Rewrite?

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Most of us who have written for a while know the inestimable value of a good editor. The challenge us, they sometimes infuriate us, but for me, they are mostly right.

I’ve been blessed with fabulous editors over the years who worked hard at the often herculean task of helping make my writing sing, not just sit there on the pages and muddle.

But I’ve always been challenged to articulate exactly WHAT these great editors have done, and let others into the tent to examine how they did what they did.

That’s why I was delighted to read Ruth Reichl’s recent piece where the Gourmet editor remembers editor Susan Kamil, who died last month.

The headline of the article is:  ‘I Think You Need to Rewrite It’: Ruth Reichl on What Makes an Editor Great. Here is how she begins:

Halfway through my last memoir, my editor, Susan Kamil, said, “Maybe you should just move on. This isn’t working.”

I threw the phone across the room. I’d been working on the book for a couple of years, sending drafts back and forth to Susan. “I’m sorry,” she continued, “it’s good, but if you’re not willing to go deeper, there’s just no point.”

Susan Kamil never let you off the hook.

When Susan died on September 8, there was an outpouring of grief from the entire publishing community. Susan was the most lovable person: enormously generous, endlessly kind, crazy for cats and great fun to be with. Always dressed in bluejeans and sneakers, she was one of the few women who was equally adored by both men and women. A gifted publisher, she was also a wonderful boss. But above all, Susan was an editor.

Susan didn’t just read your manuscript and offer suggestions; she became your collaborator, your partner. With Susan, a book was an ongoing conversation, and she filled every page of every manuscript with questions, suggestions, comments. The process never ended: She kept fretting over the words until the book went to press. She couldn’t help herself. In Susan’s mind a book was never really finished, and I suspect she found it impossible to read even the dustiest, most ancient tome without a pencil in her hand.

Want more? You can read the rest of the piece here

Sentences First

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Most of us who write are always looking for writing tips. I found some good ones in a recent book review with an intriguing title: “Nailing the Jelly of Reality to the Wall.”

The book the writer reviews is, “FIRST YOU WRITE A SENTENCE: The Elements of Reading, Writing … and Life,” by Joe Moran. Here’s how he begins:

A well-formed sentence, Joe Moran writes in his humane and witty guide to meaning-making, “is a cure, however fleeting, for human loneliness.” We all write more sentences now than ever, but how hard do we think about the shape of these etheric objects? A good sentence is a considerate gift; or maybe it’s an easeful, mapless walk with your reader, through a new city — but it might also be a high-wire act (audience agog for disaster). Moran’s book contains many such metaphors for the sentence, and at least one for figurative language itself: “Metaphor is how we nail the jelly of reality to the wall.” Is the sentence a transaction, or is it an artifact? Polished performance or open invitation? “First You Write a Sentence” is a “muted love letter” to the form, arguing in its genially opinionated way for sentences that make our lives more democratic and more pleasurable.

At the calm heart of Moran’s rhetorically affable book is an idea of adroit aplomb. He thinks a sentence should slide down the gullet like a clam, hardly touching the sides. His own prose is much like this. Unlike many writers on style, he doesn’t get carried away with examples; those he provides tend to be by masters of the almost invisible art of elegantly simple diversion. The mind and ear enjoy, but don’t get snagged on, the language of William Tyndale’s English Bible, Thomas Merton’s essays, the recipes of Elizabeth David. The sentences Moran likes derive from the loose, Senecan style perfected in the 17th century by the likes of John Donne, rather than ones from the stiff, hierarchical period of Samuel Johnson a century later. The best modern sentences resemble Donne’s, with simple statements upfront, then a pileup, if need be, of clause upon appositive clause, clarifying, elaborating, potentially without cease — but casually, too, always ready to end.

Want more? You can read the rest of the piece here

Murder, She Read

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Who reads about true crime? The statistics don’t lie. And Kate Tuttle explains WHY in her essay. Here is just a snippet:

A 2010 study found that around 70 percent of Amazon reviews of true-crime books are by women (compared with books about war, where 82 percent of the reviews are by men). Something is going on here, but what? Men, the statistics tell us, are involved in violent crime — as perpetrators and victims alike — in much larger numbers than women. When women are connected to crime, we’re much more likely to be victims or survivors. Perhaps our fascination with these stories stems in part from wanting to learn from them. If a woman escaped her attacker in this particular way, we think, perhaps I could too.

