Category Archives: Writing profession

The Writer In the Tower

A writer must be comfortable planting their own thoughts into the minds of others. That is what writing is. Putting your ideas, perceptions, feelings, fantasies out there as “attractive nuisances” that sit dangling from low hanging leaves and drop into the heads of passing Creatures Who Read. If you are good at it, your thoughts will propogate widely, because they will have a stickiness or hard-to-shake quality that lodges them firmly in the brains of readers.

And so you will change the world.

This suggests that one way a writer can fail to become successful is to lack either the ability, or the will, to have their thoughts take up residence in other people’s brains. The ability comes from all the zillions of books and lessons on writing, the examples of brilliance that have come before, the hours and years of practice that begin to accumulate the first time a four year old future writer prints the letter “A.”

That’s the easy part.

The hard part may be the hidden difficulty, the unconscious resistance to letting yourself communicate that freely and deliberately with readers.

Writers are often introverts, even closet social phobics, and the whole idea of writing for them may be organized around having some way to exist in the world without having to interface very intensively with other human beings. Writers are fond of “mountaintop retreats” and quiet rooms and being in but not of a coffee shop crowd. We want peace and quiet. We are sometimes afraid of making a peep. We may want to say “sorry” if someone notices that we have interfered with their idiotic monologue.

But this can become a psychological barrier. A kind of classical Freudian “neurosis” – a “fear of success” pattern that we aren’t even aware of having, but that limits our success as writers and engaged human beings. We can be too timid, too shy, to imagine that we can actually influence and change the thinking of others. “Who – me??” we may ask, as we skitter back to our garrets.

Like it or not, we are all nodes of the Network. Each of us is, on average, six degrees of first-name-basis separation from every human being on the planet. We may live on mountaintops hidden away from the prying eyes and loud voices and critical opinions, so also away from the caring glances and warm friendships and warm bodies of others, and we may feel more comfortable or safe or at peace, less jangled and impinged on, that way.

But I assert that we still need, as writers, to cultivate the ability to let our minds couple with those of others. To have something of ourselves take up permanent residence inside the thoughts and so the bodies (neurologically speaking, at least) of readers.

Not to allow this, to withdraw in permanent shy obscurity, is to risk entombing ourselves inside our own mental dungeons — like mad, forgotten prisoners long ago bricked up in castle towers, sliding sheets of foolscap through narrow window cracks, unaware, or worse, foolishly reassured, that our words of experience and cries for help lie rotting, unread, at the bottoms of silent moats.


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Filed under Phobias, Writing, Writing and society, Writing profession

“Social intelligence” — a key skill for writers

On my other blog I’ve posted a piece on the ways writers can make use of the skills of social intelligence in creating characters and universes.  I won’t repeat it here (here’s the link).  It’s based on the article that just came out in the latest edition of The Writer, also by yours truly.

That is all.

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Filed under Books, Fiction, Social intelligence, Writing, Writing profession, Writing tools and tricks


I am a big believer in milestones as organizers of one’s mental environment.  Which is a fancy way of saying you won’t go crazy as fast as you otherwise might if the way you choose to view life, especially your own life, is in terms of accomplishing things. Any things, but especially “firsts” — first times you ever did this or experienced that.

Noticing the “firsts” in life is a way to give your experience a kind of coherence.  You can make sense of things.  It’s a way to ward off the terrible thought that you are nothing more than a tiny bag of biomass crawling over an oxygenated rock in an infinitely large and black and cold universe, that every pebble you walk on is billions of years more ancient than your very short and unimportant life.  You can avoid thinking too much about that if you just keep track of “life’s little milestones.”

We teach this to children, who gradually learn things such as “That day is your birthday and you will turn five whole YEARS old!,” or as I told my son Mike when he turned 18, “Son, they’ll try you as an adult from now on. ” Things like that matter in a life.

So the other day I went into my favorite bookstore, Misty Valley Books, in Chester, Vt.  Nice store, run by a very nice couple — the kind of place you imagine finding in every little Vermont town (but won’t): A good selection, warm atmosphere, a place where great authors come on weekends to read from their latest works, and on weeknights you can join a class of your neighbors to study French or Russian. An intellectual fort in the wilderness.

And that’s where my writer’s milestone happened.

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1531 words on 1000 words

(This is my morning’s 1000 word writing exercise.)

There is something delightfully seductive about free writing. It’s all about creativity, letting the muse loose, going productively wild and crazy. Best of all, a thousand word burst gives you that chest-thumping, Hemingway-eque certainty that by God, today I’ve been a writer! Wow.

But while free writing is a good way to tap new ideas and to get the flow going in your tired early morning writerly brain, there may be some times when a writer should use the exercise cautiously. Not because we’re likely to unleash some kind of dangerous awarenesses (shades of 1950s Freudians rise here and point fingers, but they are, after all, dead if they are “shades.” Ignore them.) And free writing isn’t generally a bad idea in terms of nurturing those nice, cozy writerly feelings, which in themselves are fine things to nurture. Keeping the brain tuned to the task of writing is very good for one’s development as a scrivener.

The main danger, psychologically and productively speaking, may be that freewriting exercises can be a splendid way to avoid doing whatever real writing you need to be doing. Continue reading

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