Posts tagged “writing”
Norwegian crime writer Jo Nesbø, on striking while the iron is hot:
When you write, it’s important to do it while you have the enthusiasm for the idea. Maybe the most important period of your writing is when you are convinced that your idea is the best idea any writer ever has had. So you have to use that energy, because the time will come when you wake up in the morning and you will doubt your idea. And then it’s good that you have already more than half–
I write better long form pieces if I've sat on them for a while to think the core ideas through, but for other projects this is completely spot on to me—I need to get better at making time to sit down and execute those kinds of projects (even if it's just in rudimentary ways) instead of just jotting my ideas down and promptly forgetting about them.
Seeing this in my Twitter stream just now was a very helpful kick in the butt as I've been avoiding finishing an email for months now to a friend who's asked me what I think about his first novel, for fear of being a dick.
I'm torn between being completely honest, as he's asked me to be—and as friends and employers know to expect whenever they ask for my opinion on something—and knowing there's nothing to be done about the things I disliked even if I convince him of my POV because it's already printed and comes out soon. I loved the book, so why be a dick? His argument is it'll be something to consider for the next novel, but my inner Admiral Ackbar says this is a trap. What to do?
[ via amishrobot ]
I've never thought myself much of a romantic, and I don't think anyone who knows me well would either, but then how else would you explain my fervent teenage belief in writer's block? My first full-time job, writing for high profile, very high traffic site, quickly disabused me of this notion, as we were all expected to produce twelve pieces minimum each every single day. It was excruciating, and I was pretty unhappy at the time, but it cured me of ever thinking I couldn't sit down on any given day and chip away at something. 
Anyway, as a lifelong knowledge worker whose friends are mostly lifelong knowledge workers, I've always found Henry Miller's commandments (from Henry Miller on Writing to be helpful. (I'm still not as productive as I'm capable of day-to-day, nor as prolific as I should be, but I do get better year after year at working with pleasure!)
- Work on one thing at a time until finished.
- Start no more new books, add no more new material to "Black Spring."
- Don't be nervous. Work calmly, joyously, recklessly on whatever is in hand.
- Work according to Program and not according to mood. Stop at the appointed time!
- When you can't create you can work.
- Cement a little every day, rather than add new fertilizers.
- Keep human! See people, go places, drink if you feel like it.
- Don't be a draught-horse! Work with pleasure only.
- Discard the Program when you feel like it—but go back to it the next day. Concentrate. Narrow down. Exclude.
- Forget the books you want to write. Think only of the book you are writing.
- Write first and always. Painting, music, friends, cinema, all these come afterwards.
Bonus! People share Miller's commandments all the time, but the next section is just as important to work/life balance, especially for freelancers—and most especially for introvert work-at-home freelancers such as myself, for whom making the time to socialize can require a lot of effort.
If groggy, type notes and allocate, as stimulus.
If in fine fettle, write.
Work on section in hand, following plan of section scrupulously. No intrusions, no diversions. Write to finish one section at a time, for good and all.
See friends. Read in cafés.
Explore unfamiliar sections—on foot if wet, on bicycle, if dry.
Write, if in mood, but only Minor program.
Paint if empty or tired.
Make Notes. Make Charts, Plans. Make corrections of MS.
Note: Allow sufficient time during daylight to make an occasional visit to museums or an occasional sketch or an occasional bike ride. Sketch in cafés and trains and streets. Cut the movies! Library for references once a week.
The only improvement I'd make to Miller's daily program is to get a dog—if you live in a city, having a dog both makes it easy to get regular exercise and be social, because taking a dog for a walk instantly means you'll meet a lot of people in your neighborhood. 
Verlyn Klinkenborg's recent NYT editorial on teaching young writers at a small college in Minnesota really struck a chord with me when I first read it, and I found myself wanting to revisit it today, especially this part:
I’ve often noticed a habit of polite self-negation among my female students, a self-deprecatory way of talking that is meant, I suppose, to help create a sense of shared space, a shared social connection. It sounds like the language of constant apology, and the form I often hear is the sentence that begins, “My problem is ...”
Even though this way of talking is conventional, and perhaps socially placating, it has a way of defining a young writer — a young woman — in negative terms, as if she were basically incapable and always giving offense. You simply cannot pretend that the words you use about yourself have no meaning. Why not, I asked, be as smart and perceptive as you really are? Why not accept what you’re capable of? Why not believe that what you notice matters?
Another young woman at the table asked — this is a bald translation — won’t that make us seem too tough, too masculine? I could see the subtext in her face: who will love us if we’re like that? I’ve heard other young women, with more experience, ask this question in a way that means, Won’t the world punish us for being too sure of ourselves?
Hack your way out of writer's block, from 43 Folders. Minus points for the egregious (even in 2004) misuse of "hack" but extra plus points for having useful tips. What usually works best for me is moving on to write something else for a while, even if it's just a paragraph or two.
