Reading Imperative

Books George Galdorisi

Many “smart” people aren’t actually smart. They just know a lot of trivia. Sure, they can tell you all sorts of facts, they have a library of big thick books filled with enormous words, or they can give you the up-to-the-minute news about a political race. But can they tell you what any of this means? Do they do anything important with this information? Of course not.

And these types have always existed. Seneca spoke critically of literary snobs who could speculate for hours about whether The Iliad or The Odyssey was written first, or who the real author was (a debate that rages on today). He disliked hearing people chatter about which Roman general did this or that first, or which received this or that honor. “Far too many good brains,” he said, “have been afflicted by the pointless enthusiasm for useless knowledge.”

Harry Truman famously said that not all readers are leaders but all leaders are readers—they have to be. And they certainly aren’t reading to impress people or for the mental gymnastics. It’s to get better! It’s to find things they can use. Not at the dinner table or on Twitter, but in their real lives.

The same must be true to us. We have to learn how to read to be better leaders, better people, better citizens. We must learn how to read for our own benefit—and so that we might have aid to offer to a friend in pain, or a soul in crisis. Seneca’s point was that only knowledge that does us good is worth knowing. Everything else is trivia.

No Time to Write?

8SR

Most people who write yearn for more of one thing. No, it’s not inspiration, or an uber-quiet office, or a better agent, or a more fabulous publisher. It is one thing alone: time!

That is why I was drawn to a recent article by Ken Wells, “How I Wrote Five Novels While Commuting.” It inspired me to make time. Here is how he begins:

When I took a job in New York City at the age of 44, I had work I loved, a growing family and a secret disappointment. I had always wanted to write a novel.

For eight years I’d dragged a manuscript around and fitfully pecked away at it. But mornings with my wife and young daughters were busy, and my job as an editor and writer at this paper was demanding. By the time I slogged home after eight to 10 hours at the office, I was usually too beat to write another sentence.

How would I ever find the time and energy to write?

My move came with a commute. I was captive to a train that shuttled me back and forth from my home in suburban New Jersey, to Hoboken, N.J., where I hopped a ferry to my job in lower Manhattan. The train ride was about 50 minutes each way.

A week or two into my commute, two things had become clear: I would be spending a lot of time on the train. And the ride was pretty comfortable. One day it hit me: Could I write a novel on the train?

I started doing calculations. If I subtracted, say, 10 weeks a year for vacation, business travel and sick days, that meant I’d have 42 weeks, or 210 weekdays a year, to work on my novel. If I could write two single-spaced pages a day, or about 1,000 words—which didn’t seem that ambitious—surely at the end of 12 months I could end up with close to a 400-page manuscript.

Want more? You can read the rest of the piece here:
https://www.wsj.com/articles/how-i-wrote-five-novels-while-commuting-11585234285

George’s October Newsletter

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Hello Writing Friends,

We live in a world that is increasingly driven – even dominated – by technology. I suspect that many of your recognize this when you compare the sale of digital versions of your book with the sale of your printed books. A sale is a sale, but numbers do matter.

For those of you still in a day-job workplace, you like hear the term “data-driven decisions” a great deal. I know I do, but then again, I work with scientists and engineers. All that said, we do live in a highly technical world, and that often makes us turn to data as the king of the hill. It isn’t. Here’s how Michael Lewis put it in The Undoing Project, “No one ever made a decision based on a number. They need a story.”

Most (likely all) of us have had mentors who have helped us along in our writing journey. For me, it was – and remains – Dick Couch. In an article he wrote years ago, Dick captured the essence of why all of us write. What he said sticks with me today, and I want to share it with you:

For me, I gotta write, and it’s the adventure of it that’s hooked me. As the writer, I can do it all. I get to be the National Security Advisor who recommends the action to the President who must commit the forces. I’m the senior officer who sends his men into action and who feels the pain if they don’t make it back. I’m the enemy and the defender; logistician and staff planner. But most of all, I’m a young man again, that fresh lieutenant who must lead his men into battle.

Some men [and women] want to die with their boots on. When I cash in my chips, I want to be slumped over the keyboard. And they can plant me with my word processor. I may wake up and want to write about it.

When you think about it, isn’t this why most of us write? When I asked a writing friend about her writing “process” here’s what she told me: “I get up at 4am every day and talk to my imaginary friends.”

I suspect that all of you have absorbed the avalanche of information about AI-powered technologies such as ChatGPT, Bard and Bing that can write an article, an academic paper or even an entire book. We all likely have our own opinions (and probably strong opinions) on the impact of this on our own writing.

