#inden {text-indent: 25px }

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Two Bons Mots for Writers

Garrison Keillor puts out every weekday the Writer's Almanac, which includes a poem and a list of writers whose birthday it is. For today, he listed, among others, Seymour Hersh and Barbara Kingsolver, with quotes from each worth taping to your wall. (Unclear when or where they uttered these words of wisdom.)

From Hersh, this: "I don't make deals, I don't party and drink with sources, and I don't play a game of leaks. I read, I listen, I squirrel information. It's fun."

Barbara Kingsolver: "It is harrowing for me to try to teach 20-year-old students, who earnestly want to improve their writing. The best I can think to tell them is: Quit smoking, and observe posted speed limits. This will improve your odds of getting old enough to be wise."

Also, when I was looking at Kingsolver's Web site, I came across this, in the FAQ section:

From Francine [Prose] I remember learning three specific, helpful things that might qualify as rules. They were:
  • Your first sentence (or paragraph) makes a promise that the rest of the story (or novel) will keep.
  • Give your reader a reason to turn every page.
  • Keep a very large trash can beside your desk.
I follow these faithfully, though I've updated the wastebasket to a recycling box. Now, lest anyone turn blue, I'll offer up a few more things I've figured out over the years which might qualify as rules. Maybe there will be ten. We'll see.
  • Show, don't tell. Everybody knows this rule, and most of us still break it in every first draft. Be ruthless. Throw out the interior monologue.
  • Be relentlessly descriptive. Use details from every sense you own.
  • Set your scenes in places you know well. Otherwise, your details will be bogus.
  • Know what your theme is. If you can't express what you intend to get across in a concrete sentence or two (or for a novel, a few paragraphs), do you really think anyone else is going to get it? Write it out for yourself, point blank. Then toss it, and return to your story with a better sense of direction.
  • Write with nobody looking over your shoulder. After your book's published, you can worry about whether the subject is commercial, how your mother will like the steamy sex scenes, etc. But while you're writing, your only worthy concern is defining your particular passion and giving it a voice.
  • Revise, revise, revise, revise. Fill up that recycling box. A first draft is a work of construction; the seventh one is the work of an artist.
  • Don't wait for the muse. She has a lousy work ethic. Writers just write.

category: quotations


Post a Comment

<< Home