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Recommended Books
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    The Writers Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers, 3rd Edition
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    The Writing of Fiction
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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
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    Endangered Species: Writers Talk About Their Craft, Their Visions, Their Lives
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QUOTE OF THE DAY

Monday
Mar252019

Brick by Brick

My goal when I sit down to write out of my own circumstances is not to make myself transparent. In fact, I am building an edifice. Stone by stone, I am constructing a story. Brick by brick, I am learning what image, what memory belongs to what. I am arranging the pieces that come my way, as Virginia Woolf suggests in her diary. I am attempting to make a piece of music as clear, as emotionally resonant and orderly, as a sonata. I am striving to make order out of chaos, which is the sweetest pleasure I know. When I succeed, I have a thing, this story, to offer. It isn’t me. It isn’t even a facsimile. I have used my life — rather than my life using me — to make something more beautiful and refined than I could ever be.

DANI SHAPIRO

Sunday
Mar242019

Keep the Channel Open

One of the most solid pieces of writing advice I know is in fact intended for dancers – you can find it in the choreographer Martha Graham’s biography. But it relaxes me in front of my laptop the same way I imagine it might induce a young dancer to breathe deeply and wiggle their fingers and toes. Graham writes: “There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open.”

ZADIE SMITH

Saturday
Mar232019

The Road to Hell Is Paved with Adverbs

I believe the road to hell is paved with adverbs, and I will shout it from the rooftops. To put it another way, they're like dandelions. If you have one on your lawn, it looks pretty and unique. If you fail to root it out, however, you find five the next day…fifty the day after that…and then, my brothers and sisters, your lawn is totally, completely, and profligately covered with dandelions. By then you see them for the weeds they really are, but by then it's—GASP!!—too late. "I can be a good sport about adverbs, though. Yes I can. With one exception: dialogue attribution. I insist that you use the adverb in dialogue attribution only in the rarest and most special of occasions...and not even then, if you can avoid it. 

STEPHEN KING

Friday
Mar222019

Human Nature Is the Great Constant

I think humans are the most interesting thing I know about. They're inexhaustibly interesting. And I think one of the great beauties of the novel as a form is that it shows us that human nature is the great constant. Human nature is the same in all places, in all times, in all languages. And that makes it the great subject of any writer's life, just to try and explore this vast ocean of human beings.

SALMAN RUSHDIE

Thursday
Mar212019

T.S. Eliot's Advice to a Young Writer

Then it was four o'clock, or nearly; it was time for Eliot to conclude our interview, and take tea with his colleagues. He stood up, slowly enough to give me time to stand upright before he did, granting me the face of knowing when to leave. When this tall, pale, dark-suited figure struggled successfully to its feet, and I had leapt to mine, we lingered a moment in the doorway, while I sputtered ponderous thanks, and he nodded smiling to acknowledge them. Then Eliot appeared to search for the right phrase with which to send me off. He looked at me in the eyes, and set off into a slow, meandering sentence. "Let me see, said T. S. Eliot, "forty years ago I went from Harvard to Oxford. Now you are going from Harvard to Oxford. What advice can I give you?" He paused delicately, shrewdly, while I waited with greed for the words which I would repeat for the rest of my life, the advice from elder to younger, setting me on the road of emulation. When he had ticked off the comedian's exact milli­seconds of pause, he said, "Have you any long underwear?"

DONALD HALL

Wednesday
Mar202019

Write Freely and Rapidly

Write freely and as rapidly as possible and throw the whole thing on paper. Never correct or rewrite until the whole thing is down. Rewrite in process is usually found to be an excuse for not going on.

JOHN STEINBECK

Tuesday
Mar192019

The First Novel Is Often a Therapeutic Exercise

I always advise young writers not to get too fixated on their first novel. The moment they finish that, they should start on the next one – which will usually be much better. The first novel is often a therapeutic exercise, in which personal issues are dealt with. Once you’ve done that, move on to the next subject! You should accept that your first novel is probably never going to be published – but the second one might.

ALEXANDER McCALL SMITH

Monday
Mar182019

Writing Isn't Magical

People on the outside think there's something magical about writing, that you go up in the attic at midnight and cast the bones and come down in the morning with a story, but it isn't like that. You sit in back of the typewriter and you work, and that's all there is to it.

