Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Don't Panic

Don't panic. Midway through writing a novel, I have regularly experienced moments of bowel-curdling terror, as I contemplate the drivel on the screen before me and see beyond it, in quick succession, the derisive reviews, the friends' embarrassment, the failing career, the dwindling income, the repossessed house, the divorce . . . Working doggedly on through crises like these, however, has always got me there in the end. Leaving the desk for a while can help. Talking the problem through can help me recall what I was trying to achieve before I got stuck. Going for a long walk almost always gets me thinking about my manuscript in a slightly new way. And if all else fails, there's prayer. St. Francis de Sales, the patron saint of writers, has often helped me out in a crisis. If you want to spread your net more widely, you could try appealing to Calliope, the muse of epic poetry, too.

Monday, May 30, 2011

All Writing Problems Are Psychological

All writing problems are psychological problems. Blocks usually stem from the fear of being judged. If you imagine the world listening, you’ll never write a line. That’s why privacy is so important. You should write first drafts as if they will never be shown to anyone.


Writing a Novel is Like Working on Foreign Policy

If you’re not lying awake at night worrying about your novel, the reader isn’t going to, either. I always know that when I get a good night’s sleep, the next day I’m not going to get any work done. Writing a novel is like working on foreign policy. There are problems to be solved. It’s not all inspirational.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Style is Character

A really good style comes only when a man has become as good as he can be. Style is character. A good style cannot come from a bad, undisciplined character. . . . I think good style is a matter of rendering out of oneself all the cupidities, all the cripplings, all velleities. And then I think one has to develop one's physical grace.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

'Pot Luck' goes on sale.

'Pot Luck' 
The US anthology which contains two of my stories, 
'Meet For Diner?' and 'A Child's Voice' 
has gone on sale, direct from Pill Hill Press.

To Be a Writer is to Sit Down and Write

To be a writer is to sit down at one’s desk in the chill portion of every day, and to write; not waiting for the little jet of the blue flame of genius to start from the breastbone—just plain going at it.


Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Use Plain, Simple Language

I notice that you use plain, simple language, short words and brief sentences. That is the way to write English—it is the modern way and the best way. Stick to it; don't let fluff and flowers and verbosity creep in. When you catch an adjective, kill it. No, I don't mean utterly, but kill most of them—then the rest will be valuable. They weaken when they are close together. They give strength when they are wide apart. An adjective habit, or a wordy, diffuse, flowery habit, once fastened upon a person, is as hard to get rid of as any other vice.


Saturday, May 21, 2011

Writing a Book is an Adventure

Writing a book is an adventure. To begin with, it is a toy and an amusement. Then it becomes a mistress, then it becomes a master, then it becomes a tyrant. The last phase is that just as you are about to be reconciled to your servitude, you kill the monster, and fling him to the public.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

A Writer Builds A New World with Words

A writer is someone who spends years patiently trying to discover the second being inside him, and the world that makes him who he is: when I speak of writing, what comes first to my mind is not a novel, a poem, or literary tradition, it is a person who shuts himself up in a room, sits down at a table, and alone, turns inward; amid its shadows, he builds a new world with words.


Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Never Interrupt Yourself

A cardinal rule of writing is never interrupt yourself to explain something. If you must bring up an obscure topic, drop informative hints about it as you go along so that you don’t end up with the entire explanation all in one place. This keeps you from skidding to a stop and sounding teacherish. Otherwise it’s better to omit the obscure topic altogether, or as mothers might put it: If you can’t say it interestingly, don’t say it at all.


Monday, May 16, 2011

Use the Landscape

Always tell us where we are. And don’t just tell us where something is, make it pay off. Use description of landscape to help you establish the emotional tone of the scene. Keep notes of how other authors establish mood and foreshadow events by describing the world around the character. Look at the openings of Fitzgerald stories, and Graham Greene, they’re great at this.


