Flavorwire: Advice from 10 prolific writers

JoelTrainsAuthors is mostly about non-fiction. But this advice (which came via Copyblogger, whom I thank) is useful to all writers.

Robert Louis Stevenson: Build a web

He wrote Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in six days, but he wasn’t in too big a hurry to mind the web of “sound patterns” essential to the delicate art of constructing sentences, which he elucidates in the first chapter of his 1919 essay collection, The Art of Writing:

Music and literature, the two temporal arts, contrive their pattern of sounds in time; or, in other words, of sounds and pauses. Communication may be made in broken words, the business of life be carried on with substantives alone; but that is not what we call literature; and the true business of the literary artist is to plait or weave his meaning, involving it around itself; so that each sentence, by successive phrases, shall first come into a kind of knot, and then, after a moment of suspended meaning, solve and clear itself. In every properly constructed sentence there should be observed this knot or hitch; so that (however delicately) we are led to foresee, to expect, and then to welcome the successive phrases. The pleasure may be heightened by an element of surprise, as, very grossly, in the common figure of the antithesis, or, with much greater subtlety, where an antithesis is first suggested and then deftly evaded. Each phrase, besides, is to be comely in itself; and between the implication and the evolution of the sentence there should be a satisfying equipoise of sound; for nothing more often disappoints the ear than a sentence solemnly and sonorously prepared, and hastily and weakly finished. Nor should the balance be too striking and exact, for the one rule is to be infinitely various; to interest, to disappoint, to surprise, and yet still to gratify; to be ever changing, as it were, the stitch, and yet still to give the effect of an ingenious neatness.

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Hello again!

I traveled to Israel (and spent 3 days in Cairo) for the entire month of December. It’s great to be back in California, although I always love visiting Israel.

View from Cairo Tower
Image via Wikipedia

Speaking to many old friends and new acquaintances in the world of engineering and high-tech, my conviction that writing a book is the number-one way for professionals and startups to promote themselves has been confirmed and strengthened. People invest so much in printed marketing collateral that just winds up being thrown away. Books hang around, and continue to deliver your message for a long time.

So many startups have complex stories to tell, stories that require more than some pretty pictures and a few bullet points. Books provide an opportunity to wax eloquent on the complexities and make them understandable.

Of course, the same applies to individual professionals. What do you want your prospects to know? A book is a vehicle for conveying it in a comprehensible way.

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After the book

Read this from Bob Stein, of the Institute for the Future of the Book:

the future of the appPost date 08.02.2010, 10:37 AM

posted by bob stein

Assuming that whatever replaces the book in the futurist landscape to come will not be called “a book,” people often ask me why I named our group The Institute for the Future of the Book. My answer has consistently been a variant of the following: while it’s true that whatever replaces the book as a crucial mechanism for moving ideas around time and space is not likely to be called “a book,” since we don’t have that word yet, “book” works better than “institute for the future of discourse” or “institute for thinking about what comes after the book.” I end my answer by suggesting that one day we’ll realize that a word describing a new-fangled object, or perhaps a word referring to a range of behaviors has come to signify the dominant media form which has in fact supplanted the book.

I’ve always assumed that day would be years or even decades off. But recently, while listening to the Flux Quartet play Morton Feldman’s First Quartet on a gently swaying barge in the east river, i suddenly recognized our first candidate — “app.” It’s not the pretty or expressive word I was hoping for, but it feels right.

The aha moment went like this . . . . while zoning in and out of the Feldman piece I started to think about the iPad that I’d been using for the past six weeks — not only for most of my reading, but for playing expressive games like my current favorite, SoundDrop, answering email, surfing the web, watching videos, and listening to music. The iPad has become the center of my media universe, much more than my computer, iPod, or iPhone have ever been. My text used to come in an object we called a book; movies came on tapes, laserdisc, and DVDs, music on records and CDs and games on cartridges and CDs. Now they are all appearing as apps of one sort or another on my iPad.

The distinction between media types was a lot more important during the analog era of the mid-twentieth cenury. In 1950 no one would confuse a novel with a movie or a song with a TV show. But today we have e-books with video sequences, and movies published with extensive text-based supplements. Is Lady Gaga a music star or video star? More

What do you think? And if you’re in the neighborhood on September 13, come to my Meetup here in Mountain View, CA, to discuss it.

Surprised by people

Your book is going to be read by people. Do you know anything about them? If you say, “Well, whoever is attracted to it will read it,” you are right. But you will attract more of the kind of people that you want to reach if you know something about them.

