Why Academic Writing Stinks
, by Steven Pinker
The curse of knowledge is a major reason that good scholars write bad prose. It simply doesn’t occur to them that their readers don’t know what they know—that those readers haven’t mastered the patois or can’t divine the missing steps that seem too obvious to mention or have no way to visualize an event that to the writer is as clear as day. And so they don’t bother to explain the jargon or spell out the logic or supply the necessary detail.
Obviously, scholars cannot avoid technical terms altogether. But a surprising amount of jargon can simply be banished, and no one will be the worse for it.
Pinker's new book, a style guide
, The Sense of the Style
, has ten grammar rules it's OK to break (sometimes)
. He talks to Edge on Writing in the 21st Century
, which includes the occasional fMRI
Peter Matthiessen’s Homegoing.
"He is the only writer ever to win the National Book Award for nonfiction and fiction, but it’s not just the writing: Born into the East Coast establishment, Matthiessen
ran from it, and in the running became a novelist, a C.I.A. agent, a founder of The Paris Review, author of more than 30 books, a naturalist, an activist and a master in one of the most respected lineages in Zen. As early as 1978, he was already being referred to, in a review in The New York Times, as a 'throwback,' because he has always seemed to be of a different, earlier era, with universal, spiritual and essentially timeless concerns." Peter Matthiessen, Lyrical Writer and Naturalist, Is Dead at 86
A brother in trouble.
Author John Niven
reflects on the suicide of his brother.
What Is the Business of Literature?
Publishing is a word that, like the book, is almost but not quite a proxy for the “business of literature.” Current accounts of publishing have the industry about as imperiled as the book, and the presumption is that if we lose publishing, we lose good books. Yet what we have right now is a system that produces great literature in spite of itself. We have come to believe that the taste-making, genius-discerning editorial activity attached to the selection, packaging, printing, and distribution of books to retailers is central to the value of literature. We believe it protects us from the shameful indulgence of too many books by insisting on a rigorous, abstemious diet. Critiques of publishing often focus on its corporate or capitalist nature, arguing that the profit motive retards decisions that would otherwise be based on pure literary merit. But capitalism per se and the market forces that both animate and pre-suppose it aren’t the problem. They are, in fact, what brought literature and the author into being. [more inside]
In an essay
in the Kenyon Review, former Sweet Valley High ghostwriter Amy Boesky, now an Associate Professor of English at Boston College, writes about her experience ghostwriting, how she got started, why she kept ghostwriting while also pursuing her Ph.D., and why she eventually stopped.
Interviews with other Sweet Valley ghostwriters are here
, and here
[Joseph] McElroy's sense of original and authentic contemporaneity makes him the most important novelist now writing in America, the artist who has most consistently combined the mastering capabilities of systems perspectives and an art of excess. Women and Men is the capstone of his career and, I believe, the most significant American novel published since
Gravity's Rainbow. - Tom LeClair [more inside]
Steal My Book! Why I'm abetting a rogue translation of my novel.
This is the story of how author Peter Mountford discovered that his novel A Young Man's Guide to Late Capitalism
was being translated for an unauthorized e-book version, and why he decided to help the struggling Russian-language translator. Audio interview with Mountford
on CBC Radio's Q.
But I couldn't do it. I spent three months and I just couldn't do it. And the reason was because I kept on meeting people who worked in the credit industry and they were really boring. I couldn't make them light up the page. And, as I said in The Psychopath Test, if you want to get away with wielding true malevolent power, be boring. Journalists hate writing about boring people, because we want to look good, you know? A Chat With Writer Jon Ronson [more inside]
A Short History Of Book Reviewing's Long Decline
: 'By the time of the first quote “book-review,” criticism had been in circulation for centuries—long enough for writers to know how it can sting. Understandably, then, the critic’s skepticism of an artist's genius has invariably existed alongside the artist's doubt over the critic's judgment.' [more inside]
A famously reclusive writer, John Swartzwelder
is responsible for many of The Simpson's iconic episodes. He stopped writing for the show in '04 and began to self-publish a series of increasingly absurd Sci-Fi Detective novels.
Janet Flanner began her career at The New Yorker composing evocative and cogent dispatches from Europe, writing nearly seven hundred Letters from Paris under the nom de plume Genêt, from 1925 to 1975. In between these, she contributed Profiles, Reporter at Large dispatches, and other Letters from around the globe. In a Postscript published after she died, in 1978, editor-in-chief William Shawn wrote of his prolific correspondent: "Her eye never became jaded, her ardor for what was new and alive never diminished, and her language remained restless. She was a stylist who devoted her style, bedazzling and heady in itself, to the subtle task of conveying the spirit of a subtle people." [more inside]
Diary of an Author: Day 1
, Day 2
, Day 3
, Day 4
, Day 5
William Wallace Cook, seeking to help mechanize the art of novel writing, came up with the 1462 possible plots for all stories
. He then devised the Plotto system
, whereby an author need only consult the book of plots to construct the next best seller.
"Your sentences are so long," [L.A.Times]
The point of the long and winding sentence - Pico Iyer’s essay on why he’s made the conscious decision to write longer sentences.
Reader, I marinated it. [independent.co.uk]
What if Virginia Woolf, Geoffrey Chaucer or Raymond Chandler had turned their talents to food writing? Mark Crick imagines the contents of the celebrity cookbooks of yesteryear.
As much as any book I know, Crippled Detectives transcribes the dream state, not just in its flights of fancy and logic-jumping juxtapositions, but in the mutating narrative tactics, the topsy-turvy focus (the climax is over in a flash, whereas digressions distend to marvelous effect), and especially the inconsistent point of view... I forgot to mention that Lee Tandy Schwartzman was all of seven years old when she wrote it.
