Friday, March 30, 2012

E.B. White on Writing

Who: E.B. White

Written: "Stuart Little", "Charlotte's Web" and co-wrote "The Elements of Style" with Strunk

What did he say: I'm actually featuring a letter in its entirety he wrote a young girl with the aspirations to become a writer. I won't comment on it, because I completely agree.

"At seventeen, the future is apt to seem formidable, even depressing. You should see the pages of my journal circa 1916.
 You asked me about writing--how I did it. There is no trick to it. If you like to write and want to write, you write, no matter where you are or what else you are doing or whether anyone pays any heed. I must have written half a million words (mostly in my journal) before I had anything published, save for a couple of short items in St. Nicholas. If you want to write about feelings, about the end of summer, about growing, write about it. A great deal of writing is not "plotted"--most of my essays have no plot structure, they are a ramble in the woods, or a ramble in the basement of my mind. You ask, "Who cares?" Everybody cares. You say, "It's been written before." Everything has been written before. 
I went to college but not direct from high school; there was an interval of six or eight months. Sometimes it works out well to take a short vacation from the academic world--I have a grandson who took a year off and got a job in Aspen, Colorado. After a year of skiing and working, he is now settled into Colby College as a freshman. But I can't advise you, or won't advise you, on any such decision. If you have a counselor at school, I'd seek the counselor's advice. In college (Cornell), I got on the daily newspaper and ended up as editor of it. It enabled me to do a lot of writing and gave me a good journalistic experience. You are right that a person's real duty in life is to save his dream, but don't worry about it and don't let them scare you. Henry Thoreau, who wrote Walden, said, "I learned this at least by my experiment: that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours." The sentence, after more than a hundred years, is still alive. So, advance confidently. And when you write something, send it (neatly typed) to a magazine or a publishing house. Not all magazines read unsolicited contributions, but some do. The New Yorker is always looking for new talent. Write a short piece for them, send it to The Editor. That's what I did forty-some years ago.
Good luck. Sincerely, E. B. White"

What's your story about advice early on in your career?

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Anton Chekhov on Writing

Who: Anton Chekhov

Written: "A Marriage Proposal" (play), "The Cherry Orchard" (play) and "The Lady with the Dog" (short story) among many others.

What did he say: He has said a lot about the process of writing. Chekhov had been very vocal and seemingly adored to theorize about writing. There are quotes on writing that exceed the length of a paragraph. I've taken it as my mission to show the shorter, but still impact-full snippets.

"Don't tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass." 
"My own experience is that once a story has been written, one has to cross out the beginning and the end. It is there that we authors do most of our lying."  
"When you describe the miserable and unfortunate, and want to make the reader feel pity, try to be somewhat colder — that seems to give a kind of background to another's grief, against which it stands out more clearly. Whereas in your story the characters cry and you sigh. Yes, be more cold. ... The more objective you are, the stronger will be the impression you make."

What do I think: 'Show don't tell' is as old as the game itself, but the quote shows the advice in practice. The use of so few words also encourages that the number of words is of little consequence. Rather pay attention to how you use them. 

I can't say whether we really lie in those two parts, but it stroke me as pretty interesting, because in my own experience, writers tend to rework the beginning and the end multiple times and with enviable intensity. 

'Colder' will also provoke you to worldbuild better. I have noticed that secondary worlds fall flat, because only the minimal has been done to elicit an emotion. This is where 'show don't tell' works on a macro level as well. If you will have a segment of a society suffer in your secondary world, you better strive to compete with real life as far as cruelty is considered. 

Is crying enough to convey tragedy? What sells misery?  

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Oscar Wilde on Writing

Who: Oscar Wilde

Written: "The Picture of Dorian Grey", "House of Pomegranates" and "The Importance of Being Earnest" among others

What did he say: He's the minimalist so far. His quotes are snappy, witty and easy to commit to memory, for when you want to come across intelligent.

"Moderation is a fatal thing. Nothing succeeds like excess."

"An idea that is not dangerous is unworthy of being called an idea at all."

