Regardless of the issues a wrier struggles with--creative blocks, procrastination, fear of failure, etc.--the very act of writing tends to stoke the energy, continue the flow, direct the current of further writing. Writing begets writing.
Journalists are now celebrities. Part of this has been caused by the ability and willingness of journalists to promote themselves. Part of this has been caused by television: the television reporter is often more famous than anyone he interviews.
There are a few ironclad rules in any world created by [romance novelist] Nicholas Sparks. If you're a man, you have square shoulders and muscles that reflect your belief in a hard day's work. If you're a woman, you have striking emerald eyes and blond hair, or hazel eyes to offset your high cheek-bones. If you own a farm, a harmonica-playing black man full of hard-earned wisdom lives next door. If you're Mexican, your parents own a restaurant and struggled to give you a better life. If you're a warehouse, you're located in a run-down neighborhood on the outskirts of town. If you're a thunderstorm, you roll up just as a woman with striking eyes and a man with square shoulders are about to kiss for the first time.
Lewis Hyde's essay "Alcohol and Poetry: John Berryman and the Booze Talking" is a fascinating artifact of anger. It's an attack on the poems in "The Dream Songs" waged in Berryman's own name. Hyde protests the idea of Berryman's alcoholism as something that fueled or abetted his creative process--resisting the mythos of the Drunk Poet and presenting booze as a creative enemy.
A novelization is much harder to write than a screenplay. When a couple of screenwriters take a best-selling novel and write a screenplay from it and it wins a couple Academy Awards, everybody says thats great writing. But when you take a screenplay and turn it into a novel, it's a much more difficult task because there's much more writing involved and much more character development and scene development. Some people say it's hack work. I say the writing stands on its own.
The belief that artists are entitled to be morally careless--that great art excuses everything--has proved to be one of the more tenacious parts of our Romantic inheritance. In Hollywood movies about artists, the characters who challenge the hero's license to be inconsiderate--the landlady who hassles van Gogh about the appalling state of his garret, the neighbor who yells at Beethoven to keep the noise down, the sulky wife who insists that Johnny Cash stop canoodling with June Carter--are invariably presented as dreary philistines who must be ignored or defeated if truth and beauty are to triumph.
Some readers of memoir are looking for secrets, for complete transparency on the part of the author, as if the point is confession, and the process of reading a memoir, a voyeuristic one. The idea of transparency troubles me, and is, I think, at the root of the serial memoirist's plight. My goal when I sit down to write out of my own circumstances is not to make myself transparent. In fact, I am building an edifice. Stone by stone, I am constructing a story.
The Guinnes Book of World Records has a category for the highest number of publisher rejections for a manuscript. The current record is 106 for a book called World Government Crusade by Gilbert Young. Because one might not be proud of that distinction the record is likely to be inaccurate. For example, Robert Pirsig claims to have received 121 rejections for Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.
The line between fiction and nonfiction is more blurry than many people like to admit. Sometimes, political writing that claims to be nonfiction is actually fiction. The political power of such fiction-as-nonfiction is undeniable…
Most novels aren't directly credited with starting wars, Yet fiction still instigates change. Fiction can say publicly what might otherwise appear unsayable, combating the coerced silence that is a favored weapon of those who have power.
Some novelists I know abstain from reading other people's fiction when they are writing their own, for fear of adulterating their prose style with unconscious borrowings. The rigor of this impresses me. But I don't have the discipline to foreswear fiction for the years that it takes me to finish a book. And in any case, I'm not entirely convinced that having another author's style rub off on mine would be such a terrible thing.
As far as I'm concerned, in the abstract there's only one plot, and it goes like this: A person or group or entity wants something. Another person or group or entity throws up every barrier imaginable to stop that goal from being achieved.
Investigative reporting in America did not begin with Watergate. But it became entrenched in American journalism--and has been spreading around the world--largely because of Watergate.
Now, 40 years after Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein wrote their first stories about the break-in at the Democratic Committee headquarters in Washington's Watergate office building, the future of investigative reporting is at risk in the chaotic digital reconstruction of journalism in the United States. Resource-intensive investigative reporting has become a burden for shrunken newspapers struggling to reinvent themselves and survive. Nonprofit start-ups seeking to fill the gap are financially fragile themselves, with their sustainability uncertain.
I never cease to be amazed why some of my writer friends became famous and others, just as talented, didn't. I've come to suspect it's a matter of wanting fame or not, and those who don't want it, don't get it.
There are stories that we tell over and over in myriad forms and that connect vitally with our deepest values, wishes, and fears. Cinderella is one of them. Its variants can be found frequently in European and American cultures. Its constituent events elaborate a thread of neglect, injustice, rebirth, and reward that responds to deeply held anxieties and desires. As such, the Cinderella masterplot has an enormous emotional capital that can be drawn on in constructing a narrative. But it is only one of many masterplots. We seem to connect our thinking about life, and particularly our own lives, to a number of masterplots that we may or may not be fully aware of. To the extent that our values and identity are linked to a masterplot, that masterplot can have strong rhetorical impact. We tend to give credibility to narratives that are structured by it. [True crime narratives often incorporate masterplots.]
Truth to the traditional reporter encompasses objectivity, meaning that the reporter must not allow personal feelings to enter into the writing of the story. Like Jack Webb in the old and often rerun Dragnet TV series, they are seeking "Just the facts, ma'am." What the reporter/writer feels or thinks personally about the nature or truth of the story is irrelevant. Curiously, most everyone in the newspaper business will admit that objectivity is impossible, but that doesn't seem to diminish the intensity of their belief in the principle.
More often than not, writers turn to the creative nonfiction genre because they feel passionately about a person, place, subject, or issue and have no interest in or intention of maintaining a balanced or objective tone or viewpoint. Writers turn to creative nonfiction because they have a story to tell, often involving themselves, and they do not want to be reined in or controlled by Big Brother rules and regulations.
When I'm struggling with my own work I'm often drawn to biographies of writers. Not only do learn fun facts about prominent figures--Henry James suffered terribly from constipation, Kafka chewed every bite of food 32 times, Flannery O'Conner cared for a flock of around 40 peacocks, Montaigne never saw his wife with her clothes off, Balzac fortified himself with a paste made of unroasted coffee beans--I'm also reminded that there's no single path for living a successful creative or personal life. It's inspiring to read about a flawed human being who struggled with his or her demons and afflictions, experienced paralyzing episodes of failure or self-doubt, but somehow managed to do the work anyway, and produce something that enriched the world. That's my version of self-help.
I've decided that books are my enemy, though they used to be my great love. They are taking over. They crowd my dining room, they double up in the bedroom, they make the attic floor sag. We even have a library in the bathroom: shelves and shelves of books where a normal person might have a vanity table or piles of towels….
I once went through our library and calculated that my husband and I had read about a third of the books that we own, and I think, as we buy more books and read of third of what we buy, that the statistic is more or less holding up. Sometimes we even buy a book and go to put it on one of our few organized shelves only to find that it is already there….
