Tough Writer’s Manifesto: Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop, Never Stop

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/Beth Wareham

Richard Bach, author of that 20th century pop icon, Jonathan Livingston Seagull, said a mouthful with “A professional writer is an amateur who didn’t quit.” Richard – who once let me fly his plane – would not like what I have to say about much of his writing. But his work on aviation is magnificent. He was also based in the same squadron as a really professional writer – one James Salter – during the Berlin crisis. Salter, author of A Sport and A Pastime, among others, never chose a wrong word in his life.

A tough writer, amateur or check-casher, doesn’t quit. A tough writer works through problems, wipes out pages, starts over. A tough writer knows how you can get inside a book and slip and slide in it, failing to accomplish much of anything. A tough writer understands the words “begin again.”

Below is some pretty interesting advice I’ve heard from authors and editors in a 20-year career in the larger publishing houses of New York. Some of it will depress you and some will set you free.

You must remember, though, that part of the extreme joy of reading and writing is the discovery of the new voice, seemingly from nowhere, who changes your point of view.

What you also must remember, sitting glumly at your keyboard, is that voice just might come from you:

TOUGH WRITERS MANIFESTO

1. No one is watching you.

The great Ilene Beckerman, author of Love, Love and What I Wore, confessed that what she liked about writing was that nobody saw when she wrote a sentence like “She carried the steaming tureen to the table.” Allow yourself all the mistakes you need until it feels right to you.

2. Plan and destroy. Plan and destroy.

Map a plot. Change it. Flush out characters, modify, remove, add more. Throughout the process of putting a book together, you need the plan of a soldier who is ready to shift positions at any moment for a more effective line of attack. Rigid flexibility. Think on it.

3. Who are you writing for?

Too often, especially in non-fiction, authors are writing for peers. That’s fine, if you want to sell books to the 200 other forensic accountants in California. Who is your reader? Who do you see in your mind’s eye as you work on the book? Act accordingly. Don’t use technical words if you trying to reach the layman. Choose communication over showing off.

4. Feed a fever; Starve a cold

If you don’t believe in the muse, then you don’t believe in Faulkner, Mozart and Beethoven. Whole chunks of finished passages just appeared in their heads and the test was to write it down quickly enough they didn’t lose it. This is true of you as well. If you become deeply engaged in writing a scene, stay with it. Sitting down at a computer and doing 500 words a day is the drip, drip of sinuses disengaged from the passion of writing. Stop word counting and start throwing your soul into it.

5. Facts are not the truth.

In fiction, there are no facts but abundant truths. Since all writing is autobiographical to a degree, never got bogged down in the actually memory of a room or character. Remake them anew to meet the truth of what you are writing. You owe no one an explanation for your art.

6. Raw is good.

The closer you can get to the bone, the more you feel what you write, the more your reader will too. This is what Hemingway meant by his comment that being a writer was no big deal, you just sat down and bled on a keyboard all day. Readers know when they are being kept at arms’ length and most don’t like it. Bring them in to you and the story.

7. Detail isn’t everything, but it’s almost everything.

Every detail you choose should further your plot or give us more information about your characters and the “truth” of your book. Here’s a simple example of how you might or might not choose detail for a character:

Meyer’s suit was blue and his shoes were brown.

Meyer’s blue suit shined at the elbows, leading the eye downward to a pair of brown crepe-soled
work shoes.

Simple, right? And no one ever talks about the writer’s eyes; the painters get all that public relations.

8. Simple formulas make powerful books.

A) Tell your story from the beginning and end at the end. Simple. Never fails

B) Try the song form: A,B,A. Used for thousands of years, you can see this form best in a series
like Lord of the Rings: A is the Shire, B is the adventure, C is a return to the Shire with
lessons learned and evil vanquished.

9. Edit like Stalin.

Everyone, EVERYONE, uses too many words. Edit yourself ruthlessly. Any word that is not absolutely necessary to further your story should go. You owe this to your reader: don’t waste their time with overwriting. Proust covered that already.

10. Let the manuscript rest before final carving.

Polishing a manuscript brings up an interesting combination of anxiety and joy. You are close to a finished book. Give it that last read and polish it up. Remove the final unnecessary adverbs and adjectives. Tighten descriptions. People will read it soon, thus the anxiety. People will read it soon, thus the joy.

Some will judge you positively, some might not. But somewhere, someone will read your book and it will change his or her life.

And that, my friend, is why you do it.

Stay tough.

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Stuck? Walk Away. #amwriting

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www.shadowteams.com
/Beth Wareham

I have heard and read so many discussions about writer’s block, it feels like the commercial about “Going and Going” that air on all three network news broadcasts each night.

Creativity, being a function of your brain, is mysterious. Maybe it’s best to have the same respect (or nearly) for it as you do for love.  I’ve read so many books about creativity that I’ve come to the conclusion that no one else understands it either.  Without it, life is grim.

Science, however, has an explanation. In Dr. Herbert Benson’s The Breakout Principle, he talks about how creativity can be triggered by repetitive movement such as jogging, knitting, yoga, sewing, meditation, golf.  The repetitive motion releases chemicals in the brain.  These are the chemicals that allow different parts of the brain to communicate and make creative leaps and comparisons. It’s on.