To that end, I discovered a book, Writing in The Age of AI: What You Need to Know to Survive and Thrive, by David Poyer. It was a good read and you may find it helpful as well. For me, it stripped away a great deal of the hype regarding tools like ChatGPT and its successors and suggested ways to use these tools and helpers.

There is a human condition called “Need to share.” Most of us have it. Whenever I find an article online or in print that I find useful in upping my writing game, I put it on my website: https://georgegaldorisi.com/. If you go to the site you’ll see “Blog” at the top and the pull down menu takes you to “Writing Tips.” Perhaps you’ll find some of these useful.

Thanks for tuning in. I’d love to hear about your latest writing project(s).

George’s September Newsletter

Hello Writing Friends

As I mentioned in my previous writing missives, the sole intent of these newsletters is to share some things I’ve learned along the way and to encourage you all to share as well.

I’m certain that all of you are familiar with the saying: “Nor all readers are writers, but all writers are readers.” So true. That’s why I’m sharing something that Virginia Woolf said years ago:

“When the Day of Judgment dawns and the great conquerors and lawyers and statesmen come to receive their rewards – their crowns, their laurels, their names carved indelibly upon imperishable marble – the Almighty will turn to Peter and say, not without a certain envy when he sees us coming with our books under our arms, ‘Look, these need no reward.  We have nothing to give them here.  They have loved reading.'”

While it isn’t a bright line that separates writers, when I speak with some of you I come to realize that most of us lean one way when we write fiction: we are either plot driven or character driven. To provide the most extreme examples I can think of, two long-running television shows capture the difference. Law and Order is plot-driven and Seinfeld is character-driven. Enough said.

I’m an extreme example of a plot-driven writer (I suspect it comes from being an introvert). That is why I read everything I can regarding how to develop characters. Here is an article that I keep handy when I need some inspiration: https://georgegaldorisi.com/ten-characters. For all of you – plot- or character-leaning writers – I think that you’ll find these pithy descriptions of ten familiar characters refreshing.

Speaking of characters, here is some advice one of my writing mentors shared with me regarding how to write conversations so the characters all don’t sound alike. He suggested that there are three techniques: One is to give each major character a keyword or phrase so that when you read it, you know it is that person. Another method is to use odd diction or syntax, so again, when you read it, your brain knows it is a different character. A third tool can be used if English is not the native tongue of the speaker, which allows you to use either the actual language, or a transliteration, or an Anglicized version of the words the way they are pronounced.

That brings me to some book news I’d like to share. I have offered writing advice to many people individually, as well as through writing seminars. It occurred to me that it might be useful to put what I’ve learned into a book. It contains not just my thoughts, but also those of my Braveship Writers colleagues. Here is a link to my website, where you can learn more about the book:

https://georgegaldorisi.com/. You’ll see it on the slider and if you click on the arrow you’ll see more. Here is what one professional writer, Robert Masello, had to say about Braveship Writers Share Their Secrets:

Although much of this invaluable book is focused on writing thrillers, I found lots of useful advice and welcome inspiration in it for all kinds of writing—articles, essays, memoirs, fiction of all stripes. I’ve been toiling in these fields for decades, and I’ve even written a few books on writing myself; but to find a book that’s as straightforward, informative, and just plain conversational as this one is rare. It’s like having a private consultation, over a beer and pretzels, with a group of insiders willing to spill the secrets and answer all the pressing questions about everything from conception to publication, and beyond.

Finally, whenever I find an article online or in print that I find useful in upping my writing game, I put these it on my website: https://georgegaldorisi.com/.  If you go to the site you’ll see “Blog” at the top and the pull down menu takes you to “Writing Tips.” Perhaps you’ll find some of these useful.

Thanks for tuning in. I’d love to hear about your latest writing project(s).

All the best – George

How To Write A Book People Will Read – Listen Now on Admiral’s Almanac

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“Few established writers are willing to share the secrets of their craft; and, until now, no group of award-winning writers has done so. Braveship Writers Share Their Secrets breaks new ground and provides an entertaining and extraordinarily useful guide for beginning, emerging, and established writers. Read this book, and then pick up your pen!”

— Admiral James Stavridis, Supreme Allied Commander of NATO and author of a dozen bestsellers, including 2034: A Novel of the Next World War and To Risk It All: Nine Crises and the Crucible of Decision.

