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Recommended Books
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    by Bonnie Friedman
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QUOTE OF THE DAY

Friday
Jun132014

Use the Landscape

Always tell us where we are. And don’t just tell us where something is, make it pay off. Use description of landscape to help you establish the emotional tone of the scene. Keep notes of how other authors establish mood and foreshadow events by describing the world around the character. Look at the openings of Fitzgerald stories, and Graham Greene, they’re great at this.

JANET FITCH

Thursday
Jun122014

A Writer Builds A New World with Words

A writer is someone who spends years patiently trying to discover the second being inside him, and the world that makes him who he is: when I speak of writing, what comes first to my mind is not a novel, a poem, or literary tradition, it is a person who shuts himself up in a room, sits down at a table, and alone, turns inward; amid its shadows, he builds a new world with words.

ORHAN PAMUK

Wednesday
Jun112014

Henry Miller’s 12 Commandments for Writers

1. Work on one thing at a time until finished.

2. Start no more new books, add no more new material to "Black Spring."

3. Don't be nervous. Work calmly, joyously, recklessly on whatever is in hand.

4. Work according to Program and not according to mood. Stop at the appointed time!

5. When you can't create you can work.

6. Cement a little every day, rather than add new fertilizers.

7. Keep human! See people, go places, drink if you feel like it.

8. Don't be a draught-horse! Work with pleasure only.

9. Discard the Program when you feel like it—but go back to it next day.

10. Concentrate. Narrow down. Exclude.

11. Forget the books you want to write. Think only of the book you are writing.

12. Write first and always. Painting, music, friends, cinema, all these come afterwards.

Tuesday
Jun102014

Chain That Muse to Your Desk

I learned to produce whether I wanted to or not. It would be easy to say oh, I have writer's block, oh, I have to wait for my muse. I don't. Chain that muse to your desk and get the job done.

BARBARA KINGSOLVER

Monday
Jun092014

Be Faithful To Your Perceptions

It’s not that you get a cliché and then wiggle it about or use synonyms. You don’t take an ordinary decorative paragraph and give it style. What you’re trying to do is be faithful to your perceptions and transmit them as faithfully as you can. I say these sentences until they sound right. There’s no objective reason why they’re right. They just sound right to me.

MARTIN AMIS

Sunday
Jun082014

Cross Your Fingers and Watch Your Back

I wish you good writing and good luck. Even if you've already done the good writing, you'll still need the good luck. It's a shark-filled lagoon out there. Cross your fingers and watch your back.

MARGARET ATWOOD

Saturday
Jun072014

Trust Your Own Judgment

Advice to young writers? Always the same advice: learn to trust our own judgment, learn inner independence, learn to trust that time will sort the good from the bad– including your own bad.

DORIS LESSING

Friday
Jun062014

Martin Amis's Rules for Writers

Write in long-hand: when you scratch out a word, it still exists there on the page. On the computer, when you delete a word it disappears forever. This is important because usually your first instinct is the right one.

Use any anxiety you have about your writing — or your life — as fuel: “Ambition and anxiety: that’s the writer’s life.”

Never say “sci-fi.” You’ll enrage purists. Call it SF.

Don’t dumb down: always write for your top five percent of readers.

Never pun your title, simpler is usually better: Lolita turns out to be a great title; couldn’t be simpler.

Watch out for words that repeat too often.

Don’t start a paragraph with the same word as previous one. That goes doubly for sentences.

Stay in the tense.

Inspect your “hads” to see if you really need them.

Never use “amongst.” “Among.” Never use “whilst.” Anyone who uses “whilst” is subliterate.

Try not to write sentences that absolutely anyone could write.

You write the book you want to read. That’s my rule.

You have to have a huge appetite for solitude.

Thursday
Jun052014

Life Is Too Short for a Writer to Be Polite

I'm willing to show good taste, if I can, in somebody else's living room, but our reading life is too short for a writer to be in any way polite. Since his words enter into another's brain in silence and intimacy, he should be as honest and explicit as we are with ourselves.

JOHN UPDIKE

Wednesday
Jun042014

We Tell Lies for a Living

We who make stories know that we tell lies for a living. But they are good lies that say true things, and we owe it to our readers to build them as best we can. Because somewhere out there is someone who needs that story. Someone who will grow up with a different landscape, who without that story will be a different person. And who with that story may have hope, or wisdom, or kindness, or comfort. And that is why we write.

NEIL GAIMAN

Tuesday
Jun032014

Anecdotes Don't Make Good Stories

Anecdotes don’t make good stories. Generally I dig down underneath them so far that the story that finally comes out is not what people thought their anecdotes were about.

ALICE MUNRO

Monday
Jun022014

Never Write in a Café

Never write in a café, especially in Europe. Ever since Hemingway, this has been the literary equivalent of what in mountain climbing is called the "tech weenie" (that is, someone who cannot get a foot off the ground but is weighed down with $10,000's worth of equipment). Literary skill, much less greatness, cannot be had with a pose, and exhibitionism extorts the price of failure. Also, have pity on the weary Parisians who have wanted only a citron pressé but have been unable to find a café where every single seat is not occupied by an American publicly carrying on a torrid affair with his moleskin.

MARK HELPRIN

Sunday
Jun012014

All the Great Story Lines Are Great Practical Jokes

If you make people laugh or cry about little black marks on sheets of white paper, what is that but a practical joke? All the great story lines are great practical jokes that people fall for over and over again.

