Sing, goddess, sing the wrath of Achilles, son of Peleus... The Iliad's immortal opening lines have let countless generations of readers know just what to expect from this primal epic poem of Western literature—angry men at war—and they have not been and never will be disappointed.  Continue reading...
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For ten years I've given my writing students at St. John's University this exercise: I ask each student to stand up and say, truthfully, their name, where they live, and something that they like to do. When they've all done that, I ask them to stand again and this time make up a name, a place where they live, and something they like to do.  Continue reading...
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Here's a problem facing most writers: We want our writing to be better, so we turn our laser-like gaze on what we are writing, the product. In fact, what we really need to focus on is the process.  Continue reading...
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In my recent reading I've gone on a major Mark Twain kick, and with every page I read, my admiration for Twain's writing grows. William Dean Howells, a contemporary and friend, called Twain "the Lincoln of our literature," and the title rings true, both for the plainspoken American vernacular that the two mastered, and for the boldness with which they faced our democracy's ugliest stain, the enslaving of African-Americans by European-Americans.  Continue reading...
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I have a new companion. Or, at least, I've newly recognized one.

Its name is doubt.

As doubt seems to have a particular interest in befriending writers, perhaps you know doubt, too.  Continue reading...
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I've said it before and I'll say it again: the single most enjoyable way to improve your writing is to read good books. Take a moment waiting for the bus one day and think, "What's a classic that I know by name but have never read?" If one strikes your fancy, get it, open it to page one, and start reading.  Continue reading...
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The world utterly forgot the Roman poet-philosopher Titus Lucretius Carus and his masterwork, De Rerum Natura (On the Nature of Things). Then in January 1417 an adventuresome papal secretary found a 500-year-old copy on a dusty shelf in a German monastery, and De Rerum began a second illustrious life that continues, still blossoming, to this day.  Continue reading...
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