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Archive for the ‘The Writing Life’ Category

Warren-Buffett

Source: What can we learn from the science of high performance? via Farnam Street

An amazing list composed of only 5 items:

  1. Routines

In his book, Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength, Roy Baumeister contends that the most successful people don’t make better decisions because of their willpower. Rather, they develop routines.

These routines reduce the number of decisions we need to make (as well as reducing stress). Thus it becomes easier to use your limited resources of self-control to avoid, rather than solve, crises.

  1. Focus

What information consumes is rather obvious: it consumes the attention of its recipients. Hence a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention, and a need to allocate that attention efficiently among the overabundance of information sources that might consume it. – Herbert Simon

  1. Practice

If we want to perform better beyond some basic competence researchers say we must engage in deliberate practice. These are designed, mindful efforts, to master even the smallest detail of success. To get better you have to get out of the autonomous stage.

  1. Exercise

Just about every mental test possible was tried. No matter how it was measured, the answer was consistently yes: A lifetime of exercise can result in a sometimes astonishing elevation in cognitive performance, compared with those who are sedentary. Exercisers outperform couch potatoes in tests that measure long-term memory, reasoning, attention, problem-solving, even so-called fluid-intelligence tasks.

  1. Rest

Taking time to rest won’t make you a slacker. While the corporate culture of “back-to-back” meetings from 9-5 may seem “cool” it is actually crazy. Rest is a critical component of creating and sustaining excellence.

Read the whole article. I’ve perused a lot of self-help lists aimed at making people more productive. This is clearly the best I’ve found and each of the items (excluding #5) is backed by research into what makes people productive.

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Elmore Leonard

  1. Never open a book with weather. If it’s only to create atmosphere, and not a charac­ter’s reaction to the weather, you don’t want to go on too long. The reader is apt to leaf ahead look­ing for people. There are exceptions. If you happen to be Barry Lopez, who has more ways than an Eskimo to describe ice and snow in his book Arctic Dreams, you can do all the weather reporting you want.
  2. Avoid prologues: they can be ­annoying, especially a prologue ­following an introduction that comes after a foreword. But these are ordinarily found in non-fiction. A prologue in a novel is backstory, and you can drop it in anywhere you want. There is a prologue in John Steinbeck’sSweet Thursday, but it’s OK because a character in the book makes the point of what my rules are all about. He says: “I like a lot of talk in a book and I don’t like to have nobody tell me what the guy that’s talking looks like. I want to figure out what he looks like from the way he talks.”
  3. Never use a verb other than “said” to carry dialogue. The line of dialogue belongs to the character; the verb is the writer sticking his nose in. But “said” is far less intrusive than “grumbled”, “gasped”, “cautioned”, “lied”. I once noticed Mary McCarthy ending a line of dialogue with “she asseverated” and had to stop reading and go to the dictionary.
  4. Never use an adverb to modify the verb “said” … he admonished gravely. To use an adverb this way (or almost any way) is a mortal sin. The writer is now exposing himself in earnest, using a word that distracts and can interrupt the rhythm of the exchange. I have a character in one of my books tell how she used to write historical romances “full of rape and adverbs”.
  5. Keep your exclamation points ­under control. You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose. If you have the knack of playing with exclaimers the way Tom Wolfe does, you can throw them in by the handful.
  6. Never use the words “suddenly” or “all hell broke loose”. This rule doesn’t require an explanation. I have noticed that writers who use “suddenly” tend to exercise less control in the application of exclamation points.
  7. Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly. Once you start spelling words in dialogue phonetically and loading the page with apos­trophes, you won’t be able to stop. Notice the way Annie Proulx captures the flavour of Wyoming voices in her book of short stories Close Range.
  8. Avoid detailed descriptions of characters, which Steinbeck covered. In Ernest Hemingway’s “Hills Like White Elephants”, what do the “Ameri­can and the girl with him” look like? “She had taken off her hat and put it on the table.” That’s the only reference to a physical description in the story.
  9. Don’t go into great detail describing places and things, unless you’re ­Margaret Atwood and can paint scenes with language. You don’t want descriptions that bring the action, the flow of the story, to a standstill.
  10. Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip. Think of what you skip reading a novel: thick paragraphs of prose you can see have too many words in them.

My most important rule is one that sums up the 10: if it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.

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Source: John Cleese, ‘A lecture on Creativity’ Video Arts, 1991

Thirty-six minutes of pure genius.

What follows are my notes on the lecture.

Five Factors to make your life more Creative
or, Five Requirements for an Open Mode Mindset

Creativity is associated with play. True play is experiment. And humor is an essential part of spontaneity, playfulness, and creativity.

An open mode mindset requires the following five requirements:

  1. Space – Create some space for yourself away from the normal demands of life.

“Create an oasis of quiet.” – John Cleese

  1. Time – Create space for yourself for a specific period of time. You need both a specific time to begin and a specific time to end.

“Play is distinct from ordinary life both as to locality and duration. This is its main characteristic: Its secludedness. Its limitedness. Play begins and then at a certain moment it is over. Otherwise it is not play.” – Johan Huizinga

“It’s easier to do trivial things that are urgent than it is to do important things that are not urgent (like thinking) and it’s also easier to do little things we know we can do than to start on big things that we’re not so sure about.” – John Cleese

Note that it takes about a half hour for your brain to race and then calm down once you begin getting into the open mode. Therefore, you should allot more than a half hour to this endeavor.

