Our Writerly Roundup blog series features a curated collection of articles on the craft of writing and the creative life that we don't want you to miss.
Great Advice From 25 Writing Manuals from Famous Authors, Emily Temple (@knownemily), LitHub
Stephen King's On Writing, Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird, and various books on craft and process linger on my bookshelf. I like leaning on these writing guides when I am struggling with a narrative arc or can't nail the specifics of a scene. In Emily Temple's latest for Literary Hub, she distills the best advice from 25 writing manuals in a single post.
Temple profiles Marguerite Duras's, Writing, and the importance of solitude as a necessary ingredient of the artistic life. In Duras's opinion, there is a certain kind of person that writes a book.
The person who writes books must always be enveloped by a separation from others. That is one kind of solitude. It is the solitude of the author, of writing. To begin with, one must ask oneself what the silence surrounding one is—with practically every step one takes in a house, at every moment of the day, in every kind of light, whether light from outside or from lamps lit in daytime. This real, coporeal solitude becomes the inviolable silence of writing. I’ve never spoken of this to anyone. By the time of my first solitude, I had already discovered that what I had to do was write. I’d already gotten confirmation of this from Raymond Queneau. The only judgement Raymond Queneau every pronounced was this sentence: “Do nothing but write.”
What is the difference between talented writing and good writing? Samuel R. Delany clarifies this difference in his work, About Writing.
The rules for good writing are largely a set of things not to do. Basically good writing is a matter of avoiding unnecessary clutter. (Again, this is not the same as avoiding complexity.)
You can program many of these rules into a computer. Applied to pretty much any first draft, these rules will point out where you’re slipping. If you revise accordingly, clarity, readability, and liveliness will improve.
Either in content or in style, in subject matter or in rhetorical approach, fiction that is too much like other fiction is bad by definition. However paradoxical it sounds, good writing as a set of strictures (that is, when the writing is good and nothing more) produces most bad fiction. On one level or another, the realization of this is finally what turns most writers away from writing.
Talented writing is, however, something else. You need talent to write fiction.
Good writing is clear. Talented writing is energetic.
Good writing avoids errors. Talented writing makes things happen in the reader’s mind—vividly, forcefully—that good writing, which stops with clarity and logic, doesn’t.
What about the commitment to writing? We've all the heard the advice that a writer must work on his or her craft every single day. What if the writer is uninspired? That shouldn't matter according to Walter Mosley, author of This Year You Write Your Novel.
The first thing you have to know about writing is that it is something you must do every day—every morning or every night, whatever time it is that you have. Ideally, the time you decide on is also the time when you do your best work.
There are two reasons for this rule: getting the work done and connecting with your unconscious mind.
The most important thing I’ve found about writing is that it is primarily an unconscious activity. What do I mean by this? I mean that a novel is larger than your head (or conscious mind). The connections, moods, metaphors, and experiences that you call up while writing will come from a place deep inside you. Sometimes you will wonder who wrote those words. Sometimes you will be swept up by a fevered passion relating a convoluted journey through your protagonist’s ragged heart. These moments are when you have connected to some deep place within you, a place that harbors the zeal that made you want to write to begin with. The way you get to this unconscious place is by writing every day.
I encourage all writers to read Temple's piece in full. Some of the wisdom will likely be wholly familiar, but this succinct refresher is a convenient and practical tool especially when you are stuck in the middle of your work.
Do It Now, Allison K. Williams (@guerillamemoir), Brevity
Writers tend to procrastinate. When I want to delay writing, I empty the dishwasher, fold laundry and schedule "must-do" errands to avoid the daunting white page. Allison K. Williams reminds us how the most important thing to do right now is to write now.
Skip the easy satisfaction of running errands, prepping dinner, running laundry, returning calls. Shut down the internet and put your phone face-down. Don’t check the news–it’s just going to make you mad or sad. You don’t need a perfect coffee shop or the right table or the right moment.
When I resist the page, I am often stuck and that holds back my momentum of moving forward in an essay or in my memoir. Williams has advice on how to become unstuck:
If you’re stuck on the next scene, write the scene after that. And before you know it, you’re writing the thing instead of about the thing. Or at least getting down the first draft, the one where you tell the story to yourself. The one you can fix in the second draft.
Sometimes this may feel awkward and every single word may make you feel like a fraud, but eventually the voices will quiet and the prose will unravel on the page. Williams urges writers to push past the reservations and just write.
Do it anyway. Don’t wait for spring, or springtime in your heart. Do it now.