I’ve written about having an “avatar” in mind when you are writing your book. And I try to do that as well. Within the past few days, I was twice surprised by people, who turned out to have backgrounds, interests, and experiences I would never have imagined.

A friend asked me to substitute for her at a BNI meeting. Having been a member myself, I knew I’d enjoy it–and I did. And I met a gentleman there who surprised me.

His name is Alex Lubin, and he has a business that employs professional handymen. (I highly recommend him if you’re within 50 miles of Sunnyvale, CA.) We chatted for a while. Turns out he has a PhD in computer science from Stanford; was vp of Cadence, an electronic computer-aided design company with which I am very familiar; created and sold an intellectual property company based on Russian inventions; and more. Now he runs handymen.

This morning, I needed a notary. I put “notary” and my zip code into Google, and came up with All Things Notary, just a couple of blocks away. I drove over and found an unassuming house at the address. The notary pulled up right after I did, and invited me inside.

He took care of the notarizing, and we chatted a bit. He is Robin Roberts, PhD (business administration). He has a background in nuclear engineering; holds multiple patents; invented, built, and marketed the first device to print out (on paper) caller ID’s, then sold the company to Radio Shack; has been a professional photographer since the fifties; own a kennel (next door) together with his mother; has authored a book….

If I were writing for notaries, I wouldn’t have pictured anyone like Robin. If I were writing for handymen, or small business owners that rent out handymen, I would not have pictured Alex.

Yet the more I get to know people, the more I realize how wide a range of uniquenesses they exhibit.

So when you think of your readers, make room for a variety of qualities and interests.

In writing your book, what’s your organizing principle?

qestion mark and exclamation mark
Image via Wikipedia

One of the most powerful kinds of help you can give your reader is an organizing principle–a way to put together the pieces of what you are trying to teach. More often than not, that will be a metaphor of some kind.

What’s a metaphor? One definition is, “An answer to the question, ‘what is this like?'”

For example, in my approach to writing a book, I say, “The diamond is your friend.” The diamond is a shape that visually describes what for me is the “shape” of every good book: A question-mark at the top of the diamond indicates the question that the book promises to answer; an exclamation point at the bottom symbolizes the promised answer.

The wide part of the diamond are the points that must be established to help your reader make his or her way from the question to the answer. They are the chapters of the book–and each of them is a diamond.

In the wide part of each chapter are its intermediate points–the subchapters of that chapter.

So in a sense, the diamond, and two layers of diamonds nested within it, is the organizing principle of every book.

But your subject matter also needs an organizing principle. What is it? Perhaps it is

  • Chronology; first this happened, then that
  • Complexity; the topic divides naturally into 4 parts, then each part has sub-parts
  • Some kind of “natural” order; the US, then states, then counties and cities

Do you see a pattern? By appealing to a framework that is generally understood, you give your reader a way to find their way around your material, which may be new to them.

What’s your book’s organizing principle?

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The power of story in writing your book

I got linked through Copyblogger to a wonderful blog, to which I will direct you in a moment. On this blog there was a link to an anonymous post from a reader. It is astonishing in its clarity, its transparency, and its good writing. Before I send you over there, I wanted to mention the power of story:

  • Humans seem to have some kind of neural receptors for stories. Something turns on in us, and we settle down to find out what’s next.
  • Stories give us a place of contact. Electronic communication occurs in a sterile frame; no coffee spots on the “paper,” no characteristic handwriting, no whiff of perfume or tobacco. Stories increase the surface area of contact with our reader.
  • Stories have power. Don’t misuse it: If you take your reader somewhere they don’t want to go, they are not likely to trust you again.
  • A photo of a cup of coffee.
    Image via Wikipedia
So think about these points as you read this, and decide how to add more stories to your writing.Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Advice for self-published novelists

Dayna Hester invites you accompany her on her self-publishing journey. Good advice, authentic voice.

Outside the Box Thinking Inside My Community

I used to be a court stenographer (…still can be if my book completely flops, by the way). The beauty of that career was I had to learn how to listen: I listened for a living.
I’m seven years out of the career now, but I can still sense my listening skills kicking in, especially when someone gives me advice that I don’t need. My little voice yells out to me, tell the advice-giver, “I don’t need to hear this crap,” but I stop the thought … and listen. I think to myself, after all, if the advice doesn’t apply to me, it may apply to you.
Advice from a Barnes & Noble manager:  click for more
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