Posted on

“Writing Novels: It’s a Habit” by J Mulrooney


I’m sometimes asked how you write a novel.  The best advice I ever got was “500 words a day.”  That’s it. It’s a habit you get into, like orange juice with breakfast, cat videos on Facebook, or complaining about things you’re not going to change.  

500 words is two double-spaced typed pages.  I have small crabbed printing, so 500 words is about what I get on two single-spaced pages of a notebook.  On a good day, or if I’m strapped for time, I might do that in an hour, sometimes less.

Getting started can be tough, so the best practice is to end your 500 words with a few notes on what comes next: Sister Marguerite buys pistachios to burn down the convent – fire insurance? or Sex scene: Larry asks Madge to be more vocal in bed.  Madge: “Did you put the clothes in the dryer?” Sex life not improved.  When you open your notebook tomorrow, you know what to write next.  A writer I know advises stopping in the middle of a sentence: Madge raised the axe, looked into Larry’s confused face, and –  Cut it off there.  Pick that up tomorrow and you’re right back in the middle of the argument.  

Forgive yourself when you miss a day.  The 500 word imperative is about today and tomorrow, not yesterday.  If you commit to 500 words but miss Tuesday and Saturday, that’s okay.  At the end of the week you’ve still got 2,500 words. Miss a couple of days every week?  You’ll still have 10,000 words at the end of the month. The pages accumulate. Do that every month and that’s 60,000 words at the end of six months, about 240 pages.  There’s a draft of your novel.

Writing novels is a lifestyle.  You have to be able to sustain the work over time.  Writing becomes a habit, another thing you do every day.  You don’t win a marathon with an inspired burst of energy, you win by running 35 miles a week, week after week and month after month.  Novelists are marathon runners.

Get to it.  

Mulrooney will be teaching a miniworkshop on writing dialogue and running a writer’s workshop at Writers and Books in April 2019.  You can find details on his courses here.

He is the author of An Equation of Almost Infinite Complexity, a novel which made him a Campbell award finalist for best new writer of science fiction and fantasy, and The Day Immanuel Kant was Late, a book of stories.  

Posted on

The Stories You Need to Tell by Sejal Shah

Sejal Shah

“Words are events, they do things, change things. They transform both speaker and hearer; they feed energy back and forth and amplify it.” –Ursula K. Le Guin

Six years ago, I was talking to my friend Marijana after a yoga class. I wanted to teach something at Writers & Books and the proposal deadline was drawing near. Marijana asked me, Well, what are you interested in? I said, I want to create a class that helps students access important stories—those stories they’ve always meant to write. I’ve now taught The Stories You Need to Tell three times: in 2013, 2014 and 2016. It’s one of my favorite classes.

There are the stories you carry around with you—just by being human. Stories we repeat, and stories we never tell. Both to preserve them or to transform them or to release them, telling our stories changes us. Something changes in the process of writing them down. Though Stories You Need to Tell is officially classified as memoir, I also welcome those who write fiction and draw from autobiographical stories.

We’ll have six weeks to write together, to make time to write the stories that matter most to you—perhaps related to family history or something in your own younger life.

A turning point in my writing life came when I was able to complete an essay about the death of a close friend. It was a story I needed to write. That essay began with a prompt from a writing class and then took a couple of years to finish. But I wrote it and I did finish it. Here’s a link:

Street Scene

And here’s vignette or short piece about Cobb’s Hill. It’s so satisfying to write about places important to us.


Read Sejal Shah’s instructor bio:

Sejal Shah

For more information on Sejal’s workshop:

The Stories You Need to Tell: Mixed Level Memoir

Course description:

This course gives students the support, structure, and inspiration to begin or continue writing. We will read creative nonfiction essays by contemporary writers, generate a few first drafts through writing exercises, and take one short essay of your own through a round of revision. I will offer writing prompts. We will cover topics such establishing setting, accessing your bank of images, and where to begin (first paragraph, first sentence), and strategies for revision.

