That Inconvenient Brilliant Thought

I keep a notebook.

A few notebooks.

Well, several notebooks.

I have them in my car, my handbag, my work bag, my gym bag.

My notebooks live on my desk and various horizontal surfaces .

And on my notebook shelf, too. 

I review my entries and organize my notes and write things from the inspiration they provide.

I search frantically through each of them for that contact info I jotted down.

Because I wrote it in the wrong one.

And I go through them again and reorganize my notebooks.

I admire my shelf full.

Then I buy more notebooks.

And pens.

I buy pens.

Many thanks to Dvortygirl, who provided the photo I modified for the graphic.

 

 

 

Advice for Aspiring Writers from the Great Danilo Kiš

Danilo Kiš photo with quote

Danilo Kiš was born 22 February 1935 in  Yugoslavia (now Serbia); he died 15 October 1989,  just before the Berlin Wall fell. 

Danilo”s mother was from Montenagro and his father, a Jew, died in Auschwitz.

His novels and short stories addressed the politics 20th century Europe.Danilo’s  most celebrated book, A Tomb for Boris Davidovich, Danilo explored totalitarianism.  He received acclaim for novels The Hourglass and Garden, Ashes. 

Literary rumor has it that Danilo was set to win the Nobel Prize for Literature the year he died; it is a fact that he was nominated. 

This quote applies to our characters – unscathed characters are boring. They become interesting as they gain scars. Creative writing courses teach us to beat up our characters, make the suffer. As with real live people, our characters’ experiences, good, bad, better, or horrifying, make them who they are. Are you cruel to your characters?

Today’s birthday quote is drawn from Danilo’s  list of advice for aspiring writers, found in his autobiography. Some may not work for you ideologically, but more than a few are timeless and worth review. Give them a look, take your time, and consider what works for you.

 

