Wyrdwend

The Filidhic Literary Blog of Jack Günter

ON POETRY – TUESDAY’S TALE

Well, it ain’t really a Tale for Tuesday, but it is a tale about how you should tell what you can’t really tell when you try. Not in words, anyway…

ON POETRY

Poetry involves the minute manipulation of words in such a way that they are constantly and subtly altered in definition, either so that they take on a broader and more flexible implication than they have ever possessed before, or so that they take on a more narrow and peculiar resolution in terminology than they have ever before possessed.

Do this wisely and well and with patient and practiced craft and you will be considered a master of phrasing and sound, perhaps even possessed of real poetic genius. Do this sloppily or shoddily and in haste and without regard for the demands of true meaning in language and you will be considered a mere dilettante or perhaps even a hapless hack.

from my book, On Poetry

 

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HARD THE HAMMERSMITH – FIRST VERSE

HARD THE HAMMERSMITH

I conceived of the idea for this poem about a week and a half ago but was unable to work on it due to other business and work demands. On Sunday night (the 26th of June) about an hour before the Game of Thrones finale I began work on it. It shall be a long, narrative poem with what I hope is an unanticipated and unusual conclusion, and a twisting storyline. At this point of course it is in its infancy and is far from complete.

Aside from being a long narrative poem I am also thinking very seriously of turning it into a Graphic Novel which will also serve as a de-facto manual on ancient Mnemonic Techniques. I am already sketching out possible illustrations or old woodcut designs for the Work.

Hope you enjoy it thus far.

 

HARD THE HAMMERSMITH

Hard the Hammersmith worked all day
Hard the Hammersmith would not say
What his toiling would produce
Or why he labored so profuse

Hard the Hammersmith worked all night
Hard the Hammersmith knew delight
For his hammers truly rang
Fire, metal, sturm und drang

Hard the Hammersmith took no rest
Hard the Hammersmith did his best
For he always set his task
Above whatever weakness asks

Hard the Hammersmith took no bread
Hard the Hammersmith shunned his bed
For the Work to which he bent
He would master, or be spent

Hard the Hammersmith took no drink
Hard the Hammersmith did not think
Yet on he drove himself to act
With anguish was his body wracked…

KAZUO ISHIGURO

I mostly agree… and I’d read this.

Ten years after the publication of his last novel, Kazuo Ishiguro has come out with a new book, The Buried Giant. A former winner of the Man Booker Prize and considered one of the best British writers alive today, Ishiguro is a master of the understated. His works feature narrators that speak so simply and so plainly, they appear to have almost no affect at all. Still, their stories are dark and poignant, and it’s often not until the last few pages of an Ishiguro novel that we realize how deeply we’ve been moved.

In The Buried Giant, an elderly couple sets off on a journey through a mythical England populated by ogres, dragons, knights and giants. Axl and Beatrice are in search of their son, whom they can’t quite remember how they lost. This is because the inhabitants of The Buried Giant’s mythical world suffer a collective amnesia, a ‘mist’ that keeps them from holding onto certain memories, both personal and historical. As we travel with Axl and Beatrice, the novel asks us what memory (and forgetting) means to a person, to a couple, to a society. In many ways, the book is surprising (The New York Times calls it ‘a departure’), but it also showcases some of Ishiguro’s most essential qualities as a writer: subtle prose, a dreamlike atmosphere, and powerful questions about loss and memory.

I sat down with Ishiguro in Knopf’s office early on a Friday, just before it began to snow. We talked about his writing process, collective memory, Inglourious Basterds, and his new novel’s recent role in the conversation about genre.

Chang: Each of your novels is so unlike the one that came before it. The Buried Giant has surprised a lot of readers. Can we talk about what influenced you while you were working? What books were you reading, or drawing upon?

Ishiguro: Well, I did a great deal of research and read quite a lot before I wrote the book. But I don’t know that the books I read during the actual writing process necessarily have much to do with it.

I find that when you’re writing, it becomes quite a battle to keep your fictional world in tact. In fact, as I write, I almost deliberately avoid anything in the realm of what I’m working on. For instance, I hadn’t seen a single episode of Game of Thrones. That whole thing happened when I was quite deep into the writing, and I thought, ‘If I watch something like that, it might influence the way I visualize a scene or tamper with the world that I’ve set up.’