“Although much of this invaluable book is focused on writing thrillers, I found lots of useful advice and welcome inspiration in it for all kinds of writing—articles, essays, memoirs, fiction of all stripes. I’ve been toiling in these fields for decades, and I’ve even written a few books on writing myself; but to find a book that’s as straightforward, informative, and just plain conversational as this one is rare. It’s like having a private consultation, over a beer and pretzels, with a group of insiders willing to spill the secrets and answer all the pressing questions about everything from conception to publication, and beyond.” — Robert Masello, bestselling author of The Einstein Prophecy, Robert’s Rules of Writing, The Haunting of H.G.Wells, and many other books

“A comprehensive guide to mastering the art of thriller fiction, delivered with vim and gusto by two of the genre’s finest storytellers!” — Dr. Matt Cook, Los Angeles Times bestselling author of Sabotage and Good Little Marauder

 

LISTEN NOW: https://www.podpage.com/the-admirals-almanac/how-to-write-a-book-people-will-read/

George’s August Newsletter

Hello Writing Friends

As I mentioned in my July missive the sole intent of these newsletters is to share some things I’ve learned along the way and to encourage you all to share as well.

You all know this, but it bears repeating. It takes courage to write. Here is a quote I keep near my computer monitor. It is from Cardinal Armand Jean du Plessis, duc de Richlieu (just Cardinal Richlieu to his pals) “Give me six lines written by the most honorable of men and I will find an excuse to hang him.”

Like many of you, I am a huge fan of Disney’s Pixar movies (hard to believe that the first one, Toy Story, was released in 1995 – over a quarter-century ago!)

Why have they been so successful? We all see and enjoy the animation, but at the heart of each movie is the story.

That is why I was so happy when a screenwriter friend of mine shared the Pixar storytelling secrets with me. As a writer, reading them was an “ah ha” moment.

See for yourself:

https://nofilmschool.com/2012/06/22-rules-storytelling-pixar

As to sharing best practices, perhaps more than any other writers that I know, and as I shared last month, I make a near-religion of reading books about writing. Recently, I reread E.M. Forster’s Aspects of the Novel. Like you, I have many friends and acquaintances who approach me at Starbucks, in the grocery checkout line or elsewhere and say: “I want to write a novel.”

The first thing I ask them, borrowing from Forster’s book, is what kind of novel is it?:

  • You are writing a story if your high concept is: “The king died and then the queen died.”
  • You have a plot if your high concept is: “The king died and then the queen died of grief.”
  • You have a mystery if your high concept is: “The queen died, and no one knew why, until it was discovered that it was through grief at the death of the king.”

As writers, this sounds so simple, and it is, but as you provide advice to beginning and emerging writers you might help them bound the problem by having them decide what kind of novel they want to write.

Finally, whenever I find an article online or in print that I find useful in upping my writing game, I have the “need to share” that afflicts most humans. I put these articles on my website: https://georgegaldorisi.com/.  If you go to the site you’ll see “Blog” at the top and the pull down menu takes you to “Writing Tips.” Perhaps you’ll find some of these useful.

That’s it for now. As always, I’d love to hear about your latest writing project(s).

All the best – George

George’s July Newsletter

Hello Writing Friends

Does the world need another writing newsletter? I’ll let you be the judge.

Before Covid knocked the world sideways, we used to see each other at writing conferences and seminars. Sadly, in the post-Covid world, many of those events have not restarted.

So here we are, doing our solitary work of writing. While all of you are self-actualizing as most writers must be, every once in a while it might be a good thing to give your keyboard a rest and poke your head up to share best practices with your fellow scribblers.

That’s the sole intent of this newsletter—as well as those that will follow—to share some things I’ve learned along the way and to encourage you all to share as well.

Since I’m sending this to you via a BCC list, you don’t know who else is getting this newsletter, but if you have something you think is worth sharing, I’m glad to be your “agent” and pass that along to others on this list.

The first thing that I’d like to share it this article: “The Power of Narrative:”

https://nautil.us/the-power-of-narrative-15975/

You’ll note that this article has an environmental focus, but that it is mostly about stories. The second paragraph begins: “Defined in the simplest possible terms, a narrative is a story about something. Stories are essential to us because as human beings and social animals, we are storytelling creatures.” We are all story-tellers, that’s what we do.

As to sharing best practices, perhaps more than any other writers that I know, I make a near-religion of reading books about writing. My bookshelves groan over the weight of these books. I’ve read some of them multiple times. Recently, I reread Francine Prose’s Reading Like a Writer. I find that it helps me derive writing best practices from anything that I read. If you haven’t given it a try you might want to consider doing so.

