9780688132286

Telling Lies for Fun and Profit : A Manual for Fiction Writers

by
  • ISBN13:

    9780688132286

  • ISBN10:

    0688132286

  • Edition: Reprint
  • Format: Paperback
  • Copyright: 2010-01-13
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publications
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Summary

Characters refusing to talk? Plot plodding along? Where do good ideas come from anyway? In this wonderfully practical volume, two-time Edgar Award-winning novelist Lawrence Block takes an inside look at writing as a craft and as a career.From studying the market, to mastering self-discipline and "creative procrastination," through coping with rejections, Telling Lies for Fun & Profit is an invaluable sourcebook of information. It is a must read for anyone serious about writing or understanding how the process works.

Excerpts

Telling Lies for Fun & Profit

Chapter One

Setting Your Sights

A couple of months ago I returned to Antioch College to teach an intensive week-long seminar on fictional technique. One of the first things I remembered as I crossed the campus was a cartoon which had been displayed on the English Department bulletin board during my first year as an Antioch student. The cartoon showed a sullen eight-year-old boy facing an earnest principal. "It's not enough to be a genius, Arnold," the man was saying. "You have to be a genius at something."

I recall identifying very strongly with Arnold. I had known early on that I wanted to be a writer. But it seemed that it wasn't enough merely to be a writer.

You had to sit down and write something.

Some people receive the whole package as a gift. Not only are they endowed with writing talent but they seem to have been born knowing what they are destined to write about. Equipped at the onset with stories to tell and the skills required to tell them, they have only to get on with the task. Some people, in short, have it easy.

Some of us don't. We know that we want to write without knowing what we want to write.

How are we to decide what to write?

By chance, I suspect, more often than not. Yet there seem to be some steps one can take in order to find oneself as a writer. Let's have a look at them.

1. Discover the options. When I was fifteen or sixteen years old and secure in the knowledge that I'd been born to be a writer, it didn't even occur to me to wonder what sort of thing I would write. I was at the time furiously busy reading my way through Great Twentieth Century Novels, Steinbeck and Hemingway and Wolfe and Dos Passos and Fitzgerald and all their friends and relations, and it was ever so clear to me that I would in due course produce a Great Novel of my own.

I'd go to college first, naturally, where I might get a somewhat clearer idea of what constituted a Great Novel. Then I'd emerge from college into the Real World. There I would Live. (I wasn't quite sure what Capital-L Living entailed, but I figured there would be a touch of squalor in there somewhere, along with generous dollops of booze and sex.) All of this Living would ultimately constitute the Meaningful Experiences which I would eventually distill into any number of great books.

Now there's nothing necessarily wrong with this approach. Any number of important novels are produced in this approximate fashion, and the method has the added advantage that, should you write nothing at all, you'll at least have treated yourself to plenty of booze and sex along the way.

In my own case, my self-image as a writer was stronger than my selfimage as a potential great novelist. I began reading books about writers and their work. I became a sporadic student of Writer's Digest. I loved the success stories and identified with their subjects. And, reading the market reports, I became aware that there was a whole world of professional writing that lay outside the more exclusive world of significant literature. I came to realize that, whatever my ultimate goals, my immediate aim was to write something—anything!—and get paid for it and see it in print.

I began reading a great many different kinds of books and magazines, trying to find something I figured I could write. I didn't care whether it was significant or artistic or even interesting. I just wanted to find something I could do.

2. You have to be able to read it. When I was starting out, confession magazines were generally acknowledged to constitute the best and most receptive market for new writers. They paid fairly well, too.

I think I understood what a confession story was, the basic structure of its plot, and what made one story good and another unacceptable. During the year I spent working for a literary agent, the two confessions I pulled out of the slush pile both sold on their first submission, and the author of one of them came to be a leader in the field.

On several occasions, I bought or borrowed confession magazines and decided to read my way through them. I never made it. I could not read one of the damned things all the way through without skimming. I couldn't concentrate on what I was reading. And I couldn't shake the conviction that the entire magazine, from front to back, was nothing but mind-rottmg garbage.

Nor, consequently, could I produce a confession story. The ideas my mind came up with were either numbingly trite or at odds with the requirements of the market. I never did turn any of these ideas into stories, never wrote a confession until one bizarre weekend when I wrote three of them to order for a publisher with a couple of holes to fill and a deadline fast approaching. Those stories were awful. I wrote them because I'd taken the assignment, and the publisher printed them because he had to, and that was the hardest money I ever made.

I know other writers with similar experience in other fields. The moral is simple enough. If you can't stand to read a particular type of story, you're wasting your time trying to write it.

3. Identifying with the writer. As a lifelong compulsive reader, I had little trouble finding categories of stories I could read with enjoyment. What I learned then, and have confirmed on many occasions since, is that just because I can read a particular story doesn't perforce mean I can write it.

Telling Lies for Fun & Profit. Copyright © by Lawrence Block. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Excerpted from Telling Lies for Fun and Profit: A Manual for Fiction Writers by Lawrence Block
All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

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