A friend and colleague recently shared an experience on social media that I, and many other professional writers, could relate to. When an aspiring writer approaches you for feedback or advice beyond what you have the capacity to give freely, how do you graciously decline?
Ernest Hemingway, I’ll bet, was not a fan of books on writing—or things like MFA programs. His advice to novelists was famously pithy: “Write hard and clear about what hurts.” But many of us find solace in the advice of others, and need inspiration when we get stuck.
Recently, one of my young cousins emailed me to ask about copy-editing resources. As the editor-in-chief of her high school newspaper, she had decided to institute a new step in the paper’s editing process. My many emails exchanges with her made me realize that while I’ve blogged about literary style and good editing in the past, this little-understood and vastly under-appreciated part of the publishing process deserves some attention.
OK, you may think a grotto is “a small picturesque cave,” possibly near the sea or a lake, and probably sprouting ferns or fountains. Maybe you’ve seen a grotto in a fancy garden, like the Grotta Azzurra at Capri or Le Nôtre’s at Versailles, and associate it with Old World intrigue or even religious shrines.
I’m going to use a week in January as a “fallow period”—what I call the down time in between major projects. I wait till I have nothing on my plate, and no deadlines, and then I orchestrate a mini-retreat for myself. I get into nature for a few days, exercise a lot, sit silently, read, and let myself wander back to my creative center.
Ah, how dangerous is a little myopia. At a recent conference in Boston, Gay Talese, journalist icon and keynote speaker, named four male writers who inspired him as a young man (Frank O’Hara, Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Irwin Shaw). In the Q & A, poet Verandah Porche asked him if there were any women writers who played the same role in his literary life.
As the authors of, between them, eight books, the faculty at the 2015 Mokulē‘ia Writers Retreat will draw on wide experience as they share their wisdom with writers at the Hawaii gathering. They’ll have a whole week to guide writers through exercises, but we asked them to share just one secret with readers of this blog.
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?
Every artist needs solitude and society, which is why I am a member of the SF Writers’ Grotto—a workplace for professional writers that just celebrated its 20-year anniversary this December.
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.)