Finally, whenever I find an article online or in print that I find useful in upping my writing game, I have the “need to share” that afflicts most humans. I put these articles on my website: https://georgegaldorisi.com/.  If you go to the site you’ll see “Blog” at the top and the pull down menu takes you to “Writing Tips.” Perhaps you’ll find some of these useful.

That’s it for now. I’d love to hear about your latest writing project(s).

All the best – George

Should You Write?

Writing Techniques

Why would anyone want to write anything today longer than a tweet? Why indeed? And why labor away trying to write for a mainstream audience? Perhaps the best way to capture that is to quote my friend Norman Polmar, who is fond of saying. “History is what the historians and writers say it is.” Norman has published over forty books on naval history and most consider him the authoritative source on the subject. Someone has to write down what happens…and that becomes ground truth.

Here’s another way to look at it, and, I trust, will help you understand that writing stories isn’t some odd thing that only a few people do. In “Book People” John Sutherland put it this way, “Storytelling is as human as breathing. Literature, since it emerged 4,000 years ago, has shaped the lives of most humans on planet Earth. We are what we read.”

One of the best answers to the question, “Why Write?” comes from my friend and co-author, Dick Couch. Here’s how he put it in an article in our alumni magazine some years ago:

For me, I gotta write, and it’s the adventure of it that’s hooked me. As the writer, I can do it all. I get to be the National Security Advisor who recommends the action to the President who must commit the forces. I’m the senior officer who sends his men into action and who feels the pain if they don’t make it back. I’m the enemy and the defender; logistician and staff planner. But most of all, I’m a young man again, that fresh lieutenant who must lead his men into battle.

Some men want to die with their boots on.  When I cash in my chips, I want to be slumped over the keyboard. And they can plant me with my word processor. I may wake up and want to write about it.

Finally, we all recognize we live in a highly technical world. But that often makes us turn to data as the king of the hill. It isn’t. Here’s how Michael Lewis put it in, The Undoing Project “No one ever made a decision based on a number. They need a story.”

Want more? Check out my blog for dozens of writing tips

Reading Deeply

Books George Galdorisi

There is a saying, “Not all readers are writers, but all writers are readers.” There is a lot to unpack in that short statement.

I read a long, but absolutely fabulous article that gets to the heart of what reading does for all of us, not just writers. Here is how it begins:

Thoughtful Americans are realizing that the pervasive IT-revolution devices upon which we are increasingly dependent are affecting our society and culture in significant but as yet uncertain ways. We are noticing more in part because, as Maryanne Wolf has pointed out, this technology is changing what, how, and why we read, and in turn what, how, and why we write and even think. Harold Innis noted in 1948, as television was on the cusp of revolutionizing American life, that “sudden extensions of communication are reflected in cultural disturbances,” and it’s clear we are stumbling through another such episode. Such disturbances today are manifold, and, as before, their most critical aspects may reside in alterations to both the scope and nature of literacy. As with any tangle between technology and culture, empirical evidence is elusive, but two things, at least, are clear.

For one, the new digital technology is democratizing written language and variously expanding the range of people who use and learn from it. It may also be diffusing culture; music and film of all kinds are cheaply and easily available to almost everyone. In some respects, new digital technologies are decreasing social isolation, even if in other respects they may be increasing it. Taken together, these technologies may also be creating novel neural pathways, especially in developing young brains, that promise greater if different kinds of cognitive capacities, albeit capacities we cannot predict or even imagine with confidence.

But it is also clear that something else has been lost. Nicholas Carr’s 2010 book, The Shallows, begins with the author’s irritation at his own truncated attention span for reading. Something neurophysiological is happening to us, he argued, and we don’t know what it is. That must be the case, because if there is any law of neurophysiology, it is that the brain wires itself continuously in accordance with its every experience. A decade later, Carr’s discomfort is shared by growing legions of frustrated, formerly serious readers.

Follow the link to read this long but truly enriching article:

https://www.nationalaffairs.com/publications/detail/the-erosion-of-deep-literacy

Pixar Magic

pixar

While most of the world is in a virtual lockdown as we muddle through the Covid-19 pandemic, many of us are using that time to enjoy new movies or old movies we love.

Full disclosure, like many of you, I am a huge fan of Disney’s Pixar movies (hard to believe that the first one, Toy Story, was released in 1995 – a quarter-century ago!)

Why have they been so successful? We all see and enjoy the animation, but at the heart of each movie is the story.

That is why I was so happy when a screenwriter friend of mine shared the Pixar storytelling secrets with me. As a writer, reading them was an “ah ha” moment.

See for yourself