Posted on

Book Discussions for Tweens, Teens, and Adults!


Books Rock! and Open Forum Discussion Groups offer participants an opportunity to nerd out with like-minded readers

Rochester NY: Starting January 31st, tween and teens will have the opportunity to join other avid readers in in-depth discussion lead by an experienced, engaging facilitator in a new monthly book club. Recommended for ages 11-14, the Books Rock! book club will provide readers with an engaging environment to talk about their favorite books as well as provide input on future book selections.

Books Rock! will kick off on January 31st with Chris Fanning facilitating discussion on the Harry Potter series. Readers be warned, this discussion will cover all 7 books in the series. Topics may include: Horcruxes, good and evil throughout the series, and characters and creatures inspired by real-life people and animals.

On February 28th, readers will participate in discussion about the popular book recently turned major motion picture, The Hate U Give. Discussion will be facilitated by the author of Love Like Sky, Leslie Youngblood, who brings the unique experience of having personally interviewed author Angie Thomas.

Participants in the kick-off session on January 31st will have the chance to provide suggestions for the graphic novel book or series that will be discussed on March 21st with YA author Alex Sanchez, who has a graphic novel forthcoming in 2020.

The fun isn’t just for the teens, either. On February 18th, March 4th, and March 18th, adult readers who enjoyed Harry Potter, Game of Thrones, and dystopian books like The Handmaid’s Tale and 1984 will have the chance to engage in discussion with other like-minded adults over food and drink. Participants are invited to bring a drink or dish to pass and come prepared to enjoy no pressure book discussion.

All sessions of Books Rock! take place at Writers & Books at 5pm and cost $12 individually or $30 for the whole series. All sessions of Open Forum Discussion Group take place Writers & Books at 7:30pm and are free for Writers & Books’ members or $3 for the general public.

Media questions can be directed to Chris Fanning at


Posted on

Office Hours with Rebecca Rafferty

Winter 4 Building

Need some help editing your work?
Interested in learning best practices for pitching to the media?
Looking to get some pointers on journalistic writing?

We’ve got an opportunity for you.

Join Rebecca Rafferty (Arts & Entertainment Editor at CITY Newspaper) for short consultations in our cozy bookstore all week. Interested community members of all ages can do walk-ins or sign up for particular time slots. Feel free to bring your own writing for Rebecca to assist with editing and advice, learn about journalism writing and arts coverage.

To sign up in advance, call the Front Desk at 473-2590 ext 107 and reserve a half hour spot.

Thursday 6-9 p.m. (3 hours)
Friday 5-10 p.m. off-site (Starry Nites) (4 hours)
Saturday 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. off-site (Starry Nites) (9 hours)
Sunday 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. (4 hours)
Monday 6 to 9 p.m. (3 hours)

Posted on

Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life? by Marijana Ababovic

I am teaching the Wild and Precious Life  workshop again this Saturday January 12, 2019 from 9 am – 1 pm. It is an annual workshop inviting you to consider the upcoming year, your goals and dreams.  This workshop started from my personal practice in 2007, when I spent a weekend with two friends writing what we called then our “Manifesto”.  This  process of writing my “manifesto”, putting down on paper who I am at this time and who I want to be, became a part of my life. This  morning, as this cold and snow finally slowed me down, I thought about why this workshop is important to me.

This is what I wrote:

“Whenever I read Mary Oliver’s question “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” I get this sense of urgency, a sense that I am not fully understanding preciousness and wild-ness of my life. That I am living too much on an automatic pilot and too small, echoing David Whyte’s words in the House of Belonging: 

“Sometimes it takes darkness and the sweet
confinement of your aloneness to learn anything or anyone that does not bring you alive is too small for you.” 

Yes, in this winter darkness and cold weather confinement, I  need to slow down, get off my everyday-ness and ask myself- what am I doing with my life?

Join me in this inquiry. The workshop is this Saturday, January 12, 2019 from 9 am – 1 pm.

Get more information and register here