On mothers writing about sex…

Interesting post on BuzzFeed of all places: Madonnas And Whores: On Mothers Writing About Sex.

I don’t tend to think of the authors I’m reading as anything but “authors.” That is, I don’t wonder if they are parents or assign them that designation or any other. I do think it’s odd how many people get fiction confused with real life, as if the author cannot write about anything that she hasn’t personally experienced.

Junot Diaz on people of color in MFA programs

Read Junot Diaz’s piece in The New Yorker about his experiences in the Cornell MFA program.

I was in an English literature/creative writing program in the early 1990s, and I can remember only one assignment of a book-length work by a person of color, which was Dust Tracks on a Road by Zora Neale Hurston. I cannot recall being assigned anything written by a person who was not born in the UK, US, or Western Europe. Granted, that may be a function of the classes I chose to take, but the core canon definitely excluded non-white, non-Western points of view.

I don’t know if things have changed. Judging from the comments on Diaz’s piece, I’d say not very much. 

From the piece:

“In my workshop there was an almost lunatical belief that race was no longer a major social force (it’s class!). In my workshop we never explored our racial identities or how they impacted our writing—at all. Never got any kind of instruction in that area—at all. Shit, in my workshop we never talked about race except on the rare occasion someone wanted to argue that “race discussions” were exactly the discussion a serious writer should not be having.”

Does discussion of race matter when teaching literature and writing? Should it?

Daily Writing Practice…

Successful writers often suggest writing daily, whether you feel like it or not. Daily writing practices differ but all seem to serve the same purpose: warming up the writing “muscle” before working it out. I think William Stafford’s practice is a particularly adaptable example. Check it out on PowellsBooks.Blog – Four Elements of a Daily Writing Page in William Stafford’s Practice – Powell’s Books.

Want to be a writer?

Want to be a writer? No, a real writer. You know, a person who writes, everyday. Well, this little piece will tell you the simple secret to becoming a real writer: How To Push Past The Bullshit And Write That Goddamn Novel: A Very Simple No-Fuckery Writing Plan To Get Shit Done « terribleminds: chuck wendig. Great advice!

Oh, and here’s a handy infographic if you’re one of those writers who doesn’t like to read.

Famous Last Words

A question on Quora asked: What are the most famous final passages from books or stories? Here are my votes for the top five. Feel free to add your favorite last lines in the comments.

“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.” – The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald

“and yes I said yes I will Yes.” – Ulysses, James Joyce

“He loved Big Brother.” – Nineteen Eighty-Four, George Orwell

“‘It is a far, far, better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far, better rest that I go to, than I have ever known.’”– A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens

“‘After all, tomorrow is another day.’” – Gone With the Wind, Margaret Mitchell

And five other good ones I missed:

“The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.” – Animal Farm, George Orwell

“Isn’t it pretty to think so?” – The Sun Also Rises, Ernest Hemingway

“I been there before.” – Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain

“But, in spite of these deficiencies, the wishes, the hopes, the confidence, the predictions of the small band of true friends who witnessed the ceremony, were fully answered in the perfect happiness of the union.” – Emma, Jane Austen

 “I am thinking of aurochs and angels, the secret of durable pigments, prophetic sonnets, the refuge of art. And this is the only immortality you and I may share, my Lolita.”  – Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov (not a book I personally liked, but this is a great line)

I looked through my favorite books on LibraryThing and added a few more last lines that have significant meaning for me.

“Yet what is any ocean but a multitude of drops?” – Cloud Atlas, David Mitchell

“Within, its walls continued upright, bricks met neatly, floors were firm, and doors were sensibly shut; silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone.” – The Haunting of Hill House, Shirley Jackson

“I am legend.” – I Am Legend, Richard Matheson

“The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.” – The Dark Tower, Stephen King

“He says that he will never die.” – Blood Meridian, Cormac McCarthy

“And then I woke up.” – No Country for Old Men, Cormac McCarthy

“So this is what everybody’s always talking about! Diablo! If only I’d known. The beauty! The beauty!” – The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, Junot Diaz

“And it may be that love sometimes occurs without pain or misery.” – The Shipping News, Annie Proulx

“He turned out the light and went into Jem’s room. He would be there all night, and he would be there when Jem waked up in the morning.” – To Kill a Mockingbird

Is writing torture? Should it be?

I remember when writing used to be something I did solely for fun, when I would write just to play around with words. I created collage poems out of words and pictures cut from magazines. I tried to make up my own acrostics and crosswords. I wrote stories as a form of play — playing with an idea, a structure, something that someone else had written.

I think one reason I don’t write as much as I used to or would like to is because somewhere along the way, I lost that sense of having fun with it. Is it because I’ve grown up? Is it because I think I shouldn’t do anything anymore unless it’s productive or results in a paycheck, because that’s we are taught to think that adults do. Adults don’t play; we work.

Or is it because I’ve been told over and over again that to be a writer, one must be tortured, obsessed, possessed? Writing is something you do because you have to, not because you want to. Above all, it is not fun.

Probably it’s a combination of all of the above. One thing I do know — I miss writing just for fun. I want that back in my life.

After reading this – Elizabeth Gilbert Versus Philip Roth: Is Writing Torture? in The New Yorker – I have to declare that I completely respect Elizabeth Gilbert’s point of view. She has not lost her sense of fun or play. She can’t believe she actually gets to write as a job.

Doesn’t that seem preferable to the old “tortured artist” routine?

Also worth reading: Elizabeth Gilbert’s thoughts on writing.


How to be more productive…

From the New York Times: Relax! You’ll Be More Productive. We work best in 90-minute intervals, just three per day, with rest breaks in between. By “work,” I mean creative or highly focused work. For example, alternating mental work with physical breaks might be a good strategy.

The author gives a potent example. He wrote his first books the “old-fashioned way,” by sitting at the computer for 10 hours at a time; each book took a year to write. Then, he tried writing a book by working just 4-1/2 hours per day, in 90-minute intervals; it only took him 6 months to write the book. The point is that working less and producing high-quality work trumps working more and producing crap.

Write what you don’t know…

Writers are often told that they should “write what they know,” but perhaps that leads to boring, safe writing. A better piece of advice might be to write what you don’t know you know. By delving into your unconscious knowledge of yourself and the world, your writing may not only be more interesting, but also more therapeutic. Via: Should You Write What You Know? | The Creativity Post.