We have a psychological problem and we recognize it: We never get rid of books….It's a sick relationship we have with these piles of pages between covers. Most people wold be secretly bragging if they said this, but I'm not bragging. I think it's weird and demented. Maybe I'm so involved with my books' fate because I am a writer, and I can all too well imagine a reader taking one of my books and cosigning it to the trash heap.
It's OK to admit it: You tried to read James Joyce's "Ulysses" and ended up chucking the thing aside in frustration. You are not alone. According to her letters, Virginia Woolf had a long stall after 200 pages. Several well-known authors in the Book Review's By the Book interview feature admit to leaving the novel unfinished. "Ulysses" even notched the No. 3 spot in the Top Five Abandoned Classics poll published by the Goodreads site a few years ago.
Many writers use alcohol to help themselves write--to calm their anxieties, lift their inhibitions. This may work for awhile but eventually the writing suffers. The unhappy writer then drinks more; the writing then suffers more, and so on.
Writers most often drop into passive voice when they are unsure of themselves, when they don't want anything to happen to one of their characters, when they don't want their characters to do anything bad.
I think the principal problem with the establishment press, at least in terms of political journalism, has been excess deference to, and closeness with, the most powerful political factions, precincts over which journalism is, at its best, supposed to exercise oversight and serve as a watchdog. Instead it serves as a kind of amplifying mechanism and as a servant to them.
I think Capote's book and mine are formally similar, but vastly different. Obviously, I'd be the first to state that if he hadn't done In Cold Blood, it's conceivable that I wouldn't have thought of taking on The Executioner's Song. Nonetheless, it's also possible that something about The Executioner's Son [about the execution of a Utah killer named Gary Gillmore] called for doing it in the way I chose. In any event, its flavor is different from In Cold Blood [about the murder of a Kansas farm family in 1959]. Truman retained his style. Not the pure style--he simplified it--but it was still very much a book written by Truman Capote. You felt it every step of the way. The difference is that he tweaked it more, where I was determined to keep the factual narrative. [Capote created composite characters and invented events. In recreating the murder trial, he had the defense put on its case first.] I wanted my book to read like a novel, and it does, but I didn't want to sacrifice what literally happened in a scene for what I wanted to see happen. Of course, I could afford to feel that way. I had advantages Truman didn't. His killers were not the most interesting guys in the world, so it took Truman's exquisite skills to make his work a classic. I was in the more promising position of dealing with a man who was quintessentially American yet worthy of Dostoyevsky. If this were not enough, he [Gillmore] was also in love with a girl who--I'll go so far as to say--is a bona fide American heroine. I didn't want, therefore, to improve anything. Dedicated accuracy is not usually the first claim a novelist wishes to make, but here it became a matter of literary value. What I had was gold, if I had enough sense not to gild it.
First person, past tense is a good way for beginning writers to tell a story. As voices go, it's straightforward, its boundaries reasonably clear. It's a familiar voice; we normally frame the ongoing narrative of our lives in the first person, past tense. "Where were you?" "I was out walking the dog and I stopped to buy an ice cream cone." But a first person narrator must be a participant in the story he's telling, and his involvement limits his information. He can report only what his senses reveal, what others tell him, what he knows, and what he speculates.
American novelists, more than others, are haunted by the fear of failure, because it's such a common pattern in America. The ghost of Fitzgerald, dying in Hollywood, with his comeback book unfinished, and his best book, Tender Is The Night, scorned. His ghost hangs over every American novelist's typewriter.
Writers published by the biggest New York houses get [blurb] requests all the time. Typically they come from the editors at these publishing houses. It will be an email, or an actual book in the mail with a note attached that says something like this: "Jane Doe's first novel is an exciting new take on an old story and we'd be so pleased if you'd give it a look. And if you deem it worthy, a few words of support on Jane's behalf, sent to us by such and such a date, would give her novel a tremendous lift!"
The more famous and respected the writer, the more of these blurb requests he or she will get. They might come from friends of the famous writer, too, or from his or her editor or agent and their friends. One imagines that Jonathan Franzen, for example, could spend hours and hours responding to the blurb requests he gets. Some writers are famous in the book trade for blurbing a lot (too much), and others for never blurbing at all.
I have to drink and gamble to get away from this typewriter. Not that I don't love this old machine when it's working right. But knowing when to go to it and knowing to stay away from it, that's the trick. I really don't want to be a professional writer, I wanna write what I wanna write. Else, it's all been wasted…So did Hemingway, until he started talking about "discipline"; Pound also talked about doing one's "work." But I've been luckier that both of them because I've worked the factories and the slaughterhouses and I know that work and discipline are dirty words. I know that they meant, but for me it has to be a different game.
The over-thirty characters in my undergrad students' stores are pompous, insensitive, vulgar, unimaginative, grossly materialistic, hypocritical, self-deluding, stupid, and often totally wrongheaded about everything.
The term literary license is often used in reference to writers who manipulate truth and accuracy in stories--what really happened--to enhance dramatic impact and, therefore, to make a story more readable or exciting.
Creative nonfiction writers, however, are permitted a different form of literary license: to use the literary devices previously and exclusively available to the fiction writer in the writing of their true and accurate creative nonfiction stories. In other words, nonfiction writers cannot alter the facts, but they can capture and present them much more dramatically.
People want to know what I think about writing critique groups. I belonged to one briefly, but I didn't use it much. I prefer now to use the services of a cold reader when the book is done. But if you're going to belong to a group, check it out carefully before you commit yourself to joining. If there is someone there with an ax to grind, don't become a member. If the group isn't solution-oriented, just saying things like, "I have a problem with X" (your character, your plot, your scene or whatever) without proposing a solution to the problem or a way to approach developing a solution, just pass them by. If you don't feel good about the group dynamic, trust yourself and don't join up.
It used to be like a fever with me, a compulsion, a madness: to go into a bookstore, head straight for the brand-new books, flip right to the back of the jacket and see if the author was young or old, my age or even--rats!--younger. Envy is a vocational hazard for most writers. It festers in one's mind, distracting one from one's own work, at its most virulent even capable of rousing the sufferer from sleep to brood over another's triumph.
Envy is the green-eyed beast. It is a sickness; it is a hunger.... It takes what was most beloved--reading books, writing them--and sours it, a quick drop of vinegar into the glass of sweet milk. Even friendships aren't exempt.
If you write about your father hitting you on the head, you're up against a lot of competition with people who are writing about exactly the same experience. I used to tell students not to use certain subjects they seemed to gravitate to almost automatically at their age, such as the death of their grandparents--grandparents tend to die when you're in high school or college. I at least want to read about something I don't already know about. [How about: "Why my father hit my dead grandfather in the head." Just kidding.]
First drafts, even pretty good ones, can be excruciatingly hard for anyone but their authors to read….What is going on? Is John talking to Mary, or is he talking to Bill? Are we in Iowa or Guatemala? Nothing is so infuriating as not being understood, but if a reader of good basic intelligence does not know what you are talking about, you have a problem. Don't rationalize it by blaming the messenger for the message. Your reader is not stupid. You are not being understood, and it is your problem.
