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Recommended Books
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QUOTE OF THE DAY

Sunday
Feb172019

A Character Is Never a Whole Person

A character is never a whole person, but just those parts of him that fit the story or the piece of writing. So the act of selection is the writer's first step in delineating character. From what does he select? From a whole mass of what Bernard DeVoto used to call, somewhat clinically, "placental material." He must know an enormous amount more about each of his characters than he will ever use directly--childhood, family background, religion, schooling, health, wealth, sexuality, reading, tastes, hobbies--an endless questionnaire for the writer to fill out. For example, the writer knows that people speak, and therefore his characters will describe themselves indirectly when they talk. Clothing is a means of characterization. In short, each character has a style of his own in everything he does. These need not all be listed, but the writer should have a sure grasp of them. If he has, his characters will, within the book, read like people.

WILLIAM SLOANE

Saturday
Feb162019

Find Some Last-Line Grace

Try, if possible, to finish in the concrete, with an action, a movement, to carry the reader forward. Never forget that a story begins long before you start it and ends long after you end it. Allow your reader to walk out from your last line and into her own imagination. Find some last-line grace. This is the true gift of writing. It is not yours any more. It belongs in the elsewhere. It is the place you have created. Your last line is the first line for everybody else.

COLUM McCANN

Friday
Feb152019

Learn How to Be in Your Head

Because of phones, we always have the ability to jump out of ourselves. But unless you learn how to be in your head, you'll never learn how to create. I remember when I was a kid, I was in a three-hour car ride with my best friend, Danny. Before we got in the car, he grabbed a stick from his front yard, and the entire drive home he made up games with this…stick. Sometimes the stick was a man, sometimes a piece in a larger game, or he'd give it voices, pretend the stick was a telephone. I remember sitting there next to him with my Donkey Kong thinking, Dude, you just entertained yourself for three hours…with a fucking twig! And I thought to myself, Wow, I have to raise my imagination game.

LIN-MANUEL MIRANDA

Thursday
Feb142019

Write What You Would Read

The most important thing is you can’t write what you wouldn’t read for pleasure. It’s a mistake to analyze the market thinking you can write whatever is hot. You can’t say you’re going to write romance when you don’t even like it. You need to write what you would read if you expect anybody else to read it.
 And you have to be driven. You have to have the three D’s: drive, discipline and desire. If you’re missing any one of those three, you can have all the talent in the world, but it’s going to be really hard to get anything done.

NORA ROBERTS 

Wednesday
Feb132019

How Can You Teach Anybody How to Write?

Writing is something that you don’t know how to do. You sit down and it’s something that happens, or it may not happen. So, how can you teach anybody how to write? It’s beyond me, because you yourself don’t even know if you’re going to be able to. I’m always worried, well, you know, every time I go upstairs with my wine bottle. Sometimes I’ll sit at that typewriter for fifteen minutes, you know. I don’t go up there to write. The typewriter’s up there. If it doesn’t start moving, I say, well this could be the night that I hit the dust.

CHARLES BUKOWSKI

Tuesday
Feb122019

Interviews Should Be Done In Person

I think most interviews should be done in person. I think it’s great fun. I think you interview better when you see someone. As you show up, you get a higher validation. You've made the effort to come to their house, you see people. It’s more fun. The real fun is in doing the interviews.

DAVID HALBERSTAM

Monday
Feb112019

One Writes Out of Experience

One writes out of one thing only—one's own experience. Everything depends on how relentlessly one forces from this experience the last drop, sweet or bitter, it can possibly give. This is the only real concern of the artist, to recreate out of the disorder of life that order which is art.

JAMES BALDWIN

Sunday
Feb102019

Read Something of Thrilling Quality

One of the best ways to get started writing is to read something of thrilling quality. I never read poetry or fiction, and anything that smacks of usefulness—science or biography—is off-limits. Essentially, I read literary essays. I like super-arrogant, high-level, brainy essays about aesthetics. I had a Nabokov jag for a couple of years: his Lectures on Literature. Kundera has two beautiful books of essays. There’s also Calvino’s Six Memos for the Next Millennium. Herbert has that wonderful book Still Life with Bridal. Brodsky is another one. And Benjamin. Hannah Arendt’s introduction to Benjamin. I love introductions. It’s a category in itself. All of my writers read Kafka, but I don’t read Kafka. I only have an interest in reading people who write about reading him.

KAY RYAN

Saturday
Feb092019

It's a Constant Struggle to Get It Down

We're all there trying to make the story, novel, or chapter as good as it can be. It's a constant struggle to get it down, get it clear, and understand that your intentions are the same, whether you're an undergraduate writing a short story or a writer with seven published novels. The continually reassuring thing is that we're all novices when we start a new work.

