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Writing Tips from Deena Goldstone, author of Surprise Me

Jun 21, 2016 Writing Tips

We know readers tend to be writers too, so we feature writing tips from our authors. Who better to offer advice, insight, and inspiration than the authors you admire? They’ll answer several questions about their work, share their go-to techniques and more. Now, get writing! 

What writing techniques have you found most important or memorable?

The most important thing I tell beginning writers (and myself whenever I’m struggling which is often) is to put one’s bottom on the chair every day and dedicate whatever hours you can to work. The daily commitment is more important than the amount of time you spend at it. For me, writing is a process that needs to be attended to, fed, and kept alive every day no matter how difficult or non-productive the time may seem. The struggle to write is part of the process, and often as you take a walk or a shower or fold laundry or drive to a meeting or any of the other mundane tasks we all do during a day, your creative brain will gift you with some insight or bit of dialog or the very answer to the problem you couldn’t solve that morning. But only if you keep the process alive by working every day.

How would you recommend creating and getting to your know your characters?

Write notes to yourself about your characters before you begin your work. Sit in front of the empty screen and write down whatever comes to mind – facts like how old they are, what the look like, but also random thoughts like whether they have nightmares or like physical exercise or what their favorite food is or whether they’re a dog person. Whatever comes to mind, whether it is germane to the story you’re telling or not. You have to know your characters (even the secondary ones) as well as you know the members of your own family. That knowledge will inform what they say and how they behave. It will make your characters particular and interesting and ultimately, if you know them well enough, THEY will tell you what they want to say and do.

What’s the best piece of advice you have received?

Surprise yourself when you’re writing.

Describe your writing style in 5 words or less.

Emotional and character driven.

What are three of four books that influenced your writing, or a had profound effect on you?

Well before I even contemplated becoming a writer, I read Doris Lessing’s novel, The Golden Notebook, and was astonished to realize that one could write a whole book about the intimate, mundane lives of women. I think it was the first time I realized that this territory was important enough to explore.

Amy Bloom taught me how to write about grief – the theme which unites the stories in my collection, Tell Me One Thing. In her story, Sleepwalking, from her collection, Where The God of Love Hangs Out, she writes about how the family members left behind deal with the death of their husband and father without ever mentioning grief or having people break down into emotional messes. It’s all in the behavior of the characters and is amazingly moving and restrained and powerful.

I was astonished when I read Elizabeth Strout’s novel, Olive Kitteridge, that it was possible to write a truly prickly, often unlikeable character and still create understanding and sympathy and connection to her. Strout helped me be bolder in writing my characters and certainly gave me permission to create Daniel, in Surprise Me, with all his idiosyncrasies and edges and flaws.

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