Sadly, your first readers may be reluctant to tell you the truth about your lack of clarity. It is a fact that many readers (especially in a school) will go to great lengths to conceal their bafflement over a piece of prose they don't understand. Rather than run the risk of being thought dense or uncomprehending or philistine, all too many readers, including many who should know better--editors, teachers, workshop members--would rather skip over an obscurity than admit they just don't get it.
Not too long ago, the concept of studying a "creative writing program" was unheard of. If you wanted to be a writer, then you became an avid reader and a citizen of the world, learning about life through travel and personal experience until you knew enough to write an essay, short story, or poem that said something. In college, you majored in English literature, philosophy, or history-areas of concentration that would introduce the best books and the most influential thinkers.
Let us consider the problems of the long novel, in which the heft is apt to come in for almost as much critical examination as the contents. There is, for instance, Jack Beatty's famous critique of James A. Michener's Chesapeake (865 pages): "My best advice is don't read it; my second best is don't drop it on your foot." Presumably, Beatty read it--or at least skimmed it--before offering these helpful hints, but you get the idea. In this hurry-scurry age, big books are viewed with suspicion, and sometimes disdain.
The book buyer's suspicions are more justified. The critic, after all, is being paid to read. Consumers must spend their hard-earned cash for the same privilege. Then there's the question of time. Prospective buyers have every right to ask: "Do I really want to give two weeks of my reading life to this novel? Can it possibly be worth it when there are so many others--most a good deal shorter--clamoring for my attention?"
Though everybody is talented and original, often it does not break through for a long time. People are too scared, too self-conscious, too proud, too shy. They have been taught too many things about construction, plot, unity, mass and coherence….
Another trouble with writers in the first twenty years is an anxiety to be effective, to impress people. They write pretentiously. It is so hard not to do this. That was my trouble.
For many years it puzzled me why so many things I wrote were pretentious, high-sounding, and in consequence utterly dull and uninteresting. It was a regular horror to read them again. Of course they did not sell either, not one of them.
Can you tell a pronoun from a participle; use commas correctly in long sentences; describe the difference between its and it's?
If not, you have plenty of company in the world of job seekers. Despite stubbornly high unemployment, many employers complain that they can't find qualified candidates.
Often, the mismatch results from applicants' inadequate communication skills. In survey after survey, employers are complaining about job candidates' inability to speak and write clearly….
Experts differ on why job candidates can't communicate effectively. Bram Lowsky, an executive vice president of Right Management, the workforce management arm of Manpower, blames technology. "With Gen X and Gen Y, because everything is shorthand and text, the ability to communicate effectively is challenged," he said. "You see it in the business world, whether with existing employees or job candidates looking for work."
Others say colleges are not doing a good job. In a survey of 318 employers published earlier this year by the Association of American Colleges and Universities and conducted by Hart Research Associates, 80 percent said colleges should focus more on written and oral communication….
As a writer of science fiction and fantasy, and on behalf of all the variations and sub-genres such as urban fantasy, alternate history and steampunk which collectively make up "speculative fiction," I'd argue that genre fiction is different from literary fiction.
Whether it's dealing with ray guns and rocket ships, swords, sorcery or fur and fangbangers, speculative fiction's unifying identifying characteristics is that it doesn't attempt to mimic real life in the way that literary fiction does. It stands apart from the world we know. It takes us away to an entirely secondary realm, be that Middle Earth of Westeros, or to an alternate present where vampires and werewolves really do exist and you ring 666 to report a supernatural crime…
Speculative fiction can be considerably harder to write than literary fiction…When readers are paying close attention to every hint and clue, the writer needs to have internal logic, consistency of character and scene-setting absolutely nailed down. Readers have to be convinced that this familiar world is solidly real if they're ever going to suspend belief and accept the unreal, whether that's magic and dragons or faster-than-light travel.
Amity Schlaes, an editorial writer for the Wall Street Journal, wrote an article in The Spectator in January 1994, describing the white middle class' fear of blacks after Colin Ferguson murdered six whites on a Long Island commuter train, and after a jury in Brooklyn acquitted a young black despite powerful evidence that he had murdered a white. She wrote that whites were frightened because Ferguson's "manic hostility to whites is shared by many of the city's non madmen."
When copies of the article were circulated among Schlaes' colleagues at the Journal, she became an outcast. A number of her co-workers would get out of the elevator when she got on. People who had eaten with her in the staff cafeteria refused to sit at the same table. A delegation went to the office of the chairman of the company that owns the Journal. It did not matter that Schlaes had pointed out that minorities were the greatest victims of minority crimes, or that nobody could show a single element of her article that was untrue or inaccurate. "Her crime," wrote the then editor of The Spectator, Dominic Lawson, "was greater than being merely wrong. She had written the truth, regardless of the offense it might cause. And in modern America, or at least in the mainstream media, that is simply not done.
"Down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean," Raymond Chandler wrote in his article "The Simple Art of Murder" which could be called the manifesto of the American hard-boiled detective novel. This man, the detective, "is neither tarnished nor afraid. He is the hero, he is everything. He must be a complete man and a common man and yet an unusual man. He must be, to use a rather weathered phrase, a man of honor, by instinct, by inevitability, without thought of and certainly not saying it."
It's a worthy aesthetic, and Chandler was certainly the master of it, even back in 1944, when he wrote "The Simple Art of Murder." The essay was a repudiation of the English school of murder mystery--best represented by Agatha Christie--or, more specifically, the countless American knockoffs thereof, genteel, stilted puzzles set in "Miami hotels and Cape Cod summer colonies," rather than manor houses. Chandler held up Dashiell Hammett as the exemplar of what he referred to as the new "realist" school of crime fiction, yet Chandler was Hammett's equal, if not his superior in the style that would also become know as noir.
For public figures who walk away from the source of their fame, the question of what comes next may be treated lightly. A retired athlete can become a sportscaster or investor; the TV actor whose hit show comes to an end can mull over movie scripts. But when a successful novelist retires, it feels somehow different: writing novels is less a job one can leave than proof that one sees the world in a certain way. There's something that seems illogical about a writer declaring that he or she is done. Where, then, do all of the observations channeled into metaphor go?
Sociologists, linguists and biologists say that our ability to laugh and desire to do so isn't all fun and games, but actually serves two essential life functions: to bond with members of our "tribe," and to lesson tension and anxiety. Both of these are also excellent reasons to incorporate humor into your nonfiction. As a communications tool, effective use of humor an humanize you, cementing your bond with readers. It can also help your work stand out in a crowded market. And as advertising studies have shown, humor enhances how much we like what we're reading and how well we remember it afterward.
There might be some truth in the fact that writers whose first novels are autobiographical find it more difficult than other writers to write a second novel, but writers of any stripe have a difficult time following up a first novel. I've heard that as many as half of all first novelists never write a second.
For adolescents, something about horror never goes out of style. They often feel an excited disgust upon learning how things really are, and their disgust is merely a notch away from the more thoroughgoing pleasures of horror. It is the closest they can come to the sublime.