The worst thing you can do, in other words, is to sit at the computer watching cat videos or go to dinner parties and bray at your friends that you have writer’s block.

Go fold laundry, run, sit in the bathtub, read to a kid. Release your mind from the struggle at the machine and let it solve the creative problem in its own mysterious way. It just might fall into you brain fully-formed and seemingly from nowhere.

Feed your creativity. It goes with you everywhere. Like a blue stool.

 

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WRITING’S 5 RULES OF ORGANIZATION

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http://www.shadowteams.com
by Beth Wareham

This title is utter nonsense aimed at “I need to write another blog list.” There are no rules of organization in writing. Actually, there aren’t as many rules as you’d think in writing. There are just writers without the talent to break the rules and make it work. The rule breakers who make it work are usually called “geniuses.”

When writing a book of any length, it is easy to get lost in plot, idea, side discussion, subplot. Don’t get lost in anything. Your job as the writer is to DRIVE:

1. At the end of each day’s writing, make notes of what you want to accomplish the next day. That’s what Hemingway did and I’m just passing it along. It sure worked for him.

2. Make extensive notes about character and stick to your own rules. Don’t let a character slip out of voice or contradict their earlier appearance. Be consistent.

3. Books have a beginning, middle and end. Don’t forget to write an ending. (See Donna Tartt’s second book, The Little Friend)

4. Always have your reader in your mind’s eye. Describe him or her to yourself and pin that description where you can see it as you work. That’s who you are trying to reach with every word you choose. If you start selecting words to show off your big vocabulary, you’ve missed the whole point of writing.

5. Know your own focus. If it takes you a long time to get back into the story after the doorbell rings, go write in a completely silent place. Give your talent the right environment to thrive.

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Ang Lee and the Very Good Poem

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“Come to the edge,” he said.
“We can’t, we’re afraid!” they responded.
“Come to the edge,” he said.
“We can’t, We will fall!” they responded.
“Come to the edge,” he said.
And so they came.
And he pushed them.
And they flew.

Guillaume Apollinaire (1880 – 1918)

I have loved this poem since the first time I read it. I didn’t understand it; It seemed to represent some kind of freedom for me as a teenager. I had it folded up in a wad in a series of  preppie looking wallets.   I would read it 40 years later at my Father’s funeral. He was Apollinaire’s kinda guy: He’d throw you in, you swam. He’d let go of the rudder, you flew.

In 33 words, look what Apollinaire does. Boiled down everything. So tight you hear the rock sliding down the side of the cliff. A flash of light hits them as the wind takes them up and out over the canyon.

In Crouching Dragon, Hidden Dragon”s final scene, a young woman climbs atop a curved, cloud-covered bridge, raises her arms and jumps. She is moves through cloud and sun and mountain backdrops. We don’t know if she lives or dies. And that’s not really the point.

The point is that she wanted to fly.

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Cut Through The Bullshit and Go Hear a Writer: The Magnificent Marilynne Robinson Quietly Enters Manhattan

FROM QUIET ANNOUNCEMENT FROM NEW YORK CITY’S BRICK CHURCH

Marilynne Robinson to Visit The Brick Church Oct. 17 and 18

Please mark your calendars for this singular event: On Friday evening, Oct. 17, at 6:30 p.m. and Saturday morning, Oct. 18, at 9:30 a.m. Pulitzer Prize-wining novelist and essayist, Marilynne Robinson will speak at The Brick Church. Both the evening and morning events are open to the general public. Robinson has authored three acclaimed novels. Housekeeping was a finalist for the 1982 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. Gilead was awarded the 2005 Pulitzer. Home received the 2009 Orange Prize for Fiction in the United Kingdom. She is also the author of numerous non-fiction works, most recently When I Was a Child I read Books: Essays (2012). She has also written articles, reviews and essays for Harper’s, The Paris Review and The New York Times Book Review. She was recently awarded the 2012 National Humanities Medal by the President of the United States, for her “grace and intelligence in writing.”

In the introduction to a recent interview published in the Paris Review, interviewer Sarah Fay noted that “Robinson is a Christian whose faith is not easily reduced to generalities. Calvin’s thought has had a strong influence on her, and she depicts him in her essays as a misunderstood humanist, likening his ‘secularizing tendencies’ to the ‘celebrations of the human one finds in Emerson and Whitman.’ Her novels,” Fay continues, “could also be described as celebrations of the human – the characters that inhabit them are indelible creations.”

The Brick Church is most fortunate to have this exceptional opportunity to welcome Marilynne Robinson and to hear her speak on Oct. 17 and 18, 2014. The evening event on Friday will begin with a brief reception at 6:30 p.m. Saturday morning’s will commence with coffee and a light breakfast at 9:30 a.m. Marilynne Robinson’s visit to the church is underwritten by a generous contribution from a Brick Church member.

Contact the church: Phone: (212) 289-4400, Email

Sanctuary street location: The Brick Presbyterian Church is located on the corner of 91st Street and Park Avenue in New York City.

Street location for the Parish House and Business Office:
62 East 92nd Street (between Park and Madison Avenues)
New York, NY 10128
Tel: 212.289.4400