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Spoiler Alert: It’s not “Show, Don’t Tell”

I’ve been a student of writing, or have attempted to teach it, for twenty years now. I’m at the point where I’ve now taught more workshops than I’ve been a student in, and yet I still feel like I’m constantly on the search for new gems of knowledge about writing to both share with my students, and use in my own practice.

I’m also intrigued at what I remember teachers and writers telling me, and how hungrily I consumed what they had to say. I think this is partly because we see the…

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How writing a second novel feels different than a first…

A friend told me they like the first novels of writers the best because they are always a bit messier, a bit more raw, more meandering in interesting ways. That is certainly true of my own writing. My first novel I did not undertake so much as I resisted admitting I was writing a novel until the weight of the story basically pinned me down into writing a novel. I didn’t plan ahead. I wrote according to my mood, and the characters I’d created, and I remember crying when I realized one of the characters would become more deeply entrenched…

When people have asked me what it has been like to release a book in the pandemic, lots of adjectives come to mind: Exciting, disappointing, nostalgic (for live readings), and yet thrilled over new types of virtual events — and the ability for my best friend who lives across the country to share in the big moment of the book launch.

In a year when there was so much lost, it seems silly to complain about the way your book will be affected, but I saw lots of writers on social media doing just that. And while I didn’t join…

Or: Is it possible to be a real writer when you have small children?

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I remember when I was a very young aspiring, dreamy-eyed writer and I read Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet, a beautiful little book given to me by a friend. Rilke says many things in these letters but what stuck with me was how much he talked about solitude. “What is necessary, after all,” he writes, “is only this: solitude, vast inner solitude.”

At the time I was filled with longing and a deep seriousness about writing, it felt to me a grave undertaking and I wondered if I would be able to have a family as a woman who…

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Six Professional “Don’ts” of Taking on a Novel for the First Time

Last week I told you all the personal adventures of writing my novel- but here is another take: what I learned about the actually writing and what I wished I had known from the get go.

1. Don’t try to write a novel that makes a point of being unclear. Only William Faulkner gets to do that. You are not William Faulkner. Tell your reader things like, what is happening in the plot, who on earth is narrating, and why there is a disembodied voice weaving its way through the story line. Withholding information deliberately from the reader at the…

The notes and drafts of my novel, Strange Children
The notes and drafts of my novel, Strange Children

(The memoir version)

1. Take a personal leave from your MFA program. Not for any real reason, other than that you’ve recently fallen so in love that you forgot to pay rent and started a small fire in your kitchen and so you’ve decided your time would be better spent living with said love three states away.

2. Go to a new coffee shop one day to get away from the triplex you live with your love since one neighbor’s dog whose name is Patrick barks all the time, and the upstairs neighbor is also named Patrick so someone is always yelling Patrick…

In some ways, what I learned from writing my first novel goes way beyond writing. It took ten years to finish and get published, and in that time, I got married, had two children, lost a dog/gained a dog, and moved six times. I feel like the lessons learned along the way apply to writing, but also to growing up. Have more discipline, I’d say to my past self if I could. Have more faith in yourself to complete this project. And like all things in young adulthood: Festina Lente. Make haste, slowly. …

Sadie Hoagland

Sadie Hoagland is the author of Strange Children and American Grief in Four Stages. She writes fiction and all sorts of other things.

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