So You Want to Write: Marge, Ira, and *Me

Marge and Ira (authors of So You Want to Write) are now my colleagues. I feel like we’ve been in this long conversation. We laugh. We argue. We high five. I skipped all around the book. I started the “beginnings” chapter only to quit it half way through because I needed to know what was in the chapter about things writers shouldn’t do. And then of course I had to go on to the humor chapter. I eventually went back to beginnings and was glad I did. I am still wondering why I saved the technique chapters for last. I want to know about characterization, plot, and dialogue, don’t I?

I think I became attached to Marge and Ira because they said, “Do not quit your day job if you want to write.” They said all you need is one hour of focused writing. They said if you have more, you will only goof off. They know me well. I spend all of a typical day that I do not have to teach or attend meetings reading, sleeping, exercising, worrying, cleaning (OK, this is on rare occasions), planning, corresponding---until that magic hour. The magic hour can come at anytime. All of a sudden I feel this urge to write and I have to do it. I have to do it until something stops me, like picking Z up from school. If the magic hour is still there when we return, I get back to work. If not, I don’t. I like Marge and Ira because they tell me to stop feeling guilty about all that time I spent reading and sleeping (OK, I’ve also been known to visit a movie theatre during nonmagic hours) and run like the wind (or write like it) when the magic happens.

Other things I got from So You Want to Write: How to Master the Craft of Writing Fiction and Memoir by Marge Piercy and Ira Wood:

• If you want to write about someone you know, change the setting, time period, description of the person, but keep the essence of the feeling.

• Don’t worry about your first line. Instead, focus on the initial situation. Focus on what’s going on in the beginning that will keep readers reading.

• Don’t forget to put a header on your pages and number them before submitting to a publisher.

• Even when an author gets $100,000 dollars for a book, by the time everyone gets their cut, she might be lucky to get $5,000 per year based on the number of years it took to produce the book. In other words, the writing has to be about more than money.

• Writing is a business.

• If you want to be read, you must share your words and your time.

*I think “me” sounds alliterative.