Saturday, July 23, 2016

Preaching to the Choir—Is It Always Wrong?

One of the most frequent criticisms I hear of political writing is that it involves “preaching to the choir”—in other words, telling an audience of people who agree with you what they already know. At first glance, this seems like a terrible idea. After all, what possible good could come of trying to convince the people who are on your side? But I think the question of the audience for political writing is actually more complex.

There are reasons to repeat to those already convinced the principles that many of us believe. Why? One reason is as a reminder—“We hold these truths to be self-evident,” to quote the U.S. Declaration of Independence—but the details of those truths are often obscure.

For example, most thoughtful people may be in favor of “equal protection of the laws,” as mandated by the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. But not everyone may remember that this entails equal treatment by the police on the streets.

A poem that deals with this issue is “In Two Seconds” by Mark Doty, sparked by an incident where a police officer shot and killed the twelve-year-old African-American youth Tamir Rice when he was playing with a toy gun in a playground in Cleveland, Ohio, in November 2014. (I am indebted to Anne Caston, my colleague in the low-residency MFA at University of Alaska Anchorage, for introducing me to this poem.)

Tamir Rice, 2002–2014
Mark Doty’s poem bewails and protests the officer’s taking only two seconds to assess the situation before shooting and killing the young man. On a larger scale, this poem is a plea for the issues raised by the Black Lives Matter movement—Doty implicitly calls for an end to racial profiling and to police violence against unarmed black citizens.

I hope that this poem has convinced many readers who were not previously opposed to police violence against unarmed blacks. Without any cynicism, though, I would bet that the vast majority of readers who look for or find this poem already agree with Mark Doty’s ideas on this subject. And yet this poem feels far from pointless to me. For one thing, Mark Doty is reminding us, using the example of the egregious death of Tamir Rice, of the urgency of preventing police killings of African-Americans. There is a way in which hearing or reading this poem permits us to experience more fully the roots of our beliefs. The poem also fills in details about the general idea of equal protection, and inspires us to continue to campaign to end police violence against unarmed citizens, a situation that persists despite the close attention focused on it.

There are very good reasons to preach to the choir, so long as the writer avoids using cliché language or situations. In his poem, Mark Doty never resorts to often-heard phrases such as “racist," “police brutality,” or “innocent.” He sketches this particular story clearly and with emotion, making real to the reader the life of this boy, with his “comic books, pocket knife, bell from a lost cat’s collar.” Ultimately, Doty calls Tamir Rice, in what is to me the most transcendent moment in the poem, “beloved of time.” The poet gives us the individual and allows the reader to draw the larger conclusions, an approach far more engaging than a recitation of statistics.

If preaching to the choir were pointless, we would only sing our national anthem once and never repeat it. But each time we sing a national anthem, or a folksong such as Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land,” or we read or listen to a poem such as “In Two Seconds,” we reaffirm our ideals and goals. Writing about political subjects may often involve preaching to the choir, but that’s what a minister does every single Sunday.

Other recent posts about writing topics: 
How to Get Published: Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5
Getting the Most from Your Writing Workshop: Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6Part 7
How Not to Become a Literary Dropout, Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6Part 7Part 8Part 9Part 10
Putting Together a Book Manuscript, Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6Part 7Part 8
Working with a Writing Mentor: Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5
Does the Muse Have a Cell Phone?: Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5
How to Deliver Your Message: Part 1Part 2, Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6
Why Write Poetry? Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4
Using Poetic Forms, Part 1: Introduction; Part 2: The Sonnet; Part 3, The Sestina;
Part 4, The Ghazal; Part 5, The Tanka
Praise and Lament, Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6Part 7, Part 8Part 9

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Can You Teach Someone to Be a Writer?

I’m excited to be giving a talk at the Catamaran Writing Conference in Pebble Beach, California, from July 31 to August 4, 2016. It’s an honor to be teaching alongside a stellar group of faculty colleagues.

Check out the website to see the fabulous lineup of instructors, including Molly Gloss, Elizabeth Rosner, and Joseph Millar. Novelist Jonathan Franzen and poet Dorianne Laux will give evening talks, and the conference will feature guided trips to some of the scenic literary landmarks along the Central California Coast, including John Steinbeck’s Cannery Row in Monterey, Robinson Jeffer’s Tor House in Carmel, and nearby Robert Louis Stevenson sites.

