Advice from Ernest Hemingway, 1934

“The most important thing I’ve learned about writing is never write too much at a time. Never pump yourself dry. Leave a little for the next day. The main thing is to know when to stop. Don’t wait till you’ve written yourself out. When you’re still going good and you come to an interesting place and you know what’s going to happen next, that’s the time to stop. Then leave it alone and don’t think about it; let your subconscious mind do the work. The next morning, when you’ve had a good sleep and you’re feeling fresh, rewrite what you wrote the day before. When you come to the interesting place and you know what is going to happen next, go on from there and stop at another high point of interest. That way, when you get through, your stuff is full of interesting places and when you write a novel you never get stuck and you make it interesting as you go along.”

And here is a list of fourteen books and two short stories which Ernest Hemingway suggested a young writer should read, as drawn from the list given to Arnold Samuelson in 1934:

  • The Blue Hotel by Stephen Crane
  • The Open Boat by Stephen Crane
  • Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
  • Dubliners by James Joyce
  • The Red and the Black by Stendhal
  • Of Human Bondage by Somerset Maugham
  • Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
  • War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
  • Buddenbrooks by Thomas Mann
  • Hail and Farewell by George Moore
  • The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
  • The Oxford Book of English Verse
  • The Enormous Room by E.E. Cummings
  • Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
  • Far Away and Long Ago by W.H. Hudson
  • The American by Henry James

Quotable Paul Gallagher

The only advice that’s worth a damn when it comes to writing is to sit down and write. There are no quick fixes, no cheat sheets, no words that will bring around some grand epiphany. Good writing is earned from experience. It comes gradually through practice.

Asking “how to write?” and “where do ideas come from?” are the wrong questions. Only someone who doesn’t write would think these questions important–like quizzing a surgeon how he knows where best to make the incision. A writer can give advice on technique, discipline, and what to read. Books teach how good writing works.

–Paul Gallagher

KDL Writing Conference

Checking email tonight I see that Kent District Libraries are putting on their 5th annual writers Conference. I’ve been to the last three and I think that I will be going to this one as well.

I’ll take inspiration and education where so ever I can find them.

The fifth annual event features Michigan authors and publishing insiders sharing their experiences with new and aspiring authors on getting started, ways to be a paid author, how to promote yourself and more. All genres and skill levels are welcome. Pre-registration is required. For teens and adults.


Also, from the KDL newsletter, I see that I can access e-editions of three writing magazines, Poets & Writers , Writer’s Digest and The Writer.  I’m a fan and sometime reader of Writer’s Digest and have on occasion picked up The Writer. So this is very cool.

10k for 2k15

I broke the 10,000 word mark this afternoon on Shadow’s Play, my NaNoWriMo novel. I’ll hit the page again later for my evening write. Just 40k more to go.

Slow Start on NaNoWriMo

I’m having a bit of a slow start on National Novel Writing Month, things are not jelling and I’m not getting in the groove. But I haven’t quit. I will go on. Current word count before tonight’s writing session, 1,547. That’s less than I should have for any given day of this challenge.

NaNo Exercise 2

The Last Summer of Grand Adventure

Grandma thought a boy should be out of the house on a beautiful mid-summer day. So he had shut off the game, grabbed grandpa’s pocket knife, and stuffed a fistful of the leftover lady fingers into his shorts and went looking for adventure.

The ladyfingers might be duds, he had left them on the picnic table after the fireworks and the morning dew had gotten to them. But they had potential. The pocket knife wasn’t really grandpas, it was his, but it had been a gift from his grandpa when he’d got out of elementary school. It’d been his inheritance. He’d carried it with him every day for the last three years.

“A boy can’t find near as much adventure without a good knife,” grandpa had written in the note, “as he can with one. Be a good boy.”

So Paul took it with him everywhere. And everywhere he went he looked for adventure.

Paul found his walking stick where he’d thrown it, near the base of the black maple that marked the edge of the woods. It wasn’t really a wood, more a little plot of undeveloped land down the road from his house. It was lightly wooded, with lots of open spaces full of waist high grass, and a maze of dirt tracks cleared by kids on BMX and teenagers on dirtbikes. But it was wild and untamed by streets, sidewalks, and most importantly houses.