Chang: It sounds like the planning stage and the writing stage were two very separate parts of your process.

Ishiguro: Yes, it’s really when I’m planning the project that I actively look for ideas and read very widely. I spend a lot of time planning. I’m quite a deliberate writer in that way. A lot of writers I know just work with kind of a blank canvas. They feel it out and improvise on it and then they look to see what kind of material they’ve got.

I’ve never been able to do that. Even at the start of my career, when maybe I would have been a little more reckless. I’ve always needed to know quite a lot about the story before I start to write the actual prose. I’ve always needed a solid idea before getting started.

Chang: How do you know when you have a solid idea?

Ishiguro: It’s got to be something that I’m able to articulate to myself in about two to three sentences. And those sentences have to be compelling, much more than the sum of their parts. I should be able to feel the tension and emotion arising from that little summary I’ve created, and then I know I’ve got a project to work on. With The Buried Giant, for example, the starting point was something like: ‘There’s a whole society where people are suffering some sort of collective, and strangely selective, amnesia.’

Chang: And that was the summary you had in mind before you sat down to the page?

Ishiguro: Yes, but that’s not quite enough for an idea. That’s more of a concept. I guess if I had to write the next line of the summary, it would be, ‘There’s a couple who fears that without their shared memory, their love will vanish.’ And then the third line would be that the nation around them is in some kind of strange tense peace.

Alright, so I didn’t literally write those sentences down, but that’s how I start a project. I start with something quite abstract like that, and then I start to plan and do my research.

I tend to read quite a lot of non-fiction around the themes I want to explore.

Chang: Are you fairly careful about curating what you do read or think about while you plan a novel?

Ishiguro: Not necessarily. For this book in particular, I read a very good Canadian book called Long Shadows by Erna Paris, It was written in the early 2000s and documents her travels, looking at the various kinds of brewing or buried trouble. There was also Postwar by Tony Judt, and Peter Novich’s The Holocaust in American Life.

Now, those nonfiction books went into it the research part, but I find that almost anything around that point can be influential. Around that stage is when I’m most sensitive, or most open to influence. Almost every movie I see, every book I’m reading, I’m thinking: ‘Is there something here that might nudge me toward an image, or an idea, or even a technique?’

I remember I happened to be watching Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds at a formative point. There’s a long scene where the American guys are in a German bar, pretending to be German soldiers, and they’re playing this game and speaking in bad German, and it goes on for this incredible amount of time. You know it’s going to end in some terrible violence, but it goes on and on.

That seems to have nothing to do with my book. No one would detect Tarantino as an influence while reading The Buried Giant, but I thought it was such a great way to deal with an explosion of violence. You actually don’t have to spend a lot of energy on the violence itself. It’s the lead up, the tension. So, yes, I’m quite open to reading or hearing or seeing anything at that point in the process.

Chang: What was behind the decision in setting The Buried Giant in a mythical, medieval England? Did you know this would surprise people the way it has?

Ishiguro: Often the setting comes quite late in the process. I usually have the whole story, the whole idea, and then I hunt for the location, for a place where I can set it down.

It’s sort of like I’ve wandered into people’s countries without knowing where I’ve landed.

So I’m a little bit naïve, maybe, about what the finished thing will look like in terms of genre. It’s sort of like I’ve wandered into people’s countries without knowing where I’ve landed. And after I’ve been there for quite some time, someone says ‘you realize you’re in Poland now.’ And I say, ‘Oh really? I just followed this trail of stuff I needed.’

I didn’t wonder how people would define or categorize The Buried Giant until it was done. And then as publication approached, I started to see it from the outside. I’d been so absorbed with trying to get the thing to work from the inside.

I did think about setting it in a very real contemporary, tense situation. I considered Bosnia in the 1990s as a setting, and well, I thought about Rwanda but didn’t consider it for too long, because I feel unqualified to write about Africa. I know so little about African politics, African culture. The disintegration of Yugoslavia I felt closer to, because I live in Europe. These massacres were occurring right on our doorstep. I wanted to look at a situation in which a generation (or two) has been living uneasily in peace, where different ethnic groups have been coexisting peaceably and then something happens that reawakens a tribal or societal memory.

Chang: What made you ultimately decide on this more distant reality?

