Writing Advice

Psychologists Explain How To Stop Overthinking Everything

5 December 2019

From Medium:

. . . .

“So often people confuse overthinking with problem-solving,” says Odessky, the author of “Stop Anxiety from Stopping You.” “But what ends up happening is we just sort of go in a loop,” Odessky says. “We’re not really solving a problem.”

. . . .

Link to the rest at Medium

For the record, PG doesn’t agonize about what to post online.

Writer Wants Versus Reader Needs

27 November 2019

From Indies Unlimited:

We writers are very sneaky people. We lie to our readers constantly, luring them into imaginary situations and manipulating their emotions shamelessly under the pretense that we are entertaining them. And all the while, what we really want to do is preach to the reader about how the world works and how to make it go better. The difference between a good writer and a bad writer is that the good writer doesn’t get caught. Good writers make readers need what we want to tell them. Less experienced writers start their novels only thinking about what the reader needs to know in order to understand.

“You Need to Learn This”

From the author’s point of view, a novel is about ideas: humanity, society, individuals. So we make up our own versions of humanity, society, and people, and use their interactions to demonstrate those ideas.

“Entertain Me.”

As far as the reader is concerned, a novel is about people doing things. That’s it. Characters in conflict.

So when you sit down to write a novel, you say, “I want to write a novel about ……(your choice of burning social evil)…… but in order to understand what’s going on, the reader needs to know about…

Whoa. Hold it Right There

The reader doesn’t need anything of the sort. The reader needs to be entertained, and he hopes your book will do that. If you fill the first pages up with backstory, philosophical discussion, and all those ideas circulating in your head, you’re gonna get busted. The reader gives you the “Papa Don’t Preach” response and puts down the book.

Character Portrayal

Characters are the first strength of a good book. Our mistake is that, because the characters are most important to us, we think we have to lovingly create all the people and relationships before we start the action. We think to ourselves, “In order to understand the story once it starts, the readers need to know this about the main character, and this, and…oh, yes, of course this, and wouldn’t if be nice if they knew…” and away we go for three chapters, and the story hasn’t started yet.

Link to the rest at Indies Unlimited

How to know what to cut from a novel

5 November 2019

From Nathan Bransford:

“Kill your darlings” is one of the most repeated bits of writing advice out there, but how do you know which darlings to murder? You need to decide what to cut from a novel, but it can be tricky.

Word counts matter. They don’t matter endlessly, but an overly long novel will adversely impact your odds of finding traditional publication, especially for a debut.

And even if you’re self-publishing, no one wants to slog through a novel from an author who never once pressed the “delete” button in the course of writing a 7,000 page tome.

If you are starting with a more average word count it’s still helpful to tighten things up as much as possible, so this post is for you too.

. . . .

Scenes that merely exist to “introduce” characters or a setting

Often writers make the mistake of padding their openings with scenes whose sole purpose is to establish a particular character or a setting and don’t otherwise advance the story. These chapters usually end up feeling unnecessary and a bit confusing because nothing at all important is happening.

Instead: Introduce characters and settings in the course of telling the actual story.

We don’t need an entire scene where nothing substantive happens just to get to know a character or provide exhaustive exposition. Just pick up where the story actually begins and trust that you can fill in the other details as you go along.

It’s much better to get to know a character in the course of the story unfolding than in an otherwise meaningless scene.

. . . .

Unfocused conversations

I see so, so many conversations in novels that are an almost endless series of meaningless false starts and misunderstandings.

Things like:

“My gods, what if the thingamabob were to fall into the wrong hands?”

“The what?”

“The thingamabob.”

“Yes. The thingamabob. I thought that’s what you said.”

“Did I stutter?”

“No.”

“Then why did you ask me to repeat myself?”

“I intentionally misheard you so you could repeat thingamabob for emphasis.”

“For what?”

“For emphasis.”

“I thought that’s what you–”

“Said. Yes. I also like finishing your sentences to show we are quite–“

“Mentally aligned. Ha ha ha. We just added four more lines of unrealistic banter where one could have done just fine.”

“Now I’m going to introduce a nonsequitur that makes no sense so you can introduce some exposition.”

“You already know this information as well as I do so there is no logical reason for me to be telling you this out loud, but I have some information the reader needs to know, which I will reveal in the most awkward expository dialogue possible. You see, a thingamabob is a–“

“Allow me to interrupt you in a misguided attempt to create a dramatic effect.”

“How dare you interrupt me! Now I’m mad, so you know this is quite important! A thingamabob is a–“

“One more interruption to make sure the reader is as annoyed as possible before they find out this information that is actually quite unimportant in the grand scheme of things.”

