Category Archives: Writing

In Which I Give You Some Very Stupid Advice

You know things have come full circle when you find yourself writing a blog post about the writing of blog posts – which is what I’m doing here. I am writing a short post in praise of long ones. Because brevity bigots are a royal pain in the bee-yoo-double-tee.

And what is a brevity bigot? says you. Fair question, says I. A brevity bigot subscribes to the assumption that good blogging is always a matter of less is more. Always – meaning, “without exception.” In other words, if you can’t say it in five modest paragraphs or less, don’t say it at all.

The reasons for such bigotry are multifarious (a beautiful word, don’t you agree?), but a frequently cited one is this: readers see a giant block of text and they go mad. They can’t handle it. Au fond, they don’t want your words because you wrote too many of them. Congratulations, poophead. You just lost your audience.

Oh well.

They say less is more, but sometimes more is more. There are subjects that require a lengthier exposition than 500 words will allow. Cut what you can cut. Leave the rest. Bloat is bad, but so is cheeseparing. If, after a vigorous application of the scissors, your piece is still of necessity a goodish length, so be it. Don’t be an ass. Put the scissors down.

The advice I just gave you is stupid advice according to many blogging gurus, but forget about them. Do not cramp your style or dull your point to cater to a flock of Twitterized attention spans and text-fed brains. They’re not worth your consideration. Speak your piece – no more, no less – because here’s the thing: the minute a writer doesn’t say what needs to be said because he wants to keep an audience, something inside of him dies.

Book Review: Zen in the Art of Writing

Ray-Bradbury-Zen-in-the-Art-of-Writing“If you are writing without zest, without gusto, you are only half a writer.”

Were I inclined to get a tattoo, I would probably have the above sentence etched into my forehead, that way every glance in the mirror might double as a piquant reminder: don’t forget to love what you do.

For the first thing a writer should be is – excited. He should be a thing of fevers and enthusiasms. Without such vigor, he might as well be picking out peaches or digging ditches; God knows it would be better for his health.

And there, in one paragraph, is The Reason Why you should read this book, Zen in the Art of Writing. It is a collection of eleven superlative essays, written by a writer who revels in his craft. Bradbury. Ray Bradbury. He of mechanical hounds and dark carnivals and wine made from dandelions. When I say he revels in what he does, you’d better believe it. Just picture, if you will, a man who throws himself into writing like a child into a freshly-raked pile of leaves. That’s Bradbury.

From “Drunk, and In Charge of a Bicycle”:

… you look around at a community of notions held by other writers, other intellectuals, and they make you blush with guilt. Writing is supposed to be difficult, agonizing, a dreadful exercise, a terrible occupation.

But, you see, my stories have led me through my life. They shout, I follow. They run up and bite me on the leg – I respond by writing down everything that goes on during the bite. When I finish, the idea lets go, and runs off.

That is the kind of life I’ve had. Drunk, and in charge of a bicycle, as an Irish police report once put it. Drunk with life, that is, and not knowing where off to next. But you’re on your way before dawn. And the trip? Exactly one half terror, exactly one half exhilaration.

From “The Secret Mind”:

Self-consciousness is the enemy of all art, be it acting, writing, painting, or living itself, which is the greatest art of all.

From “Zen in the Art of Writing”:

The artist learns what to leave out.

His greatest art will often be what he does not say, what he leaves out, his ability to state simply with clear emotion, the way he wants to go.

The artist must work so hard, so long, that a brain develops and lives, all of itself, in his fingers.

Writing is hard, yes. Mr. Bradbury would be the first to tell you so. But it need not be – indeed, should not be – a bland or joyless exercise. It should not merely be a matter of dropping in one word after the other without screwing up the grammar. If that’s how it feels, it’s time to step back and take a look at what you’re missing.

Stoop down. Look low. See that?

Buried beneath the pyramid of elements and style, beneath the smelly carcass of “writer’s block” and the panicky butterflies that circle it – beneath all of that you may find the body of a child. Set him loose. He knows where the leaf pile is.

Neil Gaiman’s Advice to Writers

I wrote a few weeks ago about the importance of writing badly. Lo and behold, shortly thereafter I happen to see this clip on Twitter. And it’s pure gold.

“Most people who want to be writers, it never occurs to them the only way you actually do it is by writing. All writers have this vague hope that the elves will come in the night and finish any stories for you, and they won’t. It’s only you. So you have to write, you have to finish things, you have to get them made, you have to start new things, and that’s really the secret. You put one word after another, like putting bricks onto a wall, and sooner or later you look and you’ve managed to build the palace of Mad King Ludwig of Bavaria… out of matchsticks.”