Tag Archives: Authors

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.”

Read More: smh.com.au/entertainment/meet-the-author-why-writing-is-no-longer-just-about-the-words-20150512-ggywy3.html

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Writing, a Solitary Voyage Through the Universe

“The reader may laugh, but for us writers, writing is every time a mad, exciting business, a voyage in a tiny craft on the high seas, a solitary flight through the universe. While one seeks to choose the single word among three that present themselves, at the same time struggling to hold the feeling and tone of the whole sentence he is constructing — while forging the sentence into the selected structure and tightening the bolts of the edifice, he strives at the same time to keep in mind the tone and proportion of the whole book; that is an exciting activity.

I know from personal experience only a single other activity that has a similar tension and concentration; that is, painting. There it is the same: to blend each individual color with its neighboring color properly and carefully is pleasant and easy, one can learn to do it and then practice it at any time. Over and beyond that, however, to have really before one’s mind the as yet unpainted and invisible parts of the whole picture and to take them into account, to experience the whole fine network of intersecting vibrations, that is astonishingly difficult and seldom succeeds.”

Hermann Hesse, A Patient at a Spa

See also: The Sorrows of a Young Writer https://spywriter.wordpress.com/2014/09/21/the-sorrows-of-a-youngish-writer/

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Modern writers are stylistic clones

American mathematicians … set out to investigate “large-scale” trends in literary style. … they processed 7,733 works from 537 authors written after the year 1550, were looking for the frequency at which 307 “content-free” words – such as “of”, “at” and “by” – appeared. They called these words the “syntactic glue” of language: “words that carry little meaning on their own but form the bridge between words that convey meaning”, and thus “provide a useful stylistic fingerprint” for authorship.

“When we consider content-free word frequencies from a large number of authors and works over a long period of time, we can ask questions related to temporal trends in similarity”, they write in their new paper.

After finding that authors of any given period are stylistically similar to their contemporaries, they also discovered that the stylistic influence of the past is decreasing. While authors in the 18th and 19th centuries are still influenced by previous centuries, authors writing in the late 20th century are instead “strongly influenced” by writers from their own decade. “The so-called ‘anxiety of influence’, whereby authors are understood in terms of their response to canonical precursors, is becoming an ‘anxiety of impotence’, in which the past exerts a diminishing stylistic influence on the present,” they write. This could, they suggest, be explained by the modernist movement, in which authors “reject their immediate stylistic predecessors yet remain a part of a dominant movement that included many of their contemporaries.

From: theguardian.com/books/booksblog/2012/may/14/writers-no-longer-influenced-by-classics

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Writers Must be Independent of Institutions

Sartre was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature for his work “rich in ideas and filled with the spirit of freedom and the quest for truth”. He refused it, citing both personal and objective reasons […]

Assuring the press that his decision was not an “impulsive gesture”, one of the reasons Sartre gave for rejecting the prize stemmed from his habit of refusing all official honours.

Sartre believed every individual is responsible for creating a purpose for their life. By accepting the prize, Sartre would inadvertently associate himself with the institution that honoured him.

His humble conception of the writer’s “enterprise” – as he called it in his explanation – led Sartre to believe that those in political, social or literary positions should only “act with the means that are his own – the written word”.

“The writer must therefore refuse to let himself be transformed into an institution, even if this occurs under the most honourable circumstances, as in the present case,” he said.

More: ibtimes.co.uk/nobel-prize-literature-why-jean-paul-sartre-refused-controversial-award-1964-1469202

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Western Writers Cut Off From Society

“Western literature is being impoverished by financial support for writers and by creative writing programmes, according to a series of blistering comments from Swedish Academy member Horace Engdahl, speaking shortly before the winner of the Nobel prize for literature is awarded.”

“In an interview with French paper La Croix, Engdahl said that the “professionalisation” of the job of the writer, via grants and financial support, was having a negative effect on literature. “Even though I understand the temptation, I think it cuts writers off from society, and creates an unhealthy link with institutions,” he told La Croix. “Previously, writers would work as taxi drivers, clerks, secretaries and waiters to make a living. Samuel Beckett and many others lived like this. It was hard – but they fed themselves, from a literary perspective.””

From:  theguardian.com/books/2014/oct/07/creative-writing-killing-western-literature-nobel-judge-horace-engdahl

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Writers’ Words not Relevant beyond their Books

“in terms of having anything useful or helpful to say about their own works, authors might as well be dead. The only intention of the author that counts is what is contained in the text, as understood by readers who interact with it. Any interpretation the author might care to share about his or her own works is, at best, no more relevant than the interpretation of any other reader. Or, to put it in proper literary jargon, the author’s intent is not privileged above other interpretations.” …

“It is generally agreed that the author’s role is finished when the work is completed and published. After that point, the text must speak for itself ’ or, at the most, those few remaining critics who have not altogether abandoned authorial intent might ask the author to clarify what he or she intended (note the past tense) by including certain elements in the text. The writer’s contribution is frozen at the point of time that he or she finished writing.”

