On Time & Writing

28 11 2018

                                                                                                    PHOTO; centrum.org

Harnessing The Power Of TimeIn Your Storytelling

About a month ago, riding the train home from work, I looked up and through the window, the sky was low and turning to a dirty purple twilight.

Just before the train and all her tired and distracted passengers started the final narrow stretch to our station, past the smoke stacks of the coal power station and the factory that makes disposable baby nappies, for a few moments I watched thousands of tiny lights that were already on across the suburb below us, forming a shiny cheap-jewellery crust over an area of town houses, the malls, office parks.

It is still winter and where the lights stop, the grass starts and ripples towards the train window: dry, stripped of colour, patches burned black by veld fires.

What does time mean to you?

In those moments, just minutes really, shaken gently from side to side in my seat, between dusk and the lights, as the train rushed breathlessly through the last of the day, I was conscious of time—not as anything artificial and clear as the white digits on the face of an iPhone, but as something moving us all along, me along. Something moving within me, inside of me, even as it moved outside of me.

Time on its own tracks.

That night, coming home from work, time didn’t hold its usual terror for me.  I was content to just be carried along, too exhausted to fight. In many ways, those moments on the train helped me grasp the ‘ungraspable’ nature of time itself: that time is ‘now’, that it is behind us, in front of us, everywhere.  It’s just you moving, being moved, threaded invisibly through time.

It is hard to get your head around ‘time with a capital T’, from the fact that vast millennia existed before us to the idea that it will exist for millennia after us.

Read further @ Writers Write





Struggle with Fictional Characters

28 11 2018

                                                                     Illustration: Academic Life

How to develop engaging fictional characters

Creating fictional characters is a struggle for even the most experienced writer. Here, author and PWA and Faber Academy course director Tom Bromley offers tips and advice on creating engaging characters with unique voices and discusses questions such as whether they should be likeable and how many your story needs.

Wrestling with your fictional characters is a familiar pastime for experienced as well as new writers. It’s an ongoing struggle to create realistic characters who fulfill all the functions of story and resonate with the reader as real, engaging people.

Here, experienced author, ghost-writer and tutor on both Faber Academy and PWA courses Tom Bromley looks at the basics of writing characters, and suggests ways to form and maintain realistic, entertaining individuals to inhabit your a stories.

Read further @ Professional Writing Academy





Writing Advice of a SciFi Author

28 11 2018

                                                                                                   PHOTO: Tavistock Books

RAY BRADBURY’S GREATEST

WRITING ADVICE

“I’VE HAD A SIGN OVER MY TYPEWRITER FOR OVER 25 YEARS NOW: DON’T THINK!

Ray Bradbury, the greatest sci-fi writer in history, who (by no small coincidence) also happened to know a thing or two about writing. Like many American children, I grew up on Bradbury—”The Veldt” remains my favorite of his stories—but as I became a writer myself I began to cherish not just the great author’s work, but his attitude towards it. Bradbury loved writing. He took intense pleasure in it, and it shows on every page. This is, of course, not possible for everyone, but still, I find it to be a lovely antidote to all the hand-wringing and hair-tearing and sit-at-the-typewriter-and-bleeding contemporary writers seem to do (or claim to do, online or otherwise) these days. If that’s what happens when you write, Bradbury taught, find some other way to spend your time. Which is a pretty good tip. So now, without further ado, I present below an incomplete but illuminating collection of some more of Ray Bradbury’s very best writing advice.

Read further @ Literay Hub





Drink tea and get into the flow of writing

1 11 2018

                                                                                                      Photo: Stocksy

Put the kettle on: does a cuppa

beat writer’s block?

Research suggestions that drinking tea might help creativity have received endorsement from a number of successful novelists.

Being British, we have all seized on a report about how drinking tea improves creativity. The researchers – led by Yan Huang, from the Psychological and Cognitive Sciences Department of Peking University – recruited 50 students, who were assigned to two groups and given either tea or water to drink. The students were then given tests, the first being to build an “attractive” design with toy blocks, the second to come up with a “cool and attractive” name for a new ramen noodle restaurant. (“An example of a name that received a low innovativeness score is Ramen Family, and an example of a name that received a high score is No Ramen Here.”)

Those who drank tea performed better in both – and so the humble beverage has been hailed as a means to combat writers’ block by the Telegraph. The researchers don’t go that far – and indeed, the creativity of the participants is called somewhat into question by the detail that the academics had to delete more than 200 suggested restaurant names for containing only the word Ramen, or for including location names. Perhaps it was down to the kind of tea they gave them: it was black, and Lipton (the horror).

