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Art comics Commonplace Book Drawings writer's inspiration

Seth’s storytelling advice to Noah Van Sciver. And you too, if you’d like…

Write about losers and loners. Don’t get dragged down that road of trying to resist your natural inclinations.

Seth

Noah Van Sciver has a YouTube channel.

Yeah!

The prolific cartoonist generously shares his works in progress, conversations with colleagues, and on occasion, words of encouragement.

A few days ago he read a letter of storytelling advice from fellow cartoonist, Seth.

Warning!

The letter contradicts most storytelling advice you’ve heard.

Keep drawing y’all.

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Art comics Drawings writer's inspiration

Cartoonist Lynda Barry keeps us going


I remember picking four comics that I was going to read for the rest of my life. And one of those was Family Circus.

Lynda Barry

Let Lynda Barry’s encouraging words on drawing and Canada and Family Circus, help you through today.

Then go make some marks. Doodle. Sketch. Write a few bad sentences. Edit. Draw some more. Read.

Keep going.


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amreading Commonplace Book writer's inspiration

Ray Bradbury’s Martian Chronicles outlines

For a writer I associate so much with writing from the subconscious I was surprised to discover Ray Bradbury’s outlines for the Martian Chronicles.


The handwritten Martian Chronicles outline.

Typed version. The first four chapters match the handwritten version exactly.

I’m astounded at Jonathan R. Eller and William F. Touponce’s dedication to the research and cataloging of Ray Bradbury’s fiction writing career.

But it’s like Mr. Bradbury says:

Everything I do is a work of love. If it weren’t, I wouldn’t do it. I would like for people to say of me, ‘Bradbury’s books are all his children. Go to the library and meet his family.’

We’re fortunate they did.

From: Ray Bradbury the Life of Fiction. Jonathan R. Eller, William F. Touponce. The Kent State University Press.

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amreading Commonplace Book writer's inspiration

Start with one page

I start with very short pieces, usually no more than a handwritten page. I try to focus on something specific: a person, a moment, a place. I do what I ask my students to do when I teach creative writing. I explain to them that such fragments are the first steps to take before constructing a story. I think a writer should observe the real world before imagining a nonexistent one.

In Other Words, Jhumpa Lahiri. pg 61

Many of the exercises Jhumpa describes for learning how to write in Italian can be used for improving your writing in English.

Start small. Start by filling one page.

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amreading Commonplace Book writer's inspiration

Finding Sentences

If you want to see the girl next door, go next door.

Joan Crawford

Good sentences, enviable sentences even, can be found in places other than books or articles. In his book How to Write a Sentence: And How to Read One, author and law professor Stanley Fish shares this story:

One nice thing about sentences that display a skill you can only envy is that they can be found anywhere, even when you’re not looking for them. I was driving home listening to NPR and heard a commentator recount a story about the legendary actress Joan Crawford. It seems that she never left the house without being dressed as if she were going to a premiere or a dinner at Sardi’s. An interviewer asked her why. She replied, “If you want to see the girl next door, go next door.”

How to Write a Sentence: And How to Read One, Stanley Fish. Pg 4

Fish breaks it down:

It is the bang-bang swiftness of the short imperative clause-“go next door”- that does the work by taking the commonplace phrase “the girl next door” literally and reminding us that ” next door” is a real place where one should not expect to find glamour (unless of course one is watching Judy Garland singing “The Boy Next Door” in Meet Me in St. Louis).

How to Write a Sentence: And How to Read One, Stanley Fish. Pg 4

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Commonplace Book writer's inspiration

Nick Cave’s encouraging words

Hello everyone,

Here’s a piece of writing I enjoyed today.

From Nick Cave’s blog – The Red Hand Files, Issue #67

A reader asked:

How much time do you spend answering these questions? Thinking of a response? Researching for a factual (where necessary) response? Writing, editing and moulding the response? The fluidity of your responses seem like an almost spontaneous stream of consciousness, but the conciseness, the beauty, the lyricism, the depth of meaning and the way the response pulls together within its own universe belie a great deal of time. How long does it all take?

– BRETT, PORT PIRIE, AUSTRALIA

Nick’s response:

Dear Brett,

Fucking ages.

Love, Nick

Writing takes time. Good writing takes ages.

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Commonplace Book

On Index Cards – the Sharks of the Stationery World

A few thoughts on the enduring usefulness of index cards:

I fold an index card lengthwise in half, stick it in my back pocket along with a pen, and head out, knowing that if I have an idea, or see something lovely or strange enough worth remembering, I will be able to jot down a couple of words to remind me of it. Sometimes, if I overhear or think of an exact dialogue or a transition, I write it down verbatim. I stick the card in my backpocket. I might be walking along the salt marsh, or out at Phoenix Lake, or in the express line at Safeway, and suddenly I hear something wonderful that makes me want to smile or snap my fingers-as if it has just come back to me-and I take out my index card and scribble it down.

Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, Anne Lamott, pg 134

Ivan Brunetti also incorporates index cards in many of his exercises from his book Cartooning: Philosophy and Practice. He suggests:

try orienting your index card horizontally instead of vertically. “Going wide” has two immediate benefits. First, it more closely approximates our eyes’ field of view and (perhaps not coincidentally) correlates with the proscenium’s composition space, seen not only in stage plays but also on film and computer screens. Second, it damningly highlights those unconsidered compositions that focus on the figure to the detriment of any surrounding environment. We’ve all seen examples: a character is cut off at the ankles and surrounded at the top, left, and right by an undeliberate emptiness, a vast halo of nothing, a rickety non-space, or what I call the Arch of Uninterestingness.

Cartooning: Philosophy and Practice, Brunetti, Ivan, pg. 42

I’ve used many types of notebooks. Moleskines (anyone else think that’s a gross name?), Field Notes, Composition books, Evernote, but index cards are the sharks of the stationary world – they adapt better than any note taking invention.

Their size allows me to scratch out a poem or sketch on the run without elbowing fellow passengers on the subway.

They are easy to catalog and store.

And they make perfect bookmarks, especially for library books. You can take notes without marking up the book.

For a short history on index cards. Yes, if you’re that much of a geek, that you would be interested in such a topic, click here.

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amreading Commonplace Book writer's inspiration

Dear Mother…A short writing tip from John McPhee


“You are writing, say, about a grizzly bear. No words are forthcoming. For six, seven, ten hours no words have been forthcoming. You are blocked, frustrated, in despair. You are nowhere, and that’s where you’ve been getting. What do you do? You write, ‘Dear Mother.’ And then you tell your mother about the block, the frustration, the ineptitude, the despair. You insist that you are not cut out to do this kind of work. You whine. You whisper. You outline your problem, and you mention that the bear has a fifty-five inch waist and a neck more than thirty inches around but could run nose-to-nose with Secretariat. You say the bear prefers to lie down and rest. The bear rests fourteen hours a day. And you go on like that as long as you can. And then you go back and delete the ‘Dear Mother’ and all the whimpering and whining, and just keep the bear.”

Draft No. 4: John McPhee On the Writing Process, McPhee, John, pg 157,158

A trick to help loosen up your mind and get some words down on the page.

I’m hoping posting it here will help me remember to return to it when all feels impossible.

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writer's inspiration

The Look Up Artist

I underline words as I read.

My reasons vary.

A word sounds smooth in my head.

A word sounds crisp when spoken out loud.

It may be a fancy word I want to remember, like say, pretentious. But fancy words are like my Air Jordan 11s – you pull them out only for special occasions.

After underlining a word, I make a silent promise to myself. I promise to return to the page. I promise to grab a real-life dictionary and look up the definition.

I break these promises to myself almost every time.

But today I kept it.

Definitions from a few pages from Dryer’s English:

Ossified v. – cease developing; become inflexible.

Fundament n. – 1 the foundation or basis of something. 2 humorous a person’s buttocks or anus.

Knell n. – the sound of a bell, especially when rung solemnly for a death or funeral.

Keeping promises always satisfies.

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Commonplace Book writer's inspiration

You’re all setup

Some mornings, in a perfect world, you might wake up, have a coffee, finish meditation, and say, “Okay, today I’m going into the shop to work on a lamp.” This idea comes to you, you can see it, but to accomplish it you need what I call a “setup.” For example, you may need a working shop or a working painting studio. You may need a working music studio. Or a computer room where you can write something. It’s crucial to have a setup, so that, at any given moment, when you get an idea, you have the place and tools to make it happen.

If you don’t have a setup, there are many times when you get the inspiration, the idea, but you have no tools, no place to put it together. And the idea just sits there and festers. Over time, it will go away. You didn’t fulfill it-and that’s just a heartache.

David Lynch, Catching the Big Fish, pg 125

It’s easy to read this David Lynch quote and be discouraged.

A computer room? I’m not a CEO.

Music studio? Ha!

Workshop? I don’t even have a garage.

But be encouraged and remember:

Your setup could be a composition notebook you carry. Or the Pages app on your iPhone.

Maybe it’s the back corner desk, near the history section at the library. It could be the kitchen table after the apple juice and rice is wiped off.

If you do have a workshop, studio, or office, than make use of those places. But if you don’t, use what tools and space you do have.

Then go, go bring your ideas to bear.