“Now I am furious! I am shaking! You see, a thingamabob is a [insert two pages of longwinded description only interrupted by Character B making meaningless comments so it doesn’t look like one single block of text].”

Needless to say: don’t do this.

Link to the rest at Nathan Bransford

Once Again the Power of a Streak

26 October 2019
Comments Off on Once Again the Power of a Streak

From Dean Wesley Smith:

Without This Blog Streak I Never Would Have Turned on This Computer…

But with this many years of never missing a day, even with doing a lot of other fun stuff today, I turned on the computer to type something here. Did it matter what I type? Nope.

To hit the blog streak, the daily blog streak, it just had to be something. You know, I am alive, the streak is alive, and so on and so on.

Imagine if you were doing this kind of streak with your writing, that no matter how late, how much your mind was elsewhere, you wrote 250 words a day on a streak.

Imagine that. Go ahead. I dare you.

250 words doesn’t seem to be much, does it? Yet it would get you one 90-plus thousand word novel a year or two 45 thousand word novels in a year.

That’s right, just 250 words a day.

A simple streak. Now I have been doing this blogging streak now for a lot of years. Say you were writing 45 thousand words book and kept the streak alive for 6 years. That’s twelve novels. A could six-book series or four trilogies.

Link to the rest at Dean Wesley Smith

Never Start With a Blank Page

24 October 2019

From LifeHacker:

Creative block is over, if you want it. If you’re stuck without ideas in a brainstorm or a project, you just need to use this simple system: consume things, take notes, and bring those notes with you. Here’s how to do that effectively.

Writer, performer, and Christmas elf David Sedaris says his work is more learned skill than special talent: “Everybody’s got an eye for something. The only difference is that I carry around a notebook in my front pocket.” As writing teacher David Perell explains, Sedaris takes notes on everything interesting in his life, every stray thought he’d like to explore. Every so often he sits down, reads his notes, and copies the good ones to his computer.

. . . .

Sedaris doesn’t need a brainstorming session where he sits around, trying to think of things. By the time he writes anything, he’s got all these ideas, and it’s more a matter of choosing what not to write about. He can start riffing on something he already wrote down.

Link to the rest at LifeHacker

What Keeps You From Writing Success? Are you a Prisoner of Unexamined Beliefs?

20 October 2019

From Anne R. Allen’s Blog:

“Think outside the box” has become a mindless cliché these days. It’s repeated so often that the meaning has pretty much disappeared.

But it’s still excellent advice—if you know how to follow it. Unfortunately, most people are unaware they’re inside boxes, so they have no idea what it means to think outside of one.

Discussing somebody’s “box” can be like talking to a fish about water. The “box” is all there is.

Most of us are boxed in by beliefs that have been programed into our brains from day one by our culture, families, politics, and that 4th Grade teacher who told you if you kept reading comic books, you’d never amount to anything.

Shamers like the anti-comic book teacher are dangerous because you usually don’t remember them. You may have forgotten your 4th Grade teacher’s name.

All you know is you feel guilty when you read things you enjoy—plus you have a secret, persistent fear that you’re never going to amount to anything.

Very often a belief you’re sure “everybody knows” has come from a random shamer who once made you feel bad because of your lack of knowledge of a particular subject. Sometimes they’re authority figures, but often they’re just bullies or “know-it-alls.”

It may very well be that the shamer was even more ignorant than you, or just plain wrong. But an authoritative tone made you accept the statement as fact. (Remember that the most ignorant people are usually the most confident. That’s called the Dunning-Kruger effect.)

. . . .

The first thing you hear about a subject is filed in your brain as fact. Especially when coupled with an emotional experience. It’s how the brain works.

You put your little hand in fire and got burned, so you learned that fire is hot. That fact becomes hardwired to your brain—part of your sense of self. You’re a smart primate who knows fire is hot.

An authoritative person speaking in a demeaning tone can have the same effect as a burn. A shaming tone programs people to accept information as fact.

. . . .

False information imprisons victims in a box. Unless they’re somehow shocked into questioning why they believe the misinformation, they can’t escape.

I started reading about this after a bizarre incident working in a bookstore. The owner made me shelve the collected works of Emily Dickinson in the Romance section. She insisted Emily Dickinson wrote “girly trash.”

Nothing I said could change her mind, in spite of the fact she “adored” Emily Dickinson.

I finally figured out some uneducated, sexist moron must have shamed my boss for loving Emily Dickinson when she was young. So she had created a false belief that became hardwired to her brain.

