Monday, October 8, 2012

The ABCs of Writing: An Idiosyncratic List

Sheila Curran

A is for THE ARTIST’S WAY by Julia Cameron (Also, Anxiety)
B is for BIRD BY BIRD by Ann Lamott (See Anxiety.)
C  is for conflict: causing our protagonist to fear losing what s/he already knows and loves to attain his/her heart’s deepest, fondest wish
D is for ditching distraction (the Web, laundry, HGTV, dustballs, doorbells.)
E is for Exercise (every day, at least 40 minutes), also Entertainment (your sacred troth to the reader).
F is for Fending off critics, especially the worst bitches inside your brain.
G is for Gardiner, John, THE ART OF FICTION
H is for Harm’s way, where your protagonist needs to be
I is for Ignoring the critics and Inventing your own rules
J is for "Just F*&%KING Do It" (every day, same time of day, for at least one hour, ideally at least four.)
K is for keeping your contract with the reader: don’t bore, don’t preach, don’t puncture the fictional dream (See G,THE ART OF FICTION)
L is for listening to your characters: They will tell you where to go. (Don’t pretend you’re deaf if what they’re insisting is going to throw a wrench into your pre-conceived plot.)
M is for Movies.  They can teach you a lot more about story than anything else
N is for NOT reading FACEBOOK, EMAILS, THE NEW YORK TIMES until your work is done
O is for OPPOSITION: it’s the stuff of conflict and drama
P is for placing the seat of your pants in the seat of your chair, every single day
Q is for quirks, that endear or estrange
R is for READING, anything and everything, unless you’re the one in a hundred who doesn’t read and still produces brilliant fiction
S is for STORY by John McPhee  (Also Screenplays, which teach you more about fiction than most books on writing)
T is for Taking risks.
U is for Up-ending expectations  
V is for villians, both subtle and scary
W is for wanting: your characters must want something, ideally generating contradictory goals, causing Warfare, small w.
X is for X-RATED: let go of conventions: embrace your inner rebel   
Y is for yearning, about which Robert Olen Butler has quite a bit to say in FROM WHERE YOU DREAM, edited by Janet Burroway.
Z is for zingers in your dialog, zig-zags in your plot, zest in your characters, zip in your pacing, zen in your writer’s fragile ego, and maybe a few zeros after the digits of your first advance.

Sheila Curran is the author of EVERYONE SHE LOVED and DIANA LIVELY IS FALLING DOWN.   


  1. This is such a clever post! Really enjoyed it.

  2. Thanks Karin! It was nuttin' compared to yours.

  3. Today I need to observe the rules for D, J, N, and P and get back to work! Thanks for the fun.

  4. She, if you want to change your "K" ... I have a filthy knock knock joke. Love julz.

  5. Very cool abcedarian list! I particularly appreciate what you did with the usual thorny J-Q-X-Z issue.