Author Archives: polanzak

Psychological Tests as Writing Exercises

Psychological tests are very weird and typically rely on verbal interpretation, two attributes that comprise a good writing exercise.

Rarely do products of writing exercises become anything substantial. Perhaps a line, an idea that can be expanded, but on the whole they are what they are: exercises. Practice. Necessary when you’re not performing, creating, inspiring yourself. At their best, these psychological tests as writing exercises get your brain going crazy, which allows you to do something new, which is what you want, isn’t it? Continue reading

Grant Hill’s draft and final version of NYT OpEd

Grant Hill wrote a New York Times OpEd response to Jalen Rose’s comments in the ESPN Documentary “The Fab Five.” He wrote his column, then, of course, he had to edit it, rewrite it. The editors at the Times tinkered with it. This is a fascinating discussion for NBA fans and also regular people.

Here is Grant Hill’s New York Times Piece.
Here is Grant Hill’s early draft.

There were space constraints, he says, but why remove this part instead of that part?


John Gardner, though deceased and personally unknown to me, is a cool dude. He has two somewhat well known books — the novel, Grendel, and the book on writing, The Art of Fiction. I happen to own a first edition of his excellent and out-of-print novel, The Sunlight Dialogues, which I have yet to have a conversation about, because no one’s heard of it, let alone read it. For the most part, people will know The Art of Fiction, a book from which I hi-jack an exercise for my classes. Continue reading

Installment One: 20-minute writing to specific playlist

Every now and again, I make a little mix of music to write to for twenty minutes. Sometimes, much longer. Here’s the latest one I made and wrote to. Reasoning for arrangement:

#1 — Little Dragon’s track is at first funky, which makes me think for a second that writing is also funky and fun. This helps to get things going with little pressure. I might even nod my head to the beat while I type. But the funkiness doesn’t last, neither in every part of the song nor in my writing-mind. The song shifts into a dreamy elliptical soundsphere, which carries my mind away a bit like hypnosis or drugs and makes me think of weirder stuff, makes my mind wander a bit. So, this one gets the creativity flowing slightly. Then, it fades out, and all I hear is the tapping of keys for five seconds until Continue reading

Pulling the Curtain

I’m working on a novoir — a novel/memoir — that’s about, well, my life. BUT! Much of this novoir focuses on writing, workshops, short stories, revising stories, telling the stories behind the stories, going to writing conferences, teaching writing, talking with writing professors, writing book reviews, and on and on. My life has involved a great deal of fiction. Which is weird, but it’s true. Here is a link to an excerpt from the book.

The excerpt talks about dealing with life through writing stories. Then it presents an entire short story that I wrote my final semester of grad school. Then it talks about why I wrote it; what I like about it; what I hate about it; why it works on a craft level; why I think it fails on other levels; and basically, I pull the curtain back on writing my short stories. Continue reading

David Foster Wallace has made my students yawn, and I think it’s making me mad

“Forever Overhead” by David Foster Wallace made me fall out of my chair when I first read it. In my late teens and twenties, it was the story I’d photocopy and hand to friends, saying: read this because it’s awesome and because maybe you’ll think I am a cool guy for introducing you to the story. And this worked, more or less, throughout college. College, where I now teach writing.

I give out certain stories to class because they are great examples of particular craft elements. One craft element is DETAIL. Sensory details — use all the senses to plant your readers in moments and scenes. Good writing tips are usually obvious ones: don’t just describe what things LOOK like, describe the sounds all around your characters, give details on scent and touch and taste. It sounds obvious that we live with five senses, so should the characters. But students nod and say: “Oh yeah…” Continue reading