Sunday, January 21, 2018

Five Rules: Always act as if you were seen

Media Dragon is pretty much with Groucho Marx on this —  we wouldn't want to belong to any group that would have us as a member.

I B Tauris has inked a second book deal from Labour MP Rachel Reeves, about the 100-year history of female MPs, to be published on International Women’s Day.

Jozef  Conrad hated being called a writer of “sea stories.” Yet his experience of travel and displacement is what makes his work resonate today  River Stories 

Nearly four decades after he stunned the world with his masterpiece“The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” and four years after he received the Nobel Prize in Literature, Eliot writes to the young aspiring writer:

Dear Miss Alice Quinn,
I do not often answer letters, because I am too busy; but I liked your letter, and I am glad that you are at a Catholic school.
I cannot tell you how to concentrate, because that is something I have been trying to learn all my life. There are spiritual exercises in concentration, but I am not the person to teach what I am trying to learn. All I know is that if you are interested enough, and care enough, then you concentrate. But nobody can tell you how to start writing. The only good reason for writing is that one has to write. You ask seven questions. No one event in one’s childhood starts one writing: no doubt a number of “events” and other causes. That remains mysterious.

In consonance with Carson, Eliot adds:

My advice to “up and coming writers” is, don’t write at first for anyone but yourself. It doesn’t matter how many or how few universities one goes to, what matters is what one learns, either at universities or by oneself. My favourite essay, I think, is my essay on Dante, not because I know much about Dante, but because I loved what I wrote about. The Waste Land is my most famous work, and therefore perhaps will prove the most important, but it is not my favourite.

 I just happened to come across what I said when I introduced Elmore Leonard at the Free Library some years ago. It is commendably brief:Good writing is like a person’s signature: It doesn’t look like anybody else’s. No one would mistake Chekhov for Dostoyevsky or Graham Greene for Evelyn Waugh. Read any page of any good writer and, right away, you know where you are and who you’re with. Case in point: “They put Foley and the Cuban together in the backseat of the van and took them from the Palm Beach County jail on Gun Club to Glades Correctional, the old redbrick prison at the south end of Lake Okeechobee.”   That sentence, which happens to be the first one in Road Dogs, will signal to any reader who’s been there before that he is once again entering Elmoreland, a region whose inhabitants speak a language not taught in the schools: American.Once you find yourself in Elmoreland, you also find yourself hanging on those inhabitants’ every word. You just can’t help noticing that what they say and the way they say it is smooth and tangy, like good bourbon. These are people who say things like, “I’m an ordained minister of the Spiritualist Assembly of Waco, Texas, but I started out doing nails.” When you come upon a sentence like that, you realize that when language is alive it packs a wallop. You don’t have to take my word for any of this. The man who discovered Elmoreland and who has been exploring its environs lo these many years is with us tonight. Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Elmore Leonard.

You’re A Writer? Really?

Writers are so often responding to questions that haven’t explicitly been asked, which perhaps is why our work is so difficult to measure and reward. The system in which we must live says to us, “What are you even for?”

Of The Ten Bestselling Literary Novelists In The UK In 2017, Nine Were Women

Leading the list is Margaret Atwood, thanks to the TV versions of The Handmaid’s Tale and Alias Grace. Runners-up are Sarah Perry and Helen Dunmore; Elena Ferrante came in at number five, followed by the only man in the top ten, Haruki Murakami.
‘Milkshake Duck’ Voted Macquarie Dictionary’s Idol-Killing Word Of The Year Pedestrian

My and Andrej kind of Jesuit, Francis Canavan, had a rare ability to refute error, and expose deception, with charity and wit. This quip is an example: “Our contemporary culture, officially at least, does not care what kind of sexual activity you engage in so long as you don’t smoke cigarettes doing it ...

In the basis of seemingly disinterested criticism really just willful schadenfreude, with a hidden killjoy locked inside even the noblest critic? Unbiased 

The young and foolish may rejoice in the thought that horrified Dostoyevsky, that if there is no God, everything is permitted. Fools see only that, if there is no divine judge, there is no one to stop the fun, but older heads understand that fun is not enough.

A NR stalwart and journalism professor has some advice for fellow scribes.

