Developing a Writing Practice

March 1, 2007
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Developing a Writing Practice

A Monthly Column

by Rochelle Jewel Shapiro

March, 2007

Editor's Note: This month, Authorlink welcomes our new regular columnist, Rochelle Shapiro. Read about Rochelle below, and be sure to catch her column every month.

"The first step to getting published is to develop a daily writing practice.




When my novel was first published, I got a call from a neighbor. I thought she’d called to congratulate me. I felt so touched.

After a hello, she blurted out, “How can I get published?”

“Oh, I didn’t know you wrote,” I said.

“I don’t,” she replied.

I stood there, phone to my ear, silent, blinking. When I came out of my startled state, I said, “The first step is to start writing.”

Now there was silence on her end.

I stand by my advice to her. The first step to getting published is to develop a daily writing practice. This may sound like yet another grueling “have to” like flossing your teeth or logging miles on the treadmill or unpacking the dishwasher. But if you find your deepest themes, you will not be able to stop yourself from writing. At some point, the phone will ring or you’ll glance up at the clock and realize that a couple of hours have passed.

"How do you find your deepest themes? Go back to your childhood. "



How do you find your deepest themes? Go back to your childhood when your taste buds and other senses were most alive, when you flung yourself on the bed and wept bitter tears if your big sister was given something that you weren’t. Go back to those original jealousies and longings. Did your mother favor your little brother? Was your big sister the beauty of the family? Was your father sarcastic or cruel? Did he ever hit you? Or was he so loving and supportive that it brings tears to your eyes just to say his name? Were you a stranger in your community because of your race or religion or a physical disability? Did you have the experience of being a refuge or having parents from another country? Did you feel like a stranger in your own family because of your unique sensibility or the way you looked? Rilke, in Letters to a Young Poet, called childhood, a “that precious, kingly possession, that treasure house of memories.” When you identify the themes and events that have marked you, made you frustrated or resentful or proud, you will be writing them down and feel shocked when you look at the clock and find out that hours have passed. And when you’ve identified the themes and written about them, how easy it will be for you to create a fictional character with the same theme, even if that character is a different sex or an alien or a dragon.
If you’re working with your deepest themes, you will be absolutely compelled to write.

How will you get the time to write? The privacy? Hemmingway used to prefer to write in cafes with life going on around him. The novelist, Tova Mervis, brings her laptop to a Starbucks. If you work full time at another job, you might write during your lunch break or maybe you’ll write on the train going to work and coming home. You might end up staying up an hour later or waking an hour earlier. If you’re working with your deepest themes, you will be absolutely compelled to write. And if you miss a day, you will feel out of sorts. The writing will call to you, germinate in your mind, beckoning.


Rochelle Jewel Shapiro’s novel, Miriam the Medium, was nominated for the Harold U. Ribelow Award. She’s published essays in NYT (Lives) and Newsweek-My Turn, andd in many anthologies such as It’s a Boy (Seal Press, 2005), The Imperfect Mom (Broadway Books, 2006) About What Was Lost (Plume Books, 2007.) Her poetry, short stories, and essays have appeared in many literary magazines such as The Iowa Review, Negative Capability, Moment, and in many anthologies such as Father (Pocket Books, 2000). The short story from that collection, "The Wild Russian," will be reprinted for educational testing purposes nationwide. She currently teaches "Writing the Personal Essay" at UCLA on-line and is a book critic for Kirkus. She can be reached at


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