Read further @ The Guardian





Learn to Write a Short Story

1 11 2018

How to Write a Short Story from Start to Finish

To some extent, the process for writing a story is different each time. In the introduction to American Gods, Neil Gaiman quotes Gene Wolfe, who told him, “You never learn how to write a novel. You only learn to write the novel you’re on.”

This is true for short stories as well.

And yet, there are certain patterns to writing a short story, patterns I think everyone follows in their own haphazard way. I’ll call them steps, but they’re more like general paths that may or may not apply to your story. Still, it’s these patterns that I want to present to you in hopes it will make your own short story writing easier.

Read further @ The Writer Practice





Fiction & Your Loved Ones

30 09 2018

                                                                                                        Photo: Literary Hub

WHEN WRITING FICTION HURTS THE PEOPLE YOU LOVE

I was sitting in the Science Center Library, reading Paradise Lost. This was in the late 1970s, when I was an English major at Harvard. There are famously gorgeous libraries at Harvard, but I preferred to sit in one of the uglier spaces, beneath buzzing fluorescent lights, with calculators clicking all around me. I was unlikely to run into anyone I knew in the Science Center, though there was no reason for me to be so furtive. It’s just the way I am, habitually keeping to myself. Private and solitary.

I came to the end of the poem. Adam and Eve, our guilty parents, cast out of the garden. But then: “The world was all before them, where to choose / Their place of rest. . . They, hand in hand, with wandering steps and slow, / Through Eden took their solitary way.” The lines hit a nerve and I burst into tears. Loud, gulpy, snot-filled sobs. In the middle of the Science Center, for everyone to hear. I could not stop. I sat in that cubicle and wept and wept.

Guilt has always moved me. I imagine the pain someone must have been in to do whatever awful thing he did and want him to have another chance. Such possibly kind, possibly stupid empathy is useful for a writer, but it’s not the whole story. My mother was a war survivor and I inherited her unspoken guilt at having made it out alive, but that doesn’t fully explain it, either. I feel guilty for being a fiction writer. I’m not referring to the self-doubt many of us feel about making up stories while the world burns. I’m talking about the suffering we cause by writing.

The beauty of fiction lies in the way a story—regardless of plot or setting—communicates to a reader, I am with you. I felt as if Milton had known me hundreds of years before I was born, had known and understood everything I was going to do and was letting me know, the world is still before you. That compassionate recognition, acceptance, love, from an author is why we keep reading, even when we have Netflix to entertain us.

Read further @ Literary Hub





The Fiction Writer as Ethnographer

5 09 2018

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THE STORY COLLECTOR, OR,
HOW NOT TO WRITE A NOVEL
AYSEGÜL SAVAS ON THE FICTION WRITER AS ETHNOGRAPHER

On Friday evenings, Sergei Sergeevich rounded us up from campus in his pickup truck and drove us to the white, wooden house at the edge of a lake. It had scalloped eaves, a porch with rocking chairs; it was straight out of a Russian tale.

Inside, the furnace would be lit. Fugi and Ella, his black Labradors, rambled around in a frenzy. We heard the sound of Sergei Sergeevich’s wife, Dieuwke, playing the cello in the study.

Sergei Sergeevich filled our glasses and put us to work—rolling out dough, folding pelmeni, catching fish from the lake. Once everything was in order, he went to the porch to smoke. If one of us followed him out, he quizzed us: Who did we like best in the group? Who did we have a crush on?

After dinner, we put the plates on the kitchen floor for the dogs to lick and went to the wood cabin behind the house. This was the banya, built by Sergei Sergeevich. If he was in a good mood, he played the accordion or guitar, passing around Russian folk songbooks. We put on the felt hats hanging on the walls, went in and out of the sauna, fell asleep on the wooden benches of the resting room, or went out to the garden to roll in the snow.

Sergei Sergeevich was my Russian professor in Middlebury, Vermont. He had a big mustache and small spectacles, a permanently stained wardrobe of thick shirts and fleece vests. He spoke languages as if he were playing with dough—stretching and folding, breaking words apart and putting them together in new combinations. He would take our class outside, right in the middle of verb conjugations, and roll himself a cigarette. Sometimes, he sent one of us to the dining hall to fetch him a glass of Mountain Dew.

He disliked most things socialist and all things insincere, and he could smell either in an instant. He knew at once whether he liked a person, a song, a poem, or a painting, and he knew even faster whether he disliked them. I wished for his discernment, to know at once what made something real, and worthy. I never took a literature class with him because I didn’t trust my judgment. I was afraid of saying something stupid and lose my standing in the banya group.