Trip to Tor House at last year's conference
The conference takes place at the Stevenson School, named for Robert Louis Stevenson, whose Treasure Island was set nearby. The Stevenson School is a lovely venue located on the famous 17-Mile Drive. 

Along the 17-Mile Drive
The food is the best I’ve ever had at a cafeteria—California cuisine with many fresh, local ingredients. And there’s an Olympic pool and fitness center.

But can creative writing actually be taught?

I’ve heard so many people say, “You can’t teach someone to be a writer.” What do those words mean, exactly? Do they mean you’re born with talent and drive and it’s determined by larger forces that you will either be a writer or not? Or do they mean that your upbringing and ingrained personality are conducive to writing well, or they are not?

Either way, there is a hint of predestination about this idea that bothers me. Haven’t we all had teachers who inspired and influenced us? Would any writer succeed without a mentor or mentors, and a community of peers?

True, you cannot implant literary talent in a person who does not have it, as if giving someone a donated kidney. But, as the writer Ishmael Reed has said, “Talent is widespread.” The difference between someone who wants to be a writer, and someone who becomes a writer, is often encouragement, mentoring, and a supportive community.

What sort of mentoring helps a person develop into a strong writer? One thing I try to do as a teacher of creative writing is to help students recognize when they have tapped a rich vein. Often newer writers will hit on a lively idea without even realizing that it could be the basis of an entire book. Pointing out those opportunities so students can recognize them for themselves is one important thing a mentor can give newer writers. Along with that, students can learn how to spot cliché language or situations in their writing, and how to dig deeper to transcend those. 

Validation is also extremely valuable. I remember so well the very first meeting I had with June Jordan, who was the advisor for both my undergraduate and graduate creative writing theses—coincidentally, at two different universities. I first met with June in her office in the Department of African American Studies at Yale University. Her office was in a fussy, imitation Gothic building, an odd match for June, with her revolutionary, iconoclastic views. 

June asked me to read out loud the poem I had written that week. She listened with that skeptical twitch she sometimes had in her right eye. It was a poem about an imaginary lamppost. It’s not a poem I’m proud of today, but June heard something she liked in it, and she was smiling broadly by the end of the poem. She said you to me, “You’ve got something. Don’t let anyone ever talk you out of it.” Well, I’m not sure that poem really had anything—I’d never publish it now, and I don’t believe I still have a copy of it. And I’m sure June said that to many, many students over her long and illustrious teaching career. But June’s validation of my desire to be a writer has stayed with me since that day, even though June is no longer with us.

Other recent posts about writing topics: 
How to Get Published: Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5
Getting the Most from Your Writing Workshop: Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6Part 7
How Not to Become a Literary Dropout, Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6Part 7Part 8Part 9Part 10
Putting Together a Book Manuscript, Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6Part 7Part 8
Working with a Writing Mentor: Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5
Does the Muse Have a Cell Phone?: Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5
How to Deliver Your Message: Part 1Part 2, Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6
Why Write Poetry? Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4
Using Poetic Forms, Part 1: Introduction; Part 2: The Sonnet; Part 3, The Sestina;
Part 4, The Ghazal; Part 5, The Tanka
Praise and Lament, Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6Part 7, Part 8Part 9

Sunday, May 1, 2016

How to Keep Track of Your Writing Submissions

One type of housekeeping that every writer has to do is to keep track of submissions. This task has become slightly easier since the advent of Submittable, a software that many literary magazines use to handle submissions. Submittable was founded in 2010 by a filmmaker, a musician, and a novelist who wanted to democratize the submissions process.

Once you have an account in Submittable, you can go to the SUBMISSIONS menu and view several different sub-menus, including ALL, ACTIVE, ACCEPTED, DECLINED, and WITHDRAWN. I do find it useful to check my Submittable account periodically to remind myself about what work I’ve sent out and to view results.

The problem is, not every magazine uses Submittable. Many have their own submission interface, and some still only consider hard copy submissions. Submittable alone will not enable you to keep track of the manuscripts you send to magazines or publishers.

