Taking away concentrates what’s left. Restraint is powerful. In Girl With a Pearl Earring, the two main characters touch just twice—a hand, an ear—but readers tell me those are some of the most erotic moments they’ve read. In my new novel, The Last Runaway, the heroine is a Quaker and says little, in keeping with the tradition of silence at Quaker meetings. Through the drafts I kept cutting her lines, so that now when Honor Bright speaks, you notice.
By using fewer words, I am also giving readers the chance to fill the gaps with their own. “Less is more” encourages collaboration, which is what a book should be—a contract between writer and reader.
You’ve got to sell your heart, your strongest reactions, not the little minor things that only touch you lightly, the little experiences that you might tell at dinner. This is especially true when you begin to write, when you have not yet developed the tricks of interesting people on paper, when you have none of the technique which it takes time to learn. When, in short, you have only your emotions to sell.
This is the experience of all writers."
— F. Scott Fitzgerald on the Secret to Great Writing
After all, Shakespeare retailed royalist propaganda; Ezra Pound was an anti-Semitic idiot. And, for that matter, George Bernard Shaw wrote about the evils of vivisection and Richard Wright wrote about the evils of the Jim Crow south. They weren’t beyond or outside their times; they were smack in the middle of them. And if you’re a writer, your time and place will shape you too. What’s so scary about that? Your parents, or someone, taught you the language you’re using, and once you’ve begun in such a derivative manner, it seems silly to be embarrassed to go on with it. You can spend your existence constantly looking over your own shoulder for fear of contagion. Or you could instead assume that you are still capable of listening, learning, changing, making mistakes, and, if you’re lucky, even of making a little money like Trollope now and then. Write, in short, as if you are alive, both because the alternative is cramped and stupid, and because you don’t have any other choice.
Read more. [Images: Public domain, Reuters, AP]
TO THE NAKED EYE, IT MAY APPEAR THAT: The Twilight saga is a story about love. And vampires. And family. And abstinence. And racism. And the founding of the Mormon faith. And orphans, in a really weird way.
BUT ACCORDING TO SOME EXPERTS WHO THOUGHT REALLY HARD ABOUT THIS: Twilight is a story about all of these things. And more things.
Read more. [Image: Summit Entertainment]
Here’s what happened when 12 visual artists turned to the written word to express themselves.
[Images: not shaking the grass, Archives of American Art, Brain Pickings]
“What School of Design can vie with this?” the Transcendentalist asked in the pages of The Atlantic in 1862—words that remain resonant for anyone who visits the writer’s old home today.
[Image: John-Manuel Andriote]
I wouldn’t have known about my Russian pirate translator had I not set a Google Alert for the title of my debut novel when it was published, in April 2011. Over the following year, the alerts inevitably, depressingly became more infrequent. Worse still, they began to occasionally refer to eBay sales (“Like New!” “Unread!”). The title,A Young Man’s Guide to Late Capitalism, began to seem freshly ironic, given the circumstances.
But in March, the alerts began pointing me to a message board on WordReference.com. There, a user with the handle AlexanderIII, who gave his location as Moscow, was regularly seeking help understanding my unusual word choices. He wanted to know, for example, what I had meant when I described the interior of a Bolivian hotel with 1970s decor as having “cucumber walls.” He wondered if that might mean that the walls had the texture of a cucumber, or maybe, he offered inexplicably, it meant that the walls were paisley.
Read more. [Image: Oliver Munday]