“But it seems that nobody has informed the authors of that. Authors, being people, have responses to their own works and they also have responses to the readers who read their works. Just as readers and critics judge authors by how they write, writers judge readers by how they read, and critics by how they criticize. Authors may change their feelings and beliefs about their own work after seeing how the audience responds to it. Many authors are disposed to defend their work against criticism, answer questions, clarify what they see as misunderstandings, and in general do whatever they think will help to enhance reader enjoyment and guide critical discussion into what they see as fruitful paths.”

From: the-leaky-cauldron.org/features/essays/issue9/authordead/

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When Voices Come to Mind

“Most modern readers may feel instinctively that literary experience has much in common with the act of overhearing. Reading fiction is a process of allowing characters’ voices to sound in the inner ear, and absorbing the imagined noise they make (magically cued by curls of ink on a page).

It’s common to think of writers, too, building fictional worlds through voices, as if creativity begins as a subtle internal overhearing. The analogy between imagining and hearing certainly runs deep in our myths of culture. Inspiration, that theory of composition at once ancient, Romantic, and modern, tells us that creativity ignites by admitting some mysterious other voice into the writer’s flow of being. To write means having one’s voice disrupted, taken over, rendered by another.

Dickens believed this, too. Later in his career, Dickens’s vocal impersonations of his own characters gave this truth a theatrical form: the public reading tour. … Hearing voices and inventing character were also indivisible aspects of his creativity.”

Read More: theguardian.com/books/2014/aug/22/charles-dickens-hearing-voices-created-his-novels

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Literary Fame is a Fleeting Moment

“The team also investigated the changing nature of fame over the past two centuries. By looking at the frequency of famous people’s names in literature, they showed that celebrities born in the mid-20th century tended to be younger and more famous than those of the 19th century, but their fame lasted for a shorter period of time. By 1950, celebrities were achieving fame, on average, when they were 29, compared with 43 for celebrities around 1800. “People are getting more famous than ever before,” wrote the researchers, “but are being forgotten more rapidly than ever.”

“Mark Twain is among the most famous writers and among the most famous people,” said Michel. “Among the American presidents, it’s Theodore Roosevelt.”

“Aiden warned against straightforward comparisons of historical figures, however. “It’s comparing apples and oranges comparing presidents from the mid to late 20th century and those that precede them. The reason is that they haven’t really had the full opportunity to reach the height of their fame trajectory. By virtue of having been around longer, someone in the mid-19th century is going to have accrued a lot of fame.”

“By the mid 20th century, the most famous actors tended to achieve fame at around 30 years of age, while writers had to wait until they were 40. For politicians, fame didn’t tend to happen until they reached 50 or above.”

“Science is a poor route to fame. Physicists and biologists eventually reached a similar level of fame as actors but it took them far longer,” wrote the researchers. “Alas, even at their peak, mathematicians tend not to be appreciated by the public.”

From: theguardian.com/science/2010/dec/16/google-tool-english-cultural-trends

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How to write a bestseller

“In January of this year, three computer scientists from New York’s Stony Brook University announced that they have developed an algorithm to predict (with 84 percent accuracy) whether a book will see commercial success. The study uses the “statistical stylometry method,” a technique that mathematically analyzes the texts’ words and grammar to determine which stylistic trends exist among widely-successful literary works. The idea is to figure out whether certain stylitic features may contribute to positive reader responses and, consequently, commercial success.”

“After analyzing 800 books, Stony Brook’s researchers found that their most successful writers used more nouns and pronouns, as well as conjunctions such as “and” and “but,” than unsuccessful ones. Successful authors also described their characters’ thought processes by using words such as “recognized” or “remembered” instead of explicitly stating their characters’ emotions. Ground-breaking? Not quite. The average reader understands that good writing hinges on more than frequent use of nouns, pronouns, conjunctions and common verbs—and that well-written books aren’t always more successful than poorly-written ones. Stony Brook’s research efforts reflect an industry’s desperation to put its finger on exactly what it is that readers enjoy, even if the results are arbitrary at best.”

“Although the study claims that statistical stylometry can be used to determine whether a text will see literary success, Evan Blumgart, a graduate student in the statistics department at Columbia, is skeptical. “Those studies can help in determining which writers will be successful, but they will never help us make successful writers,” he says. The researchers seem to forget that the reasons we love certain books are unquantifiable, complex, and different for each person.”

More: http://www.columbiaspectator.com/eye/2014/02/06/literature-numbers

Literature has responsibilities

“Literature has the responsibility of showing the disease of the society to the society.”

“A writer imagines the pain and sufferings of others as his own and experiences them while writing.”

“Writings do not end just on paper.  Besides beauty, the writings should search for truth.  It is only when an author opens all his five senses, will he be able to touch the pain in the society.  Literature should revolutionize and awaken those who are in slumber.”

“An author should be able to keep his pain and sufferings aside and touch the pulse of the society by realizing his responsibility.”

More: daijiworld.com