Real Writers Follow Their Rhythm

Writers… “we’re storytellers, craftsman. We do care deeply about language. We want our words to dance to a particular rhythm… One of the tools we use is repetition. Unfortunately, it’s the tool most despised by bad editors…  English teachers, those non-writers responsible for teaching us how to write. It begins when they circle a word that appears a few times in a single paragraph and ask for an alternative…

English teachers who don’t practice the craft of writing — and that’s the vast majority — can’t ruin real writers. They can just give them bad grades. Real writers know that writing has to be heard, not just read.  They find a beat, a rhythm, and they follow it. They can’t help it.

But the rest of the class walks away with the false knowledge that good writing is something you can diagram; that it’s meant to be seen and not heard; that rhythm is a tool for poetry, not prose.”


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How the CIA Shaped Western Literary World

“During the Cold War, it was commonplace to draw the distinction between “totalitarian” and “free” societies by noting that only in the free ones could groups self-organize independently of the state. But many of the groups that made that argument [including literary magazines] were often covertly-sponsored instruments of state power, at least in part. Whether or not art and artists would have been more “revolutionary” in the absence of the CIA’s cultural work is a vexed question; what is clear is that that possibility was not a risk they were willing to run. And the magazines remain, giving off an occasional glitter amid the murk left behind by the intersection of power and self-interest. Here are seven of the best, ranked by an opaque and arbitrary combination of quality, impact, and level of CIA involvement.

Probably the finest literary magazine in American history, the Kenyon Review was founded by John Crowe Ransom in 1939. The intellectuals and CIA officers who ran the Congress for Cultural Freedom loved Ransom, and used him and his literary networks to locate promising students and literary friends that it could recruit to work for it. Even Ransom’s technique of “New Criticism,” seen as a quintessentially conservative Cold War form of analysis because it eschewed examination of the social and political context of literary works, has sometimes been compared to the work of espionage, by which careful reading can unearth hidden plans and meanings.”

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Related: CIA involvement in the shaping of American Literature

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Literary Creativity in Intrinsic Motivation

“A creative writer should be motivated by interest, challenge and satisfaction, and not by external pressures, otherwise he/she will fall by the wayside when external forces fade or when they cannot withstand the editorial pressure.

A renowned psychologist at Harvard University, in her research, invited art experts to assess the work of 29 professional artists.

Unknown to the experts was that each artist had been asked to submit 10 commissioned and 10 non-commissioned works. The experts rated the non-commissioned works as being more creative than the commissioned ones. The study ascertained a link between intrinsic motivation and creativity.

It states that the higher the creator’s intrinsic motivation, the more creative and original one will be. What kills literary creativity […] is the desire for instant fame and money.”


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Revolution Will Not Come From Materialistic Writers

“Though the mouth has hardly ever ceased to be “muzzled by the food it eats to live,” nature has always had this quaint way of producing those daring ones determined to go against the grain.”

“No doubt one has to have the conviction of steel to take such a stand, and this decision will not appeal to a highly materialist writer. The very rich who write for kicks are not too fussy about integrity or conviction, though they can be if they so desire.”

“There are stories galore about writers with a passion for truth but who under pressure were forced to compromise.”

“well-to-do folks with their full quota of daily calories, can write well but have nothing to say, as against poor folks who do the hard work and get the least calories, and have much to say but can’t write. Lao Tzu said: “Those who know do not speak; those who speak do not know”.

“writers and artists of integrity are most often found outside looking in armed with their criticism … for that’s where the revolution happens.”


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Skip the Pills, Take a Book

“If you read a story that really involves you, your body will tell you that you are living through the experience. You will recognize feelings that have physical signs—increased heart rate, sweaty palms, or calm, relaxed breathing and so on, depending on your mood. These effects are the same you would feel in similar real-life experiences—fear, anger, interest, joy, shame or sadness. Amazingly, you can actually ‘live’ experience without moving anything but your eyes across a page.” The lesson is clear? Reading good literature is a life support system you never outgrow.” …

“Psychologists, therapists, physicians, counselors and librarians the world over are active bibliotherapists and their numbers increase every years as research clearly shows that reading is a more effective stress reliever than say, listening to music, going for a walk, or even sitting down with a good cup of coffee. “If you have a life crisis, bibiliotherapy is great”. …

“In fact, researchers are now discovering what the ancient Greeks knew centuries ago—reading good literature works just as well.”


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Literature Can Bind a Split Nation

The “lack of meaningful connections among citizens is a complex problem. It contributes to the crippling partisanship”. …

“If the root of our problems … is a breakdown in communication and connection, literature has some incredibly powerful tools to help.” …

“learning how to engage with literature and, by extension, with others, is a very practical, widely-applicable skill.” …

“Reading a novel, you experience the perceptions, values and quandaries of a person from another epoch, society, religion, social class, culture, gender or personality type. … Great literature allows one to think and feel from within how other cultures think and feel”.

