write regularly

May 21, 2018

You can only write regularly if you’re willing to write badly…Accept bad writing as a way of priming the pump, a warm-up exercise that allows you to write well.

Jennifer Egan
Why We Write: 20 Acclaimed Authors on How and Why They Do What They Do edited by Meredith Maran

Open all your senses

May 19, 2018

Here is a way to approach making poetry. Recall an experience. Let it flow into your head into your body until you know fully again what is now memory. Open all your senses: see, hear, smell, taste, touch again what you lived. Focus on one moment. Feel it completely. Do not try to understand it yet. Tell about it. Let the words come. Are they questions? Answers? Write so the reader and listeners respond with their senses, so that they let their bodies think. Do not explain: reveal. Let the image you create work for you. Ask the poem to talk, silently and aloud. People will listen and hear.

Katharyn Howd Machan
On Writing Poetry

Egon Schiele - Standing Girl in Blue Dress

A mode of understanding life which wilfully ignores so much can do so only at the peril of thoroughly distorting the rest. A mode of understanding literature which can ignore the private lives of half the human race is not “incomplete”; it is distorted through and through. Feminist criticism of the early 1970s began by pointing out the simplest of these distortions, that is, that the female characters of even our greatest realistic “classics” by male writers are often not individualized portraits of possible women, but creations of fear and desire.

Joanna Russ
How to suppress Women’s Writing

Sometime after my first drafts are completed, months or even years, I come back to the material to look for the poems hidden in the handwritten scrawl. I turn to the typewriter when I begin experimenting with forms, usually stanzas employing syllabic or accentual count lines. I never use a computer in working on poems – I want to slow the process down, not speed it up.

Laurence Lieberman
Writing Advice from Poets
Writer’s Digest 11th March 2008

Edwige Fouvry - Et Paysage De Nuit

I’ve never willingly written a word without listening to music of some sort. Right now I’m listening to Debussy’s Sonata for Cello and Piano. When pushed by deadlines I’ve sometimes been obliged to work in silence, on a train or plane or in a cafe. (A Walkman I don’t like, since its penetrating sound, piped directly into the cranial bones, is too aggressive and inescapable: booming aural earmuffs.)

Virgil Thomson, recognized my condition right away. There are two kinds of writers, he said. Those who demand absolute silence and those, like you, who need to hear music, the better to concentrate.

Perhaps he put his finger on the underlying psychological process, but I have never felt I was blocking out music the better to focus my thoughts. Admittedly I sometimes recognize that at a certain moment during the last 10 minutes I must have stopped paying attention to the music filling the room, but more often than not I experience music as a landscape unscrolling just outside the window whenever I look up, or as a human drama unfolding across the courtyard when I peek out, or as a separate but beloved presence, an intimate friend sitting in a matching chair, thinking and feeling. Music for me is a companion during the lonely (and why not admit it? the boring) hours of writing.

Music is also in stark contrast to writing. Music is already perfect, sure-footed, whereas I’m struggling to remember a word, frame a description, invent an action. If for me music is the secret sharer, it is a friend who has no needs and encourages me to trust that beauty can be achieved in this life, at least theoretically.

Music is always living out its own vivid, highly marked adventure, which is continuous and uninterrupted. It exists as a superior way of transcribing emotions, or rather of notating shifting balances, repeating motifs, accumulating tensions, deferred resolutions and elaborated variations. As the composer Roger Sessions once put it, music communicates in a marvellously vivid and exact way the dynamics and the abstract qualities of emotion, but any specific emotional content must be supplied from without, by the listening writer in this case.

Edmund White
Before a Rendezvous With the Muse, First Select the Music
New York Times, 18th June 2001

face writing

Reading novels seems to me such a normal activity, while writing them is such an odd thing to do. . . . At least so I think until I remind myself how firmly the two are related. (No armoured generalities here. Just a few remarks.)

First, because to write is to practice, with particular intensity and attentiveness, the art of reading. You write in order to read what you’ve written and see if it’s O.K. and, since of course it never is, to rewrite it – once, twice, as many times as it takes to get it to be something you can bear to reread. You are your own first, maybe severest, reader. ”To write is to sit in judgment on oneself,” Ibsen inscribed on the flyleaf of one of his books. Hard to imagine writing without rereading.

But is what you’ve written straight off never all right? Yes, sometimes even better than all right. And that only suggests, to this novelist at any rate, that with a closer look, or voicing aloud – that is, another reading – it might be better still. I’m not saying that the writer has to fret and sweat to produce something good.

”What is written without effort is in general read without pleasure,” said Dr. Johnson, and the maxim seems as remote from contemporary taste as its author. Surely, much that is written without effort gives a great deal of pleasure.

No, the question is not the judgment of readers – who may well prefer a writer’s more spontaneous, less elaborated work – but a sentiment of writers, those professionals of dissatisfaction. You think, ”If I can get it to this point the first go around, without too much struggle, couldn’t it be better still?”

And though the rewriting – and the rereading – sound like effort, they are actually the most pleasurable parts of writing. Sometimes the only pleasurable parts. Setting out to write, if you have the idea of ”literature” in your head, is formidable, intimidating. A plunge in an icy lake. Then comes the warm part: when you already have something to work with, upgrade, edit.

