Monday, December 11, 2017

Young Writers: Too Self-Conscious And Pretentious

 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.

Brenda Ueland

What Is Literary Style?

Style is an author's choice of words (diction), arrangement of words in each sentence (syntax), and handling of sentences and paragraph units to achieve a specific effect.

David Madden

When Novelists Write in the Passive Voice

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.

Roger MacBride Allen

The Novelist's Fear Of Failure

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.

Irwin Shaw

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Being In Touch With The Literary World

     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.

Jim Fisher

A Writer Kicking Alcohol Addiction

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 [1980] 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.

Larry L. King 

Writing For an Audience of One

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.

Donna Jo Napoli

Workshop-Influenced Fiction

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.

Chris Altacuise 

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Begging For Cover Blurbs

   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.

Hector Tobar

Writing In First Person

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.

Richard Rhodes

Norman Mailer Versus Truman Capote

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.

Norman Mailer

Friday, December 8, 2017

Larry Mc Murtry On The Writing Life

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.

Larry Mc Murtry

Novels Without Plots

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.

Dennis Lehane

The Anatomy of a Book Review

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.

Anna Holmes 

Creating Dialogue in Fiction

When I write dialogue, I feel as though I'm merely the typist, transcribing what the characters say inside my head. I don't have the sense that I'm making anything up.

Elizabeth Berg 

Thursday, December 7, 2017

The Common Dead Spot in Most Biographies

Most biographies have to slog through an only marginally interesting youth until the real story kicks in.

Joseph Kanon 

The Self-Disciplined Novelist

Someone once called me a bureaucrat among writers because my self-discipline seemed excessive. It seemed excessive to me, too.

Saul Bellow

Tom Wolfe on Narrative Nonfiction

I certainly always use novelistic techniques [in nonfiction writing], but I also feel that the lines between fact and fiction should never be blurred.

Tom Wolfe 

Is There Such a Thing as a Professional Writer?

I may be a Professional Writer to the I.R.S. when I file my tax returns, but in creative terms, I'm still an amateur, still learning my craft.

Stephen King 

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

How Publishers Screen Manuscripts

Publishers will tell you...that every manuscript which reaches their office is faithfully read, but they are not to be believed. At least fifteen out of twenty manuscripts can be summarily rejected, usually with safety. There may be a masterpiece among them, but it is a thousand to one against.

Michael Joseph

F. Scott Fitzgerald And His Booze

It has become increasingly plain to me that the very excellent organization of a long novel or the finest perceptions and judgment in time of revision do not go well with liquor.

F. Scott Fitzgerald 

Teaching Dead Male Writers

I don't love women writers enough to teach them. If you want women writers go down the hall [to another class]. What I teach is guys. [Elmore Leonard, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Anton Chekhov, Marcel Proust, Leo Tolstoy, Henry Miller, and Philip Roth.]

 David Gilmour, novelist and professor at the University of Toronto

Categories Within the Fantasy Genre

To name a few sub-fantasy genres: There's Epic Fantasy involving thick books and very long series; High Fantasy, usually very traditional and Tolkienesque; Dark Fantasy that mixes in horror or grim themes; Grimdark Fantasy employing a dystopian element in the world or plot; Steampunk, a mix of fantasy and old Victorian clockwork and steam elements; Arcanepunk, a blend of science fiction and fantasy; Historical Fantasy incorporating magic into historical fiction often mixed with the sword and sorcery sub-genre; and Urban Fantasy which blends the ideas of magic and myth with modern day worlds.

Joanna Penn

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Why Fantasy Stories Are So Appealing

From the earliest myths and legends, through different cultures, fantasy has been with us. Think of the Arabian Nights stories, the Arthurian Romances, Spenser's The Fairie Queen, Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, Lord Byron's Manfred, Mary Shelly's Frankenstein, Bram Stoker's Dracula, and the works of Edgar Allen Poe, Lovecraft, Lord Dunsany, and George MacDonald.

     Whether these stories are set in our world or a secondary world where magical creatures and/or people exist, they all share a common theme: the exploration of the human condition. Even the much maligned medieval/quest fantasies offer their readers the chance to vicariously explore a wondrous world, battle evil and restore justice. Even a lowly Hobbit can change the course of the world by destroying the Ring.

     That is the appeal of the tolkienesque fantasy. In our modern world where politicians prove corrupt, large corporations rip off customers and terrorists kill ordinary people going about their daily lives, the traditional quest fantasy provides an antidote to cynicism. Fantasy, deriving from the word fantastic, exercises our sense of wonder.

Rowena Cory Daniells

On Being a Novelist

Novelists when they're writing live in a spooky, clamorous silence, a state somewhat like the advanced stages of prayer but without prayer's calming benefits. A writer turns his back on the day and the night and its large and little beauties, and tries to fashion other days and nights with words. It's absurd. Oh, it's silly, dangerous work indeed.

Joy Williams 

The Influence Old Novels Have on the New

Novels have to primary sources: writers' life experiences or their art experiences--although I suppose more religious writers might also make room for divine inspiration. While it's popular in publicity to focus on the life experience that informs a book, a writer's art experiences are just as responsible for how a story emerges from the imagination and eventually appears on the page. As Cormac McCarthy once said: "the ugly fact is books are made out of books. The novel depends for its life on the novels that have been written."

Matt Bell


William Faulkner on The Inspiration to Write

I write when the spirit moves me, and the spirit moves me every day.

William Faulkner 

Monday, December 4, 2017

The Harm Sociologists Have Done to the English Language

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.

Malcom Cowley 

The Aging Writer

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.

Rod Serling 

Writing as the Worst Job in the World

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.

Alan Landsburg 

The Ambitious Writer: Doing What it Takes to Succeed

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?"

Margaret Atwood 

Sunday, December 3, 2017

The Biased Biographer

I think the most biased biography I know of, almost viciously biased against the subject, was Lawrence Thompson's biography of Robert Frost. But Frost did not do the convenient things. Thompson took on the job of being Frost's biographer something like forty years before Frost died, and he was not allowed to publish the book until Frost was gone. That was their agreement. If Frost had died at sixty or seventy, instead of ninety, that would have been much nicer for Thompson. So there's that side of it. And Frost had some pretty unpleasant characteristics, along with tremendous charm. Thompson simply got turned off by him. There was a relationship with a woman that involved them both--they were rivals--there's nothing about that in the biography, of course. Thompson ends by attributing the worst possible motives to anything Frost did. The book is painful to read.

Scott Donaldson

Charles Bukowski on Style

     I've always been a sucker for the simple, bare line because I've always had this feeling that Literature, that of now and the centuries, was largely a put-on, you know, like pro wrestling matches. Even those who have lasted the centuries (with few exceptions) gave me the odd feeling that they were screwing me over. Basically, I feel that with the bare line it could be harder to get the lie across; besides it reads easier, and what's easy is good and what's hard to read is a pain in the ass.

