David Turnoff was born in Philadelphia and raised in Miami, Florida. After living in various parts of the Northeast and Midwest, he settled in New York City, where he met his wife, Theresa, and their three children were born. While living in New York, David began writing short fiction and attended several writing workshops, most consistently with Martha Hughes. After many happy years in New York, an impending space issue following the birth of their third child and a subsequent late October hurricane prompted a move. He currently resides with his family in Berkeley, California. In his spare time, he continues to write short fiction.
You can read David's essay, "What You Are Expected to Expect When You Are Expecting" in Letting Go: An Anthology of Attempts, edited by ME Hughes.
"It takes me awhile to feel comfortable with an idea for a story and the characters who will populate the story. There is usually a drawn out process of at least several weeks where I work out a lot of seemingly random ideas, mainly in my head and also in a notebook."
Letting Go is an anthology of true stories. As a writer of fiction, did you find it harder to write a nonfiction story?
I was a bit wary of writing a nonfiction piece. I don’t have much experience with the form, and I was worried that trying to write about myself would be creatively inhibiting by limiting the possibilities of what could happen. But then I found that when I wrote in the second person, it allowed for a comfortable distance from myself. It freed me up enough to tell the story I wanted to tell while still being able to surprise myself at times with some of the ideas that came out on the page.
What’s the hardest part about writing for you?
Getting started. It takes me awhile to feel comfortable with an idea for a story and the characters who will populate the story. There is usually a drawn out process of at least several weeks where I work out a lot of seemingly random ideas, mainly in my head and also in a notebook. It’s a searching period that is mostly unpleasant, because there is no clear sense of direction, just a collection of free form phrases or images or the personality or physical trait of a character. Then at some critical point, all of these loose ideas start to coalesce into the basic framework of a story. From that point on, I am able to write somewhat coherently and move the plot forward.
What has been the most surprising about learning your craft?
How important writing consistently is for developing skills and keeping the creative juices flowing. Also, how important reading is for improving one’s writing. I have to be careful not to let something I’m reading “contaminate” my own writing voice. But other than that, reading other pieces (either fiction or nonfiction) helps me move my own writing along.
Do you think workshops have helped you become a better writer?
Absolutely. It has helped me enormously to receive feedback in the workshop setting. A good workshop provides a healthy combination of objectivity (where you don’t have a separate relationship with the other participants) and what I call "technical empathy" (where the other participants understand the writing process and can consider your work in the context of the stage of development it is in). Workshops also help me by imposing deadlines for finishing drafts and revisions.
Who do you trust to read your work while in progress?
My wife usually has a good take on my writing, what’s working and what needs to be clarified or fleshed out more. She’s supportive and is a good sounding board when I have questions about plot or tone. She also gives useful feedback without getting distracted by the incompleteness or clunky sections inherent in early drafts.
Who do you never give your work to to read while in progress?
With one or two exceptions, I don’t share my early drafts unless I’m in a workshop. It is often tempting, especially when I am excited about what I’m working on, but I’ve found that that has more to do with ego, and in practice showing my work too soon leads more to distraction than any usefulness (despite the much-appreciated interest and support of friends and family members).
Do you have any advice for other writers?
If you want to write, then you have to write. Waiting for the right set of circumstances does not help. It doesn’t get any easier, and there's never a better time. (You may at some point have more time, but it isn't better time.)
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