“It starts with this: put your desk in the corner, and every time you sit down there to write, remind yourself why it isn’t in the middle of the room. Life isn’t a support system for art. It’s the other way around.” ~ Stephen King, On Writing
Pictured above is Stephen King’s own attic writing space at his home in Bangor, Maine. In contrast to his statement above, his desk does appear to be in the middle of his room, but surely he means “corner” to be taken metaphorically; that is, any place that is quiet, that is yours; the place where you sit to write your work. While there are some writers who purportedly can write in the midst of chaos, most of us require a place of retreat. I believe it was J.K. Rowling who said that she cleared out a walk-in closet, put a desk and a lamp in there, and sealed herself off from the rest of the family while she was composing her first Harry Potter novel.
Here are ten intriguing places where writer’s write, along with some advice for all who write:
1. Neil Gaiman‘s Gazebo/Cabin
- Put one word after another. Find the right word, put it down.
- Finish what you’re writing. Whatever you have to do to finish it, finish it.
- Put it aside. Read it pretending you’ve never read it before. Show it to friends whose opinion you respect and who like the kind of thing that this is.
- Remember: when people tell you somethings wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.
- Fix it. Remember that, sooner or later, before it ever reaches perfection, you will have to let it go and move on and start to write the next thing. Perfection is like chasing the horizon. Keep moving.
- Laugh at your own jokes.
- The main rule of writing is that if you do it with enough assurance and confidence, you’re allowed to do whatever you like. (That may be a rule for life as well as for writing. But its definitely true for writing.) So write your story as it needs to be written. Write it honestly, and tell it as best you can. I’m not sure that there are any other rules. Not ones that matter.
2. Edith Wharton‘s view from “The Mount” in Lennox, Massachusetts
“Habit is necessary; it is the habit of having habits, of turning a trail into a rut, that must be incessantly fought against if one is to remain alive.”
3. Dylan Thomas‘s Boathouse at Laugharne, Wales
“Go on thinking that you don’t need to be read and you’ll find that it may become quite true: no one will feel the need to read it because it is written for yourself alone; and the public won’t feel any impulse to gate crash such a private party.”
4. Ernest Hemingway‘s Home in Key West, Florida
“Writing is something that you can never do as well as it can be done. It is a perpetual challenge and it is more difficult than anything else that I have ever done.”
“There’s no rule on how it is to write. Sometimes it comes easily and perfectly. Sometimes it is like drilling rock and then blasting it out with charges.”
“Ordinarily I never read anything before I write in the morning to try and bite on the old nail with no help, no influence and no one giving you a wonderful example or sitting looking over your shoulder.”
5. Rudyard Kipling: Dummerston, Vermont
“I am, by calling, a dealer in words; and words are, of course, the most powerful drug used by mankind.”
“I never made a mistake in my life; at least, never one that I couldn’t explain away afterwards.”
“If history were taught in the form of stories, it would never be forgotten.”
6. Ian Fleming‘s home, GoldenEye, in Jamaica
“All the greatest men are maniacs. They are possessed by a mania which drives them forward towards their goal. The great scientists, the philosophers, the religious leaders – all maniacs. What else but a blind singleness of purpose could have given focus to their genius, would have kept them in the groove of purpose. Mania … is as priceless as genius.”
7. Norman Mailer‘s Fourth Floor Apartment, Brooklyn Heights, New York
“I’ve written at times about the spooky element in writing. You go in each morning, and there’s a blank page. Maybe it takes five minutes, maybe it takes an hour. Sooner or later you start writing, and then the words begin to flow. Where does that come from? You can’t pinpoint it. You always wonder, “Will it all stop tomorrow?” In that sense it’s spooky. In other words, you’re relying on a phenomenon that’s not necessarily dependable. ” (“Norman Mailer Interview,” The Academy of Achievement, June 12, 2004)
“Over the years, I’ve found one rule. It is the only one I give on those occasions when I talk about writing. A simple rule. If you tell yourself you are going to be at your desk tomorrow, you are by that declaration asking your unconscious to prepare the material. You are, in effect, contracting to pick up such valuables at a given time. Count on me, you are saying to a few forces below: I will be there to write.”
