path of the storyteller / blog

You don’t need to save it all.


True fact: I rarely leave a restaurant without a box of leftovers tucked under my arm.

I’m not sorry about it, either. I never like to let food go to waste. Even if there’s only a little bit left, it’s enough to pop in an omelette, or throw on top of a pasta, right?

And isn’t that how many of us treat our writing, too?

We hate to cut stuff. We worked so hard on those bits! Surely there’s a place to use them. Into the refrigerator they go.

And if we’ve been working on something for a while—maybe it’s our first whack at a novel—we hate, hate, hate to admit that it might not be workable at all.

One more rewrite? Ten? We know we can save it!

“Waiter, bring me a box to put this messy draft of a novel in! I don’t want any of it to go to waste.”

Now listen, dear storyteller. I have news for you.

Most of our work is not our best work.

In fact, most of our actual writing labor will never see the light of day at...

Continue Reading...

Revision is a writer’s best friend

revision Jan 17, 2023

Twenty-five years ago, I lived in a little run-down house in Brooklyn my then-husband and I bought for a song.

Seriously, people pay more for cars these days then we paid for that house. 

Life happened, things changed, and the house was sold. It seemed like the best thing to do at the time. 

My daughter likes to keep track of it, though. Last year she sent me the real estate listing:

SOLD! For..... two and half million dollars.

Even typing that makes me sigh. 

Woulda! Coulda! Shoulda! Everybody’s got a story of something they wish they could go back in time and do differently. This is the clarity that hindsight gives us. 

In life, we don’t get do-overs. 

But in writing, we do. The chance to go back and revise our work is not simply a happy option writers enjoy, but a central part of our process.

In today’s livestream, I want to talk about revision. Why is it so important—and so misunderstood?


Continue Reading...

Revision has a reason

revision May 09, 2022

Last week in the Storytellers’ Circle weekly coaching session, I offered a quick lesson in revision that was inspired, once more, by George Saunders’ marvelous book of essays, A Swim in the Pond in the Rain. 

Saunders offers close reads of some well-loved Russian short stories with the intent of illuminating what good writing is and does. What’s not to like about that? I love the book and recommend it. But I did find myself stumbling over one section.

After offering before-and-after versions of the same sentence, one of which is clearly better than the other, Saunders explains how he knows it's better: He prefers it. 

Now, even as a kid I was never a fan of “because I said so” as a reason for anything. So this caught my eye right away!

And Saunders is not being glib, either. He’s reporting back from within his own writing and revision process, and urges other writers to be similarly observant and responsive...

Continue Reading...

How much is too much? Compress your prose for maximum impact!


This time of year, even the most disciplined among us can become prone to excess.

We do too much, we plan too much, we eat too much, we spend too much.

In our writing, too, we want to make sure we give our readers “enough.” As we revise our drafts to increase reader satisfaction, is it any wonder we’re inclined to add more stuff? More vivid description, more witty banter, more plot twists, more character development?

But does this actually make things better?

In a word, nope!

One of the most important things we do in revision is to compress the prose. We pare things down so the glitter of story energy can shine brightly, instead of being buried under a heap of crumpled wrapping paper we don’t want or need.

How to pare down our prose during revision is the topic of this week’s livestream. Practical decluttering tips in store!

I hope you find the perfect sweet spot for finding peace and joy this holiday season. Not too much, not too little, but...

Continue Reading...

revising like a pro


I’m in a cheery writing mood this week. It’s because I'm putting the finishing touches on a new manuscript. Huzzah!  

Revision is something I truly enjoy. It’s when we writers finally get the satisfaction of seeing the book work! Sentence by sentence, chapter by chapter, revision is when we sharpen the storytelling, tighten the screws, and make sure every syllable is earning its place on the page. 

Productive revision gives us the pleasure of finishing a puzzle. Things fall into place. The vessel becomes watertight, ship-shape.  

Drafting is our messy mudpie process. It’s for us. Revision is when we make it work for the reader. 

Which leads me to share this hard truth about revision: Revision is when your level of mastery is revealed.

Why? Because you cannot revise by ear.  

To revise, you need technique. You need a way of knowing with certainty whether the storytelling is crystal clear and...

