Sunday, February 14, 2010

Dear Mike: Tell Me about The Writing Life

Reader Question: Will you always remember your very first acceptance into publication?

Mike: Not really. In fact, I’m having difficulty remembering it now. I think it was a story about a failed Olympic sprinter named Steve Williams for a small track & field magazine, but I’m not 100 % sure. Strange how I don’t recall, isn’t it? Although, after you’ve published nearly 10,000 stories—a rough estimate of my career output—you definitely blur on a lot of things.

Reader Question: Do you just start writing or outline your idea?

Mike: I think the proper way is to outline, because it clearly tells you where the story is going and prevents egregious ramblings on tangential points. But, please, do as I say, not what I do. I’ve tried hard to outline, many times, and it simply doesn’t work for me. My MO is this: As I’m working on a story, I’m constantly thinking of my opening and ending, and by the time I sit down to write, I usually have one or, hopefully, if I'm especially lucky, both. If I have both beginning and ending, I know I’m “in”; the story will write easily. If I have only the opening, that’s fine too. It jumpstarts me into the piece [BTW—My openings are often anecdotal and very sensual—meaning they include as many of the five senses as possible. I also like movement. The total impact: the reader is pulled right into the story.] If I only have an ending, I’m admittedly concerned, because I know the writing will be a struggle. In the rare case I have neither an opening nor ending, aside from falling into a sweaty panic, I know something’s wrong. I need to go back and research more, or interview more, or observe more.

Reader Question: What is your favorite genre to read?

Mike: That has changed so much over the years. Early on, when I thought I’d be a short story writer or novelist, I read nothing but classic literature. William Faulkner, Ernest Hemingway, John Dos Passos, John Steinbeck, Albert Camus, Leo Tolstoy, to name only a few. In one year, in fact, right after I left college, I read, believe it or not, over 300 short novels - all by the masters! Albeit reading them only to LEARN, not to ENJOY. I was around 20 then. I’d say in all the years since I haven’t read even 50 novels. I hardly read fiction at all anymore. My reading these days is isolated to a few major magazines (Sports Illustrated, Esquire, Time, The New Yorker, The New York Times Sunday Magazine), one NYC daily newspaper (I switch around from one to the other), and 3-5 nonfiction books (usually a biography or about world history).

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