Some great advice about writing from Neil Gaiman.
Some great advice about writing from Neil Gaiman.
1. “We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.” – Oscar Wilde, Lady Windermere’s Fan
3. “Isn’t it nice to think that tomorrow is a new day with no mistakes in it yet?” – L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables
4. “All grown-ups were once children… but only few of them remember it.” – Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince
5. “So it goes.” – Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse-Five
6. “You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose.” – Dr. Seuss, Oh, The Places You’ll Go!
7. “If you’re going to try, go all the way. Otherwise, don’t even start.” – Charles Bukowski, Factotum
9. “You never know what worse luck your bad luck has saved you from.” – Cormac McCarthy, No Country for Old Men
10. “if you don’t try at anything, you can’t fail… it takes back bone to lead the life you want.” – Richard Yates, Revolutionary Road
11. “We are more than the parts that form us.” – Patrick Rothfuss, The Name of the Wind
12. “I am not afraid of storms, for I am learning how to sail my ship.” – Louisa May Alcott, Little Women
13. “I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I needed to be.” – Douglas Adams, The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul
15. “Never forget what you are, for surely the world will not. Make it your strength. Then it can never be your weakness. Armour yourself in it, and it will never be used to hurt you.” – George R. R. Martin, A Game of Thrones
16. “We need never be hopeless because we can never be irreparably broken.” – John Green, Looking For Alaska
17. “Are you afraid of the good you might do?.” – Victor Hugo, Les Misérables
18. “Life before Death. Strength before Weakness. Journey before Destination.” – Brandon Sanderson, The Way of Kings
19. “Nolite te bastardes carborundorum. Don’t let the bastards grind you down.” – Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale
21. “I took a deep breath and listened to the old brag of my heart. I am, I am, I am.” – Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar
22. “I saw that my life was a vast glowing empty page and I could do anything I wanted.” – Jack Kerouac, The Dharma Burns
23. “Everything will turn out right, the world is built on that” – Mikhail Bulgakov, The Master and Margarita
24. “Sometimes you wake up. Sometimes the fall kills you. And sometimes, when you fall, you fly.” – Neil Gaiman, The Sandman, Vol. 6: Fables and Reflections
25. “In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer.” – Albert Camus. Return to Tipasa
It’s a question that’s asked by interviewers all the time: how did you become a writer? It’s kind of a lob, and for many authors, the answer is obvious. Reading made them into writers. What else? Besides actually, you know, sitting down and doing the work. But while many authors cite a lifetime love of the written word, or a storytelling acumen developed in the womb, or a childhood spent lost in libraries, some can point to a specific book and say: that one. That’s the book that made me who I am today – if only because it opened a door, or gave me permission, or even just a spark. Below, a selection of these: 30 recommendations plucked from interviews and essays the internet over. If you read them all, you’ll probably become a writer instantly!
Zadie Smith: Hurricane, Andrew Salkey
A Jamaican writer called Andrew Salkey… wrote a YA novel called Hurricanebefore YA was a term. I remember it as the book that made me want to write. He was the most wonderful writer for children. I just found what looks to be a sequel, Earthquake, on an old-books stall on West Third, and I intend to read it to my kids. He died in 1995.
Alain Robbe-Grillet: The Stranger, Albert Camus
The two most influential books of the war years were Sartre’s Nausea and Camus’s The Stranger. Other novels by the same authors—for example Sartre’s The Roads to Liberty or Camus’s The Fall—are of little interest. I feel that I decided to become a writer when I read The Stranger, which appeared in 1942, during the Occupation. It was published by Gallimard, a firm very much connected with the Occupiers. By the way, Sartre himself finally confessed that the Occupation hadn’t bothered him much. But my reading of The Stranger, as I explain in the Mirror, is very personal. The murder committed by Mersault was the result of a situation, which is the situation of relationship to the world.
Eileen Myles: Little Women, Louisa May Alcott
Do you remember what books you encountered, growing up in Massachusetts in the 1950s and 60s, that might have inspired you to want to become a writer?
