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 Ernest Hemingway Message Boards : The Writing Room
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Papa Cosa
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Posted: 19 October 2005 at 8:29pm | IP Logged Quote Papa Cosa

 

  I started working on a new book.  I'm still shopping the first one around but spend more time concentrating on the new one.  I don't want to be like Larry Brown and be able to spell 'FAILURE' out in rejection slips.  That would be funny though.

  So I'm typing up the new piece and I find that alot of it seems the same.  It takes place in the diners and bars of Florida.  I have a fixation with waitresses for some reason.  I guess they possess a knowledge I'm looking for or I respect them for all the crap they got to put up with.  The dialogue is different and it moves the story along at a good pace.  Events dont repeat...

  But The Sun Also Rises has alot set in bars, the street, etc.  I'm not comparing myself or my work to him!  I am a fan of the fast pace - bullet dialogue though.  I rely on it sometimes to move the sotry along instead of the action.  Maybe that's where I'm making mistakes.  Maybe it's just me.  Anyone ever feel this way when they write?  Do you feel like you're repeating when you're not?  Myabe it's just nerves.

  Papa Cosa

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hijo
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Posted: 21 October 2005 at 12:11am | IP Logged Quote hijo

Larry: yes, it's nerves.

I have gone through all these years of unsuccessfully writing novels and have found with each passing year, and essentially each passing novel, that I seem to be writing the same book over and over and over again, in different ways.

So this year, I'm trying something different. I'm writing the book I have always wanted to write, without a fig's worth of concern what anyone else thinks.

It took me this long to figure out what Barry Lopez meant when he wrote me from Alaska in the early '80s: "Now's the time to write with impugnity."

You may - if you're published - never get another chance.

Last "sage" advice from someone who keeps bashing their head into brick walls as far as publishing is concerned. One good book. That's all you really ever want to write. It may take your entire life. It may become your entire life. But sooner or later, you gotta sit down and write the damn thing the way you hear it and see it and feel it and maybe experienced it. Regardless of whether it reveals a fixation with waitresses, or alcohol, or odd places most people don't go or want to go.

As the late great Ray Puechner said to me when I was 17 and taken under his wing: "Write like you're writing a letter to someone you want to know something."

When you're on the ropes, protect your head and your midsection as best you can, and turn the second you get a chance to side-slip and trust your uppercut will come from your heel...

Best,
hijo
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kitty_stobling
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Posted: 22 October 2005 at 7:39pm | IP Logged Quote kitty_stobling

Papa Cosa,

I agree with hijo. It's just nerves. Of course, I'm not nearlyas experienced a writer as you or hijo, so I can't say anything with much authority.  Still, I think that the self-doubt monkey is just scratching your back a little too hard. I've written a few short stories, and I too, often feel that I'm saying the same damn thing with a few variations here and there. But that's the difference between you and me--you're probably NOT saying the same thing, whereas I probably am.

You should post portions of you're book here...I'd love to read it.

kitty

ps.  it looks like you all make your living as writers. do yall write for magazines or newspapers or something? I'd like to be a writer when I'm older, but i'm sure it's easier said than done... 

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TLSanders
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Posted: 14 November 2005 at 12:56am | IP Logged Quote TLSanders

Kitty, everything in life is "easier said than done"--everything, that is, except letting what you really want slip by because you think it's out of reach.  That's pretty easy.  Almost anything can be achieved, if you have the heart and the patience and the tenacity to build it one piece at a time.  Don't feel like you have to wait until you're "older," whatever that means.  I don't know how old you are, but I know that I've worked with writers who have been published in MIDDLE SCHOOL.  Not only is it never too soon to start, there are many markets open to young writers that are easier to crack than comparable "adult" markets. 
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hijo
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Posted: 16 November 2005 at 10:34am | IP Logged Quote hijo

Kitty: Tom's absolutely right. Writing well takes a lot of time, energy, and like getting to Carnegie Hall, practice. But that just means the sooner you work on it, the better it is likely to be when you're "older."

I had an agent who saw something in me when I was 17, just graduating high school. I'd been "working on writing" all of about 2 years, when my best friend and I decided to stop concentrating on becoming musicians. We decided it's best to focus on something you do well, that you want to do, for your future, rather than just something you have an interest in.

He's now becoming a teacher of 4th graders, an age in children he loves because they're so open to learning. He knows because he has a son in that grade. He's published several books and articles and used to, like me, work on newspapers.

The best part about writing for a living is you can and should do basically anything and everything else that interests you - and then try to write about it. It's the best "job" in the world for people interested in the world.

Best,
hijo
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MarkCianfrani
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Posted: 07 February 2006 at 12:14pm | IP Logged Quote MarkCianfrani

I've been trying to write a novel for about three years now and I just can't do it.. does anyone have any tips or anything?
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hijo
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Posted: 10 February 2006 at 8:57pm | IP Logged Quote hijo

Mark: here's my only real tip. Just start it. Don't worry about finishing it.

If you've already started it, keep writing. Don't worry if your original "plot" or outline or whatever changes. Just keep going.

Each time you get stuck, sit with your pencil or whatever you write with and forget about everything except exactly, simply, one sentence that defines what you want to say. If you can't do that, make it "one true sentence" - a "simple (subject, verb, object) declarative sentence" that says something you know to be true.

That sentence usually, if it's good and short, leads to another, and before you know it, you've written a paragraph (just like when you write to a friend).

When you've written all you can about that idea, stop. Especially if you know what you want to say next. Stop, note it somewhere, like at the bottom of what you just finished. I usually just say "Next, Venice," or whatever I mean to write about next. Then I come back to that in a day, a week, a month, a year, whatever. Just that one word is enough to prompt me to write one sentence again, like "it was hot in Venice. It was always hot wherever we were, because we only seemed to go anywhere in July..."

