Adam Reger | Freelance Writer

Pittsburgh-based fiction writer

Category: Pittsburgh Copywriter

Pittsburgh Center for the Arts

I hesitate to put a name on this—I’m afraid it will come across too much as a eulogy—but I wanted to offer an appreciation of the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts, where I just finished teaching what will likely be my last class.

The PCA and its sister organization, Pittsburgh Filmmakers, are going through extremely tough times right now (see here and here): there will be no fall classes at either institution, in a move designed to cut costs. After that, the future’s unclear.

Even before I heard this news, I had made up my mind to “retire” from teaching at the PCA. The reason has quite a lot to do with having a toddler at home and hating to leave in the evenings to teach until 9 or 9:30. It also has to do with my own career, both as a teacher at local universities and as a freelance writer, getting busier.

It certainly has nothing to do with the students who came through my classes.

Without a doubt, that will be the biggest thing I’ll miss about teaching at the PCA. Over five years of teaching fiction classes there, I’ve met so many incredible writers and people. Each class was an amazing reaffirmation of the fact that there is talent everywhere in Pittsburgh, that there are thoughtful, ambitious, inquisitive, and dedicated writers in places (and professions) where you would not expect them. As my teaching career has developed, with classes at the Community College of Allegheny County, the University of Pittsburgh, and Saint Vincent College, the PCA has consistently been a welcome and sustaining complement to teaching at the undergraduate level: I’ve gotten to step into a classroom with people who are hungry, often starving, to focus deeply on writing, to share their work, to spend time on it, even if it’s only three hours on a cold, snowy Thursday in the dead of winter.

The PCA was really integral to my development as a teacher, both in terms of forcing me to condense a lesson on point of view to 10 or so minutes, and pick a reading that will illuminate the key aspects of the topic, and advancing my career. I started teaching with an aim of trying it out: I proposed a class at the Osher Institute for Lifelong Learning at Pitt, it was accepted, and I stuttered my way through, well enough to find that I liked it. I taught one or two more classes before I took a job at Pitt, which meant I could no longer teach at Osher.

Looking around for ways to keep it going, I remembered having seen the occasional writing class in the PCA catalog, and reached out to the education director. That was all it took: in the winter of 2013, I entered the PCA’s children’s studio, with its low-to-the-ground tables and its chairs designed for children, and greeted my first class.

I’ve lost track of the number of classes I taught at the PCA. Over the past five years, I’ve taught at least one or two, sometimes more, each year. Along the way, I devised and taught several offerings of a class called Writing Studio, based on the observation that the biggest problem troubling most of my fiction students was simply finding the time to write and making themselves sit down and get the writing done. I’m very proud of what Writing Studio became, in particular because I adapted it each time to fit the needs and the writing goals of my students.

One of the things that makes me proudest as a teacher is that several groups of students have gone on to form writing groups based on the connections they made in my classes. This was a frequent piece of advice when I introduced the concept of the writing workshop and my particular rules for how it should run: the ultimate goal of being in a writing workshop is to connect with people who “get” your work and whose comments you find valuable; grab hold of those people, I said, and keep in conversation, keep sharing your work.

My teaching, and my own thinking about writing, has also been deepened considerably by the insights that have come up in class discussions. One of the most memorable came from using the first chapter of a Harry Potter novel to discuss detail. In the scene, the British prime minister is worrying by himself in his office, late at night, when a supernatural creature from the wizarding world appears to him, arriving through the suddenly-green fire in his fireplace. My intent with discussing this passage was to present the idea of verisimilitude, and to show how light a touch J.K. Rowling uses in seeding the scene with concrete details: the dark wood mantle place, the sooty fireplace, the heavy velvet curtains, all give a sense of the setting.

“Why do I see Oriental rugs on the floor?” asked a student. “And marble columns in the corner of the room?”

We explored this as a class, talking about what other details we’d mentally filled in, and where we’d smuggled them in from. It was invigorating to see something new in this passage, to investigate and deepen this student’s observation. I’ve mentioned it every time I have taught detail since then, and that lesson is much deeper because of it.

