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Recommended Books
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QUOTE OF THE DAY

Tuesday
Jan222019

Leave Things Lumpy

Leave things lumpy. People want to know how the protagonist’s father’s dress socks looked against his pale white shins. People want to know the titles of the strange and eclectic books lining the walls of his study. People want to know the sounds he made while snoring, how he looked while concentrating, the way his glasses pinched the bridge of his nose, leaving what appeared to be uncomfortable-looking ovals of purple and red discolored skin when he took those glasses off at the end of a long day. Even if those lumps make the mixture less smooth, less pretty, even if you don’t quite know what to do with them, even if they don’t figure into your chemistry—they don’t have a place in the reaction equations—leave them there. Leave the impurities in there.

CHARLES YU

Monday
Jan212019

The Vocabulary of Grammar

Our schools now often teach little of an essential and once common knowledge, the vocabulary of grammar—the techspeak of language and writing. Words such as subject, predicate, object, or adjective and adverb, or past tense and past-perfect tense, are half understood by or wholly unfamiliar to many. Yet they’re the names of the writer’s tools. They’re the words you need when you want to say what’s wrong or right in a sentence. A writer who doesn’t know them is like a carpenter who doesn’t know a hammer from a screwdriver. (“Hey, Pat, if I use that whatsit there with the kinda pointy end, will it get this thing into this piece of wood?”)

URSULA K. LE GUIN

Sunday
Jan202019

Start Writing Today

Write. Start writing today. Start writing right now. Don’t write it right, just write it –and then make it right later. Give yourself the mental freedom to enjoy the process, because the process of writing is a long one. Be wary of writing rules and advice. Do it your way.

TARA MOSS

Saturday
Jan192019

The Writing Habit

In writing, habit seems to be a much stronger force than either willpower or inspiration. Consequently there must be some little quality of fierceness until the habit pattern of a certain number of words is established. There is no possibility, in me at least, of saying, “I’ll do it if I feel like it.” One never feels like awaking day after day. In fact, given the smallest excuse, one will not work at all. The rest is nonsense. Perhaps there are people who can work that way, but I cannot. I must get my words down every day whether they are any good or not.

JOHN STEINBECK

Friday
Jan182019

If Only...

At every stage of writing a book, there is a sense of If only … If only I could find the time to write and if only I could figure out the third chapter and if only I could get my book finished. If only I could find an agent. If only some editor would buy my book. If only I could get a good publicist. If only the book would get reviewed. If only they would do more promotion. If only it would sell. It goes on like this forever, until you’re ready to start another book and kick off the cycle all over again.

ANN PATCHETT

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