A Written Life

by Jesaka Long

because the alphabet's personal

writer | reader | freelancer | laugher jesakalong.com


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46 posts tagged writing



Some amazing advice.

I fucking love this.

Grammar is a piano I play by ear, since I seem to have been out of school the year the rules were mentioned. All I know about grammar is its infinite power. To shift the structure of a sentence alters the meaning of that sentence, as definitely and inflexibly as the position of a camera alters the meaning of the object photographed.

 ~ Joan Didion, from her essay Why I Write


“I was strongly drawn to writing about Bee’s spiritual conversion—or her momentary flirtation with one—because, even though I’m an atheist, I often feel a similarly overwhelming connection to God. And I don’t quite know what to make of this.”  ~ Maria Semple

This found its way to me via email, so I don’t know the original source.  (If you do, let me know and I’ll add the link here.) This image speaks for itself on so many levels. 

(via randomhouse)

Cheryl Strayed describes this as “the harshest” Dear Sugar column she’s written and she’s also included her newest book Tiny Beautiful Things. It’s an honest and, yes, harsh response to a writer who confesses deep, unchecked jealousy of her fellow writers. This Dear Sugar letter isn’t like the “nemesis” confession of Abby Mims I posted last week. Instead, the letter says what many writers have probably (okay, highly likely) felt. And we think sports are competitive. 

Such a great personal piece on writer envy - and it goes beyond simply being jealous of another writer. It speaks to all that goes unspoken and, often unnoticed by instructors or professors, in writing workshops. 


Boom.  Bang.  Pow.  Love this.

(via dontwalkawayeileen)

Sarah Polley is such an inspiration to me as a writer, even more so since I saw “Take This Waltz,” which she wrote and directed. The story and characters are original and complex; the last 30 minutes of the movie are particularly thought-provoking as it moves beyond where most end. Here’s one of my favorite Sarah Polley quotes from a recent Q&A: 

"…putting an original story out into the world is terrifying and thrilling. You can’t anticipate how people will respond.”

You can read the read of the Twitter Q&A here

This is the book trailer for Jean Zimmerman’s debut historical thriller THE ORPHANMASTER, which is in stores today. Even if the genre isn’t among your usual reading (as is my case) the trailer is an intriguing mix of historical facts and storytelling. By listening to the author share the history of the time (16th century) and the location (the Dutch colony of New Amsterdam, present day lower Manhattan) she chose, I wanted to learn more. 

What’s also interesting about the author is that she’s known for writing nonfiction focusing on the changing roles of women in America; THE ORPHANMASTER is her fiction debut. Jean talks about switching from nonfiction to fiction in this Q&A excerpt below. 

You’ve had considerable success as a writer of nonfiction. How did it feel to make the transition to fiction?

I’ve always considered it an incredible privilege to write nonfiction, as you get to snoop in private lives via letters, diaries, etc., in order to tell your story. That said, in writing on some historical subjects, particularly the lives of women, these sources are not always readily available. I found that I could use the research I had done and expand upon it imaginatively in a way that was extremely satisfying.

To produce its powerful effects, THE ORPHANMASTERmingles historical fact with some imaginative storytelling. What are some of the more surprising discoveries that you happened on in your research?

I found a map that was drawn in 1660, the first street plan of Manhattan, which conveys every street, structure, meadow and garden in the settlement. It was the world of my characters, and it was the geographical jumping-off point of my work. Also vital was the discovery of the orphanmaster function, an official job that was needed because of the dire trend toward parental deaths through sickness, shipwrecks or Indian incursions. And I also was surprised to learn about the sport of pulling the goose!

Learn more about Jean, including her fiction and nonfiction works, on her website

“Being a writer is like having homework every night for the rest of your life.”

– Lawrence Kasdan

(via On Writing | Go Into The Story)

The worst part of writing for me is the hour before I start to write, when I pace around my chair and say, ‘I don’t want to do it, I don’t want to do it, I don’t want to do it.’

~ Elizabeth McCracken

This post by poet Cam Scott is a must read. As in, go read it now. Right now: Cheek Teeth: Beats, Bards, and Barbarians: It’s a Group Thing

You haven’t clicked over yet? Here’s an except: 

It is strange to think that something as personally generative and craft-oriented as writing, might require that the writer belong to a group or movement. … But over and over, of all the strange demands I’ve intuited as a writer and poet, the pull to group up, group out, and find community is the strangest.”

Now go read

10 (Good) Rules for Writers from Elmore Leonard

Elmore Leonard describes these rules as those he’s “picked up along the way to help me remain invisible when I’m writing a book, to help me show rather than tell what’s taking place in the story.” I’m a firm believer that some stories simply need the writer to get out of the way, so I’m a big fan of Elmore’s rules. They have helped me a great deal in my most recent manuscript revisions. 

  1. Never open a book with weather.
  2. Avoid prologues.* 
  3. Never use a verb other than “said” to carry dialogue.
  4. Never use an adverb to modify the verb “said.”
  5. Keep your exclamation points under control. 
  6. Never use the words “suddenly” or “all hell broke loose.”
  7. Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly. (Elmore cites Annie Proulx’s book of short stories “Close Range” as a good reference; see how she captures the flavor of Wyoming voices.)
  8. Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.
  9. Don’t go into great detail describing places and things. (“… you don’t want descriptions that bring the action, the flow of the story, to a standstill.”)
  10. Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.

Elmore says his most important rules is one that sums up the 10: If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it. 

*For my fellow non-fiction and memoir writers, Elmore is targeting novels: “A prologue in a novel is backstory, and you can drop it in anywhere you want.”

For more detail and the “why” behind these rules, read his New York Times article "Easy on the Adverbs, Exclamation Points and Especially Hooptedoodle." 

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