Advice For the Young Writer

  • Doubt reigning ideologies and the princes.
  • Keep away from the princes.
  • Be careful not to contaminate your speech with the language of ideologies.
  • Believe that you are mightier than the generals, but do not measure your strength with them.
  • Believe that you are weaker than the generals, but do not measure your strength with them.
  • Do not believe in Utopian projects, except in those you are creating yourself.
  • Be equally bitter towards the princes as you are towards the crowds.
  • Have a clear conscience regarding the privileges that your writer’s trade provides.
  • Do not mix the curse of your profession with class oppression.
  • Do not get obsessed with the urgency of history and do not believe in the metaphor about the trains of history.
  • Do not board, therefore, “the trains of history,” for it is nothing but a silly metaphor.
  • Always keep in mind: “he who hits the bull’s eye, misses everything else.”
  • Do not write pieces about the countries you visited as a tourist; do not write pieces at all, you are not a journalist.
  • Do not believe in statistics, in numbers, in public statements: reality is that which cannot be seen with the naked eye.
  • Do not visit factories, kolkhoz, workplaces:  progress is that which cannot be seen with the naked eye.
  • Do not practice economics, sociology, psychoanalysis.
  • Do not follow eastern philosophies, Zen Buddhism etc; you have better things to do.
  • Be aware that fantasy is fabrication’s sister, and therefore dangerous.
  • Associate with no one: the writer is always alone.
  • Do not trust those who maintain that ours is the worst of all worlds.
  • Do not trust prophets, you are the prophet.
  • Do not be a prophet, your weapon is doubt.
  • Have a peaceful conscience: the princes do not affect you because you are a prince.
  • Have a peaceful conscience: the miners do not affect you because you are a miner.
  • Keep in mind that the thing you did not say in the newspapers is not gone forever.
  • Do not write according to the order of the day.
  • Do not play all your cards on the moment, you will repent it.
  • Do not play all your cards on eternity either, you will repent doing this as well.
  • Be discontent with your destiny, only fools are content with theirs.
  • Be content with your destiny, for you have been chosen.
  • Seek no moral justification for traitors.
  • Stay clear from “absolute righteousness.”
  • Stay clear from false analogies.
  • Trust in those who pay a great price for their inconsistencies.
  • Do not trust in those who pay a great price for their inconsistencies.
  • Do not promote the relativism of all values: there is a hierarchy to all values.
  • Accept the awards awarded by the princes with indifference, but do nothing to deserve them.
  • Believe that the language of your writing is the best language of all, for you have no other language.
  • Believe that the language of your writing is the worst language of all, although you would not replace it for any other.
  • Do not be servile, because the princes will employ you as their doorman.
  • Do not be arrogant, because you will look like the princes’ doorman.
  • Do not allow them to convince you that your writing is useless to society.
  • Do not think that your writing can be considered “useful to society.”
  • Do not think that you yourself are a useful member of society.
  • Do not allow them to convince you, because of that, that you are a social parasite.
  • Believe that your sonnet is more valuable than the speeches of politicians and princes.
  • Have an opinion on everything.
  • Do not say your opinion on everything.
  • For you, your words cost you nothing.
  • Your words are the most precious thing.
  • Do not represent your nation, for whom else could your represent but yourself!
  • Do not be the opposition, for you stand not across the princess, you are down below.
  • Do not stand next to government and the princes, you are above them.
  • Fight social injustice, but don’t make it into a manifesto.
  • Do not allow the fight against social injustice to lead you astray from your path.
  • Become familiar with the thoughts of others, and  discard them afterwards.
  • Do not create a political program, do not create any kind of program: you create from the magma and the chaos of the universe.
  • Beware of those who offer final solutions.
  • Do not be a writer minority of the minorities.
  • As soon as some society begins calling you its own, question what you are doing.
  • Do not write for the “average reader:” all readers are average.
  • Do not write for the elite, there is no elite; you are the elite.
  • Do not contemplate death, and do not forget you are mortal.
  • Do not believe in the immortality of a writer, that is nonsense taught by teachers.
  • Do not be tragically serious, for that is comical.
  • Do not be a comedian, because the boyar are used to being entertained by them.
  • Do not be a fool of the court.
  • Do not believe that the writers are the “mankind’s conscience:” you’ve seen too many sons of bitches.
  • Do not let them persuade you that you are nobody: you’ve already seen that the boyar are afraid of the poets.
  • Never follow an idea to the death, and persuade no one to die.
  • Do not be a coward, and despise cowards.
  • Do not forget that bravery commands a high price.
  • Do not write for holidays and jubilees.
  • Do not write laudations, because you are going to repent it.
  • Do not write obituaries for the heroes of the nation, because you are going to repent it.
  • If you cannot pronounce the truth – stay quiet.
  • Beware the half-truths.
  • When everyone around you is celebrating, there is no reason for you to take part.
  • Do no favors for the princes and the boyar.
  • Seek no favors from the princes and the boyar.
  • Do not be tolerant out of politeness.
  • Do not require justice from everyone: “do not argue with a fool.”
  • Do not allow them to persuade you that all of us have equally valid opinions, and that there is no accounting for tastes.
  • “When both participants in a discussion are wrong, it does not mean they are both right.” (Popper)
  • “Allowing that the other one is right does not protect us from a greater danger: allowing that perhaps everyone else is right.” (Idem)
  • Do not discuss with fools about things they have heard from you for the first time.
  • Do not be on a mission.
  • Beware of those who have a mission.
  • Do not believe in “scientific opinion”.
  • Do not believe in intuition.
  • Beware of cynicism, even your own.
  • Stay clear of ideological gatherings and quotations.
  • Have the courage to say that Aragorn’s poem in Gepeua’s honor is blasphemy.
  • Do not allow them to convince you that both Sartre and  Camus were right in their polemic.
  • Do not believe in automated writing and “conscious unconsciousness” – you strive after clarity.
  • Reject all literary schools that are imposed upon you.
  • When “socialist realism” is mentioned, you leave the conversation.
  • On the topic of “socially engaged literature” you are as quiet as a fish: you leave that to the teachers.
  • You tell the one who is comparing concentration camps with Sante (Dante?) to go and take a walk.
  • You tell the one who claims that Kolyma was worse than Auschwitz to go to hell.
  • As for the one claiming that only fleas were being exterminated in Auschwitz – same procedure as above.
  • Segui il carro e lascia dir le genti. (“Follow your own road, and let the people talk” – Dante).

