Writing Advice From History’s Fastest, Most Prolific Authors

From the Atlantic:

John Updike, Muriel Spark, and Christopher Hitchens on how to pen your next best-selling novel


I could relate to everyone’s advice except Muriel Spark’s “get a cat.”


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‘They’re, Like, Way Ahead of the Linguistic Currrrve’

The New York Times just published an article with the above title that tries to convince the reader how young women are trendsetters in vocal patterns, pioneers in stylistic trends. How sad—we can now all speak like a valley girl.

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Audio Books

From n + 1, a thoughtful essay on “Listening to Books” by Maggie Gram. An excerpt:

Some authors still disdain audio books, too, although the extra income is hard to turn down. (Audio book sales account for somewhere between 5 and 10 percent of the total book publishing market, and authors stand to make real money from them.) And then for every anti-audio book novelist there are several anti-audio book critics. The essayist Sven Birkerts claims that all good reading involves self-mediation, effort, “collaboration” between the reader and the book, whereas audio books “determine” everything—“pace, timbre, inflection”—for the “captive listener.” The blogger and critic Scott Esposito is less careful to mask his snobbery: “Don’t go pretending like you’re some kind of big-time reader because you consumed the complete works of Balzac via mp3. No, you’re some guy who listened to an iPod while cooking dinner.” And when a New York Times reporter asked Harold Bloom a couple of years ago what he thought of audio books, the great Yale humanist told her that “deep reading really demands the inner ear as well as the outer ear.” It requires, he continued, the use of “that part of you which is open to wisdom. You need the text in front of you.” This sounds to me somewhat peculiar, but a lot of people basically agree with it. They believe that whatever part of you is “open to wisdom” is a part that can be activated only through the eyes.

Unless, of course, you are blind. In which case everything is obviously completely totally different.

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A New, Noisier Way of Writing

From The New York Times:

Like many writers, Jonathan Franzen is a serious believer in isolation. He has declared it “doubtful that anyone with an Internet connection at his workplace is writing good fiction.” He has claimed to write behind soundproof walls and double-pane windows, lights off, blindfolded, earplugged and earmuffed.

This idea of the island writer — secluded, in but not of the world, aloofly authoritative — is old and enduring. And that endurance is remarkable, for in general these are dire times for remote priesthoods claiming special access to the Truth.

In field after field, the information authorities face disruption, with new equations of power replacing the old. Newspapers are learning to let readers talk back. Now that enthusiasts have made a reference work out of Wikipedia, encyclopedias are allowing their audience to write them. Companies are discovering that they must “engage” with their customers, not just advertise at them.

What do these new equations of influence — the shift from “power over” to “power with” others, as some describe it — mean for the writer? For in this and other ways, modern life challenges the picture of the writer-as-island.

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A darned good upbringing…

Frank Wilson, of Books INQ. The Epilogue, used the above title in referencing an old blog post of mine called Originsan essay written years ago, then slightly updated in 2010, which reveals where some of the themes in my novel Waiting for Zoë originated.

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What does science fiction tell us about the future of reproductive rights?

From io9, State-controlled reproduction is a nightmare, with appropriate references to Margaret Atwood’s, The Handmaid’s Tale, a wonderful book I reviewed early last year, Brave New World, and Philip K. Dick‘s short story called, The Pre-Persons, that pro-choice activists hated. The piece briefly covers the issue of child-rearing and abortion, and while the author seems to have agenda, it’s a fascinating read. And of course, some of the commenters bring up China’s One Child Policy and population control.

My take on it? I refer to an old interview with Margaret Atwood, discussing The Handmaid’s Tale,

Any power structure will co-opt the views of its opponents, to sugarcoat the pill. The regime gives women some things the women’s movement says they want—control over birth, no pornography—but there’s a price. If you were going to put in a repressive regime, how would you do it?… Anyone who wants power will try to manipulate you by appealing to your desires and fears, and sometimes your best instincts. Women have to be a little cautious about that kind of appeal to them. What are we being asked to give up?

