Tag Archives: On Writing

On Unnecessary Communications

On Unnecessary Communications

In order to write a good letter, it is necessary to have a good subject, that you may not rival the Frenchman who wrote to his wife— “I write to you because I have nothing to do: I stop because I have nothing to say.” Letters written without aim or object, simply for the sake of writing, are apt to be stupid, trivial, or foolish.

 

—from Cecil B. Hartley’s The Gentleman’s Book of Etiquette and Manual of Politeness (1860)

 

Belloc vis-à-vis Social Media

Belloc vis-à-vis Social Media

No writer can be judged by the entirety of his writings, for these would include every note he ever sent round the corner; every memorandum he ever made upon his shirt cuff. But when a man sets out to write as a serious business, proclaiming by the nature of his publication and presentment that he is doing something he thinks worthy of the time and place in which he lives and of the people to whom he belongs, then if he does not construct he is negligible.

 

—Hilaire Belloc in his preface to Ernest Bramah’s Kai Lung’s Golden Hours (1922)

Deadlines versus Perfectionism

Deadlines versus Perfectionism

 

Struggling to finish some leftover projects from 2013? Chill. It’s only January, and you are not alone.

Every time I try to make it really easy, I end up complicating it more because creativity always overrides reason.
—independent filmmaker James Rolfe, Angry Video Game Nerd Movie Update (December 30 2013 video)

Hell, even your editor feels the same way about your work.

We never have hope of achieving the perfect book…. We do, however, have hope of achieving the best reasonable text within the constraints given to us as editors.
— a veteran editor I know, who still wishes to remain anonymous

 

Authors versus Editors

Authors versus Editors


Last Saturday, my class in substantive editing wrapped up its final meeting. To commemorate this personal milestone, here are two short quotations, taken out of context and put together for my own amusement.

Editors are ghouls and cannibals.
—Harriet Vane to Salcombe Hardy in Dorothy L. Sayers’s Busman’s Honeymoon (1937)

If only Harriet knew her editor’s feelings, every time she went off on a walking tour, stumbled on a corpse, and was late with her next book!

The author has a constitutional right to be an idiot.
—a veteran editor I know, who wishes to remain anonymous

Thankfully, I know a lot of veteran editors, so finger-pointing will prove difficult.

 

P.S.

I would like to point out that I’m both a writer and an editor, so you can only imagine the arguments I have with myself. 

Writers are Criminals

Writers are Criminals

They didn’t shake hands but drew nearer one another.

“I never expected to meet you in a place like this,” Madrid confided. “A prison exercise yard, with a number stenciled over your heart! But then, being a detective is not far from being a criminal, is it?”

“It’s been a long time since I was a detective.”

“Ah yes, you have become a writer. Quite famous, too. I’ve read your books. Well, being a writer amounts to the same thing as being a detective. In terms of being essentially criminal, I mean. Writers steal people’s lives. Isn’t that not so?”

“It’s been a long time since I’ve been a writer.”

 

—Madrid addressing Hammett in Owen Fitzstephen and Gordon McAlpine’s Hammett Unwritten (2013)

Side Comments of the Month: the Literati Edition

Side Comments of the Month: the Literati Edition

I'm a sucker for free books (that are pertinent to my interests). These titles are courtesy of Ten Speed Press.

1) I attended the second “Write Now!” at the Mechanics’ Institute last Tuesday. I like this new monthly event because it forces me to write under pressure. There’s nothing like being stuck in a room with twelve other people with equally puzzled faces: “How do I tackle this prompt?”

Not everything produced under time pressure can be epic but that’s not the point. The point is to get the juices flowing. Rewriting and editing can come later.

Tarlyn Edwards, event facilitator and librarian, distributes old postcards at each meeting to serve as visual prompts. Attendees are allowed to keep the photos because the library has more images than they know what to do with. Since I’m a sucker for vintage postcards, I get a thrill out of picking my photo. I will post the photos and my flash fiction in another entry.

 

2) Literary agent Michael Larsen delivered a talk on “10 Keys to Becoming a Successful Writer” at the Mechanics’ Institute. (My Chicago Manual of Style-trained brain is just itching to correct “10” to “Ten,” but I suppose I shouldn’t because that was the proper title of the talk.)

His talk was informative and honest. I’m sure that the handout he gave, which included a flowchart of the publishing process, was a complete surprise to many of the other writers in attendance. In Manila there are no literary agents. Since I’ve never met one before, I found his insights fascinating.

 

3) Yesterday, my lovely classmates and I attended “Movin’ on Up: Getting Hired and Promoted in Publishing.” This was organized by the Young to Publishing Group, a volunteer-based initiative that aims to mentor and educate people new to the industry.

It was a well-attended event, with a predominantly young, female crowd. The panelists were up front on how difficult it is so get an in-house editorial job. I like how they differentiated between East Coast and West Coast publishing. This clarified certain nagging questions in my head.

I tend to lump “American publishing practices” into one messy ball, so now I will be more mindful in thinking it’s all homogenous. A small press will operate differently from Chronicle Books, which has around 200 employees, and both San Francisco-based companies won’t match the hectic pace of the Big Five in New York. It may seem obvious but until I heard someone share their industry experience, the reality of it didn’t sink in.

 

. . .

All these events touched upon various stages of the publishing process—writing, selling a manuscript, editing—and it made me think there’s a huge disconnect between novice writers and the rest of the publishing industry. Some of the questions and comments at the “10 Keys” talk had a wonderful, heartbreaking naiveté behind it.

Perhaps it’s awful for me to say so because I remember being equally shocked by some opinions expressed at the first Litquake event I attended. That was almost two years ago; now it no longer comes as a complete surprise.

There was a woman who almost had an attack of the vapors when Mr. Larsen said a successful book is “ten percent writing, ninety percent marketing.” I didn’t get to chat with her afterwards, which is a shame. I really wanted to tell her that, no, excellent writing is not the sole keystone to a successful, bestselling book. It’s only the first step in a long, arduous process. Yes, badly written books become runaway hits all the time.

If it’s possible to accept the current challenges of the industry and still desire to deal with words—whether to write, edit, or publish them—then congratulations. Welcome to the working week. There’s more to book production than putting words on a page.