Ishiguro: Well, if I had done that you’d be asking me why I was suddenly interested in Yugoslavia, and if I have relatives that used to go there, and what do I think about what Milosevic did or said on this or that day.  It becomes a completely different kind of book. Some people write those kinds of books brilliantly. It’s almost like reportage. They’re very powerful and very urgent books.

Maybe in the future I’ll feel compelled to write that kind of specific and current book, but right now I feel that my strength as a fiction writer is my ability to take a step back. I prefer to create a more metaphorical story that people can apply to a variety of situations, personal and political.

Setting the book in an other, magical world allows me to do that. Every society, every person even, has some buried memories of violence or destruction. The Buried Giant asks whether awakening these buried things might lead to another terrible cycle of violence. And whether it’s better to do this at the risk of cataclysm, or whether it’s better to keep these memories buried and forgotten.

The same question applies at the personal level, say, in a marriage. When is it better to just leave certain things unsaid for the sake of getting on together? Is there something phony about a relationship if you don’t face everything that’s happened? Maybe it makes your love less real.

Chang: Do you feel that the conversation about genre boundaries, which has been a major focus of the book’s reviews and press, has taken away from these questions the book is asking?

It’s a much broader conversation, isn’t it? What do we call fantasy?

Ishiguro: I didn’t actually anticipate that there would be so much attention paid to the genre of the book. I read Neil Gaiman’s review in the NYTBR which opens with the words, “Fantasy is a tool of the storyteller.” It’s a very interesting piece that, in a way, is much bigger than my book. It’s a much broader conversation, isn’t it? What do we call fantasy? What do we call sci-fi? I guess the subtext is that mainstream fiction and literary fiction look down on fantasy tropes but, as Gaiman argues, those tropes can be very powerful, and they’re part of an ancient tradition. There were a couple of other pieces that appeared like that. And of course, there was a bit of a spat with Ursula K LeGuin. Although, she’s since retracted what she said on her blog, which was gracious of her. I think it’s a much larger dialogue she’s been involved with in the past with authors like Margaret Atwood, for example.

I think the positive side of all of this is that it is quite an exciting time at the moment in fiction. I do sense the boundaries are breaking down, for readers and for writers. Younger readers move very freely between genres and between what used to be fairly strict categories of ‘popular’ and ‘literary’ fiction. My daughter and her generation, for example. They were quite literally the same age as Harry and Hermione when the first Harry Potter book was published. In a way, they kind of followed that whole storyline in real time, year by year.

For that generation, one of the coolest, most exciting things to happen in their young lives was reading books. Of course, now they read widely just like any person interested in literature, but their foundation, their love of books is based on Harry Potter, Philip Pullman—that whole explosion of very intelligent children’s literature that they grew up with. It’s very exciting, I think—this shift in what constitutes ‘serious’ fiction.

Chang: Even though The Buried Giant has arguably nothing to do with Japan, I love the way there’s still something Japanese that comes across in its style and tone. Are you very conscious of language and tone when you are writing or does that come more naturally?

Ishiguro: At the beginning of my career it was quite deliberate. A Pale View of Hills was set in Japan. My characters were Japanese, so of course they had to speak in a Japanese kind of English. And in An Artist of the Floating World, the characters were not only Japanese but they were meant to be speaking in Japanese even though it was written in English, so I spent a great deal of energy there finding an English that suggested there was Japanese being spoken or translated through. Maybe some of that effort has stayed with me. I use a formal, careful kind of English, but to some extent that may just be my natural or preferred way of using the language.

For example, the butler in Remains of the Day is English, but he often sounds quite Japanese. And I thought that was fine, because he is a bit Japanese.

Chang: Right, that’s one of the brilliant parts of his character.

Ishiguro: In The Buried Giant, I wasn’t thinking consciously about Japan or Japanese, but the priorities of the language, I suppose, are still the same. I quite like language that suppresses meaning rather than language that goes groping after something that’s slightly beyond the words. I’m interested in speech that kind of conceals and covers up. I’m not necessarily saying that’s Japanese. But I suppose it goes with a certain kind Japanese aesthetic; a minimalism and simplicity of design that occurs over and over again in Japanese things, you know. I do like a flat, plain surface where the meaning is subtly pushed between the lines rather than overtly expressed. But I don’t know if that’s Japanese, or if that’s just me.

