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


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

Writer’s Block? Fire Yourself!

Courtesy of Andrews McMeel Publishing and Universal Press Syndicate

I don’t think I’ve ever met a writer who hasn’t experienced writers’ block at least once in his or her life. Unfortunately, I experience it far too often. The worst yet truest advice is: Just do it. Sit down and start writing, no matter what.

Good advice, but it has never worked for me. If I do some free writing, I’m annoyed at the waste of time. With three young kids, my time is limited and I want to spend it efficiently. I think free writing is great if you have no idea what to write, as it generates ideas for stories. But if you have something specific in mind then it just feels wrong. And when I force myself to write a specific story, then every sentence I write I go back to and read it three times over, and I’m ashamed at how bad it is.

Writing, which is my hobby, becomes torture instead of joy. And that defeats the purpose of a hobby.

This week I read an article in the New York Times by Carl Richards, which may – hopefully – help me.

I need to fire myself!

No, not as a writer. It didn’t encourage me to quit. However, it advises you to fire yourself as a critic of your own work.

Fortunately, it doesn’t have to matter, as your job now officially has nothing to do with deciding if the work is good. Your job is to do the work, put it out there and let the world decide.

So the old-age advice of just do it needs an amendment. Just write and stop critiquing.

I recommend reading the entire article: Free Yourself of Your Harshest Critic, and Plow Ahead.

Vanessa Deij

Learning to Accept Critique

Anne made up her mind that the next time she wrote a story she wouldn’t ask anybody to criticize it. It was too discouraging. (…) In imagination Anne saw herself reading a story out of a magazine to Marilla, entrapping her into praise of it – for in imagination all things are possible – and then triumphantly announcing herself the author. 

– Anne of the Island by L.M. Montgomery

I love how Anne imagines being a published author and the struggles she encounters to become one, in the series Anne of Green Gables. One of her struggles is dealing with critique—people who ‘don’t get it’; people who have nothing positive to say; people who have a vague comment like ‘I didn’t like that bit’ without explaining why. It can indeed be very discouraging.

That doesn’t mean that as a professional writer you can do without critique. The right people – usually other writers – can help you see the flaws in the language and in the story. But finding the right critics is only half the battle. Most beginning writers have to learn to accept critique. No story – however good you are as a writer – is flawless after the first draft. Read More

Small Press Editors Are the Gatekeepers to Publishing

I loved this little article titled ‘Publishing In Small Journals: The Un-Fairy Tale‘ written by Brianne M. Kohl and published over at our friends The Review Review.  I thought it appropriate to share with writers potentially willing to submit their work to Cecile’s Writers’ Magazine, as we are apparently gatekeepers 🙂

Far, far away, maybe in another kingdom but most likely in some suburban home office, the Powerful Editor read and loved this writer’s story.  The editor plucked her from obscurity, whisked her away from her dirty hearth and published her story.  The entire kingdom rejoiced. She was beloved by all.

I am not that writer.

Read this clever article here, and share your thoughts with us.  Or better yet, send in your writing and we just might share it with the world.


Things You Can Do to Books Besides Reading Them

Like most fellow book readers, my read books end up on my bookcase waiting there to be reread again.  Yet there’s always this small pile of books that I don;t plan on rereading, and that no one wants.  I’ve had friends browse through them; I’ve posted them on the Dutch version of Amazon – Marktplaats – but without any luck; I’ve even tried the secondhand bookshop and they didn’t want them.  They did offer their bin to dispose of them, but that was just too big a step to take.   Now they’re waiting in a huge blue bag underneath the bed, for their final destination, whatever that may be.

So what to do with books that are no longer wanted?  I shouldn’t have been surprised, yet I was, when I learned that there’s a whole arsenal of possibilities. Read More

The Innumerable Stories Behind an Infinite Number of Numbers

I know many of us writers are afraid of numbers.  We work and play with words, while numbers are for mathematicians, computer geeks and bankers.  But did you know that numbers can hold entire stories?

Apparently, this is clear in people with Aphasia, a language disorder that is often caused by a brain trauma and affects their ability to read numbers.  Sometimes they also lose the ability to recognise numbers unless they remember a personal story behind it, i.e. there is a contextual relevance.  For example, a man was unable to say the number 505, but he was able to say the number 504 because his first rally car was a Peugeot 504.  This got me thinking to how certain numbers in our lives carry with them certain stories that only we know about.

This video explains it all much better.  True, it’s a bit long, but Dr. Sarah Wiseman from UCL explains it really well, and it’s great for writers to see the story significance of numbers.