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review 2015-11-28 21:31
Okay, fine, I'll start writing again. Jeez.
Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life - Anne Lamott

It only took me reading about the first five pages, the first five pages of the introduction, I might add, to know my relationship with this book was going to be of the love/hate variety. With a subtitle like, Some Instructions on Writing and Life how could it not be?

 

I've been writing since I was young. I studied creative writing at university, took every creative writing class I could in middle school and high school, and have started working on two projects I hope will be books one day as of writing this review. I have also been in a serious writing dry spell the last, oh say, several months to a year. 

 

I brought Bird by Bird with me all the way to New Zealand with the intention of reading it in order to reinvigorate my writer's spirt, which would then allow me to jump back into my writing while I'm living here in this amazing, beautiful, laid back place that's just brimming with inspiration. And it has certainly reinvigorated me, but in both good ways and bad. 

 

Anne Lamott does a very good job of delivering her writerly advice in easy, understandable terms with the right amount of humor mixed in. The book is light-hearted at the same time it is poignant and a little soul-crushing. Many of the bigger concepts and lessons she is describing in the book I've heard one hundred and one times throughout my own writing career (if you want to call it that). But another thing I know is that it never hurts, nay, it is probably a good thing to be constantly reminded of these facts, these rather unfortunate truths of being a writer. 

 

I don't have a vast collection of writer friends like Lamott seems to have. So I don't have a whole lot of people to turn to in my times of writerly angst. But having this book on my shelf (now that I've actually read it and know all the comforting and not so comforting words it holds) feels like I've got some sort of paperback therapist I can call upon to talk me down in times of trouble. 

 

I would recommend this book to new writers and veteran writers alike. Put it on your shelf next to things like Stephen King's On Writing and The Elements of Style.

 

~Ren

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quote 2015-09-09 21:01
One of the most basic assumptions that an audience makes is that the person who created the entertainment they’re about to enjoy is going to treat them fairly. They assume that everything they witness has a point, and is necessary to the story. Audiences are prepared to accept small exceptions to this rule – writers are allowed a few red herrings and MacGuffins – but break it in a major way and they’re going to feel cheated...

The secret storytelling truth we must mainline:

Be aware of the contract between you and your audience. Everything that happens must happen for a reason, and the more of a big deal you make of an event, the bigger the pay off must be.

Source: LitReactor (Spoiler Alert for True Detective: Season Two)

 

I suggest every author who sees this read the entire article.

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text 2015-07-09 11:10
Exploring Ideas Through Fiction

A good book is one that makes us think--about ourselves, and about our world. Even in genre works, like sci fi, fantasy, and horror, the author still explores ideas about what it means to be human: love, hatred, trust, belief, war, disease--plus uncountable others. Even if an author doesn't intend to send a message in their work, the way that they present their characters and their setting will include certain assumptions and judgments about life.

 

There is no way to escape these themes, any more than writers can escape characters, plots, or words, so it is important for us to consider how we want to use them--and how they are used in authors we read. There are a number of ways to present and explore these themes in books, some more effective than others. So, in order from least to best, here are the different methods authors use to present ideas in their works:


 

 

I. Exploitation

Exploitative works present ideas in a way that thrills and titillates the audience, but which never asks difficult questions and does little or nothing to challenge societal prejudices. Such works use sex, violence, racism, religion, politics, and other hot-button issues to draw in their audience, exploiting the fact that, when we see such taboos being played out, it provokes strong emotional reactions from us.

 

The average Women in Prison Movie, for example, uses its setting to depict violence, nudity, lesbianism, and dominance, but it doesn't actually explore what these ideas mean. It doesn't try to define what 'justice' actually means, or look at the nature of personal freedom versus social safety. These are themes that are going to be present in any movie about incarceration, but in a low-quality exploitation film, such themes will never be explored. Of course, this doesn't mean that all movies labeled with the 'exploitation' genre must be this thoughtless--some use these techniques to get butts in seats, and can be remarkable subversive.

 

 

II. Realistic Presentation

These works present interesting themes to us in a realistic way, but never actually force us to confront them or think about them deeply. This was the criticism Roger Ebert laid against Fight Club: that the first half opens up a number of interesting questions, but the last half fails to sink its teeth into them, letting them drop away into the background. However, there are many exploitative authors who try to use this as a defense of their works--that they're only presenting the world 'as it really is'.

 

For example, recent authors of 'gritty' epic fantasy tend to present rape as a constant threat to women, often to the point that no female character in any of their books will fail to be threatened seriously with rape, at one point or another. They claim they are only representing 'the dark nature of war', but they never present a single male character being threatened with rape by his enemies, despite this being far from uncommon in the real world. As such, we can see that they are only presenting one side of rape, the side which our current culture finds titillating and exciting, meaning that they are writing pure exploitation, not realism.