All the writers I know have some form of personal database to keep track of their submissions. This is particularly true for poets, who have many individual titles and may submit numerous poems in various combinations to different magazines at the same time.

I find it fascinating that every writer I asked has invented his or her own system for keeping track of submissions. Writers use a variety of software, from Word to Excel to FileMaker Pro, and a range of different notation systems.

I noticed that certain fields are common denominators in all these databases: title, name of magazine or press submitted to, date submitted, and decision (accepted or rejected).

Some writers have their own codes to make the fields easily searchable. The poet Robert Thomas told me he uses a table in Word with these abbreviations in the left-hand column: “X means it’s submitted somewhere, blank means it’s not, and ! means it’s been accepted. If I sort by that first narrow column I can see at a glance what’s out and what’s not.” Interestingly, Robert includes poems in his database that he has not yet submitted, so he can consider those poems when he’s ready to send to a magazine.

Robert Thomas
The writer Jeanne Wagner uses an ingenious color-coding system in her database to indicate whether a poem has been accepted or not: “I keep track of all my submissions on Excel. It’s very simple. The first column is the name of the journal or prize, 2nd the name of the poem(s) the 3rd the date submitted, 4th the result—award amount or publication. In the space to the right, I occasionally make a note, i.e., ‘editorial comment received,’ ‘accepts pre-published,’ ‘don’t resubmit.’ I highlight the positive results in red (publication or award), the rejections in blue, and the withdrawals and non-responses in green. The accepted poems are underlined. I don’t send in a query about my submission until it is well past (at least a month) the date for response listed in the journal guidelines.”

Jeanne Wagner
The poet Kendall Dunkelberg has his own method: “I have a system, developed in the 1980s first on Apple’s Hypercard and migrated eventually to SuperCard, that keeps track of submissions, magazines, and grants. It runs reports and even helps me manage readings and book sales." Kendall has written a blog that explains his system in greater detail.

Kendall Dunkelberg
The poet Melissa Stein works with a different software: “I’ve been using an old Filemaker Pro version forever. I’m surprised it still functions. I usually do simultaneous submissions. I generally email magazines immediately when something is accepted.”

Melissa Stein
Each of the poets I queried had his or her own method. It turns out my own method is a lot more obsessive than the other poets I asked.

I use a Word table with all the columns that the other poets mentioned, but I also have a column labeled Previous title. I often change the title of a poem or manuscript during the period I’m submitting it, and I want to be sure that I find all the previous submissions if I have to notify an editor that a simultaneous submission has been accepted elsewhere.

I have another column called Reminder Sent. Two or three times a year I go back over my Word table and look for submissions where the magazine has not responded. I usually wait at least four months before sending a reminder to a literary magazine. The reminder I send is a very brief email just giving the names of all the poems I submitted, the date I submitted them, and a quick note saying that I hope they will let me know soon if they would like to publish any of the poems. In my Word table I enter the date when I send an email reminder to a publication I haven’t heard from, so I don’t repeat reminders.

I also have a column called Address, email, or online submission manager to keep track of how and where I actually submited the work. If I know which editor I sent the poems to, I include her or his name in that column. I find it reassuring to attach a name to my submission—it makes me feel a more personal connection to the journal. But I also include the name so that any correspondence goes to an individual, not just to an inbox.

When I get a response from a magazine or publisher, I always make a note whenever the response invites me to submit work again, and if there was a personal note, similar to Jeanne Wagner’s database. Maybe once a year I look for those entries and resubmit to one or two of them, starting my cover letter by saying that the magazine invited me to resubmit last time.

I also have a column for the announced publication date of an accepted poem, and a column for the date when it is actually published. Sometimes works are accepted and not published when expected, or ever. I like to keep tabs on that so I can find out if and why a publication is delayed. In an extreme situation, I will resubmit the work if the magazine ceases publication. That can happen, unfortunately.

There is an online submissions tracking system that you can pay for called Duotrope®. Duotrope costs $50 a year, and in addition to providing a way to track your submissions, the website offers a search feature to find publishers, an index of listings, and a calendar of upcoming deadlines. Personally, I don’t think this is a service a writer needs to pay for, but if you can afford it, this seems like a reasonable solution as well. 

