Category Archives: Read like a writer
They say it is like driving in the dark …
… writing, that is – you see only a small part of the world, and sometimes it is very hard to know how to find your way home.
But now I have given myself a deadline!
I must admit that I have been strongly influenced by a) my wife, and b) a new job, which starts beginning of February 2015.
But nevertheless, I can sense a small feeling of (premature) celebration.
It has been a long journey. It started with NaNoWriMo in 2011 (yes, 2011!), and it has involved publication of excerpts here on this blog. And of course, many hours with my computer.
The excerpts are now removed, since it was impossible to keep them up to date. The manuscript changes all the time, and when it is finished (yes, it will be), I might reconsider the idea of publishing snippets from the book also here.
I plan to use Bookbaby, and when it is done (the publication, that is), I will give myself some rewards.
I will read this expensive book, leaned back in a comfortable chair.
I might join the Story is a State of Mind course, by Sarah Selecky.
I will read more in these excellent writing books (yes, it is always more fun to read about it than doing it – Resistance, right!):
- How Fiction Works, by James Wood – because of its language, and because of its use of that language to describe what people have written in books!
- The Art of Fiction, by John Gardner – because it is interesting in an elitistic way
- Reading Like a Writer, by Francine Prose – because it got me started
And I will return to my other book-project – Books with Views.
And I will post here more often – I promise.
After all the hours of browsing and reading, patterns start to emerge.
And here is summary, as of today, the last of February, in the year 2013.
Before I fell in love with reading and writing on the internet, I was convinced that blogs were not for serious people. They were populated by young girls writing about popular things, like fashion and celebrities. I also learned that these bloggers, as they were called, make money – or to be more correct, they are given things. They are given things that represent the brands they mention in their blogs. I felt that I was obliged to consider this as non-real work, with non-real incomes.
That was five years ago. And of course I was wrong.
I worked at a telecom company in Sweden, and I started to find interest in things that happen at work. These were things related to people, and it was most interesting to see how the interactions between people, and the intrigues they created, had such a large impact on the actual business.
I stumbled upon Seth Godin’s blog. I realize now that I was not the first person to have done that, and I have been a follower since I found it. I read every post, they are always good, and sometimes they are both very good and spot on, giving me direct inspiration and renewed energy. Of course I highly recommend this blog.
And he has written books, too. I learned many things from Linchpin, and some I remember most vividly since they tend to follow me along, and cling to my mind. One wisdom is that fear is always there, trying to hinder you from doing your work, and it directly activates your lizard brain.
I also learned, again from Linchpin (but as I now understand, it emanates from Steve Jobs), that real artists ship. I try to follow this advice, but I assure you that it is sometimes difficult!
I work in a University (for one more month from today), and I have spent some time thinking about students and learning, and why nobody wants to be an engineer, and why everybody hates math. Then I saw the light. I found Stop Stealing Dreams, which was very refreshing, and I also sent the link to our Minister for Education. No, I did not receive any answer.
I continued searching, and here are some samples from my current favourites. These are blogs I regularly read, and sites I regularly visit.
Someone pointed me to this great talk by Neil Gaiman. It was embedded in a post on an equally great blog called The Story of Telling. You can find many thoughtful words there, often captured in compact and precise formulations, in posts with great imagery.
From time to time I visit the Zenhabits blog, and I always leave with some added wisdom and some interesting thoughts that I can relate to my work life as well as to more private experiences.
For the moment I read about how to write, especially on how to write fiction. I know that I cannot learn that craft from only reading, so I also commit to regular practice, and from time to time I emit some non-fiction posts as well.
For the moment I am listening to, and reading material from, a very interesting workshop from Psychotactics. It is actually free (for a limited time period), and I very much recommend it if you are interested in marketing. The workshop is called the Brain Alchemy Masterclass, and it explains (in a super-pedagogical and very entertaining way) why structure in marketing is critical to growing a business effectively. There may be a waiting list and the time period will expire, but here is a link with more information about the Brain Alchemy Masterclass.
I almost forgot. There is this great place called Box of Crayons. I subscribe to their Great Work Provocations, which means that I receive wise words every day, all for free, and all very helpful and encouraging. And I bought this book that helps persons to do More Great Work. And it helped a lot in my thinking and planning for a new job.
And some days ago I also discovered radio, in the form of a great site called On Being. I have downloaded material from there, and it has made my train journeys inspiring in a whole new kind of way.
I conclude with a thanks, to you who read this blog and this post. Even if they say that you should pursue your art and not think about making it for your readers, it is a lot more fun if there is someone on the other end of the line!
It was one of those that made me hang in there, until the end, with very few intermissions.
And now I want to understand why.
I bought it as an e-book January 6, 2012. I was led to it by Francine Prose – she had an excerpt from it in Reading Like a Writer, and I was drawn into the story already after a few sentences. It was thriller-like in suspense and tension, but at its heart it is a love story. It begins with Daniel and Hampton wandering around in the woods, in search of a missing girl.
