Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Advice on Life from Stephen King

"When you find something at which you are talented, you do it (whatever it is) until your fingers bleed or your eyes are ready to fall out of your head. Even when no one is listening (or reading, or watching), every outing is a bravura performance, because you as the creator are happy. Perhaps even ecstatic." (On Writing)

Sunday, May 22, 2011

More Writing Advice from Mark Twain

"To get the right word in the right place is a rare achievement. To condense the diffused light of a page of thought into the luminous flash of a single sentence, is worthy to rank as a prize composition just by itself...Anybody can have ideas--the difficulty is to express them without squandering a quire of paper on an idea that ought to be reduced to one glittering paragraph."
- Letter to Emeline Beach, 10 Feb 1868

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Quote of the Day

"When you do things from your soul, you feel a river moving in you, a joy." Rumi

Writing should always be from the soul.  The head will only muck it up.   

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Quote of the Day

"Good friends, good books and a sleepy conscience: this is the ideal life." Mark Twain

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Quote of the Day

"It's well we cannot hear the screams we make in other people's dreams." 
 Edward Gorey

Monday, May 9, 2011

Every Writer Should Have One

If not an ultra high-energy dog like Sophie here, then some other reason to get the feet moving every hour or two.  Walking lubricates the brain.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Douglas Adams on Adverbs

"Funny,” he intoned funereally, “how just when you think life can’t possibly get any worse it suddenly does.”

Mark Twain's Rules For Writing Fiction (Modified from his essay on James Fenimore Cooper)

  1. A tale shall accomplish something and arrive somewhere. 
  2. The episodes in a tale shall be necessary parts of the tale, and shall help to develop it. 
  3. The personages in a tale shall be alive, except in the case of corpses, and that always the reader shall be able to tell the corpses from the others. 
  4. The personages in a tale, both dead and alive, shall exhibit a sufficient excuse for being there. 
  5. When the personages of a tale deal in conversation, the talk shall sound like human talk, and be talk such as human beings would be likely to talk in the given circumstances, and have a discoverable meaning, also a discoverable purpose, and a show of relevancy, and remain in the neighborhood of the subject at hand, and be interesting to the reader, and help out the tale, and stop when the people cannot think of anything more to say. 
  6. When the author describes the character of a personage in the tale, the conduct and conversation of that personage shall justify said description. 
  7. When a personage talks like an illustrated, gilt-edged, tree-calf, hand-tooled, seven-dollar Friendship’s Offering in the beginning of a paragraph, he shall not talk like a negro minstrel in the end of it. 
  8. Crass stupidities shall not be played upon the reader as “the craft of the woodsman, the delicate art of the forest,” by either the author or the people in the tale. 
  9. The personages of a tale shall confine themselves to possibilities and let miracles alone; or, if they venture a miracle, the author must so plausibly set it forth as to make it look possible and reasonable. 
  10. The author shall make the reader feel a deep interest in the personages of his tale and in their fate; and that he shall make the reader love the good people in the tale and hate the bad ones. 
  11. The characters in a tale shall be so clearly defined that the reader can tell beforehand what each will do in a given emergency. 
In addition, the author shall:

  1. Say what he is proposing to say, not merely come near it.
  2. Use the right word, not its second cousin.
  3. Eschew surplusage.
  4. Not omit necessary details.
  5. Avoid slovenliness of form.
  6. Use good grammar
  7. Employ a simple and straightforward style.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Beating the Block

No two writers experience writer's block the same way.  Some see it as little more than a mild annoyance, or a lack of motivation to get the day's work done.  For others it can be a crippling blockage, clogging the vital arteries of the writer's creative heart.

The blockage usually resolves itself with time, but sometimes the blockage can impact other areas of the writer's life in negative ways.  In such cases intervention may be required.  