     So John Fante gave me the bare line with feeling; Hemingway the line that did not beg; Thurber the line that laughed at what the mind did and couldn't help doing; Saroyan the line that loved itself; Celine the line that cut the page like a knife; Sherwood Anderson the line that said beyond the line. I think I have borrowed from all of these writers and I am not ashamed to admit it. I only hope that I have added, what? If I knew what I were doing I could no longer do it.

Charles Bukowski

The Writer in Hollywood

I knew her name--Madam Hollywood. I rose and said good-by to this strumpet in her bespangled red gown; good-by to her lavender-painted cheeks, her coarsened laugh, her straw-dyed hair, her wrinkled fingers bulging with gems. A wench with flaccid tits and sandpaper skin under her silks, shined up and whistling like a whore in a park; covered with stink like a railroad station pissery and swinging a dead ass in the moonlight.

Ben Hecht

Literary Prizes

Goodreads.com lists over 6,000 [literary] prizes on its web site. The oldest, the Nobel Prize in Literature, was founded in 1901; the youngest was established yesterday. Ten more will certainly be announced tomorrow.

Amanda Foreman

Saturday, December 2, 2017

The Horror Genre And The Fun Of Fictitious Fear

Fear is fun. Being frightened is delicious. We tend to giggle when we're really scared--partly to expel the tension, partly because we're having such a good time. I'm not talking real fear. No one enjoys encountering a knife at the throat, or facing a loaded gun, or fighting the horrors of cancer. But a book or movie or a TV show can't physically hurt us. Instead, they provide an escape hatch, a way for us to deal with the fact that death is as natural as birth and that no one gets out of life alive. Manufactured horror on a page, in a theater, or on a television screen, allows us to transcend our own mortality--at least for the duration of the story. It's a way to surmount the horrors of the real world. And, as I say, it's a lot of fun. That's why we allow ourselves to be frightened over and over. By tapping into our primal fears, bringing the things of darkness into the light, we achieve an act of personal triumph. We feel brave; we've faced the monster and survived. We emerge with a grin and a giggle, we've put Old Mr. Death in his place.

William E. Nolan

Truman Capote On The Nobel Prize For Literature

The Nobel Prize, to me, is a joke. They give it year after year to one absolutely nonexistent writer after another.

Truman Capote 

The Fascination With Writers' Work Habits

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.

Jim Fisher 

Lapdog Journalism

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.

Glenn Greenwald

Friday, December 1, 2017

Using Dialogue In A Memoir

 A fellow memoirist and reviewer writes: "I'm reading a memoir now where the author has written four chapters full of dialogue for events that occurred when she was four years old. Over half the book occurs before she is ten and it's all about what people said and felt. I don't see how much of this could be possibly true."

     My friend's got this right: Nothing makes a reader question memoir more indignantly than the things set aside by quotation marks…

     Unless you walked around your entire life with a tape recorder in your pocket, dialogue will become one of the greatest moral and storytelling conundrums you will face when writing a memoir. You may feel that you need some of it, a smattering at least, to round-out characters, change the pace, dissect the rub between what was thought and what was actually said. You may need dialogue because in life people talk to one another and readers want to know what they said. They want to know the sound of the relationships.

     Dialogue isn't, strictly speaking, absolutely necessary in a memoir…But when it's done right, it feels essential. It seems to bring one closer to the story's heart.

Beth Kephart

The First Novelist's Long Odds

As a first novelist I learned about the odds I was facing. They were, shall we say, long. It has been estimated that the number of novel manuscripts each year to be in excess of 100,000. The number of first novels published annually by major houses? Three to four hundred. [That many?]

Stephen White 

Plagiarism

I have sympathy for plagiarists to some extent--because it's really hard to know what you've invented and what is someone else's invention that you've absorbed.

Helen Oyeyemi

Learning To Write Well

To learn to write and write decently is simply a much longer and harder thing than is generally admitted.

James Gould Cozzens 

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Truman Capote Sought Fame Then Didn't Like It

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.

Truman Capote 

In a Novel Things Have to Happen to Have a Story

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.

Ayn Rand 

Avoiding Scholarly Books Because The Writing Is So Bad

Honestly: scholars bore me. I don't have the spine to withstand colorless writing for very long, and furthermore I suspect that colorless writing is indicative of colorless thought.

Luc Sante

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Print Journalism

  As narrative nonfiction writers we care deeply about sustaining quality journalism in an age that is rather inhospitable to it, for both technological and economic reasons. Television came along in the 1960s and 1970s and replaced print journalism as the quickest, most powerful instrument for the news. On the occasion of cataclysmic events--the crashing of the NASA shuttle, John Kennedy's assassination, the September 11 attacks--people turn to television. It is the prime carrier of news. So we, print journalists, have had to go where television cameras could not. We must answer the questions that the television's images pose. We're lucky: Television news raises more questions than it answers.

     Print journalists have to be better than they used to be. With network television, cable television, the internet, and even video games, it's tougher to compete for people's time. There are more and more sources of information out there, and they demand less and less intellectual energy. People work harder; they have less time. When I started as a journalist, fifty-two years ago, I operated in an age with a single-income middle class. Now it's a two-income middle class. The writer must get better and better, become a better storyteller.

David Halberstam

The Boring Novel

Imagine, if you will, a book on trial for being boring…Imagine the arguments: the solid citizens called by the prosecution to testify that this book had bored them senseless. Imagine the authors and hip professors brought in by the defense to assert that the book was not boring at all, but on the contrary a work of great and lasting interest.

James Parker

The Power of the Political Novel

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.

Mohsin Hamid

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

"Ulysses": The Great Novel No One Can Finish

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.

J. D. Biersdorfer 

The Poorly Read Writing Student

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.

T. C. Boyle

The Overpowering Desire To Write

Neurologists have found that changes in a specific area of the brain can produce hypergraphia--the medical term for an overpowering desire to write.

Dr. Alice W. Flaherty 

Humor In Literary Fiction

Make the reader laugh, and he will think you a trivial fellow. But bore him the right way and your reputation is assured.

Somerset Maugham 

Monday, November 27, 2017

Write Your Novel Instead Of Talking About It

Writing a novel is like poking out your eyes with a flaming stick. A real writer will develop the discipline to do it anyway, instead of just talking about the story to anyone within listening range. Unfortunately, writing the book requires spending time alone with yourself. Locking yourself in a room without distractions is usually the best course. Woody Allen said that he can't write in a room with a window.

Bruce Balfour

Movies About Writers

Writers like watching movies about themselves. It gives us something to do. My doctor father used to scoff at movies about doctors because he was always finding fault with some diagnosis or treatment. I don't know how cops or lawyers feel about their portrayals. Politicians are usually shown as corruptible. Teachers as sad. Writers are variously crazy (Jack Nicholson in "The Shining"), reckless (Michael Douglas in "Wonder Boys"), cranky (Van Johnson in "23 Paces to Baker Street"), self-destructive (Ray Milland in "The Lost Weekend"), without principle (William Holden in "Sunset Boulevard") and/or flailing (Paul Giamatti in "Sideways"). Nothing to argue with, really.