Whatever method you use, make sure that it’s easy to find previous submissions, especially if you submit work simultaneously. An important part of a writer’s housekeeping is to notify editors when work is accepted elsewhere, so that publications don’t spend time evaluating a submission that is no longer available.


Other recent posts about writing topics: 
How to Get Published: Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5
Getting the Most from Your Writing Workshop: Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6Part 7
How Not to Become a Literary Dropout, Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6Part 7Part 8Part 9Part 10
Putting Together a Book Manuscript, Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6Part 7Part 8
Working with a Writing Mentor: Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5
Does the Muse Have a Cell Phone?: Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5
How to Deliver Your Message: Part 1Part 2, Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6
Why Write Poetry? Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4
Using Poetic Forms, Part 1: Introduction; Part 2: The Sonnet; Part 3, The Sestina;
Part 4, The Ghazal; Part 5, The Tanka
Praise and Lament, Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6Part 7, Part 8Part 9

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Types of Literary Rebellion, Part 2: Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman

I used to think that Walt Whitman was the good guy of late nineteenth century U.S. poetry, and that Emily Dickinson was irrelevant. In what way did I think she was irrelevant? Irrelevant to the political, spiritual, and social revolutions that were churning at that time. 

Whitman, on the other hand, earned his living partly as an orator, making fiery speeches against slavery and in favor of populist American democracy. Emily Dickinson sat in a room in her father’s comfortable house in the little town of Amherst, Massachusetts and had almost nothing little to say publicly about the political storms of that period. To me, they seemed like polar opposites. Well, not exactly polar. Dickinson seemed like a frozen pond, and Whitman like a jungle during a sunshower.

Emily Dickinson
Then I read Richard Sewell’s The Life of Emily Dickinson. It’s entirely my fault that it took me so long to find this book, since I actually took a Shakespeare class with Professor Sewell when I was an undergraduate at Yale at the same time he was writing his biography of Dickinson. But I didn’t follow Sewell’s work after I finished the final paper for that class. I only read his book on Dickinson when I reluctantly prepared to teach her writing in an American poetry survey class about thirty years later.  

In his biography, Sewell reveals what a complex and interesting response the poet had to her time. He describes how Dickinson was more or less driven out of Mount Holyoke College (then called Mount Holyoke Female Seminary) because she was part of the group of students considered “hopeless” by the fundamentalists of the Second Great Awakening, which was then hurricaning through New England.

And when I read Dickinson’s poetry in that light, I started to see that she was profoundly rebellious as well:

Some keep the Sabbath going to Church –
I keep it, staying at Home –
With a Bobolink for a Chorister –
And an Orchard, for a Dome –

What more eloquent statement could there be of the individual’s right to communicate directly with the Spirit, and to see the divine directly in nature? And how similar to Whitman’s “The bull and the bug never worshipp'd half enough,” in “Song of Myself.”

Around this time I also read Adrienne Rich’s remarkable essay on Dickinson, “Vesuvius at Home.” Rich makes a convincing case that Dickinson understood the explosive nature of her rebellion, and that that Dickinson deliberately kept close to her home to protect the revelation of her poetry and her ideas. “I have a notion that genius knows itself;” writes Rich, “that Dickinson chose her seclusion, knowing she was exceptional and knowing what she needed. It was, moreover, no hermetic retreat, but a seclusion which included a wide range of people, of reading and correspondence.”

I think Rich is right that Dickinson’s reticence to share her poetry was not the withdrawal of a dry school marm but a savvy choice. Emily Dickinson's father was the local congressman. Dickinson had the shelter of his home as a writer’s retreat—so long as her work didn’t embarrass or disgrace her father and the family. Dickinson’s best choice for publishing and preserving her revolutionary poems was to turn them into a sort of time capsule. That way her poems could be read, understood, and appreciated in a future century—which they are.

Rich does not put much emphasis, though, on Dickinson’s love poems. Yes, Dickinson wrote love poems, and they can be quite sexy:

Is it too late to touch you, Dear?
We this moment knew—
Love Marine and Love terrene—
Love celestial too—

If Whitman had known that poem, I wonder if he would he have seen the parallel with one of his most sensual poems, “I Sing the Body Electric,” where he says, “If any thing is sacred the human body is sacred.”