"It's harder than you think to write a sentence that doesn't say anything."
The quest to find and understand the author of In Sara, Mencken, Christ and Beethoven There Were Men and Women
. "Includes full-length album
(by Robert Ashley) and PDF
of Wolgamot's magnum opus." (Via
Fans of George RR Martin's "The Song of Ice and Fire" series are eagerly awaiting "A Dance With Dragons", the next book. This anticipation has led to hostility from some fans as to Martin's work ethic and the manner in which he spends his personal time
An ongoing trial in Tel Aviv is set to determine who will have stewardship of several boxes of Kafka’s original writings, including primary drafts of his published works, currently stored in Zurich and Tel Aviv.
"The mark of a real
writer is that she cares deeply about literary joinery, about keeping the lines of her prose plumb. That’s what makes writers writers: to them, prose isn’t just some Platonic vessel for serving up content; they care about words
. Any chief product officer who says “quality online does not equal craftsmanship” is channeling the utilitarian gospel of the managerial class, an instrumentalist vision of journalism that presumes writing, online, is just a turkey baster for injecting content into the user’s brain." Mark Dery, on writing for the web
Fan Fiction and Moral Conundrums
: Diana Gabaldon
, author of the bestselling Outlander
book series, takes on the legal and moral issues of fan fiction
. She's got a lot of people to convince
You have a great idea for a novel and it's almost November
, so you think now is the time to get cracking. You've decided that hiring a ghostwriter
is too easy, but you don't have 100 days to write your novel
and the snowflake method seems too frilly
. Snowflakes, those delicate little monsters that papered your car when you were stranded on the road in Minnesota. A single snowflake is beautiful, but millions make an avalanche. You were cold, so cold, yet you survived. You're not sure if you have time to read a book on what not to do
), and the search results are daunting
. Forget all that, because you already know how to write, right? Embrace your awesome, magnificent, spellbinding abilities, go forward but never back, ever spinning, shake the rain off your bedspread, and now that you have brewed a delicious pot of steamy, hot, life-giving coffee, you can learn how to write badly well
. [via mefi projects
] [more inside]
Djuna Barnes (12 June, 1892 – 18 June, 1982) was an American writer who played an important part in the development of 20th century English language modernist writing and was one of the key figures in 1920s and 30s bohemian Paris after filling a similar role in the Greenwich Village of the teens. Her novel Nightwood became a cult work of modern fiction, helped by an introduction by T. S. Eliot. It stands out today for its portrayal of lesbian themes and its distinctive writing style.
- Wikipedia [more inside]
The Willa Cather Archive
is an incredible resource provided by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, including biographies
, and even full (often annotated) text of much of her writing
, including scholarly editions of two of her greatest (and most famous) works, My Antonia
and O Pioneers
. About the archive
Edinburgh author Iain M. Banks
, creator of the post capitalist space faring society The Culture
and it's oddly named ships
, has long been the UKs top science fiction writer, but has never had more than a toehold in the US
(in part through lack of availability, in part due to lack of promotion and in part due to some pretty awful covers
. That could change: Matter
, his latest, has been heavily promoted in the US and sports a cover nearly identical to the UK edition. This week Orbit
are releasing US editions of the two earliest Culture novels, with the third following in July, which could mean a complete release of all the novels in the US in order. [more inside]
Here's the background of one of the nastiest divorce/custody/dead baby stories you're ever likely to run across. Alan Rodgers is a horror writer. This is his wikipedia entry, and this is his blog/forum at sff.net. He was originally married to Amy Stout, and together they had three children, two girls and a boy. After he tried to kill Amy Stout, she left him and married --
Me, Dan Moran. I'm the handsome dude in the eyepatch, if you click through to my profile. Together Alan and Amy #2 had a baby: Anthony Rodgers. Who died under interesting circumstances. A tragedy, I believe Alan Rodgers has called it, and by "tragedy" I suspect he means, "Thank God I wasn't prosecuted for negligent homicide." Or worse.
- a blog reviewing the best of print-on-demand (self-published) books: "finding needles, discarding hay"
. Also with commentary on the industry itself, and great snark (1
). Take her quiz
: can you spot the POD excerpts from the traditionally published? (Answers here
Stanislaw Lem: 1921-2006.
Polish science-fiction giant Stanislaw Lem
died this morning. He was 84.
Though Lem was not as well known
as Asimov or Heinlein or the other "Masters", he was just as important
to the genre. Lem was not a fan of traditonal science-fiction
, and in his work
tried to approach futuristic themes from a more humanistic, almost psychological, perspective. (And his books are funny
!) His best-known work, Solaris
, was twice made into a film, most recently in 2002
. [Woefully out-of-date official site.]
So You Think You Might Be A Writer?
Just because you write? An astute essay by Joseph Epstein
poses the uncomfortable question: are you weird
enough? There's something very unnatural and unhealthy about writing (as opposed to reading, for instance) - but what is it? [Via Arts and Letters Daily.
, New Zealand writer, is dead at 79. More information about her life, here
, and obituary notice here.
Nominated for the Nobel Prize for Fiction last year, I had hoped she might yet win. RIP.
A sad day for lovers of good writing. In addition to Stephen Jay Gould, historian Walter Lord
has died. (NYT, blah blah) Lord's 1955 book A Night to Remember
arguably touched off the modern world's fascination with the Titanic, and his 1957 Day of Infamy
is an exciting account of the attack on Pearl Harbor.
Monday is the last day to declare your intention to write a 50,000-word novel during National Novel Writing Month
(Nov. 1-30). "Dubious fiction writers from all nations are invited to participate," says organizer Chris Baty. So far, around 3,000 writers have pledged to bring 150 million new words into the world.