Writing Is a Debt of Honour

I’m addicted to TED Talks on Youtube ­– a whole treasure of free, advanced level lectures. And the best part is the variety of subject matters available. Of course, searching TED Talks and writing generates a large number of hits, but I want to share the following one with you.

Writer Anne Lamott shares 12 truths she learned from life and writing. I enjoyed most parts of the lecture, but lessons 6 and 7 are specifically about writing (at around 6m 40s if you want to skip ahead):

I found what she says about writing motivating. How it is a debt of honour, and how it writing can fill the Swiss-cheesy holes in you (and not publication). How the most important things about writing are bird-by-bird and god-awful first drafts (watch it to understand).

As an aside, I also have a barrier when writing ‘badly’ about people I know. Even in a fictionalized setting I feel guilty. Her comment helps: “If people wanted you to write more warmly about them, they should have behaved better.”

Vanessa Deij



Down the Rabbit Hole – The Works of Jorge Luis Borges


By Paul Morris

When writers die they become books, which is, after all, not too bad an incarnation.

I was first introduced to Borges’s works shortly after reading Gabriel García Márquez, Isabel Allende, Mario Vargas Llosa, Pablo Neruda, Adolfo Bioy Casares, Luis Sepúlveda and Arturo Pérez-Reverte. I was somewhat familiar to the versatility of the Hispanic and Latino-American prose, so I had grasped that Jorge Luis Borges would not be an easy read.

His worldwide fame is primarily due to his short stories and literary essays. His short story collections The Universal History of Iniquity, Fables, The Aleph, and The Sand Book strike with a sparkling laconism. The major metaphors are mirror and dream. According to him, sleep is the oldest artistic activity of people, and when we dream, we are the Creator, the play, the spectator and the author.

Unlike most writers whose work is based on their own alloy of experience and culture, the main source of inspiration for Jorge Luis Borges were books. Proof of this is his collection, The Universal History of Iniquity, composed of the retold stories of actual villains, bandits, and crimes drawn from documentary stories that Borges had turned into literature with a lot of artistic imagination, talent and magnificent style. He himself says that he “has been spoiled with forging and misinterpreting foreign stories” when creating a single story. Despite the fact that he published his first work of prose in 1935, Borges remained a poet. Though clairvoyant, his tongue is laconic, with carefully chosen, often meaningful and highly expressive words. The stories are tight, subordinate to a rhythm that allows only the necessary, and eliminates everything unnecessary. The narrative is intense and engages the reader with characters, both fascinating and repulsive, with the cinematic visuals of the descriptions and the overflowing between the real and the invented. Read More

Writing Prompt: The Importance of Plot

by Finn Gross Maurer

When discussing how important plot is in a piece of fiction, I think it’s important to think about what happens when you ask a person what they’re reading. Take a second and imagine it. You pose the question. They reply with a title. Now stop, and think about what your next question is? More likely than not, it’s: “Oh what’s that about?”

In writing, plot equals structure, and structure happens to be crucial. Plot is not the only means of providing structure, but it’s certainly the most common, and arguably the most reliable. This is because plot provides the roadmap of where you’re going as a writer, and where you’re taking the reader. It’s point A and B and everything in between. Yet its importance as a structural element is largely contextual, depending on the kind of work you’re producing, and how much you can comfortably ask of your reader in terms of their time and attention. Read More

Opinion: Why Not All Creative Writing Courses Are Interesting

Photo by Alexis Brown

Creative writing is not new. It used to be a requirement of every student’s education for around 400 years, especially in the English-speaking world. In the nineteenth century, literary education was either weakened, or completely dropped from elementary and secondary education. Later on, colleges picked up all of literary education but creative writing. Creative writing was then missing for about a 100 years or so, but in the past 40 years, it has returned. Nowadays, there is a lot of controversy on the issue – some claim that creative writing courses are necessary and beneficial; while others claim that they are useless. I, myself, have participated in such a course, so I will share my experience and viewpoint. Keep in mind, however, that I might be biased because my judgment is based purely on one creative writing course.