 

Part of the problem with this strategy is that it acts as if the author and the work are somehow separate, allowing the author to deny responsibility for what they have written. All works of writing are artificial, because everything in a story is there only because the author chose to put it there deliberately, or because they unconsciously included it. Sitting back and saying 'no, my story is realistic, it represents the real world' is a cop-out. The book represents the author's views and mind, whether they intend it to or not, so to me it seems wiser to deliberately take advantage of this artificiality by being aware of it rather than pretending that it doesn't exist. Why choose to write a story about a prison if the theme of freedom doesn't interest you?

 

 

III. Promotion and Condemnation

This is the most simplistic way for an author to try to deal with themes in their work: to present the theme and then use various methods to try to convince the audience either that it is good, or that it is bad. Often, this means putting the idea into a certain character's mouth, such as having the hero give a long speech about the roles men and women should have in relationships. Since the hero is presented as good, and sympathetic, and competent, we are supposed to trust this speech and take the lesson to heart. Conversely, you can have the villain talk all about why Communism is the best, and since he happens to kill babies, we're supposed to conclude that Communism is evil. Sometimes, it's set up as a conversation, where the character the author wants to be right has all the proper answers, and the wrong character gets completely torn down.

 

Less skilled authors don't even bother to put the idea into the mouths of their characters, they just state it outright in the narration--either going off on some long tangent about their personal opinions, or perhaps slipping them in, here and there. Take for example a racist author who always uses unflattering descriptions for non-White characters, or a sexist author who describe all the good women as physically beautiful, and all the bad ones as ugly and deformed.

 

Though it's good that at least these authors are trying to explore ideas in their works, in the end this method is no more than propaganda, an attempt by the author to tell you what you should or shouldn't believe. It's what I've come to call 'literature of answers'--the author has some particular opinion they present as gospel truth--and any time someone tells you they have the answers, they're trying to sell you something.

 

 

IV. Negative Capability

This is the highest form of thematic exploration to which an author can aspire. Instead of simply telling the reader what to think, or presenting their own opinions in a good light and the opposite side in a bad light, the author attempts to look at an idea from several different sides, bringing up questions about how we think of that idea, of the assumptions and prejudices that go along with it, and ultimately, forcing the reader to reconsider their own position on the matter. It makes us look at the world in a new way, so that we have to confront what we thought we knew and admit that (as ever) we have more work to do. So, if the author were exploring the theme of incarceration and justice, they would have to show us not just the prisoner's side of the argument, but also the jailor's, and the judge's, and the average citizens.

 

Better yet, they can show us how various individual prisoners and officers see it, that some prisoners are going to disagree with others about what it means, and some prisoners and officers are going to be on the same page. What's important is that each individual view that we see comes off as valid and believable for that character, that we aren't getting weak straw men on one side and real arguments on the other. The term 'Negative Capability' was originally defined by Keats, referring to how great writers like Shakespeare wrote about ideas--that all the characters on both side of the argument seem to be strong and well-written, and as such, that it's difficult or impossible to decide which side the author personally prefers.

 

Indeed, a thoughtful and honest author will often admit that they don't have the answers, and that the best we can do is to present various sides of the issue, as we understand them, and to let our readers make up their own minds. This is what I've come to call 'literature of questions', where instead of giving us simple answers, the author forces the reader to consider difficult and complex questions about the nature of life and being.

 

What's curious is that often, when an author's message aligns with modern assumptions and prejudices,  it becomes less clear whether they're writing propagandist, one-sided views. For instance, these days racists tend to be presented as evil villain characters, and you rarely get a racist character whose beliefs are presented as valid from their own point-of-view--indeed, writers who present a sympathetic racist are likely to be accused of defending racism instead of presenting various sides of the issue. Of course, the problem with this is that it supports the notion that racism is a simplistic, either/or proposition, to the point that many people think being nice means you can't be a racist--when of course, prejudice is much more subtle and insidious than that, and deserves more thorough and thoughtful treatment.

 

There are also some cases where an author might be providing a response to a common cultural theme that is widely taken for granted, and since it is already so familiar to readers, they don't have to present both sides--that they only need to present the revolutionary, contradictory side.

 

 

Final Thoughts

Kyosai - Hell Courtesan

As authors, it's important for us to consider what themes we want to explore in our books--we don't have the space to explore all of them, so as always, it becomes a case of choosing what to leave in, and what to deliberately keep out. Certainly, it's not a problem to touch upon certain ideas, here and there, or to look at one more deeply in a certain chapter and not return to it. As readers, we must likewise try to ferret out what each author thought was important, and then try to decide what we think of the ideas they presented, and how they presented them. Were they effective? Did they bring up ideas only to exploit them, or did they present them realistically? Do they work to explore these themes, or merely depict them? Did they fill their works with a lot of drawn-out explanations and exposition, or did their themes emerge naturally from their characters and stories?

