"The life-changing message of 'On Writing Well' is: simplify your language and thereby find your humanity." William Zinsser, journalist and nonfiction writer, passed away earlier this month. His book, "On Writing Well," is one of the definitive works on the craft of writing. [more inside]
When Annie Dillard wrote Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, she didn't think anyone would want to read a memoir by a "Virginia housewife". So she left her domestic life out of the book - and turned her surroundings into a wilderness. The Thoreau of the Suburbs.
annotating Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah's profile of Dave Chappelle, "If He Hollers Let Him Go" [more inside]
Koryos, who previously explained how cats got domesticated using tumblr, now explains why homosexual pair-bonding can be a successful reproductive stratagem. Also, Coot Parenting Tips, Queen Cowbird Of The Brood Parasites , There's No Such Thing As An Alpha Wolf, and Can Animals Have Pets?
I had done all the research I was going to do, assembled enough material to fill a silo. And now I had no idea what to do with it - John McPhee, on narrative structure. [more inside]
With the "true story" films Argo, Lincoln, and Zero Dark Thirty having been nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars, discussion has risen about storytelling accuracy: "Does the audience deserve the truth, the whole truth and nothing but? Surely not, but just how much fiction is OK?"
Conceived as sort of a companion to Longreads, Longform, Pocket, Byliner, etc., Nieman Storyboard's Why's This So Good? series looks at why some great long-form journalism and narrative nonfiction pieces are so great. There are over 60 installments of writers talking shop about writing. [more inside]
"Readers who demand verifiable truth in nonfiction—who were upset about James Frey, for example—are unsophisticated and ignorant, D’Agata said, and he wants to change that." Dan Kois reviews The Lifespan of a Fact, the transcript of the editorial battle between author and fact-checker on John D'agata's piece in the Believer (excerpt; full article requires payment) on the suicide of Levi Presley, who killed himself by jumping off the observation deck of the Stratosphere in Las Vegas in 2002.
The Open Notebook looks at how science writers, and some general nonfiction writers, practice their craft. Their Story-Behind-the-Story interviews are especially interesting, showing how projects like Rebecca Skloot's The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks and David Dobbs Atavist story "My Mother's Lover" developed from start to finish. For writers, there's also a database of successful story pitches.
"I can’t imagine a nonfiction writer who wasn’t influenced by the fiction he or she had read. But the “thriller-like pacing” you find in my writing may come more from my own beat than from thrillers. I walk fast and am impatient. I get bored easily—no less with my own ideas than with those of others. Writing for me is a process of constantly throwing out stuff that doesn’t seem interesting enough. I grew up in a family of big interrupters." Janet Malcolm interviewed by Katie Roiphe in The Paris Review.
Launching today is Byliner, both a portal to the best narrative nonfiction from around the web, and a publishing platform for original works. Some additional background here.
Brian Switek, David Williams and Michael Welland have started a series of blog posts about writing popular science books. (Switek's overview.) [more inside]
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 (UK edition), 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]
Booktribes is a new site from the creators of writing site Abctales where bibliophiles can compile lists of every book they've ever read. Replete with a simple, intuitive interface, compiling your life's reading list becomes strangely addictive, and for the whole of March, the best comment of the day on this as-yet underpopulated site wins a copy of David Mitchell's Black Swan Green, with the best comment of the month winning the entire 21 volume Sceptre Collection. And if you're worried your reading list isn't up to scratch, don't panic - you can always cheat.
Who Wears Short Shorts? Micro Stories and MFA Disgust Being a writer in today's lovely world of fiction and creative nonfiction is like reliving 70's TV hell, where that Nair commercial jingle has been conveniently rewritten into "Who writes short shorts?" Poetic vision rarely shows up. After all, how can you express vision in 100 words? As for plot and character development, give those antiquated goods to Goodwill. All that matters with short shorts is a competent writing style and a desire for lots of publication credits.