No Such Thing As Writer’s Block

In an interview with Joe Fassler of The Atlantic (online, May 2, 2017), one of my favorite authors, Elizabeth Strout (Olive Kitteridge, Anything is Possible, I am Lucy Barton…to name a few of her outstanding novels) said something about writer’s block that I find wise and inspiring. Liz said:

“A bad day for me is when I write badly. It happens not infrequently, but I’ve never—knock on wood—actually had writer’s block. I’m always able to write; my form of writer’s block is just to write very poorly, which I think is better than not getting any words down at all. It used to be enormously frustrating for me when I knew I was writing badly. It still upsets me now, but I have enough perspective to know that I can go back and fix it later. I’ll make it better, that’s all.”

Oh, this is brilliant and thank you Elizabeth Strout! Because who cares if the writing is bad in a first draft (or even the second, or third, or fourth, or…)?

That’s what revision is for.

What matters most is that you write. That you write as boldly as you write badly on those days when you can’t seem to pull it all together. Because you can’t revise what you haven’t started, can you? And good writing — even if you nail a sentence or even a paragraph once in a while — is all about revising.

That’s my insight for today.

Keep Writing!

 

The Woven Tale Press: Honorable Mention for My Story, “A Different Kind of Heart Attack.”

As always, first things first: Congratulations to the winners of the The Woven Tale Press 2017 Literary and Fine Arts Competition! Click on the link below to learn about the writers and artists whose work will move you, entertain you, and delight you. http://www.thewoventalepress.net/2017/10/30/vol-v-9/

The Woven Tale Press is an online literary journal started in 2013 by editor in chief, Sandra Tyler (who is also an author and teacher of writing) whose enthusiastic devotion to the arts in all forms has created an inspiring forum for writers and artists to move within. She has also gathered together an exciting editorial staff, including DeWitt Henry who judged the 2017 literary competition.

My story, A Different Kind of Heart Attack, received an honorable mention in this contest. As I’ve shared before, I’ve been one of those fiction writers who has stayed quiet about my stories. The reasons are many and complex and quite silly, and I wouldn’t stand for any of them if they came  from one of my nieces or nephews lets say, or from a friend. But basically I admire writers so much that I just didn’t think I was “good enough” to place myself among them. I’m still not sure about it of course; I have a long way to go.

Editors like Sandra Tyler encourage writers and artists to be speak up, and get their work out into the world — she wants us all to have websites so we can interact with a larger community and so that people can find us. It means so much to me to have these opportunities and to receive recognition once in a while or get a story published, just to keep me believing that maybe I’m on the right path.

Keep Writing,

Elle

Things I learned from the Iowa Writing Project: Power of the Pen (Part 1)

This past summer I participated in a MOOC with the The Iowa Writing Project.

The experience was truly wonderful. Picture yourself: writing everyday, giving and receiving thoughtful feedback, reading examples of outstanding writing, watching videos of world class writers who are also guest instructors, and interacting with people from all over the world who are as intrigued as you are about understanding writing techniques and how they make the writing you love, lovely.

The full title of the class was: The Power of The Pen,Writing Identities and Social Issues in Fiction and Nonfiction. This means that the craft of writing was woven into a context of hyper awareness of who we are as writers and as human beings. But also who we seem to be, or think we are, and how others see us and how we see others. We extended these ideas to our characters as well — who are the characters in our stories? How did they get that way and how do we see who they are as they interact within the settings we create for them and the other characters we make up (for us fiction writers) and the situations we place them in?

We also pondered this big question: Who gets to write about what? And if you write about someone who is not like you, what right do you have to presume you know what it is like for them? How do you write about others well? How do you have your characters walk around in worlds you create and bump up against social issues and be changed by them? How do you do all of this without preaching or becoming maudlin, or creating stereotypes and cliches?

As an emerging writer, my mind was blown. And, as an emerging writer, I learned so much, primarily because I have so much to learn. Here are five things I’ll share now. I’ll share more in subsequent articles:

Five Things:

  1. Emblematic moments in life, those small and personal moments, that also encompass the human condition in some way, lead to both character and plot transformation (for an example, read Jhumpa Lahiri’s short story, “Nobody’s Business”). In other words character transformation and plot turn together.
  2. Changes in your character will always involve other characters — the people and animals and other beings and things you place in their path.
  3. Changes in your characters will come out of stuff happening to them and to the other characters around them.
  4. Emblematic moments in your character’s world create disorienting dilemmas and put other things into motion. An example I can think of is Flannery O’Connor’s Everything That Rises Must Converge, when a white woman wearing a hat she thinks is special, sees a black woman on the bus wearing the same hat. When you write scenes for your characters, build in small moments that signal larger experiences.
  5. Some writers say they are “plotters” and others say they are “pantsers” (they go by the seat of their pants, following where the character leads them). What might be closer to the truth is that plot and character need to turn together, one influencing the other, putting things into motion, casting previous acts in a new light.

