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

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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