8. Virginia Woolf‘s Writing Desk at “Monk’s House,” Sussex, England
“Mental fight means thinking against the current, not with it. It is our business to puncture gas bags and discover the seeds of truth.”
“To write weekly, to write daily, to write shortly, to write for busy people catching trains in the morning or for tired people coming home in the evening, is a heartbreaking task for men who know good writing from bad. They do it, but instinctively draw out of harm’s way anything precious that might be damaged by contact with the public, or anything sharp that might irritate its skin.”
“Arrange whatever pieces come your way.”
“The writer must believe that what he is doing is the most important thing in the world. And he must hold to this illusion even when he knows it is not true. “
“Ideas are like rabbits. You get a couple and learn how to handle them, and pretty soon you have a dozen. “
“The discipline of the written word punishes both stupidity and dishonesty.”
“In utter loneliness a writer tries to explain the inexplicable. “
10. Roald Dahl‘s “The Gipsy House,” Buckinghamshire, England
1. You should have a lively imagination
2. You should be able to write well. By that I mean you should be able to make a scene come alive in the reader’s mind. Not everybody has this ability. It is a gift, and you either have it or you don’t.
3. You must have stamina. In other words, you must be able to stick to what you are doing and never give up, for hour after hour, day after day, week after week, and month after month.
4. You must be a perfectionist. That means you must never be satisfied with what you have written until you have rewritten it again and again, making it as good as you possibly can.
5. You must have strong self-discipline. You are working alone. No one is employing you. No one is around to fire you if you don’t turn up for work, or to tick you off is you start slacking.
6. It helps a lot if you have a keen sense of humor. This is not essential when writing for grown-ups, but for children, it’s vital.
7. You must have a degree of humility. The writer who thinks that his work is marvelous is heading for trouble.
Though English is generally considered to contain the most words of any language in the world, appropriating vocabulary from all over, there are times when those many words simply fail us. Like having no single word to describe the intense “vicarious embarrassment” you feel when watching an episode of “Girls.” If only we were Finnish–there’d be a term for that.
Below is that word plus 13 others that lack an English equivalent. Now if only we could pronounce them all, then we could take them for our own like the entitled English speakers we are! Unless of course you can think up your own alternate names for these situations. If you’re that creative, please do share with us in a comment!
1. Shemomedjamo (Georgian)
You know when you’re really full, but your meal is just so delicious, you can’t stop eating it? The Georgians feel your pain. This word means, “I accidentally ate the whole thing.”
2. Pelinti (Buli, Ghana)
Your friend bites into a piece of piping hot pizza, then opens his mouth and sort of tilts his head around while making an “aaaarrrahh” noise. The Ghanaians have a word for that. More specifically, it means “to move hot food around in your mouth.”
3. Layogenic (Tagalog)
Remember in Clueless when Cher describes someone as “a full-on Monet… from far away, it’s OK, but up close it’s a big old mess”? That’s exactly what this word means.
4. Rhwe (Tsonga, South Africa)
College kids, relax. There’s actually a word for “to sleep on the floor without a mat, while drunk and naked.”
5. Zeg (Georgian)
It means “the day after tomorrow.” Seriously, why don’t we have a word for that in English?
6. Pålegg (Norweigian)
Sandwich Artists unite! The Norwegians have a non-specific descriptor for anything — ham, cheese, jam, Nutella, mustard, herring, pickles, Doritos, you name it — you might consider putting into a sandwich.
7. Lagom (Swedish)
Maybe Goldilocks was Swedish? This slippery little word is hard to define, but means something like, “Not too much, and not too little, but juuuuust right.”
8. Tartle (Scots)
The nearly onomatopoeic word for that panicky hesitation just before you have to introduce someone whose name you can’t quite remember.
