Archives for posts with tag: writing advice

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Good writing is supposed to evoke sensation in the reader—not the fact that it is raining, but the feeling of being rained upon.” E.L. DOCTOROW

Photo: “Rain Forest in Paris” by Eole Wind

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“I have never started a novel — I mean, except the first, when I was starting a novel just to start a novel — I’ve never written one without rereading Victory [byJoseph Conrad]. It opens up the possibilities of a novel. It makes it seem worth doing.”JOAN DIDION

Note: VICTORY by Joseph Conrad is available free in a variety of versions (including Kindle) at Project Gutenberg. Find it here. Conrad scholar Debra Romanick called the book, originally published in 1916, “…a highly complex allegorical work whose psychological landscape and narrative structure set the groundwork for the modern novel…”

Happy belated birthday to one of our writing heroes, Joan Didion, who turned 79 on December 5, 2013. 

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The faster I write, the better my output. If I’m going slow, I’m in trouble. It means I am pushing the words instead of being pulled by them.”

RAYMOND CHANDLER

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WRITING ADVICE FROM RAYMOND CHANDLER:

  • A writer who is afraid to overreach himself is as useless as a general who is afraid to be wrong.
  • Technique alone is never enough. You have to have passion. Technique alone is just an embroidered potholder… The moment a man begins to talk about technique that’s proof that he is fresh out of ideas.
  • The most durable thing in writing is style, and style is the single most valuable investment a writer can make with his time. It [style] is a projection of personality and you have to have a personality before you can project it. It is the product of emotion and perception.
  • The challenge is to write about real things magically.
  • The more you reason the less you create.
  • Don’t ever write anything you don’t like yourself and if you do like it, don’t take anyone’s advice about changing it.
  • I am a writer, and there comes a time when that which I write has to belong to me, has to be written alone and in silence, with no one looking over my shoulder, no one telling me a better way to write it. It doesn’t have to be great writing, it doesn’t even have to be terribly good. It just has to be mine.

Photo: Raymond Chandler’s novels

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“Considering the ways in which so many of us waste our time, what would be wrong with a world in which everybody were writing poems? After all, there’s a significant service to humanity in spending time doing no harm. While you’re writing your poem, there’s one less scoundrel in the world. And I’d like a world, wouldn’t you, in which people actually took time to think about what they were saying? It would be, I’m certain, a more peaceful, more reasonable place. I don’t think there could ever be too many poets. By writing poetry, even those poems that fail and fail miserably, we honor and affirm life. We say ‘We loved the earth but could not stay.’”  TED KOOSER, The Poetry Home Repair Manual: Practical Advice for Beginning Poets

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Ted Kooser was the United States Poet Laureate from 2004 to 2006 and won a Pulitzer Prize for his book of poems Delights and Shadows. He is the author of twelve full-length volumes of poetry and several books of nonfiction, and his work has appeared in many periodicals. He lives in Garland, Nebraska.

The Poetry Home Repair Manual by Ted Kooser is available at Amazon.com.

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7 FICTION WRITING TIPS FROM ERNEST HEMINGWAY

  1. To get started, write one true sentence.
  2. Always stop for the day while you still know what will happen next.
  3. Never think about the story while you’re not working.
  4. When it’s time to work again, always start by rereading what you’ve written so far.
  5. Don’t describe emotion—make it.
  6. Use a pencil.
  7. Be brief.

For details on each point, visit openculture.com.

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Excerpt from a 1958 interview George Plimpton conducted with Ernest Hemingway, published in The Paris Review.

Interviewer: How much rewriting do you do?

Hemingway: It depends, I rewrote the ending to A Farewell to Arms, the last page of it, thirty-nine times before I was satisfied.

Interviewer: Was there some technical problem there? What was it that had stumped you?

Hemingway: Getting the words right.

Illustration: Page from Hemingway’s first draft of A Farewell to Arms (1929).

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“Hemingway, a great American writer, taught me the finest trick when you are doing a long book, which is, he simply said in his own words,’When you are going good, stop writing.’ …if you stop when you are going good, as Hemingway said…then you know what you are going to say next. You make yourself stop, put your pencil down and everything, and you walk away. And you can’t wait to get back because you know what you want to say next…” ROALD DAHL, author of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

Photo: Roald Dahl (left) and Ernest Hemingway (right) in London during 1944.

NOTES ON THE PHOTO: As far as I’ve been able to learn, no one knows why Dahl and Hemingway were together in London during WWII. Dahl, a member of the British Royal Air Force, worked as something of a spy during the early war years—when Britain was fighting Germany and hoping the U.S. would enter the conflict. In this period (1939-1941), Dahl was stationed in Washington D.C., and attended social functions with politicians and other dignitaries, hoping to learn useful information about U.S. plans vis-a-vis the war.

At the time of the above photo, Dahl was 28 and Hemingway was 45 (though he looks much older). At first, I was puzzled when I looked at this photograph — thinking it couldn’t be Hemingway because “Papa” wasn’t that short. Then I realized that Roald Dahl must have been well above average in height to make Hemingway appear diminutive. Further research revealed that Dahl was 6’6″—while Hemingway was 6 feet tall.

At this point in his career, Hemingway was a world-famous author and had written three of his most important books — The Sun Also Rises, A Farewell to Arms, and For Whom the Bell Tolls – while Dahl had not yet written anything of note (Random House had published his children’s book entitled The Gremlins in 1943). Perhaps the young intelligence officer and aspiring author (Dahl) wangled a meeting with the old lion (Hemingway), hoping to gain some writing advice or just bask in the presence of the great author.

While Hemingway at some point (I’m not sure when) wrote about his method of stopping before you’re written out for the day, perhaps he gave this advice to Dahl first-hand when they were chumming around London in 1944. (For the record, Hemingway was in Europe from June-December 1944 and became involved in a number of allied initiatives while acting as a journalist.)

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All good books are alike in that they are truer than if they had really happened and after you are finished reading one you will feel that all that happened to you and afterwards it all belongs to you: the good and the bad, the ecstasy, the remorse and sorrow, the people and the places and how the weather was. If you can get so that you can give that to people, then you are a writer.” ERNEST HEMINGWAY

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Novelists…our power is patience. We have discovered that writing allows even a stupid person to seem halfway intelligent, if only that person will write the same thought over and over again, improving it just a little bit each time. It is a lot like inflating a blimp with a bicycle pump. Anybody can do it. All it takes is time.” KURT VONNEGUT