IT’S NOT JUST WHAT YOU SAY, IT’S WHAT YOU IMPLY BY OMISSION

This statement is entirely true: “It’s what is left out of the song that keeps us coming back for answers.”

This image, and the accompanying lyrics, are superb examples of this.

Lyric Of The Week: Traditional, “Barbara Allen”

Written by March 9th, 2015 at 8:40 am

Forget_Me_Not_Songster_-_Barbara_Allen_p.1It’s been beguiling audiences for a half-millennium or so, perhaps longer than that. It’s been covered by artists ranging from the sublime (Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, The Everly Brothers) to the slightly ridiculous (John Travolta and, in the 1951 Warner Brothers short “Robin Hood Daffy”, Porky Pig.) So what is it about “Barbara Allen” that makes it so enduring and affecting?

The first known reference to this mysteriously captivating folk ballad dates back to 1666, in an entry by the famed English diarist Samuel Pepys. Pepys called it a “Scotch song”, and it flourished throughout the United Kingdom in that era until it was brought to the U.S. by immigrants. As the population of the America slowly spread westward, the song went with it, as noted by famed musicologist Alan Lomax in his book The Folk Songs Of North America. “This ballad, if no other, travelled west with every wagon,” Lomax wrote. “As someone remarked, they sang ‘Barbara Allen’ in Texas ‘before the pale faces were thick enough to make the Indians consider a massacre worthwhile.”

What transpires in “Barbara Allen” is simple enough on the surface. Yet since the lyrics provide little exposition or back story, the reasons for the behavior of the main participants are enigmatic. The song tells the story of young William who, as he lies on his deathbed, calls out for Barbara. She takes her time getting to his side, only to treat him coldly due to a social foul he committed against her at a tavern. On her journey home, she hears the “death bell knellin” and, knowing it tolls for William’s death, suddenly regrets her hardness and knows she will soon die of grief for him.

Harsh stuff, right? Maybe too harsh, even for audiences who were used to Shakespeare’s plays and their numerous deaths. As such, a variant on the song quickly arose that included a leavening epilogue whereby the lovers are buried side-by-side. From William’s grave grows a rose, from Barbara’s a briar, and the two flowers eventually intertwine, providing the deceased pair eternal unison.

It’s whats left out of the song that keeps us coming back for answers. If all William did was drink a toast to the wrong ladies, surely he didn’t deserve treatment so nasty from a girl he truly loved. Or was this single incident indicative of his wayward behavior as a whole? And what changed in Barbara’s mind and heart from the time she left him to when she heard that bell? In that short journey, she transformed from hard-hearted to sympathetic without any middle ground spent in consideration of all that had transpired.

This sort of unexplainable behavior from characters was also emblematic of Shakespeare (think King Lear or Hamlet), so maybe the original writer had that kind of strangeness in mind. It makes the song more psychologically realistic, since we all tend to do things when guided by passion or spite that defy logic and reason.

The murkiness of the motives and the beauty of the melody is an irresistible combination. As such, many legendary contemporary artists have found the song irresistible. Dylan, for one, not only covered “Barbara Allen” at various times in his career, but he also used Barbara’s home base of “Scarlet Town” as a jumping-off point for an equally mysterious song on 2012’s Tempest.

While there have been many powerful and moving renditions of “Barbara Allen”, Art Garfunkel may have given the definitive modern reading on his 1973 solo album Angel Clare.  Whatever lesson you take from the song, whether it’s that even a moment of taking the one you love for granted can come back to haunt you, or that life is too short for petty grievances, you’ll likely be mesmerized by the mercy Garfunkel’s ethereal vocal grants these two lovers. It’s just too bad they didn’t show each other that same kind of mercy until it was far too late.

THE EXERCISES

Writing Exercises Scientifically Proven To Redirect Your Life

Need to find a new direction or reclaim inspiration? Grab a pen and paper. These writing exercises can help.

We’re total suckers for self improvement: The self-help industry brings in billions of dollars each year from countless books. All that encouraging advice can feel empowering and commonsensical, offering a simple path to a better life.

But there’s a problem with this approach. “Reading a self-help book is like buying a lottery ticket,” writes social psychologist Timothy Wilson in his newest book Redirect. “For a small investment, we get hope in return; the dream that all our problems will soon be solved without any real expectation that they will be.”

