lookihaveopinions

Tag: writing craft and advice

If this is true I’m doomed

“My very first writing teacher, Max Steele, once told our class that we would never be the writers we were meant to be until we had dealt with our mother issues. I heard this as an eighteen year old and it is something I have thought about ever since. In fact, in my own writing classes, I refer to it as: if it’s not one thing, it’s your mother and have been both surprised and delighted over the years to see how often a character’s mother, or the absent mother, ends up being the key to whatever is missing.”

—Jill McCorkle (x)

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Hard and not much fun

“In his author’s note in the 1995 Best American Short Stories, [Steven] Polansky said that ‘Leg’ was ‘hard, and not much fun, to write.’ This was a new one to me — but he was on to something. My best work since then has been the stuff that has made me the most uncomfortable, and that I have been the most anxious about sending out into the world.”

—J. Robert Lennon (x)

On Henry James and that thing he does

“He splits hairs until there are no longer any hairs to split, and the mental gesture becomes merely the making of agitated passes over a complete and disconcerting baldness.”

—Rebecca West (x)

Actually possibly good writing advice

Rahul Kanakia has a post up about his rules of thumb for writing fiction. They’re pretty good, and I’m going to try to follow them.

I’m gratified to see that at one point he remarks: “This is probably bad advice for you, but it’s great advice for me.” So few advice-givers seem to be self-aware enough to admit that.

On writing toward an ending

“As I closed in on the first draft of a novel, I wrote toward an ending I’d held in my mind for months. It was a quiet climax in keeping with the, ahem, literary nature of my novel. I knew that when I finished the draft, I’d have to smooth out the road between, say, pages 75 and 300, maybe even rewrite them completely. But that final scene was divine. Tears would probably fall to my keyboard as I wrote it, and readers, in turn, would weep.

“Instead, when I reached my perfect ending it was dead.”

—Kate Leary recounting a familiar experience here

On self-editing

“Any fool can write, but only a writer can cut.”

—Douglas Adams, according to this

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.