It was a wild place. Not as wild as the big woods had been, but they’d be gone soon. The bulldozers and machines had shown up in April and the wide swaths that would soon be roads were already cut and edged with cement curbs throughout. Next would come the pavement and then the houses and then the big woods would be gone. But he still had these woods.

He grabbed his walking staff and headed off toward the big lake, where it was more heavily wooded and that much more exciting. He spun the staff like a baton, swung it two handed, and smacked a bunch of green helicopters off a low hanging branch. Down by the water was where the teenagers partied, by the shoreline under the canopy of the big willow tree, out of site from any casual observer and far enough from the road that the police wouldn’t hear them.

He could probably collect enough empties to buy a pop and a Snickers at Richardson’s. And maybe he could find more girly magazines, there hadn’t been any there last time, but the time before he’d found two that hadn’t been ruined by the rain. A half sodden copy of Juggs, full of the biggest boobs he had ever seen, and another with the cover missing that actually showed people doing it. He had taken them home and hidden them in the basement, but his brother had found them and then gotten them taken away by his friend’s mother. Thankfully, his mother hadn’t found them, or been called.

Paul was a little nervous. Not as much as he had been earlier in the summer, but now he’d done this a few times on his own. Mostly he came down here with Grant and Ares, but they were both gone.

Ares was gone every summer, traveling around with his parents doing all sorts of weird stuff. Like last summer, Ares claimed they went to Alaska to look for gold and count bears. Ares didn’t think much of it, but it sounded cool to Paul.

Grant was off spending a month with his grandparents in the U.P., which sounded fun too. Grant’s grandparents were right on the edge of some big woods, one of the national forests. Grant had taken him there once. But all Paul had was these woods and the nightly fights between his parents. So here he was walking in the woods, hoping to find something exciting to share with Grant when he came back. Maybe even something to rival whatever Ares had gotten up to this summer.

As Paul reached the slope he stopped and gave a long listen. He couldn’t see anyone with all the trees, but if they were being rowdy you’d hear them. Sure, there was always the chance of being chased off by the teenagers if he stumbled on them, but he was pretty sure they came down there at night. There were signs of a campfire and some of the magazines and beer cans he’d found were burnt.

He’d heard someone down there once, but hadn’t ventured close enough to see what they were doing. You never knew what the older kids would do. To Paul, teenagers were a whole different species. The girls were different than the girls in his class and different from the moms. The boys were unpredictable and mostly mean. They drank. They smoked. They were always kissing. And they had these magazines. He liked those magazines. You had to be careful around teenagers.

Paul knew that by Christmas, they’d all be fifteen themselves, he and Grant and Ares. They were already teens, but next year they’d be real teenagers, high school kids. Girlfriends. Driver licenses. Jobs. He was not looking forward to it. He’d actually like to go back to sixth-grade and recess three times a day. He found the path and slipped down into the trees.

The first thing he noticed was that someone had dragged an old couch into the clearing under the big willow and left it near the camp fire pit. The second thing made him freeze in his tracks. Then, very slowly, and very quietly, he stepped back and off the path. He slipped into the tall grass and behind a small oak tree. Concealing himself where he could still see, but was pretty sure he wouldn’t be seen.

Right here in front of him. In the shade of the willow. His willow. There was a naked girl in the lake.

A very pretty naked girl.

NaNo Prep Exercise 1

Grant lifted his cappuccino to the level of his chin, his mouth opened, and shut again slowly. His eyes crinkled into a squint and he tilted his head like a curious tabby. The cup drifted down and away, but didn’t reach the table.

“What? Hold on a second. So you’re saying that we’re watching this on TV?” Cindy said.

“No. That is precisely not what I’m saying,” Ares said, as he waved away her words like so many gnats with his free hand. “Let me start again.”

“Our reality. This reality,” Ares said.

“There are others?” Cindy said, with a glance at Grant who had managed to get his cappuccino to his lips only to pull it away again and shrug resignedly.

“Yes, there are others. But for now, we’re only talking about this reality. And this one is like a house,” Ares said.

“How can there be more than one? Things are either real or they’re not. Do you mean, like, heaven and hell or are you talking fairy land?” Cindy said.