While the power of positive thinking—the seeming bread and butter of self-help as we know it—is a nice thought, according to Wilson, there’s no evidence that simply thinking positively actually works. We can’t just will ourselves to be happier a-la The Secret. “Our minds aren’t that stupid,” says Wilson. “It’s not like you can just tell you mind, ‘Think positively.’ You’ve got to nudge it a little more along.”

In Redirect, Wilson offers an alternative he calls “story editing,” based on the research of social scientists over the years. This approach operates off the premise that we each have a core narrative or story that we tell ourselves about who we are and what the world around us is like. It’s a story that influences our choices and way of experiencing the world. But it’s also one we play a major role in shaping for ourselves.

Using specific writing exercises, according to Wilson, we can begin to shift that story and redirect our way of thinking. “Writing is an act of creation. You are creating as you go,” he says. “That’s what can make this personally so helpful.”

Write through a challenging problem

We can never simply write painful or difficult events out of our lives, but we can make them far more graspable and change our relationship to them, according to research by psychologist James Pennebaker. Over the years, Pennebaker has developed an approach he calls “Writing To Heal,” that uses writing exercises as a way to help people deal with difficult events their lives.

To try the Pennebaker writing exercise, think of an event or worry that’s been most on your mind recently. Set aside 15 to 20 minutes at the end of the day to write about that specific problem. Do this for four days in a row, setting aside at least 15 minutes at the end of each day to record your thoughts. As you write, don’t pause or second-guess yourself—just write without stopping.

Through his research over the years, Pennebaker found that this simple four-day exercise helped improve people’s health, and well-being in various studies. “It’s how we deal with setbacks that’s so important,” says Wilson, who has worked with Pennebaker over the years. While the writing exercise can be difficult at first, people tend to gain clarity as they continue doing it. “Often what they first write is jumbled and unorganized,” says Wilson. But eventually “they view what happened to them in a way that makes more sense.”

Distance yourself from negative experiences

Research has also shown that having some distance from a difficult event allows us to step back and better understand it. There’s a writing exercise Wilson calls the “step-back-and-ask-why” approach that allows us to create this distance and understanding in order to reframe negative events.

To do this exercise, close your eyes and bring yourself back to a specific moment or event that was upsetting to you. Then, in your mind, try to take a few steps back from yourself in the moment so that you can see the story unfolding as if it was happening to a distant version of yourself. Write about what that distant version of yourself is thinking and feeling. One way to do this effectively, suggests Wilson, is to write in the third person, rather than the first person, which automatically builds some seperation between you and the moment you’re writing about.

Don’t simply rehash a play-by-play of what happened; instead, try to explain why it happened. “Don’t recount the event,” Wilson writes. “Take a step back and reconstrue and explain it.”

Determine what your best possible self looks like

There’s a reason Saturday Night Live‘s “Daily Affirmations With Stuart Smalley” was such a hit in the ’90s. That focus on self-affirming mantras is practically begging to be made fun of, yet even today, you’ll find that same advice given in total earnest.

But as Wilson points out in his book, rather than telling yourself you’re doing the best you can and are the best you can be—a pretty text-book self-help mantra—try actually imagining what the best version of yourself might look like in the future and what you need to do to achieve those goals.

He calls this writing prompt the “Best Possible Selves Exercise.” Like the Pennebaker prompt, take 15 to 20 minutes a night for four nights in a row to do this exercise. Imagine your life in the future as if you’ve achieved all your life goals. Write not just what those life goals are, but also how you will be able to achieve them. “Focus on the process of achieving an outcome rather than the outcome itself,” says Wilson.

Imagine all the things that could have gone wrong

Gratitude journals are another self-help go-to, but research has shown they can actually have the reverse effect of making you feel less happy. There’s a pleasure to uncertainty—not being able to pin down the specific details of an event were was pleasing.

While reducing our uncertainty about negative events can help us bounce back from them more quickly, reducing uncertainty about positive events can take some of the pleasure out of them. Wilson calls this a pleasure paradox: “People want to understand the good things in life so that they can experience them again, but by doing so they reduce the pleasure they get from those events,” he writes.

