Our Writerly Roundup blog series features a curated collection of articles on the craft of writing and the creative life that we don’t want you to miss.
“Make Them Care What You Think” and Other Writing Advice from Nora Ephron, Emily Temple, (@knownemily), Literary Hub
Emily Temple revisits Nora Ephron’s essays to remind us of her writing wisdom. A few of these reminders may seem familiar, but it never hurts to have a quick refresher from an iconic writer. Ephron recommends surrounding yourself with writing.
First of all, whatever you do, work in a field that has something to do with writing or publishing. So you will be exposed to what people are writing about and how they are writing, and as important, so you will be exposed to people in the business who will get to know you and will call on you if they are looking for someone for a job. Secondly, you have to write. And if you don’t have a job doing it, then you have to sit at home doing it.
Ephron urges writers to make us care about their work. It is important to create a story and prose that resonates and isn’t easily dismissed.
You better make them care about what you think. It had better be quirky or perverse or thoughtful enough so that you hit some chord in them. Otherwise it doesn’t work. I mean we’ve all read pieces where we thought, Oh, who gives a damn.
For those writers struggling to pull themselves out of writer’s block, Ephron has the following advice:
I’ve had friends who occasionally call and say, “I’m blocked!” And I’ve said, “Well, how are you going to pay the rent?” To me it was so obvious, you just had to work through it. In the old days, I would just type the piece over and over in the hopes that it would somehow push me into the next sentence. But you don’t do that anymore with computers.
I think one thing that you do is just make notes. You have to sit in a period called “not-writing” and write pages and pages of anything that crosses your mind. Or you can read things that will help you. I just did a script that has Pride and Prejudice as one of its themes . . . I read the book a zillion times, and I did a kind of outline of the book, and in the end I used absolutely none of it except maybe the first six chapters. But the point is you do something, whether or not it’s the actual writing. When I work with my sister Delia, we outline everything we’re doing. Completely. The outlines are endless, at least fifty pages long. But when I write by myself, I almost never have an outline; I just do it. I know the structure. I know the beginning, the middle, the end.
Consult with others regarding your writing and learn from people in the know.
The only way to learn is to keep doing something new, and, if you’re lucky, learning with people who really know how to do it. People who will say, “No, no, no! Let’s turn this scene over,” or “Let’s try this, let’s do that, let’s talk about breakups so we can make this breakup better.”
When the writing isn’t coming and life is difficult, Ephron encourages writers to mine these moments. She says, “Any catastrophe is good material for a writer.”
Some kids are already out of school and in a month, summer is in full swing. Most writers will have to ink out words around changing schedules, vacations, and shuffling children to activities. Bill Ferris offers a how-to-guide on finding time to write. He recommends carrying a notebook everywhere. This is important, especially in the summer, because there are so many things to juggle and you think you don’t have time write. Don’t fall into that trap.
The blank page of a new notebook is a vacuum that will suck the words out of you, which is a natural and not-gross way to think about writing. The great thing about carrying a notebook is that it’s a constant reminder to focus on your craft. You used to only feel Writer’s Guilt while you were squandering your free time after the kids went to bed.
Another way to find more time to write is to use your spare moments by writing and not succumbing to the vortex of social media.
Those few minutes you normally use to check Twitter or drive to work? Those are ideal times to jot down ideas. Every time you check Twitter, exercise your prose muscles by writing at least one tweet first. During your morning commute, open up your phone’s voice-recorder app and craft a tragic narrative as you rehearse all the arguments you’d like to have with your ex if only the moment was right.
Plan your schedule in advance. If you know some days will be busy, then find pockets of time where you will carve out moments to write. Ferris offers a creative suggestion to finding time to write, especially when you overschedule yourself.
Make the most of your calendar to maximize writing time! Tally up the parties, literary events, and catch-up lunches you’ve scheduled with your friends. Then, for each one, write the excuse you’ll give when you cancel your plans so you can stay home and watch 90s music videos on YouTube.
Plan in advance, take advantage of spare moments, and every time you find yourself on social media, remember you could be writing.
Whether you’re a beginner or an advanced writer, it helps to have a supportive writing group. I’ve participated in writing critique groups, both in-person and online. They are helpful for edits, camaraderie, and appreciating different writing styles. How do you form a writing group? Suzanne Roberts offers helpful steps in choosing a writing group. She recommends limiting the number of people in the group.
My current group has three members, and because it’s the right three people, it works. I would say no more than four or five. Any more than that, and you will get too much conflicting feedback on your work. My group is comprised of teachers, writers, and editors, and we are already reading and commenting on lots of pages. Reading too many pieces will make your writing group feel like work. Also, because we are all busy, scheduling meetings. even with just three of us, is sometimes challenging.
Choosing the right people in your group is an important key in building a successful writing connection with others. It has to do with creating chemistry between writers and also enjoying their company, a crucial element in an in-person group.
Choose writers whose work you want to read. . . The moral of the story is that great writers, and even great people, don’t always make a great group. Some of it’s alchemy, but keep trying until you get it right, because it’s worth it.
Try to set expectations and hard deadlines for the group. This creates built-in accountability and goals to sustain the group over a long period of time. Roberts implements page limits on submissions and a sets a time period to offer feedback.
We limit submissions to 20 pages, with a one-week window to read each other’s work. We sometimes ask the group if we can send additional work for feedback between meetings, which is super helpful, especially when we are on deadline. Also, be sure every member of the group has something important to contribute at the meetings and retreats beyond feedback and critique.
Two additional points Roberts make are also important for a critiquing writing. Try to find writers who are in a similar place as you in writing and goals. Also, avoid the jealous or dramatic writing person – these people are toxic and deplete the morale of the group. Writing groups are important but it takes time to build these connections. Don’t be afraid to leave a group when it isn’t working.
The Best Summer Books of 2019, Jeva Lange, The Week
Summer is here and that means more time to read a good book on the beach or during a quiet evening at home. The Week’s Jeva Lange offers a great list of nine recommendations for summer reading. Now is the time to compile your reading goals. Enjoy!
Have you read a compelling article about craft or the creative life that you think should appear in the next Writerly Roundup? Please send links to lmblogcontact (at) literarymama (dot) com—we’d love to hear your input!