Suzanne Writes a Story: So it begins…

Okay, so you know how I’m always sharing tips on writing and encouraging you to get that book written? Welllll….I’m done talkin’ and I’m going to start walkin’.  And get THIS…I’m going to write a novel!

Yes, I know, you say, but wait, aren’t you only a non-fiction gal? Well, I’m working with non-fiction authors, yes, but from youth on through college I actually did mostly creative writing. I wrote poetry, short stories (some were even published in little hoity-toity literary journals), and even playscripts. In those days, I thought the only natural outcome of my life as a writer was to write a novel. Even when I was in j-school and working for a newspaper, I still wrote fiction.

As it happened, my first book length manuscript turned out to be non-fiction, as did my second. But it’s time, the muse has hit, I have a developmental editor (and she’s amazing…thanks for the recommendation, Laura Stanfill!) and I’m well and truly in it.

I’d like to share experiences, enlightenments and resources with you while on this journey, first because it’s what I do, and second, because maybe if I tell you I’m doing it, you can keep me honest, and on it.

The first pearl of wisdom

Ron Carlson, short story writer, walks you through his creative process for writing one of his best-known short stories, The Governor’s Ball. If you’re afraid to put pen to paper before you have it all worked out, this is a must-read!!!

So the first thing I’ve learned about my editor/sherpa Shari is that she’s an experienced bibliotherapist. She listens to me and then says, “Okay, here’s something you might want to read…” And each time, boy has she got the RX right!

Last week I whined about how scared I was to put pen to paper until I had a plot, characters, setting and (of course) the ending ALL WORKED OUT. She smiled (and I’m not supposed to use adverbs, but I will anyway because she did it RUEFULLY, there’s just no other description that suits). She said, “You need to read this book.”

It’s to the right in that beautifully crafted photo I took.

If you can’t read it, it says: Ron Carlson Writes a Story: From the first glimmer of an idea to the final sentence, by Ron Carlson.
He describes it as “a story about a story.”

So I did. Brilliant. One of the most useful books on this subject I’ve ever read, it makes the best case for not having much more than a gram’s-weight of an idea before you pitch in. He urges you to become uncomfortable with the blank page, and resist the urge to go to the kitchen for another cup of coffee, or whatever distraction you can think up.

As Carlson writes, “Beginning a story without knowing all the terrain is not a comfortable feeling. It’s uncomfortable enough in fact to keep most people away from the keyboard.” I’d explained my version of this to Shari this way: “Everything I’ve been taught in business is to have a plan before you embark, you know, ‘fail to plan; plan to fail’ and all that. And I have failed. Even with a plan. So now I have this fear of starting without knowing as much as I possibly can.”

“Yes, well that’s why art isn’t business,” she said.

And with those words, and this book, I started to experience it. Art is what happens when you allow yourself to be free of the need to know. Where, instead,  you let imagination and life experiences work their way through the rivers of your subconscious to your conscious, where they emerge on paper (or screen) and let you consider them. I’m going to experiment and see what happens.

Take-Away Pearls…

Another view of Carlson’s book, after reading.

A few of my favorite quotes from the book:

“If you consider the audience of your story to be anyone other than yourself, you are inviting compromise.”

“The outer story is the motor of your story, and the inner story is the freight.”

“A character is what he or she does.”



So I’m off on my journey, and I hope you’ll keep me company.


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