Here’s how I endorsed the new collection Fun Is Not Enough — a compilation of columns Father Francis Canavan, S.J., wrote for the old Catholic Eye newsletter — which was published by the same people responsible for The Human Life Review: “In a world that often fails to recognize true values, those of us who seek to evangelize the culture run the risk of drowning in incoherence or submitting to the temptations of worldly idols. Here, a wise Jesuit Father will help you have none of it! This book empowers the reader to see beyond the daily distractions of politics, culture, and our overstimulated lives, and keep the focus on the truth in Christ.”
Dawn Eden Goldstein is assistant professor of dogmatic theology at Holy Apostles Seminary and author of 
Remembering God’s Mercy and My Peace I Give You: Healing Sexual Wounds with the Help of the Saints, among other books. Her life was deeply affected by Father Canavan and his wisdom, and she edited Fun Is Not Enough: The Complete Catholic Eye Columns and talks about it here.
Kathryn Jean Lopez: Why did you put the collection together?
Dawn Eden Goldstein: When I was in my twenties — well before I was Catholic or even Christian — I was a rock historian, which is to say that I interviewed artists such as Harry Nilsson, Brian Wilson, Lesley Gore, and Del Shannon and wrote about their lives and music. I also collected records and would spend hours combing dusty shops to find the one disc that was necessary to complete my collection of a particular artist.
Although I went on to become a Catholic author and academic, I never stopped being a completist. Only now, my completist craving has been transferred to books: I must read everything by my favorite authors. Father Canavan is one such author, and he is particularly special to me as I was blessed to have him as a friend and mentor.
From the time when I discovered Canavan’s work in 2006 until his death at 91 in February 2009, I was among the many Catholic Eye readers who looked forward to reading his column. His writing was brilliant, funny, sensitive, and always thought-provoking. But although an anthology of hisCatholic Eye columns, Pins in the Liberal Balloon, was published in 1990, Canavan continued writing columns for nearly 20 years after that book was published, and none of those later columns were anthologized. Moreover, even Pins didn’t contain all the columns he had written up to that point.
So, when you ask me why I approached the owner of the now-defunct Catholic Eye newsletter and offered to edit an anthology of the columns Canavan wrote for that publication, the first answer is that wanted to read such an anthology. I felt there was a need for Canavan’s Catholic Eye output to be made available in a single book. Given that October 27, 2017 would mark the centenary of Canavan’s birth, the time seemed right for a revival — especially given how relevant his writings are to our present time.
Capturing a Spiritual Father’s Freedom and Wisdom by NR Interview
Editor’s note: This article is adapted from John J. Miller’s new book, Reading Around: Journalism on Authors, Artists, and Ideas.

As a professional writer, I’m always trying to improve. I’ve studied the work of the top writers. I’ve debated great opening sentences with colleagues. I’ve thought long and hard about things like serial commas, concluding that they are good and necessary (don’t @ me).
These days, I’m not only a professional writer, but also a teacher of writing: I run the journalism program at Hillsdale College. The best way to learn how to write is to write, because experience offers the soundest instruction. Yet my students and I also consult sources such as The Elements of Style, by William Strunk Jr. and E. B. White, whose best advice has become a famous dictum: “Omit needless words.”
Lots of writers share their wisdom through idiosyncratic lists. I collect the good ones and often give them to students. The late crime novelist Elmore Leonard offered ten rules, including this one: “Try to leave out the parts that readers tend to skip.” Last summer, the columnist Bret Stephens presented 15 tips for “aspiring op-ed writers.” The Guardian recently assembled its own list, drawing on William Faulkner, Leo Tolstoy, and others. Muriel Spark’s input: “Get a cat.” (I currently have four, plus a dog.)
My favorite list is George Orwell’s. It comes at the end of “Politics and the English Language,” which is his best essay — and one that every writer should read, and then read again, and then some more. It’s about the difference between good writing and bad writing, and how bad writing leads to bad thinking. Orwell concludes with six elementary rules for good writers. They are wise and pithy: Avoid clichés and so forth. The last one makes me smile: “Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.”
I’ve decided to join the fun. Here are five rules of my own.
When in doubt, start with “when.” I once struggled with scene-setting ledes. Then a veteran writer (Peter Collier) told me a trick: Start your article with the word “when.” It forces you to go in medias res, which is Latin for “into the middle of things.” A large percentage of my ledes start with this word. Perhaps I’ve overdone it — but I bet you wouldn’t have noticed if I hadn’t pointed it out.
Show, don’t tell. When we were kids, teachers invited us to play “Show and Tell.” Imagine if they had invited us to play merely “Tell.” Sally would stand before the class and say, “I have a pet rabbit.” The magic of “Show and Tell” is that Sally gets to say, “I have a pet rabbit,” and then she shows us the rabbit. Good writing aims for the same effect, letting readers see what we’re saying through illustration, anecdote, and a vivid vocabulary.

Many of your best ideas will come as you compose.

Omit needless words. Yes, I’m ripping off Strunk and White. But their good advice bears repeating. So let me say it again, this time borrowing the first three sentences from the old style guide of theKansas City Star, which Ernest Hemingway credited with teaching him concision: “Use short sentences. Use short first paragraphs. Use vigorous English.”
Inspiration comes from work. Lots of non-writers think that the opposite is true. The late movie critic Roger Ebert put it best: “There is no such thing as waiting for inspiration,” he wrote. “The Muse visits during the process of creation, not before.” Many of your best ideas will come as you compose.
Sleep on it. The deadlines of journalism don’t always allow us to set aside what we’ve written and return to it the next day — but when they do, and when we can look again with fresh eyes in the morning, we spot things we didn’t see earlier and have a new chance to improve.
Now go write something.
— John J. Miller is the national correspondent for National Review and the director of the Dow Journalism Program at Hillsdale College. His new book is Reading Around: Journalism on Authors, Artists, and Ideas.