As I work, I reflect on language and narrative, on heroes, readers, and through-action, on the praxis and poetics of writing itself. These thoughts often come in a flash, unbeckoned. Lately, I've been posting one thought per day to my Facebook and Twitter streams, using the #writing hashtag. Here are the posts from July.
O N W R I T I N G
- Being smart and being a good writer are two different things. If they weren’t, simply being smart would guarantee success. It does not.
- Journal writing lessens the urge to infuse your public writing with your personal machinations. Focus your journal on yourself, so you can focus your writing on your reader.
- A good presentation is one in which your data is on the overhead, but your ideas are spoken aloud.
- The only writing in which one might legitimately expect to find cliché is that of William Shakespeare.
- Some people have something to say. Some people know how to write. Rarely do these features combine. That’s why we have editors.
O N R E A D E R S
- Write for the reader, not for yourself.
- Of your reader, assume limitless intelligence but no prior knowledge.
- Don’t assume your experience is the same as your reader’s. Don’t resort to clichés. Nobody’s interested in reading clichés.
- When an author talks at the reader, rather than talking through the story, the story bogs down.
- Generate questions in your reader’s mind. If you can keep the reader asking Why?, the reader will keep reading.
O N L A N G U A G E
- Say something profound. Use simple language.
- Rules of thumb, attorneys general. Remember to pluralize the noun, not the adjective.
- In Britain, one has a greybeard, a sceptical advisor. In the US, one has instead a graybeard, a skeptical adviser.
- In the run-up to November, expect a proliferation, in the pages of the New Yorker, of the pretentiously umlaut-decorated “reëlection.”
- Use powerful verbs. Make your prose move.
- The next time you think about ending a sentence with an ellipsis—don’t.
O N N A R R A T I V E
- Position yourself in the narrative. How do you know what you know? Show the reader.
- The best fiction doesn’t seem like reality’s prettier little sister.
- The author does not tell the story. The story tells the story, and transforms itself by its own telling.
- The public’s appetite for private woe-is-me is extremely limited. Use discretion.
- No reader wants a passive hero. Your hero must do something. Now.