Quote of the Week — 11.30.15


If we could fly out of that window hand in hand, hover over this great city, gently remove the roofs, and peep in at the queer things which are going on, the strange coincidences, the plannings, the cross purposes, the wonderful chain of events, working through generations, and leading to the most outre results, it would make all fiction with its conventionalities and foreseen conclusions most stale and unprofitable.

Sherlock Holmes (as written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle)

Quote of the Week — 11.30.15

Don’t Write What You Know

Death_to_stock_photography_wild_10Here’s a great response to that advice chestnut (write what you know) from A. L. Kennedy. (Read the entire excerpt from her new book On Writing):

Rather better advice – should it be absolutely necessary to offer any – might well be: ‘Write about what interests you. Write about what excites you. Write about what speaks to you. Write about what obsesses you. Write about what you need to. Write about what outrages you. Write about what alarms you, but won’t leave you be. Write about what you love. Write about what you feel you may come to love. Write about what you can come to know.’

Don’t Write What You Know

Reverse Engineer Your Writing

watch maker

Last year, Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker published The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st Century.

I found this comment from Dr. Pinker (from an interview in Scientific American) intriguing:

The main difference between good writing and turgid mush—academese, corporatese, and so on—is that good writing is a window on the world. The writer narrates an ongoing series of events, which the reader can see for himself, if only he is given an unobstructed view.

I also loved the spin he added to the familiar advice that would-be writers should read a lot:

Good writers acquire their craft not from memorizing rules but from reading a lot, savoring and reverse-engineering good prose, and assimilating vast numbers of words, idioms, tropes, and stylistic habits and tricks. (bold added)

This reminded me of the time, when I was about 11 years old, when I spent a summer vacation copying the first few chapters of Ray Bradbury’s Dandelion Wine into a notebook, trying to puzzle out exactly how he spun words into stories that captivated me. (And I’ve read that other writers do the same thing. There seems to be something about the physical, tactile act of writing words by hand, using actual ink and paper, that seems to hold some magic — or hope of magic.)

Reverse Engineer Your Writing

Finding Stories Everywhere Part 4

Screenshot 2015-11-09 20.44.59

Looking for a cool job for your protagonist — something that stands out among all the detectives, spies, magazine editors and (if you’re a fan of cozy retro mysteries) curates?

Try this on for size:

Satellite Archaeologist.

Dr. Sarah H. Parcak, described by the New York Times as a pioneering “satellite archaeologist,” just won a million-dollar prize from TED for a project of her choice.

Satellites can now be used to armies of looters, which is fascinating enough, you’d think. But this story also covers terrorism, ancient artifacts and ebay.

Read the article, then watch her TED video.

Don’t everybody go to your laptops at once…

Finding Stories Everywhere Part 4

Why Writers Should Keep Their Mouths Shut


Amy Bloom worked as a psychotherapist before becoming a writer. In a Publishers Weekly interview, she’s asked how that training influenced her writing.

Her answer:

“It’s a great gift. It was the training: to listen, to observe. Those skills are very much what you need as a writer. Keep your mouth shut and see what’s happening around you. Don’t finish people’s sentences for them. Don’t just hear what they say, but also how they behave while they’re saying it. That was great training for writing.”

Why Writers Should Keep Their Mouths Shut