The Mark Blog

The Only Thing Left

The thing about the end of The Mark Program is that I don’t know what comes next. Before this, there had been a number of logical steps: I completed my undergraduate degree, majoring in English; I participated in the PEN Center USA Emerging Voices Fellowship; I went to graduate school for creative writing; and, most recently, I got to be a part of The Mark Program, which is now coming to a close. The next step, I suspect, is not so structured or clear-cut. I’ve never done it before and I’m not sure how it’s going to work, but I sense that it requires giving myself time, space, and, most of all, creative freedom to let loose and do the one thing that’s left: finish writing my novel.

Last week, in my Final Review for The Mark Program, I had the privilege of discussing my novel-in-progress with the committee, comprised as usual of our instructor Antoine Wilson, advisor Rob Roberge, and Program Manager Libby Flores. During this hour-long conversation, I gleaned a lot of valuable feedback, including the illuminating advice from Antoine that I’ve already created a world, characters, and circumstances; now, in the latter portion of the novel, it’s time to let the will of the protagonist Lillian determine the outcomes of these dynamics. In other words, the events have occurred and Lillian must react and face the consequences. It sounds obvious but, to me, it wasn’t. Also, I’m encouraged by the fact that the committee members supported the developments in the narrator’s voice. The novel is more certain about the fact that it’s told by a 15-year-old and, as such, more fully embodies Lillian’s point-of-view than it was at the beginning of the program. In this way, the constructive criticism and positive support from The Mark committee is helping to make the journey between the current draft and the finished draft ever clearer and, simultaneously, less intimidating.

That’s not to say that I’m not afraid of the unknown. I am—while also knowing that I’m better equipped to face it than I was eight months ago. The Mark Program has forced me to know Lillian better, to ask and answer difficult questions, and to shape the present draft of Look Away so that it’s beginning, perhaps, to feel a tad like a real novel. From here, I’m going to give myself the creative freedom to take risks and write with openness and fluidity, into the unknown.

Lastly, thank you for reading my blogs for these past months. It’s been an honor to share with you and I hope we meet again on the page.

Bookmark This: George Saunders on Kindness

 

George Saunders gave a convocation speech at Syracuse University for the class of 2013. We love this speech about the importance and complexity of kindness. Here's an excerpt pulled from the 6th Floor Blog on the New York Times.

"Clear away everything that keeps you separate from this secret luminous place."

"Or, to look at it from the other end of the telescope: Who, in your life, do you remember most fondly, with the most undeniable feelings of warmth?

...Those who were kindest to you, I bet."

Read more here.

Writers' Reel: Joan Didion Short Film

Joan Didion will be awarded with PEN Center USA's Lifetime Achievement Award at the 23rd Annual Literary Awards Festival on October 14, 2013. Click here to find out more about the 23rd Annual Literary Awards Festival.

In this short film excerpt directed by Griffin Dunne, Joan Didion reads a selection from the first chapter of her memoir Blue Nights.

Bookmark This: Joan Didion on Creative Process

Joan Didion sat down with the Paris Review in 1977. In this great interview she talks about her process and the importance of a good first sentence.

DIDION

I need an hour alone before dinner, with a drink, to go over what I've done that day. I can't do it late in the afternoon because I'm too close to it. Also, the drink helps. It removes me from the pages. So I spend this hour taking things out and putting other things in. Then I start the next day by redoing all of what I did the day before, following these evening notes. When I'm really working I don't like to go out or have anybody to dinner, because then I lose the hour. If I don't have the hour, and start the next day with just some bad pages and nowhere to go, I'm in low spirits. Another thing I need to do, when I'm near the end of the book, is sleep in the same room with it. That's one reason I go home to Sacramento to finish things. Somehow the book doesn't leave you when you're asleep right next to it. In Sacramento nobody cares if I appear or not. I can just get up and start typing.

DIDION

What's so hard about that first sentence is that you're stuck with it. Everything else is going to flow out of that sentence. And by the time you've laid down the first two sentences, your options are all gone.

INTERVIEWER

The first is the gesture, the second is the commitment.