Every teacher of creative writing in every American college and university is no doubt familiar with the tendency of young people, usually young men, to concoct gruesome narratives that take place in an edgily unspecified locale. Mayhem, awkward sentences, paper-thin characterizations, and complicated weaponry vie for the reader's attention. But always there are the aliens, organic or machinelike or both, and always the accompanying rage and revulsion.
The authors of these horrific fictions sit in the back of the classroom avoiding eye contact, rarely speaking to anybody. Shabbily dressed, fidgety, tattooed, hysterically sullen, they are bored by realism and reality when not actively hostile to both. When asked about their reading, they will gamely mumble the usual list of names: Neal Stephenson, Stephen King, J. G. Ballard, and Philip K. Dick. But the name I have heard most often mentioned in these litanies is that of H. P. Lovecraft, whom they revere. He is their spirit-guide.
Most science fiction fans like to think of themselves as special people. The especially like to picture themselves as being on top of the latest issues, but most of them are reactionary escapists. The average fan probably started as a high school misfit who discovered pulp magazines as a way of avoiding reality.
I'm pretty careful about titles. I always believe that a short title is better than a long title and I like to have one-word titles such as Foundation. What's more, I like to have a title that describes the content of the story without giving it away, but which, when the story is finished, is seen by the reader to take on an added significance.
I suffer agony over some of the cutting, but I realize it's got to be done. When something really good goes it's an awful wrench, but as you probably know, something really can be good and yet have no place in the scheme of a book.
The only true creative aspect of novel writing is the first draft. That's when it's coming straight from your head and your heart, a direct tapping of the unconscious. The rest is donkey work. It is, however, donkey work that must be done. You must rewrite.
In general, never choose your critic from your immediate family circle: they have usually no knowledge of the process of writing, however literary they may be as consumers; and in their best-natured act of criticism one may hear the unconscious grinding of axes sounding like a medieval tournament.
I've been annoyed less by sneers at my alleged overproduction than by the imputation that to write much means to write badly. I've always written with great care and even some slowness. I've put in rather more hours a day at the task than some writers seem able to.
There are books on my shelves that have made me feel that I am part of a community of writers. I have collections of interviews with writers, a source least used in the academy. The serious student of writing and the teachers of writing should know the existence of the extensive testimony of writers, material that has been ignored by composition researchers. What writers know about their craft has been dismissed as the "lure of the practitioner."
Regardless of the issues a writer struggles with--creative block, procrastination, fear of failure, etc.--the very act of writing tends to stoke the energy, continue the flow, direct the current of further writing. Writing begets writing.
Science fiction is that form of literature which deals with the effects of technological change in an imaged future, an alternative present or re-conceived history…
Science fiction, at the center, holds that the encroachment of technological or social change will make the future different and that it will feel different to those within it. In a technologically altered culture, people will regard themselves and their lives in ways that we cannot apprehend. That is the base of the science fiction vision, but the more important part comes as corollary: the effects of a changed technology upon us will be more profound than change brought about by psychological or social pressure... It will be these changes--those imposed extrinsically by force--which really matter; that is what the science fiction writer is saying, and in their inevitability and power they trivialize the close psychological interactions in which most of us transact our lives.
Since its publication in 1953, Fahrenheit 451 has handily retained its place in the canon of dystopian fiction: more approachable than 1984, not nearly as baroque as A Clockwork Orange. Its long-standing presence on adolescent reading lists makes it no less worthy of adult attention, and in an era when accessibility to books is still regularly denied--whether by jittery school boards or petulant online retailers--its relevance can hardly be disputed.
Old writers in their youth understood themselves to be apprentices to masters superior in seasoned experience, and were ready to wait their turn in the hierarchy of recognition. In their lone and hardened way of sticking-to-it, they were unwaveringly industrious…In their college years, they might on occasion enroll in courses in "creative writing," though unaware of the vapid redundancy of the phrase: courses presided over by defeated professors who had once actually published a novel and were thereby rendered reverential, but afterward were never heard from again. Old writers were spared…the institutionalization of creative writing M.F.A. [Masters of Fine Arts] programs in the universities, taught by graduates of M.F.A. programs--a cycle of M.F.A. students who will in turn become M.F.A. teachers…Old writers in their youth were resolutely immured in their first novels, steadfastly enduring unworldly and self-chosen isolation; they shunned journalism, they shunned coteries, they shunned parties, they shunned the haunting of magazines for review assignments, they shunned editorial work, fearful of being drawn into the distracting pragmatism of publishing.
Making writing a big deal tends to make writing difficult. Keeping writing casual tends to keep it possible. Nowhere is this more true than around the issue of time. One of the biggest myths about writing is that in order to do it we must have great swathes of uninterrupted time.
Mickey Spillane, addressing a Mystery Writer's of America convention, warned his fans not to look closely for symbolic depth in his novels. Of his famous protagonist, Spillane said, "Mike Hammer drinks beer, not cognac, because I can't spell cognac."
Raymond Chandler is a bit like Rimbaud: a great artist who left behind no great art. The plot of his most famous novel, The Big Sleep, makes no sense, as he admitted himself, and none of his novels hold up--their characters are thin, their wisecracking quickly stale, unless you happen to adore wisecracking.
The resilience of detective fiction, and particularly the fact that so many distinguished and powerful people are apparently under its spell, has puzzled both its admirers and its detractors and spawned a number of notable critical studies which attempt to explain this puzzling phenomenon. In "The Guilty Vicarage," W. H. Auden wrote that his reading of detective stories was an addiction, the symptoms being the intensity of his craving, the specificity of the story, which, for him, had to be set in rural England, and last, its immediacy. He forgot the story as soon as he had finished the book and had no wish to read it again. Should he begin a detective story and then discover it was one he had already read, he was unable to continue. In all this the distinguished poet differed from me and, I suspect, from many other lovers of the genre. I enjoy rereading my favorite mysteries although I know full well how the book will end, and although I can understand the attraction of a rural setting, I am frequently happy to venture with my favorite detectives onto unfamiliar territory.
The question is not whether Internet journalism will be dominant, but whether it will maintain the quality of the best print journalism. In the end it is not the delivery system that counts. It is what it delivers. There has never been such access to knowledge in all its forms. What we have to find is a way to sustain truth seeking. If we evolve the right financial model, we will enter a golden age of journalism.
One most often hears about the spur of self-hatred in stand-up comics, but writers do seem to be another high-risk groups for this diagnosis, made most famously by George Orwell in his essay "Why I Write" (1946). Orwell indicates a clear awareness that self-loathing and self-love are locked in a tight, procreative embrace. The first writerly motivation he cites is "Sheer egoism. Desire to seem clever, to be talked about, to be remembered after death, to get back at grown-ups who snubbed you in childhood, etc. etc."
E. M. Forster makes a limitlessly useful distinction, in "Aspects of the Novel," between the novelist and the historian: "The historian," he explains, "deals with actions, and with the characters of men only so far as he can deduce them from their actions." On the other hand, "it is the function of the novelist to reveal the hidden life at its source: to tell us more about "Queen Victoria than could be known, and thus to produce a character who is not the Queen Victoria of history."
When my younger son was reading the Harry Potter books, I thought it would be fun to read them along with him, since I knew that adults were enjoying them too. But when I tried the first time, I found the writing flat and shallow, and the characters less than interesting.
