Writing Advice

Maeve Brennan on online dating


The best observation on online dating well before there was a thing called online dating. Courtesy of the astute New Yorker Dubliner, Maeve Brennan, 1962, Midtown.

‘As he was fitting her chair in under her, the man said, evidently continuing their conversation, “All right, if you must have a definition, I am a socialist who is interested in lust.” I was fascinated, but he sat down and his voice dropped with him, and I heard nothing more from him until their lunch had been served, and then he said, in a loud voice, as though he were astonished, “The potatoes are very good here.” Another disappointing man, I thought…’


Novels…1st lines.

“Three o’clock in February. All the sky was blue and high. Banners and bunting and people bunched up between. Greetings and sadness.”

“I was lost, it was already dusk, I had been driving for hours and was practically out of petrol.”

“Some places are too evil to be allowed to exist.”

“Above all, the darkness of the river was what impressed Dr. Sanders as he looked out for the first time across the open mouth of the Matarre estuary.”

“Music school? Are you kidding? I learned to play the sax in Pontiac Reformatory.”

“When Frieda Schwartz heard from her Shmuel that he was (a) marrying a black girl, the blood soughed and staggered in all her conduits as she pictured the chiaroscuro of the white-satin chuppa and the shvartze’s skin; when he told her that he was (b) dropping out of school and would therefore never become a certified public accountant – ‘Riboyne Shel O’lem!’ – she let out a great geshrei and dropped dead of a racist/my-son-the-bum coronary.”

“There is no warning of daylight here.”

A Writer’s Place – Harry Crews

This passage speaks to me, and it should speak to most writers.

‘When I awoke, I knew that this day was to be worse than the day that preceded it and that I could not hope to get down from where I was, until I was safely home with my books and my typewriter and all the crippled and ruined manuscripts lying about on the desk. I wanted to get back to the place where I had resisted so many things, and failed at so many things, back to the place where even when I succeeded I failed because it was never good enough.’

-Harry Crews, Climbing the Tower



Your Future in Books?


I wouldn’t trust this book. It’s giving the kid some bad advice. Formative minds of the next generation, be careful of illuminated, floating (perhaps, possessed) books telling you that your future will be found inside their pages.

Grow your own Writer’s Beard

There are so many choices. Depending on your personality, grow your own writer’s beard.


‘The Lawrence’. Full enough without being reckless. Distinguished, prone to melancholia.


‘The Verne’. Astute, adventurous, yet still academic. Professorial with a nautical touch.


‘The Disch’. More in the urban mode. Edgy, cynical, liberal. Takes the subway.


‘The Moore’. Rasputin meets acid rock. Rampant and moody. A beard not to fuck with.


‘The Hemingway’. Opinionated. Charming. Not a skinny man’s beard. Likes to fight.


‘The Hayden’. A modern Melville. Stylish for the shoreline. Nautical, bold. Keep the upper lip clean.


‘The Delaney’. A modern ‘Whitman’. Intellectually welcoming. Cerebral, well-spoken. Requires a comb.


‘The King’. Full and rounded. Slightly maniacal, prolific. Northeast. Deep woods.


M. Misanthrope Rules of Writing #6, #45, #75


M. Misanthrope’s new year’s resolution to be more optimistic has fallen apart. Thankfully, he’s back to his old self.

#6 – Getting an MFA in Creative Writing, or buying a new car? Go with the new car. At least it’ll take you places.

#45 – If you’re moving to Brooklyn to become a writer, check your drawers, because most likely they’ll be full of shit.

#75 – The best books on ‘how to write’ are books themselves. Leave the manuals for gardening, cooking, and building a birdhouse.

M. Misanthrope Rules of Writing #16, #28, #60, #94

homeless-man-goes-onlineM. Misanthrope offers some end-of-the-year advice to writers.

#16 – The worst New Year’s resolution a writer can have is ‘to write more’. If it’s not happening now, it’s not happening next year.

#28 – Genres are like old clothes – sometimes ‘in’, most times ‘out of fashion’. Mix and match carefully.

#60 – When writing a sex scene, avoid the words, ‘crusty’, ‘gooey’, ‘lubricious’ and ‘supercilious’.

#94 – Have a jacket hanging on the back of your desk chair, so when the cold reality of you being a bad writer sets in, you can put it on and have an illusory moment of warmth.

Tools for Writers Staying off The Grid


I’m not going to slap technology in the face, but sometimes being connected into the global grid of social media and search engines can frustrate and confuse a writer who is eager to forge ahead with their manuscript. Distraction needs to be fed, and it’s a beast that doesn’t understand what discipline means.