9. Koi No Yokan (Japanese)
The sense upon first meeting a person that the two of you are going to fall in love.
10. Mamihlapinatapai (Yaghan language of Tierra del Fuego)
This word captures that special look shared between two people, when both are wishing that the other would do something that they both want, but neither want to do.
11. Fremdschämen (German); Myötähäpeä (Finnish)
The kinder, gentler cousins of Schadenfreude, both these words mean something akin to “vicarious embarrassment.” Or, in other words, that-feeling-you-get-when-you-watch-Meet the Parents.
12. Cafune (Brazilian Portuguese)
Leave it to the Brazilians to come up with a word for “tenderly running your fingers through your lover’s hair.”
13. Greng-jai (Thai)
That feeling you get when you don’t want someone to do something for you because it would be a pain for them.
14. Kaelling (Danish)
You know that woman who stands on her doorstep (or in line at the supermarket, or at the park, or in a restaurant) cursing at her children? The Danes know her, too.
Source: mental floss
Looking for some words to guide revelers into the future? Here are some sentiments from writers who have pondered the unknown.
Imagining the future is a kind of nostalgia…You spend your whole life stuck in the labyrinth, thinking about how you’ll escape it one day, and how awesome it will be, and imagining that future keeps you going, but you never do it. You just use the future to escape the present.
I predict future happiness for Americans if they can prevent the government from wasting the labors of the people under the pretense of taking care of them.
Change your life today. Don’t gamble on the future, act now, without delay.
Again, you can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something – your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.
“The key question to keep asking is, Are you spending your time on the right things? Because time is all you have. ”
(Bonus, because I love this book so much)
“Look, I’m going to find a way to be happy, and I’d really love to be happy with you, but if I can’t be happy with you, then I’ll find a way to be happy without you.”
“Guys like us, that work on ranches, are the loneliest guys in the world. They got no family. They don’t belong no place. . . . With us it ain’t like that. We got a future. We got somebody to talk to that gives a damn about us. We don’t have to sit in no bar room blowin’ in our jack jus’ because we got no place else to go. If them other guys gets in jail they can rot for all anybody gives a damn. But not us.”
The future, according to some scientists, will be exactly like the past, only far more expensive.
Whoever neglects the arts when he is young has lost the past and is dead to the future.
I was a peripheral visionary. I could see the future, but only way off to the side.
“Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come. You wait and watch and work: you don’t give up.”
The literary world is a pretentious place, right? You wouldn’t think so judging by these ten quotes from authors playfully poking fun at their success. Who knew the Paris Review was such a popular venue in which to be self-deprecating?
Know of any others? Tell us in a comment below.
2. Mark Twain
“I must have a prodigious quantity of mind; it takes me as much as a week sometimes to make it up.” – The Innocents Abroad
3. Ray Bradbury
“A conglomerate heap of trash, that’s what I am. But it burns with a high flame.” — in The Paris Review, 2010
“Slapstick may be a very bad book. I am perfectly willing to believe that. Everybody else writes lousy books, so why shouldn’t I? What was unusual about the reviews was that they wanted people to admit now that I had never been any good. The reviewer for the Sunday Times actually asked critics who had praised me in the past to now admit in public how wrong they’d been. My publisher, Sam Lawrence, tried to comfort me by saying that authors were invariably attacked when they became fabulously well-to-do… I had suffered, all right — but as a badly educated person in vulgar company and in a vulgar trade. It was dishonorable enough that I perverted art for money. I then topped that felony by becoming, as I say, fabulously well-to-do. Well, that’s just too damn bad for me and for everybody. I’m completely in print, so we’re all stuck with me and stuck with my books.” — in The Paris Review, 1977
5. Stephen King
“I am the literary equivalent of a Big Mac and Fries.”
