“Thinking About Writing is Not Writing” and More Thoughts from Author John Dufresne

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Photo from John Dufresne | TEDxFIU talk “How to Write a Story


As a child, John Dufresne enjoyed reading. Rarely were characters similar to the people with whom he grew up with reflected in most literature. John cherished childhood time spent with mother and grandmother in the family kitchen.  He listen to them tell stories about neighborhood events in his Massachusetts town. He likened fiction to gossip about people who don’t exist, interesting stories about trouble.

Having been a social worker for 12 years, John Dufresne went back to school obtaining an MFA from the University of Arkansas. He recalls being one of the oldest in his class at U of A and (what he felt) was one the least talented writers in the program. The first day of class his teacher informed John “You really know how to write, but you don’t know how to tell a story.”

Learning everything possible regarding writing, he loved stories about people on the margins of society or the disenfranchised.

John Dufresne is currently the author of six novels: Louisiana Power & Light, Love Warps the Mind a Little, (both New York Times Notable Books of the Year) Deep in the Shade of Paradise, Requiem, Mass., No Regrets, Coyote, and I Don’t Like Where This Is Going.

John was a 2012-13 Guggenheim Fellow and teaches in the MFA program at Florida International University in Miami.

He is also the author of several short stories, a book on writing, plays and more. Further information about John’s work can be found via his bio on JohnDuFresne.com.




“You will feel discouraged; you will lose confidence in your abilities; you will be bored with the characters–and the only way to overcome these obstacles is to write your way through them. And writing always works.”

“I want to talk about how to write a story. The first commandment of writing fiction is sit your ass in the chair. Some of us need velcro pants. Thinking about writing is not writing. The story doesn’t exist before the act of writing. You’re in your chair but the central character will be at the end of his rope. A desperate man taking desperate measures. Only trouble is interesting. Only things that you don’t want to happen to your family and friends should happen to your character. You love your hero, but you keep putting obstacles in his way. Writing a story is taking the path of most resistance. You dip your pen in the ink and you begin at the edge of a cliff. You sit and try to express what’s inexpressible….” (Watch the full video here on Youtube)


“Life is stranger than fiction, because fiction has to make sense.”


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Photo from Florida International Youtube video on “How to Write a Short Story

“You don’t sit down and write ‘Once Upon a Time’ and then 2 hours later “And They All Lived Happily Ever After.’ In fact you never use those words in fiction because nobody lives forever after, so the happy part is gone, too. There is a sadness at the center of our existence that fiction writers have to acknowledge and that is that we die. And everything we love vanishes. We can’t hold on to anything. So that’s a given. That’s the sadness at the center of our life. But the nobility is that we face that and we go right on trying to hold on to everything that we love….and cherishing life and giving praise to the world around us….” (Watch the full video here on Youtube)


“All first person narrators are unreliable.  They have a stake in the outcome.”


Guide_to_writing_your_first_novel_in_six_monthsJohn Dufresne’s smart, practical, hard-nosed guide is for the person who has always wanted to write a novel but has been daunted by the sometimes chaotic, always challenging writing process. A patient teacher and an experienced writer, Dufresne focuses his expertise and good humor on helping aspiring novelists take their first tentative steps


John Dufresne Q&A at Texas State, 1995 (via Front Porch Vimeo page)

“I had only written short stories and was really only interested in writing short fiction. I thought that is all I wanted to do because that is the form I enjoyed and that I was getting good at. After the first book came out my publisher said “Do you have a novel?” And I said “No, but I’ve got another book of stories.” And he repeated the statement, “Do you have a novel?” And I thought talk to my agent. And he said “Well…maybe we out to tell him you are going to write a novel? Can do you that?” and I said “Yeah. I’ll try.”

So it really wasn’t my idea to change. But what I found out that it was easier to write a novel than it is writing stories. Writing stories (to me) is the most difficult thing to do. For me it is more difficult than writing poetry. It’s very tense. You are always taking things out, you always add every word in the process of writing. With writing a novel you can indulge yourself. You can let yourself go on tangents…you never have to worry about what you’re going to write…it’s very relaxing…” (Watch the full video here on Vimeo)


John Dufresne Q&A at Texas State, 1995 from Front Porch on Vimeo.







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