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writing

Every book holds the seed of a thousand stories. Every sentence can trigger an avalanche of ideas. Mix ideas across books: one thought from Aesop and one line from Chomsky, or a fragment from the IKEA catalog melded with a scrap of dialog from Kerouac. By forcing your mind to connect disparate bits of information, you’ll jump-start your thinking, and you’ll fill in blank after blank with thought after thought. The goblins of creative block have stopped snarling and have been shooed away, you’re dashing down thoughts, and your synapses are clanging away in a symphonic burst of ideas. And if you’re not, whip open another book. Pluck out another sentence. And ponder mash-ups of out-of-context ideas until your mind wanders and you end up in a new place, a place that no one else ever visited. Jessica Hagy

People don’t stop writing just because they don’t make it as professional authors. They never have stopped. They just stop playing your game. People who like writing but aren’t interested in turning it into a career don’t need an industry at all. They don’t need publishers. They don’t need editors. They don’t need cover designers. They don’t need Amazon, Kobo, or Nook. They don’t need your self-publishing startup. They don’t need to sell or buy publishing services or tools. All they need is a community. And community is the thing that the web offers in spades. Friends don’t let their friends become authors

But now that I’ve escorted two e-partners to the edge of the grave, I’m wary of this brave new world of digital publishers and readers. As recently as the 1980s and ’90s, writers like me could reasonably aspire to a career and a living wage. I was dispatched to costly and difficult places like Iraq, to work for months on a single story. Later, as a full-time book author, I received advances large enough to fund years of research. How many young writers can realistically dream of that now? Online journalism pays little or nothing and demands round-the-clock feeds. Very few writers or outlets can chase long investigative stories. I also question whether there’s an audience large enough to sustain long-form digital nonfiction, in a world where we’re drowning in bite-size content that’s mostly free and easy to consume. One reason “Boom” sank, I suspect, is that there aren’t many people willing to pay even $2.99 to read at length about a trek through the oil patch, no matter how much I sexed it up with cowboys and strippers. I Was a Digital Best Seller!

So being a good writer depends not just on having mastered the logical rules of combination but on having absorbed tens or hundreds of thousands of constructions and idioms and irregularities from the printed page. The first step to being a good writer is to be a good reader: to read a lot, and to savor and reverse-engineer good prose wherever you find it. That is, to read a passage of writing and think to yourself, … “How did the writer achieve that effect? What was their trick?” And to read a good sentence with a consciousness of what makes it so much fun to glide through. Writing In The 21st Century

Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, which the HBO series is based on, fully develops the individual agency of characters. He creates incredibly complex plots with characters that have flaws and make decisions that are half-chance. Readers have been shocked at how characters can be killed off with little notice, but they describe his writing as having “realness” and “humanity.” Anything can happen to any character at any time, but in a realistic way. If Tolkien followed the trajectory of agency-based writing, it arrives with Martin’s truly complete world of agents. Each personality is multi-layered, acting on their history and experience, changing as the story does. Tolkien clearly favored a central character with the narrative weaving around them; however, his stories give an air of a much wider world that the main character simply exists within. Going further, Martin writes characters with such realistic motivations, reflecting the complexity we see in others and ourselves, that it is a significant shift in storytelling. This paradigm change is of course not simply relegated to fantasy writers, but the popularity of the two writers underscores this transformation. Agency. Or Why We Love Game of Thrones and Lord of the Rings.

The mind of a writer can be a truly terrifying thing. Isolated, neurotic, caffeine-addled, crippled by procrastination and consumed by feelings of panic, self-loathing and soul-crushing inadequacy. And that’s on a good day. Robert DeNiro

But the truth is—perfection isn’t required for publication. If it were, then we wouldn’t have to point our fingers at the “mistakes” in books on the bestseller lists. Bitterly we analyze those bestsellers and say things like, “I can’t believe she got away with using all those adverbs” or “His dialog was so stilted” and finally, “My book is written much better.” Our books can be executed perfectly. We can have flawless sentence structure. We can follow all of the rules of manual and style down to the very last comma. But … nobody cares about a perfect book. Why? Because they care more about the STORY. Jody Hedlund

We [are] shaped as writers, I believe, not much by who our favorite writers are as by our general experience of fiction. Learning to write fiction, we learn to listen for our own acquired sense of what feels right, based on the totality of the pleasure (or its lack) that fiction has provided us. Not direct emulation, but rather a matter of a personal micro-culture. William Gibson

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