  1. Time – Give your mind as long as possible to come up with something original. If you are prepared to stick with a problem longer and don’t take the obvious and easy way out, then you will almost always come up with something more original. The most creative people tolerate the discomfort of having a problem without a solution far longer than less creative people.

“The people I find it hardest to be creative with are people who need – all the time – to project an image of themselves as decisive and who feel that to create this image they need to decide everything very quickly and with a great show of confidence. Well this behavior I suggest sincerely is the most effective way of strangling creativity at birth.” – John Cleese

“What I’m suggesting to you is that before you take a decision you should always ask yourself the question, “When does this decision have to be taken?” and having answered that, you defer the decision until then in order to give yourself maximum pondering time which will lead you to the most creative solution.” – John Cleese

  1. Confidence – Nothing will stop you being creative so effectively as the fear of making a mistake. You’re either free to play or you’re not. Know that while you’re being creative nothing is wrong. There’s no such thing as a mistake. And any drivel may lead to the breakthrough.

“You can’t be spontaneous within reason.” – Alan Watts

  1. Humor – Nothing gets us from the closed mode to the open mode quicker than humor. Things can be Serious – and thus involve humor, spontaneity, and play – without being Solemn.

“Creativity is like humor: In a joke, the laugh comes at a moment when you connect two different frameworks of reference in a new way. Having a new idea is exactly the same thing: It’s connecting two hitherto separate ideas in a way that generates new meaning.” – John Cleese

Finally, you also need to keep your mind gently resting against the subject. It’s very much like meditating. Allow your mind free reign to mull over a problem while you go about your normal routine. This leads to those Ah-ha! moments when solutions appear.

And make sure your creative friends are people you like and trust. Never say anything to squash them. Always be positive and uplifting. Try to establish as free an atmosphere as possible. If even one person around you makes you feel defensive, your creativity will be undermined.

Managers: How to stamp out Creativity in your Organization

  1. Allow your subordinates no humor.
  2. Don’t miss an opportunity to undermine your employees confidence. Be a fault-finder. Never balance negatives with positives. Only criticize.
  3. Demand that people always be active doing things. Never let them stop and think. Demand urgency at all times. Use lots of fighting talk. Establish a permanent atmosphere of stress, breathless anxiety, and crisis.

In a phrase, keep that mode closed!

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Source: C.S. Lewis on Writing | The Steve Laube Agency

On June 26, 1956, C.S. Lewis replied to letter from an American girl named Joan with advice on writing:

  1. Always try to use the language so as to make quite clear what you mean and make sure your sentence couldn’t mean anything else.
  2. Always prefer the plain direct word to the long, vague one. Don’t implement promises, but keep them.
  3. Never use abstract nouns when concrete ones will do. If you mean “More people died” don’t say “Mortality rose.”
  4. In writing. Don’t use adjectives which merely tell us how you want us to feel about the things you are describing. I mean, instead of telling us the thing is “terrible,” describe it so that we’ll be terrified. Don’t say it was “delightful”; make us say “delightful” when we’ve read the description. You see, all those words (horrifying, wonderful, hideous, exquisite) are only like saying to your readers “Please, will you do my job for me.”
  5. Don’t use words too big for the subject. Don’t say “infinitely” when you mean “very”; otherwise you’ll have no word left when you want to talk about something really infinite

From: C.S. Lewis, Letters to Children, p. 64

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Source: Science Fiction Writer Robert J. Sawyer: On Writing — Heinleins Rules.

  1. You Must Write
  2. Finish What You Start
  3. You Must Refrain From Rewriting, Except to Editorial Order
  4. You Must Put Your Story on the Market
  5. You Must Keep it on the Market until it has Sold
  6. Start Working on Something Else*

Note: Rule #6 is an addition by Robert J. Sawyer.

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Source: The Best Advice – ChipMacGregor.com

Chip is at it again – distilling years of wisdom into simple forms. This is not a list for the faint at heart because it’s honest in its sincerity.

  1. There are very few great books, but every great book begins with a great idea.
  2. A great idea does not constitute a great book. Having a great story to tell doesn’t mean you’re going to have a great book. It takes hard work to turn even a fabulous idea into a reasonable book.
  3. Therefore, keep refining your craft. Take whatever steps you can to improve your writing. Don’t settle for what you are. If you’re really good, you’ll get discovered. “Greatness will out,” to borrow an old phrase.
  4. Books aren’t written, they are re-written. That means you’re going to have to write, revise, review, and restructure. Don’t think you can create a good book without hard work — you can’t.
  5. Read widely and write regularly. The two go hand in hand.
  6. Establish a plan for your writing life. Have a time and a place to write. Write toward something. Establish writing goals. Few people move forward in the business side of any craft without some sort of plan.
  7. Learn to listen. Get involved with other writers and learn from them. Ask editors for their opinions. Seek out a writing partner or group. Learn how to imitate great writers. Find a mentor. Shut up and listen for a change.
  8. Face your fear: You’re not the best writer on the planet. You’re going to be rejected. Learn to appreciate others as better than yourself. Not writing because of fear is simply a way to protect yourself from potential failure. It’s time to grow up.
  9. Don’t expect nonwriters to understand. They won’t. Learn to smile and nod a lot.
  10. There is value in writing, not just in getting published. We learn about ourselves, about others, and about our world when we write. So there is value in writing something, even if you’re the only one who ever sees it. If I help you publish your book, that doesn’t validate your life. There are lots of jerks who published books, and lots of beautiful people who never published anything. If you’re really a writer, you’ll focus first on the beauty of the words.

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