Writer’s Desk: Get It Down

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This series has been visited by the great Neil Gaiman more than once. There’s a reason for that. In between all his other work, the guy manages to keep up a regular torrent of thoughts and advice on the witchy craft of writing that are rarely short of inspirational.

Recently, he’s been doing this on Tumblr. Here’s his response to a question from a fan who’s been having a hard time getting their “amazing ideas” down on paper:

Write the ideas down. If they are going to be stories, try and tell the stories you would like to read. Finish the things you start to write. Do it a lot and you will be a writer. The only way to do it is to do it.

Gaiman goes on to tell the real way to write; it involves five golden berries, five white crows, and reciting the whole of Fox on Sox. Who knows? Maybe that way works, too.

(h/t: Galley Cat)

Writer’s Desk: Stop Complaining

makegoodartNeil Gaiman has no patience for the term “writer’s block.” To him, it smells like a cop-out. Also, according to him, it just doesn’t help:

If you turn around and go, ‘I am blocked,’ this is just something writers say because we’re really clever. It sounds like it has nothing to do with you: ‘I would love to write today, but I am blocked. The gods have done it to me,’ And it’s not true. Cellists don’t have cellist block. Gardeners don’t have gardener’s block. TV hosts do not have have TV host block. But writers have claimed all the blocks, and we think it’s a real thing.

So next time you’re stuck, avoid the term completely. Go for a walk, have another cup of coffee, play with the cats, and then get back to it.

Listen to Neil. He’s written a few things. Many, quite good.

Writer’s Corner: Getting Under the Skin

Sometimes you write a piece, a poem, a scribble, a book, and that’s all it is. Just the thing there, no more and no less. There is of course, absolutely nothing wrong with that. The world would be far too complex to live in if we spent our time looking for nuance in every bit of text that we came across.

fahrenheit451But there’s writing and then there’s writing. It’s that second kind which some of us are aiming for. That’s the kind that acts like glue, or a song you can’t get out of your head, an itch under the skin.

As Neil Gaiman wrote in his introduction to Bradbury’s ode to the written word and the life of the mind, Fahrenheit 451:

If someone tells you what a story is about, they are probably right. If they tell you that that is all the story is about, they are probably wrong.

Something more that goes beyond the words on the page. That’s the key to sticking in the reader’s mind. How to do it? Aye, there’s the rub.

Readers’ Corner: 100 Notable Books

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Just in time for readers everywhere to get ideas for gift-giving and to also realize exactly how few new books they have gotten to in the past year, The New York Times just released its annual 100 Notable Books list. It’s a daunting list, to be sure, and not always entirely justified—Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane is somewhat inexcusably not on the list, while Claire Messud’s The Woman Upstairs takes up a not entirely necessary slot—but here’s a few of their selections that look best suited for catching up on in the long cold month of January:

  • All That Is by James Salter. (Knopf, $26.95.) Salter’s first novel in more than 30 years, which follows the loves and losses of a World War II veteran, is an ambitious departure from his previous work and, at a stroke, demolishes any talk of twilight.

  • Duplex – By Kathryn Davis. (Graywolf, $24.) A schoolteacher takes an unusual lover in this astonishing, double-hinged novel set in a fantastical suburbia.

  • Empress Dowagar Cixi: The Concubine Who Launched Modern China – by Jung Chang. (Knopf, $30.) Chang portrays Cixi as a proto-feminist and reformer in this authoritative account.

  • The Skies Belong to Us: Love and Terror in the Golden Age of Hijacking – by Brendan I. Koer­ner. (Crown, $26.) Refusing to make ’60s avatars of the unlikely couple behind a 1972 skyjacking, Koerner finds a deeper truth about the nature of extremism.

I’ll be contributing as usual to the Best Of Books features at PopMatters, which should run towards the end of the year.

Reader’s Corner: London Book Fair

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Solid advice, always

Neil Gaiman gave the keynote talk at the start of the 2013 London Book Fair, where—after, before, and while doing the actual business of publishing—everybody will again go through many rounds of amateur and professional prognostication about where the industry is going.

Gaiman declined to make any grand pronouncements on the issue of whither-digital, noting that it will continue to change the landscape in many dramatic and unexpected ways. He did share a conversation he had with the late, great Douglas Adams years before e-books were a reality (remember that Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide was really just the sci-fi prototype for the iPad) where they talked about what would happen once that came about:

“I asked him if he thought the inevitable e-book would mean the end of the physical book,” Gaiman said. Adams replied by noting that sharks existed alongside dinosaurs, and yet sharks are still around. “That’s because nothing has ever come along that was quite as good at being a shark as a shark is,” Gaiman said, adding that books, too, are very good at being books.

 

Writer’s Room: Neil Gaiman’s ‘Secret Freelancer Knowledge’

Gaiman_MakeGoodArtOne day we’ll get to a world where all writers make their living by delivering killer commencement speeches and then publishing said talks as nifty little standalone editions that might be considered self-help-y where it not for the name attached. Case in point: Neil Gaiman.

Last May, Gaiman gave the commencement address at Philadelphia’s The University of the Arts. He was everything one could hope for: wistful, self-deprecating, helpful, and occasionally inspirational. He also understood that what all those soon-to-graduate artists wanted is help and advice that would tell them: How Do I Do What It Is That I Want To Do?

A few notes from Gaiman’s speech where he lays out the attractions and trials of the freelance life, along with some “secret freelancer knowledge”:

  • A freelance life, a life in the arts, is sometimes like putting messages in bottles, on a desert island, and hoping that someone will find one of your bottles and open it and read it, and put something in a bottle that will wash its way back to you: appreciation, or a commission, or money, or love. And you have to accept that you may put out a hundred things for every bottle that winds up coming back.
  • And when things get tough, this is what you should do. Make good art. I’m serious. Husband runs off with a politician? Make good art. Leg crushed and then eaten by mutated boa constrictor? Make good art. IRS on your trail? Make good art. Cat exploded? Make good art. Somebody on the Internet thinks what you do is stupid or evil or it’s all been done before? Make good art.
  • People keep working, in a freelance world, and more and more of today’s world is freelance, because their work is good, and because they are easy to get along with, and because they deliver the work on time. And you don’t even need all three. Two out of three is fine. People will tolerate how unpleasant you are if your work is good and you deliver it on time. They’ll forgive the lateness of the work if it’s good, and if they like you. And you don’t have to be as good as the others if you’re on time and it’s always a pleasure to hear from you.

Full transcript here.

The speech is going to be published this May in an edition designed by Chip Kidd.

New in Books: ‘American Science Fiction: Nine Classic Novels of The 1950’s’

My review of the nine novels in the Library of America’s new two-set volume American Science Fiction is now up at The Millions:

There was something in the air during the 1950s in America that bred an especially grand strain of science fiction whose like was never witnessed before and hasn’t been since. It was a heady concoction: postwar triumph and trauma, unprecedented technological advances, the true advent of mass media swamping the atmosphere, that pseudo-fascistic hum of nationalistic propaganda and blacklisting, and the incessant reminder that a mushroom cloud could end it all… like that. The new Library of America two-volume collection, American Science Fiction: Nine Classic Novels of the 1950s, edited by Gary K. Wolfe, dusts off nine lesser-known novels that illustrate the breadth and depth of what was happening in science fiction during that decade. With its crisply typeset cloth volumes totaling almost 3,000 pages, the sturdy box is a welcome reminder of past joys for some readers and a striking introduction to fresh futuristic wonders and Cold War chills for others…

You can also read essays on these novels by authors from William Gibson to Neil Gaiman at the Library of America site here.