Words of Encouragement From Them What Know Better’n You

I promised myself that I would set at least one day a week aside for some quality reading time, and that day happens to be today. In my absence, I invite you to soak in a few words of encouragement from people who understand your plight better than you realize and are far more eloquent, blunt and knowledgeable than I could ever hope to be.

Sally forth and be writeful, but don’t forget to be readful, as well.

— Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

Nobody ever got started on a career as a writer by exercising good judgment, and no one ever will, either, so the sooner you break the habit of relying on yours, the faster you will advance.

People with good judgment weigh the assurance of a comfortable living represented by the mariners’ certificates that declare them masters of all ships, whether steam or sail, and masters of all oceans and all navigable rivers, and do not forsake such work in order to learn English and write books signed Joseph Conrad.

People who have had hard lives but somehow found themselves fetched up in executive positions with prosperous West Coast oil firms do not drink and wench themselves out of such comfy billets in order in their middle age to write books as Raymond Chandler; that would be poor judgment.

No one on the payroll of a New York newspaper would get drunk and chuck it all to become a free-lance writer, so there was no John O’Hara. When you have at last progressed to the junction that enforces the decision of whether to proceed further, by sending your stuff out, and refusing to remain a wistful urchin too afraid to beg, and you have sent the stuff, it is time to pause and rejoice. — George V. Higgins

Always dream and shoot higher than you know you can do. Don’t bother just to be better than your contemporaries or predecessors. Try to be better than yourself.

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Everything goes by the board: honor, pride, decency . . . to get the book written. If a writer has to rob his mother, he will not hesitate; the “Ode on a Grecian Urn” is worth any number of old ladies. — William Faulkner

“One of the few things I know about writing is this: Spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it, all, right away, every time. Do not hoard what seems good for a later place in the book, or for another book, give it, give it all, give it now.” — Annie Dillard

Sometimes people say to me, “I want to write, but I have five kids, a full-time job, a wife who beats me, a tremendous debt to my parents,” and so on.

I say to them, “There is no excuse. If you want to write, write. This is your life. You are responsible for it. You will not live forever. Don’t wait. Make the time now, even if it is ten minutes once a week.” — Natalie Goldberg

I have never understood why “hard work” is supposed to be pitiable. True, some work is soul destroying when it is done against the grain, but when it is part of “making” how can you grudge it? You get tired, of course, but the struggle, the challenge, the feeling of being extended as you never thought you could be is fulfilling and deeply, deeply satisfying. — Rumer Godden

“Don’t market yourself. Editors and readers don’t know what they want until they see it. Scratch what itches. Write what you need to write, feed the hunger for meaning in your life. Play at the serious questions of life and death.” — Donald M. Murray

“No one put a gun to your head and ordered you to become a writer. One writes out of his own choice and must be prepared to take the rough spots along the road with a certain equanimity, though allowed some grinding of the teeth.” — Stanley Ellin

So You Want To Be A Writer by Charles Bukowski

if it doesn’t come bursting out of you
in spite of everything,
don’t do it.
unless it comes unasked out of your
heart and your mind and your mouth
and your gut,
don’t do it.
if you have to sit for hours
staring at your computer screen
or hunched over your
typewriter
searching for words,
don’t do it.
if you’re doing it for money or
fame,
don’t do it.
if you’re doing it because you want
women in your bed,
don’t do it.
if you have to sit there and
rewrite it again and again,
don’t do it.
if it’s hard work just thinking about doing it,
don’t do it.
if you’re trying to write like somebody
else,
forget about it.
if you have to wait for it to roar out of
you,
then wait patiently.
if it never does roar out of you,
do something else.

if you first have to read it to your wife
or your girlfriend or your boyfriend
or your parents or to anybody at all,
you’re not ready.

don’t be like so many writers,
don’t be like so many thousands of
people who call themselves writers,
don’t be dull and boring and
pretentious, don’t be consumed with self-
love.
the libraries of the world have
yawned themselves to
sleep
over your kind.
don’t add to that.
don’t do it.
unless it comes out of
your soul like a rocket,
unless being still would
drive you to madness or
suicide or murder,
don’t do it.
unless the sun inside you is
burning your gut,
don’t do it.

when it is truly time,
and if you have been chosen,
it will do it by
itself and it will keep on doing it
until you die or it dies in you.

there is no other way.

and there never was.

The Various Rules for Writing Fiction by Famous Authors

1. Read it aloud to yourself because that’s the only way to be sure the rhythms of the sentences are OK (prose rhythms are too complex and subtle to be thought out – they can be got right only by ear).

