Tag Archives: Writing

What Is Writing Talent Made Of

“Imagination applied to the human condition is empathy. Good fiction is difficult without it, great fiction impossible. It’s a talent that’s in short supply today, when the ironic take on life, cynicism, scorn, is everywhere triumphant. Many writers have trouble finding empathy for characters who are poorer, less intelligent, less successful than they are; others have trouble finding empathy for characters who are smarter, richer, happier.

It’s why the great Russian writers are still worth reading — Tolstoy, Chekhov, Dostoyevsky. We get the sense that there wasn’t a human being ever born who they couldn’t identify with and sympathize with and characterize from the inside out, in prose so direct and simple the words disappear.

So, verbal facility, world-class imagination, all-embracing empathy; those are the big three of writing talent. There is a fourth without which the first three mean nothing […] All these qualities — at least if a writer has a deeper purpose than merely putting words down on paper — count for nothing unless they are motivated by the fourth and perhaps rarest of the great talents: longing. You have to want to write perfectly and you have to want this more than anything.

From, and more: vnews.com/On-Prose-There-isn-t-much-writing-about-writing-talent-15741133

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Write to be Heard

“while it’s conventional that wisdom exists in literature, creative writing has always been seen as more rarefied or intimidating. It has been celebrated as personally palliative, yes, but it’s never been considered a method to increase participation in society. After all, what good is composing poetry and writing stories when you need a job, or a nation must be founded, or a war has to be won, or cancer is ravaging the bodies both human and politic?

But creative writing can be anyone’s best training for speaking out – and if you’ve ever read novels, heard scripture, watched movies or TV, listened to songs, or learned folklore, then you’ve been studying your entire life how storytelling works. By applying your hand at creating it, you are not just attempting art, you are learning vital skills and life lessons.

Fiction teaches us about characters and empathy, plot and consequences, and the value of nuance to truth. Poetry teaches us how to distil language, value silence, and understand metaphor. Non-fiction (which certainly includes journalism) teaches us accountability to facts, critical thinking about the systems in society, and the importance of getting out into the world to listen to others. These are but a few of the skills one learns from writing creatively.

Are those life lessons not vital to democracy? To have a voice is to have a vote. To have a vote is to be represented in society. To represent ourselves clearly and confidently empowers us citizens to air our own concerns and our community’s grievances, to be accountable for ourselves, and to demand the accountability of our leaders. If we are not trained to articulate our arguments properly, we will never be heard legitimately, and we can be ignored too conveniently.

… while art itself might not change the world, it’s abundantly clear that it can empower those who will.”

From, and read more: http://ewn.co.za/2017/05/11/art-and-literature-are-vital-to-democracy-here-s-why

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For the Love of Writing for Money

“Money obscures one’s relationship to work; it distances us from ourselves and the things we make. … Because the value of goods is dominated by the market, one’s labor becomes subordinate to the ascribed market value, and once we begin to mistake this market value as true value, we lose any genuine connection we might have had to the work. …

Money taints everything, why not writing too? Once its value is determined by the marketplace rather than the writer or the reader, our relationship to literature becomes estranged. From bloated celebrity advances to rejected masterpieces, the market is more than just a poor arbiter of lasting quality: it tends to obscure that quality behind purely economic motivations. Good writing, we’re told time and time again, is born from love, not avarice. But this romantic picture of the writer, toiling without regard to money, is itself a fiction—one whose roots stretch back several millennia, and whose effects we’re still dealing with today.”

From, and more: A Brief History of Writing for Money

https://newrepublic.com/article/139769/cash-words-brief-history-writing-money

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Simplicity and Clarity vs Complexity in Writing

“There are many plausible reasons that the use of million-dollar words would lead readers to believe that an author is smart. Intelligence and large vocabularies are positively correlated. Therefore, by displaying a large vocabulary, one may be providing cues that he or she is intelligent as well. Secondly, writers are assumed to be conforming to the Gricean maxim of manner, ‘avoid obscurity of expression’. If authors are believed to be writing as simply as possible, but a text is nonetheless complex, a reader might believe that the ideas expressed in that text are also complex, defying all attempts to simplify the language. Further, individuals forced to struggle through a complex text might experience dissonance if they believe that the ideas being conveyed are simple. Thus, individuals might be motivated to perceive a difficult text as being more worthwhile, thereby justifying the effort of processing. […]

Why might we believe that the experts might be correct in recommending simplicity in writing? One theory that predicts the effectiveness of straightforward writing is that of processing fluency. Simpler writing is easier to process, and studies have demonstrated that processing fluency is associated with a variety of positive dimensions. Fluency leads to higher judgements of truth, confidence, frequency, fame, and even liking. Furthermore, the effects of fluency are strongest when the fluency is discrepant — when the amount of experienced fluency is surprising. As such, it would not be surprising if the lower fluency of overly complex texts caused readers to have negative evaluations of those texts and the associated authors, especially if the complexity was unnecessary and thus surprising readers with the relative disfluency of the text.

Both the experts and prevailing wisdom present plausible views, but which (if either) is correct? The present paper provides an empirical investigation of the strategy of complexity, and finds such a strategy to be unsuccessful. Five studies demonstrate that the loss of fluency due to needless complexity in a text negatively impacts raters’ assessments of the text’s authors.”