Susan Sontag
Directions: Write, Read, Rewrite. Repeat Steps 2 and 3 as Needed.
New York Times, 18th December 2000

wave

When I first started writing, I was very traditional. Much of what I wrote was autobiographical. Failed relationships, Missouri, and the suburbs were almost always my chosen subjects. Reading other poets was what helped me incorporate more variety in my writing. I read everything I could get my hands on, which ranged from Gary Snyder to Joshua Clover and even The Maximus Poems. I started to understand that the poet isn’t always the speaker of the poem, but rather, poets can experiment with the techniques of fiction writing. I’d have to say that reading, and being exposed to many ideas outside of my own comfort zone, taught me the importance of innovation, experimentation, and risk-taking in poetry. It’s fine to write from one’s lived experience, but one shouldn’t be afraid to take liberties with both form and content when writing from autobiography.

Kristina Marie Darling
An Interview with J. Scott Bugher
Split lip magazine

books 2

1. The Blank Screen Is Your Enemy!

The only way to write a novel is to, ahem, sit down and write it. Research is important, planning , sketches and notes all important, but in the end, you just have to sit down and get on with it.

2. Success Is In The Editing Not The Writing

Get it down. It’s easy to get bogged down in the first three chapters, wanting to make them perfect. So, just keep doing, get it all down – however messy and random your first draft is. Until you’ve got something to work with, you’re not in a position to make it perfect

3. Lack Of Confidence

Most – possibly all – first time writers think that writing comes easily to everyone else, it’s just they who are struggling. The truth is, whether it’s your first novel or your thirty-first novel, we all have good and bad days.

4. Stick To Your Idea

Often a good start, is followed by a soggy section in the middle where everything gets bogged down. Don’t lose heart, don’t think that it’s because your lead character doesn’t work or the story isn’t holding together, just keeping writing through the tough bits. Writing is hard work.

5. Write Every Day – Or 5 Minutes Is Better Than No Minutes…

It’s tempting to think it’s not worth sitting down if you don’t have at least two hours/a morning/a whole day/a weekend. Truth is, writing is like exercise. You must do a little every day, to keep your writing muscles flexed and ready to go, so writing becomes second nature and not something exceptional. The more used to writing you are, the more likely it is that you can concentrate on your story rather than your craft.

6. Every Writer Is Different

Find out what suits you – are you a nearly-bird or a late-at-night writer? Do you work best at the kitchen table or the local library? Do mind maps help you imagine your characters or storyboards? Then, when you know what works best for YOU -and of course most of us have to work around other commitments, so it can be hard to achieve this – try to stick to it. I write from about 4am in the morning until midday, give or take, simply because that’s when I’m at my best!

7. You Don’t Have To Write Chapters in order

It’s OK not to write in sequence. Say, you have a great battle scene, or a sex scene, or a showdown scene – any scene you are really looking forward to writing – if you suddenly feel like tackling it, even though it’s several chapters ahead in your actual novel, that’s fine. Enjoy yourself. Though don’t forget, when you are editing, to make sure the timeline still makes sense.

8. Failure Leads To Success

Remember the words of the late, great Samuel Beckett: ‘Try again. Fail again. Never mind. Fail better.’

Put another way, it’s all the stuff that ends up in the rubbish bin, the cutting room floor, that makes the novel the book it is supposed to be. Failing is good, because it helps us all to develop our skills.

Kate Mosse
Eight things I wish I’d known before writing my first novel

these are traps

March 20, 2018

If you must write, you must do it in the face of all opposition… Do not spend too much more time on culture & reading, these are traps. When everything conspires to make the thing impossible, when you are tired, worried, with no time, or money, it is then that things get done.

Samuel Beckett
Letter to Claude Raimbourg, 3 May 1954

a questionable occupation

February 24, 2018

masks

For many decades now I have been a fiction writer, and from the first I was aware that mine was a questionable occupation. In the 1930s an elderly neighbour in Chicago told me that he wrote fiction for the pulps. “The people on the block wonder why I don’t go to a job, and I’m seen puttering around, trimming the bushes or painting a fence instead of working in a factory. But I’m a writer. I sell to Argosy and Doc Savage,” he said with a certain gloom. “They wouldn’t call that a trade.” Probably he noticed that I was a bookish boy, likely to sympathize with him, and perhaps he was trying to warn me to avoid being unlike others. But it was too late for that.

From the first, too, I had been warned that the novel was at the point of death, that like the walled city or the crossbow, it was a thing of the past. And no one likes to be at odds with history. Oswald Spengler, one of the most widely read authors of the early ’30s, taught that our tired old civilization was very nearly finished. His advice to the young was to avoid literature and the arts and to embrace mechanization and become engineers.

In refusing to be obsolete, you challenged and defied the evolutionist historians. I had great respect for Spengler in my youth, but even then I couldn’t accept his conclusions, and (with respect and admiration) I mentally told him to get lost.

Saul Bellow
Hidden Within Technology’s Kingdom, a Republic of Letters