2. Cut (perhaps that should be CUT): only by having no ­inessential words can every essential word be made to count.

3. You don’t always have to go so far as to murder your darlings – those turns of phrase or images of which you felt extra proud when they appeared on the page – but go back and look at them with a very beady eye. Almost always it turns out that they’d be better dead. (Not every little twinge of satisfaction is suspect – it’s the ones which amount to a sort of smug glee you must watch out for.)

Diana Athill

Roddy Doyle

1. Do not place a photograph of your ­favourite author on your desk, especially if the author is one of the famous ones who committed suicide.

2. Do be kind to yourself. Fill pages as quickly as possible; double space, or write on every second line. Regard every new page as a small triumph ­–

3. Until you get to Page 50. Then calm down, and start worrying about the quality. Do feel anxiety – it’s the job.

4. Do give the work a name as quickly as possible. Own it, and see it. Dickens knew Bleak House was going to be called Bleak House before he started writing it. The rest must have been easy.

5. Do restrict your browsing to a few websites a day. Don’t go near the online bookies – unless it’s research.

6. Do keep a thesaurus, but in the shed at the back of the garden or behind the fridge, somewhere that demands travel or effort. Chances are the words that come into your head will do fine, eg “horse”, “ran”, “said”.

7. Do, occasionally, give in to temptation. Wash the kitchen floor, hang out the washing. It’s research.

8. Do change your mind. Good ideas are often murdered by better ones. I was working on a novel about a band called the Partitions. Then I decided to call them the Commitments.

9. Do not search amazon.co.uk for the book you haven’t written yet.

10. Do spend a few minutes a day working on the cover biog – “He divides his time between Kabul and Tierra del Fuego.” But then get back to work.

Roddy Doyle

1. Finish the day’s writing when you still want to continue.

2. Listen to what you have written. A dud rhythm in a passage of dialogue may show that you don’t yet understand the characters well enough to write in their voices.

3. Read Keats’s letters.

4. Reread, rewrite, reread, rewrite. If it still doesn’t work, throw it away. It’s a nice feeling, and you don’t want to be cluttered with the corpses of poems and stories which have everything in them except the life they need.

5. Learn poems by heart.

6. Join professional organisations which advance the collective rights of authors.

7. A problem with a piece of writing often clarifies itself if you go for a long walk.

8. If you fear that taking care of your children and household will damage your writing, think of JG Ballard.

9. Don’t worry about posterity – as Larkin (no sentimentalist) observed “What will survive of us is love”.

Helen Dunmore

1. Never worry about the commercial possibilities of a project. That stuff is for agents and editors to fret over – or not. Conversation with my American publisher. Me: “I’m writing a book so boring, of such limited commercial appeal, that if you publish it, it will probably cost you your job.” Publisher: “That’s exactly what makes me want to stay in my job.”

2. Don’t write in public places. In the early 1990s I went to live in Paris. The usual writerly reasons: back then, if you were caught writing in a pub in England, you could get your head kicked in, whereas in Paris, dans les cafés . . . Since then I’ve developed an aversion to writing in public. I now think it should be done only in private, like any other lavatorial activity.

3. Don’t be one of those writers who sentence themselves to a lifetime of sucking up to Nabokov.

4. If you use a computer, constantly refine and expand your autocorrect settings. The only reason I stay loyal to my piece-of-shit computer is that I have invested so much ingenuity into building one of the great auto­correct files in literary history. Perfectly formed and spelt words emerge from a few brief keystrokes: “Niet” becomes “Nietzsche”, “phoy” becomes  ­”photography” and so on. ­Genius!

5. Keep a diary. The biggest regret of my writing life is that I have never kept a journal or a diary.

6. Have regrets. They are fuel. On the page they flare into desire.

7. Have more than one idea on the go at any one time. If it’s a choice between writing a book and doing nothing I will always choose the latter. It’s only if I have an idea for two books that I choose one rather than the other. I ­always have to feel that I’m bunking off from something.

8. Beware of clichés. Not just the ­clichés that Martin Amis is at war with. There are clichés of response as well as expression. There are clichés of observation and of thought – even of conception. Many novels, even quite a few adequately written ones, are ­clichés of form which conform to clichés of expectation.

9. Do it every day. Make a habit of putting your observations into words and gradually this will become instinct. This is the most important rule of all and, naturally, I don’t follow it.

10. Never ride a bike with the brakes on. If something is proving too difficult, give up and do something else. Try to live without resort to per­severance. But writing is all about ­perseverance. You’ve got to stick at it. In my 30s I used to go to the gym even though I hated it. The purpose of ­going to the gym was to postpone the day when I would stop going. That’s what writing is to me: a way of ­postponing the day when I won’t do it any more, the day when I will sink into a depression so profound it will be indistinguishable from perfect bliss.

