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QUOTE OF THE DAY

Wednesday
Jun282017

If You’re Having Fun, It’s Probably Not Working

One of the things I’ve never experienced when writing is flow, that experience of being totally immersed in the process. The gradient changes, but it is always an uphill struggle: awkward first drafts; repeated editing; the depressingly regular deletion of entire stories. The view at the top is sometimes glorious, but the climb is always a long one. As I often say to students, “If you’re having fun, it’s probably not working.”

MARK HADDON

Tuesday
Jun272017

John Grisham’s Do’s and Don’ts for Popular Fiction

1. DO — WRITE A PAGE EVERY DAY

That’s about 200 words, or 1,000 words a week. Do that for two years and you’ll have a novel that’s long enough.

Nothing will happen until you are producing at least one page per day.

2. DON’T — WRITE THE FIRST SCENE UNTIL YOU KNOW THE LAST

This necessitates the use of a dreaded device commonly called an outline. Virtually all writers hate that word. I have yet to meet one
who admits to using an outline.

Plotting takes careful planning. Writers waste years pursuing stories that eventually don’t work.

3. DO — WRITE YOUR ONE PAGE EACH DAY AT THE SAME PLACE AND TIME

Early morning, lunch break, on the train, late at night — it doesn’t matter. Find the extra hour, go to the same place, shut the door.

No exceptions, no excuses.

4. DON’T — WRITE A PROLOGUE

Prologues are usually gimmicks to hook the reader. Avoid them. Plan your story (see No. 2) and start with Chapter 1.

5. DO — USE QUOTATION MARKS WITH DIALOGUE

Please do this. It’s rather basic.

6. DON’T — KEEP A THESAURUS WITHIN REACHING DISTANCE

I know, I know, there’s one at your fingertips.

There are three types of words: (1) words we know; (2) words we should know; (3) words nobody knows. Forget those in the third category
and use restraint with those in the second.

A common mistake by fledgling authors is using jaw-breaking vocabulary. It’s frustrating and phony.

7. DO — READ EACH SENTENCE AT LEAST THREE TIMES IN SEARCH OF WORDS TO CUT

Most writers use too many words, and why not? We have unlimited space and few constraints.

8. DON’T — INTRODUCE 20 CHARACTERS IN THE FIRST CHAPTER

Another rookie mistake. Your readers are eager to get started. Don’t bombard them with a barrage of names from four generations of the same family. Five names are enough to get started. 

Monday
Jun262017

Arrive at an Appropriate Form

I hardly do any preplanning, just fretting and wheel spinning. On quite a few occasions I’ve thought. I’ve got to sort this out before I begin writing, but the only way to arrive at the right way to do it is to crack on and see what works. The process of book writing for me is entirely one of trial and error. Likewise questions of structure. I get the idea for the structure of a book at some point, but rarely at the beginning. I accumulate a quantity of material, and at a certain point some idea of a structure will emerge that’s both the product of and appropriate to the subject. I’ve written books about loads of different subjects, but that wouldn’t count for shit if I just gave each subject the same treatment. In each book I’ve had to arrive at a form that was appropriate to that subject.

GEOFF DYER

Sunday
Jun252017

Let Your Reader Breathe

It can be daunting, visually, from the very beginning, for a reader to realize he or she must focus and engage non-stop on a paragraph that goes on nearly the length of the page. It’s what’s in the paragraph that matters, of course, but still, remember to let your reader breathe. Be interesting, and take care of your reader.

RICK BASS

Saturday
Jun242017

Writing Well Is Not a Reward for Being Virtuous

I have...learned that you can be patient and diligent and sometimes it just doesn't strike sparks. After a while you begin to understand that writing well is not a promised reward for being virtuous. No, every time you do it you're stepping off into darkness and hoping for some light. You can be faithful, work hard, not waste your talents in drink, and still not have it happen.

TOBIAS WOLFF

Friday
Jun232017

Acquire a Cat

If you want to concentrate deeply on some problem, and especially some piece of writing or paper-work, you should acquire a cat. Alone with the cat in the room where you work, I explained, the cat will invariably get up on your desk and settle placidly under the desk lamp. The light from a lamp, I explained, gives a cat great satisfaction. The cat will settle down and be serene, with a serenity that passes all understanding. And the tranquility of the cat will gradually come to affect you, sitting there at your desk, so that all the excitable qualities that impede your concentration compose themselves and give your mind back the self-command it has lost. You need not watch the cat all the time. Its presence alone is enough. The effect of a cat on your concentration is remarkable, very mysterious.

MURIEL SPARK

Thursday
Jun222017

Make the Reader a Co-Author

Write out of the reader’s imagination as well as your own. Supply the significant details and let the reader’s imagination do the rest. Make the reader a co-author of the story.

PATRICK F. MCMANUS

Wednesday
Jun212017

Force Yourself to Write Non-Stop

[If you have writer's block] force yourself to write non-stop for twenty or thirty minutes: no deletions, no erasures, no pauses. If that doesn't work, take a break. Take a walk. Pack up your writing supplies and go someplace new. Sit in a coffee shop, find a cozy spot in a library, go to a park. If you're truly desperate, go away for a few days. Take a train to a distant city and write onboard (on Amtrak, you can actually plug in your computer. But coffee is essential: without it, the train will rock you to sleep.) It often helps to do something entirely nonverbal, like making a collage or playing music. And it always helps to understand that writer's block is a widespread malady. To strengthen your feeling of solidarity with the scribbling classes, watch these movies: The ShiningMiseryBarton FinkDeconstructing Harry, all of which explore the consequences of writer's block.

