Monday, January 29, 2018

Ursula’s Tips for Writers

I have been re-editing my serial fiction, an action probably spurred by the rash of uninspired mysteries I’ve been reading recently. Self-doubt in a writer can crippling but, used with a sense of perspective, can help hone one’s work, especially in a final re-write. One problem I faced when writing my novels was that I only had a rudimentary grasp of layout and punctuation. I’ve re-worked both Window Weather and The Matriarchy several times, each time getting a more readable result. All the characterization and plot twists in the world won’t overcome clunky writing and ragged presentation.

The other day The Paris Review featured an article about the passing of the great writer Ursula K. Le Guin. It also featured a list of ideas that Karen Joy Fowler got from Ursula:

1. There is no reason a book of ideas can’t also be deeply moving, gorgeously written, and inhabited by people who take rooms in your heart and never move out.
2. There is no reason a married woman with children can’t also be a committed artist. (This seems self-evident now but wasn’t immediately clear to me.)
3. Write what you want to write. Add as many dragons as you like.
4. You can regret a decision you made in an earlier book and correct it in a later work. (This is a hard one in our unforgiving times, when your previous missteps are eternal and only a google away. But there is nothing shameful in becoming a better person, a wiser person. Done right, it’s pretty heroic.)
5. The values of patriarchy are buried in the very plots of our stories. New plots are needed.
6. Other writers are not your competition. They are your sustenance. Writing is joyous, but never as joyous as reading.
7. Speak up for the books, poems, shows, music, and paintings you love even though you sound smarter and more discerning when you can’t be pleased.
8. There is no reason why your next book can’t be your best yet, no matter how old you are allowed to become.
9. But also, your next book needn’t be your best yet. You could save that for the next next book.
10. And finally—immortality has never worked out well for anyone. Avoid it at all costs.

Numbers 1, 3, 5, 6 and 7 resonated with me, especially number 3. I’m not so egocentric as to be too concerned with number 10. After reading this list, I think my “books” hold up pretty well.  I take number 8 as a personal challenge.

By Professor Batty


Anonymous Shoshanah said...

Good advice. Sharing this!

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