Archives For Writing

A post by Maya Sapiurka, University of California, San Diego

One of the most interesting and entertaining parts of following my favourite authors on Twitter is witnessing a little bit of the writing process.

Getting a peek into how my favourite books are written is like watching a real-time behind-the-scenes DVD featurette. But not every update is a positive one. There’s something that haunts all writers, be they professional or amateur: writer’s block.

Writer’s block can be difficult to define, because no two people share the same experience of it. Probably the simplest and most straightforward definition comes from Dr. Patricia Huston:

a distinctly uncomfortable inability to write.

But what could be the cause of this vaguely described problem? Has a writer’s Muse simply deserted them, or can we find an explanation hidden somewhere in the brain?

The Location of Language

While there haven’t been any published scientific studies on people with writer’s block, we can take a few different avenues to try and determine what parts of the brain may be affected. One of those is looking at where words come from in the first place.

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AL Kennedy's Ten Rules for Writing Fiction

A.L.Kennedy was born in Scotland in 1965. She is the author of six literary novels, one science fiction novel, seven short story collections and three works of non-fiction including the wonderful writer’s resource On Writing. In 2010 Kennedy shared the following advice with readers of The Guardian, published as part of a series  inspired to Elmore Leonard’s Ten Rules of Writing.

1. Have humility. Older/more ­experienced/more convincing writers may offer rules and varieties of advice. ­Consider what they say. However, don’t automatically give them charge of your brain, or anything else – they might be bitter, twisted, burned-out, manipulative, or just not very like you.

2. Have more humility. Remember you don’t know the limits of your own abilities. Successful or not, if you keep pushing beyond yourself, you will enrich your own life – and maybe even please a few strangers.

3. Defend others. You can, of course, steal stories and attributes from family and friends, fill in filecards after lovemaking and so forth. It might be better to celebrate those you love – and love itself – by writing in such a way that everyone keeps their privacy and dignity intact.

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13 Tips for Actually Getting Some Writing Accomplished

Gretchen Rubin is the author of multiple New York Times bestselling books including The Happiness Project and Happier at Home, is the host of a chart-topping weekly podcast, and maintains a popular website with hundreds of thousands of readers form around the world. When it comes to advice on being a productive writer, she is someone we should all be listening to.

One of the challenges of writing is…writing. Here are some tips that I’ve found most useful for myself, for actually getting words onto the page:

1. Write something every work-day, and preferably, every day; don’t wait for inspiration to strike. Staying inside a project keeps you engaged, keeps your mind working, and keeps ideas flowing. Also, perhaps surprisingly, it’s often easier to do something almost every day than to do it three times a week. (This may be related to the abstainer/moderator split.)

2. Remember that if you have even just fifteen minutes, you can get something done. Don’t mislead yourself, as I did for several years, with thoughts like, “If I don’t have three or four hours clear, there’s no point in starting.”

3. Don’t binge on writing. Staying up all night, not leaving your house for days, abandoning all other priorities in your life — these habits lead to burn-out.

4. If you have trouble re-entering a project, stop working in mid-thought — even mid-sentence — so it’s easy to dive back in later.

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Stephen King's Everything You Need to Know About Writing Successfully in Ten Minutes
We came across the following article by Stephen King a little while ago. We believe it was originally published in a 1986 edition of The Writer magazine and republished in the 1988 edition of The Writer’s Handbook. We reproduce it here for educational purposes only. 

I. The First Introduction

THAT’S RIGHT. I know it sounds like an ad for some sleazy writers’ school, but I really am going to tell you everything you need to pursue a successful and financially rewarding career writing fiction, and I really am going to do it in ten minutes, which is exactly how long it took me to learn. It will actually take you twenty minutes or so to read this essay, however, because I have to tell you a story, and then I have to write a second introduction. But these, I argue, should not count in the ten minutes.

II. The Story, or, How Stephen King Learned to Write

When I was a sophomore in high school, I did a sophomoric thing which got me in a pot of fairly hot water, as sophomoric didoes often do. I wrote and published a small satiric newspaper called The Village Vomit. In this little paper I lampooned a number of teachers at Lisbon (Maine) High School, where I was under instruction. These were not very gentle lampoons; they ranged from the scatological to the downright cruel.

Eventually, a copy of this little newspaper found its way into the hands of a faculty member, and since I had been unwise enough to put my name on it (a fault, some critics argue, of which I have still not been entirely cured), I was brought into the office. The sophisticated satirist had by that time reverted to what he really was: a fourteen-year-old kid who was shaking in his boots and wondering if he was going to get a suspension … what we called “a three-day vacation” in those dim days of 1964.

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Richard Flanagan's Writing Shack

“There are no distractions; in the end all that stands between me and writing the book I wish to write is my own mediocrity and complete lack of talent.”

Bruny Island is located off the south-east coast of Tasmania, which itself is an island off the south-east coast of mainland Australia. It’s home to around 600 people, an iconic lighthouse, an oyster farm, an endangered species of Pardalote birds and, for at least part of the year, one internationally bestselling author.

