If there’s one thing I would recommend to everyone, it’s to never give advice.
I used to give advice. Back when I was young and stupid and knew everything. But after watching several disasters flower from people taking my counsel, usually interpreting it in ways I never would have imagined, I swore it off. I could tell you stories, but there are several people who would have to die first, and that’s not practical.
The thing is, you never have to explain something you didn’t say.
But I’m going to break that vow right now and advise something. Read one poem every day.
It doesn’t have to be some serious, stuffy poem. It can be light and fun, like Ogden Nash, or zany and divergent, like Barbara Hamby, or wry and witty like Billy Collins. Or reflective or romantic or whatever suits you. But I do recommend mixing it up.
This is especially good advice for writers, but is also good for anyone who likes to get a fresh perspective every once in a while.
Here’s the nice thing. APM and Garrison Keillor have made it easy.
You can go to the website and either read or listen to the five-minute show, which starts with events of note on this day in history and concludes with a poem. Or if you prefer, you can listen to it on a radio station in your area.
If I don’t catch it on the air, then I click Listen while I’m eating my Cheerios every day.
In case you haven’t heard, there’s a new Fred book on the way, and once again Amanda has created a great cover. Here’s the final cover for Postcards from Fred, coming out in October. Click to see it full size.
Here’s the book description:
Ever wonder what would Jesus do? On a date?
It’s been a bad weekend. Mark Cloud’s dreams of romantic bliss have been cruelly obliterated, and his friendship with the local moonshiner has drawn unwelcome attention from the local Pharisee, Deacon Fry.
Then two girls enter his life: one a lovely and sold-out-for-Jesus preacher’s kid who just might be The One for him, the other a prodigal wild-child who just might give Deacon Fry the ammunition he needs to rid himself of this troublesome pastor and his vexing family.
Mark’s romantic aspirations and his vow to fly under the church-politics radar crash into his vow to live his life asking the seductive but inconvenient question: What Would Jesus Do? His response will determine not only his dating life but possibly the future of his father’s career.
Sign up for the newsletter to get notified when it’s available, and also to get sneak peeks and freebies. The next issue goes out next week with freebies for the insiders.
On Wednesday I’ll be on Writing on the Air on KOOP radio at 6 pm CDT with Jeremy Grigg talking about Endless Vacation and future projects. You can listen online or on the radio at 91.7 FM.
I discovered just how long I’ve been working on and talking about Endless Vacation when I went back to the Writing on the Air archives looking for my previous appearances and discovered I’ve talked about this story with these guys since 2009. Here’s a list of the other times I’ve been on if you’d like to give them a listen.
Rock on and check it out.
“Whenever you feel an impulse to perpetrate a piece of exceptionally fine writing, obey it—whole-heartedly—and delete it before sending your manuscript to press. Murder your darlings.” –Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch, On the Art of Writing, 1916
In the course of bringing a novel to press, a lot of stuff gets left on the cutting room floor, not all of it bad. In the case of Endless Vacation, more was left on the floor than usual in my novels because it went through about 40 drafts as screenplay and novel before I finally shoved it out the door. Entire chapters of flashback story lines and abandoned plots.
Here’s an excerpt that used to be at the beginning of Chapter 5 that I was particularly fond of, but it did slow the pace somewhat in a moment of tension, so I allowed it to be pried from my fist.
The kitchen was reduced to chaos. It was as if a sorcerer’s apprentice had been called away suddenly in the midst of a particularly troublesome spell that had gone awry. Dave scanned the wreckage.
The island was an explosion of vegetables, cheeses, spices, seasonings, rubs, garlic cloves, three kinds of oil, four types of vinegar, wine bottles, condiments and sundry peelings, skins and hulls, in various stages of use and abandonment, interlarded with measuring cups oozing sauces, can openers, corkscrews, used knives, cheese-encrusted graters, discarded wrappings and half-empty boxes of ingredients.
The stove warehoused an array of pans and skillets like a graveyard of burnt-out war machines, some scorched, others glazed with garnishes in hardened grease or coated with a glutinous sauce of dubious provenance, and all overlaid with a dusting of flour like an early snowfall. Spatulas and ladles and tongs and a meat thermometer lay where they had fallen in battle.