Thank you to Filip Simunovic for the translation. Read more on his literary blog:  Filip Simunovic

Another Reminder – The First Sentence Matters

Today, January 25th, marks the birthdate of some highly regarded writers.

Gloria Naylor

Gloria Naylor (5 Jan 1950 – 28 Sep 2016) saw her  debut novel, The Women of Brewster Place, (1982) win critical acclaim and become an Emmy-nominated miniseries starring Oprah Winfrey.

Gloria’s parents were sharecroppers who migrated from Mississippi to Harlem to seek new opportunities. Her father became a transit worker and her mother a telephone operator. Despite their own limited education, Gloria’s parents encouraged her to read

Gloria  Naylor shares her birthday with Virginia Woolf  (1882 – 1941) and Robert Burns 1759-1796).

Gloria Naylor (5 Jan 1950 – 28 Sep 2016) saw her  debut novel, The Women of Brewster Place, (1982) win critical acclaim and become an Emmy-nominated miniseries starring Oprah Winfrey.

Gloria’s parents were sharecroppers who migrated from Mississippi to Harlem to seek new opportunities. Her father became a transit worker and her mother a telephone operator. Despite their own limited education, Gloria’s parents encouraged her to read and to keep a journal.  By the time she was a teenager, Gloria was a prolific writer of poems, short stories, and observations of the world around her.

Gloria’s family moved to Queens in 1963, and she was placed in advanced classes at her new high school. Gloria graduated from high school the year Martin Luther King Jr. was was murdered, and served as a Jehovah’s Witness missionary for seven years.  She then enrolled as a nursing student at Brooklyn college, but quickly changed her major to English.  Gloria worked her way through college, earning her bachelor’s degree and then a masters degree in African American studies at Yale.  Her thesis would become her second novel, Linden Hills.

Gloria’s first published novel, The Women of Brewster Place,  as her other novels, addressed social issues such as racism, homophobia, poverty and women’s rights with intensity and grace.  She became known for her vivid telling of what it meant to be a black woman in America.

Gloria’s work includes several more novels and inclusion in anthologies. She taught at Cornell, George Washington University, and Boston University.  Gloria received numerous awards, ranging from a Guggenheim Fellowship to several National Book Awards.

 

We’ve Heard it Before – Always That First Sentence!

“One should be able to return to the first sentence of a novel and find the resonances of the entire work.”  ~ Gloria Naylor.

We hear it at conferences, in classrooms, at critique groups, on podcasts and on “how to write” blogs. This is timeless advice, folks, and there’s a reason famous authors say it. Time for me to go reevaluate my first pages.

 

A Good Day to be Born, if You’re a Writer

Gloria  Naylor shares her birthday with Virginia Woolf  (1882 – 1941) and Robert Burns 1759-1796).  My own birthday seems to be heavy with politicians. Perhaps I’ve missed my calling?

Confucius Statue

Go Slow and Don’t Stop

“It does not matter how slowly you go as long as you do not stop.”   ~ Confucius

Confucius Statue

Today is the birth anniversary of Confucius, who would be 2,568 years old if he’d managed to stay alive for twenty or so extra centuries. 

Confucius was born on or about the equivalent of September 28, 551 B.C.E. He was a political figure, philosopher, educator, and founder of the Ru Chinese School of Thought. He was also an author and has been credited with writing or editing the Five Classics and other Chinese texts.*

We hear some version of his advice often these days, don’t we?

 

Just Keep Swimmin’

Persevere

One Step at at Time

Never Give Up!

