So You Want to Write:
How to master the craft of writing fiction and personal narrative

Marge Piercy

In the ancient and very modern approach to spiritual energy and experience, the Qabalah, which is my discipline, we speak of developing the adult mind. For a writer that is particularly important. The adult mind can decide not to fuss like an adolescent because our work and our persons have experienced rejection. The adult mind can put victories and defeats into perspective. The adult mind can choose not to allow interference from the worries of the day, not to give way to irrelevant fantasies when trying to craft a meaningful fantasy. The adult mind has learned to focus and to retain focus for much longer. We can all have bad days and we can all be distracted: it is a matter of degree and how often we can combat our idiotic and self-regarding tendencies. p. 20

As Gershom Sholem wrote about the Qabalah long ago, much in the mystical experience is constant across culture but the forms it takes are culturally determined. Jews are more apt to hear voices uttering prophecy or see words than Christians, who usually see images. A Buddhist will not see the Virgin Mary; a Catholic mystic will not be vouchsafed a vision of Krishna or the Great Grandmother of Us All. We are all embedded and imbued, dyed through and through with our culture. p. 25

Poetry is an art of time, as music is. Rhythms are measured against time: they are measures of time. A poem goes forward a beat at a time as a dance does, step-by-step, phrase-by-phrase. Narrative, whether fiction or memoir, is about time. First this, then that. Or this – then before it was that. Therefore this. p. 27

We want stories that help us make sense out of our lives. We want to see all this mess mean something, even if what we discover is a shape perhaps beautiful but not necessarily comforting. p. 28

Shapelessness loses readers. p. 28

Never be afraid to get going on something. You can rework your beginning endless times. All writers do. You don”t have to have the perfect beginning to get to the middle – not at all. p. 35

I can give you three rules which if not golden are certainly useful. Do not confuse the beginning of the story with the beginning of events in the story. Never confuse the beginning of the story with how you begin to write it. No matter how cute or compelling or chic or gripping your beginning may be, if it does not lead to your story, be prepared to scrap it rather than distorting the entire book in the service of a good start. p. 37

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