Posts on Writing & Ephemera

Write Freely

If you are a writer, then chances are you are also a reader. And if you’re not a reader, then you best become one, because your aspirations to write will be severely limited if you do not ingest and learn from the written works of others.

But reading others is also a doubled-edged sword, because when we read others we are reading final polished works, works that have often been years in the making, some a lifetime.

I often find myself giving my students advice that is completely contradictory: I tell all my students to read as much as they can, read stuff they love, and also read stuff that is outside their domain. Read high literature and read pulp. Read, and try to learn from what you read, try to determine for yourself, when a piece of writing works, the answer to the great question: How did this writer do that?

And then there is the pure contradiction, often delivered within minutes of the start of the first class: Forget everything you’ve read, for a while at least, and write freely.

Am I nuts? Possibly. But the tension in between contradictions is a place where writers and many other artists thrive.

When I advise students to forget everything they’ve ever read, it’s for this reason: They, like all writers, need to write freely, particularly in the early stages of a story. If I were to start writing a new story – a story so early in its life that I don’t even know it yet – that story would never have a chance if I stopped at the opening phrase, sentence, paragraph or page and compared it against everything I’ve ever read.

I’m not saying I’m the most well-read guy, but I’ve been fortunate to have the chance to read quite a few really good books and stories. And, dammit, mine don’t measure up!

I’d like my stories, short or long, to be as good as a book by Richard Flanagan or a story by Flannery O’Connor, but they aren’t. And in the earliest stages, my stories aren’t even stories yet, so to compare my first draft opening lines against those of great writers is a disservice to me, and to my work. I’ll choke the life out of the story with my own doubts.

So forget the greats, there aren’t any, not when you are drafting. When you are drafting, write freely, because in those precious minutes and hours you are the only great that will ever live.

Keep at it and tomorrow, or the next day, or someday soon, you will have a draft in your hands, and when you have a draft in hand and the story is starting to develop, you then need to muster all the learning you can draw from those great writers.

But only then. Until that moment, write freely, see what you can discover.

Silence that judging voice that wants to measure every phrase you scratch onto the page, tap onto the screen or trace in the sand. There will be time later to apply to your work anything you can draw from the books you have read.

Ken MurrayWrite Freely
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Eulogy (a novel)

Eulogy-Cover-Ken-MurrayThe controlled and calm life of William Oaks is shattered when his parents die suddenly in a car accident. A reclusive paper conservator at a renowned Toronto museum, William must face the obsessions and denials that have formed him: delusional family history, religious fundamentalism, and get-rich-quick schemes. Memory and facts collide, threatening to derail his life and career as William feverishly prepares for an important exhibition on the Egyptian Book of the Dead.

“Eulogy is a powerful and riveting exploration of the family: the tensions between father and son, mother and son, and mother and father through the sharp-eyed, sensitive voice of William Oaks. Masterfully mesmerizing.”—Catherine Graham, author of Her Red Hair Rises with the Wings of Insects

“In his debut novel, Ken Murray tells the kind of secrets that simultaneously bind and tear a family apart. With a quick turn of a head or a phrase, the normal becomes freakish, and cruelty mundane. This is a story about diet drinks and religion, death and video games. Eulogy is an obituary to modern innocence.” —Shaughnessy Bishop-Stall, author of Down to This and Ghosted

“Too often, first-time novelists show up with baby fat or affectation or slavish devotion to some novelistic ideology. But Murray begins as a mature writer: muscular, plain spoken, himself alone. The story he tells here makes for compulsive reading.”—Benjamin Taylor, author of Naples Declared and The Book of Getting Even

KenEulogy (a novel)
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Why I Teach Creative Writing

I believe that all people, even the most novice writers, have many stories to tell.  The task starts simply, with a word scratched on a page and soon, if the words are allowed to flow freely, the struggle is not to find material but to keep the writing hours manageable and productive while the complexities of a story work themselves out.  How to do this?  Start writing.  Write regularly.  Learn to listen to your writing and the potential that it holds.  Listen with openness.  You have the stories; the stories you want to write, and the stories not yet known to you that will emerge as you write.  Let them emerge; look listen and feel for what you’ve written.  Don’t cling too tightly to your drafts but hold them loosely; let them breathe.  You do not need to be told what to write about, nor should you contrive to discover what you “should” write about.  The stories are already yours, and it is only you who can give these life.

People often show up in my classes possessed of a belief that their work must be perfect, right at the very first draft, and judge themselves accordingly. Don’t be like that. Make it good later. First, you need to find out what the story is, to see it on the page, then we’ll look at the tools you’ll need to shape it for a reader.

-KM

Ken MurrayWhy I Teach Creative Writing
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