Thats all for now. Back to writing!

Elle

Dear Sugar… Best advice on writing I ever internalized (from Cheryl Strayed)

Dear Writing and Reading Friends,

In August of 2012 I picked up an awesome book called tiny beautiful things by Cheryl Strayed, a compilation of advice she issued in a column called Dear Sugar. I love all the bits and pieces of wisdom Sugar offers to her readers in this book. But my favorite response went to a young writer named Elissa Bassist who wrote a letter explaining how difficult it was for her to write and how sad and confused this made her feel. Elissa lamented to Sugar, “How does a woman get up and become the writer she wishes to be?”

Sugar’s response amounted to an inspirational butt-kicking that came down to this: “So write, Elissa Bassist. Not like a girl. Not like a boy. Write like a motherfucker.”

Sugar’s words have become something of a mantra for me, so much so that even my husband tells me to write like a motherfucker when he kisses me goodbye in the morning. I intend to.

Enjoy your writing… have nerve and be persistent. Write like a motherfucker.

Finalist for the 2017 Reynolds Price Prize in Fiction!

I wrote a short story called, “The Universe Can Be An Asshole”

First things first: congratulations to Jaquira Díaz for her winning story, “Carrazzo” and also to runner up, Rachel Furey for “The Whole World”! Please visit https://internationalliteraryawards.org/2017/announcement to read about these two talented authors. Their writing is impressive, and needless to say, I’m honored and frankly tickled pink that my short story The Universe Can Be An Asshole was shortlisted and made it to the finals.

I’ve been writing fiction a long time, but it never occurred to me until a few months ago to submit a story or two to journals or to enter blind writing contests. Duh.

The story I submitted to the Reynolds Price contest expands upon a chapter in a novel I’m writing and I must say, doing the work to transform it into a short story has also made it a better chapter for the book.

 Reflection:

The protagonist in the short story is a secondary protagonist in the novel. Writing her as the main character in her own short story has allowed me to focus on her, to get to know her better. She is not just someone for the main character in the novel to interact with; she is a world unto herself, as we all are. I like her very much (though she is very flawed). I better see how she operates within the setting of the novel and particularly what she will bring out in the other characters.

By the way, I’m lucky to have a spouse who asks me about the characters in my stories as if they lived in the neighborhood. Sometimes we gossip about them for an entire dinner.

For what it’s worth. Keep writing…

Mo (my first published piece of fiction)

Short fiction (even the title is short: Mo.) published in Into the Void Magazine, Issue 4, Summer 2017

“This piece of flash really captured me with the way it expressed so much in such a fleeting way, the glimpse into lives – many different lives – it got across with such elegant simplicity and restraint.” ~ Laura Halpin, Flash Fiction Editor Into the Void Magazine   https://intothevoidmagazine.com/

High Profile Parking

Written and performed by Elle Napolitano at the Marsh Theater in San Francisco, CA. High Profile Parking is a story about how assumptions make a person believe and do ridiculous things. But also how they make us mortifyingly human. August 3, and August 24, 2015. https://themarsh.org

What I’m working on now

I’m in the nail biting revision stage (after many re-writes and feedback from beta readers!) of a novel that unfolds around a family secret about the tragic loss of a child. Over one summer and fall, and against the scrim of shifting social and political realities, the protagonist of this story, who is devastated by the child’s death, is befriended by a colorful assortment of characters who face their own struggles and hold their own secrets, and who provide grist for him to re-engage with the world.

Personal note about my writing process as a emerging writer

My stories are mostly character driven. Therefore, I’m in a constant process of discovering what the characters would do, and what could happen to people like them when they do those things. Then I write those scenes. From there it is like putting together an enormous jigsaw puzzle without the picture of the assembled puzzle on the top of the box. Oh, and also, everyday some of the pieces disappear and other pieces that I’ve never seen before show up. I use Scrivener, which really is a gem of a software program when it comes to moving scenes around until they find their rightful place in the story.