At the most basic level, true crime satisfies that little-kid desire to see beneath the surface of everything. As a child, I was often ashamed of my curiosity, which always seemed to go in socially unacceptable directions. I’d reach for a stick to explore a dead fish at the edge of a pond. I yearned to learn taxidermy. Grown-ups smiled when I said I wanted to be a doctor when I grew up, but I knew better than to tell them my main motivation: I wanted to see everyone naked. As a teenager, I liked nothing better than testing my ability to withstand upsetting things.

Want more? You can read the full article here

Hooking Your Reader

Writing Techniques

People lead such frenetic lives in 2019 that writers are especially challenged to hook their readers, often in minutes or even seconds.

That can happen in a bookstore, or more commonly, on Amazon with a “Look Inside” the book offer.

I reflected on one opening sentence that I keep coming back to as a “best-practices” example. Here it is, from James Jones From Here to Eternity:

“When he finished packing, he walked out onto the third-floor porch of the barracks brushing the dust from his hands, a very neat and deceptively slim young man in the summer khakis that were still early morning fresh.”

And here’s how Ed McBain breaks it down in Killer’s Payoff:

“Jones packs a hell of a lot into that first line. He tells you it’s summer, he tells you it’s morning, he tells you you’re on an Army post with a soldier who’s obviously leaving for someplace, and he gives you a thumbnail description of his hero. That’s a good opening line.”

Keep writing…and go find that killer-good opening sentence….

Creative Juices

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Whether writing is a passion or a hobby or just an occasional urge, we all wonder how we can be more creative.

That’s why I was taken by this short piece in the New York Times, “How to Be Creative.” Here’s how the writer began:

You know how you’ve got this image of the creator as a somewhat crazy, slightly unbalanced person lost in his or her own head? I have great news. You are one, too! Everyone – adults and children alike – has a creative streak. But while most of us have a spirit of invention, major or minor, for too many of us it lies dormant even though it can be awakened with the simplest of acts. Follow these steps to find your inner writer, composer, finger painter, chef, lyricist, entrepreneur, filmmaker, comedian, politician or professional Tweeter.

It’s all about “giving permission.” Do it!

Want more? You can read it here

Your Inner Reader!

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You don’t have to be a graduate-level writing instructor or a New York Times best-selling author to know that the secret to good writing it reading!

Here are some suggestions from Greg Crowles to “How to Tap Your Inner Reader:”

Studies suggest all kinds of benefits to reading, including increased empathy, stress reduction and memory retention. It can even curb your criminal instincts, according to some researchers, although my family might have their doubts about me.

But if you’re a reader, you probably love books not because they lower your cholesterol but because they bring you joy. Reading is, ideally, a leisure activity: the kind of thing you can devote an afternoon to while dinner is bubbling in the slow cooker and the cat is curled at your feet and you slouch in an armchair like a teenager (hey, maybe you are a teenager) losing yourself in a world somebody else has imagined into being. Reading a book is a form of communication because you’re communing: The writer speaks, the reader listens, and somewhere along the way you achieve a real intimacy, of a sort. That’s magical.

But leisure activities require leisure time, and who’s got that? Let’s face it, the afternoon in the armchair probably isn’t happening, even if somebody else takes care of dinner. Finding time to read generally means making time to read, and that means making it a priority. If you can incorporate the gym into your regular routine, you can incorporate quality time with a book too.

Want more? You can read it here.

2019 NHA Writers Panel

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Ever wanted to write a book?  Do you think you can be the next Tom Clancy or Stephen Coonts?  Or, do you have a story to tell about flying your experience as a Naval Aviator?  Here’s your chance to pick the brains of four successful authors: George Galdorisi, Marc Liebman, Barbara Marriott and Matt Vernon, all fellow Naval Aviators and helo bubbas (or in Barbara’s case, a helo bubba’s spouse).  As a group, they’ve written three dozen books, including fiction and non-fiction and countless articles for a wide-range of publications. They’ve worked with large and small publishers, agents and even helped launch a publishing firm.  Remember, if you don’t tell your stories, who will?  Come get the gouge on getting published.