I’m very lucky to have ended with a Fiction I section full of smart, generous, and talkative writers. That talkative bit is important, because the class was only four people. That’s sometimes happened during my PCA career—that first class was a whopping 12 students, still the high-water mark for enrollment—and when I’ve gotten down to four students in the past, it’s sometimes been challenging. This time around, I promised the class on the first night that we wouldn’t often go all the way to the advertised 9:30 p.m. end time, only to break that promise again and again as students raised really interesting and perceptive questions about whatever topic we were discussing that evening, leading to fascinating extended discussions about characterization, plot, dialogue, and point of view.

Each first PCA class is a grab bag, a bit of a gamble—you never know who will turn up—and I’ve been extremely fortunate in the people who have chosen to take my classes. In fact, if there is anything positive in retiring, it’s that I look forward to taking off my teacher’s cloak and greeting these former students, if and when I see them—and Pittsburgh is still a small enough place that I suspect I will run into many of them (as I have already over the years)—not as my pupils but as peers, colleagues, and friends.

Some Updates

Although no one would guess it from checking this website, I’ve been busy in 2018.

I’ve just made some updates to the Copywriting page, adding recent (and some not-so-recent) clips of things I’ve been working on. One that really deserves special attention is this small book, “If Kids Built a City,” produced for the Grable Foundation. It’s beautiful:

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A small thrill earlier in the summer was to learn that I was a co-finalist, with the writer and editor (and great guy) Ervin Dyer, for a Golden Quill award for a Pitt Magazine story that I contributed to. We didn’t win, but that was a first for me in my professional writing career—and the story, “Higher Ground,” is well worth your time.

Finally, one of my favorite recent stories was picked up by The MacGuffina terrific literary magazine connected to Schoolcraft College. The story is called “The Pedestal of the World” and came out of a half-remembered remark by one of my favorite undergraduate teachers, Oli Watt, about the Italian artist and trickster Piero Manzoni. Oli described Manzoni’s piece, “The Base of the World,” and said that if he ever thought of something like that, he’d quit art forever, something that stuck with me for, I guess, more than 15 years. The story’s print only but if you have a chance to pick up this issue of The MacGuffin you’ll find a ton of other great stuff by some fantastic writers in it.

Ghostwriting: How to Know If You Need to Hire a Ghostwriter or Not

Ghost Image

This is the fourth (and, for now, final) installment in a series of blog entries about ghostwriting. I’m attempting to provide practical information for those who may be considering hiring a ghostwriter. The series started with some misconceptions about ghostwriting and continued with a rundown of the different ways you might work with a ghostwriter, followed by some questions to answer before reaching out to a ghostwriter.

Now that I’ve walked through what ghostwriting is, the various logistics of how you might work with a ghostwriter, and some things you can do to prepare yourself for success with a ghostwriter, let’s ask a seemingly dumb question: do you actually need a ghostwriter?

I know, I know—shouldn’t that have been the very first question?

Well, not necessarily. Sometimes it’s only once you’ve done some self-reflection on your needs and, especially, the nature of your project that you get clarity on what you actually need. And sometimes, talking through practical matters such as how you’d like to work with a ghostwriter and what kinds of materials you have available to give to him/her exposes a surprising fact: maybe someone writing this project for you isn’t what you need at all.

As I described in my first post, many will find that they need help from the ground up, from organizing their thoughts to writing the first word. The reasons vary: English may not be your primary language, or you may simply not like writing. If you’re in that boat, a ghostwriter is certainly an excellent and efficient option.

For many others, however, your answers to some of the big getting-started questions I proposed last time might indicate: that you have already begun writing your book, but aren’t quite happy with the pages you have; that you’ve written other pieces—newspaper articles, journal entries, blog posts, white papers and more scholarly articles—that you feel could go into a book, provided they are rewritten or reworked in the right way; or that you’d like to write the book, you feel you’d enjoy it and would do a good job of it, but something is getting in your way. (Usually the obstacle here is time, a sense of not knowing where to begin, or some combination of the two.)