The sink overflowed with discarded cans and colanders and whisks and bowls and plates and spoons. The floor appeared to be the work of a Jackson Pollock devotee who had settled on organic matter as his medium.
I especially like the stove paragraph. Oh well, one does what one must. Would you have the nerve to pull the trigger?
You may have been wondering what happened to me since New Year’s. I’ve been working furiously to get the next novel, Endless Vacation, into your hands. But tonight I was stuck waiting for edits and decided to get a start on the one after that, Open Season. So, here is some rare footage. I don’t often release first draft copy into the wild, but I’d love to get your feedback on what you think of this opening. Would you turn the page?
It’s hard to pinpoint the exact moment when the whole thing went off the rails.
And without bragging, I can tell you that when it comes to things going off the rails, I’m known as the local expert, so when I say that the slate of candidates for derailing the weekend in Bolero is too extensive to narrow down to a clear winner, you may take it as settled. However, as is often done in these cases, we can produce a short list for your consideration.
There is the unfortunate placement of the ladder against the balcony. That’s a big one, not that I would suggest that Chip was negligent in any way, but I’m a big one for facing the facts like a trooper and it does all come back to the ladder.
Then there’s the blackmail attempt. Certainly in the top three, I would say. Well intentioned, perhaps, but ill advised.
And the thing with the snake. I love Jake like a brother, would take a bullet for him or at least shout taunting remarks at his assailants if he were being attacked, but if we are to be honest, as men of honor should in every circumstance, it was not his best moment.
And the fireworks. Well, those actually worked out okay, so we can let them slide.
But I should probably back up and get a running start at this story if you’re to make heads or tails of it.
There you go. Is that enough to make you want more?
An excerpt from a commencement address by Neil Gaiman:
I decided that I’d do my best in future not to write books
just for the money. If you didn’t get the money, then you didn’t have anything.
And if I did work I was proud of, and I didn’t get the money, at least I’d have
the work. –Neil Gaiman
It’s 20 minutes of astoundingly good, and amusing, advice for those who create. Make good art.
What if on a Friday night someone said to you, “You have this weekend to produce 5,000 words on your latest project.” What would you do?
Everyone in my family would probably shoot themselves at the thought. I would think, “Really? I get the whole weekend to write? Rock!”
Life and the day job intrude too often to allow me the luxury of a full weekend of writing, but this weekend it happened and I hit a vein and cranked out 5,000 words on Muffin Man. Pretty good words, it feels like right now. We’ll find out when I read it over tomorrow.
But if that question fills you with dread instead of ecstacy, you might want to rethink that whole writer thing.
Charles Bukowski said it much better.
Kelly hipped me to I Write Like, a website that applies a Bayesian classifier algorithm to the text you key in to match it to text from the 50 writers in its database. It’s mainly based on vocabulary, sentence length and punctuation and doesn’t account for style, voice or tone, so it’s basically useless, but entertaining.I pasted in Chapter 0 of my current work in progress that is in need of a good title. It came back with Stephen King. Interesting. Chapter 1 came back as David Foster Wallace. Hmm, never heard of him. I went back to Endless Vacation draft 3 and analzyed each chapter separately, all 46 of them. (Yes, I know I have no life. So sue me.) It came back with 15 authors: Arthur Conan Doyle, Chuck Palahniuk, Dan Brown, David Foster Wallace, Ian Fleming, Isaac Asimov, Jack London, James Joyce, JK Rowling, Kurt Vonnegut, Mario Puzo, Raymond Chandler, Stephanie Meyer, Vladimir Nabakov, and William Gibson. The winner was David Foster Wallace, for 17 of 46 chapters, Brown and Chandler trailing with 8 and 6 chapters, respectively. Then I went back to where it all started, Welcome to Fred, again all 30 chapters. This time only 9 authors, but a couple of good ones that weren’t on the EV list: Arthur C Clarke, Chuck Palahniuk, Dan Brown, David Foster Wallace, HP Lovecraft, Raymond Chandler, Stephanie Meyer, Stephen King, and William Gibson. But Wallace was still the winner with 11 out of 30 chapters, Lovecraft trailing with 6 chapters. Evidently a third of my work uses the same vocabulary and sentence length as Wallace. I guess I’ll have to check him out.I wish he had the list of authors in the database. I’m guessing PG Wodehouse isn’t in there, or Christopher Buckley.