“Real and not real are relative to one’s perspective and I am talking about all three, and a few others I think.” Ares said.

Cindy glanced between the two men at her kitchen table and then down at the pocket knife in front of her. Grant set his cup on the kitchen table between them and motioned with his hand that she should slow down and let Ares explain.

“This reality is like a house. Our house. This is where we live and what we know.” Ares glanced out the window and encompassed the street, the neighborhood, the world, probably the whole universe in a sweeping gesture. “They are in the house. They are sitting in the living room watching their big screens and oblivious to what is going on outside.”

“They’re all in the living room,” Cindy said, “They being everyone in the world. They’re all watching the same TV?”

“Precisely. They are in the living room. Grant is there, at the back door looking out into the open garage. He sees more of what is going on outside than they do, because they’re not even looking. They’re watching their own lives meet their own expectations. They are seeing exactly what they want to see,” Ares said.

“Sounds like reality TV,” Cindy said. “That always sucks me in.” Grant smiled and tipped his glass to her appreciatively.

Ares rolled his eyes at his friend, but continued on as though the comment hadn’t been made. He pointed his finger at Grant but directed his words at Cindy.

“Grant is at the back door. Grant is unusual. Grant sees more than most do of the outside world. Or in our case, Grant has a glimpse of realities outside our own.”

“Does Grant see dead people?” Cindy said. “Are you a ghost whisperer like him?”

“He does not and I am not. But he has experiences that provide him with a certain, shall we say, a lack of skepticism.”

Cindy looked to Grant, but he was hiding behind his coffee cup. Ares drew her attention back as he continued.

“As do you. Now that you have discovered this knife.”

“But you, you’re outside this house?” Cindy said.

“Oh, heavens no,” Ares waved aside her presumption. “I am in the garage. Still in the house, but looking out from the garage door at what is outside the house. But even from the garage I can only see some of the yard, a bit of the street, the houses across the way. And it is my nature to not assume that from the garage I can see the extent of this universe.”

“So, you’re in the garage. Grant is at the back door. And everyone else is watching TV. Where am I?” Cindy asked.

Ares pointed back to the knife in front of her. The knife that should not be there. The knife that had disappeared twenty-three years ago. That had reappeared in her cellar two nights past.

“I’d guess, Cindy, that you are sitting on the edge of the couch in the living room and you just saw something flutter outside the window. The thing we’re here discussing is not that knife, but whether you’re going to get up and see what that fluttering was,” Ares said, and took a long sip from his coffee his eyes never leaving her face.

Writing Conference at KDL

Saturday, I went to the KDL Writers Conference – Crafting Edition. It’s a spin-off of their annual writers conference. Only this one had a different focus, crafting your work. The event featured some Michigan Authors and publishing insiders sharing their insights on the craft of writing from capturing an audience, to constructing scenes, to editing. It was broken down into two sessions, morning and afternoon.

The morning session started with author, teacher, and historian, Deb Moore, giving a presentation on memoir writing. Which wasn’t why I was there. I don’t really want to write a memoir of myself or anyone else for that matter. But it did get me thinking that it would be nice to do taped interviews with both my mother and my grandmother. It would be nice to have their life stories in their own words for any that come after who might be interested.

My notes from her presentation were few:

Did you know that, back in the day, they used ferrets to control the rats at the millinery in Grand Rapids. I thought that deserved a note. May be able to use that somewhere.

When writing memoir; share a story not a research project.

And my own thought that, memoir is for a farther generation. Your kids won’t care and their kids probably won’t care, but maybe their kids will… maybe. We’re all pretty wrapped up in ourselves.

Up next was, Ryan Hipp, a writer and illustrator of children’s books. Also not what I was there for, but his presentation touched on more general writing stuff and didn’t so much focus on children’s books. Which was good. More on him later.

I took more notes from him, more reminders to myself than anything I hadn’t read or heard before:

Remember that the writing process is different than the reading process

The characters desired goal and their actual goal are unlikely to be the same

Keep piling on the obstacles and inflicting conflict and remember that you can have both internal and external conflicts and obstacles

Creating parallels between the first and last chapters is a sage writerly trick

Overlapping Problems

Tight structure is both predictable and safe. Is that what you want for your story?

