How to Write Like Jane Austen

Here’s a tip: keep some sheep leather and blue gauls handy…

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Yesterday we brought you the recipes to two authors’ favorite meals, so today I give you the recipe to one authoress’ writing success: a good leather bound book and a batch of homemade ink. For those Austen enthusiasts feeling particularly crafty, here is the exact recipe for the ink Jane Austen used, provided by her sister-in-law:

Take 4 ozs of blue gauls [gallic acid, made from oak apples], 2 ozs of green copperas [iron sulphate], 1 1/2 ozs of gum arabic. Break the gauls. The gum and copperas must be beaten in a mortar and put into a pint of strong stale beer; with a pint of small beer. Put in a little refin’d sugar. It must stand in the chimney corner fourteen days and be shaken two or three times a day.

This iron gall ink would then be applied to the page with an old-fashioned quill. But on the quality of the pages themselves, Austen was quite particular. One of her favorites was “a quarto stationer’s notebook… bound with quarter tanned sheep over boards sided with marbled paper. The edges of the leaves [were] plain cut and sprinkled red.” 

Better find yourself some quarter tanned sheep. No self-respecting Austenite would be caught dead without a sheep leather notebook!

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Not At This Time: Rejection Letters to Famous Writers

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Why is dad so sad?  Probably because he just checked his mail and found his self-addressed stamped envelope in his box, his manuscript inside, and the dreaded form letter saying, “We are sorry, but your manuscript does not currently meet our specific needs.”  The first dozen or so times, Dad wanted to believe the closing line promising to review his work in the future but…

Dr. Seuss (aka Theodore Geisel) knew the feeling.  His now-classic children’s book  And to Think I Saw It on Mulberry Street was rejected a whopping twenty-seven times before it was finally accepted by Vanguard Press.  This may be your fate as well.

Putting your work out in the world is scary. Rejection sucks. It can make you afraid to do it again.  But you have to try.  Because the twenty-seventh or twenty-eighth time might just be the one.

Novelist Barbara Kingsolver (The Poisonwood Bible, The Bean Treesoffers this advice to writers feeling wounded:  “This manuscript of yours that has just come back from another editor is a precious package. Don’t consider it rejected. Consider that you’ve addressed it ‘to the editor who can appreciate my work’ and it has simply come back stamped ‘Not at this address’. Just keep looking for the right address.”

To give you hope, here are ten rejections of famous writers as well as a some of their reactions and advice about coping with rejection:

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Top Ten Authors as Teenagers

Ever wondered what the most respected authors of the world might have looked like in their teenage years? Today Flavorwire compiled sixteen photographs of writers in their adolescence. Scroll down to see a Yearbook compilation of the ten cutest, most awkward, most serious, and most likely to write the next great Canadian novel…

A 17 year-old Ernest Hemingway

The gangly and adorable Neil Gaiman

Flannery O’Connor confesses to her high school newspaper that her hobby is “Collecting rejection slips” from publishing houses.

Samuel Clemens, aka Mark Twain, age 15

A carefree, teenaged Allen Ginsberg at 16

Posho Martin Amis with his father, the writer Kingsley Amis

J. D. Salinger’s yearbook photo from military academy, 1936

A 14 year-old Virginia Woolf, then Virginia Stephen

Beautfiul Anais Nin at 19

Margaret Atwood in her high school yearbook, minus the distinctive curly locks

For the full showcase, including Samuel Beckett’s steely eyed gaze, head to Flavorwire.


Writer’s Spaces, Places, and Advice About Writing

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“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:

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1.  Neil Gaiman‘s Gazebo/Cabin

8 Good Writing Practices

  1. Write.
  2. Put one word after another. Find the right word, put it down.
  3. Finish what you’re writing. Whatever you have to do to finish it, finish it.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. Laugh at your own jokes.
  8. 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.

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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.”

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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.”

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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.”

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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.”

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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.”

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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.”

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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.”

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9. John Steinbeck‘s Summer Home in Sag Harbor, Maine

“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. “

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10.  Roald Dahl‘s “The Gipsy House,” Buckinghamshire, England

Dahl’s Advice on Writing

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.


Neil Gaiman to Write New Sandman Series

In the first piece of exciting literary news to come out of Comic-Con today, Neil Gaiman has announced that for the first time in ten years he will return to write a new release of his acclaimed graphic novel series The Sandman.

In Gaiman’s video announcement above, aired before a stunned crowd at Vertigo’s Comic-Con panel last night, the author explains his impetus for returning to the series after so long. He says that, dating all the way back to The Sandman‘s first issue, there was always an untold story waiting to be filled in:

When I finished writing The Sandman, there was one tale still untold. The story of what had happened to Morpheus to allow him to be so easily captured in The Sandman #1, and why he was returned from far away, exhausted beyond imagining, and dressed for war. It was a story that we discussed telling for Sandman’s 20th anniversary… but the time got away from us.

The Sandman was first published in November 1988, which marks 2013 as the series’ 25th anniversary. Gaiman notes that this fact makes next year seem “a particularly good year to tell this story.” Much to Gaiman’s fans excitement, the tale will finally have its telling.

In its 25 year lifetime, The Sandman has grown to become one of the most popular comic book series of all time, topping the New York Times bestseller list more than once (one of only three graphic novels to ever do so). This time around, artist JH Williams will provide the story’s artwork, a sneak peek of which is shown above.

The mini-series’ title is as yet unannounced. Print and digital copies will be published on the same day by Vertigo sometime late next year.


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