Just Do It

 

The truth is, a hundred thousand words is daunting. I suspect it would be all the more so without my keyboard. Or a pen. Or paper. I’m pretty sure my chiseling skills are woefully inadequate.

Yes we’re pulled in umpteen directions and the clock never stops ticking. But we can carve out a few minutes most days, if we’re intentional about it.  And when I say we, I mean I. 

Because I’m great about talking about planning my writing. I acknowledge that a plan, a schedule, a timeline would be helpful.  And then I get distracted.

Sound familiar?

So, enough talk about writing. Time for me to write. How about you?

*Cunfucius peppered his writing quite generously with adverbs!

Elizabeth Winthrop Photo with Quote

I am a Perfectionist Scaredy-Cat Writer

 

“I am a perfectionist and a scaredy-cat.”

~Elizabeth Winthrop Alsop

 

 

 

Elizabeth Winthrop Photo with Quote

 

Today Elizabeth Winthrop Alsop celebrates her 70th birthday. Elizabeth has published children’s, young adult, picture books and historical fiction as well as memoir – more than sixty books since her first, Bunk Beds, in 1972. Elizabeth is best known for her middle grade fantasy classic, Castle in the Attic, and has received numerous awards. She’s recently done a Ted Talk about creativity and risking exposure as a writer. It can be viewed here.

 

In her Ted Talk, Elizabeth advises writers to follow where their creative urges take them. Wise words. Sometimes my characters seem to have a mind of their own. They insist on acting in ways I hadn’t planned. My stories have been known to fight me in an attempt to veer in unanticipated directions. 

I should loosen the reins.

Which is not always easy for me.

I have a plan, often an outline. I am detail oriented, definitely more plotter than pantser. And I may just lean a bit towards having control issues. But then my story twists in a burst of spontaneity I’d repressed with the weight of my detailed notes. Or a character decides to do or say something that I didn’t authorize.  

So I pause. And after a while, I can remind myself that my character is making their own decisions because they’re just that real. And that the unplanned variation may improve the story.

But only if it give it a chance.

So I try to turn off the orderly part of my brain and just get the words down.

And the result may be better than I’d anticipated. I like to think I’d planned the perfect novel, but I suppose the creative recesses of my mind have a better idea. If only I can fight off the resistance and follow those creative urges.

Elizabeth reminds us that as writers, we are perfectionists because we get to have our failures privately. I take this to heart when I find myself comparing the ugliness of my first draft with that finished novel on my bedside table. That little activity is one of my own personal private opportunities to see my work as a failure. All alone in the comfort of my own home. Then I shake it off and move forward. And not a soul knows. [Well, I suppose the cat is now out of the bag]. I love the idea of keeping my failures under cover and letting the world see that final polished bit of work.

I’m a scaredy-cat myself.  Elizabeth shares that hiding behind our characters allows us to avoid real-life confrontation. So maybe I’ll create a character that bears resemblance to some real-life people who’ve been on my mind. And then I’ll have them slip in a puddle and drop their coffee. Or have the perfect wedding. Or wreck their car. Or contract food poisoning. Or get upgraded to first class. So many possibilities, and limited only by my imagination and the depth of my emotion. How is that not fun?

Go and take 15 minutes and hear what Elizabeth has to say.


My late sister and grandmother shared a September 14th birthday. I’m pleased that I was able to learn a bit about an author who was born on that day as well. I hear each of their voices in parts of Elizabeth’s Ted Talk, and an involuntary little smile tugs. Ms. Alsop, I think you’d have liked the both of them. Thank you, Elizabeth.

desk laptop and books by markus spiske

What Does “Being Published” Mean, Anyway?

What does “being published” mean, anyway?

If a work is published, supposedly somewhere someone is reading, has read, or will read it. Well, maybe they’ll skim it.  Or scare up the Cliff Notes (do they still exist?). Anyhow…

Back in the day, we read newspapers and hardcovers, romance or western or science fiction paperbacks, textbooks and glossy magazines. The heft of a physics book, the slippery magazine pages, the barely held together pages of a script, the carbon ink transferred from cheap newsprint to your fingers or elbows or favorite shirt – reading was tactile. You’d pick up whatever you needed to get through, set it in front of you or maybe curl up in a

desk laptop and books by markus spiske

chair, focus your eyes on the paper, and there you were.