The 50s is childhood up to age ten, so myths, sci-fi. Those didn’t make me want to be a writer. They made me want to do drugs or have adventures, travel. Maybe Little Women made me want to be a writer because Jo, the star of it, was a writer. I didn’t understand yet that that was the author. In the 60s I was a teenager. I liked Franny & Zooey, really everything by J.D. Salinger. I realized it was important who was talking. If you could tap into that you could get a flow going. Henry Miller came to me in the 70s. He said I didn’t ask to be born. He wrote in a complaining, American working class speech. He was from Williamsburg. It was ugly. It reminded me of Somerville, where I came from. He made it clear that an unprivileged American could be a writer and could have a lot to talk about. He switched constantly from speech to surrealism. That shift was important to me because an unstable self was what I had to use.
Jodi Picoult: Gone With the Wind, Margaret Mitchell
My favorite writer is Alice Hoffman; she’s brilliant. One of my favorite books in recent years was Yann Martel’s Life of Pi – I wished I’d written it, which is my highest form of compliment. The book that made me want to be a writer in the first place was Gone with the Wind – I read it and wanted to create a whole world out of words, too.
David Mitchell: The Earthsea Cycle, Ursula K. Le Guin
There was no single epiphany, but I recall a few early flashes. When I was ten I would be transported by certain books – Ursula K. Le Guin’s Earthsea trilogy, Susan Cooper’s fantasy novels, Isaac Asimov – and burn to do to readers what had just been done to me. Sometimes that burning prompted me to start writing, though I never got more than a few pages down. A few years later I would indulge in a visual fantasy that involved imagining my name on the jacket of a book – usually Faber and Faber – and I’d feel a whoosh inside my rib cage.
Emma Donoghue: The Passion, Jeanette Winterson
The book that made me want to write was The Passion by Jeanette Winterson. It made me feel that historical fiction didn’t have to be fusty and all about bodices, that it could be a thrilling novel, which just happened to be set in 1800.
Tom Wolfe: Napoleon, Emil Ludwig
Regarding writing, was there any particular book that influenced you?
I was greatly struck by Emil Ludwig’s biography of Napoleon, which is written in the historical present. It begins as the mother sits suckling her babe in a tent. […] It impressed me so enormously that I began to write the biography of Napoleon myself, though heavily cribbed from Emil Ludwig. I was eight at the time.
My writing ambition was sharpened by Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale, an unapologetically political novel that reminds us of what it costs to be a woman in this world or the next. My ambition, that toward which I aspire to write, has long been guided by Toni Morrison, Beloved, and through her words, seeing how a novel can be mysterious and true, mythical and raw, how a novel can honor memory even when we want to look away or forget. My ambition has long been sharpened by Alice Walker, willing to tell the stories of black women without apology, willing to write politically without apology – Possessing the Secret of Joy, a haunting, gorgeous novel about female genital mutilation that keeps me transfixed and heartbroken and helpless each time I read it, because sometimes the only way to tell the truth is to tell a story.
Neil Gaiman: The Chronicles of Narnia, C.S. Lewis
C.S. Lewis was the first person to make me want to be a writer. He made me aware of the writer, that there was someone standing behind the words, that there was someone telling the story. I fell in love with the way he used parentheses – the auctorial asides that were both wise and chatty, and I rejoiced in using such brackets in my own essays and compositions through the rest of my childhood.
I think, perhaps, the genius of Lewis was that he made a world that was more real to me than the one I lived in; and if authors got to write the tales of Narnia, then I wanted to be an author.
Anne Lamott: Nine Stories, J.D. Salinger
What book made you want to become a writer?
You mean, besides Pippi Longstocking?
Nine Stories blew me away‚ I can still remember reading “For Esmé – With Love and Squalor” for the first time, and just weeping with the poignancy of the damaged soldier and the young girl. And “Teddy” – I still remember the moment when the little boy Teddy, who is actually a sadhu, tells the reporter on the ship that he first realized what God was all about when he saw his little sister drink a glass of milk – that it was God, pouring God, into God. Or something like that – maybe I don’t remember it quite as well as I thought. But it changed me both spiritually and as a very young writer, because both the insight and the simplicity of the story were within my reach.
Oh, and “A Perfect Day for Bananafish,” and “Down at the Dinghy,” with the great Boo Boo Glass. And “Uncle Wiggily in Connecticut” – don’t even get me started…
For more fantastic recommendations from your favourite writers, check out the original post here: http://lithub.com/the-books-that-made-your-favorite-writers-want-to-write/
On April 28 Terry Pratchett would have celebrated his 69th birthday. To mark the special day, we’re remembering the many life lessons learned from the characters of Discworld:
1. How to be brave
Tiffany Aching, Witch of the Chalk, taught us how to see beyond what is in front of us, and how to be brave…
“There wasn’t any real magic, she thought. I just stood my ground. You have to stand your ground, because it’s your ground” – Tiffany Aching
2. Do not fear death
The friendly face of Death taught us that death in itself is nothing to fear…
“Despite rumour, Death isn’t cruel – merely terribly, terribly good at his job”
3. Treat others with respect
Granny Weatherwax taught us to treat others with respect, dignity and decency.
