Category Archives: Writers on Writing Links

GREAT WRITERS ON THE ART OF FICTION, edited by James Daley

The title says it all.  GREAT WRITERS ON THE ART OF FICTION:  FROM MARK TWAIN TO JOYCE CAROL OATES  is a book I’ve wished existed for several years now.  Imagine my joy when I discovered that James Daley had edited together a collection of essays by famous 19th & 20th century writers from North America and Great Britain.  I consider the book a major bargain at a cover price of only $8.95 from Dover Publications.

The list of writers in the book reads like a who’s who:  Edgar Allan Poe, Henry James, Joseph Conrad, Kate Chopin, Jack London, Robert Louis Stevenson, Willa Cather, Sinclair Lewis, Mark Twain, Raymond Chandler, Eudora Welty, Kurt Vonnegut, Raymond Carver, Wallace Stegner, John Irving, Joyce Carol Oates, and Margaret Atwood.

This is not a “how to” book on writing.  It’s more a broad survey about what famous writers in North America and Great Britain have thought about the art of writing over the last two hundred years.  The essays vary from simple advice to new writers, to complex analyses of style.   So each reader will find that a different set of essays appeal most to him or her.  There is something here for everyone–no matter where they are in their journey as a writer.

For me on my first reading of the book, Sinclair Lewis’ “How I Wrote A Novel On The Train And Beside The Kitchen Sink” was the one that spoke strongest to me this time.   I am glad I purchased this book so that I can reread this essay at my leisure.    I’ll share a sample, but I encourage reading the entire essay to savor Lewis’ acerbic commentary.

…”I think my present life is intolerably dull, and I do want to write.”

“Very well then, I’ll tell you the trick.  You have to do only one thing: Make black marks on white paper.  That little detail of writing is one that is neglected by almost all the aspirants I meet.”

He–and especially she–is horribly disappointed by my cynicism.  He–and often she–finds nothing interesting in making marks on paper.  What he, she, it, they, and sometimes W and Y, want to do is to sit dreaming purple visions, and have them automatically appear: (1) on a manuscript; (2) on a check from the editor.  So he, and the rest of the pronouns, usually finds the same clever excuse:

“But I simply can’t seem to find the time…”

Mr. Lewis then goes on, in a blunt manner, to demonstrate the inherent weakness of this excuse.  As far as he’s concerned, one needs only 1 hour day of writing, six days a week, to get started as a writer.   And if one can’t get an hour, then seize whatever is available, even if it’s only 15 minutes a day.    For the writer who writes 15 minutes a day, gets far ahead of the wanna-be writer who does zero.

Jim C. Hines’ Terrific Survey on How Novelists Broke In

Writer Jim C. Hines has done a very helpful survey of 246 novelists to explore the following questions:

1) Do you have to sell short stories first to sell a novel?

2) Is self-publishing the way to go to sell a first novel to a publisher?

3) Are most first sales of a novel an overnight success story?

4) Do you have to have personal connections to the publishing industry to sell a first novel?

I’m not going to tell what the answers are, because I think it’s important to visit Jim’s website to read his detailed answers and analysis there.

Here’s what Jim says on his website about his survey:

For this study, I was looking for authors who had published at least one professional novel, where “professional” was defined as earning an advance of $2000 or more.  This is an arbitrary amount based on SFWA’s criteria for professional publishers.  No judgment is implied toward authors who self-publish or work with smaller presses, but for this study, I wanted data on breaking in with the larger publishers.

247 authors from a range of genres responded.  One was eliminated because the book didn’t fit the criteria (it was for a nonfiction title).  A random audit found no other problems.

The first part of the survey is Novel Survey Results, Part 1 (answers questions 1 & 2).   Second part has just been posted today as Novel Survey Results, Part 2 (answering questions 3 & 4).  There will be a third part next week.

SCBWI Master Class DVD Series on Writing and Illustrating Children’s Books

The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) has released two DVDs in their Master Class series.  I’ve found that people often have the misconception that writing for children is easier than for adults.  It’s the opposite.  Kids won’t put up with confusing or boring writing.   And the shorter the book, the more every word counts, just like in poetry.