ALICE McDERMOTT

Friday
Feb082019

Don't Explain How Things Are Linked in Fiction

Never, ever, write "As X happened, Y started to happen" unless there is a direct cause between the two. There's no need to explain how things are linked in fiction. "As John looked out of the window, Mary started to chop the tomatoes" is always inferior to "John looked out of the window. Mary started to chop the tomatoes." A simple point with profound ramifications about the writer's responsibility to the reader's imagination.

PHILIP HENSHER

Thursday
Feb072019

Writing Is Very Hard Work

Writing is very hard work, and having done both writing and directing, I tell you that directing is a pleasure and writing is a drag. Directing can be difficult, but it is a pleasure because you have something to work with. You can put the camera here or there, you can interpret the scene this way or that way, the readings can be such or such. But writing is just an empty page–you start with absolutely nothing. I think writers are vastly underrated and underpaid. It’s totally impossible to make a great picture out of a lousy script.

BILLY WILDER

Wednesday
Feb062019

Avoid Prologues

Avoid prologues. They can be annoying, especially a prologue following an introduction that comes after a foreword. But these are ordinarily found in nonfiction. A prologue in a novel is backstory, and you can drop it in anywhere you want.

ELMORE LEONARD

Tuesday
Feb052019

You Can't Write What You Wouldn't Read

The most important thing is you can’t write what you wouldn’t read for pleasure. It’s a mistake to analyze the market thinking you can write whatever is hot. You can’t say you’re going to write romance when you don’t even like it. You need to write what you would read if you expect anybody else to read it.
 And you have to be driven. You have to have the three D’s: drive, discipline and desire. If you’re missing any one of those three, you can have all the talent in the world, but it’s going to be really hard to get anything done.

NORA ROBERTS

Monday
Feb042019

Keep a Diary

Keep a diary, but don't just list all the things you did during the day. Pick one incident and write it up as a brief vignette. Give it color, include quotes and dialogue, shape it like a story with a beginning, middle and end—as if it were a short story or an episode in a novel. It's great practice. Do this while figuring out what you want to write a book about. The book may even emerge from within this running diary.

JOHN BERENDT

Sunday
Feb032019

Characters Want to Get Out

Writers write because they cannot allow the characters that inhabit them to suffocate them. These characters want to get out, to breathe fresh air and partake of the wine of friendship; were they to remain locked in, they would forcibly break down the walls. It is they who force the writer to tell their stories.

ELIE WIESEL

Saturday
Feb022019

Obstinacy, Not Talent

Everybody has a hard job. All real work is hard. My work happened also to be undoable. Morning after morning for 50 years, I faced the next page defenseless and unprepared. Writing for me was a feat of self-preservation. If I did not do it, I would die. So I did it. Obstinacy, not talent, saved my life. It was also my good luck that happiness didn’t matter to me and I had no compassion for myself. Though why such a task should have fallen to me I have no idea. Maybe writing protected me against even worse menace. Now? Now I am a bird sprung from a cage instead of (to reverse Kafka’s famous conundrum) a bird in search of a cage. The horror of being caged has lost its thrill. It is now truly a great relief, something close to a sublime experience, to have nothing more to worry about than death.

PHILIP ROTH

Friday
Feb012019

Be Specific

Show, Don’t Tell. It’s coaching, not teaching. Be specific. If you can’t paint a picture of it, it’s an abstraction. If you can paint a picture of it, it’s a specificity. Good writing is specific writing, and specific writing is good writing. Be specific. “No ideas but in things,” wrote William Carlos Williams—the five most golden words there ever were, for a writer. Don’t tell us it was hot, but instead, like Eudora Welty, remind us that the fading pink roses were the color of a bird dog’s panting tongue. That the ceaseless sound of the cicadas in the trees high overhead was like the sound of grain being poured into a metal bucket. Specificity is the lever, the pry bar, by which you lift up new universes and make readers believe all things. 

RICK BASS

Wednesday
Jan302019

The Process Begins by Actually Sitting Down

I always have a clock in front of me. Sometimes, if things are going badly, I will force myself to write a page in a half an hour. I find that can be done. I find that what I write when I force myself is generally just as good as what I write when I’m feeling inspired. It’s mainly a matter of forcing yourself to write. There’s a marvelous essay that Sinclair Lewis wrote on how to write. He said most writers don’t understand that the process begins by actually sitting down.

TOM WOLFE

Tuesday
Jan292019

So Many Books, So Little Time

So many books, so little time. When I was young and thought I had plenty of time, I often reread old favorites from start to finish. But these days I reread only bits and pieces, looking for a vaguely remembered tone or mood, a voice, a way of structuring a scene, or in the case of nonfiction, factual details, that I can borrow or learn from for my own work.

RUSSELL BANKS

Monday
Jan282019

The Reader's Bill of Rights

The Reader’s Bill of Rights: The right to not read, to skip pages, to not finish, to reread, to read anything, to escapism, to read anywhere, to browse, to read out loud, to not defend your tastes.

DANIEL PENNAC