The group was made up of Bulgarian, Czech, Kazakh, and other Turkish students. Later, there were Iranians, a Hungarian, an Uzbek, Palestinian, and Latvian. It was a mythical time. In the white house, time unfolded like a story and was itself contained in stories. And with each gathering, our repertoire fattened and grew. There was the story of Fugi, the older, skinnier Lab, who was afraid of the banya because she’d been left inside one night by accident, and shrunk to half her size by the morning. There was the story of how Dieuwke and Sergei met on a flight from Europe to the U.S.; Sergei Sergeevich had performed a magic trick, involving a Queen of Spades. There were stories about all the students who’d come before us, each one with an epithet assigned by Sergei Sergeevich.

Read further @ Literary Hub





An Inside View on How to Tackle Writer’s Block

5 09 2018

                                                                                         PHOTO: screencraft,org

BEN MARCUS: WRITER’S BLOCK HAPPENS WHEN I’M BORING

THE AUTHOR OF NOTES FROM THE FOG ON CRAFT, JOY WILLIAMS, AND MORE

How do you tackle writer’s block?
Writer’s block, if that’s the name for it, happens when I am boring, when my mind is flat, when I have nothing to add to what has been said and done. Therefore it happens nearly all of the time. It happens when writing is an obligation and not a desire. And I really don’t mind. It’s not clear that I am meant to pump out writing at all costs. The opposite is true. The world will be just fine without anything I might write. Writing is not exactly a scarce resource. There is far too much out there that hasn’t been read enough. So I don’t try to solve this silence. To me it is necessary.

It is exhausting to be obsessed and driven and full of some pressing need to write—and it doesn’t happen very often. I also don’t write so sharply if I don’t care about what I’m doing, and caring is hard to fake. So, to me, writer’s block is a sign that I probably ultimately don’t give enough of a shit. This is my own flaw. I should care about more than I do. Or what I care about doesn’t fit so obviously inside the boundaries of what I consider fiction. Part of the beginning of any project is the discovery of what matters to me, followed by an attempt to conceive of it in terms of fiction. That’s what it is to start a project: engineering a set of delusions that the act of writing has consequence and simply must be done. When I’ve finished, it’s hard to believe that I ever could have cared so much, but I did, for a little while, and then it’s time to hunt down something new to care about and to hope that I have the ability to make it exist in fiction.

Read further @ Literary Hub





Writing Advice from a Great Writer

30 05 2018

ESSENTIAL WRITING ADVICE FROM
VIRGINIA WOOLF

“FOR HEAVEN’S SAKE, PUBLISH NOTHING BEFORE YOU ARE THIRTY.”

Who wouldn’t love to write like Virginia Woolf? (Well, some people, probably, but I’d wager not many of them are looking at this page.) Woolf was a once-in-a-generation mind, and as both a writer and publisher, she had strong opinions about what made a piece of literature great (or, more often, mediocre). Luckily for us, she wrote many of her ideas down, in some of the many essays and letters she penned over the course of her life. Below, I’ve collected a few of Woolf’s thoughts on craft and the art of the novel, as well as inspiring advice for aspiring writers and established writers alike. She is not quite as pithy as others when it comes to doling out advice—but I think her advice is all the better for it.

To write a novel, begin with character:

I believe that all novels begin with an old lady in the corner opposite. I believe that all novels, that is to say, deal with character, and that it is to express character—not to preach doctrines, sing songs, or celebrate the glories of the British Empire—that the form of the novel, so clumsy, verbose, and undramatic, so rich, elastic, and alive, has been evolved. —from the essay “Mr. Bennet and Mrs. Brown,” 1924.

Read further @ Literary Hub





An Extraordinary Demonstration of Narrative Dexterity

3 05 2018

THE CHALLENGE OF WRITING ACROSS
TIME AND VERNACULAR
Gregory Blake Smith in Conversation with Bonnie Nadzam

Gregory Blake Smith is author of The Maze at Windermere (Viking, January 2018), already critically acclaimed for its breathtaking scope and beauty. The Washington Post’s Ron Charles has called it “staggeringly brilliant… an extraordinary demonstration of narrative dexterity.” It is those things and more; it is timely, it is important, it made me cry and sit very still when I finished it, and it is among the best American novels I’ve ever read. I would say so even if Greg weren’t a former college professor of mine, and now friend. Among his other books, his novel The Divine Comedy of John Venner, was named a Notable Book of 1992 by The New York Times Book Review and his short story collection The Law of Miracles won the 2010 Juniper Prize for Fiction and the 2012 Minnesota Book Award.