Don't know how it works for anyone else. For me, I kind of just take notes on memories or images of thoughts. You can and should always go back and revise it when you're done. Even if just to correct typos. Then, only when you don't think you have anything more to say right now on what you've been writing, take a break. Go hiking. Ride a bike. Canoe. Jog. Go fly fishing. Camp. Hunt. Go deep sea fishing. Visit a friend. Visit a relative. Go someplace you've never been. Do something you've always wanted to. Read something you've always wanted to read but didn't get around to until now - even if it's just a magazine that came a month ago.

Get away.

Eventually, read the whole thing through, from beginning to end.

There's bound to be something there, if only an idea that you want to try and rework a different way.

Good luck. Never give up.

Best,
hijo
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MarkCianfrani
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Posted: 16 February 2006 at 8:11pm | IP Logged Quote MarkCianfrani

Thank you for the advice, hijo. I've tried that.. and I mean its worked well but as something as complex as a novel I would think one would have to do some sort of outlining. I mean.. I plan on including symbolism and allegory and all of that good stuff but I don't think I could just come up with it on the spot. Do you just suggest that I sit down and write and write and write and then go back and just keep editting it?
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TLSanders
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Posted: 16 February 2006 at 11:28pm | IP Logged Quote TLSanders

Mark, the answer to that question is different for everyone.  I've written three complete novels and two halves and I've never outlined a word.  Many successful novelists say the same...that they follow their characters where they may lead more than they plan ahead.  Others swear by outlines and follow them religiously.  One multi-published novelist I encountered in a writing discussion group said that she wrote a detailed outline, wrote a couple of chapters, tossed the outline and wrote a new one, wrote a little further...usually, she'd go through four outlines, but she nonetheless somehow needed them to write.  For me, the story HAPPENS more than is planned, and if I tried to outline a novel I would kill it.  I just begin with a scene and sit down and write, usually several thousand words at a sitting.  You have to find what works for YOU, and "I would think one would have to" isn't the way to do that.
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hijo
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Posted: 17 February 2006 at 10:28pm | IP Logged Quote hijo

Mark: in a word, yes.

If you feel the need for an outline, by all means, make an outline. Just don't feel required by anything or anyone to stick to it religiously. Use it to get you going, and refer back to it if you think there's something in particular you want to make sure to include.

But there is also much to what Tom suggests. I tend to have a general idea of something I want to write about - usually based on some experience so I can sound more like I know what I'm talking about than if I just studied the subject to death - and then I set off the way I described.

Then I go back and revise.

But that's journalistic training. You don't have time to sit and outline. The outline sort of presents itself in your head, starting with the most important stuff first and the details later (in case as often happens it gets cut by an editor).

Actually, some of the best, quickest writers still are in broadcast - particularly radio. They know how to write a lead sentence for a "teaser." Like "Mayor Richard Daley died Saturday."

My training consisted of police reporting and "investigative" journalism (digging, sorting and sifting - what used to just be called "reporting"), then newswires which also require you to come up with "flash" headlines for pressing new information and a few paragraphs to follow as quickly as possible.

I still get blocked, which is why I'm still trying to write fiction in "long-hand" with pens or pencils in notebooks, then type them (editing in my head as I read the "raw copy" and transfer it for further revisions).

A novel is a complicated, long-term project, but that just means you don't need to and probably should try and avoid making it longer-term or more complicated, especially before it even gets going.

Besides the "one true sentence," or what the AP used to refer to as "the overline," Hemingway also suggested that you need to know not only your characters, but their parents, before you begin writing the story.

As for allegory and metaphor and all the wonderful symbolic things English Literature teaches people to use, remember ultimately your goal is to first tell somebody something they don't know in a way they can understand.

I'm convinced allegory and metaphor etc all come from your subconscious in to play while you're writing, and your gray matter is the best filter in existence to weed out what's important, and what's not, and what needs to be put in, and what needs to be left out.

I am continually amazed at all those things in Hemingway's art (because once you grow from communicating information to using symbolism, you've made some sort of transcendence, in my opinion, from mere language), partly because I still find it hard to believe anyone can sit down and deliberately try and put all those things in during six weeks of writing The Sun Also Rises.

I'm convinced if they're in the back of your brain, they'll come out (just as certain colors strike a painter to use, each line and color ultimately being a symbol, an expression of feeling as well as a reflection of image).

I'm equally convinced if you try too hard to make an "important" novel, you may first of all never finish it, and second, be crushed to discover no one but you thinks it that terribly important to have to figure out what the fish stands for, or the old man.

Regardless, my opinion is just one, and worth every penny anybody ever pays me for it (gratis) to anyone but me. I'm just letting you know what works for me, and hopefully might work for you.

The damned thing about writing is and always has been it doesn't really matter how great an idea for a novel you have, to be a "writer," you still have to eventually sit down and write.

I feel your pain. I sense your frustration. I agree with Tom. You have to find what works for you. I've been trying for 30 years. I can now finish a novel. Making it any good, or published, we'll have to see....

Just know that all letters, as well as words, are ultimately symbols. They stand for a sound, an idea. The world is filled with symbolism - we see black, we think hidden (shadows, night), death, eternal sleep, maybe dread or foreboding (dark clouds), mourning. But in Asia, white is the symbol for death.

We see sunshine, we think beauty, brightness, hope, future, God, warmth, etc.

Men in uniforms with soup-bowl helmets and puttees clambering wordlessly through daisies on a warm, spring day up a hill with their trenching tools and canteens and muset bags clanking toward the top, not knowing it's a machine gun emplacement. You smell the daisies.

What happens next isn't symbolic.

Best,
hijo
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