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    What Helps and Hurts When Learning to Write

    Michele Karlsberg: What did you find most useful in learning to write? What was the least useful or most michelledestructive?

    Felice Picano: Aside from the basic English 101 class everyone took, I never had a writing course, and therefore I suppose I never leaned to write. I was an art major in college, and I took some literature classes to hang with friends. I looked for art jobs and I kept getting shunted into assistant editor/writer jobs. There, I was half-assedly taught on the run how to do commercial journalism. Suddenly, one day, people said I was a writer.

    I’d been fooling around with stories, so when I quit work as a magazine editor, I sat down and wrote a novel. It found an agent, and although it never sold, another agent eventually took me on. I taught myself poetry by trying out all the poetic forms and rhyme schemes. I began playwriting because someone wanted to adapt a story of mine to the stage. When I looked at their attempt, I said, “I can do better than that.” I did. Four more plays have been produced. I learned to write screenplays by studying one that I swiped from a film producer’s office after I’d signed his contract. I wrote it using an aqua-ink Olivetti at the Beverly Hills Hotel last used by Kim Novak for thank you notes.

    I think the most destructive thing for most real writers is an MFA in Creative Writing. Non-genre writing accounts for less than 10% of all fiction sold; yet that is what is overwhelmingly taught. Actually, all they’re teaching is how to teach other people creative writing so they can then get an MFA and teach other students.

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    Felice Picano is the author of more than thirty books of poetry, fiction, memoirs, nonfiction and plays. His work has been translated into many languages, and several of his titles have been national and international bestsellers.

    Sally Bellerose: I always liked stories and had a fire in the belly to write about the lives of the working poor and working class. In my youth, bringing up my beautiful son, making a living and going to nursing school, life in general distracted me from writing these stories. Also, truth be told, I had a chip on my shoulder. I was a working class girl with a shaky education who wanted to write about people like me. Who would want to read those stories?

    But in the late 1980’s I joined The Valley Lesbian Writers Group. I was in my thirties. The group scared the crap out of me. I lived in the town I was born in. Most of the women in the group lived a few towns over in my longed for haven, the hip lesbionic town of Northampton, MA. These writers knew the difference between their, they’re and there. They took my work seriously. Their feedback was a revelation. Critique from trusted writers made me understand that clarity, honesty, a whole lot of work and revision are necessary to write the stories I want to tell. Writing, more writing, and other writers are what remain most useful in my learning to write.

    I have found that dancing around what I mean to say is the quickest way to destroy a sentence or a story. I do better when I come right out and say it. If I can’t make a sentence pretty or profound, at least I can strive to make it understandable. There is always revision.

    Sally Bellerose is author of “The Girls Club,” Bywater Books, winner of many awards including an NEA Fellowship. Her current project, a novel entitled “Fishwives,” features old women behaving badly.

    Michele Karlsberg Marketing and Management specializes in publicity for the LGBT community. This year, Karlsberg celebrates twenty-six years of successful book campaigns.