Moby Mobile

Moby Dick animated book cover

Animated book covers is simply too good an idea not to happen. (Artwork by Javier Jensen.)

A character who yearns

“All works of fiction are built around a character who yearns, and if you’re in touch with what the character is yearning for, then every detail is filtered through that emotional center.”

Robert Olen Butler

Happy reading

Penguin Classics ad

This new ad campaign for Penguin Classics is lovely. (More here.)

Neil Gaiman: Make Good Art

When you start out on a career in the arts you have no idea what you are doing. This is great. People who know what they are doing know the rules, and know what is possible and impossible. You do not. And you should not. The rules on what is possible and impossible in the arts were made by people who had not tested the bounds of the possible by going beyond them. And you can.

Neil Gaiman, “Make Good Art” (read it here)

Gatsby Unchained

Gatsby movie tie-in

A paperback tie-in version for the 1949 movie featuring Alan Ladd. Not exactly how I pictured Gatsby, but there’s no accounting for taste.

How Daniel Pink Writes

When I’m in the writing stages of a book, I keep a pretty rigid schedule. Each day I show up to my office (the garage behind my house) in the morning, around 8:30 a.m. And I give myself a word count — usually between 500 and 800 words. I don’t do anything else — no email, no phone calls, no Twitter — until I hit that word count. Sometimes I can do it in a few hours. Other times, it’s excruciating and I’m struggling well into the afternoon. For me, it’s the only process that works. If I write 600 words a day, 6 or 7 days a week, the pages begin to pile up.

Dan Pink (via)

“All good things must begin”

Wonderful journals from the science-fiction author Octavia Butler. More here.

Octavia Butler journal

Octavia Butler journal 2

More:

I will find the way to do this So be it! See to it!
(via)

We internalize all the negative things our culture feeds us about ourselves. We internalize all the negative things our parents (also self-hating) feed us about ourselves. We accept limits that do not exist — or would not if we were not so well prepared to accept them.
(via)

Strive Always — In All Ways At All Times — Always For Intensity. Cold or Hot, Hard or Soft, Gut-Wrenching or Deeply Stilling Utter Intensity.
(via)

John le Carré, 1965

33-year-old John le Carré appears on the “Merv Griffin Show,” October 14, 1965.

Gay Talese on Writer’s Block

This is exactly how I feel.

The Silence

Q: Looking back, how do you recall your 50-plus years as a writer?

Roth: Exhilaration and groaning. Frustration and freedom. Inspiration and uncertainty. Abundance and emptiness. Blazing forth and muddling through. The day-by-day repertoire of oscillating dualities that any talent withstands — and tremendous solitude, too. And the silence: 50 years in a room silent as the bottom of a pool, eking out, when all went well, my minimum daily allowance of usable prose.

Philip Roth

“Limited” by Carl Sandburg

I am riding on a limited express, one of the crack trains of the nation.
Hurtling across the prairie into blue haze and dark air go fifteen all-steel coaches holding a thousand people.
(All the coaches shall be scrap and rust and all the men and women laughing in the diners and sleepers shall pass to ashes.)
I ask a man in the smoker where he is going and he answers: “Omaha.”

From Chicago Poems (1916)

After you finish

“After you finish a book, you know, you’re dead. But no one knows you’re dead. All they see is the irresponsibility that comes in after the terrible responsibility of writing.”

Ernest Hemingway

Jonathan Haidt explains our contentious culture

From BillMoyers.com

Leon Uris: Research feeds your writing

Research to me is as important or more important than the writing. It is the foundation upon which the book is built.

Leon Uris

Tweet of the Day

Dorothy Parker, blocked

In June 1945, Dorothy Parker telegrams her editor to inform him she has writer’s block:

Via Letters of Note.

Quote of the Day

Be daring, be different, be impractical, be anything that will assert integrity of purpose and imaginative vision against the play-it-safers, the creatures of the commonplace, the slaves of the ordinary.

Cecil Beaton

New York City, 1950

New York City, 1950, photo by Elliott Erwitt

New York City, 1950. Photo by Elliott Erwitt. Buy it here.

Procrastination is thinking

“You call it procrastinating, I call it thinking.”

Aaron Sorkin

“Procrastinating is a vice when it comes to productivity, but it can be a virtue for creativity. What you see with a lot of great originals is that they are quick to start but they are slow to finish.”

My Oblique Strategies

So much of writing is about starting. Getting those first few words down on the blank page or screen. Getting unstuck. Solving some problem — a scene that feels stagy or false, a knot in the plot that won’t come unknotted. A character enters a room then … what?

In 1974, the musician Brian Eno and painter Peter Schmidt first published Oblique Strategies, a tool for unlocking creative blocks. This was a printed deck of cards, each containing a short, cryptic, Zen-like koan meant to jostle the artist’s thinking and spark the creative process: “Use an old idea,” “Honour thy error as a hidden intention,” “Work at a different speed.” The idea was that the artist, frozen with indecision or out of ideas altogether, could draw a card at random, read the mysterious phrase, and somehow the creative machine would stir to life. (You can shuffle through all the cards here.)

I have always loved the idea of Oblique Strategies, but I never felt that Eno’s and Schmidt’s original messages fit me very well. All artists have their idiosyncrasies and weaknesses, their particular ways of getting snarled up. In order to work for me, oblique strategies have to target my individual, habitual ways of getting stuck. It’s like getting a shot: what’s in the needle depends on the infection you’ve got.

So here are my oblique strategies. I’ve never bothered to put them down on cards, but I have always kept a list of them, which I refer to all the time. My strategies are a little less “oblique” than the originals, less out-of-leftfield, because they are not particularly concerned with stimulating ideas. Generally my problem is not lack of ideas; it is an inability to get the ideas out of my head and down onto the page. I have the syrup, as Gertrude Stein said of Glenway Wescott, “but it does not pour.” I’ll leave my list here, for my own reference and maybe yours. Hopefully they will help some writer someday. If not, try the originals or try writing your own.

  • Be professional and productive, not great, not even original
  • Think quantity: the goal is to complete as many novels as possible
  • Don’t overcomplicate the problem — look for the simple, obvious solution
  • Go back to your template stories
  • Always be starting
  • Lower your standards
  • Unplug
  • Take a walk
  • Steal
  • The hero must act
  • Don’t fucking procrastinate
  • The hero drives the plot
  • Don’t be secretive — discuss the problem
  • Work outside your habits
  • Believe in yourself and in your project
  • Get over yourself — your book just isn’t that important
  • Ask for help
  • Make them care by making yourself care
  • The problem contains the solution
  • Stay up all night
  • Prepare slowly and cautiously, write fast and reckless
  • Change speeds: compress a long scene, expand a short scene
  • Abandon the plan
  • Nothing clever or abstract, just simple physical actions: a character walks on stage, then what does she do?
  • Look outward: read books, watch movies. Don’t try to out-think the problem. The answer will be found outside your own head.