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QUOTE OF THE DAY

Thursday
Apr122018

Show, Don’t Tell

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
Apr112018

For All Your Cutting, There Is Usually More to Come

For all your cutting, there is usually more to come. Cutting becomes more and more painful, more and more difficult. At last you don’t see a single sentence anywhere that can be cut, and then you must say, “Four more whole pages have got to come out of this thing,” and begin again on page one with perhaps a different colored pencil or crayon in hand to make the recounting easier, and be as ruthless as if you were throwing excess baggage, even fuel, out of an overloaded airplane.

PATRICIA HIGHSMITH

Tuesday
Apr102018

The Path Is Not the Work

Process is nothing; erase your tracks. The path is not the work. I hope your tracks have grown over; I hope birds ate the crumbs; I hope you will toss it all and not look back.

ANNIE DILLARD

Monday
Apr092018

The Real Fun of Writing

But the real fun of writing, for me at least, is the experience of making a set of givens yield. There’s an incredibly inflexible set of instruments—our vocabulary, our grammar, the abstract symbols on paper, the limitations of your own powers of expression. You write something down and it’s awkward, trivial, artificial, approximate. But with effort you can get it to become a little flexible, a little transparent. You can get it to open up, and expose something lurking there beyond the clumsy thing you first put down. When you add a comma or add or subtract a word, and the thing reacts and changes, it’s so exciting that you forget how absolutely terrible writing feels a lot of the time.

DEBORAH EISENBERG

Saturday
Apr072018

Acquire a Cat

If you want to concentrate deeply on some problem, and especially on some piece of writing or paperwork, you should acquire a cat. Alone with the cat in the room where you work…the cat will invariably get up on your desk and settle under the desk lamp. The light from a lamp…gives the 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 impeded 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, and very mysterious.

MURIEL SPARK

Friday
Apr062018

Writing a Novel Is Like Working on Foreign Policy

If you’re not lying awake at night worrying about your novel, the reader isn’t going to, either. I always know that when I get a good night’s sleep, the next day I’m not going to get any work done. Writing a novel is like working on foreign policy. There are problems to be solved. It’s not all inspirational.

JAMES M. CAIN

Thursday
Apr052018

Please Yourself

I had been writing for fifteen years and getting nowhere. Everything I had written was derivative, influenced by others. Then finally I decided to please myself. It was a great gamble, but finally I cut the umbilical cord, and in severing it I became an entity. I became myself.

HENRY MILLER

Wednesday
Apr042018

Internalize the Audience

Part of the storytelling ability is simply the anticipation of boredom and the introduction of a sudden heightening or surprise. To be a good storyteller you need to have first internalized the audience: that subvocal groan that says, “Okay, okay, get on with it.” Not that you always have to cater to the audience’s expectations: you can cross them up, frustrate them, prolong their tension, though that too can be a way of entertaining them. In any case, you have to be aware of their demands, whether you satisfy them or not.

PHILLIP LOPATE

Tuesday
Apr032018

Cruising the Internet Doesn't Count as Writing

Cruising the Internet doesn't count as writing. Neither does answering e-mail. Before you check Twitter & FB and do other similar tasks that get in the way of writing, write first. (I really need to take my own advice here!)

TERRY McMILLAN

Monday
Apr022018

Writing for Kids

If you're writing for kids, think about the age of the audience constantly. A big rule for writing middle-grade horror is that they have to know it’s a fantasy. The real world can’t interfere. There’s no divorce, no guns, no one ever dies. Once you’ve established that, you can go pretty far with the scares. Writing for teens is kind of the opposite. It has to be very real. They have to believe this is happening.

R.L. STINE

Sunday
Apr012018

Limitations Mean Freedom

The way to get over creative block is to simply place some constraints on yourself. It seems contradictory, but when it comes to creative work, limitations mean freedom. Write a song on your lunch break. Paint a painting with only one color. Start a business without any start-up capital. Shoot a movie with your iPhone and a few of your friends. Build a machine out of spare parts. Don't make excuses for not working -- make things with the time, space, and materials you have, right now

AUSTIN KLEON

Saturday
Mar312018

Writing Can Be A Pretty Desperate Endeavor

Writing can be a pretty desperate endeavor, because it is about some of our deepest needs: our need to be visible, to be heard, our need to make sense of our lives, to wake up and grow and belong. It is no wonder if we sometimes tend to take ourselves perhaps a bit too seriously.