 

One of the most important things that you can do as an author is to choose characters, scenes, and settings that match the ideas you like to explore. If you want to explore the idea of justice, then pick characters and situations which will highlight various aspects of that idea. Give yourself every opportunity to present your themes in different ways, and from different points of view, so you can provide your reader with a more complete exploration of your ideas. For every author, there will be certain ideas that appeal to them, and to which they will return again and again over decades in various stories and books. There may also be ideas that interest you only for a while.

 

Getting to know what these ideas are, and why they are important to you is a vital part of finding your own authorial voice. That doesn't mean you have to be certain about them--quite the opposite: they should be ideas which puzzle you, which fill you with wonder, so that you will never tire of picking them up and looking at them again, trying to find a new angle or view that you can represent in your writing.

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text 2015-05-11 01:13
How to Work from Home as a Creative Person

(Or, How to Make Enough Money at Your Hobby to Tell Your Boss to Go Fuck Him/Herself)

 

I have five fool-proof ways to become successful enough at your creative outlet to justify quitting your day job. These five pieces of advice will work for anyone. I should know, because they worked for me!

 

#1. Win the lottery. Nothing provides financial freedom like being suddenly rich as balls. I'm still mastering this step, but I've heard it's the perfect way to be able to write books and stay home all day watching Netflix.

 

#2. Have a huge penis or perfect breasts and be willing to video tape yourself performing sexual acts. You don't have to be a pornographer, but you must have a video camera. Sex sells, and people love watching people fuck. Even amateurs. Hell, in some circles, especially amateurs. I've not mastered this skill yet either, but I've done plenty of research in my time.

 

#3. Speaking of selling sex, write erotica. You don't even have to be good at it. Your work can be riddled with errors and stupidity and people will still buy your work. Most of these people will buy it simply to make fun of you in their book groups, but they bought it, so what do you care. Pro Tip: Throw in sex with monsters, dinosaurs, or robots for even more sales.

 

#4. Fuck someone important. Find someone whom others listen to and fuck their brains out. Once you're done fucking that person, tell them that you've written a book and would love if they'd pimp your shit. This does not make you a whore. It makes you a business person. Fun for men and women alike!

 

#5. Get lucky. That's how the majority of us do it. Seriously, there's no special formula to success in this ever-changing literary world. People's tastes change, and you're only ever as good as your last book. You can email me everyday asking me advice and I will always tell you the same thing: I got lucky. I don't buy ads, I don't spam people, I don't seek out review swaps, none of that. I write, I publish, and I sit back and hope that each story finds an audience. It's that simple, and that hard. Do I think this will last forever? Nope. Am I rich? Nope. I make enough off my writing to pay the bills. This is my job, and I'll be the first one to tell you that I'm lucky enough to say that.

 

This has been a public service announcement brought to you in part by the letter E.

 

 

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text 2015-03-28 14:59
Neil Gaiman on Writing
I have been trying to write for a while now. I have all these amazing ideas, but its really hard getting my thoughts onto paper. Thus, my ideas never really come to fruition. Do you have any advice?
joseph-the-mop asked

 

neil-gaiman:

 

Write the ideas down. If they are going to be stories, try and tell the stories you would like to read. Finish the things you start to write. Do it a lot and you will be a writer. The only way to do it is to do it. 

 

I’m just kidding. There are much easier ways of doing it. For example: On the top of a distant mountain there grows a tree with silver leaves. Once every year, at dawn on April 30th, this tree blossoms, with five flowers, and over the next hour each blossom becomes a berry, first a green berry, then black, then golden.

 

At the moment the five berries become golden, five white crows, who have been waiting on the mountain, and which you will have mistaken for snow, will swoop down on the tree, greedily stripping it of all its berries, and will fly off, laughing.

 

You must catch, with your bare hands, the smallest of the crows, and you must force it to give up the berry (the crows do not swallow the berries. They carry them far across the ocean, to an enchanter’s garden, to drop, one by one, into the mouth of his daughter, who will wake from her enchanted sleep only when a thousand such berries have been fed to her). When you have obtained the golden berry, you must place it under your tongue, and return directly to your home.

 

For the next week, you must speak to no-one, not even your loved ones or a highway patrol officer stopping you for speeding. Say nothing. Do not sleep. Let the berry sit beneath your tongue.

 

At midnight on the seventh day you must go to the highest place in your town (it is common to climb on roofs for this step) and, with the berry safely beneath your tongue, recite the whole of Fox in Socks. Do not let the berry slip from your tongue. Do not miss out any of the poem, or skip any of the bits of the Muddle Puddle Tweetle Poodle Beetle Noodle Bottle Paddle Battle.

 

Then, and only then, can you swallow the berry. You must return home as quickly as you can, for you have only half an hour at most before you fall into a deep sleep.

 

When you wake in the morning, you will be able to get your thoughts and ideas down onto the paper, and you will be a writer. 

 

Great advice from Neil Gaiman — how to write! 

Source: sinfulfolk.com
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