     What we are not shown doing in movies is writing. Composers are shown composing because we can listen to their flights of fancy on the soundtrack. Painters are shown painting because one can actually see art in progress. Kirk Douglas did some very good van Gogh impressions. Ed Harris went so hog wild in "Pollock," one was tempted to go out and buy an original Harris. But writers are rarely shown laboring at the craft....I suppose there's nothing visually dramatic in what we do, though we can get quite worked up about crumpling little balls of paper, tossing them on the floor, then turning our heads this way and sometimes that.

Roger Rosenblatt   

Writing The Novel's Opening Line

My favorite struggling writer is the Billy Crystal character in the movie Throw Momma From the Train who spends much of the film trying to write the first line of the book that will free him from his crippling writer's block. "The night was," he writers over and over, never getting beyond those first three words. In the end, comic and harrowing events in his life cause him to throw away the line and just start writing. The lesson is, there is no magic opening line. The magic is what creates the line in the first place.

Loren D. Estleman

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Stephen King On His Place In The Pantheon Of Writers

Somebody asked Somerset Maugham about his place in the pantheon of writers, and he said, "I'm in the very front row of the second rate." I'm sort of haunted by that. You do the best you can. The idea of posterity for a writer is poison....

Stephen King

Setting The Mood

The beginning mood in a piece of writing could be compared with the background music you hear at the start of a movie. That music--whether ominous, offbeat, or cheerful--gives you a pretty accurate idea of what kind of movie you'll be watching.

     Many books begin with a description of a place that sets the mood for what is to follow. A lead like this can be a sly way of introducing one of the themes in a book. [Truman Capote opens In Cold Blood by describing rural Kansas, the site of the Clutter family murders.]

Ralph Fletcher

Selecting a Genre

  You want to write, but to write about what, exactly? A memoir; history; poetry; a novel? Or a short story, perhaps. Or a long short story.

     While they are theoretically allowed to exercise their free will, many writers will contend that they've been invisibly but firmly propelled in one particular direction. Writers might write what they like to read, and we have heard how reading is the foundation of writing. Following your own reading tastes might help you narrow the field; fiction or nonfiction; poetry or prose. If you love movies, or the theater, or TV, you may be driven to write in those genres.

Ian Jackman

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Former TV Talk Show Host Dick Cavett Remembers His Favorite Author Guests

Anthony Burgess recounted how, diagnosed with a deadly brain tumor, he rapidly dashed off four novels in succession to support his family. Upon learning he'd been misdiagnosed, he claimed he was "vaguely disappointed. All that hard work for nothing." John Cheever on drinking while writing: "I can detect a sip of sherry in a paragraph." Vidal Gore on Truman Capote's death: "A brilliant career move."

Dick Cavett 

Why We Read Books About Writers

It is no accident that the popularity of literary biography has increased most notably in the past century and a half, a period which has also been marked by a growing sense that the artist as a person is detached from society, indeed a special kind of person quite apart from the common run of men.

Richard D. Altick

What Is Plot?

  Plot is the nervous system of your story. In the same way nerves connect your brain and muscles so you can move and live, plot interconnects and moves the elements of your story.

     Of the journalist's six questions, plot answers as many as three: what, how and why. Plot is the key event of your story and the logic between the event and the supporting events, which serve to illuminate it. Plot establishes the causes and the consequences.

Josip Novakovich

The Spy Novel

 At their core, spy novels are about secrets. Secrets create power. Power determines how we live. That's a formula for fiction that matters--matters to us in this world where making sense of what's really going on turns out to be a lifelong endeavor, one that fiction lets us do from the safety of own sheltered lives...

     Spy novels remind us of our past and reflect our future. Alan Furst's WW II era novels bring to life heroic struggles of the "greatest generation," while novels written long before 9/11 by Tom Harris and Tom Clancy foreshadowed dramatic hijacked aircraft terrorist attacks targeting American civilians…

     In spy novels we're guaranteed a fictional journey in which something happens. A secret will be stolen or protected, a spy will be caught or escape, the conspiracy will triumph or be crushed. A spy novel can be set anywhere with as much action as you want--sabers in the courtyard or switchblades in the alley, snipers, runaway carriages, strangers on a train, parachuting commandos, car chases, kung fu, high-tech weaponry and low-minded thugs…

     Right versus wrong, good versus evil, the essential nature of power and politics, all that and more unfold is a safe, fictional package for us to enjoy.

James Grady

Friday, November 24, 2017

Are Cable TV Drama Series Replacing The Novel?

  ….Television was so bad for so long, it's no surprise that the arrival of good television has caused the culture to lose its head a bit. Since the debut of "The Sopranos" in 1999, we have been living, so we are regularly informed, in a "golden age" of television. And over the last few years, it's become common to hear variations on the idea that quality cable TV shows are the new novels….

     To liken TV shows to novels suggests an odd ambivalence toward both genres. Clearly, the comparison is intended to honor TV, by associating it with the prestige and complexity that traditionally belong to literature. But at the same time, it is covertly a form of aggression against literature, suggesting that novels have ceded their role to a younger, more popular, more dynamic art form. Mixed feelings about literature--the desire to annex its virtues while simultaneously belittling them--are typical of our culture today, which doesn't know quite how to deal with an art form, like the novel, that is both democratic and demanding. [I don't know about democratic, but demanding, yes. Instead of demanding, I would use the term pretentious and unreadable other than to English lit professors who force this crap on their students who will someday be doing the same to their students.]…

     Spectacle and melodrama remain at the heart of TV, as they do with all arts that must reach a large audience in order to be economically viable. But it is voice, tone, the sense of the author's mind at work, that are the essence of literature, and the exist in language, not in images. This doesn't mean we shouldn't be grateful for our good TV shows; but let's not fool ourselves into thinking that they give us what only literature can….

Adam Kirsch

The Biographic Hatchet Job

Almost every eminent person leaves behind an abundance of personal data which, skillfully manipulated, can prove him to have been a fool or a knave. Innocuous personal details and casual episodes, if sufficiently emphasized, described with archness and placed in misleading context, can be as damaging in their effect as plain evidence of dim intellect or villainy.

Richard D. Aftick

Dystopian Science Fiction

Dystopia has appeared in science fiction from the genre's inception, but the past decade has observed an unprecedented rise in its authorship. Once a literary niche within a niche, mankind is now destroyed with clockwork regularity by nuclear weapons, computers gone rogue, nanotechnology, and man-made viruses…We have plagues and we have zombies and we have zombie plagues.

Michael Solana

Do Writers Like Each Other?

On the whole, professional writers are a lot of whining bastards who wouldn't last a day on 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.

Duncan McLean

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Writing In The Active Voice

Verbs come in two types, active and passive. With an active verb, the subject of the sentence is doing something. With a passive verb, something is being done to the subject of the sentence. The subject is just letting it happen. You should avoid the passive tense

     The timid fellow writes, "The meeting will be held at seven o'clock" because that somehow says to him, "Put it this way and people will believe you really know." Purge this thought! Throw back your shoulders, stick out your chin, and put the meeting in charge! Write, "The meeting's at seven." There, by God! Don't you feel better?

     I won't say there's no place for the passive tense. Suppose, for instance, a fellow dies in the kitchen but ends up somewhere else. The body was carried from the kitchen and placed on the parlor sofa is a fair way to put this, although "was carried" and "was placed" still irk me. I accept them but I don't embrace them. What I would embrace is, "Freddy and Myra carried the body out of the kitchen and laid it on the parlor sofa." Why does the body have to be the subject of the sentence, anyway? It's dead…

Stephen King

Writer Humiliations

Experience has taught me that hardly anyone in or out of a book store will know who I am, or care. I have learned to live fairly comfortably with my writer's humiliation, and have worn it like a second skin over my original thinner one. After all, humiliations are suffered by most writers most of the time. And--to express a thought about life in the real world, for once--a writer's humiliations are chicken feed as compared with those endured by people who work for a living, and are grateful simply to make it home at night. Writers are already home.

     Naturally, some stinging recollections rise out of the past from time to time, such as that evening at a book fair in Providence, Rhode Island, when I stood beneath a golden banner with my name in red lettering, misspelled. It would have bothered me less had the banner not been provided by my publisher. And that evening in Washington, D. C., when I was seated at a table bearing a tall stack of my latest book while a dozen non-buyers ambled past, paused, picked a book from the stack, opened it, read a clause or two, and returned it to the stack. (Truth be told, there have been several such incidents.) And that afternoon in Miami, when I appeared for an interview specifically requested by a local radio station, and the interviewer began, "Who are you?"

Roger Rosenblatt

The Appeal Of Scandinavian Crime Fiction

 The detectives in Scandinavian crime fiction share many attributes with their American and British counterparts. Many are unkempt, unhealthy and sometimes fatalistic characters, but are nevertheless humane and brilliant sleuths. They doggedly pursue the criminal element, usually (but not always) winning the day at the expense of maintaining a normal family or social life. Some are alcoholics whose human interactions are limited to station and squad car. Some even develop relationships with the victims, or even worse, the criminal.

     Key to the appeal of Scandinavian crime literature is the stoic nature of its detectives and their peculiarly close relationship with death. One conjures up a brooding Bergmanesque figure contemplating the long dark winter. Another narrative component just as vital is the often bleak Scandinavian landscape which serves to mirror the thoughts of the characters. Ancient stone and dark shores inhabit these stories such that the landscape becomes an important narrative agent, even a character itself. Readers will also find fascinating the supernatural strain pervading this literature: Ancient beliefs in ghosts, changelings, and other natural spirits thrive in contemporary Nordic noir.

Jeremy Megraw

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

A Writer And Her Books

     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.

Amy Wilentz

The Allure Of The Evil Character

  It's a daring thing [for a "literary" novelist] to write about an evil person, especially in this day of autobiographical fiction, when readers assume most characters are thinly veiled self-portraits. And yet evil characters are usually dynamic and fascinating, upstaging all the goodie-goodies. [Crime novels are popular because the good guy is after the bad guy. Moreover, the evil character is one of the reasons behind the popularity of the true crime genre. For me, real villains are even more fascinating than fictitious ones.]

     Despite the allure of such characters, writers today usually avoid them, maybe because the whole category of Evil seems too theological or because modern psychology assumes that every bad act can be traced to childhood neglect or abuse and thus be explained away. [Novelists should familiarize themselves with the concept of sociopathy. Besides, who cares if a serial killer had a bad childhood?]

Edmund White

     

Mystery Novel Plot Structures

In a narrative constructed around a mystery, the central mystery, if anything, takes on an outsize importance, one that threatens to blot out everything else. On some level, the only thing that matters in a mystery story is the last chapter. You may think that's unfair, but it's just the way the genre works….

     One theory about the ideal structure of a mystery story…holds that in a mystery there are essentially two kinds of plot: an apparent plot and a revealed plot. The apparent plot is everything that happens up to the final chapter of the story... is immediately apparent, until the very end. The revealed plot is what really turns out to be the case after all the mysteries have been revealed.

     In a really good mystery…the difference between these two kinds of plots isn't just mechanical, it is interpretive. It isn't just about who-appears-to-have dunit and who-really-dunit. It's about what it all--the world, good and evil, women and men, family, justice, society, the truth at the heart of humanity--really means: what it seems to mean when we're wandering in the darkness, and what it means when we come into the light.

     Another theory holds that what the structure of a mystery is really about is story and discourse, signifier and signified. The mystery, in its opening chapters, posits the existence of a coherent, meaningful story: the body in the woods, the blood spatter, the knife in the grass, the partial footprint. But the story is hidden, its meaning obscured. The narrative that proceeds from this point is not, itself, the story--it is, rather, discourse, the system of talk and empty signification and endless deferment that surrounds the story, like planets orbiting a star that can be glimpsed only glancingly, never directly. The story, usually, is revealed in the final chapter, but the story that preceded the story--the story of the detectives finding clues, signifiers throbbing with a meaning that lay just outside their grasp--that wasn't the story.

Andrew De Young

The Nonfiction Writing Class

In your nonfiction writing class [the professor should] always be ready to "tie in" whatever you're talking about with its application out in the world. Undergrads are terribly conscious they they'll soon become human beings, and are delighted to know that some of the stuff they're learning may be useful after they leave this artificial hothouse called college. As a writing teacher you'll have more of an advantage in this regard than teachers of most of the other "humanities" courses.

Martin Russ

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Writers Who Seek Fame

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.

Malcolm Cowley 

The Celebrity Journalist

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.

Nora Ephron 

Setting In Crime Fiction

The backdrop of a mystery, the world in which the action takes place--the scenery so to speak--has the potential to be as important as character or plot. Indeed, if painted vividly enough it can become a character itself; or it can determine plot. It can set a mood, create an atmosphere. It can add richness and color.

Julie Smith 

Writing About Old Memories

Old memories are very easy to get, except that once you write about something, you've destroyed it. You no longer have the memory. You only have the memory of what you've written.

Anne Dillard

Monday, November 20, 2017

Bad Writing Can Destroy A Good Plot

     Many writers spend the majority of their time devising their plots. What they don't seem to understand is that if their execution--if their prose--isn't up to par, their plots will never be considered.

     Agents and editors often ignore synopses of plot outlines; instead, we skip right to the actual manuscript. If the writing is good, then we'll go back and consider the synopsis. If not, the manuscript is discarded. A great writer can produce an amazing piece of writing with virtually no plot at all. [I'm not sure this is still true. Fiction and nonfiction readers expect good writing, and an engaging plot or story.]