As a reader, I'm put off when I suspect that a writer is too aware of his own style, or is more concerned with style than communication. It's a lot like a politician who takes on a speaker's voice when talking publicly. I consider this, in writers and politicians, pretentious and phony. I prefer to read authors who don't recognize their own literary voices, or if they do, are clever enough to make their writing style appear naturally interesting and unique.
There is a dreadful style of writing, prose intended to sound lofty and important, found in the promotional literature put out by colleges and universities. The thoughts and messages conveyed in this form are usually quite simple. An example of this style can be found in many college mission statements. In straightforward prose, a university public relations person might write: "The goal of our institution involves providing our students with a quality education at a reasonable price." Because this is so obvious, to say it directly and plainly makes it sound kind of stupid. But when a mission statement is puffed up with carefully selected words and high-minded phrases, the simplicity of the message is replaced by syntax intended to make it sound profound. This style is pompous and false, and represents writing at its worst. Here is an example of highly pretentious writing taken from a pamphlet published by a relatively prestigious liberal arts college:
"The mission of ________College is to help young men and women develop competencies, commitments and characteristics that have distinguished human beings at their best. All of us who are affiliated with the College are working toward that end each day in as many different ways as their are students on this campus. (Wow, 1,400 different ways.) Our students have unique talents and new insights that are being developed during each interaction with faculty, staff, alumni and other students. (I taught at the college level for 32 years. Where I worked, very few students had unique talent and new insights. In fact, some of them were uniquely untalented and completely without insight. So in my opinion, the talent/insight stuff is a load of stylistic crap.) For each student, those interactions become building blocks in their foundation for living." (Yeah, sure.)
Ignore, if you can, the lack of substance, unadulterated puffing, and pandering in this mission statement and look at the style. Note the lofty and, to my mind, cheesy alliteration that starts off with the words--competencies, commitments and characteristics--and the use of the buzz words distinguished, affiliated, insights, interaction, and foundation, typical university-speak wordage comparable to university-speak favorites such as outcomes, challenges, and impact (instead of affect) not used in this passage.
If I were a creative writing teacher, I would use passages like the above to show writing students how not to write. It's a bit ironic that so much heavy-handed, dead prose is produced by colleges and universities. Professors, notorious for being writers of unreadable fiction and highly pompous and dense nonfiction, also contribute to the style over substance problem. If you don't believe me, look through any university press book catalogue. The book titles themselves are beyond comprehension, and the catalogue descriptions of these works are so badly written it's no wonder no one buys this stuff.
Anxiety is not only an inevitable part of the writing process but a necessary part. If you're not scared, you're not writing. A state of anxiety is the writer's natural habitat. Yet those who live there are seldom bold. War-chasing Hemingways are the exception among writers. Most seek adventure only in their imaginations. Like most of us, they're brave here, timid there, trying to muddle through, to sneak enough good words onto paper before a surge of anxiety erases their literary disk. At the same time, they're driven to seek attention and must peddle their wares to the public.
To love writing, fear writing, and pray for the courage to write is no contradiction....Writing is both frightening and exhilarating. It couldn't be done without the other.
Something that makes a really great literary character would often make a horrible roommate, or friend, or boyfriend. And that's why they're so much fun to read about and it's so great that they don't exist.
We sometimes speak of academic writing, of courtroom transcripts, of material that does not compel our attention or elicit a strong desire to continue as dry. What do we mean by "dry" is that it does not enable use to see what we read, it does not move us, and, most important, it does not stimulate our intellect with insight, its ostensible purpose.
I quit writing after Publishers Weekly told me my first novel was "just terrible." Something broke, you see. I was 29 and I'd worked ten years at that novel, and I didn't see the point of spending another ten years only to be told the same thing again. So I tend bar here in North Plainfield, New Jersey, and try to encourage the other writers who come by now and then. We don't get many writers in North Plainfield.
I have never claimed to create anything out of nothing; I have always needed an incident or a character as a starting point, but I have exercised imagination, invention, and a sense of the dramatic to make it something of my own.
We've always had a tradition in America of hounding our artists to death. Look at the list of great artists, you see a continual history of defeat, frustration, poverty, alcoholism, drug addiction. The best poets of my generation are al suicides.
I don't think there are more bad memoirs than there are bad novels: Most novels are bad and most memoirs are bad and most poems are bad and most movies are bad.
I just think genres rise and fall: When the novel began authors were seen as morally reprehensible because the books were made up. And because they didn't have any interest in truth. Obviously you can tell great truths in a novel and you can lie in a novel.
Memoirs fill the need of dealing with the real. As novels have gotten less real, memoir readership has grown.
Early in my writing career, I managed to turn out three novels, one right after another, while I was married, raising two children, keeping house, and working full time as a medical secretary. Those novels were never published and netted me not one red cent, but the work was essential. Writing those books prepared the way for the fourth book, which was published and got me launched as a professional writer.
On the whole, professional writers are a lot of whining bastards who wouldn't last a day in a real job. The true mortification of being a writer is having to meet other writers from time to time, and listen to their mundane egotistical rantings.
Writers who reply to reviews are invariably angry. (The flattered, happy ones keep their satisfaction to themselves.) An angry writer's tirade gives the lie to the surface placidity of literary life and reveals the passionate enmities that roil beneath. Think of Martin Amis's response to Tibor Fischer's attack on his novel Yellow Dog: "Tibor Fischer is a creep and a wretch. Oh yeah: and a fat-arse."
The word that recurs must crucially in Poe's fiction is horror. His stories are often shaped to bring the narrator and the reader to a place where the use of the word is justified, where the word and the experience it evokes are explored or by implication defined. So crypts and entombments and physical morbidity figure in Poe's writing with a prominence that is not characteristic of major literature in general. Clearly Poe was fascinated by popular obsessions, with crime, with premature burial.
There are several reasons why so many American writers have only one book in them. One is that it is very hard to be a writer of serious fiction in this country, not merely because we have so little respect for such work but because we throw up so many distractions in the way of it. All the hullabaloo attendant to writing a book to which other people respond intensely can be hugely flattering and can make it difficult to get on with one's work.
First-person narratives often appeal to beginners because writing one feels like being an actor and slipping into disguise. Actually, a novel could be made up of more than one character addressing the reader in the first person, but to attempt such things you require a good ear for voices because each of them must be instantly recognizable.
I understand that there are unlikable people, and I have no interest in making them likable, because I want to make them entertaining, and I think in order for characters to be entertaining they have to be unhappy.
You know less than you think you do. The constant reinforcement of that sorry idea has become a drumbeat under parenting, as advice books of every kind pullulate like toadstools after a storm. Such literature sets out to refocus our daily life with your child, usually with proscriptive rebukes and optimistic exercises--with easy-sounding answers that are often impossible to enact. Anyone who has raised a child will know how assaultive the abundance of such parenting advice can feel, how dreary it is to be told constantly that if you only did (or, indeed, had done) something slightly different, your child's problems would evanesce, and you would have, through the alchemy of nurture, a child who is happy / well behaved / nonviolent / good at math / successful / self motivated / popular / thin.
