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QUOTE OF THE DAY

Monday
Oct162017

Write Stories That Please Yourself

I'll give you the sole secret of short-story writing, and here it is: Rule 1. Write stories that please yourself. There is no rule 2. The technical points you can get from Bliss Perry. If you can't write a story that pleases yourself, you will never please the public. But in writing the story forget the public.

O. HENRY

Sunday
Oct152017

It's Going to Be Bad

At some point you’re going to say, “It’s going to be bad.” You’ve got to stand being bad if you want to be a writer, because if you don’t, you’ll never do anything good.

DAVID MAMET

Saturday
Oct142017

Spend Some Time Living Before You Start Writing

Spend some time living before you start writing. What I find to be very bad advice is the snappy little sentence, “Write what you know.” It is the most tiresome and stupid advice that could possibly be given. If we write simply about what we know we never grow. We don't develop any facility for languages, or an interest in others, or a desire to travel and explore and face experience head-on. We just coil tighter and tighter into our boring little selves. What one should write about is what interests one.

ANNIE PROULX

Friday
Oct132017

Kaizen

The Japanese term kaizen translates literally to improvement, but it’s a term that has come to mean gradual, continuous improvement of a piece of collaborative work. It’s most commonly associated with manufacturing operations, but I think it has general application to almost everything, including writing. In companies that implement kaizen, workers look continuously for small improvements that can be implemented immediately. The philosophy was developed to adjust the work process from its traditional practices, back when making a new iteration of something was laborious and had to be done all at once. But now that writing can take place digitally, kaizen effectively removes the idea of the draft from the work process. In kaizen, there’s no need to finish a draft before you can go back to the first sentence and start revising it again. There are no drafts. There is only kaizen. After some duration of continuous work, the piece is done. And that finished piece is the only artifact of all that work.

SARAH MANGUSO

Thursday
Oct122017

There Are No Rules

There are no rules. It’s amazing how willing people are to tell you that you aren’t a real writer unless you conform to their clichés and their rules. My advice? Reject rules and critics out of hand. Define yourself. Do it your way. Make yourself the writer of your dreams.

ANNE RICE

Wednesday
Oct112017

If Only...

At every stage of writing a book, there is a sense of If only … If only I could find the time to write and if only I could figure out the third chapter and if only I could get my book finished. If only I could find an agent. If only some editor would buy my book. If only I could get a good publicist. If only the book would get reviewed. If only they would do more promotion. If only it would sell. It goes on like this forever, until you’re ready to start another book and kick off the cycle all over again.

ANN PATCHETT

Tuesday
Oct102017

Put a Bomb Under the Bed

My policy is to begin a story as late as possible, using flashback. But if you can open with, “He reached out for Steve’s throat,” and then pull back for the dispute, about why we were arguing. Hitchcock said, “You put the bomb under the bed.” You know that story?

“Mr. Hitchcock, how long do you hold a kiss on the screen?” some idiot student asked him a question at a film school. Hitchcock said, “Oh, I would say twenty, twenty-five minutes.”

“That’s a helluva long kiss, Mr. Hitchcock.”

“Yes, but first of all I would put a bomb under the bed.”

JOHN LE CARRÉ

Monday
Oct092017

Fine Writing Can Be Off-Putting

Fine writing does not necessarily make a fine novel; you have concentrated so much on your undoubted skill at manipulating the English language you have forgotten the need for a developing story, a satisfactory beginning, middle and end. You have lost your reader in a welter of remarkable similes and striking metaphors. Readers are quick to pick up whether you are trying to communicate with them to the best of your skill and ability, or just showing off. The very density of fine writing can be off-putting — it's exhausting. If you're going to do it, at least put in lots of paragraphs.

FAY WELDON

Sunday
Oct082017

Whatever Works

Rules such as “Write what you know,” and “Show, don’t tell,” while doubtlessly grounded in good sense, can be ignored with impunity by any novelist nimble enough to get away with it. There is, in fact, only one rule in writing fiction: Whatever works, works.

TOM ROBBINS

Saturday
Oct072017

Have a Good Time

The main thing for me, always, is to give myself a good time at the desk. It’s based on the very straightforward assumption that if I’m having a good time, the beloved reader at the end of the process will be having a good time too.

KEVIN BARRY

Friday
Oct062017

A Lot of the Process Is Just Thinking

I work virtually all day, every day. I come out after breakfast and I work until lunchtime, then I go in, get a bite to eat, come back out and work for the rest of the day. I’m not typing, not writing on the typewriter all that time. If you were to walk by in the field behind there and you looked in the window, you’d think, “Well, that guy’s just sitting in there daydreaming.” But an awful lot of the process is just thinking.

