a quote from my favorite author

“The most solid advice, though, for a writer is this, I think: Try to learn to breathe deeply, really to taste food when you eat, and when you sleep, really to sleep. Try as much as possible to be wholly alive, with all your might, and when you laugh, laugh like hell, and when you get angry, get good and angry. Try to be alive. You will be dead soon enough.”

-William Saroyan, The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze

Sunday, March 20, 2011

What Mordicai Gerstein Taught Me about Writing

Author's Note:  Mordicai Gerstein is the Caldecott winner for The Man Who Walked Between the Towers.  I had the opportunity to hear him speak at the Illinois Reading Council Conference.  This is a found poem based on the words he spoke.   The image is original artwork (I cannot yet find to whom it should be attributed) that Mordicai saw on a postcard and redrew in front of us to explain his point.

Most people say
write what you know,
but I don’t know
what I know
until I write it.
So, I write
what I don’t know.

To write fiction,
one has to be willing
to write straight ahead
and not look back.
Well, maybe until at least
a week has passed.
Then you can look back
and be surprised at the words
that came out of your writer’s mind.

Writing fiction is like
walking on a tightrope
into the sky
with no support,
except your own faith
that you will get somewhere.

A story should provoke questions,
not provide answers.
Readers should not look
for the author’s message
in a story,
the story IS the message.


  1. I wonder if I can use this when my student & I talk about fiction. It is what I want them to know & you said (wrote) it exactly right. You don't know what you know until you write. "the story is the message". Thank you for taking the lessons from that magical walk between the towers & turning it into a lesson for us writers.

  2. Perhaps I should add a note of explanation to my post... I had the opportunity to hear Mordicai Gerstein speak. The words almost entirely his. I just wove them together. Please use it with your students, but give him credit! I will change my post to reflect that.

  3. I'm so behind on slicing and commenting so I read all of your last few posts (8? 10? whatever it is to the bottom of Blogspot's page) and reveled in your writing. I loved reading your stuff last year, and am going to look for you more this time around.

    Okay--intro and apologies over--I LOVED this post, as well as the visual (going to steal that one). And your found poem reads so smoothly and effortlessly yet makes all sorts of connections for me. I just ordered 3 books about writing, mainly to read something to get me pumped up enough to sit my backside down in a chair, clear the brain enough to dive back into writing long left unattended (fiction takes some concentration for me). Kind of like being in traing for a marathon--or a walk between two ends of a tightrope.

    Elizabeth E.