“At the end of a miserable day, instead of grieving my virtual nothing, I can always look at my loaded wastepaper basket and tell myself that if I failed, at least I took a few trees down with me.” — Me Talk Pretty One Day
“Listen, you can’t imagine what a freak I was. I worked in used bookstores as a teenager. I grew up with hippie parents. I lived in a ten-year cultural lag. At all times. I had not the faintest idea what was contemporary. When I got to Bennington, and I found that Richard Brautigan and Thomas Berger and Kurt Vonnegut and Donald Barthelme were not ‘the contemporary,’ but were in fact awkward and embarrassing and had been overthrown by something else, I was as disconcerted as a time traveler. The world I’d dwelled in was now apocryphal. No one read Henry Miller and Lawrence Durrell, the Beats were regarded with embarrassment. When all that was swept away, I stopped knowing what contemporary literature was. I didn’t replace it; I just stopped knowing.” — in The Paris Review, 2003
8. John Grisham
“I can’t change overnight into a serious literary author. You can’t compare apples to oranges. William Faulkner was a great literary genius. I am not.”
“I fell into writing, I suppose, being one of those awful children who wrote verses. I went to a convent in New York—the Blessed Sacrament… I was fired from there, finally, for a lot of things, among them my insistence that the Immaculate Conception was spontaneous combustion.” — in The Paris Review, 1956
“He really wants to cash in on this whole Hollywood vampire thing, but with werewolves… But they’re not wolves, they’re bears. Werebears.”
Images and quotes courtesy of Flavorwire.
When David Foster Wallace died in 2008, he left behind a legacy of three excellent novels, several short story collections, and numerous essays. But what many of his fans may not be familiar with is Wallace’s secret preparations for (perhaps?) another project, a dictionary.
Thanks to The Telegraph, some of those notes are now available online. If you’re anything like me, you’ll find comfort in the author’s shared frustration with words like “utlization” (Kill it! Kiiiill it!) and curiosity at the paradoxical nature of adjectives like “colloquialism.” I only wish someone else would take up the flame and create a very biased dictionary, complete with personal commentaries in the manner of DFW’s. Sure, some quirky collections are out there (Foyle’s Philavery is one I particularly enjoy) but I crave that Wallace zing found below. Any takers?
Read on for some excerpts of David Foster Wallace’s amusing views on parts of the English language.
A noxious puff-word. Since it does nothing that good old use doesn’t do, its extra letters and syllables don’t make a writer seem smarter; rather, using utilize makes you seem either like a pompous twit or like someone so insecure that she’ll use pointlessly big words in an attempt to look sophisticated. The same is true for the noun utilization, for vehicle as used for car, for residence as used for house, for presently, at present, at this time, and at the present time as used for now, and so on. What’s worth remembering about puff-words is something that good writing teachers spend a lot of time drumming into undergrads: “formal writing” does not mean gratuitously fancy writing; it means clean, clear, maximally considerate writing.
A paradoxical noun because it refers to a kind of beauty but is itself one of the ugliest words in the language. Same goes for the adj. form pulchritudinous. They’re part of a tiny elite cadre of words that possess the opposite of the qualities they denote. Diminutive, big, foreign, fancy (adj.), classy, colloquialism, and monosyllabic are some others; there are at least a dozen more. Inviting your school-age kids to list as many paradoxical words as they can is a neat way to deepen their relationship to English and help them see that words are both symbols for real things and real things themselves.
An adjective, not synonymous with the noun mucus. It’s worth noting this not only because the two words are fun but because so many people don’t know the difference. Mucus means the unmentionable stuff itself.Mucous refers to (1) something that makes or secretes mucus, as in “The next morning, his mucous membranes were in rocky shape indeed,” or (2) something that consists of or resembles mucus, as in “The mucous consistency of its eggs kept the diner’s breakfast trade minimal.”
