E. B. White on the art of the essay.
I am one of those writers who, as he gets halfway through a long book, decides that there is nothing he can possibly eat that will agree with him. I start out at page 1, line 1, weighing some 170 pounds, and a quarter of a million words later, in seventh draft and ready for the printer, I have come down to 145 pounds. With particularly long books, I get so thin that there is nothing around my hips to hold up my slacks; and, during the last chapters I find it nearly impossible to write sitting down because there is no flesh left to sit on.
Irving Stone’s perfect writer’s luncheon – read it in full here.
There is a flattening effect: A circulating meme has the same weight of relevancy as a well-crafted essay. Once they are both outside the periphery of our attention span, we have a hard time carrying them with us. I have a hard time coming up with things I’ve read or seen on the Internet that have changed my life, but I can think of at least half a dozen books that have — perhaps because I’ve carried them in my hands.
Writers will no longer be writing for posterity, but will be competing for the nebulous spotlight of digital fame, which in these days comes in the form of viral status and features a cat. Their creativity will conform to fit the medium, which emphasizes speed over patience and quantity over quality. I’m afraid that literature will be like television, if novels are only available in online format: done solely for entertainment and written like it, too — relying heavily on cheap gimmicks to attract readers and ad space to sell art. I’m afraid that the digitization of literature will exasperate a culture that already pushes quick media consumption over lifelong enjoyment.
Christine Truong expounds the death of the story and the rise of literary gimmickry in the digital age. But perhaps the story is no more dead than the book, whose alarmist death toll has been sounded for centuries. “Writers don’t need tricks or gimmicks,” Raymond Carver admonished.
For a reminder that anchors the matter in what really matters, see Kurt Vonnegut’s 8 tips on writing great stories, Malcolm Cowley on the 4 essential stages of composing a story, and Barnaby Conrad’s 6 rules for a great story.
The Writer’s Technique in Thirteen Theses – Walter Benjamin’s timeless advice on writing, 1928.
1. Read, read read! Classic poems for children and adults, books about poetry. Never trust anyone who writes more than he or she reads. Even if you want to write free verse, learn verse forms and metrics until your eyes glaze over. You can break those rules, but only after you have learned them first.
2. Make a dictionary your best friend, no matter how geeky that sounds. Most children will speak only one language in their lifetimes, so why not make your fluency in that language as masterful as you can.
3. If you say you want to be a writer (prose or poetry), I applaud you. The next words out of your mouth should be, “But I promise to be a rewriter!” I don’t even know why we use the word “writer.” All the great writers in the world have been rewriters. So buy yourself a big wastebasket, and keep it filled.
Advice to aspiring poets from J. Patrick Lewis, the current United States children’s poet laureate.
I picture novelists of the future as the literary equivalent of home brewers, coming up with small batches of craft brews geared toward a specific taste. The challenge for a novelist lies in connecting our work with those readers who have an appetite for it. I’m starting to catch on to the importance of building that base through an online presence. It’s an enormous joke on us writers: Collectively, we’re an almost comically introverted bunch; yet in order to find readers, we’re compelled to morph into crack marketers and self-promoters.” (Bettina Lanyi, “the aspiring novelist”)
“When I was looking for an agent, all I really wanted was someone to save me from all the marketing and logistical hassles of producing and selling a book. I just wanted to be the shy writer and let everyone else take care of me. Today, I am actually grateful I didn’t find one.” (Cerece Rennie Murphy, “the self-published author”)
“I never anticipated that, when I became a professional writer, I’d also become a marketing strategist, publicist and entrepreneur. But in order to keep being a professional writer, I need to show my publisher how hard I’m willing to work. And I need to connect with my readers in as many creative, absurd and unexpected ways as possible.” (Jennifer Miller, “the novelist-entrepreneur”)
Over at The Washington Post, various members of the book publishing ecosystem weigh in on its evolution, with a common thread of the tension between writers’ inherent introversion and the extroversion a social media presence demands.