In Praise of the Pencil

As a writer, but primarily as a procrastinator, I have experimented with many writing tools. I’ve read about the writing habits of famous writers, including their preferred writing instruments. Everyone knows that writers attach great importance to their writing tools and habits. Whether they write in the morning or evening, whether they write sitting up or lying down (Truman Capote could only write when he was “horizontal”), whether they compose on paper or a screen, it matters, greatly. The pencil seems the least remarkable of the writing tools we have at our disposal. A pencil is what a child is…

On Sharing Books When You’re a Margin Scribbler

There’s a general feeling among diehard book lovers that books are sacred objects and that they should remain pristine. Many dedicated readers feel this way, including my husband. My husband and I are both avid readers, and we consider an evening spent reading an evening well spent (except when Netflix gets in the way.) But we differ in how we treat our books. When I read, it is with a pencil in my hand. I like to write in the margins of my books – my reactions, connections to other things I’ve read – rarely profound, my scribblings can be as…

What I Learned From Reading Writers’ Memoirs

When I was a kid dreaming of becoming a writer (my role model was Jo March from Little Women), I didn’t have access to writing workshops or to any kind of constructive criticism. It didn’t help that I never shared my writing with anyone. But I wanted to know if my writing was any good and I wanted to learn to be better. I read a lot, but couldn’t build a bridge between the novels that I loved and my own writing. I didn’t have the tools or knowledge to make comparisons. I didn’t know how to read closely because…

9 Books About Writing That All Aspiring Writers Will Love

“Writing itself is always bad enough, but writing about writing is surely worse, in the futility department.” — Margaret Atwood Why do some people write, when others do not? When a writer is hunched over his desk in an empty room, dreaming up stories that never happened and will never happen, why is he doing it? Why is writing her response to the world, to life? What is this peculiar compulsion to write about the world? Annie Dillard said that a shoe salesman is more useful than writers, because everyone needs shoes more. And it’s not as if writing is always so enjoyable,…

Cover Your Tracks: Annie Dillard on Why Much of What You Write Will (And Should) Be Discarded

What does a writer have in common with a shoe salesman? A shoe salesman is less free, but more useful to society. “A shoe salesman – who is doing others’ tasks, who must answer to two or three bosses, who must do his job their way, and must put himself in their hands, at their place, during their hours – is nevertheless working usefully. Further, if the shoe salesman fails to appear one morning, someone will notice and miss him.” Annie Dillard begins her brilliant writing guide with advice that is hard to accept. All writers, she says, must discard…

Advice From Rilke’s Letters To a Young Poet That Will Make You a Better Writer And a Better Person

Being an artist is a privilege. But all writers, poets, painters, artists know how difficult it can be to follow your creative instincts and make a life of it. There are days when you think to yourself, is it worth it? Let me stop you right there, and introduce you to a man called Rainer Maria Rilke. For almost a century, Rilke’s letters have been the go-to manual for all young artists struggling with the life of the artist. Rilke’s voice is like a gentle hand reaching out, pulling you out of the misery of a bad day, restoring your faith in the creative life…

13 Great Writers on The Art of Revision

When do you return to something you wrote to revise, edit or re-write? At the end of the sentence, at the end of the story, or, never? Jack Kerouac famously wrote On The Road in 3 weeks, typing it on a 120-foot roll of paper without stopping to review it. Though some have pointed out that this is not entirely true, as Kerouac had reworked the book many times over several years – it would be more accurate to say he typed it up in 3 weeks. But still, that’s quite a feat! Hemingway, on the other hand, notoriously said…