Posts tagged Writing.

There’s a Jane Austen-ish quality to online social life. The written word gains unmatched power and inarguable primacy. Personal relationships now, to a much greater degree than, say, 30 years ago, hinge on our ability to write — if not necessarily well, in a formal, Strunk and White manner, then at least effectively. This change makes us not disconnected so much as it makes us archaic. Austen’s characters easily expressed extreme emotion in long letters and then in person sat twitchily near one another, paralyzed with manners.

Though our letters are not delivered by servants or horse-drawn carriages, our relationships once again live and die in the texts with which we barter with each other. The internet age unavoidably resembles the 19th century novel’s depiction of human intimacy, as so many of us pour passionate confessions into emails, messages, and chat boxes. Our physical reactions when together are often disguises for what we could so candidly admit in writing.

A book is a version of the world. If you do not like it, ignore it; or offer your own version in return.

Awareness and self-consciousness are delicate matters. Trying to examine more deeply what poems are and how they work has informed my life and brought me great joy. I don’t think that attentiveness ever diminishes experience. There are times, however, when you don’t want to be self-conscious. One is while writing the first draft of a new poem. At that stage too much consciousness is limiting and therefore damaging. It can wall off the permeable, the mysterious, everything you don’t already know. When I write, I don’t know what is going to emerge. I begin in a condition of complete unknowing, an utter nakedness of concept or goal. A word appears, another word appears, an image. It is a moving into mystery. Everything I am and know and have lived goes into a poem. I hope I’ll never be governed by theoretical knowledge when I set out to write. Poems are born in part from the history and culture of other poems, but in writing I hope to learn a new thing, something fresh about what’s going on in that moment, in my own life and in the world. Craft consciousness is essential to the finished poem, but comes later.

I spent three days a week for ten years educating myself in the public library, and it’s better than college. People should educate themselves - you can get a complete education for no money. At the end of ten years, I had read every book in the library and I’d written a thousand stories.

Ray Bradbury


She rose to leave and I felt the air around me begin to tighten and draw inwards. I tried to silence my thoughts. I could not.

"Do you realise that this world is so much smaller without you?"

She stood, frozen in the act of buttoning her shirt. Had I shocked her enough to make her stay? After a moment in which she seemed to reconfigure her whole being right before my eyes, she opened the door silently and left.

And this I think was the closest I had come to seeing the true emptiness of another human soul.


I think you create a good poem by revising your life … by living the kind of life that enables good poems to come about. It’s much more productive, much more healthful, to feel you are embarked on a writing career in which the way you live your life has something to do with the kind of poems you write. I’m not suggesting being a kind of doomed poet: I’ll drink myself to death in order to write brilliant poems. I don’t believe in that at all.

William Stafford

If a writer is so cautious that he never writes anything that cannot be criticized, he will never write anything that can be read. If you want to help other people you have got to make up your mind to write things that some men will condemn.

Thomas Merton | New Seeds of Contemplation

The first duty of the novelist is to entertain. It is a moral duty. People who read your books are sick, sad, traveling, in the hospital waiting room while someone is dying. Books are written by the alone for the alone.

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‎Everybody who writes is engaged in the remarkable enterprise of making consciousness manifest—catching the slipperiest of substance, a thought, and nailing it to a page. It is amazing, when you think about it, that people should even try to do such a thing; that they would occasionally succeed nearly miraculous. And, indeed, there is something spiritual about the act of writing. When it’s done in a slovenly manner or in bad faith, it seems somehow sacrilegious. When it’s done well, we should stand back and regard it with a kind of reverence.

Ben Yagoda | The Sound on the Page

The suppression of self-expression is impossible. Even when we do something as seemingly “uncreative” as retyping a few pages, we express ourselves in a variety of ways. The act of choosing and reframing tells us as much about ourselves as our story about our mother’s cancer operation. It’s just that we’ve never been taught to value such choices. After a semester of my forcibly suppressing a student’s “creativity” by making her plagiarize and transcribe, she will tell me how disappointed she was because, in fact, what we had accomplished was not uncreative at all; by not being “creative,” she had produced the most creative body of work in her life. By taking an opposite approach to creativity—the most trite, overused, and ill-defined concept in a writer’s training—she had emerged renewed and rejuvenated, on fire and in love again with writing.

