(Complete Archived List)
On Writing, by the experts: Calling it a Night
"The best way is always to stop when you are going good and when you know what will happen next. If you do that every day when you are writing a novel you will never be stuck. That is the most valuable thing I can tell you so try to remember it."
"I had learned already never to empty the well of my writing, but always to stop when there was still something there in the deep part of the well, and let it refill at night from the springs that fed it."
- Ernest Hemingway
On Writing, by the people: Calling it a Night
"It is not my habit to disagree with Ernest Hemingway, as you may have noticed. However, I simply refuse to take this specific piece of advice. I understand that writing is habit, that to write anything worthwhile requires daily attention, requires being able to pick up where you left off with little effort. However, sometimes I have the odd phenomenon, not unlike a runner's high, where I am so engrossed in my writing that I lose track of time, forget to eat, and only finally leave my chair in order to use the restroom. On these occasions and days later, when I go back to read what I had written, I often have only the vaguest sense that it was me who wrote it. How then, would this bizarre and mysterious, sub-conscious version of my writing emerge if I were to 'stop' when I am 'going good'? It wouldn't, and therefore, I am sorry Mr. Hemingway, I cannot oblige." - E. Menges
On Writing, by the experts: Writing Alone
“Loneliness is the poverty of self; solitude is richness of self.” - Mary Sarton
On Writing, by the people: Writing Alone
"When my grandmother died, an avid daily journaler, the grandkids were given a little bit of free reign to pick through her things and take what we wanted. I took a single fern earing from a pair she had and a small paperback book that always sat above her desk, Journal of a solitude by Mary Sarton (quoted above). The separation between loneliness and solitude is not the clean cut that Sarton makes it out to be. It takes a lot of effort and compassion for yourself to interpret the act of writing alone day after day as solitude and 'richness of self' since it feels, emotionally and physiologically, a whole lot like loneliness much of the time. But I've learned that to get anything done, you'll have no choice but to practice sitting in the discomfort, weathering the second-guessing, and ignoring the urges to aggressively upend your desk and go find someone to hang out with. To do any kind of writing you need to know how to do both. And one more thought...why is it so important to spin things to be positive. Why does loneliness have to be spun into solitude - a more "digestible" feeling. Is it not ok to be lonely sometimes? Can't that be ok? It might make the end product that much more rewarding."
- E. Menges
On Writing, by the experts: Multitasking
“Although I compose essays as well as works of fiction, unless circumstances dictate otherwise, I avoid working on anything else when I am writing a novel . . . Of course, there is no rule that says that the same material can’t be used in an essay and a story, but I have found that doubling up like that somehow weakens my fiction." - Haruki Murakami
On Writing, by the people: Multitasking
"I do not follow this rule. I work on 8 million things at once and sometimes they bleed into one another and pull each other along. He's probably right though. My novel's in dire straights." - E. Menges
On Writing, by the experts: Say What You Need to Say
"Close the door. Write with no one looking over your shoulder. Don’t try to figure out what other people want to hear from you; figure out what you have to say. It’s the one and only thing you have to offer." - Barbara Kingsolver
On Writing, by the people: Say What You Need to Say
"I think this sounds easy but, in practice, it is very hard. It is not natural to pull yourself completely out of the the expectations of others and ignore the masses. At some point it will matter what the reader thinks and whether they can connect to the story. But maybe if you are saying "what you have to say", as Barbara puts it, as honestly as you can say it, then inevitably there will be reader who picks it up and never puts it down." - Emily Menges
On Writing, by the experts: Expectations
"Lower your expectations. The happiest authors are the ones that don’t expect much." - Seth Godin
On Writing, by the people: Expectations
"Shoot for the fucking stars. Further than the stars. I can see the stars. Shoot past the stars. Why would you ever lower your expectations if you're creating something no one has ever attempted? Why would you settle? Sure, your first drafts are not going to be as good as you want and maybe you discover that in fact there are no words for exactly what you're trying to portray. That is art. That is becoming aware of each [art]form's shortcomings. That is realizing language cannot capture the intricacies of the heart. But that is very different than lowering ones expectations. Don't do that. It can only lead to self-hatred." - Emily Menges
This month we strayed from our usual format and instead created a of panel of experts and how they weigh in on the topic:
"Write What You Know"
Expert 1: Hemingway
“You throw it all away and invent from what you know. I should have said that sooner. That’s all there is to writing.”
