently, just the one word, meaning how awful.  But I like musicals.  Always have.  And here’s an acquaintance assuming I agree with her–because who in their right mind wouldn’t?  These days I’m always ready to answer with the truth, and did, trying to sound affronted: “I like musicals.”  I like lots of stuff that you don’t like.  That doesn’t make me crazy.  Anyway, bad advice for writers this week is to like something you hate.  Danny Kaye movies?  Sushi?  HipHop?  Camping?  Cats? Continue reading →

Bad Advice Wednesday: Make Your Own Work

categories: Bad Advice / Cocktail Hour / Movies

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Vasilios Cray

Vasilios, cast and crew, Sixty Grades of Cray


Last November, I directed a movie from a script I had written.


I wrote the damn thing- a comedic short meant to send up trashy literature-  two years ago, then was at a loss for how to produce it.  The actor I wrote it for moved across the country.  I shelved it to focus on my own acting endeavors.  After appearing in dozens of indies, industrials, and commercials, I wrote and acted in another short and learned a bit about bringing people together.  Continued to act, but the work dried up.  Grew despondent and looked for a way to kick the millstone feelings.  Started listening to a podcast featuring an array of names from the entertainment industry.  They all said the same thing: “make your own work.”  A local actor doing just that inspired me and I was resolved.  And who would direct?  “I’ll direct it,” I declared, surprising myself most of all.

Bad Advice Wednesday: One Sentence on Getting Back to Work, September Style

categories: Bad Advice / Cocktail Hour

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Like Daughter Like Father

I still get that September back-to-school feeling about now, even though I’m not teaching anymore, that feeling of gearing up, getting ready, pencil boxes and notebooks and ink for the fountain pen (I started grade school in 1958), a dog to walk you to school Norman Rockwell style, maybe even a lamb, as in Mary had a Little, all with a stout resignation—summer might not be over, but the time to work is here, the time to stack projects like cordwood, the time to make those calls, finish that book, wake the slumbering beasts, polish an apple or two, look out for the red-haired girl, be a writer at the desk and not so much a writer at the beach, a writer who’s gonna get it done, and get it done, and get it done, then ask for more. Continue reading →

Good Advice Thursday: Authors, Keep your Copyrights!

categories: Bad Advice / Cocktail Hour

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Most agents and many writers know to strike any clause in a contract that gives away copyright, but not all. Here, from the Author’s Guild (which you might want to join if you’re not already a member) is the straight poop on a terrible practice that seems to be growing.  And ask your university press to cut it out. You can also read it here, on the Author’s Guild website. [Used by permission.]

Authors should not assign their copyrights to publishers. As our Model Contract emphasizes:

“CAUTION: Do not allow the publisher to take your copyright or to publish the copyright notice in any name other than yours. Except in very unusual circumstances, this practice is not standard in the industry and harms your economic interests. No reputable publisher should demand that you allow it to do so.” Continue reading →

Bad Advice Wednesday: Summer Writing

categories: Bad Advice / Cocktail Hour

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Americans who weren’t rich started taking vacations before the civil war, and by the turn of the 20th Century, the middle class vacation had been perfected to an art form.  Already at that time there were newspaper articles and library recommendations for summer reading, and already the summer reading recommendations were for fiction, preferably light, plot-driven, no “heavy biographies.”  But let me propose something I’ve been trying to perfect into an art form: summer writing. Continue reading →

Bad Advice Wednesday: A Lot at a Time

categories: Bad Advice / Cocktail Hour

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Okay, this one is the opposite of last week’s Bad Advice, “A Little at a Time,” in which I suggested celebrating incremental writing, since that’s mostly what we get time for.  “We” being we humans…  But let’s say you’ve got a novel started, or other book (or really any project humans get involved in, though hold off on the mass killings, please)… At some point, it’s going to be time to blast out a rough draft.  So accrete as you will, but when you’re well in, I suggest a draft vacation. Continue reading →

Bad Advice Wednesday: A Little at a Time

categories: Bad Advice / Cocktail Hour

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A few years back--can we do it again?  Yes.

A few years back–can we do it again? Yes.

Every year it’s the same–I look out over my garden and wonder how on earth I’m going to get it ready and then planted in time to have any chance of food from it at all.  And every year, an hour here and five minutes there, a morning next week and an hour last week, the thing gets done.  And all the other things.  Including, like, parenting.  And novels. Continue reading →

Bad Advice Wednesday: Naming is Knowing

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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.”
Continue reading →

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 →