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.

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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.

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Writing Advice by a Great Author

3 05 2018
                                                                                                                                                                    PHOTO: aljazeera.com

“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.

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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.

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Why Salter Writes

29 11 2017

JAMES SALTER: WHY I WRITE

AN AMERICAN MASTER ON THE ORIGINS OF HIS CRAFT

“To write! What a marvelous thing!” When he was old and forgotten, living in a rundown house in the dreary suburbs of Paris, Léautaud wrote these lines. He was unmarried, childless, alone. The world of the theater in which he had worked as a critic for years was now dark for him, but from the ruins of his life these words rose. To write!

One thinks of many writers who might have said this, Anne Sexton, even though she committed suicide, or Hemingway or Virginia Woolf, who both did also, or Faulkner, scorned in his rural town, or the wreckage that was Fitzgerald in the end. The thing that is marvelous is literature, which is like the sea, and the exaltation of being near it, whether you are a powerful swimmer or wading by the shore. The act of writing, though often tedious, can still provide extraordinary pleasure. For me that comes line by line at the tip of a pen, which is what I like to write with, and the page on which the lines are written, the pages, can be the most valuable thing I will ever own.

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Reflections on the Rich Language of Fantasy

29 10 2017

ON THE 13 WORDS THAT MADE ME A WRITER
SOFIA SAMATAR REFLECTS ON THE RICH LANGUAGE OF FANTASY

There was a library and it is ashes. Let its long length assemble.

These words made me a writer.

When I was in middle school, my mother brought home a used paperback copy of Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast. “I thought this looked like something you might like,” she said.

At the time, I was an avid fantasy fan, but also an increasingly tired and gloomy reader. Driven by an early love for J.R.R. Tolkien and Ursula K. Le Guin, I had exhausted the fantasy shelves at my school and downtown libraries in just a few years, and my only remaining source of new books, in those pre-Internet days, was Waldenbooks at the local mall. There I wandered every Saturday with my allowance in my pocket. One weekend I was lucky enough to discover Labrador by Kathryn Davis, which was shelved among the commercial fantasies either by mistake or through some audacious genre-busting among the staff. Most of the time, though, I read disappointing books looking for something good. I had been to Mirkwood Forest, so I read books full of watered-down Mirkwoods, wondering why the feeling was not the same. I had heard the terrifying words uttered among the Tombs of Atuan: She is eaten. And so I paged through paint-by-numbers landscapes and twee rhyming prophecies, searching in vain for the feeling I called fantasy.

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Out Now! BookIsh Plaza eZine SEPTEMBER 2017

1 09 2017

The SEPTEMBER issue of BookIsh Plaza eZine is out now!
BookIsh Plaza is your online bookshop for (Dutch)Caribbean literature.

In this issue:

·        Folklore from Aruba, Bonaire & Curaçao
·        Cuba on our Literary Mind
·        Dutch Caribbean Authors not know in the Caribbean
·        And much more ……….

Read & share the eZine. The next one will appear in September.

BOOKISH PLAZA eZINE nr.64 SEPTEMBER 2017

Visit BookIsh Plaza for our New Arrivals!