As an adj., myriad means (1) an indefinitely large number of something (“The Local Group comprises myriad galaxies”) or (2) made up of a great many diverse elements (“the myriad plant life of Amazonia”). As a noun, it’s used with an article and of to mean a large number (“The new CFO faced a myriad of cash-flow problems”). What’s odd is that some authorities consider only the adjective usage correct — there’s about a 50-50 chance that a given copy editor will query a myriad of — even though the noun usage has a much longer history. It was only in 19th-century poetry that myriad started being used as an adj. So it’s a bit of a stumper. It’s tempting to recommend avoiding the noun usage so that no readers will be bugged, but at the same time it’s true that any reader who’s bugged by a myriad of is both persnickety and wrong — and you can usually rebut snooty teachers, copy editors, et al. by directing them to Coleridge’s “Myriad myriads of lives teemed forth.”
This is one of a class of adjectives, sometimes called “uncomparables”, that can be a little tricky. Among other uncomparables are precise,exact, correct, entire, accurate, preferable, inevitable, possible, false; there are probably two dozen in all. These adjectives all describe absolute, non-negotiable states: something is either false or it’s not; something is either inevitable or it’s not. Many writers get careless and try to modify uncomparables with comparatives like more and less or intensives like very. But if you really think about them, the core assertions in sentences like “War is becoming increasingly inevitable as Middle East tensions rise”; “Their cost estimate was more accurate than the other firms’”; and “As a mortician, he has a very unique attitude” are nonsense. If something is inevitable, it is bound to happen; it cannot be bound to happen and then somehow even more bound to happen.Unique already means one-of-a-kind, so the adj. phrase very unique is at best redundant and at worst stupid, like “audible to the ear” or “rectangular in shape”. You can blame the culture of marketing for some of this difficulty. As the number and rhetorical volume of US ads increase, we become inured to hyperbolic language, which then forces marketers to load superlatives and uncomparables with high-octane modifiers (special - very special - Super-special! - Mega-Special!!), and so on. A deeper issue implicit in the problem of uncomparables is the dissimilarities between Standard Written English and the language of advertising. Advertising English, which probably deserves to be studied as its own dialect, operates under different syntactic rules than SWE, mainly because AE’s goals and assumptions are different. Sentences like “We offer a totally unique dining experience”; “Come on down and receive your free gift”; and “Save up to 50 per cent… and more!” are perfectly OK in Advertising English — but this is because Advertising English is aimed at people who are not paying close attention. If your audience is by definition involuntary, distracted and numbed, then free gift and totally unique stand a better chance of penetrating — and simple penetration is what AE is all about. One axiom of Standard Written English is that your reader is paying close attention and expects you to have done the same.
Focus is now the noun of choice for expressing what people used to mean by concentration (“Sampras’s on-court focus was phenomenal”) and priority (“Our focus is on serving the needs of our customers”). As an adj., it seems often to serve as an approving synonym for driven ormonomaniacal: “He’s the most focused warehouse manager we’ve ever had.” As a verb, it seems isomorphic with the older to concentrate: “Focus, people!”; “The Democrats hope that the campaign will focus on the economy”; “We need to focus on finding solutions instead of blaming each other”. Given the speed with which to focus has supplanted to concentrate, it’s a little surprising that nobody objects to its somewhat jargony New Age feel — but nobody seems to. Maybe it’s because the word is only one of many film and drama terms that have entered mainstream usage in the last decade, e.g., to foreground (= to feature, to give top priority to); to background (= to downplay, to relegate to the back burner); scenario (= an outline of some hypothetical sequence of events), and so on.
A beautiful and expressive word that combines the phonological charms of verve and fever. Lots of writers, though, think fervent is synonymous with fervid, and most dictionary defs. don’t do much to disabuse them. The truth is that there’s a hierarchical trio of zeal-type adjectives, all with roots in the Latin verb fervere (= to boil). Even though fervent can also mean extremely hot, glowing (as in “Fingering his ascot, Aubrey gazed abstractedly at the brazier’s fervent coals”), it’s actually just the baseline term; fervent is basically synonymous with ardent. Fervid is the next level up; it connotes even more passion/devotion/eagerness than fervent. At the top is perfervid, which means extravagantly, rabidly, uncontrollably zealous or impassioned. Perfervid deserves to be used more, not only for its internal alliteration and metrical pizzazz but because its deployment usually shows that the writer knows the differences between the three fervere words.
