Day Two

It’s very excruciating life facing that piece of paper every day and having to reach up somewhere into the clouds and bring something down out of them. Truman Capote

In the first week, you will decide the story you are going to tell. My guess is that you have been thinking of your story for quite some time. It is the book you have always wanted to write.

It doesn’t matter what kind of novel or memoir you write. There are no rules other than that the book has to be interesting. It can be exciting, scary, fun, funny, romantic, sad, or true down to the very last word - but it must not bore the reader.

You will not know every detail of your book, or even how it ends, but today you are going to begin the process of finding out. You are not going to procrastinate - procrastination is your enemy. Matisse advised his students, “If you want to be a painter, cut out your tongue.” The time has come to stop talking about writing your book. Get started.

Alice Munro is considered by many to be the best short-story writer in the English language. Her books sell about 30,000 copies a year. She is a writer other writers admire for her technical skills and the purity of her style. She is also known for the complex structure of her stories. A typical Alice Munro story might begin at a point that most writers would consider the end, then jump to a time ten years earlier, then back again. But what is most interesting about Alice Munro - who lives in a small town in southern Canada - is that her stories are about ordinary people: their secrets, their memories of acts of violence, their sexual longings.

Think of what to write from what is around you, from what you know and care about. That is your material from which you will create your book. Even if you are going to write a science fiction novel set beyond the time of Avatar, you will find the sources for characters you create in the people you know, the friends you have, and those people you see everyday.

Before we leave the problem of finding your story, let me debunk another cliché about novel writing: Write only about something you know.

You’re heard that before. It’s nonsense. Tom Clancy had never been a submarine commander before he wrote The Hunt For Red October. And it’s a safe bet that Richard Bach never had been a seagull before he wrote Jonathan Livingston Seagull.

Instead of writing about something you know, you can write about something you love. It doesn’t matter what it is, just love it. For example, Arthur Golden, author of Memoirs of a Geisha, lived in Japan and was working for an English-language magazine in Tokyo when in 1982 he got the idea for Memoirs. In 1986, after earning a creative writing degree from Boston University, he began researching geishas and discovered “a subculture with its own strange rules.” It took him ten years and several drafts before he sold the book to Alfred A. Knopf for $250,000.

Writing Trick: Suspense is a basic ingredient of all good writing. Because of it, readers ask: What is going to happen next? They will keep reading to find out. So, plan on having “something” happen before you end a chapter.

Your assignment: Write down a list of your favorite novels, memoirs, or non-fiction and write a sentence or two of what it is about the books that you like. What has stayed with you after the reading? Was it what happened? A character in the novel? The clever way the story was told? The way the author used language? The historical facts? Or all of these.elements. Tear out that piece of paper and pin it to the wall of your office. Save it as a reminder (and as inspiration) while you write your book.

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