New Year's Writing


Mywritinglife1.1 So many of us write New Year’s lists: what we’d do if we could. The people I know (many of us WEbookers are in this category, too) often write a variation of this sentence: I will write this year, if I can. If I find the time. If I had a place to write.. A better job. If my son/daughter were a little older. Graduated from high school. College. Law School. If I had more money. A better job.  If I didn’t have to take care of my aunt. My mother. My diabetes. If I were thinner or fatter. If only I had a new computer.

Nora Roberts, the remarkable and not uncomplicated writer who generates book after book, said in The New Yorker this summer, when asked for writing advice: Put your ass in the chair.
I have read many writing books. In fact, I’m addicted to them, although I know that no one even me can tell you how to write. I’ve read Anne LaMott and Brenda Euland, Stephen King and John Irving, Dorothea Brande and Annie Dillard: all experts, in different ways, of how to write. And I’ve taught writing, for years. Or tried to. But I’ve never heard such succinct and practical advice. To be a writer is to write. To write is to sit in one place – the circumstances don’t matter, even a little. The room could be a dark small warren crowded with pizza boxes or a villa on top of the Tuscan Hills. What matters, and all that matters, is putting words right down on the page. One of my favorite writing book authors, Peter Elbow (what a name: Peter Knee, Peter Shoulder, not nearly as succinct) talks eloquently about how you have to write many words, inane flat words, to get to those words that sing.
Buy a new notebook, if that’s part of your ritual, or a ream of Staples paper. And begin. That’s all. Just begin. Remember that you are not Leo Tolstoy or Joyce Carol Oates, and that’s a good thing.
For so many years now, as one of the ways I’ve earned a living, I’ve helped people, friends and strangers, write their books. The way I’ve helped, in weekly sessions that sometimes lasted for years, is just by being there as a reader, repeating over and over again that writing is what matters. Writing anything and everything. Dreams and journals often help writers find the story they want to tell. All writing is stories. If we’re lucky, if we practice and try and don’t give up,  if we listen carefully, pay attention, and live as fully as we can, our stories will be good enough to tell one another, somehow. I await all the stories, all the unexpected sentences, that WEbook writers will create, in 2010.

Many words to you all..

Esther Cohen shares her writing life on the WEbook blog and  teaches Good Stories at Manhattanville College. She’s the author of 5 books,
Book Doctor, Don’t Mind Me And Other Jewish Lies, and God is a Tree. Read more about Esther's Writing Life.


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  1. So tell me, what is the correct presentation of a monologue? I'm going to hunt on the web, but perhaps you could help me with this. Here's the deal.....
    I have a blog with a bunch of stories, true stories, in it and people say they're good. I was telling a couple to an actor yesterday at work, and as he left he commented that this one and that one would be good to use in auditions, would I mind if he used them. He had of course heard my presentation of them. In each there are 2 or more voices used.
    So I'm thinking, I'd need to describe the type of vocal presentation of the various voices. I can do that just fine, but is there a particular way it's done? Without the right vocal presentation, they're not nearly as funny, the couple he liked anyhow.
    I don't have trouble sitting in front of my laptop, I have trouble getting around to washing the dish's on my days off.

  2. Very well said. I have most often found that I have the worst excuses for why this isn't the year to write, when I know deep down writing is what I really want to do. Thank you for reminding me.

  3. Do you know the order of colors and flavors in a package of Chuckles? I have been eating Chuckles lately, with much compositional analysis as I chew, that is I imagine writing about Chuckles candy as I walk and chew...
    Some of you may not even know what I'm talking about. "Chuckles" is a brand of candy that goes back -- well, let's see... ok, I now know -- Google mirabile -- that the candy was invented in 1921 by Fred W. Amend, who'd been in the candy business some 45 years by then. Anyway, it's a "jelly" candy, quite squishy but not at all liquid, and it has a fairly delicate coating of ordinary sugar. It was a familiar candy in my childhood, along with Jujubes, and Dots, and all those others -- I could go on at length about all the candies I was familiar with in different cities and settings.
    Well, anyway, Chuckles has had always in my experience five pieces, each a different "flavor" and color. I put "flavor" in quotes because it would be pretty easy to eat the whole pack up without noticing any difference between one piece and another. It's very easy to eat candy carelessly in that way, to really not notice it at all, as you gobble the thing up, needing, maybe, only the sugar rush. You put an M&M in your mouth and savor that hard candy shell and the cheap chocolate beneath, but pretty quickly you've put twenty in your mouth and right away another twenty. Savoring? I don't think so.
    Anyway, and to spare you the suspense, the flavors, starting at the 'C' in "Chuckles" are Cherry, Lemon, Licorice, Orange, and Lime. The colors being Red, Yellow, Black, Orange, and Green. Blindfolded, the only taste you'd be sure to recognize would be the licorice. The Chuckles people could sell a little spinoff of exclusively licorice Chuckles, or so I say, who am not a tradesman. Sales strategy and the tastes of buyers are not my expertise. "Dots," another much chewier "jelly" concoction tried for a while to sell their licorice incarnations apart, as "Black Crows," but I believe those are no longer available...
    Next question: in what order should these be eaten? Well, there is no "correct" answer, although I think most people eat it from green to red, or red to green, in the order they emerge from the package tray. It would be very odd, I think, to start with, say, licorice, and move on to cherry, and so on... Maybe if you spilled it out into a bowl or onto a plate, but candy such as this is for on the go munching, not some sort of dessert, I think. Or in a movie theater. Yes, candy such as this is very appropriate to movie viewing...
    For a while I ate from Green to Red, taking this as the traffic light sort of thing, START eating with green and STOP with the red, and I did this for a while but pulled myself together to say, I'd really rather start with the cherry, because its taste is just that much more distinct... The trick in going through a packet of Chuckles is to actually consider the taste of each piece... it's not actually easy. Glub, glub. What was that?

  4. Well, I had meant to add this at the bottom of the "Chuckles" comment, preceding this comment:
    So, now I've followed Esther's advice and written, and written on a theme I've been considering for a while. Of course the character emerges in the narrator's voice; we shall see how the plot develops, in 2010.

  5. I was watching Much More Music on New Year's Eve and they had a special called "Retro Dance Party", it was in pink writing on a white background. Could you please tell me which songs were on the show, if not all then as many as you know. Please and thank you!


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