Each Master Class DVD involves an in-depth interview on a topic about writing and/or illustrating children’s books with a foremost artist in the field. So, for the topic of “On Creating the Picture Book,” illustrator & writer Tomie dePaola is interviewed. For “On Writing the Novel for Young Readers,” writer Richard Peck is interviewed.

The interviewer is SCBWI Executive Director  Lin Oliver, and her professional experience as a writer herself makes listening in on her talks with dePaola and Peck fascinating.  She asks questions that artists often long to ask other artists.

These DVDs are called “Master Class” for a reason, for they are in-depth interviews about craft.  If you don’t already know the basic craft terminology like point-of-view and plot arc, you may find yourself confused at points.  The interviews go quickly and cover a lot of ground.

For those who don’t know, Tomie dePaola has over 200 books to his credit as illustrator and/or writer.  He has earned both Newbery and Caldecott Honor Awards.  During the interview he and Oliver get into a wonderful discussion about how to develop and harness one’s creativity, and the dangers of ignoring a creative gift.

Richard Peck is a writer who has been awarded a Newbery Honor and Newbery Medal.  He has also been the first writer for young readers given a National Humanities Medal.   His interview includes an intense discussion on characterization and setting and their importance in the novel.

So if you want to write for children, I highly recommend these two DVDs.

Storytelling Insights from Peter Jackson and Philippa Boyens

Nuggets of storytelling wisdom can be learned from Peter Jackson and Phillipa Boyens by listening to their interviews about the process of creating the LORD OF THE RINGS screenplays.   These interviews can be found in the appendices of the Special Extended DVD Edition sets for each film.

Peter Jackson has provided invaluable information to fiction writers and screenwriters by having these long appendices created, which document in loving detail the making of each film from idea to film release.  There are also short documentaries on J. R. R. Tolkien and his experiences as a writer.  You’ll get the most out of watching these interviews and documentaries if you have seen all three LORD OF THE RINGS  films and read J. R. R. Tolkien’s LORD OF THE RINGS.

Just to give you an idea of what there is, here’s a list of parts that pertain directly to fiction writers:

FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING Special Extended DVD Edition, The Appendices, Part One

*  J. R. R. Tolkien: Creator of Middle-earth

* From Book to Script

THE TWO TOWERS Special Extended DVD Edition,  The Appendices, Part Three

* J. R. R. Tolkien: Origins of Middle-earth

* From Book to Script:  Finding the Story

THE RETURN OF THE KING Special Extended DVD Edition, The Appendices, Part Five

* J. R. R. Tolkien: The Legacy of Middle-earth

* From Book to Script: Forging the Final Chapter

If you want to write screenplays or direct, watch all of these appendices from start to finish (there are six discs in all).  You’ll get a crash course on the realities of filmmaking from some of the best people in the business.

Interviews with Ray Bradbury, Anne Lamott, and more

I was exploring YouTube, feeling a bit of self-pity over not having the money to go to various out-of-state writer’s conferences this year, and discovered an amazing collection of recorded interviews and speeches done at the yearly writer’s conference “Writer’s Symposium by the Sea” run by Point Loma Nazarene University.

The symposium has recordings of two of my favorite writers, Ray Bradbury and Anne Lamott.  I’ve always longed to go to a writer’s conference to hear them speak about the craft of writing (I have their advice books on writing).   I felt like a huge present had just been dropped in my lap.

Here’s a link to the speech by Ray Bradbury, the interview with Ray Bradbury, and the interview with Anne Lamott at YouTube.

You can use search terms like “Writer’s Symposium by the Sea” or “Point Loma Nazarene University” to try and find out what is out there.  So far I’ve discovered talks by: Anne Lamott, Ray Bradbury, Donald Miller, Barbara Bradley, Bill Moyers, Gary Hart, Phillip Yancey, Gay Talese, Peter Matthiessen, George Plimpton, and more.

Good luck exploring!