One minute you have hot coffee in hand and the conviction to burn out 2000 words, but not before you research one little item that may enhance your story. All it will take is a minute. But beware. For instance, researching the archipelago off Sweden’s coast can suddenly turn you face-to-face with an article about how the Yankees never-ending bankroll is harming America’s favorite past-time, followed by a scathing book review on Amazon, and a recipe for a Tex-Mex meatloaf that Guy Fieri thinks is the absolute bomb. Five minutes turns into twenty. Eventually you force yourself to return to your text, the cursor blinking expectantly, and suddenly, you realize you’re back in the browser. You went from finding info about the copper weapons of the Sumerians to photographic evidence of Bigfoot, deeper into the bowels of random clicking by reading an article on whether Sarah Palin got a breast job. Precious time sure does slip away without censor in times of the ‘click and swipe’ generation.

PalinCasabasSome may prefer to write facing a blank wall. Some may sit in a small room with a white noise machine buzzing in the corner. Some, like Jonathan Franzen, will be quite rational and simply write on a computer that is not hooked up to the internet. If only it could be that simple.

If the best writer’s advice ‘get your ass in a chair and tell your story’ isn’t working, here are some tools that can invigorate your narrative and prevent you from clicking endlessly into the void.

fountain-pen2Fountain pens. This tool is one that requires a patient hand, helping you control your thoughts, and therefore, choosing the right word. You can’t be spastic or short-wicked with this instrument. Each word needs to glide into the paper, each line solidifying with restraint and precision. But beware, if you’re a lefty, you’re fucked. A permanent ink smudge on the side of your hand won’t be worth it, so stick with your ballpoint when it comes to vintage longhand. Another plus is when you’re on the subway — unsavory characters won’t eye you longingly as they would somebody sporting a pristine iBook on their lap. They’ll just think you’re old fashioned, which necessarily isn’t a bad thing.

notecard_13Index cards. Nabokov used index cards. Everybody loves Nabokov.

post-it-messIf chaos suits you, Post-it notes could be the method for you. Especially when it comes to plotting images and scenes. However, a large cork board and a box of tacks will help you retain some sanity. Because waking up in the morning and finding your floor littered with notes that have lost their stick could be detrimental and damaging. You may start believing that your book is falling apart before your very own eyes. Not the wisest choice, but I do have little stacks of Post-its with fragments of dreams, half-formed ideas that have come after a night out at the pub, and clips of dialogue which blossomed in my head after the computer was shut down for the night. They’re like small bites, and if what you wrote on it sucks, you won’t feel bad crumpling it up and tossing it in the garbage.

Macintosh_Classic_2_300x318The Macintosh. This relic always reminded me of a dismembered robot-head in a graveyard of derelict automatons. Not a highly recommended ‘off the grid’ tool unless you’re a sentimentalist. I still have mine.

DNB0595-120130815-16882-1hzhy0aThe reel-to-reel voice recorder. Perhaps not a good tool for those who hate the sound of their own voice. Plus, if consuming too much whiskey, translating the drunken night’s spoken prose may be more time-consuming than you think. And prepare for saying ‘what the fuck did I say?’ on more than a dozen occasions. However there’s something quite charming about this instrument. As though you’re one of the survivors of the Apocalypse, reciting the demise of modern civilization in hopes that one day somebody will find the reels.

woman-typing-007And lastly, the typewriter. The incessant beating of the bars against paper sometimes tricks you into believing that what you’re writing is pertinent, brilliant. But beware if you’re a smoker, because you will find yourself burning down one cigarette after the other, thinking that you’re possessed by a pulp writer back in the 1930s, paid a penny a word (when cigarettes cost a nickel a pack) – or a journalist rushing to meet a deadline. It’s important to remember that a typewriter without an ashtray next to it is a lonely piece of machinery, even if you don’t smoke. If you don’t, get a nice vintage ashtray and fill it up mints, pecans or erasers. Also, I think writing short stories on a typewriter is a good lesson in patience and form. Every writer should have one.

Now go work on that story, off the grid, just you and your imagination. But first you’ll have to research a typewriter on Ebay, or a fountain pen on amazon. Just be wary, you may not buy the pen in the end, but find yourself clicking through a list of ‘how many bad 80’s movies have you seen’, checking real estate in Brooklyn and Boston, or browsing reviews for books on how to break free from the grips of a writer’s funk.

The void beckons your attention.