Miles to go before I sleep

Write quickly, and you will never write well; write well and you will soon write quickly.

Marcus Fabius Quintilianus (1st century A.D.)

Quintilian’s Institutio Oratoria contains a lot of tiresomely good advice for writers, and some that seems (to a gloomy fellow like myself) too pleasant to count as advice at all. He tells a little story about the perils of excessive rewriting, told to him by his friend Secundus:

I remember in this connexion a story that Julius Secundus… told me of the words once used to him by his uncle, Julius Florus, the leading orator of Gaul… a man eloquent as but few have ever been, and worthy of his nephew. He once noticed that Secundus, who was still a student, was looking depressed, and asked him the meaning of his frowns. The youth made no concealment of the reason: he had been working for three days, and had been unable, in spite of all his efforts, to devise an exordium for the theme which he had been given to write, with the result that he was not only vexed over his immediate difficulty, but had lost all hope of future success. Florus smiled and said, ‘Do you really want to speak better than you can?’

The purpose of editing and rewriting is to help us write as well as we can; nothing can make us write better than we can. Verbum sap.

Lately I have been trying to make myself mindful of this. I do not agree with the ‘Pulp Speed’ school, when they say that the sole and sufficient qualification for success is to put out a sufficiently large quantity of written product. It has to be well written, and it has to have something to say; every author whose work has endured has spent a great part of his working time coming up with good and original ideas for stories, and not so much on merely racking up wordage. Developing fluency with ideas is part of learning to write well; and nobody does it quickly except after long practice. ‘Pulp speed’ aims at nothing higher than recreating pulp fiction, which was sometimes good and occasionally brilliant (as with Edgar Rice Burroughs, or the best works of Robert E. Howard), but usually trite, derivative, formulaic, and dull. The best writers nearly always got out of the pulps the moment they found better-paying markets, and worried less about speed and more about quality thereafter. [Read more…]

Impendix III: The children of Dân

It is a rare culture that does not have some myth about the origins of man; and usually these tales refer to a First Man (and generally also a Woman), likely because it is better storytelling to keep the list of starring characters as short as practicable. I don’t offhand know of any myths about a First Tribe that were all made from the dust at once, or awoke from animality into humanity, or the like. Polygenism has not much of a past in folklore, and indeed it may not have much of a future in biology.

Naturally, the cultures of the Three Worlds are no exception. They, too, have a tale of the First Man and the origins of humanity; but because they have more than one kind of men to account for, the tale differs significantly from those we are familiar with. Like the account in Genesis (and many another), this account traces the origins of evil will in humans back to the earliest times; but the ‘Fall of Man’, in that world, took place in the second generation and not in the first, with hugely important consequences in subsequent history (and theology). [Read more…]

Asparagus

By G. K. Chesterton. First published in New Witness, 18 June 1914.


At about twenty-one minutes past two today I suddenly saw that asparagus is the secret of aristocracy. I was trying to put long limp stalks into my mouth, when the idea came into my head; and the stalk failed to do so.

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Find a need and… waitaminute

If there is any safe generalization in literary history it is this: that the desire for a certain kind of product does not necessarily beget the power to produce it, while it does tend to beget the illusion that it has been produced.

—C. S. Lewis, The Allegory of Love

Fflewddur’s harp

The bard did not answer. For a long moment he held the harp lovingly in his hands and gently touched the strings, then with a quick motion raised the beautiful instrument and smashed it across his knee.

Taran cried out in anguish as the wood shattered into splinters and the harp strings tore loose with a discordant burst of sound. Fflewddur let the broken fragments drop from his hands.

“Burn it,” he said. “It is wood well-seasoned.”

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You can’t win with insults

[D. H.] Lawrence tells me that because I have been to a public school I am a eunuch. Well, what about it? I can produce medical evidence to the contrary, but what good will that do? Lawrence’s condemnation remains. If you tell me I am a scoundrel I may mend my ways, but if you tell me I am a eunuch you are tempting me to hit back in any way that seems feasible. If you want to make an enemy of a man, tell him that his ills are incurable.

—George Orwell, The Road to Wigan Pier

The dilemma of creativity

My brain is fermenting, and I’m not sure whether it’s making wine or just having gas.

Coming soon – Writer’s Block: An insider’s guide

That book I wrote the other day? Looks like I will indeed be releasing it, probably in late August or early September. Watch these non-blank pages for updates.

Herewith, a Cover Design:

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Writing a book in one day! (Sort of)

So on Wednesday, whilst brooding over my lack of productivity through the entire house-move kerfuffle, I came up with a perfectly silly idea for a novelty book, or as they are called in the trad publishing trade, ‘non-book’. I told my Gentle Editor, Wendy S. Delmater, the idea. She thought it was amusing enough to put in some effort and try it on a dog. We agreed to confer online Friday afternoon.

So today, beginning at about 12:30 p.m. Frozen North Standard Time, I started furiously typing any old gag that would fit the idea. The beginning and ending were easy. Filling out the middle took a little longer. About 4:00 I began formatting the text in InDesign, and at 7:03 precisely I sent the PDF to my beta reader, the talented and cover-designer-ly Sarah Dimento. She is not a dog, but she does have two cats, and no disapproval being met with from that quarter, I have decided to throw the thing out there and see what happens.

I call it Writer’s Block: An Insider’s Guide.

It begins with ‘This page intentionally left blank’, and goes on from there. If there is a way of not writing books that I have failed to mention in its voluminous pages, I will eat the hat that I haven’t got.

Warning: This book will not tell you how to cure writer’s block. At best, it will give you some of the kind of company that misery loves, and maybe a few laughs. But perhaps that’s enough.

The editor at work

Now, if I could just get my internal editor to knock off doing that quite so thoroughly…