Posts tagged ‘writing’

June 12, 2012

Proofreading Made Fun

Someone posted this on Facebook and I had to share it. Looks like someone made some new additions to the standard copy editing/proofreading symbols. I especially like the axe used to mean “remove permanently from your lexicon” and the trowel which symbolizes “cut the crap”.  I could definitely use these in my own writing!

June 10, 2012

R.I.P. Rocket Man, Ray Bradbury

While the news isn’t new, I couldn’t not post something about the passing of visionary, Ray Bradbury. When I read the news that he had died on Tuesday, I was in Dallas on a layover. Although I always suspected his time wasn’t far off as he was getting up there in years, the news made me swell up with grief .

I discovered Bradbury when my 9th grade English teacher handed out copies of Fahrenheit 451. From then on, I was hooked. I tried  out some other science fiction after discovering Bradbury but nothing could match his dark, lyrical genius. He surpassed any genre. His stories were more about human beings than outer space or robots.

Three random things of note (to me, anyway):

1) I remember almost meeting him once about 12 years ago. There was a writing conference here in Tucson that he was supposed to attend. I raced over to discover he had to stay home due to a small stroke.

2) I bought The Bradbury Chronicles about three weeks ago and it’s on my bedside table.

3) How apropos that he left this world on the day of the the Venusian eclipse.

In honor of Mr. Bradbury’s passing, here is a scene that has stuck with me for years. It’s a short story called “Kaleidoscope” from The Illustrated Man. This is the very end of the story when Hollis, an astronaut whose rocket has blown up, is racing toward earth and toward his death:

He fell swiftly, like a bullet, like a pebble, like an iron weight, objective all of the time now, not sad or happy or anything, but only wishing he could do a good thing now that everything was gone, a good thing for just himself to know about. When I hit the atmosphere, I’ll burn like a meteor. “I wonder” he said, “if anyone’ll see me?”

The small boy on the country road looked up and screamed. “Look, Mom, look! A falling star!”  The blazing white star fell down the sky of dusk in Illinois. “Make a wish,” said his mother. “Make a wish.”

May 22, 2012

Magic 8 Ball of Literary Wisdom

Tormented? Driven Witless? Whipsawed by Confusion? (thanks, E. Jean). If so, Short List has a great post titled 50 peices of Wisdom from Novelswhich may offer insight into the big questions. You can mine the list for some real gems like this line from The Long Goodbye by Raymond Chandler:

“There is no trap so deadly as the trap you set for yourself.”

And this one from Invisible Monsters by Chuck Pahlaniuk:

“The only way to find true happiness is to risk being completely cut open.”

This one from Margaret Atwood’s The Blind Assassin is a great tip:

“The best way of keeping a secret is to pretend there isn’t one.”

And probably my favorite is from To Kill a Mockingbird:

“People generally see what they look for, and hear what they listen for.”

The post like a magic 8 ball that you can click on instead of shake.  Check it out here.
May 2, 2012

Doing the Unstuck: The Myth of Writer’s Block

There’s a fantastic piece in the Huffington Post Books Blog by Lev Raphael about writer’s block. It summary, he says “writer’s block” is just an overly dramatic way of saying that as a writer, you’re “stuck”. He writes:

“Unfortunately, there’s a small industry devoted to helping people overcome “writer’s block,” to keep them from turning into Barton Fink, stuck on that one sentence. And because the culture loves stories about blocked writers like The Shining, there’s a perverse kind of glamor associated with this “condition.” It’s dramatic, it’s proof of how serious a professional you are. And hey, writers are crazy anyway, so of course they can’t do their jobs.”

I had a professor once tell me that there’s no such thing as writer’s block, that a writer writes. He said, “If you’re stuck, just write something, even if it’s a pile of shit or a glorified grocery list. Writing something, anything will help.”

Raphael suggests just doing something else for a while and letting your subconscious fix the problem. An even more probable cause, he says, is that feeling stuck is probably “connected to secrecy and revelation. It can mean we’re afraid of what we want to write, afraid of revealing too much about ourselves (or someone else), afraid of what people might think. That fear of exposure is shame, or the dread of shame.”

Bingo. I can’t tell you how many glorified grocery lists I’ve made.