Geoff Dyer

1. The first 12 years are the worst.

2. The way to write a book is to actually write a book. A pen is useful, typing is also good. Keep putting words on the page.

3. Only bad writers think that their work is really good.

4. Description is hard. Remember that all description is an opinion about the world. Find a place to stand.

5. Write whatever way you like. Fiction is made of words on a page; reality is made of something else. It doesn’t matter how “real” your story is, or how “made up”: what matters is its necessity.

6. Try to be accurate about stuff.

7. Imagine that you are dying. If you had a terminal disease would you ­finish this book? Why not? The thing that annoys this 10-weeks-to-live self is the thing that is wrong with the book. So change it. Stop arguing with yourself. Change it. See? Easy. And no one had to die.

8. You can also do all that with whiskey.

9. Have fun.

10. Remember, if you sit at your desk for 15 or 20 years, every day, not ­counting weekends, it changes you. It just does. It may not improve your temper, but it fixes something else. It makes you more free.

Anne Enright

Famous Thoughts on Grammar and Usage

1. “You can be a little ungrammatical if you come from the right part of the country.” — Robert Frost

2. “Word has somehow got around that the split infinitive is always wrong. That is a piece with the outworn notion that it is always wrong to strike a lady.” — James Thurber

3. “It is indeed acceptable practice to sometimes split an infinitive. If infinitive-splitting makes available just the shade of meaning you desire or if avoiding the separation creates a confusing ambiguity or patent artificiality, you are entitled to happily go ahead and split!” — Richard Lederer

4. “When you catch an adjective, kill it.” — Mark Twain

5. “The adjective is the banana peel of the parts of speech.” — Clifton Fadiman

6. “The adjective is the enemy of the noun.” — Voltaire

7. “If the noun is good and the verb is strong, you almost never need an adjective.” — J. Anthony Lukas

8. “Don’t say it was ‘delightful’; make us say ‘delightful’ when we’ve read the description. You see, all those words (horrifying, wonderful, hideous, exquisite) are only like saying to your readers ‘Please will you do my job for me?’” — C.S. Lewis

9. “Forward motion in any piece of writing is carried by verbs. Verbs are the action words of the language and the most important. Turn to any passage on any page of a successful novel and notice the high percentage of verbs. Beginning writers always use too many adjectives and adverbs and generally use too many dependent clauses. Count your words and words of verbal force (like that word “force” I just used).” — William Sloane

10. “The editorial ‘we’ has often been fatal to rising genius; though all the world knows that it is only a form of speech, very often employed by a single needy blockhead.” — Thomas Baington Macaulay

11. “Only presidents, editors and people with tapeworm have the right to use the editorial ‘we.’” — Mark Twain

Neil Gaiman reads from The Graveyard Book

A favorite writer of mine, Neil Gaiman. Enjoy as he reads from The Graveyard Book, winner of the 2010 Cilip Carnegie Medal, the Newbery Medal and the Booktrust Teenage Book Prize 2009, and shortlisted for the Kate Greenaway Award.

Famous Authors Reveal Their Writing Secrets (go on, you know you wanna look)

1. “The secret of getting ahead is getting started. The secret of getting started is breaking your complex overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks, and then starting on the first one.” — Mark Twain

2. “People on the outside think there’s something magical about writing, that you go up in the attic at midnight and cast the bones and come down in the morning with a story, but it isn’t like that. You sit in back of the typewriter and you work, and that’s all there is to it.” — Harlan Ellison

3. “The secret is to start a story near the ending.” — Chris Offut

4. “The secret of successful fiction is a continual slight novelty.” — Edmund Gosse

5. “The big secret is the ability to stay in the room.” — Ron Carlson

6. “The secret to being a writer is that you have to write. It’s not enough to think about writing or to study literature or plan a future life as an author. You really have to lock yourself away, alone, and get to work.” — Augusten Burroughs

7. “It’s hard to explain how much one can love writing. If people knew how happy it can make you, we would all be writing all the time. It’s the greatest secret of the world.” — Andrea Barrett

8. “Composition is a discipline; it forces us to think. If you want to “get in touch with your feelings,” fine—talk to yourself; we all do. But, if you want to communicate with another thinking human being, get in touch with your thoughts. Put them in order; give them a purpose; use them to persuade, to instruct, to discover, to seduce. The secret way to do this is to write it down and then cut out the confusing parts.” — William Safire

9. “The secret of it all, is to write in the gush, the throb, the flood, of the moment – to put things down without deliberation – without worrying about their style – without waiting for a fit time or place. I always worked that way. I took the first scrap of paper, the first doorstep, the first desk, and wrote – wrote, wrote…By writing at the instant the very heartbeat of life is caught.” — Walt Whitman

10. “If there is a secret to writing, I haven’t found it yet. All I know is you need to sit down, clear your mind, and hang in there.” — Mary McGrory

Stop making that face. Did you really think you were going to uncover some magical shortcut to get you through the sometimes torturous process of writing? Ain’t I done learnt y’all better’n that? You go on now, here? And enjoy your weekend.