Many of the traditional themes of fiction--the corrupting powers of ambition, the nature of one's responsibility to self and to others, the tragedy of loneliness, the paradoxes and ambiguities of compromise--all seem congenial to the city's qualities--its crowded loneliness, its veneration for the new, its bustling immorality, its commercialism, its sense of busy pointlessness. The city is available as a symbol of opportunity and freedom and success, and of the empty underside of these qualities.
I just despise Hollywood. It isn't even a city. It's nothing. It's like a jumble of huts in a jungle somewhere. I don't understand how you can live there. It's really, completely dead. Walk along the street, there's nothing moving.
Asking what it's like to be a writer is a lot like asking what it's like to be a dentist or an attorney. The answer depends on where you live, what you write, how successful you are, how old you are, if you're married, and how you think of yourself as a writer. But there is one thing that most writers do say about the writing life: it's lonely and frustrating. Writers seem to feel misunderstood by people who don't write and under-appreciated or ignored by the reading public. Feeling isolated and forced to compete with other writers, many authors complain that their books are not adequately promoted by their publishers. Otherwise, they're a contended group of workers.
Rejection is part of any creative art. To overcome, I immediately get back to the keyboard and work harder. Then I think of Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Jack London, all of whom were rejected hundreds of time.
F. Scott Fitzgerald was both a perfect and terrible fit for Hollywood. His youthful fame gave him a shrewd perspective on that shallow, tinselly world. Yet while working there in the last three years of his life, he was a sad case: a debt-ridden genius, alcoholic, selling himself to collaborate on second-rate screenplays.
I find characters who are at cross-purposes with society, or opposed to society in some way, interesting because they are by definition the underdogs. They have to be clever, cunning, imaginative, dogged, and wily--whereas society merely has to lean its weight a little.
I think aspiring writers need as much discouragement as we can muster. Nobody should undertake the life of a fiction writer--so unrenumerative, so maddeningly beset by career vagaries--who has any other choice in the matter. Learn a trade! Flannery O'Conner said it best: "People are always asking me if the university stifles writers. I reply that it hasn't stifled enough of them."
In a bookstore I walked past the first table, and a book caught my eye. I walked another 20 steps, stopped and went back. The title that caught my eye was Cleopatra's Secret Diaries. The thought of learning the most intimate secrets of one of the world's most famous lovers definitely intrigued me.
Adversarial dialogue is action. When characters speak, we see them as they talk, which means that dialogue is always in immediate scene. Stage plays are in immediate scene. So are films, and now, for the most part, novels.
Publishers love celebrity authors because they don't have to spend money to make them famous. Celebrity worshippers will come to the book signing events for photo-ops and autographs. The book on sale is nothing more than a souvenir. Celebrity "journalists" invite these semi-literates to appear on TV talk shows to talk about and promote their vacuous, ghost-written memoirs.
Writing should be a snap. We've been telling stories all our lives; we know all of these words; we've got a pen and some paper and a million ideas. We fiddle. We put on some music. We scribble. We stare out the window. We remember we have that wedding to go to next August. Better buy a gift soon. We smooth out the paper. We consider how none of our errands are getting done while we sit. We get up. And now we know what writers already know: that writing is difficult, and it is a disorderly and unnerving enterprise, and because it is, we all have, it seems, developed an unnatural resistance to the blank page.
Men writers who are married to non-working wives--that is, wives who stay at home--have a certain advantage. Every writer needs a wife!--someone to stand guard, to cook meals, to deal with the immediate problems of house and children, and keep them out of their husbands' hair. It's more difficult for women writers, who have to do all these chores plus their writing.
Some well-known writers are disdainful of anyone being able to teach creative writing in a meaningful way. They fear that what is being taught is mechanical "factory fiction" rather than worthwhile art that reflects the human condition in an entertaining way. In my view, this is a disingenuous attitude, because books or classes in creative writing can only point the way. There is no magic formula, and the ambitious but uninspired writer who searches for it will never succeed. Studying writing through analysis, or, more accurately diagnosis, is not a justification for encouraging or perpetuating mediocrity.
Anne Sexton (who killed herself) saw Sylvia Plath's suicide as a career move, one that had been taken from her because Plath beat her to it. Sexton say suicide as a kind of death that had a lot of resonance for a literary career and also helped with the marketing of the work. Her prediction about Sylvia Plath came true: Plath was relatively unknown when she killed herself, but shortly after that she becaqme the best-known woman writer in American and probably England as well.
I think that out of seven years of teaching at the University of Pennsylvania I found maybe two students who had their own voice, in my judgment. There were lots who were competent but only two who were startling.
Among all the home businesses touted these days, I can think of none that is easier to get into, cheaper to start, or offers more potential for recognition, respect, and reward than nonfiction book writing. It is, in my opinion, the ultimate dream job.
In the past 15 years, I've worked as a juice barista, a Gap clerk, an assistant to an asylum lawyer and then to an Emerson scholar and then to a mean-spirited self-help guru; I've worked as an office temp, a SAT tutor, an innkeeper, a medical actor, and a teacher at six different universities. The fantasy that "making it" as a writer will render other jobs financially unnecessary is usually just that--a fantasy.
The writer's life is inherently an insecure one. Each project is a new start and may be a failure. The fact that a previous book has been successful is no guard against failure this time. It's no wonder writers so often turn misanthropic or are driven to drink to dull the agony.
On the first day in my intermediate writing class, I ask the students to write down their ten favorite books of fiction and their authors. A lot of them can't name ten. A lot of them fill in with genre writers, thrillers and whatnot.
Why I write, sheer egoism. It is humbug to pretend that this is not a motive, and a strong one. Writers share this characteristic with scientists, artists, politicians, lawyers, soldiers, successful businessmen--in short, with the whole top crust of humanity.
I was famous too young. I pushed too hard too soon. I wish somebody would write what it's really like to be a celebrity. People come up and ask me for autographs in airports, and I give them because otherwise I think they'll hit me over the head.
Since a novel is a recreation of reality, its theme has to be dramatized, i.e., presented in terms of action. A story in which nothing happens is not a story. A store whose events are haphazard and accidental is either an inept conglomeration or, at best, a chronicle, a memoir, a reportorial recording, not a novel. It is realism that demands a plot structure in a novel.
I wrote for fourteen years before I finally sold something, so it is clear that I am not writing totally for an audience. I write what I have to write--and then find out who might be interested in reading it.
Robert Penn Warren's All The King's Men is one of my favorite books. I read a lot of southern writers--Faulkner, Eudora Welty--and a lot of Dickens. It seems I stole something from everybody I ever read. I hope in a good way.
The thing about writing is no to talk, but to do it; no matter how bad or even mediocre it is, the process and production is the thing, not the sitting and theorizing about how one should write ideally, or how well one should write if one really wanted to or had the time. As Alfred Kazin told me: "You don't write to support yourself; you work to support your writing."