In this video produced by Joel Tozer, Richard Flanagan, winner of the 2014 Man Booker Prize for The Narrow Road to the Deep North, shares the role the isolation of this location plays in his writing process.

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Michael Arndt is the Oscar-winning screenwriter of Little Miss Sunshine. He wrote the first draft of this, his debut script, in just three days (but went on to do around 100 revisions before the film was finally made). His second script was Toy Story 3, for which he also received an Academy Award nomination.

In the following short film Arndt shares how a close examination of Toy Story 1, Finding Nemo and The Incredibles, and a better understanding of how the early stages of these scripts set up their characters, helped his own writing process.

Fellow screenwriter John August (Go, Big Fish, Charlie’s Angels) contacted Arndt about the insights he shares. Arndt explained:

I’m aware the model I set up here applies imperfectly to Toy Story 3 itself. (It applies much more cleanly [for example] to Tootsie, which I consider one of the best comedy first acts of all time.) The broader point is that the emotional fuel for your first act break is largely set up in your inciting incident — and that is something that does apply to Toy Story 3.

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On Treating Writing as a Form of PlayA guest post by Eli Glasman, author of The Boy’s Own Manual to Being a Proper Jew

For years before my novel was published, I felt insecure about whether or not I was a ‘real’ writer. I don’t think this is a unique anxiety amongst unpublished authors and I responded to this anxiety in the way I think many people do: I romanticised the act of writing.

I told myself that the burden of writing fiction was thrust upon me and I had no choice but to sit each night and delve into the unknown to produce works of genius. Writing like this didn’t flow easily for me. And as a result, it was hard to read. The prose were pretentious and calculated. It was clear that everything I wrote was me begging the reader to think of me as a genius.

I told myself that if it was easy to write it meant that it wasn’t any good. Good fiction needed to be sweat over. If it was hard, it meant I’d worked at it and it was worthy.

This attitude to writing was one I’d been carrying around in my head since I was a kid. On my weekends and days off, I wrote all day. It was all I thought about. I’d obsess over the stories, especially the syntax, running through sentences over and again in my head until I’d memorised them.

I have a habit of over analysing myself, but I think I obsessed over writing as a childish way to simplify things, as I was not in an emotional position to take on the complexities of life.

It felt safer to focus on this alone, as it meant I didn’t need to focus on many of the pressures we all face, such as finding a job and becoming financially independent, or worrying about the things that may have been more specific to me, such as the Crohn’s Disease and my recent decision to no longer remain an orthodox Jew.

As I’ve spoken about previously on my blog, when I started socialising and earning my own money, I found that writing didn’t need to take on the task of carrying my entire sense of self and keeping at bay my anxieties. I felt more comfortable with my life and could relax and have fun with my writing.

As a result, my writing immediately improved, because I was treating it as what it really was, which is a form of play. In not romanticising it, I could allow myself to be crap for a little while and acknowledge that it was something I needed to learn to do, rather than some pure expression that flowed flawlessly through me.

The first short story that I had published was one that I’d ‘let go’ for and allowed myself just to enjoy the writing process. Yet still, even knowing that the healthier approach was to try and enjoy it, I still fell back into old habits.

Shortly after my first short story was accepted for publication, I needed to have a small procedure due to the Crohn’s Disease, which required that I spend a few nights in hospital. Before I began the bowel prep, I received an email from the editor of Voiceworks with the final track changes on my story.

Before I started drinking the solutions, even though I’d been fasting all day, I did the edits on my story. In my head, I marked this as my commitment to writing fiction. It showed how important this was to me, how I would overcome any obstacle to pursue this craft.

In retrospect I see this as deluded and pretentious. I should have just said I was in hospital and asked for a few more weeks on the edits. I’m sure they would have been more than happy to oblige.

I now see that occasion as a lesson in what not to do. I will never force myself to write.

Now I write every few days, while thinking of my stories every day because I want to, not because I feel I have to. If I write until two in the morning it’s because I’m having fun, not because I need to validate that I’m a real writer.

I figure if I want the reader to stay up until two in the morning reading my book, I should be able to enjoy writing it until that time. I realise now that a reader will enjoy reading the novel half as much as I enjoy writing it. I need to glow as I’m writing to know a reader will feel this as they’re reading it.

I find that writing obsessively, telling myself it’s work, a burden that was thrust upon me, snuffs out that sense of fun. And I will produce a novel I wouldn’t even want to read.

More from Eli GlasmanOn How Getting a Novel Published Isn’t Just About Persistence

Eli Glasman is a Melbourne based, Jewish author. His writing has appeared in Voiceworks magazine, the Sleepers Almanac and in 2013 he placed second in the Josephine Ulrick short story competition. His debut novel, The Boy’s Own Manual to Being a Proper Jew (Sleepers Publishing), about a homosexual boy in the Melbourne orthodox Jewish community, is available now from all good Australian bookstores or online