Thursday, December 27, 2007

The Best Craftsman Always Leaves Holes

For Christmastime and the turning of the year, here's a note from a
writer I consider one of the best, Welsh poet Dylan Thomas.
The best craftsman always leaves holes and gaps in the works of the poem so that something that is not in the poem can creep, crawl, flash, or thunder in. The joy and function of poetry is, and was, the celebration of man, which is also the celebration of God.
—Dylan Thomas, Welsh poet

Anytime you want some advice on writing well, re-read "A Child's Christmas in Wales."

From the first paragraph:
One Christmas was so much like another, in those years around the sea-town corner now and out of all sound except the distant speaking of the voices I sometimes hear a moment before sleep, that I can never remember whether it snowed for six days and six nights when I was twelve or whether it snowed for twelve days and twelve nights when I was six.

To the last lines:
Looking through my bedroom window, out into the moonlight and the unending smoke-colored snow, I could see the lights in the windows of all the other houses on our hill and hear the music rising from them up the long, steady falling night. I turned the gas down, I got into bed. I said some words to the close and holy darkness, and then I slept.

Merry Christmas to all.

Monday, November 26, 2007

To Dream Strange Things

The job of the writer, said Nathaniel Hawthorne (American writer, 1804-1864, author of The Scarlet Letter and The House of the Seven Gables) should be:
to dream strange things, and make them look like truth.

In his short piece, "The Hall of Fantasy," he imagines entering an "edifice" of the imagination:
It is not at all times that one can gain admittance into this edifice, although most persons enter it at some period or other of their lives; if not in their waking moments, then by the universal passport of a dream.

As he strolls about with a friend, he encounters some fantastic machines:
Here was a machine . . . for the distillation of heat from moonshine; and another for the condensation of morning mist into square blocks of granite. . . . One man exhibited a sort of lens whereby he had succeeded in making sunshine out of a lady's smile; and it was his purpose wholly to irradiate the earth by means of this wonderful invention.

"It is nothing new," said I; "for most of our sunshine comes from
woman's smile already."

"True," answered the inventor; "but my machine will secure a
constant supply for domestic use; whereas hitherto it has been very

It is a charming 19th-century excursion into the realm of the writer of fantasy, one who seeks to make granite from mist, who delights in dreams of strange things.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

On Revision & Smashing Clay

On, I came across this gem by poet Donald Hall (in a 1994 interview by Martin Lammon, titled "Flying Revision's Flag"):

"Rodin advised young sculptors, when something was not going well, not merely to keep picking at it -- the clay, the plaster -- but to 'drop it on the floor and see what it looks like then.'"

This is great advice for writers. Don't fall in love too much with the shape of initial drafts. Keep looking for ways to shake it up. Consider changing something so drastically that it alters the elemental shape of the work. You might surprise yourself into seeing your own material in an entirely new way.

Stand a story on its head. Have a character do the opposite of what you expect. Move the setting to another location. Change perspective from one character's point of view to another's. And see what happens next.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Welcome to These Spindrift Pages

Welcome to my blog. I'm the series editor of The New Writer's Handbook (Scarletta Press, The purpose of that softcover anthology of recent articles (60+) on literary craft and career, and this new blog, is to help you write better . . . to share best advice & good thoughts from diverse successful writers.

To quote from my Afterword: "To be a good writer, you need to do lots of diverse things. Some you're naturally good at. For others, you need to stretch and listen and consider new ideas. There's no right or wrong way to write, no ten easy steps. There are no initiation rites to take you into the dark hut and reveal the magic chants and secret knowledge. Writing isn't logical, it's a part of life."

This blog will offer more ideas about good writing, in particular on the craft portion of the equation. We'll look at words and wordplay, poetry, and more.

For other thoughts on writing, visit my other blogs: The Writer's Handbook Blog, on developing a writer's career, and Creeping Past Dragons, on the field of fantasy literature.