Tag Archives: writing

Writing (or Any Creative Activity) and the Fear of Being Less Than Amazing

If you’ve spent most of your life cruising ahead on natural ability, doing what came easily and quickly, every word you write becomes a test of just how much ability you have, every article a referendum on how good a writer you are. As long as you have not written that article, that speech, that novel, it could still be good. Before you take to the keys, you are Proust and Oscar Wilde and George Orwell all rolled up into one delicious package. By the time you’re finished, you’re more like one of those 1940’s pulp hacks who strung hundred-page paragraphs together with semicolons because it was too much effort to figure out where the sentence should end.

from “Why Writers Are the Worst Procrastinators: The psychological origins of waiting (… and waiting, and waiting) to work” by Megan McArdle in The Atlantic, via John August.

Ambition vs. learning

David Foster Wallace on Ambition (animated interview from PBS Digital Studios)

There are lots of things that interest me about doing improv, but one of the top is that there’s no time when you’re performing improv that you can perfect anything. The scene you are making exists, and then it’s gone — it exists perhaps vaguely in your memory, and maybe a bit more clearly in the memory of the audience, but there’s nothing else to show it ever even happened. And what this means is that you can’t worry about polishing or revising or rethinking. Whatever you were able to do was as good as it could be. Continue reading Ambition vs. learning

The future of the book (take 2)

UPDATE: Find the liveblog of the event at this newer post.

The much-anticipated but sadly postponed discussion on The Future of the Book has been rescheduled for April 1.

Sven Birkerts

Sven Birkerts

Maud Newton

Maud Newton

Essayist Sven Birkerts and Blogger Maud Newton to Discuss the Impact Of Technology on the Publishing Industry, April 1 at Pitt

PITTSBURGH- Imagining the possibilities that future technologies might have on the publishing industry will be the focus of a discussion with essayist Sven Birkerts and blogger Maud Newton. Titled “The Future of the Book,” this rescheduled event will be held at 8:30 p.m. April 1 in G-24 Cathedral of Learning, 4200 Fifth Ave., Oakland. The event, part of the Pittsburgh Contemporary Writers Series 2009-10 season, was postponed because of inclement weather.

The event will be moderated by Pitt creative writing professor Cathy Day, author of the short story collection The Circus In Winter (Harcourt, 2004) and the memoir Comeback Season: How I Learned to Play the Game of Love (Free Press, 2008).

The event is free and open to the public.

If you’re not able to attend — or if you do plan to attend and want to participate in a bit of backchannel discussion as it happens — I’m planning to liveblog this event here on this site. The liveblogging tech (from CoverItLive) lets everyone write in comments and questions, follow selected posts on Twitter, and generally participate in a variety of ways from any location. Nifty.

The future of the book

UPDATE: Another casualty of Snowpocalypse 2010, the “Future of the Book” discussion has been postponed. With luck it will be rescheduled soon.

Next Thursday, the Pittsburgh Contemporary Writers Series at Pitt’s Creative Writing program will hold an event of primo interest to me: a discussion titled “The Future of the Book,” featuring Sven Birkerts and Maud Newton, moderated by Cathy Day.

Sven Birkerts
Sven Birkerts
Maud Newton
Maud Newton

Sven Birkerts and Maud Newton
The Future of the Book:
a discussion moderated by Cathy Day
8:30 pm, Thursday, Feb 11th
Frick Fine Arts Auditorium

Over the years, Maud Newton’s blog has become known among publishers, writers, and agents for its smart literary talk and her devotion to reading and writing.  She has been cited in a range of publications including New York magazine, The Scotsman, The Guardian, the New York Times, and Poets & Writers. Newton is particularly skilled at finding and posting links to lit bits that other sources miss, such as a previously untranslated Roberto Bolano story. Newton has written for The American Prospect, and contributed book reviews to The Boston Globe, the Los Angeles Times, Washington Post Book World, the New York Times Book Review, and Newsday.  Her fiction and nonfiction have appeared various journals including Narrative, Maisonneuve, and Swink.

Sven Birkerts is the author of several collections of essays, including The Gutenberg Elegies: The Fate of Reading in an Electronic Age (Faber and Faber, 2002). He has taught writing at Harvard University, Emerson College, Amherst College, and most recently at Mount Holyoke College. Presently, Birkerts is the Director of the Bennington College Writing Seminars. Birkerts reviews regularly for The New York Times Book Review, The New Republic, Esquire, The Washington Post, The Atlantic, and other publications. His other works include An Artificial Wilderness: Essays on Twentieth Century Literature (William Morrow, 1987), The Electric Life: Essays on Modern Poetry (William Morrow, 1989) and My Sky Blue Trades: Growing Up Counter in a Contrary Time (Viking, 2002).

Sven Birkerts had an opinion piece in The Atlantic last year, “Resisting the Kindle,” so I presume he’ll be presenting the “e-books will destroy mankind and all that is good” point of view.