Daniel and Hampton were paired by chance and against their wishes. They were not friends – Hampton did not particularly like Daniel, and Daniel had every reason to avoid being alone with Hampton.
Then, in one sentence
But Daniel’s girlfriend or partner or whatever he was supposed to call her, Kate, Kate went home to relieve the baby-sitter who was minding her daughter, and Hampton’s wife, there was no ambiguity here, his wife, Iris, with whom Daniel was fiercely in love, had gone home to look after their son.
we learn the theme of the story. It then continues, with its real beginning, now written in the present tense, as
Two years after he was kicked down the stairs of his apartment building in New York City, which shattered his wrist, chipped his front tooth, and, as he himself put it, broke his heart, Daniel Emerson is back in his hometown, driving Ruby, his girlfriend’s four-year-old daughter, to her day care center, called My Little Wooden Shoe.
Perhaps it was this directness, where persons are talked about without being introduced, combined with the rhythm, where long sentences, with interestingly many commas, sometimes also with elements of repetition, a repetition that gave me, the reader, an additional, almost listening-to-music-like experience, that I liked most.
I did not have to spend time, as I do in many novels, by taking breaks where I stop the reading, for the sole purpose of trying to remember who is married to whom, and was it really important for me to remember where the old charming Aunt lived, and what was that name again, of the detective?
Then there is a new paragraph. We are still in the present tense, and following this first, short sentence, a sentence which really makes me stop and hold my breath for a moment, we learn more about Daniel’s relation to Kate’s daughter Ruby, and starting with worldly but still wonderful events he shares with Ruby, this second sentence, which is even longer than the previous, also long sentence, ends with a reflection on life itself, and its very meaning and purpose.
It’s fine with Daniel. He welcomes the chance to do fatherly things with the little girl, and those ten morning minutes with dear little four-year-old Ruby, with her deep soulful eyes, and the wondrous things she sees with them, and her deep soulful voice, and the precious though not entirely memorable things she says with it
and after a while, we approach the end with
it simply reminds you that even if God is dead, or never existed in the first place, there is, nevertheless, something tender at the center of creation, some meaning, some purpose and poetry.
It is not my purpose, with this post, to give away spoilers. But I wanted to take the chance to recommend the book – A ship made of paper by Scott Spencer – and at the same time submit a contribution to the weekly writing challenge – stylish imitation, a challenge I found very interesting, and perhaps, by some purpose or design, I was supposed to find it since by an act which to me seemed quite random, the nice folks at WordPress linked to my blog from the page where the contest was presented.
The feeling that something was intended for you I share also with Daniel, who contemplates like
Maybe he has drifted into the periphery of her life because somehow in the grand design of things – and this private, pulverizing love he feels makes him believe in grand designs – he is the man who must awaken her to her own beauty. Is there some casual, defused way he can say to her: Do you have any idea how lovely you are?
Then there’s Kate. And we learn that she, through dialogue, can express her suspicions regarding Daniel’s feelings for Iris in a rather subtle, but very calculating, way. Like if you dear reader, or one of my loved ones, would say
“Tell me something about your novel, I have seen you sitting there, in your office, in the evenings, typing away on your computer keyboard.”
and I would say that
“Well I do my regular work, but no, I have not started any novel-writing, but I have thought about it, perhaps later, when I am retired.”
but then you still pursue, and you are determined to make me reveal my secret passion, and being both jealous and worried that I might spend more and more time in this solitude, where you are not allowed to take part, you continue, and it gets sharper and sharper.
“You do like them, don’t you? she asks. A surviving bit of her old southern accent streches the “i” in “like”.
“I don’t really know him.”
“Do you like her?”
She gives him a look. Of course Iris, who else are they talking about?
She, Kate, then arranges for them to meet Iris and Hampton at a restaurant, and the dialogue at that restaurant, also replayed in Francine Prose’s book, gives me a very direct and also a bit saddening view of our human nature, showing its more dark and cynical sides.
As the novel continues, we follow Daniel and his love for Iris, but we also follow several parallel stories, setting the relationship drama in its place in society. It is about race too, I did not say that before, but you will see that it is a significant element in the book, and there are also repeated references to a real high-profile court case, represented in the novel by Kate writing about the O.J Simpson trial.
And there is bad weather. You will meet storms and snow, causing electricity outage and blocked roads
The electricity cuts out for about the time of a long blink, the world disappears, then shakes itself back into existence
and sometimes these natural causes play their part as puppeteers for the love-seeking characters in the book. And even if not everyone says it,
“I love you”, Daniel says in the darkness
Do we have to make a choice?
Do we have to choose between art and science?
Is it so that science covers what we do for a living, which in turn make our companies earn money, which generate taxes and welfare and growth, and then we use art for our recreation?
I did not think so much about these things before. I started out in the art department you could say. I wrote my first (and still my only) two novels when I was ten. I typed them in, on my father’s typewriter, and I also made photocopies, typing them once more, using blue carbon papers in between, so as to make fresh copies, obviously to be sold with great success!