From, and Read the study (PDF): http://www.psych.utoronto.ca/users/psy3001/files/simple%20writing.pdf

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Literature’s Greatest Contribution to the World

“Reading and writing are subversive acts by default. […] this activity develops in societies a critical spirit about the world as it is.

Why do you think that all dictatorships have tried to control literature? […] They have established systems of censorship. They have given special laws to put limits to the fantasy world that literature creates—because they mistrust very much this activity that is producing stories to replace the real world with the fantasy world of literature.

[…] writers don’t need to be politically inclined to make a criticism. Literature itself is critical of the real world.

The critical spirit […] is developed by presenting readers with worlds that are better, more coherent, more rich—in which life has possibilities that real life, the real world, doesn’t have.

And the greatest contribution of literature to the world, is when it gives us ideas that are very critical of the world as it is.”

Mario Vargas Llosa

From: gmanetwork.com/news/story/587427/lifestyle/dictators-like-marcos-are-right-to-fear-writers-mario-vargas-llosa

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To Write Something One Must be Something

“Art brings into play the subjective impressions and imagination of the artist. But these impressions and this imagination carry weight and endure, in the end, only in so far as they correspond—in accordance with art’s distinctive mirrors—to life and reality as they are.

We are not dictating this state of affairs—but it is a fact that only the art with something to say about the decisive questions facing masses of people, however indirectly or poetically, will be of great interest in the years to come. Self-absorption and social indifference will be looked on with as much astonishment as contempt.

The great novelist Leo Tolstoy had contributed to the 1905 Revolution in Russia although he was no revolutionary. “Everything that Tolstoy stated publicly” about the cruelty, irrationality and dishonesty of tsarist Russia “in thousands of ways … seeped into the minds of the laboring masses … And the word became deed.”

This is our conception too, that art has the ability to alter the thinking and feeling of masses of human beings. To have that sort of influence, however, the artist must know something important about the world, about society and history. To do something one must be something, as Goethe observed.”

FROM: wsws.org/en/articles/2016/06/01/awr2-j01.html

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If Writers Were Taken Literally

“Raven locks, arched eyebrows, eyes like stars, rosy cheeks, sea-shell ears, pearly teeth, cherry lips, swan-like necks, lilly white hands, and a Grecia nose”…

If writers were taken literally, the heroines of fiction would look like this:

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The Literary Industrial Complex

“The MFA isn’t about developing a unique style at all, but about learning how to sound like already published writers. It’s about gaining entrance to the club. Look closely at the promotional materials of creative-writing programs and you’ll almost invariably see a host of proper names—these are the people with whom you can expect to rub shoulders, if not directly, then by association through the former graduates that have passed through the program or the mentors of your mentors whose influence will surely rub off on you. It’s about having the opportunity to insert yourself, however virtually, into that literary social network.

While something may happen in MFA programs, perhaps that thing is more behavioral than artistic. When we look at the data, the MFA seems to be helping people sound like everyone else. To put a positive spin on it, we could say the degrees help writers fit into the literary landscape. Like the universities to which these programs belong, the MFA may offer a way of gaining entrance to an elite club. You learn the rules of the road, at least as defined by the publishing industry and literary reviews. At its worst, it doesn’t do anything at all.

From: theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2016/03/mfa-creative-writing/462483/

The CIA + the MFA = https://spywriter.wordpress.com/2014/03/14/the-cia-ideology-and-american-literature/

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Read to Tell Better Stories

“Stories can be a way for humans to feel that we have control over the world. They allow people to see patterns where there is chaos, meaning where there is randomness. Humans are inclined to see narratives where there are none because it can afford meaning to our lives—a form of existential problem-solving. In a 1944 study conducted by Fritz Heider and Marianne Simmel at Smith College, 34 college students were shown a short film in which two triangles and a circle moved across the screen and a rectangle remained stationary on one side of the screen. When asked what they saw, 33 of the 34 students anthropomorphized the shapes and created a narrative: The circle was “worried,” the “little triangle” was an “innocent young thing,” the big triangle was “blinded by rage and frustration.” Only one student recorded that all he saw were geometric shapes on a screen.”

“The more stories you read, the better you’ll be at telling your own story. Chances are, you’ll also become a bit better at filtering the noise of the world and understanding it for yourself. It might sound like a stretch, but the better you are at telling your own story, the more persuasive and interesting you’ll be to others.”

From: lifehacker.com/how-reading-fiction-can-help-you-live-a-better-life-1666696457

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The Price of Literary Glamour and Glitz

Glamour and glitz of literary festivals comes with a price, “And the most expensive item on the bill is the transformation of writers into performers, authors into salesmen. […] For them it is promote or perish. Writers these days have to have their own websites, be active on Facebook, send off tweets every few hours and generally be as visible as possible. Lest the reader forgets him and goes off with whoever is grabbing their attention at that moment.

However

, “The best expression of a writer’s thoughts has to be in his writings, not in his spoken words. That is why he or she has chosen the lonely, uncertain life of a writer.”

We readers too can be like them, by opting to walk the solitary path of reading. If we are content to judge authors by their works and not their personalities, if we are ready to put substance over style, then Lit Fests would lose their relevance. Honestly, how can something as intimate as a novel be turned into a successful live event?

From: firstpost.com/living/literary-festivals-are-anti-reading-why-lit-fests-are-for-performers-not-writers-2542596.html

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