Saturday, May 14, 2011

Chain That Muse to Your Desk

I learned to produce whether I wanted to or not. It would be easy to say oh, I have writer's block, oh, I have to wait for my muse. I don't. Chain that muse to your desk and get the job done.


Friday, May 13, 2011

Torture Your Protagonist

The writer is both a sadist and a masochist. We create people we love, and then we torture them. The more we love them, and the more cleverly we torture them along the lines of their greatest vulnerability and fear, the better the story. Sometimes we try to protect them from getting booboos that are too big. Don’t. This is your protagonist, not your kid.


Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Twain's Rules of Writing

(from Mark Twain's scathing essay on the Literary Offenses of James Fenimore Cooper)

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

An author should
12. _Say_ what he is proposing to say, not merely come near it.
13. Use the right word, not its second cousin.
14. Eschew surplusage.
15. Not omit necessary details.
16. Avoid slovenliness of form.
17. Use good grammar.
18. Employ a simple, straightforward style.

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Tuesday, May 10, 2011

You don't have anything if you don't have stories.

I will tell you something about stories. They aren't just entertainment. They are all we have to fight off illness and death. You don't have anything if you don't have stories.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

It's Your Duty to Lie

There's an enormous difference between being a story writer and being a regular person. As a person, it's your duty to stay on a straight and even keel, not to break down blubbering in the streets, not to pull rude drivers from their cars, not to swing from the branches of trees. But as a writer it's your duty to lie and to view everything in life, however outrageous, as an interesting possibility. You may need to be ruthless or amoral in your writing to be original. Telling a story straight from real life is only being a reporter, not a creator. You have to make your story bigger, better, more magical, more meaningful than life is, no matter how special or wonderful in real life the moment may have been.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Sneaking Up On It Sometimes Helps

Sneaking up on it sometimes helps: I’ve found I can be very productive for an hour before dinner, because there obviously isn’t enough time to really do anything, so I can tell myself I’m just screwing around.


'Into' or 'in to'

'Into' or 'in to' can be the cause of great confusion to writers, but much of that confusion can be cleared up if you focus on what you are trying to say. 

One of the main uses of the preposition into is to indicate movement toward the inside of a place.
The children jumped into the pool for a swim.
 I drove the car into the garage.

In to is the adverb in followed by the preposition to.
He turned his homework in to the teacher.
I handed it in to the police.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Writing Is Like Going On A Very Long Walk

When you’re writing, it’s rather like going on a very long walk, across valleys and mountains and things, and you get the first view of what you see and you write it down. Then you walk a bit further, maybe you up onto the top of a hill, and you see something else. Then you write that and you go on like that, day after day, getting different views of the same landscape really. The highest mountain on the walk is obviously the end of the book, because it’s got to be the best view of all, when everything comes together and you can look back and see that everything you’ve done all ties up. But it’s a very, very long, slow process.


Tuesday, May 3, 2011

You're Always Becoming A Writer

If you write a story today, and you get up tomorrow and start another story, all the expertise that you put into the first story doesn't transfer over automatically to the second story. You're always starting at the bottom of the mountain. So you're always becoming a writer. You're never really arriving.


You Can't Write Without Pressure

You can't write without a lot of pressure. Sometimes the pressure comes from anger, which then changes into a pressure to write. It's not so much a matter of getting distance as simply a translation.


Monday, May 2, 2011

The Semicolon is Efficient

The semicolon is efficient: it allows you to eliminate most of those conjunctions or prepositions that are obligatory with the comma—words like whereas, because, for, or, but, while, and.


Sunday, May 1, 2011

Be Patient

If you get stuck, get away from your desk. Take a walk, take a bath, go to sleep, make a pie, draw, listen to music, meditate, exercise; whatever you do, don't just sit there scowling at the problem. But don't make telephone calls or go to a party; if you do, other people's words will pour in where your lost words should be. Open a gap for them, create a space. Be patient.