I am a writer as I might have been a doctor or a lawyer. It is so pleasant a profession that it is not surprising that a vast number of persons adopt it who have no qualifications for it. It is exciting and various. The writer is free to work in whatever place and whatever time he chooses; his is free to idle if he feels ill or dispirited.
Most people have little interest in how plumbers fix sinks or how electricians wire houses. Moreover, in terms of how these skills are learned and applied, there isn't much diversity. But when it comes to how a person produces a novel, short story, or a work of creative nonfiction, there is plenty of interest and diversity. Published writers are always being asked when they write, how many hours a day they write, how many words they get down on paper daily, exactly where they write, what they write with, and so forth. In the world of writing, matters such as these, referred to as work habits, are fascinating and important. Such queries often extend into the creative process itself.
The Devil comes to the writer and says, "I will make you the best writer of your generation. Never mind generation--of the century. No--this millennium! Not only the best, but the most famous, and also the richest; in addition to that, you will be very influential and your glory will endure for ever. All you have to do is sell me your grandmother, your mother, your wife, your kids, your dog and your soul." "Sure," says the writer, "absolutely--give me the pen, where do I sign?" Then he hesitates. "Just a minute," he says. "What's the catch?"
Book reviews are written to be read: They are work done for others' enjoyment and edification; unlike some art, they are meant to inform an audience, not perform for one, and they usually follow a predictable pattern: name of book, summary of what book is about, followed by a competent, well-argued opinion as to whether the book's author achieved his or her aims.
I will be perfectly willing to autograph and oblige my readers in any way possible. I don't know what other writers are like, but I am always aware that it is from my readers that my income ultimately derives.
The only thing, I think, that happens to a writer as the years go by is a disturbing sense of impatience that time grows short. There's a built-in egotism to this. The quiet desperation a writer feels that he has yet to write the definitive play or book inside his head. It also assumes that a public waits with baited breath for his final and comprehensive word.
Starting in the late 1960s and continuing through the 1980s, plot became a dirty word in literary circles. Fiction lost its way. A great novel comes when there is beauty of language, illumination of character and a great plot.
The vast majority of sociologists write in a language that has to be learned almost like Esperanto. It has a private vocabulary which, in addition to strictly sociological terms, includes new words for the commonest actions, feelings and circumstances. It has the beginnings of a new grammar and syntax, much inferior to English grammar in force and precision. So far it has an effect on standard English, the effect is largely pernicious.
Workshop-influenced fiction displays the hallmarks of committee effort: emotional restraint and the lack of linguistic idiosyncrasy, no vision, just voice; no fictional world of substance and variety, just a smooth surface of diaristic, autobiographical, and confessional speech.
The worst job in the world is writing. You're alone, you're with yourself, and either you trust your own judgment or you don't. And if your judgment is questioned enough times, you begin to question your own judgment as a writer. If enough people turn you down, you begin to question your own skill. Who else do you have to depend on? It's you against them.
I was released four days ago after 40 days in the drunk looney bin. Turned myself in for treatment to kick alcohol and light drugs right after the July 4th  weekend, which I barely remember. Detoxed at Washington Hospital Center and then spent a month at a plush drunk tank for such folks. Feel better than I have in a long time and have experienced no strange cravings. Believe I'm gonna be okay.
Apparently, it's in fashion again--the notion that the creative impulse, with its accompanying emotional difficulties, is merely the product of a psychology disorder. The current favorite diagnosis for artists and novelists is bipolar disorder--a condition that used to be called manic depression.
I hoped to be a writer, but it was not until I had published my fifth book, All My Friends are Going to be Strangers, that I became convinced that I was a writer and would remain one.
Journalists mostly don't expect to be liked--Vanity Fair is not paying its writers big money to write nice things about their subjects.
Probably at least 85 percent of the books I've inscribed both to friends and strangers have found their way into the [book] market, and rather rapidly.
To this day it is not easy to get started in fiction, but the speed with which self-publishing has been established is making getting started a good deal easier....Much trash will get published, but then much trash is published even by the most reputable publishers.
Minor writers provide the stitchery of literature. Besides, major writers often find themselves writing minor books. Major writers aren't major all the time, and minor writers occasionally write better than they normally do, sometimes producing a major book. The commonwealth of literature is complex, but a sense of belonging to it is an important feeling for a writer to have and to keep.
Never discount luck, in the making of a literary career, or any other career, for that matter.
If your aim is to land a contract with one of the major book publishing houses, you probably will need an agent to represent your work. About 80 percent of the books these conglomerates publish are purchased through agents. Some of the largest houses won't even consider submissions from unrepresented writers; when they get manuscripts directly from the author, the author usually gets a short form note advising him to get an agent.
The advantage to the big publishers in dealing only with agents is that agents know what editors are looking for and won't submit work that isn't salable. The agent's reputation, and therefore his ability to succeed as a agent, rides on submitting only the best--not just in terms of ideas, but also in terms of presentation and research--to only those editors who are appropriate for the project. The publisher saves enormous time and expense by allowing agents to do the work of shifting through submissions to find the real gems.
Like most writers, my principal connection with the literary world has been through books and magazines. I've read hundreds of books and articles about writing, publishing, and the writing life by well-known writers, how-to authors, editors, literary agents, critics, journalists, and writing teachers.
Besides literary biographies and autobiographies, as well as the published letters and journals of literary figures, I enjoy reading memoir/how-to books by celebrated writers. Examples of this genre include The Spooky Art by Norman Mailer, On Writing by Stephen King, On Writing by George V. Higgins, The Summing Up by W. Somerset Maugham, On Becoming a Novelist by John Gardner, None But a Blockhead by Larry L. King, and Chandler Speaking by Raymond Chandler.
My library is also stocked with collections of author interviews such as the Writers at Work series featuring the Paris Review interviews conducted by George Plimpton and his colleagues. Interviewees in this eight-book series, which ran from 1958 to 1981, include Ernest Hemingway, Irwin Shaw, John O'Hara, John Cheever, and James Jones.
I also like to read so-called "conversation with" books, collections of interviews featuring a single writer such as Mary McCarthy, Norman Mailer, Truman Capote, Gore Vidal, Graham Green, Tom Wolfe, and Eudora Welty.
While I've corresponded over the years with a handful of well-known authors, I've only had one literary friend. That person is the mystery writer Ross H. Spencer who died in 1998.
I have a great ambivalence about interviews [of authors]. I believe writers should be read and not heard from. There are certain writers whose personalities are more responsible for their reputations than their writing. [They] use their personalities to make their works popular. I resent that, because they get far more attention than their work merits. And other writers who are really much better, but who are quiet and invisible souls, are not noticed at all. Part of me wants to be totally anonymous. The writer who I really admire most for his image is B. Traven, who wrote The Treasure of the Sierra Madre; he was totally unidentified in his lifetime. I admire that.