April 21, 2012

“Writer Idol”: I Was Wondering When This Might Happen

According to The Guardian, the latest slew of contests for would-be popsters, dancers, models, and even artists has moved into the writing realm. Hence, “Writer Idol”. No, it’s not a TV show, more like a talent contest that unfolds in front of judges, other writers, and onlookers. Writer Idol will take place in Ireland at the West Cork Literary Festival. According to The Guardian, it will go something like this:

In essence, Writer Idol is a very simple idea. Potential “contestants” are invited to send in one page of their writing anonymously. On the day, the selected entries will be read by Kate Thompson to an audience which will include the “lucky” authors and a panel of judges consisting of novelist Anita Shreve, commissioning editor Suzanne Baboneau and literary agent Marianne Gunne-O’Connor. Each judge will raise their hand when they’ve heard enough; if all three hands are raised, the reading will stop immediately.

This comes on the heals of another event also called Writer Idol that takes place each year at the Boston Book Festival. Perhaps more happen at other literary festivals that I don’t know about.

Apparently there are no prizes involved, no book deals, no fame or fortune – just a chance for writers to get their work read by some big wigs in the industry and an audience. It makes all the cutthroat literary workshops I took in grad school seem like child’s play. I guess in a time when it’s nearly impossible for writers to get our work read anywhere, it can’t hurt. Desperate times call for desperate measures. Now I have to wonder when they’ll make it a TV show.

March 20, 2012

My Reading Hang-Ups

I’ve often said that life it too short to drudge through books that don’t grab you. I already I have a pile waiting to be read and can’t be bothered forcing myself through a book if it’s not making me feel something. Then there are those books that make me feel too much, in a bad way. Over at The Guardian UK book blog, Imogen Russell Williams writes about the books she’s ashamed to admit she just couldn’t finish because the subject matter was too painful. These literary hang ups include the rape of Tess in Hardy’s classic and the injustice delivered in To Kill a Mockingbird.

While I don’t have exactly the same reading hang-ups (To Kill a Mockingbird remains one of my all-time favorite novels), I do have my own. Anything that targets animals or children turns me away. Before I became a mother, I was able to read a lot of books that included child abuse like Maxim Gorky’s My Childhood (I loved it) and the horrific, twisted, and incredible The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks that involved burning dogs and tortured children.

There was one book, however, that I could never get through, before I was even a parent. That would be The Painted Bird by Jerzy Kozinski. It’s hard to believe the man who wrote the wry, witty, and often hilarious Being There wrote this book, filled with such brutality aimed at a little orphan boy that it still makes me shudder. And I get it – the book is a metaphor for humanity’s cruelty, war, etc. but I just couldn’t finish it. I tried though, because Kosinski is a fantastic writer. I even got about fifty pages in, but then had to put it down. I think it was when the ravens started pecking at the boy’s head when I decided enough was enough.

Don’t get me wrong, I love dark, but there’s a line for me and Kosinski crossed it. Now as a parent, I’m a lot weaker. I have a harder time than I did before with innocents being harmed, namely children and animals. Of course, it’s all in the way the writer tells the story, crafting it so it’s palatable (hence Gorky). However, it’s a matter of taste and there are always those weak spots that some of us possess.

The can be said for films. I still marvel that my husband loved Wolf Creek and Battle Royale. I’d rather sweep the kitchen with a toothbrush than go near either one of those.

February 22, 2012

The Enigma of a Best Seller

What makes a book a best seller? The answer still alludes literary agents and publishing houses alike. An article in The New York Times, titled The Greatest Mystery: Making a Best Seller, looks at what makes a book a best seller. In the end, the experts are still scratching their heads.

According to the article, many times a book is predicted to be a big hit and goes to auction, it falls flat; and many times a book is predicted to have low sales, it rises to best seller status. Literary agent, Brian DeFiore asks: “Is it the cover? The title? The buzz wasn’t there? Timing? It wasn’t that good?”

William Strachen, editor in chief at Carrol & Graff Publishers says: “It’s an accidental profession, most of the time. . . If you had the key, you’d be very wealthy. Nobody has the key.

Once a book is picked up by a publisher, it generally gets a marketing makeover, but before a book is picked up, much of the time, publishers rely on their gut feeling about how a book will sell. The article points to the fact that, unlike other industries such as gaming and television, publishers don’t have enough contact with their customers to know what they buy and what they want to see more of.

Susan Rabiner, agent and former editorial director says: “Before Amazon, we didn’t even know what people thought of the books.

Okay, get it together publishing people. What’s wrong with a little marketing research?

February 4, 2012

Paper Trails

Robert McCrumb of The Guardian posted an article about the power of paper in a digital era. The article focuses on the perseverance of the written word and looks at writers who save paper drafts of their manuscripts:

Ink and paper lives on in countless surprising ways. I see that the University of East Anglia has just announced the acquisition of a manuscript archive: more than 50 boxes of typed manuscripts, short stories, pencil drafts, notes and re-workings by the Yorkshire-based novelist Robert Edric. A self-proclaimed “hoarder” of his own work, the archive shows in fantastic detail the creative writing process.