DAVID McCULLOUGH

Thursday
Oct052017

Novels Are Compendiums of Bad Behavior

I’ve seen plenty of students come in and say, I want to write a novel about blah blah blah. But you just can’t do it. You can only write a novel about a character who does something wrong, and see what happens from there. Novels are compendiums of bad behavior, and literature is the gossip about it. In other words, if you’re writing a piece of fiction, I’d urge you not to try to show anything—instead, try to discover something.

ETHAN CANIN

Wednesday
Oct042017

Good Writing is Coco Chanel's Little Black Dress

Good writing is Coco Chanel’s little black dress, but –ly­ adverbs are women who wear too much jewelry and pin flowers in their hair. I like to rip them, tear them, strip them off until there’s nothing left but sleek, chic verbs.

FLORENCE KING

Tuesday
Oct032017

Art Engenders Empathy

The ultimate way in which art can be political is if it engenders empathy, which is the thing that politicians can’t seem to do. If you feel like you know someone because you’ve spent two hours chronicling their life and story or you’ve seen some movie that gets you under your skin and in your heart, you can’t dismiss them as Other anymore.

LIN-MANUEL MIRANDA

Monday
Oct022017

Forget Taking Notes

If you want to capture ideas, you are lost. You are going to be detached from emotions and forget to live your life. You will be an observer and not a human being living his or her life. Forget taking notes. What is important remains, what is not important goes away.

PAULO COELHO

Sunday
Oct012017

Make the Verb Do the Work

In the end it’s ironing the stuff. Getting out anything that’s extraneous. I don’t use adjectives if I can possibly get away with it. I don’t use adverbs. I try to make the verb do the work.

JOHN LE CARRÉ

Saturday
Sep302017

Don't Rely on Memory

Whatever you do, don’t rely on memory. Don’t even imagine that you will be able to remember verbatim in the evening what people said during the day. And don’t squirrel notes in a bathroom—that is, run off to the john and write surreptitiously what someone said back there with the cocktails. From the start, make clear what you are doing and who will publish what you write. Display your notebook as if it were a fishing license. While the interview continues, the notebook may serve other purposes, surpassing the talents of a tape recorder. As you scribble away, the interviewee is, of course, watching you. Now, unaccountably, you slow down, and even stop writing, while the interviewee goes on talking. The interviewee becomes nervous, tries harder, and spills out the secrets of a secret life, or maybe just a clearer and more quotable version of what was said before. Conversely, if the interviewee is saying nothing of interest, you can pretend to be writing, just to keep the enterprise moving forward.

JOHN McPHEE

Friday
Sep292017

Writing Should Always Be Exploratory

Writing should always be exploratory. There shouldn’t be the assumption that you know ahead of time what you want to express. When you enter into the dance with language, you’ll begin to find that there’s something before, or behind, or more absolute than the thing you thought you wanted to express. And as you work, other kinds of meaning emerge than what you might have expected. It’s like wrestling with the angel: On the one hand you feel the constraints of what can be said, but on the other hand you feel the infinite potential. There’s nothing more interesting than language and the problem of trying to bend it to your will, which you can never quite do. You can only find what it contains, which is always a surprise.

MARILYNNE ROBINSON

Thursday
Sep282017

Don't Tie It Up Too Neatly

Gogol said that the last line of every story was: “And nothing would ever be the same again.” Nothing in life ever really begins in one single place, and nothing ever truly ends. But stories have at least to pretend to finish. Don’t tie it up too neatly. Don’t try too much. Often the story can end several paragraphs before, so find the place to use your red pencil. Print out several versions of the last sentence and sit with them. Read each version over and over. Go with the one that you feel to be true and a little bit mysterious. Don’t tack on the story’s meaning. Don’t moralize at the end. Don’t preach that final hallelujah. Have faith that your reader has already gone with you on a long journey. They know where they have been. They know what they have learned. They know already that life is dark. You don’t have to flood it with last-minute light.

COLUM McCANN

Wednesday
Sep272017

Infinite Pity

Infinite pity, I think, is the proper attitude to have towards your characters. Not pity in the way we mostly tend to understand it—which is the condescension of a superior looking down at an inferior and feeling sorry for them…. It’s a much more self-implicating pity, where you see and understand the tragic and routine flaws people have, the ways in which your characters fall short of the marks they set for themselves—just as you fall short of the marks you set for yourself.

MICHAEL CHABON