For example, research has shown that asking people in a relationship to tell the story of how they met their partner doesn’t make them particularly happier. But ask those same people to write about the many ways in which they might not have met their partner or their relationship might not have worked out and they get much more pleasure out of the exercise. “People don’t like to do that, but when they do, it makes the relationship look special again, at least for a little while,” he says.

This translates well into a writing exercise Wilson calls the “George Bailey Technique” named after the protagonist in It’s A Wonderful Life. For this exercise, think of one of the most important or special events, relationships or accomplishments in your life. Then imagine all the ways in which it might not have happened. Doing this can introduce mystery and excitement back into the experience again.

Maintain a sense of purpose

These last two exercises aren’t so much writing prompts, as they are calls to action. In their studies of what make people feel happiest and most fulfilled, social scientists have found that having a clear sense of purpose is critical. This means reminding yourself of what your most important goals in life are and finding ways to move forward on those goals, says Wilson.

He identifies three ingredients to well-being: hope, meaning, and purpose. Writing exercises that help reframe the way you feel about negative events in the past can help create a sense of hope and meaning, but it’s also important to maintain goals that provide a sense of purpose in your life. “We all have some choice over what we want to pursue and those of us who are really lucky can get paid to do it, but plenty of people find other ways,” says Wilson.

Do some good in the world

Research has shown that it’s not simply having a sense of purpose that contributes to our well-being, but that those who help others are actually happier than those who don’t. These people have a greater likelihood of forming bonds with others and having a positive image of themselves.

“If you want to have a positive outlook and feel like a good person, go out and be a good person,” says Wilson. “The mind is a very good observer of ourselves.”

LE GUIN’S GOOD ADVICE

By the way I’ve said for years that “Show, don’t tell” may just be the single most juvenile and straight-jacketing piece of writing advice I’ve ever heard in my life. Show, don’t tell is an appropriate device for certain genres and in certain situations, it is the kiss of death for great literature and poetry.

 

 

10 Writing Tips from Ursula Le Guin

At the National Book Awards a few nights ago, Ursula Le Guin was honored with the Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters, a fancy sounding award that basically means she’s the bomb (she really is).

Ursula Le Guin writing quote

I’ve been reading Ursula Le Guin for a long time, since I first discovered The Earthsea Cycle, which re-invigorated my love for fantasy.

She’s also famous for her science-fiction, especially The Left Hand of Darkness and The Dispossessed, and was one of the first to show the world that women can not only write great science-fiction, they can often do it better than men.

Le Guin is a “genre” writer who constantly worked to push the boundaries of what we think of as genre. Besides sci-fi and fantasy, she wrote poetry, creative non-fiction, and literary fiction.

I honestly believe she will go down in history as one of the greatest writers, literary or otherwise, of the 20th century.

Ursula Le Guin’s Quotes on Writing

With that in mind, here are ten quotes from Ursula Le Guin on her process as a writer:

1. “Show, Don’t Tell” is for Beginners

From ursulakleguin.com:

Thanks to “show don’t tell,” I find writers in my workshops who think exposition is wicked. They’re afraid to describe the world they’ve invented.… This dread of writing a sentence that isn’t crammed with “gutwrenching action” leads fiction writers to rely far too much on dialogue, to restrict voice to limited third person and tense to the present.

2. So Is “Write What You Know”

From ursulakleguin.com:

As for “Write what you know,” I was regularly told this as a beginner. I think it’s a very good rule and have always obeyed it. I write about imaginary countries, alien societies on other planets, dragons, wizards, the Napa Valley in 22002. I know these things. I know them better than anybody else possibly could, so it’s my duty to testify about them.

3. Do Your Job as a Writer, and Do it Really Well

From Paris Review:

But when people say, Did you always want to be a writer?, I have to say no! I always was a writer (tweet that, emphasis mine). I didn’t want to be a writer and lead the writer’s life and be glamorous and go to New York. I just wanted to do my job writing, and to do it really well.

4. Shoot for the Top, Always.

Ursula Le Guin writing quote

From Paris Review:

When asked what authors she measures her work against, Le Guin says:

Charles Dickens. Jane Austen. And then, when I finally learned to read her, Virginia Woolf. Shoot for the top, always. You know you’ll never make it, but what’s the fun if you don’t shoot for the top? (tweet that)

5. Write Like Who You Are

From Paris Review:

Hey, guess what? You’re a woman. You can write like a woman. I saw that women don’t have to write about what men write about, or write what men think they want to read. I saw that women have whole areas of experience men don’t have—and that they’re worth writing and reading about.

