random

Rewriting “The Piano Teacher” for stronger scenes

Yesterday I came to the end of The Piano Teacher by Janice Y. K. Lee. It’s an intriguing read, and highly suspenseful—but among other things, it has reminded me of John Gardner’s injunction that actions in a scene should nearly always be described in chronological order. This is a point of craft I regularly teach [...]

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My favorite ellipsis

Last night in the essays class I teach at NYU’s School of Continuing and Professional Studies, the subject of ellipses came up. In a story, an ellipsis consists of leaving something out. The “something” can be anything from a few words to entire events. Unless we are reading quite technically, we usually only notice an [...]

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Samuel R. Delaney on doubt in writing

Reading the excerpt below makes me think of how difficult yet rewarding it must be to peel and eat a durian, that strange fruit found only in southeast Asia, and guarded by not only a foul odor but a thick husk of thorns. The excerpt comes from an essay by the science fiction writer, literary [...]

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Writing Memoirs and Reportage: Camera, or Participant?

If you’re writing a memoir or other form of first-person nonfiction, you must decide from the outset: do you want to be a camera, or a participant? If you’re a camera, you’ll see everything that happens and relay it to your readers in great detail—yet at the same time, you’ll play down or even conceal [...]

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How to combine story and idea in an essay

Why write a personal essay? One reason is that few other forms allow a writer to combine story and idea, action and thought; in short, to not only relate incidents from your life, but to muse about the implications. The question is, how to do this so that it works? You might think that an [...]

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Essays by Grossman and Pamuk

Not really book reviews, just quick notes -

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Wayne Dyer vs. The Best American Spiritual Writing 2007

I have never been religious, but like so many other people I wish often that I had faith. By faith I mean a sense of transcendence, of connection, of the world being more than a junkyard filled with quarreling humans or a machine to be explained by scientists. A world bigger than our definitions of [...]

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No plum blossoms for us

Something I’ve been musing about for awhile is the strange way we in the West, including many of us interested in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, choose to convert spiritual work into psychological work.

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Invalidation versus presence

Invalidation is what happens to us as kids when we’re told to control our emotions, especially negative ones—anxiety, fear, anger, and the like. This happens more in some families than in others. If it happens to you a lot, and if you’re emotionally vulnerable, you may well grow up and become self-invalidating, prone to constantly [...]

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ACT Observer Exercise

About a year or so ago, I came across a particularly neat-sounding exercise for Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, or ACT. It’s called “The Observer Exercise,” and it consists of a script for a therapist to read out loud to a client. The bare bones are pretty simple: the client sits in a relaxed, meditative pose [...]

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