In traditional hard-boiled crime fiction, if the hero is a police officer, he'll be the departmental maverick, too honest and decent to engage in office politics yet laser-focused on nailing the perp. Often there's a murdered relative, almost always female, to juice this crusader's motivation. His marriage will have fallen apart because he's too stoic and too devoted to the job to sustain a real relationship. But he'll be devoted to his kid and is a one-woman romantic at heart, even if hardly anybody ever gets near his heart. He'll brood a lot and go home alone. He'll have a temper but a righteous one. He might drink too much or be too ready with his fists, but that just makes him a bit of an antihero, that familiar figure from cable TV dramas…
It's all getting awfully predictable, which may explain why this reader can't bear to finish yet another novel about such a hero. I've found, instead that the crime novels I open with the keenest anticipation these days are almost always by women. These are books that trespass the established boundaries of the genre by lingering over characters who used to serve as mere furniture in the old-style hard-boiled fiction. They may dare not to offer a solution to every mystery or to have their sleuths arrive at those solutions by non-rational means. Their prose ranges from the matter-of-fact to the intoxicating, and the battlefields they depict are not the sleazy nightclubs, back alleys, diners and shabby offices of the archetypal detective novel, but a far more intimate and treacherous terrain: family, marriage, friendship.
Harsh criticism can harm our creative process, but so can a reliance upon praise. Praise is nice, of course. It feels good to get a positive response to our work. That ego stroking shouldn't be why you write, though. If you become dependent on praise, your creative flow gets displaced. You become removed from your own source.
Screenwriting is a brutal, ridiculous calling. Sure, if you want to become a lawyer or a doctor, it's hard. It's a ton of work, but it can be done and once you've graduated from med school or law school and passed all of your exams, there are jobs out there….And there are people who need your services.
But screenwriting is different. There are hardly any openings for gainful employment, and if there are a few jobs, you must compete for them with established Academy Award-nominated writers….
"Being a writer is hard, being a professional writer is even harder, and being a working Hollywood screenwriter may be the hardest of all.
Since the 1950s literary critics have written hundreds of volumes about autobiography as a genre. The questions they ask come from literary theory. Is autobiography just another form of fiction? A bastard form of the novel or of biography? What sort of story can anyone tell about her or his life when its end is as yet unknown? Is it possible to translate the chaotic ebb and flow of experience into a narrative form with a beginning, a middle and an end? When so much of our consciousness is visual, or nonverbal, how much of it can we convey through the limited medium of words? Can anyone be both subject and object of the same sentences--the speaker and the subject spoken about? Why is this drive to engage in scrutiny of one's own life so characteristic of the West?
Humor is difficult. Other kinds of stories don't have to hit the bull's-eye. The outer rings have their rewards too. A story can be fairly suspenseful, moderately romantic, somewhat terrifying, and so on. This is not the case with humor. A story is either funny or it is not funny. Nothing in between. The humor target contains only a bull's-eye.
Film and television have convinced too many writers that heaps of dialogue make novels more like movies and therefore good. This is an amateur's fantasy, and it has induced some writers to surrender the few advantages they have over cinematic storytelling.
The movie maker is stuck with what the camera can see and the microphone can hear. You have more freedom. You can summarize situations. You can forthrightly give us people's histories. You can concentrate ten years into ten words. You can move anywhere you like outside real time. You can tell us--just tell us--what people are thinking and feeling.
Yes, abundant dialogue can lighten a story, make it more readable and sparkle with wonders. But it is pitiably inadequate before what it is not suited to do. Exposition, for example: the "five w's"--the who, what, when, where, and why of a given situation. Jimmying this information into a visual background through performance and dialogue is cumbersome stuff.
The attitudes between men and women have to be politically correct even when you're writing Regency and Georgian period historical romance novels. You're going to alienate readers if you have terribly domineering men and very submissive women. That might be an historically accurate way to look at men and women, but you really can't get away with that in modern novels. You have to somehow skirt around that and make the heroes sensitive to women and respect them even while obviously they were more domineering than modern men would be. You have to do the corresponding thing with women. They have to be a little less submissive.
I wrote my first novel when I was a freshman in college and submitted it to a first-novel competition--I believe it was the Bennett Cerf competition. I thought the book had an outside chance, and I was enormously proud to have fathered such a wonderful creation at the age of nineteen. It was rejected with a short "Dear contributor" note, and I was too crushed to show that book to any publisher in New York.
Referring to serious writers who sell out to Hollywood, a character in Rod Serling's play Velvet Alley says: "They give you a thousand dollars a week [1960s] until that's what you need to live on. And then every day you live after that, you're afraid they'll take it away from you. It's all very scientific. It's based on the psychological fact that a man is a grubbing, hungry little sleaze. In twenty-four hours you can develop a taste for caviar. In forty-eight hours fish eggs are no longer a luxury, they're a necessity."
A character in B. Traven's story "The Night Visitor," who has written several books he has chosen not to publish, contemplates literary fame: "What is fame, after all? It stinks to hell and heaven. Today I am famous. Today my name is printed on the front page of all the papers in the world. Tomorrow perhaps fifty people can still spell my name correctly. Day after tomorrow I may starve to death and nobody cares. That's what you call fame."
B. Traven, the pen name of the mysterious author of dozens of novels--notably, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre--believed that all books should be published anonymously. He based this belief on the notion that readers, by knowing in advance who the author is, will expect and demand a certain kind of book. (If Agatha Christie, for example, had come out with a hard-boiled crime novel instead of one of her cozy mysteries, her fans would have gone nuts.)
These days, you don't have to be a parent to be familiar with popular teen book titles like Harry Potter, The Hunger Games or Twilight. These titles have sold millions of copies of books and spawned merchandise empires, been adopted into blockbuster films, and have permeated our pop-culture lives.
Young adult literature is a booming business and has been one of the fastest growing book categories for publishers in recent years with more than 715 million books sold in 2013…Even though this genre is aimed at audiences 12 to 18, more non-teenagers are picking up these titles. In fact, a 2014 report showed that 77 percent of young adult literature buyers were actually adults, with the largest segment of buyers--43 percent, ages 18 to 29…And given the difficult economic climate the publishing industry has faced over the last few years, more young adult buyers has been a blessing…
The phrase "writer's block" was coined by an American, a psychiatrist named Edmund Bergler…In other ages and cultures, writers were not thought to be blocked but straightforwardly dried up. One literary critic pointed out that the concept of writer's block is peculiarly American in its optimism that we all have creativity just waiting to be unlocked. By contrast, Milton, when he could not write, felt that he was empty, that there was no creativity left untapped.
If writer's block is more common in the United States, it would not be the first weakness that is peculiar to our culture. The modern American idea of the literary writer is so shaped by the towering images of Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald struggling with every word, that there is a paradoxical sense in which suffering from writer's block is necessary to be an American novelist. Without block once in a while, if a writer is too prolific, he or she is suspected by other novelists as being a hack.
New technology brought new possibilities for horror film makers of the 1980s. Soon the emphasis shifted to gore for gore's sake, and the film genre fell out of favor with mainstream audiences. But the horror novel was enjoying an excellent reputation for quality writing, despite the growth in formulaic shocker stories. In 1981, Thomas Harris published the first novel in his Hannibal Lecter series. This novel remains one of the most commercially successful portraits of a serial killer, and it heralded the start of the serial-killer craze of the ensuing decades…In recent years, the archetypes of vampires, werewolves, and zombies have come to dominate the horror genre.