Edric has more than 20 novels under his belt and his archive of manuscript drafts, which were handwritten or typed, goes back 30 some years. In the article, he reflects on saving drafts:

 “I mostly write in pencil on paper and I’ve kept everything. I never throw anything away and I don’t write on a computer so there is no ‘delete’ option. You never normally know how a writer works. It takes an enormous amount of energy, but if you work on a computer there’s no way of showing someone the process because you end up deleting things, re-writing parts.

 “You don’t ever see the scribbles and revisions from 20 years ago – how you reworked and reworked the text. I only really use a computer to finish the process. The vast part of the archive has never seen the light of day. Four or five of my early novels were never published – but they were the foundations of my career and I was learning to work hard.”

Personally, I write on paper when I’m not near my computer or I print off old drafts and save those. I’ve also saved old, old writing in notebooks and things I’ve typed in the past. As a result, there is a large amount of paper in piles and in boxes around the house, which makes my husband crazy.

I also save drafts on my computer, but I’m sure there are plenty of drafts I haven’t saved because I’ve edited and re-edited without renaming the files. I like to think I’m saving some trees, and besides only I’m going to see those old shitty drafts anyway.

But Edric brings up some important questions:  How important is it for a writer to save every draft of every piece he has ever written?  Will he ever look at those drafts again to see his process or will the drafts just gather dust?  Will the writer delete something he should have saved?

February 2, 2012

Put up the Red Flag: February is Letter Writing Month

Sick of email? Miss getting letters in the mail? I do. My friends and I still send cards, but I miss the days I would get a letter from my grandmother every week. Sometimes my best friend and I send letters back and forth and we get to draw little pictures in the margins of the paper and make lists and decorate the envelopes with our unique handwriting. It’s so much more personal than shooting off an email, even though that’s how I do most of my correspondence these days, like most people.

Letter writing is definitely a lost art, but not this month. Today, Mary Robinette Kowal launched “The Month of Letters Challenge“. On her website, Kowal writes:

I have a simple challenge for you.

  1. In the month of February, mail at least one item through the post every day it runs.  Write a postcard, a letter, send a picture, or a cutting from a newspaper, or a fabric swatch.
  2. Write back to everyone who writes to you. This can count as one of your mailed items.

All you are committing to is to mail 24 items.  Why 24? There are four Sundays and one US holiday. In fact, you might send more than 24 items. You might develop a correspondence that extends beyond the month. You might enjoy going to the mail box again.

I love my mailbox and putting up the little red flag. Hell, I even love my mailman. He waves to me from his mailtruck and smiles from beneath his grandfatherly mustache every time he sees me like he’s driven right out of a Norman Rockwell painting. And I just bought a new sheet of stamps today. I guess I have no excuses. .  .

January 28, 2012

If At First You Don’t Succeed, Read “The Success of Failure”

We’ve all heard it before: You have to fail to succeed. It’s a sentiment that’s true, but often daunting. As a writer, how many rejection slips do you collect before you throw up your hands? How many drafts do you write before you decide the piece just plain stinks?

Before you toss that story away forever, there’s good news, fellow failurephobes!  CNN has posted an inspiring piece called The Success of Failure in their ongoing series on creativity. The piece mentions many successes who have endured their fair share of failure including Abe Lincoln, George Clooney, J.K. Rowling, Steve Jobs, and Conan O’Brien. But the piece centers on writer Jennifer Egan (remember her from two posts ago?)

In the piece, Egan reveals that her novels go through about 50 or 60 drafts, and she has abandoned writing projects altogether. Knowing when to abandon projects can prove to be tricky. Egan says she struggled with this conundrum when writing The Keep.

A lot of it is trying to understand what kind of dead end it is, because they aren’t all the same,” she says. “With ‘The Keep,’ I was essentially at a dead end for the first many months of working on it, because I couldn’t find a voice for it. And if you don’t have a voice, you’ve got nothin’. You can try every bell and whistle and good idea in the world, but if the book doesn’t have a voice, you don’t have a book.”

But for some reason I kept hammering away at it, which certainly in retrospect could have been a terrible waste of time if I hadn’t found a way,” she said.

In the end, the article focuses on soldiering through, even when you’ve given up on something, or refuse to give up on a project even though it’s looking grim. As Egan says during the interview: “The key is struggling a lot.

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