6. Learn from the Greats

From Paris Review:

It was Borges and Calvino who made me think, Hey, look at what they’re doing! Can I do that?

7. Writing is All About Learning to See

Ursula Le Guin writing quote

From Paris Review:

A very good book tells me news, tells me things I didn’t know, or didn’t know I knew, yet I recognize them— yes, I see, yes, this is how the world is. Fiction—and poetry and drama—cleanse the doors of perception. (tweet that)

I love this, by the way. It reminds me of Oscar Wilde’s quote, “No great artist ever sees things as they really are. If he did, he would cease to be an artist.”

8. Begin Your Story with a Voice

From Paris Review:

How should you begin your story?

With a voice. With a voice in the ear. That first page I wrote, which the novel progressed from, is simply Lavinia speaking to us—including me, apparently.

9. Focus on the Rhythm of the Story

From Paris Review:

I want the story to have a rhythm that keeps moving forward. Because that’s the whole point of telling a story. You’re on a journey—you’re going from here to there. It’s got to move. Even if the rhythm is very complicated and subtle, that’s what’s going to carry the reader.

10. Don’t Waste Time

From Paris Review:

And one of [the things you learn as you get older] is, you really need less… My model for this is late Beethoven. He moves so strangely and quite suddenly sometimes from place to place in his music, in the late quartets. He knows where he’s going and he just doesn’t want to waste all that time getting there…. One is aware of this as one gets older. You can’t waste time.

How about you? What do you love about Ursula Le Guin? What has she taught you about writing?

PRACTICE

Use tip #5 and write like who you really are.  Write like a woman or a man or an American or an alien or an Ursula Le Guin or a Joe Bunting. Write just as you are.

Write for fifteen minutes. When your time is up, post your practice in the comments section. And if you post, please be sure to give feedback to a few other writers.

Happy writing!

About Joe Bunting

Joe Bunting is a writer and entrepreneur. He is the author of the #1 Amazon Bestseller Let’s Write a Short Story! and the co-founder of Story Cartel. You can follow him on Twitter (@joebunting).

TOOLS OF THE TRADE

Tools to Help You Write a Novel in 30 Days

November is National Novel Writing Month; here’s the best software to help you write 50,000 words in 30 days.
The Best Writing Tools for NaNoWriMo

Contents

November is known for turkey, Black Friday sales, not shaving, and—since the year 2000—the month when writers try to (finally) craft the Great American Novel. We’re talking about the fifteenth annual National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo).

What began as a little event in San Francisco in July 1999 (it moved to November the next year) has ballooned into something far more than national—it’s a worldwide phenomenon, backed by a non-profit company created by the founder, Chris Baty, that doubles as a major cheerleader for writers.

It’s free to participate, but your tax-deductable donations are encouraged to keep it afloat. That’s because you don’t really need the NaNoWriMo site to get a book written. But think about the “rule” you’re expected to follow to “win” at NaNoWriMo: You have to write a 50,000-word novel in just 30 days. That’s 1,667 words a day. Stephen King might snap that much off before lunchtime, but the rest of us need encouragement.

Take the first step by announcing your novel at NaNoWriMo.org, and on November 1, start recording your daily word count. You’ll earn badges along the way and get advice via newsletters (some by famous authors) and the forums. You can build a community of fellow WriMos online and locally through events.

In the end, you’ll have a novel. It will probably be crappy. No, it will definitely be crap-tastic. But that’s okay! The only rule of NaNoWriMo is to finish—because that’s the hardest part. Some famous modern novels, such as Wool, The Night Circus, and Water for Elephants all started life as NaNoWriMo novels. We’re not saying you’re that good… but if you work on it after November, maybe you can get it out there. (That’s a whole other story.)

To truly succeed at NaNoWriMo you need things we can’t help you with—like an idea, and a plot, and characters, not to mention the gumption to spend hours each day clacking at the keyboard. But we can point out bsome of the absolute best software and apps you can get to make it all a little easier to write, plan, and count all those precious words. After you win by writing that 50,000-word tome—that’s the same size at The Great Gatsby!—you’ll have all the tools you need on hand to keep writing. Always keep writing…

WRITER’S BLOCK AND WRITER’S LICENSE

I’ve never suffered the creative malady, Writer’s Block – as it is typically defined anyway, as an inability to generate new material. I’ve always had the opposite problem, Writer’s License.