“Evil begins when you begin to treat people as things” – Granny Weatherwax
4. Prejudice isn’t helpful
Rincewind taught us that sandals make the best getaway shoes, and that prejudice is not a helpful approach to life…
“He was a person who divided the world quite simply into people who were trying to kill him and people who weren’t. That didn’t leave much room for fine details like what colour anyone was” – Rincewind
5. The leopard can change his shorts
Moist Von Lipvig, a natural born criminal, a fraudster by vocation, an habitual liar and saviour of the postal service, taught us that the leopard can change his shorts…
“I’ve fallen into good ways. I keep thinking I can give it up at any time I like, but I don’t. But I know if I couldn’t give it up any time I liked, I wouldn’t go on doing it” – Moist Von Lipvig
6. Sometimes it’s good to break the rules
Esk taught us when not to know your place, and when to break the rules.
“If you ignore the rules people will, half the time, quietly rewrite them so that they don’t apply to you” – Esk
7. Politics is always complicated
Vetinarii taught us that the only time politics is ever simple is when it’s tyranny…
“Ankh-Morpork had dallied with many forms of government and had ended up with that form of democracy known as One Man, One Vote. The Patrician was the Man; he had the Vote” – Vetinarii
8. Light a candle in the dark
Captain Carrot taught us that being simple is not the same as being stupid, and to light a candle in the dark…
“Only crimes could take place in darkness. Punishment had to be done in the light. That was the job of a good watchman, Carrot always said. To light a candle in the dark”
9. Don’t tolerate injustice
Samuel Vimes taught us not to tolerate injustice, and that, while candles are all well and good, sometimes it’s better to light a flamethrower than curse the darkness…
“The common people?” said Vimes. “They’re nothing special. They’re no different from the rich and powerful except they’ve got no money or power. But the law should be there to balance things up a bit” – Samuel Vimes
10. Words have power
Susan Sto Helit taught us that words have power, that stories are important and that we want a schoolteacher around when the apocalypse comes…
“Because in this world, after everyone panics, there’s always got to be someone to tip the wee out of the shoe” – Susan Sto Helit
“The thing all writers do best is find ways to avoid writing.” – Alan Dean Foster
For us writers procrastinating can easily become an occupational hazard. It’s very common for us to go out of our way to avoid writing; with procrastination being an enemy of productivity.
When blogger and journalist Megan McArdle researched the topic one of her colleagues told her:
“Well, first, I put it off for two or three weeks. Then I sit down to write. That’s when I get up and go clean the garage. After that, I go upstairs, and then I come back downstairs and complain to my wife for a couple of hours. Finally, but only after a couple more days have passed and I’m really freaking out about missing my deadline, I ultimately sit down and write.”
Sound familiar? Steven Pressfield the author of War of Art believes it’s a form of resistance. In his book he identifies the enemy all of us must face. There is a naysayer within all of us that prevents us from achieving our goals. Whether it be writing a novel, or painting a masterpiece. Pressfield then continues to outline a battle plan to conquer our internal foes.
For many of us this foe can be procrastination. Truthfully there are a million reasons we lack the motivation or inspiration to fill our blank pages and we’re all different, but here are a couple of common ones:
Because we’re afraid
Fear is one of the biggest reasons we procrastinate. Dr. Carol Dweck, a psychologist studying motivation at Stanford University believes that writers are often paralysed by the prospect of writing something that isn’t very good. However, the fear of turning in nothing by a deadline usually outweighs the fear of handing in something terrible. Dr. Dweck believes this is because we regard our failures as growth because when we’re failing, we’re learning. It’s also believed that the “fear of being unmasked as the incompetent you ‘really’ are is so common it actually has a clinical name: Imposter Syndrome“. We spend so much time worrying our writing won’t be good enough, but we need to remember that at the end of the day we’re always our own worst critics and our fears are usually unwarranted. You can find out more on her thoughts in Why writers are the worst procrastinators.
