We got the chance to ask author Dan Buri a bit about his writing process, what inspires him and what advice he has for other writers out there!
- What inspired you to start writing?
I can remember writing as far back as middle school. It’s something I have always enjoyed doing. One of the first poems I ever wrote was about my older brother and his basketball playing abilities. I still remember the opening lines and I wrote them as a kid nearly 30-years ago:
I’m Joe the King of Basketball,
I’m the king of the basketball court.
All my shots are always on target,
None of them are ever short.
I didn’t say it was any good! I don’t remember any more than that. To be honest, I’m not sure how I even remember those lines.
The point is, writing has been something I have always enjoyed doing and something I have always admired in other people. Story telling is a beautiful gift. I love learning to hone the craft.
- What kinds of sources do you take inspiration from?
I am moved and inspired by people’s real life stories. I love reading all sorts of genres, but I find myself inspired by the human spirit. For Pieces Like Pottery, I tried to capture the essence of overcoming tragedy. Every person has trials in life. Life always presents obstacles and disappointments. I wanted to examine how individuals overcome these obstacles in a variety of characters. I toyed with the idea of each of these stories being its own novel, and I still may expand a couple of them into full length novels, but I settled in on a collection of linked short stories because it presented the opportunity to have a range of characters and display that, despite how different all our life experiences are, we are all connected as human beings. We all suffer and laugh just the same. My hope is that readers recognize that and are inspired or moved to compassion through the book.
- Do you model characters after real people?
I think every character an author creates is based on a real person or an amalgamation of real people. I also think an author will drop a little piece of himself or herself into every character they create. It is just too difficult to not let experiences and biases seep into one’s writing. There is certainly a piece of me in each character throughout Pieces Like Pottery. This made it particularly difficult to finish the book at times. I had to tap into both a sorrowful and a hopeful part of myself for these stories, which took an emotional toll at times. That being said, I don’t create characters to represent someone in particular or to be a caricature of someone.
- What does your writing process look like? Did it take you a while to develop?
Once upon a time I thought I needed to write in a particular time and place. I would typically write at night and need to be in the perfect mood to do so. With a very demanding job, a wife, and two children, however, I quickly found that I was not finding much time to write at all. I had to begin writing anytime I could find a free 30 minutes. I was lucky I did too.
I think young writers always wait for the moment of inspiration to strike. These moments are amazing, but they are a great luxury. The truth, in my opinion, is that writing is as much about editing and revising as it is about the writing itself. I have so many pages of my writing on the cutting room floor, so to speak. Maybe editing is a beautiful and inspiring process for some people, but for most writers I know, it is painstaking. There’s nothing inspirational about it for me.
Having very little time to write each day helped me to begin taking my writing to the next level, to learn to hone it as a craft, rather than writing simply being an inspirational hobby. I had to find time to write whenever I could, regardless of whether the circumstances were perfect.
That being said, I still love to write at night over a glass of wine or a whiskey. Nothing beats that.
- Do you take criticism hard or do you have a thick skin? Have you ever received criticisms that you felt were unjustified or too harsh? Are you your worst critic?
I’m sure most creative types are a little sensitive to negative responses, but it also comes with the territory. I welcome all reviews, good and bad. A good book, in my mind, should have both positive and negative reviews. If every review is good, then it most likely means that the book is “just fine”—the book probably doesn’t challenge the reader at all. There are great minds that love terrible books and great books that are hated by great minds. A book isn’t for everyone and that is perfectly fine. Great books have people debating their merits. So I welcome negative feedback.
I had one reviewer call my book Pieces Like Pottery blasphemous and anti-religious. This really took me by surprise, particularly because the reviewer went so far as to call me anti-religious, rather than just my book or just characters from my book. I am a practicing Catholic myself and the book intentionally has undertones of the Sorrowful Mysteries, so the critique of it being blasphemy left me bewildered. To each his own, though, I guess. After a writer completes his work, it becomes the reader’s. I have no interest in restraining opinions on my writing, whether those opinions are positive or negative. (But like I said, it sure is nice to get positive feedback. It’s only natural.)