Noah Lukeman

Using Historical Figures in Novels

No historical character in a novel should do or say anything that you don't know he said and did. You can't displace him in time, and you can't move him geographically. And you've got to be true to him. If I wrote a novel that included Billy The Kid, it would be the Billy The Kid out of history; in other words, he couldn't be the main character....I would never quote Billy if I didn't have a valid quote. I wouldn't put him in any part of New Mexico that he wasn't in at that date; I believe you owe that to historical characters. Nothing distressed me more than to see an historical character in one of those historical, romance novels take the hero aside and give him a little advice on his love life or something. I don't think you have a right to do that with historical characters.

Shelby Foote

Catherine Drinker Bowen On Writing A Biography

In the writing of a biography, it is expedient to approach one's subject from the periphery, from the outside in--to study first the times, then move to the localities and persons of the immediate story.

Catherine Drinker Bowen

Characters In Novels Must Be Consistent

The very first rule of writing fiction rejects the basic truth of life: Characters must be consistent. If the matriarch of a powerful family of soda pop manufacturers has been established through three hundred pages as obsessively well organized, she cannot meet her end by getting her feet tangled on one of her own discarded sweaters and falling out her bedroom window. This kind of thing happens to people every day in the world we inhabit, despite evidence of past behavior, but we have left that world for a better one. If it happens here, we will throw the novel or short story out the window after the old lady, and good riddance to them both. In a pilotless universe, we accept confusion because there is no place to file a complaint. In a story, plotted and executed by an individual or individuals in collaboration, we know whom to blame.

Loren D. Estleman

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Can Creative Writing Be Taught?

But you can't teach writing, people tell me. And I say, "Who the hell are you, God's dean of admissions?"

Anne Lamott 

Writer Biographies As Author Self-Help Books

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.

Tom Perrota 

Subjectivity In Creative Nonfiction

     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.

Lee Gutkind

The Masterplot

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.]

H. Porter Abbott

Saturday, November 18, 2017

A Memoir Doesn't Have To Be a Book-Length Confession

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.

Dani Shapiro 

Writing The Novelization Versus The Screenplay

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.

Dean Foster 

Who is the World's Most Rejected Writer?

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.

Jim Fisher 

There Is No Secret Formula For How To Write For Publication

If writing could be reduced to a formula or algorithm, everyone would do it.

Jonathan Franzen 

Friday, November 17, 2017

Writing The Formula Romance Novel

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.

Heather Havrilesky 

Tolerating Bad Behavior In The Name Of Art

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.

Zoe Heller 

Do Writing Styles Rub Off Among Novelists?

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.

Zoe Heller

The Second Novel Anxiety Syndrome

Some writers find their first novel, written on the sly during coffee breaks at their day job, easier than their second, with the success of the first has allowed them to become full-time professional writers, with all the attendant anxieties.

Dr. Alice W. Flaherty 

Thursday, November 16, 2017

The Effect of Literary Prizes on Writers' Egos

Any author who gets a swelled head because he has been given a prize or a plaque is a foolish man.

John O'Hara 

Working Humor Into Your Writing

Humor can either be a genre in its own right, or an important ingredient in many other genres. Shakespeare wrote comedies, tragedies, and romances. Even in the most tragic of his tales, he knew the importance of inserting a humorous scene every so often to bring the audience some comic relief from all the death, deceit, and unrequited love in the rest of the play. While joke writing is a subsection of the genre, and a potentially lucrative one, it would be a mistake to confuse the ability to tell a joke with the ability to write humor.

Gordon Kirkland 

The Manic-Depressive Writer

A surprising proportion of writers are manic-depressive.

Dr. Alice W. Flaherty 

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Writer Immortality

I don't want to achieve immortality through my work. I want to achieve it through not dying.

Woody Allen 

Are Writers, As a Group, Unlikeable People?

Writers are a bad lot on the whole--petty, nasty, bilious, suffused with envy and riddled with fear.

Roger Rosenblatt 

Learning To Write

To learn to write and write decently is simply a much longer and harder thing than is generally admitted.

James Gould Cozzens 

Fame Is Fleeting

When you're a famous person and cease to be active--particularly in journalism and politics--when you're no longer a mover or a shaker, the world quickly forgets or is too busy for you.

Richard Steel 

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Are Book Reviews About The Book Or The Reviewer?

Literary criticism shouldn't be about performing intellectual acrobatics to prove yourself, and that's how I'd describe a lot of the reviews I wrote.

Alice Gregory 

Getting Away to Write

I write whenever I am able, for a few days or a week or a month if I can get the time. I sneak away to the country and work on a computer that's not connected to the Internet and count on the world to go away long enough for me to get a few words down on paper, whenever and however I can. When the writing is going well, I can work all day. When it's not, I spend a lot of time gardening and standing in front of the refrigerator.

Francine Prose 

Writing Requires Talent

Be it modest or magnificent, you've got to have some talent. It may be latent; it may be undeveloped; it may be neglected. But it must be there.

Stephen Koch 

Booze: The Enemy Of Creativity

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.

Leslie Jamison 

Monday, November 13, 2017

The Insecure Life of the Writer

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.

Isaac Asimov 

Why Do Writers Write?

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.

George Orwell 

The Rare Creative Writing Student Who Can Write Creatively

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.

Paula Fox 

The Writer's Day 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.

Leslie Jamison 

Sunday, November 12, 2017

A Writer's Despair

At the age of thirty-four I am weary, tired, dispirited, and worn out. I was a decent-looking boy six years ago--now I am a bald, gross, heavy, weary-looking man. I wanted fame--and I have had for the most part shame and agony.

Thomas Wolfe 

The Plight of the Creative Writing Teacher

Creative writing teachers, poor souls, must immerse themselves in slop and take it seriously. It is probably impossible to teach anyone to be a good writer. You can teach people how to read, possibly.

William H. Gass

Coming Up With a Title For Your Novel

I make a list of titles after I've finished the book--sometimes as many as a hundred. Then I start eliminating them, sometimes all of them.

Ernest Hemingway 

How To Deal With Writer's Block

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.

Dennis Palumbo 

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Where Do Writers Get Their Ideas?

Ask a profession writer about ideas…In all likelihood, he'll ask, "Which idea?" because he's got a million of them, and his biggest problem is choosing one.

Richard Curtis 

The Children's Horror Story

Exposing your children to horror-nuanced children's literature at an early age is a positive thing. And here's why: 1. It gets children interested--exhilarated--about reading. I remember that as a kid, I was fascinated by any book that dealt with monsters or ghosts or anything weird. It was thrilling to open up and experience some of these books. There was a sense that I was pushing the boundaries, exploring new territory, doing something that bordered on naughty. It was a little scary and a lot of fun. 2. By exploring the dark side of humanity and the nature of fear, kids learn more about themselves and hopefully become more empowered because of it. 3. There are life lessons to be learned. Don't take that shortcut through the cemetery. Staying out late and not telling your parents where you are can be dangerous. Walking into a forest late at night looking for a wayward pet is a bad idea. Don't take candy from strangers. 4. These children's horror stories create a broader knowledge of literature and history.