DIDION

Yes, and the last sentence in a piece is another adventure. It should open the piece up. It should make you go back and start reading from page one. That's how it should be, but it doesn't always work. I think of writing anything at all as a kind of high-wire act. The minute you start putting words on paper you're eliminating possibilities. Unless you're Henry James.

Read the rest here.

Writers' Reel: Interview With Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Today on The Mark Blog we have the only full version of an interview with the creator of Sherlock Holmes, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

"The two things that people always want to ask me...

...How I ever came to write the Sherlock Holmes stories... the other is about how I came to have psychic experiences..."

 

 

BOOKMARK THIS: PRODIGY ENVY

Bookmark this article from The Atlantic: Prodigy envy isn't a new thing. The article states, "Young writers have always been angsty about the ever-waning time left to become a literary wunderkind."

"The feeling of having hoped you'd be further along by age x is pretty common, whether the yardstick is in financial success or artistic achievement and critical acclaim (and often young writers aren't sure which they value more). This is evidently one of the reasons the coming of Girls has been such an emotional experience for viewers with literary or artistic aspirations: Character Hannah Horvath is going through a rough time becoming the "voice of [her] generation." But the star and the creator of the show, Lena Dunham, has just won her second Golden Globe Award, writes off and on for the New Yorker, and received a $3.7 million advance to write a book for Random House. She's 26. Jeez, what have the rest of us been doing?"

Read the full article here.

Writers' Reel: Footage of Mark Twain

Today on the Writers' Reel we have the only known film footage of Samuel Langhorne Clemens, also known as Mark Twain, best known for his novels The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Prince and the Pauper, and A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court

Bookmark This: Maya Angelou on Editing

Today on The Mark Blog Maya Angelou shares some funny and very wise unsolicited advice on editing. This excerpt was taken from her Paris Review interview in 1990.

The full interview can be found here. 

"I write in the morning and then go home about midday and take a shower, because writing, as you know, is very hard work, so you have to do a double ablution. Then I go out and shop—I'm a serious cook—and pretend to be normal. I play sane—Good morning! Fine, thank you. And you? And I go home. I prepare dinner for myself and if I have houseguests, I do the candles and the pretty music and all that. Then after all the dishes are moved away I read what I wrote that morning. And more often than not if I've done nine pages I may be able to save two and a half or three. That's the cruelest time you know, to really admit that it doesn't work. And to blue pencil it. When I finish maybe fifty pages and read them—fifty acceptable pages—it's not too bad. I've had the same editor since 1967. Many times he has said to me over the years or asked me, Why would you use a semicolon instead of a colon? And many times over the years I have said to him things like: I will never speak to you again. Forever. Goodbye. That is it. Thank you very much. And I leave. Then I read the piece and I think of his suggestions. I send him a telegram that says, OK, so you're right. So what? Don't ever mention this to me again. If you do, I will never speak to you again. About two years ago I was visiting him and his wife in the Hamptons. I was at the end of a dining room table with a sit-down dinner of about fourteen people. Way at the end I said to someone, I sent him telegrams over the years. From the other end of the table he said, And I've kept every one! Brute! But the editing, one's own editing, before the editor sees it, is the most important."

Writers' Reel: Rare Film Clips of Anne Sexton

Today's Writers' Reel is a video compilation of some of Anne Sexton's poetry readings alongside a few brief insights into the poet's life.

"It was (because of) her therapy that she started to write poetry, initially at the suggestion of her therapist. It was to prove her lifeline."

Bookmark This: Geoff Dyer on How to Write Fiction

 

"Writing is a natural process – we're all geared up to do it." - Geoff Dyer

Today's Bookmark is an article from The Guardian featuring Geoff Dyer and his tips on how to write fiction:

The great thing about this cat – the writing one – is that there are a thousand different ways to skin it. In fact, you don't have to skin it at all – and it doesn't even need to be a cat! What I mean, in the first instance, is feel free to dispute or ignore everything in this introduction or in the articles that follow. As Tobias Wolff puts it in his masterly novel Old School: "For a writer there is no such thing as an exemplary life … Certain writers do good work at the bottom of a bottle. The outlaws generally write as well as the bankers, though more briefly. Some writers flourish like opportunistic weeds by hiding among the citizens, others by toughing it out in one sort of desert or another."

To read the full article, click here.