Here are 5 simple techniques to keep in your Writer's Toolkit next time the pipes gets clogged:

  1. Switch to longhand, or if you already write longhand, switch to the keyboard, blackboard, cardboard, anything that's completely different than what you're accustomed to using.
  2. Move to a new location, preferably outdoors if weather permits.
  3. Free associate on paper.  This is also called brainstorming, and can be a great way to break out of the box and through minor blockages.   
  4. Write something else.  It's not necessary to put away your novel and start another.  Try a short story or a piece of flash fiction.  Writing a piece that's under 1000 words is a great way to get the creative juices going.  If you can't think of a good story, it doesn't matter.  This isn't for publication.  Pick an object or objects next to you and build a story around them.  Think of it as writer's improv.    
  5. Try journaling, either about your day or what you're feeling, or you can journal about your writing.  John Steinbeck had a fascinating process when he worked on East of Eden.  He wrote longhand in bound journals.  On the left facing page he documented his day and his aspirations for the day's writing.  The whole things was published as Journal of a Novel: The East of Eden Letters.  I highly recommend it.     

If you're still having trouble, consider that you may be blocked for a reason.  I've found that when I'm having difficulty, it's often because what I'm trying to write doesn't work.  I realize it on a subconscious level, but bringing it into conscious awareness is too painful.  The ego resists, or we're pushing too hard to see alternatives.  In this case it's important to stop pushing and let go of the resistances that are keeping us from seeing the forest for the trees.

10 Nontraditional Ways to Promote Your Book

Here's a link from Galleycat with 10 tips you mind find helpful.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King

I'm sure you have, but if you haven't, check out Stephen King's book On Writing:  A Memoir of the Craft.  It's really one of the best books out there on the process.  A real master class in the craft.

I'd read it many years ago, and last year I decided to download the audio version.  It was great.  The author reads it himself, and his conversational tone gives the impression that he's sitting across the table from you.

King not only talks about the his process, but he also discusses the rejections, his long road to success, and also the accident that nearly ended his life.

It's definitely worth a read or a listen.

Monday, May 2, 2011

The Perils of Working on Multiple Manuscripts

Some writers have no problem with it, and if you asked me a few months ago, I would've said that I never worked on more than one project at a time.

Then something happened.

Another idea.

This isn't an unusual occurrence, I assure you.  I have ideas all the time.  Some are great, and some are shit.  Some that I think are great turn out to be shit, and some I first think are shit turn out to be great.  Either way, I just wrote them down with the intention of breaking them after I finished whatever I was working on.

I was three-quarters through the novel when it came.

I'd been working on this book for a while, several months already, so my motivation had long since waned, but I kept pushing.  The finish line was in sight.

But I couldn't cross it.  Not with this great new idea staring me in the face.  So I told myself I'd take a break from the book, and fiddle with this new story, just until my mojo returned.

Then something happened.

Another idea.

Then another.

And another.

Pretty soon I had eight documents opened on my dock, and I wasn't getting  anything done.  Oh a few words here, a few words there.  I changed the opening of this and cut a few paragraphs of that.

I'd broken my own rule.  No dithering.

Now instead of running the marathon in a slow and steady gait, I find myself trying to sprint in fits and starts, not just in one marathon, but in many.

If I could write 5,000 words a day, or even 2,000 words consistently, this might not be a problem.  In fact, it would be a distinct advantage when it comes to getting more product out into the world, but I have not yet learned the great secret of hyperproductivity.  If I do, I will share it.  Oh, and if you have, please feel free to share it with the rest of us.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

David Sedaris in Santa Barbara

We drove North to Santa Barbara to see David Sedaris at the Arlington. He's on a crazy 38 city tour in 39 days.  The show was great, the venue was awesome, and dinner beforehand was even better.  Once I saw they served Brother Thelonious Ale, I knew we were in good hands at Jane.

We stayed in Montecito, at the same amazing hotel as David, but we never bumped into him.  Even more disappointing was the fact we couldn't get a last minute reservation at Bouchon.  I haven't been, but I must, must, must go.  Vennison, duck breast and confit of thigh, grilled wagyu flat-iron steak.  Nuff said.

One of the most interesting things about David's show was when he took the time to recommend a book.  It wasn't even a new book.  Tobias Wolff's The Barracks Thief, a 112 page novella, was published in 1990, and he couldn't say enough good things about it.

This was an upstanding thing for one writer to do for another.  We've seen similar things from Joe Konrath and others, and it reminds me that we're all part of an artistic community, and when we help each other succeed, we help our whole community thrive.