Paul Allen

Turning Family Life Into Fiction

A would-be writer is supposed to have either a rich inner life or a rich outer one. I had neither. Still, I had to get material from someplace, and so I stole it, piecemeal, from my family.

Elizabeth McCracken 

Literature's Limited Influence On Life

Life is larger than books. Any bully has more character-building effects on you than the most moving of books.

Alvaro Enrique 

Friday, November 10, 2017

There's a Big Difference Between Wanting to Write a Book Than Actually Writing It

Large numbers of people apparently want to write, or think they do. They speak as if they are going out to catch a bus or whip up a batch of fudge: "One of these days I'm gonna sit down and write a book," or "I got an uncle Carl, he's real funny; if he'd just come and spend a long weekend then me and him could write a book."

Larry L. King 

Is Suicide a Career Move For Writers?

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.

Diane Wood Middlebrook 

Praise For Stephen King

To say Stephen King is the Edgar Allan Poe of our generation is to diminish him. He's had a longer and more nuanced career. He'll be read a hundred years from now.

Jonathan Kellerman 

Why Many Writers Are Less Impressive In Person Than Their Books

A book, Proust wrote, "is the product of a different self from the self we manifest in our habits, in our social life, in our vices." This may explain why authors are often a disappointment in the flesh, particularly when you have admired their wisdom on the page. The common-place vices of an other-directed existence--vanity, envy, insecurity--seem to be magnified many times among these denizens of solitude.

Pankaj Mishra 

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Searching For a Way to teach Creative 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.

Peter Rubie

Romance Novel Protagonists

To be real, your romance novel characters have to be imperfect. They must have problems or no one will be interested in reading about them. But while heroes and heroines have almost certainly created some of their own problems, they can't have done so out of stupidity or shortsightedness, or readers will have trouble empathizing. There is usually a good motive--sometimes a noble one--for the actions that lead them into trouble. If for example, the heroine's credit cards are maxed, it's probably not because she has a closet full of clothes and shoes. She might, on the other hand, have been buying clothes and shoes for the occupants of a homeless shelter. If the hero's about to declare bankruptcy, it's not because he's been buying yachts and diamonds--but he might have been pouring money into a faltering business so his employees could continue to draw a paycheck. [Becoming poor to help the poor is stupid. Going broke and sticking creditors to keep people employed is not only stupid, it's unethical. In this example I don't like the hero or the heroine.]

Leigh Michaels

Writers' Envy

Writers are known to suffer a few categories of envy. There is envy of money, of accolades, of publication in this or that place. There is envy of profligacy and of well-managed scarcity. There is envy of accomplishment and of potential. There is envy of great writing and envy of those who despite not being great seem immune to self-doubt. And all of these envies are simply a feeling that is shorthand for one thought: "He doesn't deserve that….but I might."

Sarah Manguso 

Write The Book That Only You Can Write

Why bother writing a book that someone else could write--just a historical novel that you research in libraries and on the Internet? If I'm going to add a book to the endless mass of books out there, then it should be a book that only I can write.

Nell Zink 

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Getting a Nonfiction Book Published

A beginning writer has more going for him if he decides to write a nonfiction book…A beginner has just as good a chance to find a salable idea as a professional writer.

Doris Ricker Marston

The Tell-All Novel

Many people have written thinly veiled tell-all books disguised as fiction. They're called romans a`clef. In the late 1970s, Truman Capote was working on one about Hollywood called Answered Prayers, and an excerpt was published in Esquire. Half of his friends disowned him because he'd told a lot of secrets about their lives. He uncovered a lot of dirt. His defense was pretty valid: His former friends told him these stories freely at parties, in the presence of others, knowing all along he was a writer. "What did they think I was?" he asked with a mixture of hurt and acidity, "the court jester?"

Robin Hemley

Stephen King On Talent

If you write something for which someone sent you a check, if you cashed the check and it didn't bounce, and if you paid the light bill with the money, I consider you talented.
Stephen King 

How Do Most Novelists Survive?

When people ask me what I do for a living, I try to change the subject. If they persist, I tell them I teach writing, judge writing contests, edit manuscripts, and give lectures and readings. These are not lies; I do all these things. They are, in fact, what I do for a living--that is, to pay the rent and health insurance. What I do for a life is write, and that's the part that's hard to explain.

Rebecca McClanahan 

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

A Writer Without a Writing Routine

I wish I had a routine for writing. I get up in the morning and I go out to to my studio and I write. And then I tear it up! That's the routine, really. Then, occasionally, something sticks. And then I follow that. The only image I can think of is a man walking around with an iron rod in his hand during a lightening storm.

Arthur Miller 

Charles Bukowski on Literary Prizes and Grants

Guggenheim, all those prizes and grants--you know how they go--most money is given to people who already have money. I know a professor who can't write but wins a prize every year--usually the same one--and he goes off to some island and works on some project, meanwhile still getting paid half salary for doing nothing at the university he's supposed to be teaching at.

Charles Bukowski

When a Writer Faces the Blank Page

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.

John Dufresne 

The Difficulty of Being a Woman Novelist Who Is Married

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.

Phyllis A. Whitney 

Who Reads Historical Novels?

Enviously noting the insatiable public appetite for television dramas like "Downton Abby," writers often lament the prospects for their historical novels, which have faint hopes of attracting anything resembling such sizable audiences.

Randy Boyagoda 

Monday, November 6, 2017

Do You Dream of Being a Novelist?

  You know the last thing in the world people want to hear from you, the very last thing they're interested in? The fact that you always wanted to write, that you cherish dreams of being a writer, that you wrote something and got rejected once, that you believe you have it in you--if only people around you would give you a chance--to write a very credible, if not great, American novel. They also don't want to hear that if you did start to write, there would be some things you just couldn't write about.

     Your parents don't want to hear it: They want you to grow up to be a descent person, find a way to make a good living, and not disgrace the family. Your girlfriend, boyfriend, or spouse will put up with this writer-talk for weeks, months, or even years, but none of them will love you for it….Your kids, believe me, are not going to like the idea of your writing….

     So don't tell them. Don't tell them anything about it. Especially when you're thinking about beginning. Keep it to yourself. Be discreet. Be secretive. There's time enough--all the time in the world--to let them in on the secret, to let them know who and what you really are.

Carolyn See

Story Endings For Middle-Grade Readers

  When writing for nine-to twelve-year-olds, the endings don't have to be happy. But they do have to be satisfying in some fundamental way. In younger books, stories deal primarily with situations and feelings the child might encounter. In middle-grade stories the endings grow out of the characters, their internal changes, and their ability to understand and cope with the world around them. As a consequence, the endings of these books are more complex.

     For instance, sometimes life doesn't turn out the way the hero wants it to. Yet she does get some of what she needs--an understanding of how the world works, perhaps, or a new-found ability to cope with a confusing and challenging event. She might have to accept adverse circumstances or even mourn a deep loss. But in all of these situations, the hero learns something. She changes, grows and begins to get a firmer grasp on the complexity of the world around her.

