Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four author George Orwell’s 109th birthday just passed, andThe Atlantic led us to an excerpt from the writer’s 1946 essay, Why I Write. The candid work reveals what Orwell believes are four explicit motives for writing. “They exist in different degrees in every writer, and in any one writer the proportions will vary from time to time, according to the atmosphere in which he is living,” he mused. For Orwell, writers put pen to paper — or these days, fingers to keyboard — out of “sheer egoism, aesthetic enthusiasm, historical impulse, and political purpose.” The essay examines how these motives influenced his own work, then boldly concludes the following: “I have made it appear as though my motives in writing were wholly public-spirited. I don’t want to leave that as the final impression. All writers are vain, selfish, and lazy, and at the very bottom of their motives there lies a mystery.”
An interesting graphic found at Amanda Patterson on Tumblr:
Reading Like a Writer is a clarion call for aspiring writers to do that most simple, time-consuming but enjoyable thing: their homework.
That sounds like good advice (probably because I claim to do my homework). As for grammar, I do like to use sentence fragments, particularly in dialog.
Recommended to me by Hazel Taylor at Onlinephdprograms.com, here is a link to “What 50 Famous Authors Want Us to Know About the Writing Process.” I’m not at all certain that they were dying to tell us these things, but being writers, sharing such thoughts tend to come naturally, and this is a nice compendium of advice assembled by Ms. Taylor.
A short list to help anyone get to the point, from write to done, an interesting site full of articles on writing—a nice find.
In a WSJ article, Wanna Sell a Million Books? James W. Hall tells us how. Here are a couple excerpts:
If you want to make the big money in fiction, don’t skimp on the friction—especially the sexual, spiritual and political varieties—and go light on the navel-gazing…
Job one, Mr. Hall writes, is to hook readers quickly, perhaps by having a naked young woman chomped in half by a shark or a man murdered by an albino monk, or by flashing some thigh (and perhaps adjacent real estate). Once hooked, customers must be goaded to keep turning the pages, the quicker the better. If they hesitate, you are lost.
The suppression of literature is an ancient tradition that probably started with the invention of writing and which thrives today all over the world. In the west we generally venerate those authors who stand up against acts of silencing by the authorities. But what are we to think when an author suppresses himself?
Goodness, I suppressed a good bit of my novel—threw out forty pages of my little darlings early in the process—then all the rewrites and editing. I’ve not gone as far as the writers mentioned in the article, however, but then I’m not yet a sensitive and famous author.
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.”
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.
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: