Friday, December 17, 2010

Do What You Do Well

On the other hand, continuing with my last post about story being the poor cousin to other elements of fiction and beautiful prose being sort of the prince or princess among them, if I could write beautiful prose, I would. I think I can write clever prose. There are many excellent writers who write great and powerful books whose language is not extraordinary. It’s always good, mind you, but not the main way they get their power. I would say that’s true of most writers really.

I think what you have to do is figure out what you do well and make that work for you. I think what bothered me in graduate school was how many of my classmates focused on language to the neglect of story and other elements of fiction. The truth was maybe one or two could write beautiful prose (and this was in a large group of talented writers). Most just didn’t have that gift. But instead of struggling to develop what gifts they did have they got caught up on language because that was what all the teachers praised most.

I was lucky. I got more than my share of praise and attention in my MFA program. But I think sometimes teachers and others might actually slow down development. Yes, we always have to try new things as writers. Yes we have to push ourselves. But we are what we are, too. Whatever talents or skills we can use to make our writing powerful and entertaining should be used.

And with that I wish you good writing and a happy holiday. I’m taking a little blog break until after New Years.

If you’re bored and looking for some writer talk, here’s a new page on my website with blog interviews I’ve done recently on Aliens and Writing. http://www.brianyansky.comblog-tour2010.html

Finally, I thought I’d try asking if any of you have questions or topics you’d like me to write about. I’d be happy to give my two cents on any topic I’ve got two cents worth of comments to make. Leave a comment here or at any future post or email me at if any topics or questions come to mind.

Thanks for reading,


Saturday, December 11, 2010


In Austin, Texas, it gets hot in the summer. You can fry an egg on the pavement. You can cook a whole five-course meal. If you stand in one place too long, you start smoking. Hot.

How do you get that heat in writing? Everything has to be working in your writing and that includes the oft maligned element, story.

Story isn’t easy. People realize it’s hard to write well, to use language well. It’s hard to develop character, create an interesting setting, etc.. But story doesn’t really get its due. It lives in the worst fictional neighborhood and isn’t invited to the fictional elements’ parties. Its job is undesirable. It’s the garbage collector of fiction.

Story is, in fact, seriously undervalued, particularly in MFA programs (at least that was my experience and seems to be the experience of many others). A lot of writers who write beautifully fail miserably because they have no story to tell or what faint story they do have to tell isn’t told well. They expect us to read their work because they write pretty sentences.

I’m here to tell you—pretty sentences aren’t enough( even though I love beautiful writing). You need all the elements of fiction, including story, to be working. I need them anyway—I need all the help I can get.

Saturday, December 4, 2010


Technique is important. Learning craft is important. But it isn’t enough. Of course you have to learn what you can, and then you have to bury it in your subconscious and find a way to get to that place when you’re writing. But there are times when you should ignore technique, ignore your hard won techniques of craft, in favor of intuition.

Intuition is highly undervalued in our culture. We want to know the steps to accomplishing a goal. We want to reason our way to success. It just doesn’t work that way in writing. Prescriptions for success in writing are published all the time, so why don’t we have more great books? Successful people in many other fields, very smart people sometimes, who read these prescriptions for success, try writing fiction and are surprised and disappointed they don’t work. Why aren’t more of these people who are accomplished in other fields published? Why aren’t more of them writing spectacular fiction?

Because there is no formula for writing a good novel.


Writing is intuitive in many ways. You find what works for you through trial and error, study of craft, hard work, luck, but there is always an aspect of writing that remains mysterious. Sometimes you have to take chances. Sometimes you just have to trust your intuition.

Or so I think today.