Nancy Lamb

Prolific Writers Just Work Harder

I write and write and write, and rewrite, and even if I retain only a single page from a full day's work, it is a single page, and these pages add up. As a result I have acquired the reputation over the years of being prolix when in fact I am measured against people who simply don't work as hard or as long. Getting the first draft finished is like pushing a peanut with your nose across a very dirty floor.

Joyce Carol Oates 

The Question True Crime Writers Can't Answer

Murder. Dismemberment. Rape. Cannibalism. Jack the Ripper. The Newtown Shooter. Why are we fascinated by murder and murderers, by acts of evil and those who perpetrate them?

     Tabloids, biopics and even dignified, well-researched accounts of serial murders indulge our appetite for real-life horror, dishing up the lurid details--the mutilated body, the serving woman found bleeding on her pillow, the severed head floating downriver--and sell millions of copies. But these works usually leave the central, most troubling questions unanswered. Not only the obvious ones: Why did the murderer commit the crime?

Charlotte Gordon 

Sunday, November 5, 2017

The First Big Scene in a Romance Novel

  One of the most critically important moments in the first section of your Romance novel is the first meeting of the hero and heroine. This moment may be the first time the two of them lay eyes on each other. Or it may be their first meeting after a long separation, if they've had a previous relationship. Or they may see each other regularly, but this is the first meeting that is significant to the plot and conflict--the first encounter connected with the event that is going to change their lives.

     This first meeting sets the stage for the interaction of the rest of the book. If the readers don't see it happening, they will feel cheated and left out, and won't likely be involved enough with the characters to want to continue reading.

     Yet many beginning writers tell about the first meeting, rather than show it as it happens. Or they include just a couple of lines of dialogue between hero and heroine, then jump to a scene hours later where the heroine is telling her best friend in five pages of dialogue how gorgeous the hero is. Or they have the hero think about how he reacted to the heroine.

Leigh Michaels

Dale Peck on Literary Fiction

As one reads contemporary novelists, one can't shake the feeling that they write for one another rather than for some more or less common reader. Their prose shares a showiness that speaks of solidarity and competition--the exaggerated panache with which teenaged boys shoot hoops in their driveways while pretending they don't notice their neighbor watching from across the street.

Dale Peck

Aspiring Authors Are On Their Own

No advice is useful, as you, an aspiring writer, already know. You have read Rilke's letters to a young poet. I'm sure you remember the first letter: "No one can advise and help you, no one." You know James Baldwin's words in is Paris Review interview: "If you are going to be a writer there is nothing I can say to stop you; if you're not going to be a writer nothing I can say will help you."

Siddhartha Deb

What Does a First Novel Say About the Writer's Future Work?

 First novels are unpredictable. For one author it's the best thing he will do in his career, something into which he empties so much of his heart and talent and experience that he's left with too little fuel to light much of a fire under future work.

     For another the first novel sets the course for an entire career: He's found the key in which his voice is most comfortable and he sticks to it.

     For some writers that first novel gives no hint as to what is to come. Every new work is a departure from the last.

F. Paul Wilson 

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Novels for Young Adults

Novels for children and young adults are soothing and reaffirm the young reader's sense of worthiness. The child, who may have few friends, gathers around himself or herself an array of characters who are entertaining and forgiving and enlightening.

Jane Smiley

The Book Editor-Writer Relationship

An editor does not add to a book. At best he serves as a handmaiden to an author. [Editors should never] get to feeling important about themselves, because an editor at most releases energy. He creates nothing. A writer's best work comes entirely from himself. If you [an editor] have a Mark Twain, don't try to make him into a Shakespeare or make a Shakespeare into a Mark Twain. Because in the end an editor can get only as much out of an author as the author has in him.

Maxwell Perkins 

Characters in Fiction With Minds of Their Own

My characters just won't do what I want them to."

L. Frank Baum 

Friday, November 3, 2017

Writing on a Sugar High

For seven years I ate at Bob's Big Boy. I would go at 2:30, after the lunch rush. I ate a chocolate shake and four, five, six, seven cups of coffee--with lots of sugar. And there's lots of sugar in that chocolate shake. It's a thick shake. In a silver goblet. I would get a rush from all this sugar, and I would get so many ideas! I would write them on these napkins. I was like I had a desk with paper. All I had to do was remember to bring my pen, but a waitress would give me one if I remembered to return it at the end of my stay. I got a lot of ideas at Bob's.

David Lynch 

Truman Capote: The "Horizontal" Writer

I am a completely horizontal writer. I can't think unless I'm lying down, either in bed or stretched out on a couch and with a cigarette and coffee handy. I've got to be puffing and sipping. As the afternoon wears on, I shift from coffee to mint tea to sherry to martinis.

Truman Capote 

Don't Worry Too Much About the First Draft

The beautiful part of writing is that you don't have to get it right the first time, unlike, say, a brain surgeon. You can always do it better, find the exact word, the apt phrase, the leaping simile.

Robert Cormier 

Thursday, November 2, 2017

The Whodunit Mystery Novel

The tradition of the mystery or crime novel is an old and honored one, but it's quality has been debased. And possibly nothing has done more harm to the nature of mystery fiction than the notion that it should concern itself more with "whodunit" than why the deed was done. Chief among those responsible for this decline is Agatha Christie.

Thomas H. Cook

The Relationship Between Science and Science Fiction

There is a co-dependency between science and science fiction. Many scientists and engineers acknowledge that science fiction helped to spark their imagination of what was possible in science…

     Sometimes science fiction authors just make things up, but untutored imaginings tend not to make the best science fiction. As JBS Haldane put it: "the universe is not only queerer than we suppose, but queerer than we can suppose." We need scientific input to sustain a rich science fictional imagination…

     Some science fiction writers are (or were until retirement) full-time scientists and academic researchers in their own right. Astrophysicist Fred Hoyle, who coined the term "Big Bang", claimed to write his science fiction in order to publish ideas that would not fit into scientific journals. Back in the 1960s, Fred Pohl edited The Expert Dreamers and Groff Conklin edited Great Science Fiction by Scientists, with stories by George Gamow, JBS Haldane, Fred Hoyle, Julian Huxley, Norbet Weiner, and others. Some authors who were originally researchers have been successful enough to quit the day job in favor of fiction…

     Not all science fiction writers have science PhDs. Many of the Golden Age writers had little formal education. James White, for example wanted to be a medical doctor, but couldn't afford the training; that didn't stop him writing the marvelous alien doctors in space series called Sector General. Many science fiction writers have arts and humanities backgrounds, yet manage to write good hard science-based science fiction.

Susan Stepney

How One Writer Launches His Novels

I try to get the right people assembled, give them right-sounding names, and then I'm off and running.

Elmore Leonard 

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Using Novelistic Techniques in Writing Nonfiction

Creative nonfiction requires the skills of the storyteller and the research ability of the conscientious reporter. Writers of creative nonfiction must become instant authorities on the subjects of their articles or books. They must not only understand the facts and report them using quotes from authorities, they must also see beyond them to discover their underlying meaning, and they must dramatize that meaning in an interesting, evocative, informative way--just as a good teacher does.