A totally great adjective. Feckless primarily means deficient in efficacy, i.e., lacking vigor or determination, feeble; but it can also mean careless, profligate, irresponsible. It appears most often now in connection with wastoid youths, bloated bureaucracies — anyone who’s culpable for his own haplessness. The great thing about using feckless is that it lets you be extremely dismissive and mean without sounding mean; you just sound witty and classy. The word’s also fun to read because of the soft eassonance and the k sound — the triply assonant noun form is even more fun.
This medical noun signifies an especially icky ulcerous infection of the mouth or genitals. Because the condition most commonly strikes children living in abject poverty/squalor, it’s a bit like scrofula. And just as the adj. scrofulous has gradually extended its sense to mean “corrupt, degenerate, gnarly”, so nomal seems ripe for similar extension; it could serve as a slightly obscure or erudite synonym for “scrofulous, repulsive, pathetically gross, grossly pathetic”… you get the idea.
There are maybe more descriptors for various kinds of hair and hairiness than any other word-set in English, and some of them are extremely strange and fun. The more pedestrian terms like shaggy, unshorn, bushy, coiffed, and so on we’ll figure you already know. The adj. barbigerous is an extremely uptown synonym for bearded. Cirrose and cirrous, from the Latin cirrus meaning “curl” or “fringe” (as in cirrus clouds), can both be used to refer to somebody’s curly or tufty or wispy/feathery hair — Nicolas Cage’s hair in Adaptation is cirrose. Crinite means “hairy or possessed of a hair-like appendage”, though it’s mainly a botanical term and would be a bit eccentric applied to a person. Crinose, though, is a people-adj. that means “having a lot of hair”, especially in the sense of one’s hair being really long. The related nouncrinosity is antiquated but not obsolete and can be used to refer to somebody’s hair in an amusingly donnish way, as in Madonna’s normally platinum crinosity is now a maternal brown. Glabrous, which is the loveliest of all hair-related adjectives, means having no hair (on a given part) at all. Please note that glabrous means more baby’s-bottom-hairless than bald or shaved, though if you wanted to describe a bald person in an ironically fancy way you could talk about his glabrous domeor something. Hirsute is probably the most familiar upmarket synonym for hairy, totally at home in any kind of formal writing. Like that of many hair-related adjectives, hirsute’s original use was in botany (where it means “covered with coarse or bristly hairs”), but in regular usage its definition is much more general. Hispid means “covered with stiff or rough little hairs” and could apply to a military pate or unshaved jaw.Hispidulous is mainly just a puffed-up form of hispid and should be avoided. Lanate and lanated mean “having or being composed of woolly hairs”. A prettier and slightly more familiar way to describe woolly hair is with the adjective flocculent. (There’s also floccose, but this is used mainly of odd little hairy fruits like kiwi and quince.) Then there are thepil-based words, all derived from the Latin pilus (= hair). Pilose, another fairly common adj., means “covered with fine soft hair”. Last but not least is the noun pilimiction, which names a hopefully very rare medical disorder “in which piliform or hair-like bodies are passed in the urine”. Outside of maybe describing some kind of terribly excruciated facial expression as pilimictive, however, it’s hard to imagine a mainstream use for pilimiction. Tomentose means “covered with dense little matted hairs” — baby chimps, hobbits’ feet and Robin Williams are alltomentose. Ulotrichous, which is properly classed with lannate andflocculent, is an old term for “crisply woolly hair”. Be advised that it is also, if not exactly a racist adj., certainly a racial one — AC Haddon’sRaces of Man, from the early 1900s, classified races according to three basic hair types: leiotrichous (straight), cymotrichous (wavy) andulotrichous.