Deadly Reviews

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Since my primary passion is writing, I tend to hang out with other writers. We share our aspirations and ideas, hopes and fears.

I don’t know any writing friend – or any writer for that matter – who doesn’t fear a bad review of his or her book. Negative reviews cut like a knife.

That’s why I was cheered by a recent New York Times article revealing that books we admire – FAMOUS BOOKS – soared in spite of scalding reviews.

That should give us all a confidence that in spite of a negative review on Amazon or Good Reads we should KEEP WRITING.

This is just a snippet. Want more? You can read the reviews of these books here

Creating Tomorrow’s World

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We all want to know what the future will hold. While no one can really know, there is mounting evidence that writers of speculative fiction may have unique insights into the future.

As a writer, I know this because I read a great deal of speculative fiction and it feeds my writing efforts.

That’s why I was drawn to a recent article, “When Sci-Fi Comes True.” Here is a short excerpt. It will make you think:

Maybe because we’re living in a dystopia, it feels as if we’ve become obsessed with prophecy of late.

In “The Dreams Our Stuff Is Made Of: How Science Fiction Conquered the World,” Thomas Disch calls this relay between fiction and reality “creative visualization.” Businesses have started to co-opt it. The designers of the iPhone and the Kindle cite works of science fiction as inspiration. Boeing, Nike, Ford and Intel have hired prototyping, future-casting or world-building ventures for product development. As the author Brian Merchant put it on Medium recently, these companies “do what science fiction has always done — build rich speculative worlds, describe that world’s bounty and perils, and, finally, envision how that future might fall to pieces.” This is “speculative” fiction in the financial sense, too, a new way to gamble on futures.

The irony — or the proof — of this brave new business model is that sci-fi saw it coming. Dystopias have long portrayed artists being drafted into nefarious corporate labor. In “Blade Runner 2049,” for instance, the Wallace Corporation sets a woman the task of crafting memories — not for characters in a novel, but for androids.

It’s a touch self-congratulatory for sci-fi creators to imply that they’re the unacknowledged designers of the world. But they do seem to have a knack for innovation. The genre has predicted satellite communication, army tanks, tablets, submarines, psychotropic pills, bionic limbs, CCTV, electric cars and video calling. You can find dozens more examples of sci-fi-minted gadgetry on the internet, which is itself a prime example of the phenomenon. The word “cyberspace” first appeared in the cyberpunk novel “Neuromancer” (1984), to describe “a consensual hallucination …. A graphic representation of data abstracted from the banks of every computer in the human system.” Its author, William Gibson, is our Nostradamus: His novels have prophesied reality television, viral marketing and nanotechnology.

Want more? You can read it here

Creative Juices

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Most people who are involved in creative endeavors are always looking for ways to be MORE creative. I know I am.

That’s why I was drawn to a series of New York Times “Better Living Guides” focused specifically on ways to become more creative.

The link below takes you to five different ideas regarding how to ignite more creativity. I was particularly taken by one that suggests, “Take a Nap.” Here’s how it begins:

So many wonderful scientific experiments have been done to show us the value of downtime for creativity, memory and learning. One of my favorites involves what happens inside the brains of rats when they are constantly stimulated.

In the experiment, done at the University of California at San Francisco, brain activity was measured in rats when they have a new experience. The researchers put the rat on a table, and could see that the rat developed a brain signal associated with a new experience. (It turns out, a new experience for a rat, like being set down on a table the rat has never been on before, can be fairly exciting.) Then, the researchers added a twist by dividing the subject rats into two groups. One group of rats was immediately subjected to another new experience (look, new table!), while another was given downtime.

In the rats that got downtime, researchers could see the brain activity move into a part of the brain called the hippocampus, which is associated with learning and memory. That didn’t happen with the rats that had a second new experience. When they were stimulated with a second new experience, they, in effect, had less of an ability to process what they’d already experienced. This is one experiment of many that show how crucial it is to let your brain go lax, to give it time and space. Think of your brain as if it were someone you’re in a relationship with; sometimes, it needs to have some alone time. This is just a snippet. Want more? You can read all five articles here