Writing 101 – Day 9 … Recharging

Writing and not writing, taking a break from typing, not from observing.

pa070343Our day nine assignment for Writing 101 is to create a post about what we do when we are not writing. I consider these “breaks” to be a separation from the keyboard, but not a complete divorce from the process of writing. All the inputs for written pieces are gathered as we live our lives.

Hemingway was very adamant about not writing when you were done for the day. Put it away. Recharge for the next go around. I agree with that sentiment. Hemingway likened this act to allowing a well to fill back up with water after being emptied. The image that works for me is a snow cornice hanging on an alpine cliff in a blizzard. It builds until the next time I’m typing, ice piling up, moaning, creaking, cracking, but holding on, until I re-open that document file, then crash! It all comes flowing out.

Putting writing aside serves two purposes. One is the aforementioned recharging of the creative batteries. But the other, observation, is just as important. Stepping away from the piece you are working on allows you to observe the world around you. When I’m involved in anthropocentric activities, I never miss the opportunity to people watch. I gather mannerisms, pick up dialogue, remember names.

Yes, I can be a real nosy bastard.

But even more enjoyable for me is getting away from people. My free time is often spent on the trail with my four-pawed friend and companion, Avalon. She loves water and so our adventures usually involve a lake or river. Time in the backcountry also presents unique opportunities for observation and gleaning new settings.

No matter how you spend it, time away from writing can be as important as the writing itself.

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Sometimes a rock is just a rock.

Writing 101’s assignment number 5 conjures Hemingway.

“The old man is an old man. The boy is a boy and the fish is a fish. The sharks are all sharks no better and no worse. All the symbolism that people say is shit.” – Ernest Hemingway

Papa famously reacted to explanations about symbolism in his writing as evidence of someone who did not understand  his writing.

In the end, only the writer knows what their symbolism truly represents. But what others guess it to represent is also part of the effect of any written piece, intended or not. I often introduce weather in my stories. It’s generally not symbolic, but I could understand if someone inferred such intent because weather often effects the mood of a scene. It’s not a huge leap from mood to meaning. At the least, they intertwine in context and change each other. If a thread sewn into the pattern of a blossom is pulled from a quilt, is it still a flower, or just a thread without guidance?

Only Hemingway knew if his sharks represented anything more than sharks, and he took that secret to the grave, but “The Old Man and the Sea” wouldn’t have been a classic without them.

Text Book vs. Cook Book – Writing Guides

Books on writing can be utilized in different ways.

 

To be honest, I would rather read a well written novel than a book explaining how to write a well written novel. But all writers read books on writing sooner or later. How you view the material can make all the difference.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAYou just purchased a new book on the craft of writing. You can approach it with traditional trajectory, scribbling notes in the margins, highlighting, completing the exercises, uh… I mean, prompts. But before grinding through its pages like required reading in a text-book, consider viewing your new guide as if it were a cook book. Skim through it until something catches your eye. Something fresh, nourishing, creative.

And, like a cook book, you can either follow the author’s recipe in exact fashion, striving for a dish that appears just like the picture on the cover, or you can experiment. Add your own ingredients or toss the ones you don’t like. Change the cooking time and the temperature. If their prompt is a hairbrush, write about a plunger. If their target is a thousand words, cut to five hundred. If their muse is a sunlit glade, make yours a dumpster, pelted by acid rain.

Expand your library. Like switching from American cuisine to Italian, try writers’ commentary over step by step processes. A Moveable Feast is no “how to” book, but it is edifying, as well as entertaining. There are lessons to be learned in Hemingway’s exchanges with Scribner and Fitzgerald.

Reading good writing, fiction or otherwise, can be as helpful as any book on execution of the craft. Immersing yourself in Smiley or Steinbeck is like bathing in ink. No matter how vigorously you scrub afterwards, some of what you read is going to stain your next manuscript, whether it seeps in consciously or not. And yes, I must admit, I read that last piece of advice in a book on writing.

Now get cooking.

Which Title Would You Choose?

On the passing of Ray Bradbury and Fahrenheit 451.

If you are one to hit the “writing” tag,  by now you have certainly heard of the passing of Ray Bradbury yesterday at the age of 91. For pure entertainment purposes, I prefer Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles and some of his other short fiction. Dystopian futures are not exactly a pick-me-up, but reading Fahrenheit 451 is a necessary endeavor for anyone that cherishes the written word. If you haven’t read it yet, stop here and go immediately to your local independent bookstore and purchase a copy. A used paperback version will likely be under $5.

Those of you familiar with the story, know why I ask what title you would hope to be.

My first thought was Hemingway and For Whom the Bell Tolls. Brilliant, but I’m not sure I want to become such violence, such stupidity thrust upon fellow human beings. I thought of  Tolkien’s The Hobbit. Again, too much violence, even if it’s fantasy violence. The trilogy is even bloodier. Fantastic stories all, but not ones I would wish to carry in my very fiber.

I thought of Le Clezio’s Desert. Spiritual but filled with war. Smiley’s The Greenlanders, no war but violent at times. I started to go through all the books I love and soon realized there was probably going to be some violence, no matter which one I chose. I’m not sure if that is a statement about me or literature.

And so I came full circle, back to my favorite writer, Hemingway. A book with mighty struggles but little violence. And every retelling would be like a trip to the Caribbean. My choice: The Old Man and the Sea. I can feel the warm, blue sea splashing around my toes already.

What would your choice be?

Mayor Bloomberg is a Fraidy Cat

First he was afraid of terrorist trials, now he is afraid of … books?

In 2010, Mayor Bloomberg spearheaded the effort to turn away the high-profile trial of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. New York was the Justice Department’s preferred venue to prosecute this terrorist and serve justice, showcasing America’s commitment to Democracy and the rule of law. Bloomberg’s justification for preventing the trial from taking place in Lower Manhattan was that it would “cause disruption.” Little did we know his true fear … that all those people coming to town for the trial would bring books with them. Ahhh, the horror.

When the police destroyed the People’s Library at Zuccotti Park, the outrage was loud and instantaneous. The Mayor gave assurances that the books were safe and unharmed. It turns out, that was really not the case. Of  the  thousands of books that were confiscated, a little less than 1300 have been returned. About 500 of those were damaged beyond use. Almost 3000 more are still missing.

The Mayor's darkest fear.

 

In Zuccotti Park, Dostoevsky and the Bard had joined Hemingway, Jefferson and Luke in spreading democracy. Mr Mayor, you built your communications empire on the power of words. Please wield that power responsibly. Return, restore and replace these books. All of them. Even Bloomberg By Bloomberg. I’m sure there’s a section on free speech in there somewhere.

For more information, read this.

The Barnes & Noble Mural – Where’s Dostoevsky?

Who chose the authors depicted on the Barnes & Noble mural?

Enter any Barnes & Noble with a coffee shop and you will soon notice the large mural honoring a parade of authors. Nabokov, Shelley, Faulkner – the list goes on.

Where's Papa?

But soon you start to notice the names that aren’t there – Hemingway, Woolf, Dostoevsky? How can they not be on the wall. The bookstore even sells a coffee cup with the same artwork. They’re not there either.

I think the absence of Hemingway is amazing. A Nobel laureate, who just so happens to be my favorite writer, Papa arguably did more to shape American Literature in the 20th century than anyone. 

I wonder, how did the mural artist decide who to include? What criteria was used? How does one make it on the wall?

Who’s on your list of the incredulously missing? Asimov, Tolkien, Smiley?