Now, we read novels on tablets, our phones, in our ears. Newspapers and textbooks are online, and they’re interactive. We take in memes and social media posts and blogs and all form of online media. We get much of our news in 40-character blasts.

So what does it mean to be published?

We still have anthologies and journals, magazines, news outlets, chapbooks and novels and poetry and all manner of nonfiction. Textbooks, pulp fiction, mysteries and romance haven’t disappeared. People still read.

Just not necessarily on paper.

Successful blogs become bestselling books. We “read” audio books while vacuuming or mowing the lawn.  Guest contributors have  bylines on blogs. Each day, scads of new e-books in every imaginable genre are published and available to download. Writers can enter competitions, the prize may be a magazine subscription or an online posting of their work. Some writers make a living creating nothing but web content or (gasp, yes, its true) clickbait.

So, if you write a blog post, are you published? Does web content count?  What about ebooks, or your own little small press?  Audio books?

The Cambridge Dictionary defines publication as the act of making information or stories available to people in a printed or electronic form. Seems simple, and it looks like those audio books, blog posts, and e-books qualify. Maybe not your tweets or that sunset you shared on Instagram.

So, good for you! Did you feel your credibility swell?  Or at least your confidence? Then my work is finished here.

Disclaimer: I am not an attorney, and these are merely my musings.  Please do not consider this to contain any more substance than my meandering thoughts. And actual intellectual property attorney likely would have far more to say on this subject, and I welcome any who require a definitive answer to consider more in-depth research.

photo credit: Markus Spiske on Unsplash

V.S. Naipaul Quote and Headshot

Humor, Tragedy, And a Nobel Prize for Literature

Today, August 17, 2018, Sir. V.S. Naipaul celebrates his 86th birthday.

Recipient of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2001, British author Sir V.S. Naipaul was born in Trinidad to parents of Indian descent. Sir Naipaul earned a government scholarships, attended Oxford and worked for the BBC for a short time. His early novels and short stories received a number of recognitions and awards.  A House for Mr Biswas (1961), was based on his father’s life in Trinidad and received high praise.  Later in his career, he wrote about colonial and post-colonial societies and alienation of the individual in the process of decolonization. Sir Naipaul was knighted in 1989 and holds honorary doctorates from Cambridge University and Columbia University in New York, and honorary degrees from the universities of Cambridge, London and Oxford.

“One always writes comedy at the moment of deepest hysteria” ~ Sir. V.S. Naipaul

An insightful man, Sir. Naipaul.  And he nails it, doesn’t he?  Humor and tragedy are a mere knife-edge apart, and comedy emerges in force when things seem to be at their very worst.

My thoughts….

V.S. Naipaul Quote and HeadshotComedy cushions the blow. Humor can be used to soften an intimidating (or terrifying) message. The reality may not be any easier, but swallowing the pill is less unpleasant.

For as long as governments have existed, satirists have used humor not only to poke fun at leaders, but to call them out.

Humor helps normalize overwhelming experiences and nudges us to look at a situation from different angles. That may reduce some of the stress and fear.

As with shorter skirts during wartime, humor offers a distraction.  A bit of silliness, maybe some physical comedy provide an opportunity to turn away from the awfulness around us and just smile a bit.  At the darkest times, those little bits of light sustain us.

And finally, humor draws us together, providing a bond with others. We’re all in this together, after all, right?

And with that, I will refrain from sharing further my thoughts on the buckets of funny stuff emerging in these last few years. Because, even with humor, that is just a depressing place to go. Instead, I’ll share that A House for Mr Biswas has been added to my ever-growing to read list.

You can learn more about Sir V.S. Naipaul here.


Photo credit JackNL under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International License.  Quote from brainyquotes.com