On writing with style, some advice from Kurt Vonnegut

Tuesday, 14 February, 2017

An article penned by late US author Kurt Vonnegut, in 1999, offering his tips to writers. A must read, but here are the main points:

  • Find a subject you care about
  • Do not ramble, though
  • Keep it simple
  • Have guts to cut
  • Sound like yourself
  • Say what you mean
  • Pity the readers

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For all the written works in the world there are two types of writers

Thursday, 7 July, 2016

There are two types of writers, bashers and swoopers, says Ollie Campbell.

Bashers write one sentence at a time, and do not move onto the next one until they are finished. After that they never come back to it. As far as they’re concerned, it is ready to go.

Swoopers, on the other hand, might write different parts of the story during a single sitting. They might start by working on an idea in the middle, then go to something near the beginning, then jump to another towards the end of the story. That sounds familiar.

For Swoopers, writing is about gradually getting a jumble of ideas into shape. And these kinds of writers are used to working around the limitations of their tools. A writer I spoke to recently said “I normally have six different Word documents open at once with different parts of what I’m writing. Then it’s just condense, condense, condense.”

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Why would a writer want to be rejected 100 times each year?

Tuesday, 5 July, 2016

New York City based author Kim Liao suggests that aspiring writers should strive to have their work rejected one hundred time each year. That may be one hundred too many rejections for some of us, but to collect that many knock-backs hopefully means one or two ideas end up being accepted.

Last year, I got rejected 43 times by literary magazines, residencies, and fellowships – my best record since I started shooting for getting 100 rejections per year. It’s harder than it sounds, but also more gratifying.

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I am a writer, but am I famous yet? This flowchart might know

Wednesday, 11 February, 2015

Am I a famous writer yet? You probably don’t need a flowchart to help you determine the answer, but I guess there’s no harm in double checking…

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The “To Kill a Mockingbird” sequel is also a prequel of sorts

Tuesday, 10 February, 2015

Well this is great news, maybe, Harper Lee, author of “To Kill a Mockingbird”, which, somehow, I only read for the first time late last year, is to publish a sequel to her much loved 1960 work, titled “Go Set a Watchman”.

What’s interesting here though is that “Watchman” – that features Scout Finch as an adult – was written before “Mockingbird”, and includes flashbacks to her childhood, and it was these recollections that went on to form the basis of “To Kill a Mockingbird”:

Lee’s editor persuaded her to rework some of the story’s flashback sequences as a novel in their own right – and that book became To Kill a Mockingbird. “I was a first-time writer, so I did as I was told,” the author revealed.

A prequel that ended up as a sequel, maybe?

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Introducing Maya Angelou to someone who is new to her work

Friday, 6 June, 2014

US author and poet Maya Angelou died last week, aged 86. While the many readers of her writings will probably never forget her, how might you explain who she was, and the significance of her work, to someone, who has not heard of her? An anonymous Quora member, whose name, I think, is Anita, outlines the answer she would give to her six-year old child:

Has anyone ever told you that you can’t do something? Because you’re too young? Or too weak? Or too stupid? Because you’re the wrong color? Or because you’re “just” a girl? How did it make you feel to be told those things? Did it hurt you? Did it make you sad? Did it make you mad? Well, there was a woman named Maya Angelou who felt all those things when she was your age.

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To look forward to, some new books by J.D. Salinger

Monday, 2 September, 2013

It looks as if “new” books by J.D. Salinger, the manuscripts of which have been sitting in a safe in the late US author’s house for possibly decades, may see the light of day sooner rather than later, even though it was apparently Salinger’s wish they not be published until 2051, though it seems this directive may only apply to certain works.

This could be a double treat for fans of The Catcher in the Rye, as the unpublished books sound like follow-ups to Salinger’s iconic 1951 work:

The Salinger books would revisit Catcher protagonist Holden Caulfield and draw on Salinger’s World War II years and his immersion in eastern religion. The material also would feature new stories about the Glass family of Franny and Zooey and other Salinger works.

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Even bestselling authors are only writing, it seems, for the love of it

Monday, 25 March, 2013

Just because you wrote a bestselling book doesn’t mean you can necessarily go making plans to pursue a career as a full time author, something Patrick Wensink found after he started receiving the royalty payments for his 2012 book, Broken Piano for President.

My book was the No. 6 bestselling title in America for a while, right behind all the different “50 Shades of Grey” and “Gone Girl.” It was selling more copies than “Hunger Games” and “Bossypants.” So, I can sort of see why people thought I was going to start wearing monogrammed silk pajamas and smoking a pipe. But the truth is, there’s a reason most well-known writers still teach English. There’s a reason most authors drive dented cars. There’s a reason most writers have bad teeth. It’s not because we’ve chosen a life of poverty. It’s that poverty has chosen our profession. Even when there’s money in writing, there’s not much money.

This despite the profile generated by the overly reasonable cease and desist letter from Jack Daniel’s (a must read by the way), that played a part in propelling the book – whose original cover design bore a striking resemblance to the well-known whiskey’s bottle label – to the upper reaches of bestseller lists in the US.

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All this time I thought that writing wasn’t remotely mathematical

Wednesday, 14 November, 2012

Not to impune Ernest Hemingway’s opinion in this regard, but I for one am not convinced that writers need to be – how do I say – mathematically literate:

Fiction writers have rarely expressed such earnest appreciation for mathematical aesthetics. That’s a shame, because mathematical precision and imagination can be a salve to a literature that is drowning in vagueness of language and theme. “The laws of prose writing are as immutable as those of flight, of mathematics, of physics,” Ernest Hemingway wrote to Maxwell Perkins, in 1945. Even if Papa never had much formal training in mathematics, he understood it as a discipline in which problems are solved through a sort of plodding ingenuity.

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If in doubt don’t wing it when writing non-fiction

Friday, 21 September, 2012

Since writing fiction is oh so easy – writer’s block notwithstanding – there’s no need to post links to resources offering assistance in that regard.

Non-fiction however is another matter, you can’t go making that stuff up after all (though I’m sure it’s been tried), so this is probably an area that we need some advice in.

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