Sally forth and be secretly writeful.

— Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

The Short and Short of Flash Fiction

flash-fiction
Flash fiction is defined as a style of fictional literature or fiction of extreme brevity. And while there’s no widely accepted rule as to the proper length of a flash fiction piece, I’ve seen word counts cap between three hundred and a thousand words. Although usually containing standard story elements such as a protagonist, conflict, obstacles, complications, and resolution, the limited word length can result in some of these elements to be merely hinted at or implied in the storyline.

David Gaffney wrote an interesting article for The Guardian entitled, Stories in your pocket: how to write flash fiction, which included the following six steps:

1. Start in the middle. You don’t have time in this very short form to set scenes and build character.

2. Don’t use too many characters. You won’t have time to describe your characters when you’re writing ultra-short. Even a name may not be useful in a micro-story unless it conveys a lot of additional story information or saves you words elsewhere.

3. Make sure the ending isn’t at the end. In micro-fiction there’s a danger that much of the engagement with the story takes place when the reader has stopped reading. To avoid this, place the denouement in the middle of the story, allowing us time, as the rest of the text spins out, to consider the situation along with the narrator, and ruminate on the decisions his characters have taken. If you’re not careful, micro-stories can lean towards punchline-based or “pull back to reveal” endings which have a one-note, gag-a-minute feel – the drum roll and cymbal crash. Avoid this by giving us almost all the information we need in the first few lines, using the next few paragraphs to take us on a journey below the surface.

4. Sweat your title. Make it work for a living.

5. Make your last line ring like a bell. The last line is not the ending – we had that in the middle, remember – but it should leave the reader with something which will continue to sound after the story has finished. It should not complete the story but rather take us into a new place; a place where we can continue to think about the ideas in the story and wonder what it all meant. A story that gives itself up in the last line is no story at all, and after reading a piece of good micro-fiction we should be struggling to understand it, and, in this way, will grow to love it as a beautiful enigma. And this is also another of the dangers of micro-fiction; micro-stories can be too rich and offer too much emotion in a powerful one-off injection, overwhelming the reader, flooding the mind. A few micro-shorts now and again will amaze and delight – one after another and you feel like you’ve been run over by a lorry full of fridges.

6. Write long, then go short. Create a lump of stone from which you chip out your story sculpture. Stories can live much more cheaply than you realise, with little deterioration in lifestyle. But do beware: writing micro-fiction is for some like holidaying in a caravan – the grill may well fold out to become an extra bed, but you wouldn’t sleep in a fold-out grill for the rest of your life.

And if I might add a few tips to Mr. Gaffney’s list:

  • Do your homework and read a ton of flash fiction stories. Stop groaning, they’re ultra-short.
  • Pay close attention to story settings and character development
  • Tell a proper story. Having a character deliver a monolog or go off on a diatribe, or spending the word count describing a setting, doesn’t help you hone your brevity writing skills.
  • Do not toss away your story if it happens to be too big and you just can’t whittle it down to size. Instead, pat yourself on the back for creating a short story. Every cloud, right?
  • If you’re using a word processing program, make use of the built-in word count feature.

For the record, extremely short fiction isn’t a brand spanking new concept. In fact, Ernest Hemingway once wrote the following six-word story:

“For sale: baby shoes, never worn.”

According to sources, the author considered it to be the finest prose he had ever written. Even more remarkable, it comes in under the stringent 140 character count of Twitter’s tweet fiction (see: To Make A Long Story Shortest). Way to go, Hemmy!

Sally forth and be flash writeful.

— Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

A Nickel’s Worth of Free Writing Advice: Fill Your Toolbox

Is your writing toolbox looking a little empty? Fill it with the words you collect today from snippets of conversations you overhear, newspapers, magazines, books, or wherever you draw inspiration from. Create freestyle associations from these words to build sentences and keep adding more words and associations. Your notebook now represents personal snapshots of your style in the words you’ve chosen and associations you’ve made.

Sally forth and be writeful.

— Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys