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Quoteskimming

The quote in today's icon is, as many of you will doubtless recognize, from the movie, Princess Bride. Bonus points to you if you know which character said it, and to whom.

On writing

First up, something skimmed from the lovely and talented Cassandra, who attended the Asilomar conference a week or so ago. She reports having heard Jim Averbeck say this, and I have to say that the longer I work at being a writer, the more I understand the truth of this remark:

"You have to love writing, but more importantly, you have to love learning to write better."

On taking risks in your writing

Laurie Halse Anderson, whose new novel, Wintergirls, comes out in about 10 days' time, took time to answer some reader questions earlier this week. I know her blog is named "Mad Woman in the Forest", but I find nothing crazy at all about most of her posts. She talked about taking risks with her writing, and somewhere in the middle of her wonderful blog post, she said this:

"There is no way you can please everyone. Neither can you write a book that will appeal to everyone's tastes. First and foremost, you need to write the book that is in your heart."

And then, in closing, she said this:

"We cannot control how people react to our books. Our job is to write; write honestly, write with passion and compassion, write the true."

On reading poetry

I was fortunate to catch not one, but two, John Green live chats this week. On March 4, 2009 at about 11:53 p.m. ET, while in the midst of reading some poetry selections to his viewers, John said this, which is, I think as good a reason to read poetry as any other:

"One of the things I like best about poetry is that it allows us to be quiet and contemplative."

On what to write about
The next evening, John hosted a vlog featuring poet extraordinaire Katrina Vandenberg, whose debut poetry collection, Atlas, appears to be out of print, but I will nevertheless persevere and track one down, based on the loveliness of the poems I've heard John Green, and now Katrina herself, read. During the live interview/reading, Katrina read a poem about records (of the vinyl persuasion), the title of which I cannot recall. Afterwards, in conversation with John, she said:

"I like writing about things you can't get back to – [writing about] the thing that you get rid of, and you later wish you hadn't."

It occurs to me that a lot of us write about just such a thing, whether it's a feeling or an object or a person, and whether we write fiction or poetry or memoir or songs, or whether we make visual art.

On the life of a writer

Last night, I read a novel entitled Gods Behaving Badly, which I found extremely diverting. It was witty and clever and amusing, and I liked the way the author, Marie Phillips, envisioned the Greek gods in their modern-day incarnations: Artemis is a dog walker, Aphrodite runs a phone-sex line, Athena is an academic, and Apollo is trying his hand at television psychic. At the end of the paperback edition of the book (which is what I purchased), there is "book group" material, including an essay by the author called "Marie Phillips on her approach to writing fiction". I commend the entire essay to you for its entertainment value and its truth, but here is a quoteskimmed version:

When I meet people at parties and I tell them that I'm a writer, the first question is always the same. "Are you very disciplined?" "Oh yes," I say. . . . And it's almost true – about the discipline, I mean. My approach to writing is like improvised acting: I lose myself in my characters and let them do all the work. So I can write large amounts over long stretches of the day. However, I try as far as possible to avoid conscious thought while I'm writing, because it interrupts the flow and pulls me out of my characters. Before I start on a novel I have to do a huge amount of thinking, for months on end, without writing a word. I don't like to begin until I have a destination in mind and at least a vague idea of how I'm going to get there, otherwise I am liable to write around in circles.

I'm not a comfortable thinker, however. What am I supposed to look at while I'm thinking? What should I do with my hands? Research is my favorite way to think, as it gives me something tangible to do. I like spending the entire day reading, and then sounding like a harassed intellectual to friends in the pub ("God, I've been reading all day, I'm knackered").

. . . But reading is ultimately distracting as I'm dealing with other people's thoughts, so sometimes I have to put the books down and just think. I think in the shower, doing the shopping, tidying the house, and I get vast amounts of thinking done on the bus. I think in bed, last thing at night and first thing in the morning, because being half asleep pushes open the door to my subconscious just that little bit wider. Mostly, though, I lie on the sofa and think (I have a special sofa in my study for this purpose – chosen by stretching out on all the sofas in Ikea to find out which one was the thinkiest). This causes untold problems in the pub ("God, I've been lying on the sofa all day, I'm knackered").

I think until I can't bear it any longer and then I start writing, but it's never long enough. I get myself stuck and have to take weeks out in the middle of drafts just to think some more, and then I get furious with myself for "not doing any work," force myself back to the computer too soon, and end up with writer's block, which is basically just thinking plus self-loathing.

. . . What made sense when I was thinking can make no sense at all when I'm writing, as once I'm inside my characters' heads I discover that there is no way that they would behave in the way I have so carefully set up for them. So the writing takes me in a new direction and the thinking falls down like a game of Jenga after the rash removal of the wrong brick. And then it's back to the sofa to start over and build all my thoughts back up again.


Kiva - loans that change lives




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Comments

( 32 comments — Leave a comment )
annemariepace
Mar. 8th, 2009 02:39 pm (UTC)
"Truly, you have a dizzying intellect."
Well, duh, the Man in Black (Westley) says it to Vizzini.
kellyrfineman
Mar. 8th, 2009 04:22 pm (UTC)
Re: "Truly, you have a dizzying intellect."
Well, duh. Of course I expected you to get it right! Bonus points to you. And an extra bonus point for correctly identifying Westley by both identities, since he was still "the Man in Black" at that point!
seaheidi
Mar. 8th, 2009 03:23 pm (UTC)
I wholeheartedly agree with LHA's quotes.
kellyrfineman
Mar. 8th, 2009 04:22 pm (UTC)
No surprise that she's brilliant, of course.
(no subject) - seaheidi - Mar. 8th, 2009 04:34 pm (UTC) - Expand
saralholmes
Mar. 8th, 2009 03:57 pm (UTC)
Marie Phillips has been inside my head.
kellyrfineman
Mar. 8th, 2009 04:24 pm (UTC)
"I've been lying on the sofa, and I'm knackered." She cracked me up, and yet there was so very much that was true in that essay. I hope you get a chance to read the whole thing. It's worth the 5-10 minutes of your time.
robinellen
Mar. 8th, 2009 04:14 pm (UTC)
Wesley to Humperdink? I'm pretty sure Wesley said it, but I can picture him saying to a bunch of different characters ;)
kellyrfineman
Mar. 8th, 2009 04:24 pm (UTC)
Indeed, it was Westley, as the Man in Black, but it was to Vizzini during the battle of wits - TO THE DEATH!
(no subject) - robinellen - Mar. 8th, 2009 04:53 pm (UTC) - Expand
ext_173115
Mar. 8th, 2009 04:25 pm (UTC)
Marie Phillip's essay says it all...Sometimes, reading as an excuse to research just clouds the mind. Thanks for sharing:)
kellyrfineman
Mar. 8th, 2009 04:38 pm (UTC)
I'm glad you enjoyed it - Her full essay is worth a read: so many good points in such a compact space!
fabulousfrock
Mar. 8th, 2009 04:25 pm (UTC)
"Writers block is thinking plus self-loathing"...oh man, she nailed it for me. That was brilliant.
kellyrfineman
Mar. 8th, 2009 04:37 pm (UTC)
She covers a lot of ground in the essay (as you may have surmised), and with humor, which is why I skimmed so much of it. But not all of it - you'd like the whole essay, I think.

And yeah - "thinking plus self-loathing" was one of the phrases that really resonated for me, too.
jamarattigan
Mar. 8th, 2009 05:21 pm (UTC)
Wow! Great quotes here. Thanks for the heads up on the Marie Phillips essay. The self loathing thing is so true it hurts.
kellyrfineman
Mar. 9th, 2009 12:09 am (UTC)
The essay is good. The novel is pretty darn amusing, too.
(Deleted comment)
kellyrfineman
Mar. 9th, 2009 12:09 am (UTC)
Laurie is a smartie, that's for sure!
christy_lenzi
Mar. 8th, 2009 06:07 pm (UTC)
>>"I like writing about things you can't get back to – [writing about] the thing that you get rid of, and you later wish you hadn't."<<

Yes, exactly. It's a way of having it again.

kellyrfineman
Mar. 9th, 2009 12:10 am (UTC)
I think you're right - it's a way of recapturing it (or the way you felt about it, anyhow).
(Deleted comment)
kellyrfineman
Mar. 9th, 2009 12:10 am (UTC)
Thanks - I try!
(Deleted comment)
kellyrfineman
Mar. 9th, 2009 12:12 am (UTC)
I just pick stuff that speaks to me, figuring that some of it will speak to others as well. Culling through the comments, it appears that different bits resonated with different people (including different bits from LHA or Marie Phillips), so I consider I've done pretty well, that being the case.
dampscribbler
Mar. 8th, 2009 11:44 pm (UTC)
I recall reading a review of Gods a few years ago, I need to remember to get a copy, I'm sure I'd enjoy it. Thanks for the reminder!
kellyrfineman
Mar. 9th, 2009 12:13 am (UTC)
It was very entertaining.
angeladegroot
Mar. 9th, 2009 12:37 pm (UTC)
It certainly helps to have a destination in mind, or at least a vague idea of where you are going, before you start writing. However, if I spend too much time thinking on the couch, I find my myself napping instead. Gee, I'm knackered, I spent the day napping on the couch. This doesn't get me much sympathy. In fact, some people snarl! But napping all day IS exhausting. But it isn't thinking. Or writing. Okay, back to work now. Rambling is at an end.
kellyrfineman
Mar. 9th, 2009 01:16 pm (UTC)
Like you, I'd be napping as well. Still, her point was well-taken on the thinking/planning bit. I gave the book to M to read, and she's enjoying it. And yes, I gave it to her even though it has sex and swearing in it. And she is amused by it. It will be coming your way next, I suppose, unless you warn me off.
maryecronin
Mar. 9th, 2009 10:42 pm (UTC)
Quoteskimming
Hi Kelly! I'm catching up on my blog reading, and I really liked this one. I recently read an article by Katrina Vandenberg, and I bet you would really like it. I'm going to try and put the link here. I guess she has a thing for music/LP's/cassettes!
Thanks for your inspiring blog.

http://www.pw.org/content/putting_your_poetry_order_mixtape_strategy

--Mary
kellyrfineman
Mar. 10th, 2009 01:32 am (UTC)
Re: Quoteskimming
Wow - is that a great article or what? I think I'm going to print out a copy for future reference!
chris_writes
Mar. 14th, 2009 09:49 pm (UTC)
Atlas copy
I found copies of Atlas avaiable at the publishers site - Milkweed Editions. Katrina spoke at my grad school in 2007. I really like her poetry, and it was really cool to see her mentioned in Paper Towns.

here's the link
http://www.milkweed.org/component/page,shop.product_details/flypage,shop.flypage/product_id,15/category_id,27/option,com_phpshop/Itemid,8/

Let me know if you can't find it, I can always loan you my copy.

kellyrfineman
Mar. 14th, 2009 10:17 pm (UTC)
Re: Atlas copy
Thanks so much for the link. I've ordered my copy and am good to go!
( 32 comments — Leave a comment )

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