Link: On Editing (Your Own) Fiction

Naomi Kritzer has a solid article on editing your work, with advice about doing your post-first-draft edits. A lot of advice out there is focused on just getting the first draft done, but glosses over the essential editing/rewriting process that takes it from a messy first draft to something you’d actually want to show someone else, so this is a welcome addition to the conversation.

I think this is a worthwhile thing to remember:

One of the really magical things about writing is that sometimes, that throwaway bit that didn’t mean anything when you put it there turns out to be the key that holds everything together. I think of those moments as gifts from the muse. Editing isn’t always about making the thing Not Suck; it’s also about spotting the really brilliant bits and polishing them up and focusing the lights on them so people can notice how very shiny they are.

Link: Patterns for Organization of Writing

Over at A List Apart, Richard Rabil writes Order Out of Chaos: Patterns of Organization for Writing on the Job, which drills into some of the core concepts behind organizing your writing. Considering my current profession (and continuing interest in information architecture), I found it pretty topical.

Recently I had an extremely frustrating user experience. While consulting some documentation to learn about a new process, I encountered a series of web pages that gave no introduction and dove straight into undefined jargon and acronyms that I had never heard of. When I visited related pages to get more context, I found the same problem. There was no background information for a newbie like me. The writers failed in this case to anticipate my questions and instead assumed a great deal of prior knowledge.

Don’t make this mistake when you design your structure. Like a journalist, you need to answer the who, what, where, when, how, and why of your content, and then incorporate the answers in your structure. Anticipate common questions, such as “What is this? Where do I start? What must I know? What must I do?” This sort of critical reflection is all the more important when organizing web content, because users will almost certainly enter and exit your pages in nonlinear, unpredictable ways.

Notes on Confabulations

I recently picked up a book by John Berger, Confabulations — a collection of short, informal essays (almost vignettes). It’s a quick read, and I enjoyed it — I’ve read Berger before, but nothing more recent than 1980 (About Looking), so it was interesting to see what he’s been thinking about lately. Several of the essays were effectively eulogies for friends, the uniqueness and color of which I appreciated:

What Sven was politically has not yet been named — maybe it will be in the next twenty years, when the world transformations taking place today are better understood. For want of a better term, he was content to be called an anarchist. Had he been labelled a terrorist, he would have shrugged his shoulders.

It wasn’t all eulogies, of course. In a different vein, I also appreciated this imagery:

All the town’s trades are connected with water, and the isolation which this implies perhaps explains the physique of its inhabitants. The women and men of Comacchio are recognizably different from their neighbours. Stocky, broad-shouldered, weather-tanned, big-handed, used to bending down, used to pulling on ropes and bailing out, accustomed to waiting, patient. Instead of calling them down-to-earth, we could invent the term: down-to-water.

I like this image, because it reminds me of people I know, and it fits well.

A recurring theme was the state of the world. A particular disdain for corporatist bullshit, which, again, I appreciate. His essay about Rosa Luxemburg had some great quotes, which I think are worth remembering today, when things are tense and shitty:

‘To be a human being’, you say, ‘is the main thing above all else. And that means to be firm and clear and cheerful, yes, cheerful in spite of everything and anything, because howling is the business of the weak. To be a human being means to joyfully toss your entire life in the giant scales of fate if it must be so, and at the same time to rejoice in the brightness of every day and the beauty of every cloud.’

That quote is from one of Rosa’s letters from prison — Berger intersperses the essay with quotes from her, while the structure is itself written as a letter to her. I think it’s a good message, and one worth repeating.

Rest in Peace, Harlan Ellison

I never had the pleasure of meeting him, but always appreciated his writing and commentary. John Scalzi has an excellent memoriam, Neil Gaiman’s note is personal and fascinating, and the LA Times has collected a variety of tweets and comments from admirers that’s worth going through, if you’re curious about the breadth and depth of influence he had on others.

Harlan talking about the role of the writer says a lot about who he was:

I don’t know how you perceive my mission as a writer, but for me it is not a responsibility to reaffirm your concretized myths and provincial prejudices. It is not my job to lull you with a false sense of the rightness of the universe. This wonderful and terrible occupation of recreating the world in a different way, each time fresh and strange, is an act of revolutionary guerrilla warfare. I stir the soup. I inconvenience you. I make your nose run and your eyeballs water.

He took that role seriously, and his work — and his readers — were better for it. May your work be remembered for a long time to come.

Like the wind crying endlessly through the universe, Time carries away the names and the deeds of conquerors and commoners alike. And all that we are, all that remains, is in the memories of those who cared we came this way for a brief moment.

Ursula Le Guin

To Ursula Le Guin: You were an astounding writer, and by all accounts an equally astounding human being. I’m grateful for your stories and your thoughts, and what you brought to this world. Rest well.

In John Scalzi’s piece on Le Guin’s passing, he said it quite aptly:

Look at the top tier of writers in science fiction and fantasy today — names like Jemisin and Gaiman and Jeff VanderMeer and Catherynne Valente, as well as rising stars like Bo Bolander and Amal El-Mohtar and Monica Byrne — and you see the unmistakable traces of Le Guin in their work. Multiple generations of her spiritual children, making the genre more humane and expansive, and better than it would have been without her. And all with stories of her.

[…]

The speaking of her name and of her words goes on, and will go on, today and tomorrow and for a very long time now. As it should. She was the mother of so many of us, and you should take time to mourn your mother.

Link: So You Want to be a Writer?

So You Want to Be a Writer? Essential tips for aspiring novelists over at the Guardian, by Colum McCann, who also has a book on the topic. It’s an enjoyable read, and has some good advice without being a shill or clickbait-y.

The only true way to expand your world is to inhabit an otherness beyond ourselves. There is one simple word for this: empathy. Don’t let them fool you. Empathy is violent. Empathy is tough. Empathy can rip you open. Once you go there, you can be changed. Get ready: they will label you sentimental. But the truth is that the cynics are the sentimental ones. They live in a cloud of their own limited nostalgia. They have no muscularity at all. Remember, the world is so much more than one story. We find in others the ongoing of ourselves.

Link: Advice about Writing

25 habits that will make you a writer by Shaunta Grimes — ignore the terribly clickbait-y title, the advice is actually pretty good. A lot of it may come off as pretty obvious (write every day), but I think it’s still worth a read, and includes some links to some other good books and resources. (Also, pretty relevant regardless of whether your chosen medium is writing or painting or sculpting, or any number of other creative outlets.)

Elizabeth Bear on Committing

Here is thing I learned when I was 29, which I now give away for free:

If you want to do a thing, do it now, or as soon as feasible. Because there might not be a later.

[…]

But to succeed at a thing–a job, a relationship–in the long term, the thing is: You Must Commit, even though commitment is scary. And commitment is scary because once you’re in you’re in. It’s not bobbing around close to the shore, paddling with your feet. It’s both feet and swimming as hard as you can out where the rip currents and the sharks are, where the water turns blue.
Elizabeth Bear, everybody’s scared of things that they don’t understand and all the living they don’t do.