how to be a better writer

from her website

Take a look at Dylan Landis’ dissection of linked stories, what makes the best collections work and why. She’s not afraid to go back to her book and look at why she didn’t feel it was as good as it could have been. If you want to teach students how to read more deeply, if you want to improve as a writer, if you’re interested in any part of the process, do yourself a favor and head over to her site.

This is the kind of connection between reading and writing that we’re looking for at Annotation Nation. Speaking of which (shameless plug warning), my latest of Douglas Coupland’s ALL FAMILIES ARE PSYCHOTIC is up. I read it when I was looking at comic novels about family dynamics while writing WRESTLING ALLIGATORS (currently out to agents, thanks for asking).

the habit of writing

Ron Charles, Washington Post Fiction Editor, tweeted this article on the habit of writing this morning. I was talking with my accountability partner yesterday about writing, realizing that when he asked me about Steinbeck’s letters, JS influenced me greatly from the beginning. I took to heart Steinbeck’s advice to work a lot of different jobs in order to get a feel for people’s lives. Temp work is perfect for this. I worked a day on an assembly line, in photo studios, San Diego’s tech companies, the big entertainment conglomerates in Hollywood, etc. I have seen a VP not understand her team wanting to go home after 10 hours at the office. Her reply: why would I want to go home and pretend to like Candyland and pretend to lose to a 3 year old? The worst part of that scenario for her was the losing (shudder).

The other point we discussed is to outline or not to outline. I don’t. It would take all the fun out of it. For me, it’s the discovery. I’d rather go back and deal with structural issues than give up the joy of not knowing what’s going to happen next. As you enter that stream of mini-decisions that make up the flow of writing, well, that’s the high right there. Yesterday, that process also allowed a scene to connect back with something earlier and solve a problem. Wasn’t anything I did consciously, but there’s nothing like it when it does happen.

Writing, exercise, sports: Just do it.

bad writing

No need to annotate Dan Brown. While many – and I am not among them – like his storytelling, it must be widely recognized that from a craft standpoint it’s bad writing. Linguist Geoffrey K. Pullum writes, “Brown’s writing is not just bad; it is staggeringly, clumsily, thoughtlessly, almost ingeniously bad.”

(if you’re not offended by profanity, check this out on the f-bomb – see, linguists can be funny)

The Telegraph has the 20 clumsiest phrases in Brown’s books (H/T The Anchoress).  Chapter 4 of the Da Vinci Code has six of the spots on the list. The comments about the article are great. Amazing how so many attribute criticism to envy. Not always, people. Some of us care about the craft of writing.

Just to prove you can have both, Pullum suggests that if you like thrillers, read Henning Mankell.