The options I go through below are aimed at the people who fall into this category. Depending on the nature of your project and what kinds of material you’ve already generated, you may find some of the following helpful as alternatives to hiring a ghostwriter.

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Ghostwriting: Questions Before You Get Started

Ghost Image

This is the third installment in a series of blog entries about ghostwriting. I’m attempting to provide practical information for those who may be considering hiring a ghostwriter. The series started with some misconceptions about ghostwriting and continued with a rundown of the different ways you might work with a ghostwriter.

Today I want to cover how to prepare to work with a ghostwriter. I sort of covered this in my last post, on the different ways a ghostwriter might work—it was certainly my hope that looking through that list of methods might spark some readers to say, “Yes, that is definitely how I’d prefer to work with someone.” Figuring that out is a big part of the battle.

But mostly I want to move beyond the question of how you’ll get the ghostwriter the information they need to think about ways to identify what’s important to you and get at least a general picture of your book that you can communicate to the ghostwriter. Below is a list of questions and concerns to think about before you reach out to a ghostwriter. If you have even the beginnings of ideas on these topics, your ghostwriter will definitely appreciate it.

Where will this book go in the bookstore?

For now (and hopefully forever) the metaphor of a brick-and-mortar bookstore is still relevant. As long as it is, I ask clients Where would your book appear in a bookstore?

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On Rejection

For anyone who writes and seeks to publish their work, rejection is just a fact of life. Many times I’ve started entries like this one decrying how hard it is to get anything published, from a short short story to a novel. Thankfully, I’ve deleted most of them.

Being in a sunnier mood at the moment, I thought I’d offer some more positive thoughts on rejection, trying to put it into perspective.

A reality check, though: being “positive” really just means better coming to grips with what is a very grim reality. Two object lessons that will quantify that grimness:

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This is a screen shot from my Duotrope account, which (among other things) tracks submissions. It indicates that of the 31 submissions I’ve sent out over the past 12 months, I have a 4.2% acceptance rate.

Terrible, right? My work must be pretty bad, right? Actually, if you check out the note at the very bottom of this image, you will see that that pathetic 4.2% represents a better than average response rate (from the journals to which I submitted). So much so, Duotrope is congratulating me!

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Ghostwriting: How does it work?

Ghostwriter 2This is the second installment of a brief series of blog posts relating to ghostwriting. In the first installment, I looked at some common misconceptions about ghostwriting.

In today’s post, I want to dive deeper into a question that can be a bit of a sticking point for many people who are thinking of hiring a ghostwriter.

“How does it work?”

Once you’ve found a ghostwriter and you’re ready to get started . . . well, how do you get started?

There are three main ways that a ghostwriter works with his or her clients. In my experience, writing a book for a client is typically a mix of these three methods, and very rarely is just a single method employed.

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Ghostwriting: Some Common Misconceptions

Ghostwriter imageOver the next couple weeks, I’m going to be posting some blog pieces covering a part of my career portfolio that I rarely write about: ghostwriting. I have been working as a ghostwriter for the last seven or so years, but due to the nature of the business I have rarely mentioned it here on my blog.

That’s mainly because by nature it’s a fairly secretive process: A ghostwriter is contracted to write a book for someone else, and that person’s name goes on the cover. That’s the deal, with all that it entails: As a ghostwriter, I don’t share credit, my name is never mentioned, and the “author” (my client) proceeds as if he or she wrote the book, from start to finish.

If you look at my ghostwriting page, there aren’t any titles mentioned or links to books. Part of what my clients purchase is my discretion. This can make it hard to market yourself as a ghostwriter, but what would make it really hard is a reputation of blabbing about writing clients’ books. So I keep my silence.

Common Misconceptions About Ghostwriting

In this installment, I am going to look at some misconceptions and points of confusion that I encounter frequently when I talk to people about ghostwriting. My hope is that this might be read by someone bouncing around the internet, trying to decide whether a ghostwriter is what they need for their project. Clearing up some of these misconceptions would make an excellent starting point regardless of the nature of your project.