One of the books was a mystery novel. It featured two boys, I think they were cousins. They discovered a hidden treasure, tucked away in the woods outside their grandparents house, and following the strange note they found on a piece of paper, placed suspiciously just beside the treasure coffin, they were led to an abandonded house, even deeper into the woods. After some twists and turns, they discovered and cracked the criminal gang, conveniently labelled X03, a league whose members then all became prisoners for a long time to come.
The other book was called Knight John, and here there was an even clearer line of inspiration. I was a great fan of Ivanhoe, I had read the book several times, and I had also found some interesting connections between Ivanhoe and Robin Hood, hinted to me in some black-and-white film, but not clearly enough explained to me by my parents. So there was place for more investigations into this unsolved problem. Did they know each other, these two heroes? And wasn’t it so that Robin Hood was perhaps also a real person? In contrast to Ivanhoe, who was invented by Sir Walter Scott.
These were interesting things, but at the time I did not pursue my writing career any further.
Now, some years later, I will make a retry. As I said in a previous post, I decided to participate in NaNoWriMo. So the challenge then was of course to choose a topic, to write about, and of course also to find out how it is actually done, this task of writing a novel. Being an educated person I soon started to look for instructions, manuals, and HOWTO-guides (such things were not needed in 1971 right?).
I found some good books, which were really helpful. I will say more about them later but since there is no reason to being secretive I give you their titles here, and some comments. So these were the first books I found to be very helpful for the task of writing a novel.
- Do the Work by Steven Pressfield – purchased April 26, 2011. I mentioned this one in the previous post also, and although it is not a handbook in novel-writing of any sorts, it is a fantastic source of inspiration for the actual act of doing the writing. It is very interesting to take part in the stories told, and I especially remember some low points of having a film manuscript finally turned into a movie, and no one is showing up at the cinema, and how this is used to fuel the spirit to actually continue, in spite of this anti-success. I also remember the phrase “Henry Fonda was still throwing up before each stage performance, even when he was seventy-five”, as an illustration that Resistance never gives up. And I learned that Steven King works every day, including Fourth of July, his birthday, and Christmas.
- The 90-Day Novel: Unlock the story within – Watt, Alan – purchased September 30, 2011. I found this book interesting since it did not directly focus on structure and outlining. Instead Alan Watt recommended us to imagine the world where the story, not yet known to us, would take place. This was very helpful, and there are many good exercises in the book that you can do, where often stream-of-consciousness writing is used (just let it flow, do not at all make it anyway close to perfect and stylish), for the purpose of getting to know your characters, both the good guys and the bad guys, better. An interesting example is “As your hero, write for five minutes 1) the bravest thing I’ve ever done, and 2) the most cowardly thing I’ve ever done”.
- Reading Like a Writer (P.S.) – Francine Prose – October 25, 2011. If I must pick a favorite, this one wins! Francine Prose does not give instructions on how to write. Instead she shows, by example, how other writers write, and have written, by quoting from their books and commenting on their writing. I will tell you more about my impressions in a later post, but personally I highly recommend this book. It made me see books with a quite different eye, and helping a lot when trying to write. And it gave good pointers to authors I had never read before, such as current favorites like Edward St Aubyn, Alice Munro, and Scott Spencer (I finished A Ship Made of Paper with almost no breaks – I am a notorious book-zapper so this is a good credit for me)
Professionally, I am now in the science department. Well, to be more specific, you might call it the Engineering Science Department. My job is to be an Associate Professor in a system oriented topic (think computers, software, control systems, mobile phone technology) at a university in Sweden. Now that might sound fancy, but I can say at least that it is a lot of fun, and at times also a bit strange, especially when I compare to earlier jobs in industry, where I was an engineer working with software and system simulation, and many more managers and time plans than you will ever see in a university.
I wanted to relate to this when I chose a topic for my novel. Being a little bit tired of all the talk on TV and in newspapers about how we must be a competitive nation, and all the worries that our kids are so bad in mathematics, I found, and liked, this article, properly named Dehumanized. I thought that this divide, between the rationalistic thinking of those obeying only the physical laws and their mathematical incarnations, and those who are perhaps a little bit more interested in the why-side of all things, looking for not only useful and economical things in their chase and search to find meaningful stuff.
So this was my mindset as I enterned the NaNoWriMo challenge, to come up with a story, rather thriller-like if I could make it, after all I wanted people to read at least a little bit more than the first pages, and in the mean-time throw in some bad guys representing the firm believe in the rational stuff, and some good guys doing their best to prevent large-scale bad things to happen.
And most of all, the large-scale bad things would be engineered and directed towards the weak, so that we once and for all could arrive at a more effective and rational society, where the fluffy bloggers and wannabe-artists do not occupy the complete media space, showing off their new things in more and more real-life soap operas and almost monopolizing the social mediasphere.
Now wouldn’t that be a nice place to live – in the art-free world?