"Consistency is the last refuge of the unimaginative."

What do I think: All three create a narrative about the dangers of mediocrity and the virtue of writing with an edge. Making impressions demands grabbing the attention and 'excess' here comes quite handy. These quotes actually tie with a quote of Twain about the regret of not doing things. Write dangerously is a concept I have yet to explore in its entirety, but I agree in testing ones limit. 

How far can you go? How far have you gone?     

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Mark Twain on Writing

Who: Mark Twain

Written: "The Prince and the Pauper", "The Adventure of Tom Sawyer", "Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" and "A Double Barreled Detective Story" among others

What did he say: He said a lot, but most of his quotes have been written in the context of his letters to various people. The only straightforward advice given on writing is this:
“Substitute 'damn' every time you're inclined to write 'very;' your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.” 
This second one that I enjoyed very much comes from his letter to W. D. Howells. 
"Well, my book is written--let it go. But if it were only to write over again there wouldn't be so many things left out. They burn in me; and they keep multiplying; but now they can't ever be said. And besides, they would require a library--and a pen warmed up in hell." 
What do I think: 'Very' is not my crutch word per se. I think that 'very' has been clubbed to death so that no one uses it as much. I could be wrong. Do editors edit 'damn' out these days? I think we have well passed the point of desensitizing here. I'd say that the principal 'avoid crutch word X' is full on force, though I think that it's way better to be proactive with weeding these out rather than troll your editor. Of course, Twain seems like a joker. 

I love the second quote because it paints such an apocalyptic picture. Beauty. That is how I feel, when I finish a project and I believe that this is the prime reason, why so many people get caught in the revisions game or why series have proven to be so enjoyable. 

What do you think about Twain's quotes?


Monday, March 26, 2012

Ernest Hemingway on Writing

Expect a lot more radio silence, until the end of June. Though I will try to add at least some posts. I have been thinking a lot about writing, since my creative energies have been redirected to other projects in my line of work and social life rather than fiction writing. A lot of writers have also been thinking about the craft of writing.

Who: Ernest Hemingway

Written: "A Moveable Feast", "For Whom the Bells Toll" and the classic "The Old Man and the Sea" 

What did he say: Hemingway has said a lot about writing and what I've come to recognize as a powerful way to communicate urgency is the use of short sentences to the point I sneak in some sentence fragments. Here are two official quotes from his book on writing.
“Writing is something that you can never do as well as it can be done. It is a perpetual challenge and it is more difficult than anything else that I have ever done.” 
“I think you should learn about writing from everybody who has ever written that has anything to teach you.”
What do I think: I agree with both quotes. Writing is an art form based on continuous improvement as all art should be in the first place. Given the writers' predisposition to ferocious self-criticism, it's no surprise that the act of writing remains challenging. I think the second quote has more relevance now more than ever, because as readers and writers we are in the position to choose among a multitude of writers to learn about the craft. What I'm not entirely sure how to interpret the quote. I strive to learn from those, who through their words have provoked a change within my micro-cosmos. 

Do you share Ernest's opinion?    

Thursday, March 1, 2012

"The Tracks that Tower over Valleys" has been accepted

Well, the cat is out of the bag with this announcement via Pornokitsch. I've been writing a flash piece for Jared Shurin and Anne C. Perry, the wonderful editorial team at Jurassic London, who have compiled a thrilling and  delicious anthology "Pandemonium: Stories of the Smoke" with speculative stories set in London. The catch is that they have to be inspired by Dickens.  

Now, my flash "The Tracks that Tower over Valleys" is rather different in terms of setting, which is why it will appear in the electronic chapbook with the minimalist title "Fire": 

We're also pleased to announce "Fire" - an electronic chapbook of shorter-short fiction. Fire contains three fantastic stories from three unique voices, all skirting the inflammatory outer edges of Dickensian-inspired SF. 
"The Tracks that Tower over Valleys" by Harry Markov
"Sketches by Zob" by Osgood Vance
"A Tale of Cities Two" by Tom Loock