It may seem old-fashioned to consult a dictionary while writing, but I can’t imagine working without a reputable dictionary nearby. “Working with word books strengthens our imaginative muscles, and in turn, strengthens our own mental thesauruses, our ability to call up precise words,” I wrote in Sin and Syntax. But what happens to the dictionary in an era of e-publishing?
How do we write about ourselves without narcissism? I recently gave a public talk at the University of Hawai‘i, Mānoa, on that perennially perplexing question: How do we writers “find our voice”? A couple of days later I led a workshop on crafting personal stories and memoirs. I’ve devoted an entire New York Times column […]
I love reaching new readers, so I’ve come up with a special offer on my books through December. Buy a copy of Vex, Hex, Smash, Smooch or Sin & Syntax from me, and I’ll send a bonus copy of either one to you.
English grammar evolves with majestic disregard for the susceptibilities of classical scholars,” Philip Howard wrote in his 1978 book Weasel Words. So, apparently, do the rules for pluralizing words that have come to us from Latin and Greek.
For many writers and editors, knowing these rules is a point of pride. But nowadays the rules that exist threaten to disregard, or at least confound, everyone’s “susceptibilities.”
I am getting tired of keynote speeches at writers conferences (like ones I heard in 2014) that go for bombast and ignore the merits of traditional publishing. Sometimes I want to say to speakers who overlook the tremendous value that remains for writers who land a contract with a traditional publisher, “Thou doth protest too much.”
I have been taking some time over the last few months to think creatively about how to continue writing, given how hard it is to make even the $1 per word fee that used to be my minimum. Of course, I thought it was just me having a rough time (that inner critic is alive and well!). But my colleague Laura Fraser commented on her own similar experience in a recent SF Chronicle story. (It prompted her to start a new publishing platform for women, Shebooks.)
II’m just back in California after leading a writers retreat on the beach where I grew up, in Hawai‘i. So it’s time to share some good reads and to let you know about a few cool updates on this Web site. Oh, and to let you know about the next retreat!
Last September, the New York Times Book Review introduced a new section called Bookends. Each week two writers respond to a question about writing and the book world.
One question that stood out to me was “‘Write what you know’—helpful advice or idle cliché?” That was asked of Zoe Heller and Mohsin Hamid in March, 2014. Both Heller and Hamid get to the heart of what the adage truly means, that writing what you know can extend beyond just your personal experiences.
In two weeks, I leave for Hawai‘i, where I will lead a writers retreat on the beach I grew up on. I’m super excited. The retreat is sold out, and we have a couple of pretty amazing sessions at night that invite Native Hawaiians to share their artistic culture. In the first, visual artists who created a mural at the camp share thoughts on how to make art that reflects the ocean, the mountains, the spirit of place. In the second a scientist with The Nature Conservancy who also happens to be an esteemed chanter will tell us about the ecology of Mokulē‘ia, as well as the lore and legends about the place. His name is Sam ‘Ohukani‘ōhi‘a Gon, and he will sing and chant, too.
In homage to all this, and sort of randomly, I thought I’d share one of my favorite passages from the new Sin and Syntax, on “finding the right pitch”…
A while ago, I wrote about how I am a naturally slow writer. This didn’t serve me so well as a newspaper reporter—the necessary superficialities of stories banged out on deadline frustrated me. I am happier writing for magazines and books, where part of the idea is to arrive at dense, layered writing, the product of much rumination and even more crafting.