KURT VONNEGUT

Saturday
May312014

Try to Keep All the Good Stuff Off the Page

What isn’t said is as important as what is said. In many classic short stories, the real action occurs in the silences. Try to keep all the good stuff off the page.

COLSON WHITEHEAD

Friday
May302014

Own Your Voice

Write like you write, like you can’t help but write, and your voice will become yours and yours alone. It’ll take time but it’ll happen as long as you let it. Own your voice, for your voice is your own. Once you know where your voice lives, you no longer have to worry so much about being derivative.

CHUCK WENDIG

Thursday
May292014

Maya Angelou on Writing

What I try to do is write. I may write for two weeks “the cat sat on the mat, that is that, not a rat.” And it might be just the most boring and awful stuff. But I try. When I’m writing, I write. And then it’s as if the muse is convinced that I’m serious and says, “Okay. Okay. I’ll come.”


There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.

 

Making a decision to write was a lot like deciding to jump into a frozen lake.

 

Talent is like electricity. We don’t understand electricity. We use it.

 

Tell the truth and not the facts.

 

If you are going to write autobiography, don't expect that it will clear anything up. It makes it more clear to you, but it doesn't alleviate anything.

 

The writer has to take the most used, most familiar objects—nouns, pronouns, verbs, adverbs—ball them together and make them bounce, turn them a certain way and make people get into a romantic mood; and another way, into a bellicose mood. I'm most happy to be a writer.

 

I see a yellow pad, and my knees get weak, and I salivate.

 

A bird doesn't sing because it has an answer, it sings because it has a song.

 

Poetry is the strongest language we have.

 

Wednesday
May282014

Jonathan Franzen’s 10 Rules for Writers

1. The reader is a friend, not an adversary, not a spectator.

2. Fiction that isn’t an author’s personal adventure into the frightening or the unknown isn’t worth writing for anything but money.

3. Never use the word “then” as a conjunction–we have “and” for this purpose. Substituting “then” is the lazy or tone-deaf writer’s non-solution to the problem of too many “ands” on the page.

4. Write in the third person unless a really distinctive first-person voice offers itself irresistibly.

5. When information becomes free and universally accessible, voluminous research for a novel is devalued along with it.

6. The most purely autobiographical fiction requires pure invention. Nobody ever wrote a more auto biographical story than “The Metamorphosis”.

7. You see more sitting still than chasing after.

8. It’s doubtful that anyone with an internet connection at his workplace is writing good fiction.

9. Interesting verbs are seldom very interesting.

10. You have to love before you can be relentless.

Tuesday
May272014

Sneaking Up On It

Sneaking up on it sometimes helps: I’ve found I can be very productive for an hour before dinner, because there obviously isn’t enough time to really do anything, so I can tell myself I’m just screwing around.

MICHAEL CRICHTON

Monday
May262014

Shut Up and Get On With It

The nearest I have to a rule is a Post-It on the wall in front of my desk saying “Faire et se taire” (Flaubert), which I translate for myself as “Shut up and get on with it.”

HELEN SIMPSON

Sunday
May252014

Geoff Dyer's 10 Rules for Writing Fiction

1 Never worry about the commercial possibilities of a project. That stuff is for agents and editors to fret over – or not. Conversation with my American publisher. Me: "I'm writing a book so boring, of such limited commercial appeal, that if you publish it, it will probably cost you your job." Publisher: "That's exactly what makes me want to stay in my job."

2 Don't write in public places. In the early 1990s I went to live in Paris. The usual writerly reasons: back then, if you were caught writing in a pub in England, you could get your head kicked in, whereas in Paris, dans les cafés . . . Since then I've developed an aversion to writing in public. I now think it should be done only in private, like any other lavatorial activity.

3 Don't be one of those writers who sentence themselves to a lifetime of sucking up to Nabokov.

4 If you use a computer, constantly refine and expand your autocorrect settings. The only reason I stay loyal to my piece-of-shit computer is that I have invested so much ingenuity into building one of the great auto­correct files in literary history. Perfectly formed and spelt words emerge from a few brief keystrokes: "Niet" becomes "Nietzsche", "phoy" becomes  ­"photography" and so on. ­Genius!

5 Keep a diary. The biggest regret of my writing life is that I have never kept a journal or a diary.

6 Have regrets. They are fuel. On the page they flare into desire.

7 Have more than one idea on the go at any one time. If it's a choice between writing a book and doing nothing I will always choose the latter. It's only if I have an idea for two books that I choose one rather than the other. I ­always have to feel that I'm bunking off from something.

8 Beware of clichés. Not just the ­clichés that Martin Amis is at war with. There are clichés of response as well as expression. There are clichés of observation and of thought – even of conception. Many novels, even quite a few adequately written ones, are ­clichés of form which conform to clichés of expectation.

9 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.

10 Never ride a bike with the brakes on. If something is proving too difficult, give up and do something else. Try to live without resort to per­severance. But writing is all about ­perseverance. You've got to stick at it. In my 30s I used to go to the gym even though I hated it. The purpose of ­going to the gym was to postpone the day when I would stop going. That's what writing is to me: a way of ­postponing the day when I won't do it any more, the day when I will sink into a depression so profound it will be indistinguishable from perfect bliss.

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