Link to the rest at Anne R. Allen’s Blog

How America saved old-fashioned English grammar

17 October 2019
Comments Off on How America saved old-fashioned English grammar

From The Economist:

IS AMERICA RUINING English or giving it new life? Most of this old transatlantic debate concerns words. Is elevator an improvement on lift? Why say transportation when transport will do? Sometimes it involves spelling, specifically the American reforms that made British centre into American center. Pragmatic change or dumbing down? And, of course, the quickest way to tell a Yank from a Brit is by pronunciation.

But the differences between British and American English go beyond words, sounds and spelling to grammar itself. Here they can be subtle, but they are many: the index of the “Cambridge Grammar of the English Language” mentions regional differences in 95 places. America being the parvenu, most people assume that any variations between the two countries result from American innovation, to the (sometimes mock) horror of Britons. In reality, America has often been the conservative one, and Britain the innovator. When British speakers borrow American habits, they are sometimes unwittingly readopting an older version of their language.

The subjunctive had also been on its way out in America, but started to reappear in the mid-to-late 19th century, as Lynne Murphy, a linguist, recounts in “The Prodigal Tongue”. No one knows why; theories include greater Bible reading (which would have kept Americans acquainted with older grammar) and immigrants who spoke subjunctive-filled languages. Whatever the reason, the subjunctive stuck out as a Yankeeism, irking British commentators such as Kingsley Amis, a novelist: “Be careful with any American writings, which often indulge in subjunctive forms.”

. . . .

Stereotypes often have a grain of truth. Americans have indeed innovated extensively with English, as with other things. But language never sits still: the British variety itself went on changing after 1776, as all living languages must. Americans, for their part, eagerly import fashionable British slang. Instead of bemoaning new-fangled Americanisms, British observers could spare a thank you to the old colonies for keeping traditional English safe.

Link to the rest at The Economist

If you would like more about the “subjunctive mood” you can check out a Wikipedia article on the topic. PG didn’t know that verbs had moods, but, as he considers it, why should they not?

‘Fuzzy-Profound’ Words Cause Mental Rot

16 October 2019

From The Wall Street Journal:

What are “qualia”? I stumbled on the word recently in the Times Literary Supplement, where a review of novels by Neal Stephenson and Don DeLillo observed that both authors “are much concerned with qualia.” I looked up “quale,” the singular, in the Oxford English Dictionary, which defines it as “the property or quality of a thing; Philosophy a quality or property as perceived or experienced by a person; (also) a thing having certain qualities.”

This definition is as clear as mud. Does quale refer to something objective or to something subjective?

The OED gives 11 examples of how quale or qualia have been used, the first dating from 1654. Here are two recent examples. Philosopher A.J. Ayer: “So far as anything can be, qualia are pre-theoretical.” I have no idea what pre-theoretical means. The second is from an essay in the Philosophical Quarterly: “It is possible to hold that certain properties of certain mental states, namely those I’ve called qualia, are such that their possession or absence makes no difference to the physical world.”

The sentences suggest that quale refers to a subjective experience, which is what the philosopher Daniel Dennett says: Qualia is “an unfamiliar term for something that could not be more familiar to each of us: the ways things seem to us.”

I get it! Just as Monsieur Jourdain in Molière’s “Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme” is surprised to learn that he is speaking prose, so I am surprised to learn that my daily life is filled with qualia.

Quale and qualia are what I would call “fuzzy profound” words or phrases. They give the appearance that deep thinking is going on, but usually it isn’t.

Contemporary intellectual life, Saul Bellow implies in “Herzog” (1964), is filled with fuzzy-profound terms. Herzog writes to Martin Heidegger: “I should like to know what you mean by the expression ‘the fall into the quotidian.’ When did this fall occur? Where were we standing when it happened?”

. . . .

Perhaps the best-known fuzzy-profound word is “modernity.” The OED’s second definition is “an intellectual tendency or social perspective characterized by departure from or repudiation of traditional ideas, doctrines, and cultural values in favour of contemporary or radical values and beliefs (chiefly those of scientific rationalism and liberalism).”

. . . .

Some writers deem the present “late modernity”—and also, believe it or not, “liquid modernity.”

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (Sorry if you encounter a paywall)

PG was reminded of George Orwell’s Politics and the English Language:

MOST PEOPLE WHO BOTHER with the matter at all would admit that the English language is in a bad way, but it is generally assumed that we cannot by conscious action do anything about it. Our civilization is decadent, and our language−−so the argument runs−−must inevitably share in the general collapse. It follows that any struggle against the abuse of language is a sentimental archaism, like preferring candles to electric light or hansom cabs to aeroplanes. Underneath this lies the half−conscious belief that language is a natural growth and not an instrument which we shape for our own purposes.

