Not Just Writing, but Writing Well

I’m flipping through the notebook from my novel-writing studio this semester led by James Sallis. Just pages and pages of scrawled notes. Some of them are marked with asterisks. I put those by the bits of Sallis Wisdom I especially need to remember as I write.

Today, I’m sharing them with you. Got your own notebook ready? Here they are.

Write every scene as though it’s the most important scene in the book.

Weigh down every moment until it groans under the weight of its significance.

Avoid the obvious.

Appeal to the reader’s senses.

Think poetry: every line, every word counts.

Leave space for the reader by suggesting rather than stating.

Ramp up the language in the housekeeping scenes. Don’t just say “he picked up the pencil”; make the language do as much work as possible.

When in doubt, try the melody.

Write what’s around the story to create the entire picture.

Create habitation for the inchoate feelings we all feel; your work is the expression of the things we cannot say.

Keep the magic happening on the edges; don’t look right at it or it loses its power.

Use specific details.

Cast a light on your character and then change the lighting to reveal more about them as the work progresses.

If the reader notices what you’re doing, you’re not doing it right.

Good stuff, no? Just a few reasons why I keep signing up for his class. It not only keeps me writing, but keeps pushing me to write well.