QUOTE OF THE DAY
The imagination doesn’t crop annually like a reliable fruit tree. The writer has to gather whatever’s there: sometimes too much, sometimes too little, sometimes nothing at all. And in the years of glut there is always a slatted wooden tray in some cool, dark attic, which the writer nervously visits from time to time; and yes, oh dear, while he’s been hard at work downstairs, up in the attic there are puckering skins, warning spots, a sudden brown collapse and the sprouting of snowflakes. What can he do about it?”
Do it every day. Make a habit of putting your observations into words and gradually this will become instinct. This is the most important rule of all and, naturally, I don't follow it.
My first advice to an aspiring writer is to talk yourself out of it if you can possibly do it, because you'll probably fail and make yourself miserable doing it. I feel about myself that I'm anomalous—a rare combination of fear, an affection for language, a reverence for literature, doggedness, and good luck. Plus, I married the right girl.
Never market-research your writing. Write on subjects in which you have enough interest on your own to see you through all the stops, starts, hesitations, and other impediments along the way.
Writing advice is neither good nor bad. It just is. It either works for you or it doesn’t. No one piece of advice is truly golden (with the exception of maybe ‘Finish your shit’ and ‘Don’t be a dick’) — it’s all just that. Advice. It’s no better or worse than someone telling you what route to take to get to the zoo or what shirt to wear to that trailer park wedding. Like with every tool, pick it up, test its heft, give it a whirl. It works? Keep it. It fails? Fucking ditch it. Give writing advice no more importance than it is due.
Writers are greatly respected. The intelligent public is wonderfully patient with them, continues to read them, and endures disappointment after disappointment, waiting to hear from art what it does not hear from theology, philosophy, social theory, and what it cannot hear from pure science. Out of the struggle at the center has come an immense, painful longing for a broader, more flexible, fuller, more coherent, more comprehensive account of what we human beings are, who we are and what this life is for.
It’s no secret that great writers are great readers, and that if you can’t read, your writing will often suffer. Similarly, if you can read but have to move your lips to get through the longer words, you’ll still be a pretty bad writer. Also, if you pronounce “espresso” like “expresso.”
Plotting is like sex. Plotting is about desire and satisfaction, anticipation and release. You have to arouse your reader’s desire to know what happens, to unravel the mystery, to see good triumph. You have to sustain it, keep it warm, feed it, just a little bit, not too much at a time, as your story goes on. That’s called suspense. It can bring desire to a frenzy, in which case you are in a good position to bring off a wonderful climax.
Work on good prose has three steps: a musical stage when it is composed, an architectonic one when it is built, and a textile one when it is woven.
(1) They have something to say.
(2) They read widely and have done so since childhood.
(3) They possess what Isaac Asimov calls a “capacity for clear thought,” able to go from point to point in an orderly sequence, an A to Z approach.
(4) They’re geniuses at putting their emotions into words.
(5) They possess an insatiable curiosity, constantly asking Why and How.
JAMES J. KILPATRICK
Cut like crazy. Less is more. I've often read manuscripts–including my own–where I've got to the beginning of, say, chapter two and have thought: "This is where the novel should actually start." A huge amount of information about character and backstory can be conveyed through small detail. The emotional attachment you feel to a scene or a chapter will fade as you move on to other stories. Be business-like about it.
You have to resign yourself to the fact that you waste a lot of trees before you write anything you really like, and that’s just the way it is. It’s like learning an instrument, you’ve got to be prepared for hitting wrong notes occasionally, or quite a lot, cause I wrote an awful lot before I wrote anything I was really happy with.
Writing is selection. Just to start a piece of writing you have to choose one word and only one from more than a million in the language. Now keep going. What is your next word? Your next sentence, paragraph, section, chapter? Your next ball of fact. You select what goes in and you decide what stays out. At base you have only one criterion: If something interests you, it goes in—if not, it stays out. That’s a crude way to assess things, but it’s all you’ve got.
Sometimes you get a glimpse of a semicolon coming, a few lines farther on, and it is like climbing a steep path through woods and seeing a wooden bench just at a bend in the road ahead, a place where you can expect to sit for a moment, catching your breath.
The first duty of an Author is — I conceive — a faithful allegiance to Truth and Nature; his second, such a conscientious study of Art as shall enable him to interpret eloquently and effectively the oracles delivered by those two great deities.
In the end, you either have the cojones to write and keep writing, or you don’t. No amount of good advice will make a damn bit of difference. It’s like exercise. There are health experts everywhere who will tell you what you need to do, but unless you have the discipline to make yourself sweat, it doesn’t matter in the least.
Write in scenes. What is a scene? a) A scene starts and ends in one place at one time (the Aristotelian unities of time and place–this stuff goes waaaayyyy back). b) A scene starts in one place emotionally and ends in another place emotionally. Starts angry, ends embarrassed. Starts lovestruck, ends disgusted. c) Something happens in a scene, whereby the character cannot go back to the way things were before. Make sure to finish a scene before you go on to the next. Make something happen.
Don’t put down too many roots in terms of a domicile. I have lived in four countries and I think my life as a writer and our family’s life have been enriched by this. I think a writer has to experience new environments. There is that adage: No man can really succeed if he doesn’t move away from where he was born. I believe it is particularly true for the writer.