It’s a good question for us all: When we vote for some new government program that will supposedly benefit our lives, just what have we given up that was trivialized or that nobody even identified? Science fiction has a way of giving us hints to possible futures.

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E-books Can’t Burn

From the New York Review of Books, an article by Tim Parks:

Interviewed after winning England’s Costa Prize for Literature in late January, the distinguished novelist Andrew Miller remarked that while he assumed that soon most popular fiction would be read on screen, he believed and hoped that literary fiction would continue to be read on paper. In his Man Booker Prize acceptance speech last October, Julian Barnes made his own plea for the survival of printed books. Jonathan Franzen has also declared himself of the same faith. At the university where I work, certain professors, old and young, will react with disapproval at the notion that one is reading poetry on a Kindle. It is sacrilege.

Are they right?

It is clear when reading the entire article at the link, that the author likes e-books and some of the comments are quite passionate on the subject. My take is that it really isn’t something to either “love” or “hate.” I have a Kindle, read from it, and I have books and read them—both methods perfectly acceptable and rewarding.

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The Great American Novel

Roger Kimball’s essay sub-titled, Will there ever be another? had me intrigued since I recently published my first novel, Waiting for Zoë. Kimball’s piece is worth reading. I particularly enjoyed his reference to T.S. Eliot, Plato, Socrates, and that wonderful cynic, Schopenhauer. An example:

At the end of the Phaedrus, Plato has Socrates tell the story of the god Theuth, who, legend has it, invented the art of writing. When Theuth presented his new invention to the king of Egypt, he promised the king that it would make his people “wiser and improve their memories.” But the king disagreed, claiming that the habit of writing, far from improving memories, would “implant forgetfulness” by encouraging people to rely on external marks rather than “the living speech graven in the soul.” I think of Schopenhauer’s observation about the perils of excessive reading: Just as he who always rides gradually forgets how to walk, so he who reads constantly without pausing to reflect “gradually loses the capacity for thinking.”

“Such is the case,” said Schopenhauer, “with many scholars; they have read themselves stupid.”

Well, reading ourselves stupid is perhaps not our largest educational problem today. And in any case, none of us would wish to do without writing—or computers, come to that. Nor, I think, would Plato have wanted us to. (Though he would probably have been severe about television: That bane of intelligence could have been ordered up specially to illustrate Plato’s idea that most people inhabit a kind of existential “cave” in which they mistake flickering images for realities.) Plato’s indirect comments—through the mouth of Socrates recounting an old story he picked up somewhere—have less to do with writing (an art, after all, in which Plato excelled) than with the priority of immediate experience: the “living speech graven in the soul.” Plato may have been an idealist. But here as elsewhere he appears as an apostle of vital, firsthand experience: a realist in the deepest sense of the term.

It makes me think of the heroes in my book—people with a strong sense of who they are, and while some of them read books and write, they also knew about paying attention to living in the present moment and nurturing one’s soul.

(Hat tip: Instapundit)

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Less is Best

From The Chronicle of Higher Education, Giving and Getting Constructive Criticism, by Marybeth Gasman:

I’ve been thinking about constructive criticism–the kind we give to graduate students or mentees–and how they receive it. Over the past few years I’ve noticed a bit of push back from students and mentees. My faculty friends and colleagues have told me they get the same kind of push back. Now, don’t misunderstand me, there is nothing wrong with push back–you have to stand up for what you believe. However, I’ve watched individuals struggle and have difficulty with their job search while neglecting to follow any of the advice their mentors have given them. Sometimes these students are headstrong. Other times they are convinced that they know what is best and that they know how to build a faculty career. Here are a few examples:

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Writing Advice

From Frank Wilson, linking to Issa’s Untidy Hut: Advice for Aspiring Writers: Neil Gaiman Quoting Alan Watts and Reactions to Watts on Writing: a Reader Generated Post, with references to Charles Bukowski (“Don’t try”) in both.

Enjoyable reading, if you are a writer.

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