When we choose a path through a city or forest, our brain must survey the surrounding environment, construct a mental map of the world, settle on a way forward, and translate that plan into a series of footsteps. Likewise, writing forces the brain to review its own landscape, plot a course through that mental terrain, and transcribe the resulting trail of thoughts by guiding the hands. Walking organizes the world around us; writing organizes our thoughts.
– Ferris Jabr.
George Saunders is a gem.
There’s this theory that self-esteem has to do with getting confirmation from the outside world that our perceptions are fundamentally accurate. What Doug does at this meeting is increase my self-esteem by confirming that my perception of the work I’d been doing is fundamentally accurate. The work I’ve been doing is bad. Or, worse: it’s blah. This is uplifting–liberating, even—to have my unspoken opinion of my work confirmed. I don’t have to pretend bad is good. This frees me to leave it behind and move on and try to do something better.
English is a mutt and it’s the best thing. I love dives like this, into the history of a language. Well, at least this one.
Informal language is the athletic clothing of ideas.
The first draft is always perfect. perfect. Its only job is to exist.
There are a lot of ways for a novelist to create suspense, but also really only two: one a trick, one an art.
The trick is to keep a secret. Or many secrets, even. In Lee Child’s books, Jack Reacher always has a big mystery to crack, but there are a series of smaller mysteries in the meantime, too, a new one appearing as soon as the last is resolved. J. K. Rowling is another master of this technique — Who gave Harry that Firebolt? How is Rita Skeeter getting her info?
The art, meanwhile, the thing that makes “Pride and Prejudice” so superbly suspenseful, more suspenseful than the slickest spy novel, is to write stories in which characters must make decisions.
I also think if you’ve got writer’s block, you don’t have writer’s block. You have reporter’s block. You only are having trouble writing because you don’t actually yet know what you’re trying to say, and that usually means you don’t have enough information. That’s the signal to walk away from the keyboard, think about what it is that you don’t really know yet, and go do that reporting.
My father was really, really the author of my particular personality. He gave me a million different pieces of advice, but one that comes up all the time is: Anything that can be fixed with money isn’t worth crying over.
The word “yes” is an extremely dull way to express the varied sentiments of “yes.”
I’ve had my dictaphone since the mid- to late ’90s. In my previous life, I used to record demos on it. Then I ran into some trouble with tendonitis and repetitive stress and it prevented me from writing at my laptop. I got really bummed about it, so I started speaking my scripts out into this dictaphone I had lying around. I realized it was really helpful for my creative process. Having a linear writing machine, where I couldn’t go back and hate myself and edit myself, allowed me to blast through drafts of scripts much more quickly and write from a much more instinctual, as opposed to intellectual, place. It’s a mess when it comes out, but the pacing is really good. So I have Radio Shack to thank for my entire creative process.
For the first time in my life, I’m starting to make more money than I know what to do with. And it’s really weird. What it does is it kind of kills your god. Because your god, as an artist, is to try to find a way to make the art you want to make while being financially sustainable. And to have achieved that murdered my god. So now I look to Warren Buffett — the way he’s still actively excited about achieving career success and making money, and then he throws it all away on people who need it. That is the most inspiring thing that I can imagine.
On research and not being tooooo organized:
I’ve never had anything resembling a secretary or a research assistant. I don’t want those. Each time I type, it gives me another shot at it, another look at it. As for research, I can’t begin to tell you the things I discovered while I was looking for something else. A research assistant couldn’t have done that. Not being a trained historian, I had botherations that led to good things. For instance, I didn’t take careful notes while reading. Then I’d get to something and I’d say, By golly, there’s something John Rawlins said at that time that’s real important. Where did I see it? Then I would remember that it was in a book with a red cover, close to the middle of the book, on the right-hand side and one third from the top of the page. So I’d spend an hour combing through all my red-bound books. I’d find it eventually, but I’d also find a great many other things in the course of the search.
Since my son was born I realized: soon, he’ll be three-and-a-half. Soon, he’ll be able to see who I was. And shortly after that, what he’ll be reading in the oldest blogs will be closer to his age than mine. Now, I write for him.
Here I use Storify to make fun of needing to use Storify.
But here’s the thing: people will draw conclusions about your motives based on your timing and your chosen vehicle.
In a study of more than a million Yelp restaurant reviews, Mr. Jurafsky and the Carnegie Mellon team found that four-star reviews tended to use a narrower range of vague positive words, while one-star reviews had a more varied vocabulary. One-star reviews also had higher incidence of past tense, pronouns (especially plural pronouns) and other subtle markers that linguists have previously found in chat room discussions about the death of Princess Diana and blog posts written in the months after the Sept. 11 attacks.
In short, Mr. Jurafsky said, authors of one-star reviews unconsciously use language much as people do in the wake of collective trauma. “They use the word ‘we’ much more than ‘I,’ as if taking solace in the fact that this bad thing happened, but it happened to us together,” he said.
Another finding: Reviews of expensive restaurants are more likely to use sexual metaphors, while the food at cheaper restaurants tends to be compared to drugs.