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Recommended Books
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    The Writing Life: Writers On How They Think And Work
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    The Writing Life
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  • The Writing of Fiction
    The Writing of Fiction
    by Edith Wharton
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    Writing the Novel: From Plot to Print
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    Writing Past Dark: Envy, Fear, Distraction and Other Dilemmas in the Writer's Life
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    You're a Genius All the Time: Belief and Technique for Modern Prose
    by Regina Weinreich, Jack Kerouac
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    Zen in the Art of Writing: Releasing the Creative Genius Within You
    by Ray Bradbury
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    Endangered Species: Writers Talk About Their Craft, Their Visions, Their Lives
    by Lawrence Grobel

QUOTE OF THE DAY

Thursday
Jan172019

There's No Such Thing as Nonfiction

My feeling is that there's no such thing as nonfiction. Everything is fiction, because in the moment someone tries to relate an experience of what happened to them, it's gone. The reality that was felt at the moment is almost impossible to describe. It's one reason why there are writers, to come close to how it felt when it happened.

NORMAN MAILER

Wednesday
Jan162019

Don't Think Critically When You're Trying to Write

It’s not good to think very critically when you’re trying to write. Any sentence could be stifled by the critic in one if you allow him to get the upper hand. But, by and large, keeping in mind that I am a little wary of the critic in me, I think once you start trying to put images and words of dialogue together, in some way the imaginary world takes over and somehow shuts out all the harassing critical thoughts that you might otherwise entertain.

JOHN UPDIKE

Tuesday
Jan152019

Imagine That You Are Dying

Imagine that you are dying. If you had a terminal disease would you finish this book? Why not? The thing that annoys this 10-weeks-to-live self is the thing that is wrong with the book. So change it. Stop arguing with yourself. Change it. See? Easy. And no one had to die.

ANNE ENRIGHT

Monday
Jan142019

Fiction vs. Nonfiction

I don’t see any difference, from a technical point of view, between writing fiction and writing nonfiction. The only difference is that with nonfiction, every fact in the book must refer to a document or a source outside of the book. But technically speaking, as a piece of work, the two have very similar requirements. When I wrote The Making of the Atomic Bomb, I tried to arrange the story so that it was dramatic and interesting, which it is inherently. There are some things in the book that a novelist might invent. I did not invent it, but I positioned it.

RICHARD RHODES

Sunday
Jan132019

Everything Is Copy

We all grew up with this thing that my mother said to us over and over and over and over again, which was everything is copy. You know, you'd come home with some thing that you thought was the tragedy of your life - someone hadn't asked you to dance or…the hem had fallen out of your dress or whatever you thought was the worst thing that could ever happen to a human being. And my mother would say everything is copy. I now believe that what my mother meant is this: when you slip on a banana peel, people laugh at you. But when you tell people you slipped on a banana peel, it's your laugh. So you become the hero rather than the victim of the joke.

NORA EPHRON

Saturday
Jan122019

Fiction Writing Is About Compression and Suggestion

I don’t use people I know at all. I really value the shorthand, the compression of suggesting a whole life while actually having to render up very little of it. I feel tired of exposition and backstory; the more you can suggest without spelling out, the more you can encompass in the same space. Fiction writing is always about compression and suggestion.

JENNIFER EAGAN

Friday
Jan112019

Agents Make Good Partners

Agents make good partners, particularly if you don’t live in New York (but even if you do). If they’re competent they know the going rates and the best terms; they know which editors might be interested in your work. Don’t ask them for literary judgments about your projects. They’ll give them and you’ll be sorry you asked. (My agent friends will kill me for saying so, but literary acumen ain’t their forte. Nor should it be—that’s your job.) They’ll cost you at least ten, more usually fifteen percent of your writing income. You should see as you go along that their contribution of contacts and negotiating expertise adds at least that much to the total (and if it doesn’t add more, you ought to look elsewhere).

RICHARD RHODES

Thursday
Jan102019

The Three Necessary Elements of a Story

There are three necessary elements in a story—exposition, development, and drama. Exposition we may illustrate as “John Fortescue was a solicitor in the little town of X”; development as “One day Mrs. Fortescue told him she was about to leave him for another man”; and drama as “You will do nothing of the kind,” he said.

FRANK O’CONNOR

Wednesday
Jan092019

No Cheap Tricks

I overheard the writer Geoffrey Wolff say "No cheap tricks" to a group of writing students. That should go on a three-by-five card. I'd amend it a little to "No tricks." Period. I hate tricks. At the first sign of a trick or a gimmick in a piece of fiction, a cheap trick or even an elaborate trick, I tend to look for cover. Tricks are ultimately boring, and I get bored easily, which may go along with my not having much of an attention span. But extremely clever chichi writing, or just plain tomfoolery writing, puts me to sleep. Writers don't need tricks or gimmicks or even necessarily need to be the smartest fellows on the block. At the risk of appearing foolish, a writer sometimes needs to be able to just stand and gape at this or that thing—a sunset or an old shoe—in absolute and simple amazement.

RAYMOND CARVER

Tuesday
Jan082019

Fiction Is Very Greedy

Fiction is very greedy. It will take all you know and then some. The first novel I tried to write, I was struck by this — the appetite of the blank page for ever more information, ever more data. An empty book is a greedy thing. You are right: You wind up using everything you know, and often more than once.