Read further @ Literary Hub

 





Writing Advice by a Great Author

3 05 2018
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“INTUITION IS ESSENTIAL.” WRITING ADVICE FROM GABRIEL GARCÍA MÁRQUEZ

In the face of the literary world’s ongoing fetish for youth, I often like to remind myself that Gabriel García Márquez didn’t become famous until he was 40. That’s when he published his fourth novel, One Hundred Years of Solitude. Now, of course, he’s a household name, beloved for his storytelling ability and fantastical imagination (though as he’d tell you, everything in his most famous novel happened—somewhere, to someone). García Márquez is a master of storytelling, but he’s also a master of discipline: above all else, he put in the work. For that alone, we should all listen to his advice. So on the anniversary of his death, here is some collected literary wisdom from one of the all-time greats.

Read further @ Literary Hub

 





On the Art of Flash Fiction

13 04 2018

ON THE VERY CONTEMPORARY ART OF FLASH FICTION

Lord Chesterfield called the novel “a kind of abbreviation of a Romance.” Ian McEwan described the more compact novella as “the beautiful daughter of a rambling, bloated, ill-shaven giant.” William Trevor considered the short story “essential art.” Writing a story, he said, is infinitely harder than writing a novel, “but it’s infinitely more worthwhile.” And now we have the even shorter story, a form that was validated, if it needed to be, when Lydia Davis, whose stories are sometimes a sentence long, was awarded the 2013 Man Booker International Prize. In their citation, the judges said of Davis’s works: “Just how to categorize them? They have been called stories but could equally be miniatures, anecdotes, essays, jokes, parables, fables, texts, aphorisms or even apothegms, prayers or simply observations.”

The short-short story is narrative (or it’s not) that is distilled and refined, concentrated, layered, coherent, textured, stimulating, and resonant, and it may prove to be the ideal form of fiction for the 21st century, an age of shrinking attention spans and busy and distracted lives, in which our mobile devices connect us to the world as they simultaneously divert us from it. And on the screens of our smartphones and our iPads and our laptops, we can fit an entire work of flash fiction. It’s short but not shallow; it’s a reduced form used to represent a larger, more complex story; it’s pithy and cogent, brief and pointed, and like the gist of a recollected conversation, it offers the essential truth, if not all the inessential facts.

The market for flash fiction is extensive and it’s growing. A Google search for flash fiction markets nets 719,000 hits in .55 seconds. Duotrope lists 4,700 publications looking for flash fiction, and a few of those outlets publish 365 stories a year. Your chances of finding a home for your short-short story are considerably better than they are for your novel. What better way to break into the world of publishing, to get your name out there, to earn the endorsement of editors, to introduce your beloved characters to an appreciable number of readers? If your dream is to write a novel, consider that flash fiction might be your first small step. I learned to write novels by writing short stories and learned to write short stories by writing very short stories before they had a snappy name.

While flash fiction may be quickly read, it is not often quickly written. Henry David Thoreau wrote, “Not that the story need be long, but it will take a long while to make it short.” To be brief takes time. But the obvious fact is that it does take less time to write a short-short story than it does the longer forms. It might take years to write a novel (it does for me), months to write a story, but only weeks, maybe days, if you’re lucky, to write a very short story. And an occasional morsel of sweet short-term gratification won’t make you sick. Promise! With the end so close in sight, you are emboldened, and you learn to finish. If you don’t finish, you can’t revise, and if you don’t revise, you won’t learn to write.

Read further @ LitHub





6 02 2018

How the internet changed the way we write – and what to do about it

The usual evolution of English has been accelerated online, leading to a less formal – but arguably more expressive – language than the one we use IRL. So use those emojis wisely …

English has always evolved – that’s what it means to be a living language – and now the internet plays a pivotal role in driving this evolution. It’s where we talk most freely and naturally, and where we generally pay little heed to whether or not our grammar is “correct”.

Should we be concerned that, as a consequence, English is deteriorating? Is it changing at such a fast pace that older generations can’t keep up? Not quite. At a talk in 2013, linguist David Crystal, author of Internet Linguistics, said: “The vast majority of English is exactly the same today as it was 20 years ago.” And his collected data indicated that even e-communication isn’t wildly different: “Ninety per cent or so of the language you use in a text is standard English, or at least your local dialect.”

It’s why we can still read an 18th-century transcript of a speech George Washington gave to his troops and understand it in its entirety, and why grandparents don’t need a translator when sending an email to their grandchildren.