Warren Ellis, on what it's like when you have trouble writing:
It’s the blank page thing. Aaron Sorkin talked about it a bit, at the top of one of the WEST WING scriptbooks. The blank page is the only critic that can hit you where you live. In one of the episodes, in fact, a journalist asks Sam why writing a major speech is hard, and Sam says, because it’s a blank piece of paper. It knows all your secrets. In Sorkin’s words, it sits there and hisses, “I know how you’ve been scamming all those people all these years, GIFTLESS, you wanna dance with me?”
Every once in a while I get so overwhelmed by what I think my blog should be like and how I think I am failing at making it that way that I end up not posting for weeks at a time. This is something that makes me profoundly unhappy—this site is in many ways responsible for most of the things that are good in my life, and I cherish the ability to share things with all of you, even those of you whom I don't know and will probably never meet. It's kind of funny but after my six years of blogging, the piece of writing that's making it easier for me to fall in love with this site all over again is by, of all people, Dave Winer:
Then someday, when you're in the shower or lying in bed in the morning and get an idea that you wish you could tell everyone, remember that you have a blog, and go to the computer, and write it up and publish it. That actually feels pretty good, even if you think no one will read it, because you got it off your chest.
Then in a few days Google will probably visit your site and index the post, and then when someone searches for that subject, your page will come up, and maybe you'll pass that idea on to someone who can use it, or meet someone who agrees, or someone who disagrees. And that's blogging, and that's all it is.
[ via 0xDECAFBAD ]
From Nerve's recent interview with author James McManus.
As a writing teacher, I'm always getting questions from students like, "Can I write about this if it's going to embarrass my stepbrother or my mother or whoever?" And I say, yeah, you have to go there. You're sort of signing up for that embarrassment when you write.
This is what exactly what blogging is like. (Well, except for almost all the old school bloggers I know, who after years of scoffing at Livejournal now have accounts there set to friends-only.)
As for myself, I most recently embarassed my mom with this post. It's my birthday today, so you guys are going to have to indulge me a little. Mom: a) sorry it embarrassed you, b) I know you mean well, but sometimes (frequently?) the pushiness is counter-productive, c) thank you for everything!
Anyway. James McManus is now best known for being the guy Harper's assigned to cover the 2000 World Series of Poker, who instead took his advance, used it to enter the tournament and placed fifth, taking home $248,000. Unfortunately Harper's doesn't have the piece he ended up writing on their website, but lucky you, you can read the story he wrote for This American Life. Or hey, pick up the best-selling book he eventually published about his poker-playing experiences, Positively Fifth Street.
McManus writes a poker column for the New York Times (the column itself doesn't have a steady url, but you can find the latest one in Sports), but his latest book is Physical: An American Check-Up, an exploration of the state of health care in the U.S.. It got started after Esquire hired him to write a piece about stem cell research, Please Stand By While The Age of Miracles Is Suspended; one of his main motivations for writing both the article and book is that his daughter is diabetic and ill, and stem cell research could help save her life. Newcity Chicago did a great interview with him about Physical a few weeks ago, if you'd like to read more.
The update: I'm done with school but not done with school. My thesis essay is three weeks late and I've not made much progress since the deadline passed; I had just about half the page count done then, in highly unsatisfactory chunks, I don't have much more than that now.
Most every day for the past two months or so I've spent a few hours sitting in front of my Powerbook, watching the cursor blink in and out, in and out, in and out. I can write short emails about my thesis, regurgitating the elevator spiel that I crafted all semester and perfected during the Winter Show, and discuss it with people in depth, even explaining most everything that I should be talking about in my paper, but I can't seem to write it out. And it's really fucking killing me—I have to get my resume and portfolio together (both of which have I haven't touched in three years) find a job, clean my apartment and find a roommate, and I can't do any of these things yet because I have this huge thing hanging over my head.
The experiment: I haven't been writing here (or anywhere else; I can barely get myself to reply to emails these past few weeks) because I've been trying to write the paper. Since that clearly hasn't been successful in the least, perhaps starting to post here again and all that entails will get my juices flowing again?
Here's Tom Coates from earlier today, nailing how I've been feeling, "On forcing oneself to do stuff":
So why does it sometimes seem such a bloody enormous battle to convince oneself to even start doing a piece of work? What kind of stupid fucking evolutionary process ends up with procrastination, paralysis and apparent indolence? I mean, what kind of creature does well in the world by sitting at home in front of a computer for three hours in the early evening trying to motivate itself to write something about set-top boxes?! Where's the reproductive advantage there?!
Stupid bloody world that should make me be this way and then make me neurotic about it.
He got his trio of set-top box posts done within the day so hopefully I'll bang my essay out within the week. Wish me luck?