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A scrapbook of stuff I'm reading / looking at / listening to / thinking about...



Posts tagged "writing"

Sep 30, 2014
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Very few of us are born into homes where we see true examples of the artistic temperament, and since artists do certainly conduct their lives—necessarily—on a different pattern from the average man of business, it is very easy to misunderstand what he does and why he does it when we see it from the outside. The picture of the artist as a monster made up of one part vain child, one part suffering martyr, and one part boulevardier is a legacy to us from the last century, and a remarkably embarrassing inheritance. There is an earlier and healthier idea of the artist than that, the idea of the genius as a man more versatile, more sympathetic, more studious than his fellows, more catholic in his tastes, less at the mercy of the ideas of the crowd.
— Dorothea Brande, Becoming A Writer, 1934

Sep 29, 2014
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Monty Python on novel writing

In this sketch from Monty Python’s 1973 album, “Matching Tie and Handkerchief,” a crowd gathers to watch Thomas Hardy begin his latest novel, The Return of the Native, while an announcer provides a running commentary.

Here’s poet Wislawa Szymborska in her Nobel Lecture, talking about how the lives of artists or scientists can make great films, but not poets:

But poets are the worst. Their work is hopelessly unphotogenic. Someone sits at a table or lies on a sofa while staring motionless at a wall or ceiling. Once in a while this person writes down seven lines only to cross out one of them fifteen minutes later, and then another hour passes, during which nothing happens … Who could stand to watch this kind of thing?

(Source: youtube.com)

Sep 28, 2014
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#firstlinelastline: Mashup the first line of a novel with the last line of another

Yesterday Matt Thomas tweeted a mashup of the first line from The Old Man and the Sea and the last line of The Great Gatsby. Then he tweeted one with the first line of Moby-Dick and the last line of Gravity’s Rainbow. I thought this mashup needed to become a genre, so I gave it a hashtag: #firstlinelastline

Some of the results are really fun. An easy way to get started is to look at these lists of 100 Best First Lines and 100 Best Closing Lines.

Tweet out your own and use the hashtag! #firstlinelastline

UPDATE: Oh, what the heck, let’s make it a Tumblr, too.

Sep 26, 2014
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Writer’s block is a modern notion. Writers have probably suffered over their work ever since they first started signing it, but it was not until the early nineteenth century that creative inhibition became an actual issue in literature, something people took into account when they talked about the art. That was partly because, around this time, the conception of the art changed. Before, writers regarded what they did as a rational, purposeful activity, which they controlled. By contrast, the early Romantics came to see poetry as something externally, and magically, conferred.

Sep 16, 2014
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My working process is no doubt much the same as yours and the same as many other people. The artistic process seems to be mythologized quite a lot into something far greater than it actually is. It is just hard labor… As anyone who actually writes knows, if you sit down and are prepared, then the ideas come. There’s a lot of different ways people explain that, but, you know, I find that if I sit down and I prepare myself, generally things get done.

Aug 31, 2014
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Aug 22, 2014
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Denis Johnson, Train Dreams: A Novella

Novellas hit a wonderful sweet spot, I think, and are perfect for Kindle/Kindle-on-iPhone reading. Anthony Doerr (my wife, I just realized, has his new novel on her nightstand) wrote this appreciation in the NYTimes:


  The novella runs 116 pages, and you can turn all of those pages in 90 minutes. In that hour and a half the whole crimped, swirling, haunted life of Robert Grainier rattles through the forests of your mind like the whistle of the Spokane International he hears so often in his dreams.
  
  In an 1842 review of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “Twice Told Tales,” Edgar Allan Poe said that apart from poetry, the form most advantageous for the exertion of “highest genius” was the “short prose narrative,” whose length he defined as taking “from a half-hour to one or two hours in its perusal.” Novels, Poe argued, were objectionable because they required a reader to take breaks.
  
  “Worldly interests intervening during the pauses of perusal,” he wrote, “modify, annul or counteract, in a greater or less degree, the impressions of the book.” Because you have to stop reading novels every now and then — to shower, to eat, to check your Twitter feed — their power weakens.
  
  Short stories and novellas on the other hand offer writers a chance to affect readers more deeply because a reader can be held in thrall for the entirety of the experience. They offer writers, in Poe’s phrasing, “the immense force derivable from totality.”


This was the first Denis Johnson book I’ve read (I know, I know), and it’s the 3rd good novella I’ve read this year (added to Sleep Donation and The Sense Of An Ending).

Thanks to @robinsloan for the recommendation!

Filed under: my reading year 2014

Denis Johnson, Train Dreams: A Novella

Novellas hit a wonderful sweet spot, I think, and are perfect for Kindle/Kindle-on-iPhone reading. Anthony Doerr (my wife, I just realized, has his new novel on her nightstand) wrote this appreciation in the NYTimes:

The novella runs 116 pages, and you can turn all of those pages in 90 minutes. In that hour and a half the whole crimped, swirling, haunted life of Robert Grainier rattles through the forests of your mind like the whistle of the Spokane International he hears so often in his dreams.

In an 1842 review of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “Twice Told Tales,” Edgar Allan Poe said that apart from poetry, the form most advantageous for the exertion of “highest genius” was the “short prose narrative,” whose length he defined as taking “from a half-hour to one or two hours in its perusal.” Novels, Poe argued, were objectionable because they required a reader to take breaks.

“Worldly interests intervening during the pauses of perusal,” he wrote, “modify, annul or counteract, in a greater or less degree, the impressions of the book.” Because you have to stop reading novels every now and then — to shower, to eat, to check your Twitter feed — their power weakens.

Short stories and novellas on the other hand offer writers a chance to affect readers more deeply because a reader can be held in thrall for the entirety of the experience. They offer writers, in Poe’s phrasing, “the immense force derivable from totality.”

This was the first Denis Johnson book I’ve read (I know, I know), and it’s the 3rd good novella I’ve read this year (added to Sleep Donation and The Sense Of An Ending).

Thanks to @robinsloan for the recommendation!

Filed under: my reading year 2014

Aug 21, 2014
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1946 LIFE magazine profile of Margaret Wise Brown

My kid really loves Little Fur Family and Goodnight, Moon, both of which are actually really strange books, so I wanted to learn a little bit more about the author. Turns out she was pretty wild herself:

She was a lovely green-eyed blonde, extravagant and a little eccentric; with her first royalty check, she bought a street vendor’s entire cart full of flowers, and then threw a party at her Upper East Side apartment to show off her purchase. She was a prolific author, writing nearly a hundred picture books under several pen names and sometimes keeping six different publishers busy at once with her projects. She was known to produce a book just so she could buy a plane ticket to Europe.

She was also a real student of children and their responses to literature:

Brown wanted to become a writer as a young woman, and she once took a creative writing class from Gertrude Stein. But she had a hard time coming up with story ideas, so she went into education. She got a job at an organization called the Bureau of Educational Experiments, researching the way that children learn to use language. What she found was that children in the earliest stage of linguistic development relish language with patterns of sound and fixed rhythms. She also found that young children have a special attachment to words for objects they can see and touch, like shoes and socks and bowls and bathtubs.

Goodnight, Moon, btw, was not an instant bestseller:

The influential New York Public Library gave it a terrible review, and it didn’t sell as well as some of Brown’s other books in its first year. But parents were amazed at the book’s almost hypnotic effect on children, its ability to calm them down before bed. Brown thought the book was successful because it helped children let go of the world around them piece by piece, just before turning out the light and falling asleep.

Parents recommended the book to each other, and it slowly became a word-of-mouth best-seller. It sold about 1,500 copies in 1953, 4,000 in 1955, 8,000 in 1960, 20,000 in 1970; and by 1990 the total number of copies sold had reached more than four million.

Aimee Bender recently wrote a piece on what writers can learn from Goodnight, Moon:

"Goodnight Moon" does two things right away: It sets up a world and then it subverts its own rules even as it follows them. It works like a sonata of sorts, but, like a good version of the form, it does not follow a wholly predictable structure. Many children’s books do, particularly for this age, as kids love repetition and the books supply it. They often end as we expect, with a circling back to the start, and a fun twist. This is satisfying but it can be forgettable. Kids - people - also love depth and surprise, and "Goodnight Moon" offers both.

Though she was so prolific, the story of her death at 42 is extremely sad: a nurse asked her how she was feeling post-surgery — to show her how good she felt, Brown kicked her leg up like a can-can dancer, dislodged a blood clot in her brain, and died.

Aug 15, 2014
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I don’t want input, I don’t want you to tell me if I’m doing anything wrong, heavens forbid. But I write a scene, and I think I’ve heard it as much as I can, but then when I read it to you … I hear it through your ears, and it lets me know I’m on the right track.

Aug 14, 2014
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Get someone else to read your story to you. Many say read your work out loud and this does help but I believe you still hear in your head what you wanted to write. When someone else reads it you stop hearing what you wanted to say and hear exactly what you’ve written.
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