Tag: writing craft and advice

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.

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)