Walt Whitman
I just wish that Emily could have met Walt, and they could have sat down together in a café in Brooklyn. I imagine that she would order Darjeeling tea and a lingonberry scone, and he would order coffee and pour some of a flask into the steaming cup. I think that if they could have bridged the enormous cultural gap between small town New England and the alleyways of Brooklyn where kids played deafening ballgames, Walt and Emily would have realized that they were both rebels in their own ways, and had more in common than they had differences.  

Other recent posts about writing topics: 
How to Get Published: Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5
Getting the Most from Your Writing Workshop: Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6Part 7
How Not to Become a Literary Dropout, Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6Part 7Part 8Part 9Part 10
Putting Together a Book Manuscript, Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6Part 7Part 8
Working with a Writing Mentor: Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5
Does the Muse Have a Cell Phone?: Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5
How to Deliver Your Message: Part 1Part 2, Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6
Why Write Poetry? Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4
Using Poetic Forms, Part 1: Introduction; Part 2: The Sonnet; Part 3, The Sestina;
Part 4, The Ghazal; Part 5, The Tanka
Praise and Lament, Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6Part 7, Part 8Part 9

Friday, February 19, 2016

Types of Literary Rebellion, Part 1

When I first began studying literature seriously in college in the early 1970s, I was drawn to the most openly rebellious voices. I loved the Beat Generation, the Surrealists, D.H. Lawrence, Walt Whitman, William Blake, and the poets of the Black Arts Movement like my undergraduate mentor June Jordan. I still love them.

William Blake
During the period when I was a student, the New Left was at its peak. It was also the era when the movements against the Vietnam War and the civil rights movement flourished in the United States. The doctrine of many revolutionaries at that time was that anything less than total revolt was irrelevant and self-defeating: “Ceux qui font des révolutions à moitié n’ont fait que se creuser un tombeau.”—“Those who make revolutions halfway have only dug their own graves.” I first encountered those words of Louis Antoine de Saint-Just, the French revolutionary from the period of the Terror, when Jean-Luc Godard quoted them in a movie. Godard was my artistic idol at the time. That quote embodied much of what my friends and I were thinking then about politics and art.

But the New Left, with its stir fry of Maoism, Trotskyism, and anarchism, never came close to becoming a majority movement in the United States. Maybe that’s because the U.S. is generally allergic to isms. I came to realize that it was those who make revolutions all the way who only dig their own graves.

But what does all this have to do with literature? Well, the writers who openly declared themselves in revolt against the artistic and political establishment were clearly rebels to my adolescent or post-adolescent mind. Those were the writers whose stances I admired when I began my own literary attempts.

I’m not sure how I came to realize that there were actually many ways to express rebellion, dissent, and innovative ideas in literature, some of them bravely open, and some more subtle.

Maybe it was by reading the work of feminist writers, who often didn’t stand on a soapbox and declare their political viewpoints, writers such as Virginia Woolf. The slogan of the feminist writers of the 1980s, “The personal is political,” leant itself to a more nuanced aesthetic. If even the small moments in life have larger social significance, then a writer doesn’t have to scribble a manifesto to make a strong point. Understanding what is political in a poem by Sharon Olds isn’t like understanding the ideas of Mayakovsky or Amiri Baraka, where the writer is clearly waving a red flag.


Learning what is revolutionary about the more subtle rebels has been a lifelong study for me. In the next couple of blogs, I’ll talk about a couple of the writers where the social change implications of their work have only become clearer to me as I’ve read more.