ANNE LAMOTT

Friday
Mar302018

Your Life Is Your Present

God’s present to me is my own life. It’s not D. H. Lawrence’s or Tolstoy’s or Virginia Woolf’s—much as I might like it to be. And, whoever is reading this, your life is your present, your dowry, your donnée. No one on earth is going to have the same list of Most Important Characters as you.

CAROLYN SEE

Thursday
Mar292018

Margaret Atwood’s Ten Rules for Writing Fiction

1. Take a pencil to write with on aeroplanes. Pens leak. But if the pencil breaks, you can’t sharpen it on the plane, because you can’t take knives with you. Therefore: take two pencils.

2. If both pencils break, you can do a rough sharpening job with a nail file of the metal or glass type.

3. Take something to write on. Paper is good. In a pinch, pieces of wood or your arm will do.

4. If you’re using a computer, always safeguard new text with a ­memory stick.

5. Do back exercises. Pain is distracting.

6. Hold the reader’s attention. (This is likely to work better if you can hold your own.) But you don’t know who the reader is, so it’s like shooting fish with a slingshot in the dark. What fascinates A will bore the pants off B.

7. You most likely need a thesaurus, a rudimentary grammar book, and a grip on reality. This latter means: there’s no free lunch. Writing is work. It’s also gambling. You don’t get a pension plan. Other people can help you a bit, but ­essentially you’re on your own. ­Nobody is making you do this: you chose it, so don’t whine.

8. You can never read your own book with the innocent anticipation that comes with that first delicious page of a new book, because you wrote the thing. You’ve been backstage. You’ve seen how the rabbits were smuggled into the hat. Therefore ask a reading friend or two to look at it before you give it to anyone in the publishing business. This friend should not be someone with whom you have a ­romantic relationship, unless you want to break up.

9. Don’t sit down in the middle of the woods. If you’re lost in the plot or blocked, retrace your steps to where you went wrong. Then take the other road. And/or change the person. Change the tense. Change the opening page.

10. Prayer might work. Or reading ­something else. Or a constant visualization of the holy grail that is the finished, published version of your resplendent book.

Wednesday
Mar282018

The Word is Never Lacking When One Possesses the Idea

When I discover a bad assonance or a repetition in one of my phrases, I am sure that I am floundering in error; by dint of searching, I find the exact expression which was the only one and is, at the same time, the harmonious one. The word is never lacking when one possesses the idea.

GUSTAVE FLAUBERT

Tuesday
Mar272018

Be Discriminating and Discerning About the Work

If I were to offer any advice to young writers, it would be this: be discriminating and be discerning about the work you set for yourself. That done, be the untutored traveler, the eager reader, the enthusiastic listener. Put what you learn together carefully, and then write thoughtfully, with respect both for the reader and your sources.

BARRY LOPEZ

Monday
Mar262018

Reading a Book Is Like Rewriting It

Reading a book is like rewriting it for yourself. You bring to a novel, anything you read, all your experience of the world. You bring your history and you read it in your own terms.

ANGELA CARTER

Sunday
Mar252018

What Could Be Stranger Than Writing?

People like ourselves may see nothing wondrous in writing, but our anthropologists know how strange and magical it appears to a purely oral people—a conversation with no one and yet with everyone. What could be stranger than the silence one encounters when addressing a question to a text? What could be more metaphysically puzzling than addressing an unseen audience, as every writer of books must do? And correcting oneself because one knows that an unknown reader will disapprove or misunderstand?

NEIL POSTMAN

Saturday
Mar242018

Perfectionism is the Voice of the Oppressor

Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life, and it is the main obstacle between you and a shitty first draft. I think perfectionism is based on the obsessive belief that if you run carefully enough, hitting each stepping-stone just right, you won't have to die. The truth is that you will die anyway and that a lot of people who aren't even looking at their feet are going to do a whole lot better than you, and have a lot more fun while they're doing it.

ANNE LAMOTT

Friday
Mar232018

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