Maud Newton has many great qualifications and achievements, but I think of her as the blogger who inspired me to start blogging all the way back in 2003. I’m super-excited she’s coming to talk on this subject — or honestly, about anything at all. She posted on her blog last year about e-books: “When is a book not a book?

The event is open to the public and free; see the full PCWS schedule here.

Whether you’re able to attend in person or not, I plan to liveblog the event, and I’d love for you to follow along and chime in. There will be a post on this site next Thursday with a CoverItLive widget where you can read my notes, make comments, add media (I think…), etc. Or you can tweet and tag your tweets with #futureofthebook and they’ll appear in the widget too. Very futuristic, no?

Day 1: Well-begun is half done

Back Bay Brewing cap, originally uploaded by cynthiacloskey.

It’s November, that heady month when people across the Web and around the world leave behind silly things such as reason and rationality and hygiene and take on tremendous challenges. NaNoWriMo. NaBloPoMo. DrawMo! And many other Mos of which I’m as yet unaware.

This year I’m tackling DrawMo and NaNoWriMo, with special twists on each:

For DrawMo, I’m working with just one medium: the Brushes app on my iPhone. I’m not an accomplished artist, I have never worked in waterpaint, and I downloaded Brushes just yesterday. Above you can see my first drawing. It’s interestingly difficult to paint with your finger on a tiny screen. The good news is I can only improve.

For NaNoWriMo, I’m going to do something I haven’t done in any of the years I’ve done this event: I’m going to post everything in the novel, in full, as it’s written. Yes, I’m going to expose every word of what is sure to be a really shitty first draft to the glaring light of the Web. I won’t do it on this blog — I have another site all set that is more sturdy, the better to withstand the onslaught of terrible fiction.

The thing is, I haven’t written today’s quota of words for the novel yet, and due to tomorrow’s work schedule I need to go to sleep right now. So I’ll be starting this novel a day behind.

No matter. I can catch up.

Are you thinking of getting in on this impossible challenge action? I hope you are. I could use the company.

To tempt you, I am offering a prize: an official “No Plot? No Problem!” novel writing kit, a product of the NaNoWriMo organization. I have one kit, brand new and unopened, from a past year when I was a Municipal Liaison. It includes:

  • The excellent NaNoWriMo writing guide No Plot? No Problem!, written by Chris Baty, founder of NaNoWriMo
  • Daily noveling briefs
  • A month-long, guided, displayable log with gold stars for keeping track of progress
  • Motivational materials
  • The Radiant Badge of the Triumphant Wordsmith

You know that you want this. The price on it is $19.95, but they aren’t sold any more, so who knows what it might be worth. It’s a collector’s item. It’s a major award!

To enter the drawing to win, please comment below. Your comment must contain either (1) the working title of the NaNoWriMo novel that you will write this month, which name you may change at will later but that you commit to finishing under some name; or if you are not doing NaNoWriMo this year, (2) the title and synopsis of an original novel that you will not be writing. The wackier, the better. (That is, you don’t get more chances for writing a weird and wild synopsis, but I will enjoy reading about it more.)

UPDATE: Additional rule: To win the noveling kit, you must supply a mailing address for me to ship to that is within the United States. International postal costs are a killer, eh?

I’ll hold the drawing Wednesday, so you’ll still have most of the month to make use of the noveling kit’s advantages.

Write on! Draw on!

Happy birthday, Dorothy Parker

Dorothy Parker was born August 22, 1893. Celebrate this date with a Martini; two at the very most.

Here’s a Parker poem to enjoy as well:


The ladies men admire, I’ve heard,

Would shudder at a wicked word.
Their candle gives a single light;
They’d rather stay at home at night.
They do not keep awake till three,
Nor read erotic poetry.
They never sanction the impure,
Nor recognize an overture.
They shrink from powders and from paints …
So far, I’ve had no complaints.

And a bonus quote:

I’ve never been a millionaire but I just know I’d be darling at it.

(Photo via Wikipedia)

Master storytelling


It’s Indy 4 Weekend. Whether or not you’re planning to check out the latest installment in the adventures of Indiana Jones, you might be interested to see a bit of suspense its director created early in his career: 1971’s The Duel.

In this low-budget, made-for-TV movie, which Steven Spielberg made when he was 23 years old, an ordinary businessman played by Dennis Weaver is hounded by an unseen driver of a tanker truck. The story is played for maximum tension and thrills, and I find it particularly frightening because I have an abiding fear of being run off the road by a semi. (The result of dozens of trips across the state on the PA Turnpike? No doubt.)

The full film is available on YouTube, broken into 5 minute chunks. The clip above is the modified opening, with some extended footage from the DVD release. YouTube also has a number of parodies of The Duel; this 74 minute story makes an impression on you.