Because we lack inspiration
When we don’t know what to write or we lack inspiration, our motivation can be severely impaired inhibiting our potential to create the art we we’re destined to produce. As mentioned above, sometimes this lack of inspiration stems from our desire to be perfect, but all you need is an idea. Once you have an idea you have the potential to create something amazing.
To overcome a lack of inspiration you need to actively engage with what you’re doing. If you’re writing a book about a prison go interview some inmates or correctional officers, or go visit a prison so you can get the feel for what you’re writing about by submerging yourself in the world of your writing. Sometimes you need a change of scenery, or just a short break. There’s a million different ways to get inspired but we all do this differently, Psychology Today have some good examples in their article ‘Lacking Motivation and Inspiration? 5 Secrets to Get Unstuck’ with everything from finding a muse, to shattering your self doubts, these ideas can help you find some much needed inspiration.
Identifying methods of procrastination
According to author Joanna Penn, procrastinating takes many forms. It isn’t just playing a dozen games of angry birds, it often looks more like this:
- Reading blogs about writing
- Buying more books about writing
- Tidying your desk so that you’ll be ready to write… really soon…!
- Hanging out with other writers (offline or online) and talking about writing.
We spend a lot of time thinking about writing without actually writing, this is a key sign of procrastination and we need to use this knowledge to our advantage.
How to fight it
Being well versed in the art of procrastination is understandable given the culture of constant distraction we live in, but procrastination can be an important part of the writing process.
“It’s folly, what we do, if you think about it – to make something out of nothing, to spin a story or an argument, to ask a reader to give up his or her time and share with us a fantasy, a dream, a conversation, to seize the moment (for a moment) and try to hold it before it slips away”- David Ulin on procrastination as a creative tool.
Procrastination is often used as a defence mechanism, an idea and a blank page is perfect, but once we begin putting that idea into words that perfection can dwindle leaving us raw and exposed. We use it as a strategy for mitigating fear and anxiety.
To overcome this fear we need to follow the advice Annie Dillard provides in her work The Writing Life and understand that we need to write in spite of problems we may encounter. The tension between what we wish for and what we achieve can only be overcome if we work to achieve something. After all Hemmingway himself claimed “The first draft of anything is shit” but as writers we work to overcome this by re-drafting and editing.
If you are stuck in the procrastination bubble, here is some further reading that might help you break free:
As a writer I have found the Internet to be a wonderful and endless resource. For many of us, the Internet provides an important foundation for many aspects of the creative journey. We all have our own ideas and techniques that will get us writing. More often than not, our inspiration comes from real life places, people and the things that we experience, but we usually have to go one step further to really develop our ideas in stories and novels.
The wonderful thing about the online world is that it’s been around long enough now for you to be very specific about what you are looking for. There are so many websites and articles out there, that should you have a specific problem with your writing, you can just Google it! You never know what you will unlock. Try searching for ‘writing inspiration’ if that is your issue and see what you discover.
If you choose to, you can seek out the opinions of others. I believe that some degree of networking is important for writers. There are many outlets out there where writers will converse and exchange their work. Forums are a great way to meet people and get constructive feedback on your writing, as well as getting a chance to see what other people are up to. Still, I always seem to find myself a little frightened off when I see the sheer volume of writers out there who doing exactly the same thing as I am. In spite of this, the fact that so many people utilise them certainly says something to me.
We all differ in our methods though. I find Twitter a much better resource for networking. This way I get to follow other writers and have them follow me. It’s great for conversation and learning what others are working on, and I can choose to read anything that catches my attention. Think about what kind of writer you are and what works for you.
Overall, the Internet really is an amazing resource for writers. The world of writing and publishing is constantly changing, which makes it a really exciting time to try and make a go of it as an author. Try to keep on top of the latest news and developments. Websites such as Writer’s Online (www.writers-online.co.uk) contain a shedload of useful information for writers, as well as details of writing competitions, new anthologies looking for submissions and articles on established writers to give you some inspiration.
Use your resources to both educate yourself, and to inform and inspire your writing. We are always looking to develop and better ourselves. It’s certainly demotivating at times, so that’s why you must remember the huge network of fellow writers, help and advice which surrounds you on a daily basis.
We are all in this thing together, although the journey can feel quite lonely at times, so most importantly keep dreaming and never give up.