Tag: writing craft and advice

An encouraging thing?

“Ten thousands things have to spark all at the same time, and cohere into a good hot flame, before a story results for me. I can still count the stories I’ve begun and finished on one hand.”

—Kai Ashante Wilson (x, found in a comment here)


More good thoughts about singular they

“My use of their is socially motivated and, if you like, politically correct: a deliberate response to the socially and politically significant banning of our genderless pronoun by language legislators enforcing the notion that the male sex is the only one that counts. I consistently break a rule I consider to be not only fake but pernicious. I know what I’m doing and why.”

—Ursula K. Le Guin in Steering the Craft (found here)

Wow, what a dick

“The famous writer remarked of my writing, ‘There’s entirely too much sobbing in your work. People can only sob every 10 to 20 pages, max.’ He then asked if I knew how the word ‘essay’ originated. ‘To try,’ he said, before I could answer. ‘It means “to try.” And try you did. You should feel good about trying.’ I did my best not to tear up in front of him, and afterwards I flipped through the edited manuscript. The only marks he had made were to point out every instance of crying. He’d written phrases like Tone it down! Please no more crying!! His marks were only written in pencil but he had pressed so hard an imprint was still visible on the next page, and sometimes the next.”

—Gabrielle Montesanti’s essay “On Piss”

Revising vs. editing

Don’t mistake revising for editing. Editing is often small, tiny, and eradicating. Revision can be large, grandiose, and sweeping.”

—Amina Gautier (x)

I’ve never been good at these distinctions, but this makes sense. Rewriting > revising > editing > copy editing.

On a writer’s obligation to their parents

“I often wonder what my obligations are to my parents when it comes to my writing. I assume most people would say I’m not obligated to sugarcoat things, that my primary responsibility is just to do my best to create characters that are three-dimensional and rendered with empathy. Often, when I’m awake at 3:00 a.m., I tell myself I’ve accomplished that goal, that many readers have told me they feel the characters in my book are drawn with compassion. This fact, coupled with the fact that my book is fiction, usually makes me feel better, but there are times when nothing I tell myself allays the guilt.

“In a recent review of [the author’s collection of linked stories] Outside Is the Ocean, Paul La Farge called Heike, my fictional mother, ‘one of fiction’s great bad mothers.’ […]

“People who know my mother have told me the risk of showing her the book isn’t worth it. They think the chances are low that she would see the portrayal of Heike as nuanced and compassionate, that it is likely she would latch onto one of the less flattering moments in the book, without registering the overall arc.”

—Matthew Lansburgh (x)

Another vote for daydreaming as preparation for creative work

“When I’m at the desk formally writing, there isn’t a second when my fingers are not moving. Rapidly. Percussively. There’s not a second of ‘gee, what would I like to do now’ or ‘darn, I am stuck.’

“There are a bunch of reasons for that, but one of them is because I write so much in my head while I walk that I am typing from something that is already there, that is given somewhat new form—and entirely new components can arise—as I sit at the desk. But on top of that, my entire process has become more compact because for dozens of hours each week, I’ve been writing as I do something else. And, consequently, writing is easier for me, an extension of the very biological necessities of my existence, like breathing oxygen or sweating when I’m hot.”

—Colin Fleming (x)

On writers’ use of social media

This is an interesting short essay, and I think I agree with much of it, particularly this line: “If something matters to you, don’t treat it lightly—it’s not arrogant to care about your own progress.” But I’m not sure about this bit of advice:

“Limit what you share on social media. It’s not a platform that rewards merit alone. If you use it as a feedback mechanism, you’ll get false positives and false negatives. Not every 15-year-old with a 2500-dollar DSLR is a photographer, and not every 18-year-old with a blog is a writer. 25.6 thousand followers don’t make someone an artist. The value of art is not a matter of public opinion. Young people are taught to sell themselves. Don’t, and don’t buy everything other people sell. Keep your eyes on your own plate. Work until the work speaks for itself.”

It seems to me that social media is almost essential these days for new writers, not because it hones their craft (though it can) or because it gives valuable feedback (though I think it can), but simply as a marketing tool.

What makes a scene work or fail

“When you go to the doctor and tell him that you have a pain in your elbow, it is the quack who takes out his scalpel and starts to operate on the elbow.[…] [A]n experienced doctor studies you, takes an x-ray, and determines that the cause of the pain is probably a pinched nerve up in your shoulder—you just happen to feel it in your elbow.[…] Audiences are like that. When you ask the direct question, ‘What was your least favorite scene?’ and eighty percent of the people are in agreement about one scene they do not like, the impulse is to ‘fix’ the scene or cut it out. But the chances are that scene is fine. Instead, the problem may be that the audience simply didn’t understand something that they needed to know for the scene to work.”

—Walter Murch, as quoted here

On the most important part of writing fiction

“[T]here is something in the texture of the words that conveys longing. It’s in the diction, the punctuation, the rhythm, and the cadences. It’s in the way the camera’s eye notices detail and conveys information. The progression of sentences in a novel is also the leading edge of a consciousness, and unless that consciousness is animated by powerful concerns, the novel falls flat.”

—Rahul Kanakia (x)

On the assumptions that are considered universal

Cecilia Tan on certain parts of the literary establishment: “The power to ‘show, not tell’ stemmed from […] writing for an audience that shared so many assumptions with them that the audience would feel that those settings and stories were ‘universal.'” (Found via this.)