More questions. More help. Introducing Mastering Table Topics Second Edition.

Why caffeine fuels writing

In college, I learned that HonorĂ© de Balzac drank cup after cup of black coffee each day. That’s probably because he didn’t have Diet Coke.

Why do writers take to caffeine like musicians take to weed? Why are you unable to find a table at Starbucks because all of them are taken by writers pounding away on their MacBook Pros? (And why don’t you see many MacBook Pros at McDonald’s? They have coffee and free WiFi too. But you see old Dells and Acers, some with tape on the side to hold the LCD panel together.) What is it about the combination of oxygen, hydrogen, and nitrogen atoms (along with that evil, evil aspartame we dump in it to make it drinkable) that makes it necessary for writing?

As a caffeine addict, I have a few ideas.

Read more »

Getting into character for first-person narratives

I'm either playing Mr. Bumble from Oliver or a flasher in a trench coat.

I’m either playing Mr. Bumble from Oliver or a flasher in a trench coat.

When I decided to make The Ghosts of Reseda High a first-person narrative, I had to go back to my experiences at Reseda High School to figure out how to write it.

In high school, I performed in several musicals. In a 1978 production of Dames at Sea, I played Hennesey, the harried Broadway producer. As a testament to my singing abilities, I had the only role that didn’t have a solo. (And no, we didn’t do the shared Hennesey/Captain role in our production.) My acting experience taught me a lot about getting into character. I had to learn the character’s mannerisms, how that person spoke, and even how that person felt. You can consider it a junior varsity version of method acting, but it was a lot of fun — and helpful.

How does acting help in writing a first-person narrative?

Read more »

Why faith in goodness is not enough

Martin Richard, 8, who died in the Boston Marathon BombingPatton Oswalt and Mister Rogers have been doing their best to keep us sane after the horror of Boston. I would like to believe what they say about good outnumbering evil and that the helpers will always be there.

Then I read the message boards on news sites where the trolls hide behind their anonymity to spew out the most horrific hate the reptilian part of the brain can invent. Of course, those people know who did it. It was the Muslims. Or right-wing gun nuts. Or North Korea. Or President Obama. Or the New World Order with the Illuminati, the Trilateral Commission, Monsanto, the Vatican, and (naturally) the Jews.

We want to write these people off as a thin slice of humanity. We shouldn’t.

Read more »

My why

Scott Sinek at TedxPuget Sound in 2010

Scott Sinek at TEDxPuget Sound in 2009

Some messages are so powerful, they can force you to rethink everything. For me, it is Scott Sinek’s talk at TEDxPuget Sound, “How great leaders inspire action.

In summary, he says that successful people and companies start with the why. Why do they exist? Why do they do what they do? Why should people listen to them or consider their products?

Read more »

Accidentally offensive

LL Cool J and Brad Paisley

Raising a few red flags. Image Credit: Jerod Harris/Getty Images

OK, Brad Paisley. You don’t want people to judge you because of your region’s history or how you look. A noble sentiment. So, why doesn’t “Accidental Racist” work? (I’m looking at the song solely as a form of communication and setting the historical and cultural issues of the song aside — for now.)

Read more »