The summer I was born in Brooklyn was the season of the caterpillar; so hot they emerged from the ground like a slow moving army and advanced on the buildings, pavements, tree trunks, and cars. Allen Ginsberg was writing “Howl” as Disneyland opened and Albert Einstein died.
Eleven years later I started writing poems. By age seventeen I had filled a couple of binders. In my early thirties I wanted to work in a longer format so I decided to go back to school for an MFA in fiction at Brooklyn College. I have to admit that my encounter with this thing called “story structure” was a bit of a shock. Still, I was determined to write “real stories about fake people,” and so I struggled with plot. (I still do.)
How I Write
Early on I worried that I was doing it wrong. But eventually, in reading other writers’ descriptions of how their stories came into being, I realized there really wasn’t a “correct” way. I know some writing teachers insist that you should not put pen to paper (or hands to keyboard) without an outline, or at least a synopsis of what you want to write about. I guess they believe this, and maybe they even write that way themselves. But when I teach fiction writing, I tell my students never to let anything stop them when they have an idea, or a snippet of dialogue, or a scene, or a character that excites them. This isn’t expository writing. It’s creative writing. And, like all creative urges, it cannot be explained in rational terms, and its processes cannot be restricted to rational processes. Creativity is a mystery, period. Might as well learn to accept (and enjoy) it. I do!