Kenneth Goldsmith, in an excerpt from his new book, Uncreative Writing

(via austinkleon)

Pavlovian Pellets

Pavlovian Pellets

(via bbook)

Be Careful About Careless Writing

Just the other day, I received an email from my dear friend Mary Fox, who begged me for assistance from afar.

The warning lights came on one by one. In the first paragraph, she apologized for not letting me know about her “journey to Scotland … because it was a short notice from my business associate.” She went on to explain, “I have lost my wallet and other significant Document.” Then she wrote, “I will be glad if you can render some help in other to settle the outstanding debt of the hotel and other miscellaneous expenses. Please send the money to the following details of mine.”

Mark, you ask me, how could you befriend anyone who is such an atrocious and affected writer?

The answer: I can’t. My introductory paragraph was spurious. I don’t know anybody named Mary Fox.

You’ve probably received a scam letter like this before, perhaps purportedly from someone you actually know. Many people have. And some of them, Lord knows how, fall for it.

I blame the publishing establishment. (Stay with me here.) How is it that people can succumb to this pathetic con? Don’t they notice the stilted language — obviously not the prose of someone raised speaking and writing English? Do they excuse it by reasoning that Ms. Fox wrote so awfully because she’s emotionally distraught?

The problem is, we’re inured to poor writing. We see it all the time — online, of course, but also in newspapers and magazines, even in books. The prose of writers with only a tenuous grasp of the basics of English composition is often published with little or no professional mediation, and so we get used to it. And like lumpen proles seduced by propaganda, we can’t recognize a con job when it punches us in the face.

The day before dear Mary Fox implored me to come to her assistance, I received, by email, a PDF of a letter that began, “Congratulations to you as we bring to your notice, the results of the First Category draws of E-MAIL LOTTERY organized by the Canadian Government in conjunction with South Africa government (SA).” Whoo!

I was told, “Please note that your lucky winning number falls within our Afro representative office in (South Africa) as indicated in your electronic play coupon.” Later references were made to “our Africa agent” and “our Africa Agent.” (I presume, from the previous quoted sentence, that this person is identifiable by their Afro.)

Anyone who fails to note the nearly illiterate writing and falls victim to this scam or similar ones deserves what they get (or, more appropriately, doesn’t deserve what they get taken away from them), but I’m serious when I say that lax standards in publishing contribute to a diminishment of critical-thinking skills among the public.

Misinformation and deception are of course often couched in elegant or at least competent language, but the publishing industry does us a disservice by abandoning its traditional role as a provider of exemplary literature and other prose. Many publications and publishers proudly uphold this role, but too many others sacrifice quality for expediency, and the world is a poorer place for it. (And some people are literally poorer for it.)

Oh, speaking of poor, don’t worry about poor Ms. Mary Fox: I’m sending her the money she requested, because I won the lottery!

Postscript: So that this post lives up to the mission, I offer these tips: When you receive a written message purporting to be from a friend or a valid institution, make sure the writing quality is appropriate for the source — and make no excuses. And, in turn, if you want to be respected, write respectably.

Mark Nichol

Openness isn’t simply about frank and open sharing or transparency. Openness is a willing invitation for connection with someone else through a shared encounter. Physical, virtual, memorial, material. Written or spoken. Even if the other is unseen. Even if the other is imagined. Even if they have not yet arrived. If you remain open to that possibility, as a writer, as a reader, as a person, it won’t matter whether we are writing first loves or fucking or financial meltdowns or fiction. Because even the “simple” act of sharing can be poetic and cathartic, literary and mundane, high and low. Sharing cuts through binaries. Private becomes public if only for the shared moment, a small act of openness between bodies that matter.

tremblebot, Initial Thoughts on Sharing  (via melissa)

(via melissa)