“It’s not necessarily about the specific content of what you read; it’s the underlying practice of putting yourself inside another person’s head, inhabiting a narrative that is not your own, and considering perspectives that you do not share. Time spent actually exercising these skills and improving your capacity to connect and empathize with people – actually reading literature – is time well spent. It’s a concrete step to making you a more effective leader, better positioned to address the crises in our country today and cross the fault lines that have distanced us from each other.

Reading a book won’t singlehandedly bring about the end of American conflict – but it may make you better equipped to start.”

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The Essence of Literature

“When you are reading books, drama, poetry, short stories, essays or any piece of literary work, you are opening the gateway to unbound imagination and allowing your intellect to grow by perceiving so many ideas out there, provided to you in the form of words. And then you are asked to dissect those words, question that piece of knowledge, examine that burst of idea, scrutinize the symbolic meanings, and critically analyze the writer’s philosophy. You start dwelling on human nature and the situations that we as beings find ourselves in, in this world. As a result, you develop a profound sense of life. Your mind becomes perceptive, knowledgeable, polished and one that sees the world with a deeper eye. That is the ‘point’ of Literature. That is what Literature gives you. To think, feel and see deeply, while expanding your horizons. I especially feel that young minds need to be indulged in innovative ways of creative writing that give them the opportunity to think freely, imagine, experiment, create and put into words their idea. This is the beauty of creative writing. It gives one the liberty to pick something that strikes him from the vast sea of his ideas and put it down on paper. The end product is a piece of literature that will reflect the person’s own character. That is the essence of Literature.”


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Literary Auction Hype


Auctions unfortunately do not look at literary merit as much as they look at commercial merit. And when heavily marketed commercial books hammer the message: “read this book, read this book,” it skews independent judgement of even the most die-hard reader, forcing them to, at least, take a peek at this latest curiosity that everyone is talking about. Given that time is our most precious commodity these days, such peeks come at the expense of other books that may have grabbed the reader’s attention through non-promotional means.

I’m hoping that the author whose work was auctioned and who is now left to sign with the winning publisher, would use their judgement, take the long term view, and let the auction be used only as a yardstick to determine the “potential value” of their book. I’m hoping that they will settle on the publisher whom they feel will be the best fit for their career (after all, there will be more books in the pipeline from this author, we hope) rather than going with the highest bidder on just this single auctioned work. For the highest bid also comes with the highest expectation, and an author who does not earn his advance could get dropped for their next book by an “over-generous” publisher.

And as for readers, I hope that they … will stick to their own reading lists, compiled through due diligence rather than hype, and that they will not take those time-wasting detours just because an at-risk publisher has thrown the rest of his money after his moment of weakness at an auction and is touting the compelling but distracting message: “Read this. I put too much money behind this damned book and I need your help to bail me out!”


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Writers or Performers?

“In my first 15 or 20 years of authorship, I was almost never asked to give a speech or an interview. The written work was supposed to speak for itself, and to sell itself, sometimes even without the author’s photograph on the back flap.” –John Updike, The End of Authorship

A publishing contract is now more than an invitation to write. It is also a request for performance. The author becomes, as John Updike puts it in The End of Authorship, a “walking, talking advertisement for the book”. The very year the American novelist gave this speech in Washington, a publisher told me in passing: “Of course, we’ll fly you to the festivals, get you reading at shops and libraries.” Of course. One does not simply have talent, which Flannery O’Connor insisted was vital for a literary vocation. Now one is a talent: an artful player, with all the ambiguity of each word.

My point is not that there is anything necessarily vicious or vulgar about performance, or that we have lost a literary golden age: from enlightened literacy to primitive orality. The Romans regularly held public performances, in which poets tested their verse in a public laboratory. (Or lavatory. “You read to me as I shit,” complained first-century poet Martial in his Epigrams.) Pliny the Younger lamented that his listeners did not obey audience etiquette: “two or three clever persons … listened to it like deaf mutes.” Greek philosophy itself began with public performance; with the need to grab interest along with intellect. Put simply, we are not the first era to ask writers to tap-dance, and this request does not automatically corrupt literature.”

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Why Butcher Novels with Film Adaptations?

“The subject of reading, of absorbing and interpreting, of assimilating the book’s narrative into the narrative of our lives, becomes inextricable from the text. There are schools of literary theory that focus, with varying degrees of complexity, on reader response and the “event” of reading. But the underlying concept is simple. Reading isn’t passive absorption; it’s an active rewriting based on who you are, where you are, how old you are and, possibly, whether or not it rained that morning. […]

The question remains: Why reduce these novels that grow so much bigger than their 1,000-odd pages into 2 1/2-hour movies, plays and ballets?

In her 1926 essay The Cinema, Virginia Woolf is obsessed with this problem. In reference to some of the earliest film adaptations of Anna Karenina, Woolf considers how strange it is to see someone else’s face imposed on a character that “the brain knows almost entirely by the inside of her mind.”

Woolf’s issue is how much film relies on visual distillation – “A kiss is love. … Death is a hearse” – when our experience of reading is just the opposite. Literary love is so much more than visual; the depicted relationship must travel along a twisting autobiographical pathway of ex-lovers and daydreams to make any sense to us at all. So why subject these great works of literature to such diminishing distortions?”


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