By that I mean too many ideas, too many projects, and not enough focus on one thing at a time. And when it comes to a single project constantly adding onto it and ceaselessly building it without any real restraint until it grows overly-complicated and unwieldy. That is to say that often I have an overindulgence of ideas, and it is my lack of desire to restrict and redact that is the problem for me, not my ability to generate and grow.

My ability to constantly generate more is almost unlimited. But over time I have learned to better control that, though the problem still remains and sometimes I will subconsciously find my desk and myself surrounded by hundreds of sticky notes for idea and scene and plot inclusion into a book and then I’ll have to say to myself, “Realistically kid, this will be impossible.

So for those with Writer’s Block as it is atypically defined, or as I define it, as Writer’s License (for it should have a separate term and definition altogether), then here is an interesting and generally useful article to address that/your problem.

Of course it depends on exactly what you’re writing as to how useful any particular writing advice may actually be.

 

Half the Words, Twice the Hits: 7 Tips for Removing Writer’s Block

When you write for fun, the knowledge that you’ll be the only one to read your words can make it easy to fill three journal pages in ten minutes. But when you’re working with a deadline, two problems may slow down your writing process:

  • Writer’s block. A form of anxiety that makes it temporarily impossible to produce new work because nothing seems good enough to be published.
  • Inability to self-edit. Deleting your own words means detaching your emotions from the time and energy you just spent creating them.

Writers have been publicly battling this malady since Coleridge wrote about his own struggles in 1804. Writer’s block is widely accepted as an occupational hazard. But as a professional content marketer, you simply don’t have the luxury of sitting around and waiting for your muse to appear. In order to meet deadlines and company expectations, you have to write quickly, smoothly, and succinctly.

That last point is especially important. It was Chekov (or Faulkner, or Ginsberg) who once said, “Kill your darlings.” Intense, but good advice. Sometimes, your most cherished sentence can be what’s keeping you from saying what you really need to.

Last year, Flavorwire collected and published tips on overcoming writer’s block from 13 famous writers. Here are seven of ours:

1. Start with Research

Read the creative or content brief and your assignment sheet, then do third-party research to become well-versed on your subject. Take your time, and trust that your brain absorbs information whether you’re conscious of it or not.

2. Just Write

Subscribe to the saying, “Don’t get it right, get it written.” Record your thoughts on what you’ve researched. What do you need to tell your audience about your product or services? What are your readers’ pain points? How will you solve their problems?

3. Look for Patterns and Think Chronologically

Look for trends in your draft. Have any themes emerged on their own? Is there a logical outline or structure to the piece? Move sentences or paragraphs around and refine your vocabulary, phrasing, and grammar. If readers were to follow your advice, what action should they take first?

4. Spunk It Up!

Write blog posts that engage your audience and keep them coming back for more. If you’ve got a great sense of humor, bring it to your writing (if the topic allows). Cite relevant research and articles, include interesting links to outside sources, and capture readers’ attention with eye-catching photographs.

5. Give It Shape

Your job as a marketing content producer is to take a big idea and make it snackable. Clearly define paragraphs, use numbered or bulleted lists, and remember that white space is a blog writer’s best friend. If that means you end up turning one post into two, all the better!

6. Be Ruthless

Ask yourself, “If I had to cut the word count in half, what would stay and what would go?” This reductive process will force you to write concise, relevant sentences. Ask yourself if every paragraph offers new or useful information. If you’ve merely restated your point, identify and eliminate it. It’s difficult to do, especially if what you’re ditching is witty, but it’s worth it in a culture that thinks in tweets.

7. Understand That Practice Makes . . .

. . . you better. You won’t get it right on the first try, so don’t fool yourself into thinking you will. No writer is perfect. Work with a good editor and consider every piece of criticism a gift. One of the best ways to improve your writing is to carefully review your edited copy and use what you learn the next time you sit down to write.

Want more content-creation tips to help destroy writer’s block for good? Register for the Content Standard newsletter.

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