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New, tiny fiction

Here is something new for me: I wrote a tweet-length story and it has been published by Tiny Text (@Tiny_Text), a Twitter-based literary magazine that publishes writing of 140 characters or fewer.

My story, “Spoiler Alert,” boils down all stories to a single, tweet-length formula (really).

You can check out the story here, then dive into Tiny Text’s many fine, super-compressed pieces here.

UPDATE: Sadly, Tiny Text is closing its doors, so I’ve captured this screen shot of my story for posterity.

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New fiction at Euphony

I am very pleased and proud to have a short story, “Cruelty,” in the Spring 2016 issue of Euphony, out of the University of Chicago. You can read the story online here.

A little background on this piece. This is all that remains of a novel I wrote during graduate school, then drastically rewrote several times after graduation. That novel (working title: “Isolation Drills”), after lots of reworking, featured a narrator who was making an academic study of pornographic films and who met and began to date a woman. It was a classic first attempt at a novel, with lots of stuff pulled from my life (NOT the porn thing!), not much plot, and some not-very-well-drawn scenes and characters. The whole drafting process was an invaluable study in what’s required for a novel and how to write one (plan! Revise!), but I’m grateful I don’t have to look at or think about those pages anymore.

Even so, the central conflict of the novel and the relationship between the two main characters stuck with me, and at some point last summer I had two related thoughts: “Is there any way I can salvage anything from those multiple drafts and hundreds of pages?” and “What if the perspective shifted from his to hers?”

And so “Cruelty” came to be.

Notes for Next Time

(I was tempted to title this something flashy and contemporary-seeming, like “One Weird Trick to Make It Easy to Jump into Writing,” but opted for the more prosaic title you see above.)

Anyway, a note stemming from last night’s meeting of my “Writing Studio” class at the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts. (Briefly, this is a class whose purpose is to offer writers of all genres/backgrounds the time to write, with some hopefully-stimulating elements like a weekly craft talk, exercise prompts, discussion time, the option to share pages with me and get feedback. Basically, think of an open studio in pottery or painting—it’s like that, but with writing.) Two meetings in, the class has been great fun and very stimulating—for me but, far more importantly, for the students, a number of whom have told me they’ve been enjoying it and getting lots done.

We had a great discussion regarding writing process, and someone brought up Hemingway’s practice of stopping a day’s writing in the middle of a sentence so that he’d have a natural and easy place to start the following day.

This prompted me to share something I do when I stop writing for the day that has come to seem so natural, I quite forgot that I’d ever not done it. The students seemed interested, so I thought I’d share it here as well.

Going off the Hemingway practice, which was designed so that Papa could stop when there was more to be written and it would be fairly clear, the following day, what should come next, I have gotten into the habit of marking the place where I’m going to pick up tomorrow and then writing a short note about what I think can or will happen next.

For example, here’s what I wrote at the end of today’s work on a piece that I think will eventually add up to a novel:

“echoes of Homewood, someone saw him give Malaki a hug and wants a hug too; asks Pete’s advice on Hilda”

This will of course be complete nonsense to you, but it means something to me and when I begin work on this piece tomorrow I can look at this and remember what I thought might be a good next step.

I have the option to follow those notes as if they were a blueprint, but it’s only an option. What I think is important is that these ideas present suggestions I can consider following (and decide to do something else—for instance, I might decide this bit about the hug is stupid, after all, and ignore it), begin to follow and then change course, or follow to the letter if I’m simply not feeling very original (or if I still agree with these ideas).

As I said, this has become a thing I do unconsciously when writing, as ingrained as having a cup of coffee nearby and my internet connection disabled. But several of the students remarked that picking up the thread of a piece of writing often costs them a bit of time and effort each time they get started back up on something, and I remembered that that used to be an issue for me, too. Hopefully this is an idea that can be beneficial to somebody out there.