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Tag: fiction writing

On making unconventional art

“There’s this idea that at some point you master how to tell basic stories, and then you can tell masterful stories. But that’s not true. You never master how to tell a basic story. In fact, you never master any part of writing. Mastering something implies that you can do it again and again, without flaws. […]

“Nathalie Sarraute never wrote a ‘standard’ novel with regular rising tension and beginnings and ends and all of that regular stuff, and I don’t believe there’s any evidence that she was capable of that. I don’t think that a person improves as an artist by producing work that they don’t care about ‘just for practice.’ I believe that you always, from the beginning, have to be aiming at doing something that interests you. And some people just aren’t ever going to be able to interest themselves in the standard forms and models for fiction.”

—Rahul Kanakia (x)

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On the purpose of a first draft

Shitty first draft” is a misnomer

A rough draft isn’t just a shitty story, any more than a painter’s preparatory sketch is just a shitty painting. Like a sketch, a draft is its own kind of thing: not a lesser version of the finished story, but a guide for making the finished story.

Once I started thinking of my rough drafts as preparatory sketches, I stopped fretting over how “bad” they were.

—Wrex (x)

On the audacity of art

“Some part of art, certainly of Barthelme’s art, involves the simple pleasure of watching someone be audacious.”

—George Saunders in his essay “Rise, Baby, Rise!” (PDF hosted by Paul Saxton in this post)

On revising

“[Y]ou might say to yourself, OK, that’s fine, all that white-hot-center stuff spilling out in the composition, but when I go back to edit and revise, how do the dreams fit in there? Or do they?

“They absolutely do. What you need to do now is to think of yourself as a reader encountering a strange work. You’ve got to understand your own memory and figure out what it takes for you to forget what you have written, sufficiently that you can revisit it as reader. That’s the key to editing yourself. This is where having a bad memory will serve you well.”

—Robert Olen Butler in From Where You Dream

On daily momentum

“[F]or me, making progress on a book, and not getting overwhelmed and derailed by the daunting task of writing an entire book, comes down to finding, achieving, and maintaining a sense of daily momentum—no matter if the progress is large or small, and most of the time, in my case at least, it’s the latter situation.”

—Andrew Roe (x)

On ricochet vision

“I often use the metaphor of Perseus and the head of Medusa when I speak of science fiction. Instead of looking into the face of truth, you look over your shoulder into the bronze surface of a reflecting shield. Then you reach back with your sword and cut off the head of Medusa. Science fiction pretends to look into the future but it’s really looking at a reflection of what is already in front of us. So you have a ricochet vision, a ricochet that enables you to have fun with it, instead of being self-conscious and superintellectual.”

—Ray Bradbury (x)

On rules

“In this office we have a stupid, petty little conversation. The editor explains that if one does not italicise the titles of books it looks like carelessness. He explains that there are rules. The production manager explains that there are rules. I explain that the Chicago Manual of Style has only whatever authority we choose to give it. I explain: Look, these are two characters obsessed with numbers. The Chicago Manual of Style does not have a rule for using numerals in texts about characters obsessed with numbers because THIS BOOK HAD NOT BEEN WRITTEN when they last drew up the Chicago Manual of Style. They could not ANTICIPATE the need for a rule because the book did not then exist. I WROTE THE BOOK so I am obviously in a better position to decide what usage is correct for its characters than a group of people in Chicago who have NEVER SEEN IT.”

—Helen DeWitt (x)

The human mind fully operative

“[A]rt is not some little side room we go into, […] it’s the human mind fully operative.”

—George Saunders (x)

On story problems

“[I]f you have a problem in a story, it’s a great friend to you. The problem is […] the story asking you to go deeper.”

—George Saunders (x)

On starting from a conceptual viewpoint

“I learned this a long time ago, at great cost […] if I start from a conceptual viewpoint, or even an aspirational or thematic viewpoint, I, I … come to a dead end, I can’t do it. So the real idea was just at any given time to sort of say, ‘Okay, I need a ghost stage left,’ and just turn my attention there with as little, ah, intention as possible. Just almost like you’re trying to listen to this figure. Ah, it really is a form of verbal improv. And what you’re banking on there is that your subconscious is far enough ahead of you that the voice it provides will not be random.”

—George Saunders (x)