I am bookmarking Williams's piece because there are many moments when I give up and leave the page. Her reminder to "Do it now," can't be said enough. What do any of us have to lose?
6 Lessons Learned From a Year of 101 Rejections, Natalie D-Napoleon (@nataliednapo), Writer's Digest
Writing and submitting also means encountering rejections. Natalie D-Napoleon decided to approach her submissions in a different way in 2017. Instead of counting acceptances, she tracked her rejections. Inspired by Kim Liao's “Why You Should Aim For 100 Rejections A Year," D-Napoleon aimed to do the same. Here is a snapshot of what she learned after amassing 101 rejections at the end of the year.
All writers should have an arsenal of work they can regularly submit. This shifts the emphasis on creating, writing and revising, instead of worrying about the next byline.
I was ferocious and voracious; I wrote and wrote and re-wrote and didn’t stop to think for a moment about what I would do with the work. I simply enjoyed the process of creating after taking a break for several years to be a mom and pursue the life of a singer-songwriter. What this time gave me was a significant body of work to begin dipping in to in order to begin submitting when the time was right. By the time I completed my degree, I had a complete poetry collection and several creative nonfiction essays ready to submit.
Having your work rejected doesn't always mean sulking in a corner. Sometimes it can also mean celebration and understanding that encouraging feedback is a step in the right direction.
When a prominent journal in Australia rejected two poems they wrote, “We enjoyed the intense, vertiginous imagery in these poems,” and then urged me to submit more work in the future. Encouraging rejections let you know your writing is on track (and apparently gives some people vertigo), and that someone out there is carefully considering and paying attention to your work.
The added bonus is that once you know the editors like your work, if you continue to submit to that journal they should: a) remember your name, and b) eventually accept a piece. Getting to know the body of work of an emerging writer is what often gives editors an “in” to understanding your unique point of view. After I had a poem accepted for publication in Australian Poetry Journal, I realized I recognized the editor’s name, and when I reviewed my submissions I found out that I’d sent samples of my work to other journals she edited. Maybe she recognized my name, or maybe once she read the work one more time it “clicked.”
Remember to treat writing and submitting on the same continuum. This means setting aside time to craft an essay, as well as carving out hours to also submit.
I began to set aside time each week to submit. However, this didn’t mean I began submitting blindly. I would carefully study the newsletters of journals, do Google searches, read the Submittable weekly mailer and search the site, the Poets and Writers newsletter, and save competitions that arose on Facebook. Then I would take the time to read the journal I wanted to submit to and decide if my work was appropriate or needed to be rewritten, or if I needed to review my own body of work to find something that may fit a theme call-out. By doing this for an hour or two, two or three days a week, I built up to 101 rejections.
Rejections serve an important purpose. Learning how to use them to your advantage is key in building a sustainable writing life.
Every one of us has a story. Some might channel these stories into fiction, others may decide to throw energy into a memoir. Reedsy presents tips from ghostwriters that may be helpful in the memoir writing process.
Memoir relies on memory and some of these moments are naturally unreliable. Before committing to a certain scene on the page, do your research. Heather Ebert recommends the following:
Investigate every story, fact, feeling, or vague inclination you have about your past insofar as it applies to your story.
Look up anything that can be verified or fact-checked: World news, local weather, dates, places, events.
Revisit locations and settings from the past that you plan to write about.
Interview your family members, friends, and others who were around in certain eras.
Draft a timeline of your life by year. Writing about certain memories will also pull up more memories as you open the floodgates.
Don’t invent or make things up — especially not anything that can be verified (see Frey, James: A Million Little Pieces).
Focus on a particular theme to center your memoir. If you are stuck in your memoir relying on a theme will help you refocus on what is important for your story. Author and ghostwriter Carolyn Jourdan recommends using this strategy.
By deciding on a specific theme or a message early on, you will give yourself a strong focus that drives the story and what you do or don’t include.
Your theme is the meeting point on which readers will relate to you and recognize themselves in your story. Your story may have several themes, but consider what you want the overarching point to be.
Sometimes the pathway to writing a memoir may prove difficult, but bestselling ghostwriter of over 80 books Andrew Crofts has this advice:
To help give order to the project, try to tell the story chronologically to start with. That way you can keep control of the narrative. If you jump about too much you will forget what you have already done and start repeating yourself. You can always change the chronology at the editing stage.
If you have a story that you are compelled to reveal, writing a memoir can be cathartic for both the writer and reader.
Have you read a compelling article about craft or the creative life that you think should appear in the next Writerly Roundup? Please send links to lmblogcontact (at) literarymama (dot) com—we'd love to hear your input!