Read further @ The Guardian





The Rule is Don’t Write a Novel

12 01 2018

THE FIRST RULE OF NOVEL-WRITING IS DON’T WRITE A NOVEL

ELIZABETH PERCER: NINE NON-RULES FOR WRITING

If you’d asked me 15 years ago how I saw my future, I would tell you about all the hard work I’d put into earning my doctorate, about the post doc that promised me a way into a fantastic research opportunity; about the tenure track position I hoped to secure one day. I would tell you all this with a clenched jaw, a fierce smile, and a knot in my belly. Because although I’d spent most of my young life envisioning academic achievement as the pinnacle of success and fulfillment, these goals were forged from a lifetime of trying to measure up. I’d shoved my quirky, not particularly scientific self into a mold that suited my family of physicists, mathematicians, and software designers. But somehow along the way, in measuring myself against those I loved and admired, I forgot to check in to see if there was a form within me that was more essential and less shapely, to see if I had measures of my own to follow.

It wouldn’t be until after several life-altering events—most notably, the birth of my three children in somewhat rapid succession—that I would slowly relinquish my grasp on borrowed titles. Once liberated, however, I found myself in the distinctly uncomfortable position of realizing that original compositions are so much harder to develop than derivative ones, not least because they don’t have the same examples to follow.

Still, like any good academic, I tried for years to work at my writing the same way I’d worked at anything. I pushed myself. I was stern with myself. I created strict rules to follow and chastised myself when I didn’t follow them. When that didn’t work, I looked to experts, who told me that I needed to write for about the same time every day in the same place, or that I should seriously consider getting an MFA, or that I should seriously consider not getting an MFA, or who told me that only the most talented writers could succeed, or that true creative talent would never realize any kind of commercial success, or who told me I was too young, or too old. It’s no wonder that in looking for others to tell me how I needed to be, I got into the habit of showing up to my writing at the same time in the same place and freeze

1.  Don’t write a novel
2. Keep your publishing dreams in check
3. Writing doesn’t always look like writing
4. Books do not respond to timelines, spreadsheets, or graphs
5.  Make space for what comes
6.  Procrastinate
7.  Get to Know the Demons on Your Block
8.  Go Gentle into that Dark Night
9.  Don’t Neglect the Rest of You

Read further @ Literary Hub





HOW TO WRITE A CHILDREN’S BOOK

29 11 2017

If books are magic, then children’s books are an extra special brand of magic. The books we read as kids don’t just stick with us, they form who we are and what we believe and how we see the world. Writing a children’s book is a calling, but learning how to write a children’s book is also a very long process with nitty-gritty, non-magical details—and it’s full of variables. No two journeys are exactly the same, but if you’re an aspiring children’s book writer, here is a rough outline of how to go from idea to book!

STEP 1. READ A LOT

STEP 2. CRACK OPEN THAT NOTEBOOK AND GET TO WORK

STEP 3. BE PERSISTENT

STEP 4. CELEBRATE! THEN REVISE

STEP 5. BRING IN OTHER EYES

STEP 6. DO YOUR RESEARCH!

STEP 7. CRAFT A KILLER QUERY

STEP 8. CULTIVATE PATIENCE

STEP 9. CULTIVATE SOME MORE PATIENCE, BUT ALSO KEEP WRITING

STEP 10. WORK WITH EDITOR! AND MORE PATIENCE!

STEP 11. YOU HAVE A BOOK!

Read further @ BookRiot





Easy Steps to Become an Novelist

12 10 2017

HOW TO BECOME A NOVELIST IN
TEN EASY STEPS

1. Examine your motives
2. Arrange financing
3. Write a bad novella
4. Don’t publish the bad novella
5. Think of a plot and characters
6. Write your debut
7. Never worry about style
8. Get an agent
9. Sell it
10. Write another one

Read further @ Literary Hub





Creating Young Characters in Books

1 09 2017

AMITA TRASI AND CECILIA GALANTE ON WRITING YOUNG CHARACTERS

“I WANT TO EXPLORE THAT SIDE OF ADULTHOOD WHERE WE STILL HAVE THE CHILD WITHIN US”

Both Amita Trasi and Cecilia Galante explore difficult issues in their fiction through the experiences of young characters. Galante’s most recent book, The Odds of You and Me, features a young mother grappling with sexism and abuse. Trasi’s recently-published debut novel, The Color of our Sky, follows two childhood friends from entirely different worlds growing up in Mumbai. Below, they discuss how their lived experiences inform their storytelling, what dictates their audiences, and their favorite parts of the creative process. 

Read further @ LiteraryHub