Continue Reading...

close, closer, closest


When it comes to the space between our readers and our stories, getting close is what we want.

How close? Closer than you think! But how do we “close the distance” between reader and tale?

This question of distance is one of those dare-I-say advanced topics in writing craft that is often woefully misunderstood—so often, in fact, that well-meaning agents and editors have been known to give terrible advice about it.

I’ll talk about that more in this week’s livestream about zooming in.

My weekly livestream happens on Wednesdays at 1 PM Pacific. Come live and participate! Or catch the replays here on the blog.

To watch live and ask questions, you can join the Path of the Storyteller Facebook group right here.

And subscribe to the YouTube channel here. 

Continue Reading...

what to leave out


Everybody’s talking about Hemingway this week.

Well, maybe not everybody. But many of us who think deeply about writing have the new three-part PBS documentary about the life and work of influential 20th century American novelist, Ernest Hemingway, on the watch list.

Hemingway started out as a newspaperman, and his voice as a short story writer and novelist was noted for its punchy minimalism.

That makes this a good week to talk about brevity. Compression. The art of leaving stuff out.

Many writers know that “cutting” is part of revision, but it’s not always easy to know what to cut. Let’s discuss.

My weekly livestream happens on Wednesdays at 1 PM Pacific. Come live and participate! Or catch the replays here on the blog.

To watch live and ask questions, you can join the Path of the Storyteller Facebook group right here.

And subscribe to the YouTube channel here. 

Continue Reading...

the messy art of revision


[live broadcast starts at about 1:00. Feel free to zip to it by dragging the little dot on the video playbar!]

We writers tend to have a love-hate relationship with revision. We can fall down a deep rabbit hole of tinkering with our draft to the point where it turns into procrastination — or we judge ourselves harshly for writing drafts that are imperfect to begin with.

This livestream dives deep into why revision is so necessary and so challenging. Some takeaways: 

  • where the secret wish to "get it right the first time" comes from
  • why significant revision is inevitable
  • how lucky we are to be writers, not sculptors!

In the follow-up questions, we talk further about the unrealistic beliefs that trip us up. Lots to ponder here! 

Remember: I’ll be broadcasting live on Facebook and YouTube every Wednesday at 1 PM Pacific. Tune in for frank talk about writing. If you can show up live, you can ask questions, too.  Links...

Continue Reading...

keep your distance

Like the dead mouse your cat proudly drops at your feet, 2020 has offered a number of unasked-for gifts. Fashion masks. The return of the shag haircut. Zoom school. And a new phrase: Social distancing.

Did you ever hear it or say it before this year? Me neither. Ever curious, I looked it up. It turns out “social distancing” was first used back in 2003 at the time of the SARS epidemic, although no one in particular is credited as the author of the term.

The World Health Organization apparently finds the phrase regrettable, and would like us to think of physical distancing instead, since that’s the real message. To prevent the spread of COVID-19, you can socialize all you want; just not in person.

In our writing, narrative distance is one of those writing craft topics too often overlooked. Here’s the question to ask, and you have to answer it sentence by sentence: What distance have you put between your...

Continue Reading...

dirty dishes

Writing is a paradoxical pursuit. It requires us to be wildly, freely imaginative, and meticulously disciplined about how we express those imaginings.

It sounds like the old rubbing-your-tummy-while-patting-your-head-trick. Luckily, we don’t have to do those jobs at same time. There is the drafting hat, and there is the revising hat.

When we’ve got the drafting hat on, we must (must!) drop our attachment to writing drafts that are "good.” We must suspend judgment and be willing to spew raw matter onto the page. We must do quite a bit of this, to sniff out the character and her need, and unearth the shape of the  story we want to tell. Much of our drafting will take place in this freewheeling mode of discovery.

I call it the messy mudpie stage. A writer should stay in this mode for as long as she needs to be there. But at some point during the first draft, or perhaps after it’s complete, it’s time to take off the mud-splattered...

Continue Reading...

50% Complete

storytelling is golden

Welcome to Path of the Storyteller, where writers come to level up. Please add your info below, click the button, and let the adventure begin!