JOHN UPDIKE

Monday
Jan072019

Write to Your Worst Enemy

Write to your mother. Write to your best friend. Write to the love of your life. Write to your worst enemy. I think you’ll discover that the work for the enemy will be of highest quality. It will be the most daring and smart, because if someone is your enemy, she has the power to hurt you, and so you must hold her in very high regard and will take some pleasure in making her fear for her life.

OTTESSA MOSHFEGH

Sunday
Jan062019

An Artist Needs Passion

The choice to train to be an artist of any kind is a risky one. Art’s a vocation, and often pays little for years and years — or never. Kids who want to be dancers, musicians, painters, writers, need more than dreams. They need a serious commitment to learning how to do what they want to do, and working at it through failure and discouragement. Dreams are lovely, but passion is what an artist needs — a passion for the work. That’s all that can carry you through the hard times. So I guess my advice to the young writer is a warning, and a wish: You’ve chosen a really, really hard job that probably won’t pay you beans — so get yourself some kind of salable skill to live on! And may you find the reward of your work in the work itself. May it bring you joy.

URSULA K. LE GUIN

Saturday
Jan052019

In Defense of the Adjective

I beg the privilege of demurring for a few moments against a high-flown disdain for the adjective. We’ve been cautioned by such proven masters as Ernest Hemingway, Clifton Fadiman and Mark Twain, to avoid the adjective as though it were a contagious disease. Here’s Fadiman:

“The adjective is the banana peel of the parts of speech.”

Mark Twain: “As to the adjective, when in doubt, strike it out.”

Hemingway: “If an adjective happens, kill it.”

All of which seems to me a bum rap against the language enjoyed worldwide by people who use a homely but sturdy adjective every day, billions of us: “good morning, good afternoon, good evening, good night" in all the languages of our polyglot world; and, by way of reinforcement, most of us rely on convenient adjectives such as “passable, great, terrific” or “lousy.” Not to speak of the bonhomie generated worldwide around Christmas; and by the pleasant modifier in happy New Year.

NORMAN CORWIN

Friday
Jan042019

Writing Is Lucky Work

I have never liked to suggest that writing is grinding, let alone brave work. H. L. Mencken used to say that any scribbler who found writing too arduous ought to take a week off to work on an assembly line, where he will discover what work is really like. The old boy, as they say, got that right. To be able to sit home and put words together in what one hopes are charming or otherwise striking sentences is, no matter how much tussle may be involved, lucky work, a privileged job. The only true grit connected with it ought to arrive when, thinking to complain about how hard it is to write, one is smart enough to shut up and silently grit one’s teeth.

JOSEPH EPSTEIN

Thursday
Jan032019

Good Writing Is the Hardest Form of Thinking

Good writing is the hardest form of thinking. It involves the agony of turning profoundly difficult thoughts into lucid form, then forcing them into the tight-fitting uniform of language, making them visible and clear. If the writing is good, then the result seems effortless and inevitable. But when you want to say something life-changing or ineffable in a single sentence, you face both the limitations of the sentence itself and the extent of your own talent.

PAT CONROY

Wednesday
Jan022019

You Have to Listen to Everyone

From my childhood, I remember talking to people, and the stories they told me were more interesting than what’s in books. People tell me extraordinary things, and I realize that there is nothing in the world about which we know anything for sure. Each person screams out his or her truth. You have to listen to everyone. As an artist, you have to listen to both the executioner and the victim.

SVETLANA ALEXIEVICH

Tuesday
Jan012019

Live Before You Write

Spend some time living before you start writing. What I find to be very bad advice is the snappy little sentence, “Write what you know.” It is the most tiresome and stupid advice that could possibly be given. If we write simply about what we know we never grow. We don't develop any facility for languages, or an interest in others, or a desire to travel and explore and face experience head-on. We just coil tighter and tighter into our boring little selves. What one should write about is what interests one.

ANNIE PROULX

Monday
Dec312018

The Page Will Teach You to Write

Who will teach me to write? a reader wanted to know. The page, the page, the blankness of eternity which you cover slowly, affirming time’s scrawl as a right and your daring as necessity; the page, which you cover woodenly, ruining it, but asserting your freedom and power to act, acknowledging that you ruin everything you touch but touching it nevertheless, because acting is better than being here in mere opacity; the page, which you cover slowly with the crabbed thread of your gut; the page in the purity of its possibilities; the page of your death, against which you pit such flawed excellences as you can muster with all your life’s strength: that page will teach you to write.

ANNIE DILLARD

Sunday
Dec302018

Don't Be Thin-Skinned

Try to develop steady work habits, maybe a more modest quota, but keep to it. Don’t be thin-skinned or easily discouraged because it’s an odds-long proposition; all of the arts are. Many are called, few are chosen, but it might be you.

JOHN UPDIKE

Saturday
Dec292018

Have No Unreasonable Fear of Repetition

Have no unreasonable fear of repetition. True, the repetition of a particular word several times in the same paragraph can strike a jarring note, but ordinarily the problem arises differently. The story is told of a feature writer who was doing a piece on the United Fruit Company. He spoke of bananas once; he spoke of bananas twice; he spoke of bananas yet a third time, and now he was desperate. “The world’s leading shippers of the elongated yellow fruit,” he wrote. A fourth banana would have been better.

JAMES J. KILPATRICK