NANCY HATHAWAY

Tuesday
Jun202017

David Hare’s 10 Rules for Writers

1. Write only when you have something to say.

2. Never take advice from anyone with no investment in the outcome.

3. Style is the art of getting yourself out of the way, not putting yourself in it.

4. If nobody will put your play on, put it on yourself.

5. Jokes are like hands and feet for a painter. They may not be what you want to end up doing but you have to master them in the meanwhile.

6. Theatre primarily belongs to the young.

7. No one has ever achieved consistency as a screenwriter.

8. Never go to a TV personality festival masquerading as a literary festival.

9. Never complain of being misunderstood. You can choose to be understood, or you can choose not to.

10. The two most depressing words in the English language are "literary fiction."

Monday
Jun192017

Use Plain, Simple Language

Use plain, simple language, short words and brief sentences. That is the way to write English—it is the modern way and the best way. Stick to it; don't let fluff and flowers and verbosity creep in. When you catch an adjective, kill it. No, I don't mean utterly, but kill most of them—then the rest will be valuable. They weaken when they are close together. They give strength when they are wide apart. An adjective habit, or a wordy, diffuse, flowery habit, once fastened upon a person, is as hard to get rid of as any other vice.

MARK TWAIN

Sunday
Jun182017

Write First with a Pen

Write first with a pen. It’s too easy on the computer to change a word, then forget what it was. Also, don’t get too social. Write for whatever holy thing you believe in, not for your poetry workshop fellows. And dare once in a while to throw a poem away. The main thing is to know that your craving to write is the big thing and will continue, and is more valuable than the finished poem. I do this myself, plenty.

MARY OLIVER

Saturday
Jun172017

Diana Athill’s 3 Rules for Fiction

1. Read it aloud to yourself because that's the only way to be sure the rhythms of the sentences are OK (prose rhythms are too complex and subtle to be thought out – they can be got right only by ear).

2. Cut (perhaps that should be CUT): only by having no inessential words can every essential word be made to count.

3. You don't always have to go so far as to murder your darlings – those turns of phrase or images of which you felt extra proud when they appeared on the page – but go back and look at them with a very beady eye. Almost always it turns out that they'd be better dead. (Not every little twinge of satisfaction is suspect – it's the ones which amount to a sort of smug glee you must watch out for.)

Friday
Jun162017

You Lay Out a Line of Words

When you write, you lay out a line of words. The line of words is a miner’s pick, a woodcarver’s gouge, a surgeon’s probe. You wield it, and it digs a path you follow. Soon you find yourself deep in new territory. Is it a dead end, or have you located the real subject? You will know tomorrow, or this time next year.

ANNIE DILLARD

Thursday
Jun152017

Poetry Necessitates a Sense of Joy

I’d go so far as to say that poetry, as a practice, necessitates a sense of joy. It’s exhilarating to come into contact with the things we write into being. And a real sense of play and abandon – even when we are relying on hard-won technique, and even when the aim is deadly serious. How often do we get the excuse to stop, think, and then stop thinking altogether and try to listen to what sits behind our outside of our thoughts? Poets are lucky.

TRACY K. SMITH

Wednesday
Jun142017

Put It In a Drawer

When you finish your novel, if money is not a desperate priority, if you do not need to sell it at once or be published that very second — put it in a drawer. For as long as you can manage. A year or more is ideal — but even three months will do. Step away from the vehicle. The secret to editing your work is simple: you need to become its reader instead of its writer.

ANNA DEAVERE SMITH

Tuesday
Jun132017

Writer, Forgive Thyself

Writer, forgive thyself. You may write crap for years, decades, eons before your brain gets tired of being so mediocre. You will never know if that jump is possible if you don’t keep humping, every day. Numbly, you must do the necessary. Keep on slugging. Forward the light brigade. You can always fix it later. But none of this will be doable, understandable, possible, unless you get to the “the” and the “end.”

STEPHEN HUNTER

Monday
Jun122017

A Thriller Is About People In Danger

A thriller is always about people in danger. The key is to make the reader share the hero’s anxiety. In all popular fiction, the author’s aim must be to get the reader to feel the emotions of the characters. That’s what makes the reader turn the pages.

KEN FOLLETT

Sunday
Jun112017

All Good Books Are Alike

All good books are alike in that they are truer than if they had really happened and after you are finished reading one you will feel that all that happened to you and afterwards it all belongs to you; the good and the bad, the ecstasy, the remorse and sorrow, the people and the places and how the weather was. If you can get so that you can give that to people, then you are a writer.

ERNEST HEMINGWAY

Saturday
Jun102017

Treat Writing As a Job

Treat writing as a job. Be disciplined. Lots of writers get a bit OCD-ish about this. Graham Greene famously wrote 500 words a day. Jean Plaidy managed 5,000 before lunch, then spent the afternoon answering fan mail. My minimum is 1,000 words a day – which is sometimes easy to achieve, and is sometimes, frankly, like shitting a brick, but I will make myself stay at my desk until I’ve got there, because I know that by doing that I am inching the book forward. Those 1,000 words might well be rubbish – they often are. But then, it is always easier to return to rubbish words at a later date and make them better.

SARAH WATERS

Friday
Jun092017

Writing Is Facing Your Deepest Fears and Failures

Writing is facing your deepest fears and all your failures, including how hard it is to write a lot of the time and how much you loathe what you’ve just written and that you’re the person who just committed those flawed sentences (many a writer, and God, I know I’m one, has worried about dying before the really crappy version is revised so that posterity will never know how awful it was). When it totally sucks, pause, look out the window (there should always be a window) and say, I’m doing exactly what I want to be doing.

REBECCA SOLNIT