Expert 2: Ursula K. Le Guin
“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."
Expert 3: Ken Kesey
“One of the dumbest things you were ever taught was to write what you know. Because what you know is usually dull."
Expert 4: Philip Pullman
“Some people would say “Always write about what you know”. I don’t think that’s good advice at all. Nor is the advice to write what you think people will like. I think that’s just silly. We shouldn’t bother about other people at all when we write. It’s none of their business what we write. How many people did we hear, in 1996 or thereabouts, saying “We wish someone would write the first Harry Potter book! No one’s written about Harry Potter yet. We wish they’d hurry up.”
Expert 5: Dan Brown
"It is so difficult to stay intellectually engaged for a year or two in a subject. You should write something that you need to go and learn about. Make the writing process a learning process for you."
Expert 6: Toni Morrison
“Don’t pay any attention to that. First, because you don’t know anything..."
December 1, 2020
On Writing, by the experts: Drinking and Writing
“It has become increasingly plain to me that the very excellent organisation of a long book or the finest perceptions and judgment in time of revision do not go well with liquor. A short story can be written on the bottle, but for a novel you need the mental speed that enables you to keep the whole pattern inside your head and ruthlessly sacrifice the sideshows … I would give anything if I hadn’t written Part III of Tender Is the Night entirely on stimulant.” - F. Scott Fitzgerald
On Writing, by the people: Drinking and Writing
""I do my best work after a few drinks. I find that a glass of wine next to me as I write glues me to the chair and enables me to relax in a way I wouldn't with, say, a cup of tea or a glass of orange juice. A large beer does much the same, reminding me I have no place I'd rather be than right there drinking my beer and writing my story. Each alcohol plays its own role in the writing process, but whiskey frees the mind and the hand like nothing else. After a finger or two, the mind melts and the meaning of life and work are magnified with emotion, words flow without hesitation or heed. There is always time to edit in the morning." - Emily Menges
November 1, 2020
On Writing, by the experts: Adverbs
“I believe the road to hell is paved with adverbs, and I will shout it from the rooftops. To put it another way, they're like dandelions. If you have one on your lawn, it looks pretty and unique. If you fail to root it out, however, you find five the next day... fifty the day after that... and then, my brothers and sisters, your lawn is totally, completely, and profligately covered with dandelions. By then you see them for the weeds they really are, but by then it's—GASP!!—too late.” - Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft
On Writing, by the people: Adverbs
"Quite frankly, I love a good adverb. I get it - don’t use them lazily (lol). Use strong adjectives and never use them in dialogue attribution. However, I use them all the time in first person writing. When you have an observant, sarcastic, or somewhat melodramatic narrator who is describing the events of the story, by having them spit out a few adverbs throughout their reflections only makes them sound more like an exasperated human. The waitress was wildly unhelpful. Her response was excessively delayed. He sounded painfully dumb. You get the point. It’s casual. It’s funny. It’s like forming a little inside joke between narrator and reader." - Emily, Editor in Chief
October 1, 2020
On writing, by experts: The word literally
"Do not use it when figuratively is meant...And when literally is used correctly, the word is often unneeded." - NYT Manual of Style and Usage
On writing, by us: The word literally
"In professional pieces, maybe avoid it. When conversing, refrain at the risk of sounding like a sorority girl at brunch venting about her subpar manicure. When writing anything sarcastic, fiction, hilarious, ironic, etc....literally, be our guest." - Emily, Editor in Chief