Theodore A. Reese Cheney 

The Difficulty of Writing in a Plain, Clear Style

Last night I began my novel [Madame Bovary]. Now I foresee terrifying difficulties of style. It's no easy business to be simple.

Gustave Flaubert 

The Ideal Children's Chapter Book

Most chapter books (ages 7-10) are 1,500 to 10,000 words long or forty to eighty pages. These books, divided into eight to ten short chapters, are written for kids who can read and who can handle reasonably complicated plots and simple subplots. Written with a lot of dialogue, the vocabulary in chapter books is challenging, and words can often be understood in the context of the sentence. Most chapters are self-contained with a beginning, middle and end. But some chapters move the plot forward by means of cliffhanger endings.

Nancy Lamb

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

You Want to Write a Novel?

In case no one's noticed, a novel is long. The prospect of writing four hundred pages about something yet undiscovered is daunting at best. The first page is as far as many writers get, frozen as they are into a solid block of ice.

Sheldon Russell 

A Reason to Write

The reason I write is to explain my life to myself. I've also discovered that when I do, I'm explaining other people's lives to them.

Pat Conroy

Monday, October 30, 2017

An Almost Permanent Case of Writer's Block

I really don't adhere to writing schedules at all. The times that I've tried that, when I have been in a slump and I try to get out of it by saying, "Come on, Ann, sit down at the typewriter," I've gotten in a worse slump. It's better if I just let it ride. I've learned I can't force it. I certainly am a moody and, I would say, not very happy person.

Ann Beattie 

The Writing of "Ulysses"

All in all I calculate that I must have spent nearly 20,000 hours in writing Ulysses.

James Joyce

The Professor-Writer

Professors are often shy, timid and even fearful people, and under these circumstances, dull, difficult prose can function as a kind of protective camouflage.

Patricia Nelson Limerick

Talent Is Not Enough

Everyone has talent. What is rare is the courage to follow that talent to the dark place where it leads.

Erica Jong

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Norman Mailer On Reading Reviews

I'd never dream of not reading reviews. It's like not looking at a naked woman if she happens to be standing in front of her open window.

Norman Mailer

Ernest Hemingway on Writing During the Summer

Summer is a discouraging time to work--you don't feel death coming on as the way it does in the fall when the boys really put pen to paper.

Ernest Hemingway 

Raymond Chandler On Writing In The Morning

I write when I can and don't write when I can't; always in the morning or early part of the day. You get very gaudy ideas at night but they don't stand up.

Raymond Chandler 

Henry Miller's Writing Secret

I don't believe in draining the reservoir. I believe in getting up from the typewriter, away from it, while I still have things to say. I know that to sustain those true moments of insight one has to be highly disciplined, lead a disciplined life.

Henry Miller 

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Literary Sentences That Don't Add Up To Much

I think sometimes we give people a lot of credit just because they're writing nice sentences even if it isn't adding up to much.

James Patterson

The Inability To Write Well Is Not a Character Flaw

If you have difficulty with writing, do not conclude that there is something wrong with you. Writing should never be a test of self-esteem. If things are not going as you want, do not see it as proof of a flaw in your subconscious.

Ayn Rand

Are Unpublished Novelists Real Writers?

If you do not seek to publish what you have written, then you are not a novelist and never will be.

George V. Higgins.

The Insecure Novelist

I write a scene and I read it over and think it stinks. Three days later--having done nothing in between but stew--I reread it and think it is great. So there you are. You can't bank on me. I may be all washed up.

Raymond Chandler 

Friday, October 27, 2017

Novels Based on Ideas Rather Than Plot and Character

In a novel, implausibility is fatal. And fakeness almost always ensues when situations and characters are extracted from ideas. When ideas emerge organically from situations and characters, the opposite effect is produced. Philosophy, however, must not seem real. It must actually be real, advancing its arguments, as in a geometric proof, through a succession of facts.

Benjamin Moser 

What is the Force Behind Being Creative?

What drives creativity is discomfort and even a degree of hardship. Genius doesn't require paradise.

Eric Weiner

Writers Never Die

Writers never die while people still quote them.

Gregory David Roberts

Are We All Creative?

Creativity is as natural to human beings as having blood and bone.

Julia Cameron

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Autobiographies of Famous People

For though fame is a help in selling books, it is of small use in writing them. [That's why they have ghost writers.] And though a reader may be pleased to eavesdrop on the reminiscences of famous people, he will rarely come away from such volumes with more than a nodding acquaintance. The reason for this is that famous people are usually too sensitive of their image to write anything of themselves that may jeopardize it, such as they are bored, frightened, bewildered or hollow as the drums that acclaimed them. Famous people, when they take to autobiography, are chiefly full of tidings about their pedestals and how they got on them, and how modestly they occupy them, and how many other people on pedestals they know.

Ben Hecht, A Child of the Century, 1985 

Do You Enjoy Writing?

I have never been one of those "writing is fun" people. Writing has never been a pleasure for me.

Reynolds Price 

Stephen King on Literary Agents

Stephen King's First Rule of Writers and Agents, learned by bitter personal experience: You don't need an agent until you're making enough money for someone to steal, and if you're making that much, you'll be able to take your pick of good agents.

Stephen King

Norman Mailer On Responding to Letters

 An author [who is well-known] will receive as many as several hundred letters a year from strangers. [Today it's emails.] Usually they want something: will you read their works, or listen to a life-story and write it.

     There are happy paradoxes to being successful as a writer. For one thing, you don't have much opportunity to read good books (it's too demoralizing when you're at sea on your own work) and you also come to dread letter-writting. Perhaps ten times a year, a couple of days are lost catching up on mail, and there's little pleasure in it. You are spending time that could have been given to more dedicated writing, and there are so many letters to answer! Few writers encourage correspondents. My reply to a good, thoughtful, even generous communication from someone I do not know is often short and apologetic.

Norman Mailer

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

The Urge to Write

The aesthetic gift is a process that begins with conception, often exciting, goes through gestation, usually exhausting, and ends with birth, which is invariably laborious, protracted, and painful.

James M. Cain

Literary Fame

When I was young I longed to write a great novel that would win me fame. My first book, Mother Goose in Prose (1914) was written to amuse children. For, aside from my evident inability to do anything "great," I have learned to regard fame as the will-o-the-wisp which, when caught, is not worth the possession. But to please a child is a sweet and lovely thing that warms one's heart and brings it own reward.

L. Frank Baum 

Writing Well Is Not Easy For Anyone

Writing is hard for everybody, and I mistrust writers who find it easy. And it's still hard for me after all these years, but that's probably a good sign that it is.

Roger Angell

The Writer's Vocabulary

A huge vocabulary is not always an advantage. Simple language, for some kinds of fiction at least, can be more effective than complex language which can lead to stiltedness or suggest dishonesty or faulty education.

John Gardner