HARLAN ELLISON

Sunday
Mar172019

Dialogue Is Not Conversation

Young writers often confuse dialogue with conversation, under the assumption that the closer you get to reality, the more convincing you sound. But dialogue is not conversation. Dialogue is a construct; it is artificial; it is much more efficient and believable than real conversation. Just as fiction itself distorts reality in order to achieve a larger truth, so dialogue eliminates all the false starts and irrelevant intrusions of real life in order to reveal character and move the encounter toward a dramatic conclusion.

JOHN L'HEUREUX

Saturday
Mar162019

Writing Is Not an Amusing Occupation

Only amateurs say that they write for their own amusement. Writing is not an amusing occupation. It is a combination of ditch-digging, mountain-climbing, treadmill and childbirth. Writing may be interesting, absorbing, exhilarating, racking, relieving. But amusing? Never!

EDNA FERBER

Friday
Mar152019

This Is Sacred Work

Figuring out what the public wants, or even what the public is: that's the job of pollsters and publicists and advertisers. All those people study the marketplace. But the creative artist can change the world. A true writer opens people's ears and eyes, not merely playing to the public, but changing minds and lives. This is sacred work.

ALLEGRA GOODMAN

Thursday
Mar142019

Writers Learn from Their Predecessors

Long before the idea of a writer’s conference was a glimmer in anyone’s eye, writers learned by reading the work of their predecessors. They studied meter with Ovid, plot construction with Homer, comedy with Aristophanes; they honed their prose style by absorbing the lucid sentences of Montaigne and Samuel Johnson. And who could have asked for better teachers: generous, uncritical, blessed with wisdom and genius, as endlessly forgiving as only the dead can be?

FRANCINE PROSE

Wednesday
Mar132019

Sometimes You Have to Escape Yourself

It's the writing itself that needs to be authentic, in other words; not the writer. Once I realized this, many years after college, I was suddenly free to begin, because I'd left my inhibitions behind. “Express yourself!” is the great rallying cry of all the arts—not just of fiction—but sometimes you have to escape yourself, just a little, to create something true.

JOHN WRAY

Tuesday
Mar122019

Get in Touch with Your Thoughts

Composition is a discipline; it forces us to think. If you want to “get in touch with your feelings,” fine—talk to yourself; we all do. But, if you want to communicate with another thinking human being, get in touch with your thoughts. Put them in order; give them a purpose; use them to persuade, to instruct, to discover, to seduce. The secret way to do this is to write it down and then cut out the confusing parts.

WILLIAM SAFIRE

Monday
Mar112019

Why You Write

Our minds and souls contain volumes inscribed by our experiences and emotions; each individual's consciousness is a collection of memories we've cataloged and stored inside us, a private library of a life lived. It is something that no one else can entirely share, one that burns down and disappears when we die. But if you can take something from that internal collection and share it--with one person or with the larger world, on the page or in a story recited--it takes on a life of its own.

SUSAN ORLEAN

Sunday
Mar102019

What If You Looked at Your Stories as Classified Information?

What if you looked at your stories as classified information? That means you only go into your characters’ minds on a need-to-know basis. If they absolutely need to think or feel something, you can let them do it; otherwise, let them alone. Don’t make a damn fool of yourself if you don’t need to.

CAROLYN SEE

Saturday
Mar092019

Writers Take Words Seriously

Writers take words seriously—perhaps the last professional class that does—and they struggle to steer their own through the crosswinds of meddling editors and careless typesetters and obtuse and malevolent reviewers into the lap of the ideal reader.

JOHN UPDIKE

Friday
Mar082019

Take Your Time But Don't Dawdle

Take your time but don’t dawdle. You have to get comfortable with experimenting and getting it wrong and also staring at the computer screen with nothing to type. All this discomfort and doubt and frustration in the beginning is just what you have to go through to get to the place where something begins to take shape. Sometimes this period can last a long time. Sometimes not. Either way, it’s just as necessary as the days where you feel like you’re transcribing something that already exists and your fingers can’t move fast enough to put down the words that flow so easily (these days are fun and worth waiting for).

BILL CLEGG

Thursday
Mar072019

When You're Writing a Novel, You Are in Charge

Writing has to do with truth-telling. When you're writing, let's say, an essay for a magazine, you try to tell the truth at every moment. You do your best to quote people accurately and get everything right. Writing a novel is a break from that: freedom. When you're writing a novel, you are in charge; you can beef things up.

NICHOLSON BAKER

Wednesday
Mar062019

Say All You Have to Say in the Fewest Possible Words

Say all you have to say in the fewest possible words, or your reader will be sure to skip them; and in the plainest possible words or he will certainly misunderstand them.

JOHN RUSKIN