Monthly Archives: January 2013

Origin Story

Seeing as how we’re at the outset of this whole podcasting endeavor, I’ve been thinking a lot about beginnings — how an inciting incident is so essential to a character’s journey, or how a first sentence can make the difference between someone buying a book and putting it back on the shelf. Where we start can tell us a lot about where we’re going, yet as a writer of short fiction, I realized I had no idea what was considered the first modern short story ever written.

According to this guy, it seems to be Sir Walter Scott’s “The Two Drovers,” published in his book Chronicles of the Canongate in 1827. The story (which you can read here) is a morality play about Scottish Highlander Robin Oig M’Combich and Englishman Harry Wakefield, who enjoy each other’s company enough, despite their differences, to herd cattle across their countries’ borders together. They run into trouble when Robin convinces an English squire to let his cattle graze on the squire’s land, pushing Harry’s cattle off the land in the process (though that part was unbeknownst to Robin). Harry’s sore about this and beats down Robin in a pub that night, though Robin, pride wounded, comes back later and stabs Harry to death for the insult. Basically, it’s act one of a Nicholas Sparks book, before Robin would go on the lam, meet a beautiful woman, tell her something sweet while they’re standing in the rain, and then have to confront his past to be with her.

While I was reading, I jotted down a few thoughts: Continue reading

What I Had Forgotten About Writing Groups

Four years after grad school — four years with very little new fiction to show for themselves — I joined a writing group. I had not been in a writing group since before the MFA (shout out to Write Club San Diego!) and I had forgotten how valuable they are. Here’s what I’ve remembered:

Writing groups give you deadlines.
Let’s be honest: you’re a bad person. Your writer friends are out there cranking out stories and novels and your lazy ass would rather watch old Law and Orders than put words on the page. But when your turn comes up for writing group, you have no choice. You write a paragraph. It sucks. You write another one. It sucks too, but now you’re moving. You write a third. It doesn’t suck so bad. Why didn’t you do this weeks ago?

Writing groups recharge you.
In an earlier post, Jon gave a great introduction to Literary Citizenship, which we’ll be discussing in more detail on What I’m Trying to Say in the near future. It basically means instead of being a leech in the literary world (for example, trying to get published in journals you’ve never read) you attempt to at least become one of those sucker fish that occasionally eat some dirt off the shark (subscribe to a journal, write a note to an author, start an awesome podcast where you mention books you’ve read and enjoyed, etc.). A writing group is LitCit on a local level, and it’s just as symbiotic. You encourage and guide others in their writing, and even on nights when your work isn’t discussed, you walk out of the coffee shop wanting to write. Continue reading

What is Literary Citizenship?

The three of us had a lot of reasons for starting this podcast, but one of those reasons, I think, had something to do with “literary citizenship,” which is a fancy term for the way in which you participate in the community of writers.

I first heard the term from Cathy Day, who has a lovely set of guidelines for being a good literary citizen here. She’s even teaching an undergraduate course on the topic and has aggregated what other writers have had to say. For instance, Matt Bell, Anna Leahy, and Blake Butler.

The general theme is that a thriving community — comprised of writers, editors, professors, literary journals, bookstores, bloggers, general readers, and more — exists out there, and this community is a writer’s support network. And as in any community, you can be a good citizen or a bad citizen.

Why be a good literary citizen?

Sure, there are writers who succeed as lone wolfs. Thomas Pynchon is the obvious example, or maybe the late William Gay, or Cormac McCarthy before he went Hollywood. But most of us are not these lone geniuses. Continue reading

What I’m Trying to Say: Writing Podcast Coming Soon

Greetings! Welcome to What I’m Trying to Say, a weekly podcast about the writing life. Hosted by fiction writers Jon, Brian, and Ben, What I’m Trying to Say is a virtual barroom chat about what we’re writing, what we’re reading, and how we can do it all better.

New episodes will be released every Monday (or close to it). Each week, we’ll check in to see how our own writing is going, discuss an issue related to craft or the writing life, compare notes on a piece we’ve all read, and recommend other good things to read. Occasionally, we’ll also interview other writers, prolific readers, and bookish types. You can check this page for new episodes and a list of stories or journals (most available online) we’ll be reading for future episodes.

In addition to the show, this blog will be updated regularly. Topics will include publishing industry news, micro-essays on craft, book reviews, writing exercises, recaps of our biggest triumphs and most spectacular failures, and some wolf-like baying at the moon. So keep an eye on this page and put it on your RSS feed.

We hope you’ll join us for all of it.

Got something to say? Email us at witts {at}

Be sure to follow us on Twitter @WITTScast.