- Do you have favourite characters from your own writing? What made them so special to you?
I really enjoy Mr. Smith, the teacher from Expect Dragons, (one of the stories in Pieces Like Pottery). He also pops up in a few other stories throughout the book, but those are little hidden clues for the reader to find. I think many of us have had inspirational teachers and mentors in our lives. It is so important to have these people during key moments in our development as young people. I have had some amazing teachers and mentors in my lifetime. Both of my parents are teachers, as well as my sister and my sister-in-law. Teachers give us so much of themselves and as a society, at least here in the States, we tend to give them so little back. It’s really sad. Mr. Smith is an inspirational character and I enjoy hearing his thoughts on life.
- What would be your advice for aspiring authors?
Over the years I have been lucky enough to be offered abundant feedback and to hear excellent commentary from a few creative people that I admire greatly. There are three comments/ideas that have stuck with me throughout all my writing endeavors. (Each of these is summarized in my own words.)
1. When asked about the fears and doubts that she had with her writing, Elizabeth Gilbert (best selling author of Eat, Pray, Love) said she finally had an epiphany that her “writing muse” was telling her that this isn’t her story. If she doesn’t tell it, then the muse would move on to someone else who will. Ms. Gilbert discussed how freeing this was for her. She was no longer declaring to the reader: “Listen to me. I have something to say.” Instead, she was just the voice for an idea out there in the universe. It was almost as if she had no other choice but to write. This opened her up to write every day without fear of the result.
2. Ira Glass is an American public radio personality and the host and producer of the radio and television show This American Life. He has a great quote for young creatives. In short, he encourages that your work is not going to be good when you’re first starting out. You may have an excitement for your craft and a killer taste for what’s good, but your execution is poor. The only way to improve your work, the only way to close the gap so that your work is as good as your ambitions, is to do a lot of work. Write. Every day. Every week put yourself on a deadline to write something new. It’s going to take awhile, but that’s normal. Good writing doesn’t come the first time you sit down.
3. Louis C.K. is one of the most thoughtful and innovative comics alive right now. I once heard him speak about his HBO show, Lucky Louie, which was cancelled after one season in 2006. He was asked if he was disappointed and if he looked back at it as a failure. His answer was unequivocally: “No.” For him it was just another experience that taught him how to hone his craft, which was invaluable.
So those would be my three pieces of (long-winded) advice for young writers. One, don’t worry about whether you have anything important to say. If you are inspired, say it. Two, write constantly. You won’t become a good writer unless you’re writing all the time. Three, take every writing experience and use it to hone your craft. Something is not a failure simply because the public doesn’t receive it the way you would like.
Thank you, Lilaina! I am grateful for this opportunity to spend some time with you and your readers. You have a wonderful site! If your readers have questions or comments, or they would like to share their thoughts on my recent book, please contact me. I would love to hear from them. You can reach me via email at email@example.com or on twitter @DanBuri777. Thanks!
Dan Buri's first collection of short fiction, Pieces Like Pottery, is an exploration of heartbreak and redemption that announces the arrival of a new American author. His writing is uniquely heartfelt and explores the depths of the human struggle and the human search for meaning in life.
Mr. Buri's non-fiction works have been distributed online and in print, including publications in Pundit Press, Tree, Summit Avenue Review, American Discovery, and TC Huddle. The defunct and very well regarded Buris On The Couch, was a He-Says/She-Says blog musing on the ups and downs of marriage with his wife.
Mr. Buri is an active attorney in the Pacific Northwest and has been recognized by Intellectual Asset Magazine as one of the World's Top 300 Intellectual Property Strategists every year since 2010. He lives in Oregon with his wife and two-year-old daughter.
Pieces Like Pottery Links