Now, it is clear that the decline of a language must ultimately have political and economic causes: it is not due simply to the bad influence of this or that individual writer. But an effect can become a cause, reinforcing the original cause and producing the same effect in an intensified form, and so on indefinitely. A man may take to drink because he feels himself to be a failure, and then fail all the more completely because he drinks. It is rather the same thing that is happening to the English language. It becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts. The point is that the process is reversible. Modern English, especially written English, is full of bad habits which spread by imitation and which can be avoided if one is willing to take the necessary trouble. If one gets rid of these habits one can think more clearly, and to think clearly is a necessary first step towards political regeneration: so that the fight against bad English is not frivolous and is not the exclusive concern of professional writers. I will come back to this presently, and I hope that by that time the meaning of what I have said here will have become clearer. Meanwhile, here are five specimens of the English language as it is now habitually written.

These five passages have not been picked out because they are especially bad−−I could have quoted far worse if I had chosen−−but because they illustrate various of the mental vices from which we now suffer. They are a little below the average, but are fairly representative samples. I number them so that I can refer back to them when necessary:

(1) I am not, indeed, sure whether it is not true to say that the Milton who once seemed not unlike a seventeenth−century Shelley had not become, out of an experience ever more bitter in each year, more alien (sic) to the founder of that Jesuit sect which nothing could induce him to tolerate. PROFESSOR HAROLD LASKI (Essay in Freedom of Expression)

(2) Above all, we cannot play ducks and drakes with a native battery of idioms which prescribes such egregious collocations of vocables as the Basic put up with for tolerate or put at a loss for bewilder. PROFESSOR LANCELOT HOGBEN (Interglossa)

(3) On the one side we have the free personality; by definition it is not neurotic, for it has neither conflict nor dream. Its desires, such as they are, are transparent, for they are just what institutional approval keeps in the forefront of consciousness; another institutional pattern would alter their number and intensity; there is little in them that is natural, irreducible, or culturally dangerous. But on the other side, the social bond itself is nothing but the mutual reflection of these self−secure integrities. Recall the definition of love. Is not this the very picture of a small academic? Where is there a place in this hall of mirrors for either personality or fraternity? ESSAY ON PSYCHOLOGY in Politics (New York)

(4) All the “best people” from the gentlemen’s clubs, and all the frantic fascist captains, united in common hatred of Socialism and bestial horror of the rising tide of the mass revolutionary movement, have turned to acts of provocation, to foul incendiarism, to medieval legends of poisoned wells, to legalize their own destruction of proletarian organizations, and rouse the agitated petty−bourgeoisie to chauvinistic fervor on behalf of the fight against the revolutionary way out of the crisis. COMMUNIST PAMPHLET

(5) If a new spirit is to be infused into this old country, there is one thorny and contentious reform which must be tackled, and that is the humanization and galvanization of the B.B.C. Timidity here will bespeak canker and atrophy of the soul. The heart of Britain may lee sound and of strong beat, for instance, but the British lion’s roar at present is like that of Bottom in Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream−−as gentle as any sucking dove. A virile new Britain cannot continue indefinitely to be traduced in the eyes, or rather ears, of the world by the effete languors of Langham Place, brazenly masquerading as “standard English.” When the Voice of Britain is heard at nine o’clock, better far and infinitely less ludicrous to hear aitches honestly dropped than the present priggish, inflated, inhibited, school−ma’am−ish arch braying of blameless bashful mewing maidens. LETTER IN Tribune

Link to the rest at PublicLibrary.UK

PG doesn’t recall reading or hearing the term, “lee sound,” as included in paragraph (5) before.

He searched online and found a reference to “geddy lee sound,” on a website called TalkBase.com which evidently is a place where rock guitarists gather.

He further learned that Geddy Lee Weinrib is “vocalist, bassist, and keyboardist for the Canadian rock group Rush” but doubts base guitars was the image which the author of the Letter to the Tribune meant to evoke by using the term, “lee sound.”

(Although PG must acknowledge that “ears, of the world by the effete languors of Langham Place,” a phrase also included in the Letter in the Tribune, could be talking about a base guitar riff if Langham Place, (“a short street in Westminster, central London, England”) was hosting Geddy Lee rock concerts in 1946, when Politics and the English Language was first published.)

Unfortunately, the creator of the Geddy Lee sound was born in 1953, so that possible explanation fails. Additionally, PG was not able to find anything linking Mr. Lee’s guitar performances to “effete languors”.

Next Page »