Confuse/engage the reader by throwing lots of problems at the characters. CONFUSE but don’t LOSE!

Adam Schuitema, author and educator, came on next and presented a talk on scene. Which I was excited by, as scene is one of those things that I know how to write, but I certainly don’t think or plan in scenes. So I was hoping for some insights or maybe even a grand revelation.

Summary is the opposite and antithesis of scene.

Scenes manage and organize narrative time

Scenes are building blocks

Note cards or post-its for organizing scenes

Summary is non-specific in character and time and place. It is general

Scene is drama. You don’t get drama in summary.

Use “white space” on the page to build impact and emphasis.

And the final presenters of the morning were a quartet of folks from Caffeinated Press, a West Michigan publishing house. They talked about editing. Their presentation, “Edits: Yes, You Must”, was designed to “help attendees understand the query process from the publisher’s perspective, learn how to parse publisher guidelines, understand the most common structure and line errors in text presented for published evaluation, and articulate the importance of recruiting expert beta readers.”

And I have a few notes from them as well:

Things to be aware of and issues that you should look for:

  • avoid shocking plot twists
  • inconsistent narrative and inconsistent point of view
  • Avoid fusion genre – think about where it sits in the book store and how the publisher will market it. Write to sell to a genre
  • don’t data dump
  • avoid monotone dialogue
  • avoid stereotypes
  • look for inconsistent moral motivation and maybe study moral philosophy
  • check for consistent and appropriate tone
  • no ellipses. use italics for mental speech
  • general reference errors
  • verb tense
  • speech attribution

Caffeinated Press uses the Associated Press punctuation guide

concept-to-syllable ratio … I don’t remember what this is, I should take better notes.

Choose your beta-reader wisely. You want constructive criticism. They should be a problem solver. Your beta-reader should be genre specific and should be knowledgeable about that genre. Look for someone who is project sensitive/aware (you want them to evaluate your project not the project they want you to write). And lastly, they need to be prompt (you don’t want to wait 9-months for feed back. This isn’t a baby.)

Follow the guidelines! When submitting always follow the guidelines. Do it their way. Nobody gives a shit how you think it should be done.

Submit with a two or three paragraph synopsis. Talk about the story, don’t sell, they want to know what they’re buying.

Process Flow:

  1. Write
  2. Rewrite
  3. Beta Read
  4. Edit
  5. Copy Edit
  6. Proof Read

Break for lunch. Thank you all. It was wonderful.

The afternoon workshop portion of the KDL Writers Conference: Crafting Edition was hosted by Ryan Hipp.  We were supposed to bring our Manuscripts! Ryan was doing quick first impression critiques of the first page of random manuscripts. The idea being that we would get insights on how editors will interpret the work, what pitfalls to avoid, and how to give the most critical part of your manuscript more punch.

There were a lot of folks there and not everybody had their stuff read in the hour-and-a-half we had. The selections were shuffled and he pulled some out and provided feedback. I didn’t bring anything, completely forgot about that part, and as such did not have my stuff read. Which is okay, I did not honestly get much from this part of the program. I’m not saying that I should have skipped it, but I don’t think I would have missed much had I done so.

There were some good, some bad, and some interesting first pages read out. The advice felt too general and nowhere near critical enough to my ear. I think a little Simon Cowell might have been warranted during this section of the day.

It was a good day. I met a couple of nice guys, but only managed to get one of their names, Bret or Brent… maybe I didn’t really get either of their names. But they were nice guys and we had some good discussion about writing. I still haven’t taken the plunge and joined, or even looked for, a writing group. But I think that If I can get my writing habit back in line I will look into that.


So the way I see this years NaNo story plotting out, there will be two distinct but connected stories going on. One story taking place in the here and now involving the finding of an old friends ever present pocket knife, despite that friend disappearing over twenty years ago. And a second story about the three friends youthful adventures before the disappearance. And peppered in between and throughout, there will be the effects of that disappearance on our heroes and on the community, how it was dealt with, and how we got to where we are in the here and now part of the story.

I’m still working on it. Probably will be for the whole month of October. But I’ll get it figured out.