As a devoted reader and not so devoted writer, I was curious about creative writing courses. When I heard from a friend, who is a poet, that he attends a creative writing course, I decided to join him. The course was held by one of the most prominent writers in my country. He had won many awards for literary fiction and poetry, and his books have been translated into English, German, French, and Hungarian. The course was for free and the only requirement was to be dedicated and hard working since it was an intense course. Read More

Review: Half of a Yellow Sun

Courtesy of Biafraforum.com

Now, being in Africa, I was hungry for more of it, the changes of the seasons, the rains with no need to travel, the discomforts that you paid to make it real, the names of the trees, of the small animals, and all the birds, to know the language and have time to be in it and to move slowly.

― Ernest Hemingway, Green Hills of Africa

My first touch with Africa was through Hemingway’s infamous book Green Hills of Africa. Although it is an account of a hunting safari on the Serengeti Plains and a chronicle of adventure, it revealed to me the beauty of this strange land – a continent full of contrast and opportunity. As inspiring as this book was, however, it missed one vital element – humans. After all, as Albert Camus once said in one of his essays: “What’s a city but the people?” Read More

Language: Baby Talk Is Important

I remember I once read somewhere that baby talk might not be good for babies — that the high-pitched gibberish (a.k.a. motherese) prevents children from getting a good basis for language. I’m so glad to find out that this – like I always felt it to be – is incorrect.

The Donders Institute, known for its neurocognitive research, explains more on its Donders Wonders Blog: Oopie Whoopsie! Baby Talk is Actually Good For Babies.

One study based on home audio recordings found that the more IDS [Infant-Directed Speech] parents used with their 11 to 14 month-old babies, the more the babies babbled back and, in turn, the more words they knew by the age of two.

It comes down to this: talking to babies is not just natural, it is essential for their ‘linguistic nutrition’. Of course, baby talk is for babies, and the older they become, the more important the actual meaning of words become. Read More

Publishing: The Weight of a Short Story

Courtesy of sachablack.co.uk

Before I go on about short stories, I should tell you I’m a proud product of the internet age. The truth is I’ve never done serious work as a writer without having one foot rooted in a digital space. You should know this at the outset, because context is crucial. I want you to understand where I come from, and understand the internet is as much a part of my life, and the literary work that stems from my life, as the language I speak or the life circumstances that shaped me.

Now I’m well aware there was a literary landscape that predates the internet, a big wide world I never had the chance to experience as a writer. If I’m being honest, it seems like it must’ve been a pretty difficult landscape to traverse. Maybe I’m just spoiled by search engines and social media, but when I imagine trying to network and get writing published without the internet to assist me, I nearly break into a panicked sweat. It’s simply an alien world to me, one that was perhaps a bit quieter, but also with far less open doors. It was also a space in which the short story was a more prominent feature of the landscape, and in my opinion the mode has declined as we shifted away from it, into a post-internet age. Read More

Review: Incognegro – A Graphic Mystery

It was the summer of 1919. Just after the First World War, white supremacists, fueled by generations of hatred, began targeting returning African American GIs for violence. Meanwhile, more African Americans flooded into northern cities looking for job opportunities and an escape from the oppression of the American South. They, too, were met with violence in cities such as Chicago and New York. It was the Red summer, when blood flowed from battered skulls and from the trees like blossoms of the “Strange Fruit” of the old jazz standard. From the shadows emerges a hero, the Incognegro.

This graphic novel deals with the fictional story of Zane Pinchback, an African American man whose light skin tone allows him to pass as a white man. This trait, presented almost as a superpower in Incognegro, has helped him slip into the shadows and report on lynchings in the South. Suddenly, the work – always dangerous – becomes personal as his brother has been placed in jail for the murder of a white woman, and the sentence will be carried out by the angry lynch mob that sits outside the jailhouse day and night. Read More