Other recent posts about writing topics: 
How to Get Published: Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5
Getting the Most from Your Writing Workshop: Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6Part 7
How Not to Become a Literary Dropout, Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6Part 7Part 8Part 9Part 10
Putting Together a Book Manuscript, Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6Part 7Part 8
Working with a Writing Mentor: Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5
Does the Muse Have a Cell Phone?: Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5
How to Deliver Your Message: Part 1Part 2, Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6
Why Write Poetry? Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4
Using Poetic Forms, Part 1: Introduction; Part 2: The Sonnet; Part 3, The Sestina;
Part 4, The Ghazal; Part 5, The Tanka
Praise and Lament, Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6Part 7, Part 8Part 9

Monday, January 18, 2016

Writing a Fictional Plot Based on a True Story: Arthur Miller's A View from the Bridge

I recently read Arthur Miller’s A View from the Bridge. I enjoyed the play, and was about to put the volume back on my bookshelf when I noticed that the author had written an introduction. I’m usually not much for introductions. Cut to the chase, skip the previews—I want to get to the plot as soon as possible. But Arthur Miller’s preface fascinated me.

Miller tells how he came upon the idea for A View from the Bridge, a tragedy about a longshoreman named Eddie Carbone that takes place in the working class neighborhood of Red Hook, Brooklyn:

I had known the story of A View from the Bridge for a long time. A water-front worker who had known Eddie’s prototype told it to me. I had never thought to make a play of it because it was too complete, there was nothing I could add. And then a time came when its very completeness became appealing. It suddenly seemed to me that I ought to deliver it onto the stage as fact…

Miller describes how he tried in the original Broadway production to create exactly the story that the dockworker had told him—no frills, just the unfolding of the final calamity. 

Ben Shawn's poster for the 1965 revival of A View from the Bridge
I think most writers would respond similarly to hearing a great story, seemingly ready made. Why tamper with something so good, so perfect? In the first New York production of A View from the Bridge, Miller followed that logic. The stage was stripped of scenery, a minimal cast of actors wore little makeup. The result was not a success.

The play came into its own when it was revived a year later in London. Oddly, this happened despite, or maybe because, the naturalism possible in New York could not be achieved in the Shakespearean milieu of the U.K. stage. As Miller puts it, “the British actors could not reproduce the Brooklyn argot and had to create one that was never heard on heaven or earth.”

Removed from the roots of the original story, Miller had more freedom to elaborate on it, to develop the characters. He particularly fleshed out the role of Beatrice, Eddie Carbone’s wife. One of the most poignant aspects of the revised script is that Beatrice attempts in vain to deflect Eddie’s overly possessive behavior toward Catherine, his attractive, adopted niece. It is that tragic flaw in Eddie that leads to his downfall. With the new additions to the script, the London version was a hit, running for two years and going on to an extended run in Paris.

In the U.K. production, Miller did the first thing a writer has to do in transforming a true story—he falsified it. In writing fiction from real life, a writer has to mold it, to make it bend into a tale that works from standpoint of the audience/reader.

But Miller didn’t stop there. When a writer adapts a story that s/he hears, the temptation is lift it directly and not to meddle with it, like a fragile diorama. Miller recounts the moment when he decided to make this story into a play: “It existed apart from me and seemed not to express anything within me.” But that was the impulse that produced the failed version. Toward the end of the play’s run on Broadway, Miller realized his personal and emotional stake in the characters:

It was only during the latter part of its run in New York that, while watching a performance one afternoon, I saw my own involvement in this story. Quite suddenly the play seemed to be “mine” and not merely a story I had heard. The revisions subsequently made were in part the result of that new awareness.


Even though A View from the Bridge is about the family of an immigrant longshoreman Miller never knew, the playwright had to claim all the emotions of the story as his own before he could write them compellingly. There had to be some reason that he chose that particular tale, and he eventually discovered what it was. It’s like waking from a dream—once we realize that all the characters are aspects of ourselves, the story starts to come into focus.

Other recent posts about writing topics: 
How to Get Published: Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5
Getting the Most from Your Writing Workshop: Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6Part 7
How Not to Become a Literary Dropout, Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6Part 7Part 8Part 9Part 10
Putting Together a Book Manuscript, Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6Part 7Part 8
Working with a Writing Mentor: Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5
Does the Muse Have a Cell Phone?: Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5
How to Deliver Your Message: Part 1Part 2, Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6
Why Write Poetry? Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4
Using Poetic Forms, Part 1: Introduction; Part 2: The Sonnet; Part 3, The Sestina;
Part 4, The Ghazal; Part 5, The Tanka
Praise and Lament, Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6Part 7, Part 8Part 9