Lucy and Todd

Letter to an aspiring writer

In Atelier Work, Our Students Vouch for Us on October 4, 2018 at 12:44 pm

I’ve never encountered a book on creative writing that I thought was any good. Full stop. The time you can waste reading such things is much better spent in reading fiction, which you have to do a lot of. And in order to feel good it has to be methodical, to an extent.

 

Pick an author in whom you are interested and read everything he or she wrote, in chronological order. Observe the methods and take notes.

 

Take notes on everything, come to that, and be sure you always have a pen in your hand.

 

Make an effort to read fiction that you would not ordinarily encounter – run around in the library and put your hand out at random.

 

Make an effort to familiarize yourself with non-English fiction – after the French grabbed off the novel from the British, it went through staggering transformations in Germany, Japan, and South America. One needs to know that.

 

Read poetry (for freedom) and drama (for dialogue).

 

Whatever you read that you like, copy it out, by hand, large portions of it. A paragraph that does something for you, a chapter. Much can be learned in this way. I have known writers who copied out whole novels and learned at least one technique that way – of course they had to make the process their own after that.

 

There are three books that come to mind that offer an approach both to reading and writing, from a usefully oblique angle, and these I have used in teaching. They are:

 

The ABC of Reading by Ezra Pound

I Wanted to Write a Poem by William Carlos Williams

Six Nonlectures by ee cummings

 

As far as looking for a creative writing program at a college or university goes, I don’t recommend it. Almost all of these are lazily taught and depend on ‘workshops’, which means that you get a lot of useless, uninformed opinion on your work. If, however, you are interested in a particular writer, and you can find out if that writer is teaching somewhere, that may be different, if you can get enough ‘contact time’. At MA level, look not for ‘taught’ MAs but programmes where you write and work with the tutors one-to-one. They’re rare.

 

TMcE

 

 

*******

 

 

WRITER’S RETREATS IN EDINBURGH   

We offer structured writer’s retreats in central Edinburgh, offering peace and solitude in a very pleasant, quiet B & B.

Come and talk to us about an ongoing project. Or use the opportunity exclusively as time and space to work on your own. Editing is really a form of companionship, and we can tailor our editorial input to your particular needs.

Costs will be separately itemized, and will include accommodation, and any editorial meetings you decide you need.

This might best suit a writer who wants peace in which to finish a large project, or a chance to talk over a substantial piece of work in depth, in person.

Contact us at fictionatelier@gmail.com for more information.

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Fire and Fury — Michael Wolff

In Reviews by Lucy and Todd on January 22, 2018 at 1:23 pm

 

The terms used to describe the President of the United States in this book include clown, idiot, moron and fucking moron. And those are from the people who work for him. Last weekend, defending himself against some of the many charges in Fire and Fury, Donald Trump tweeted that he is a ‘stable genius’. The jury’s out on the genius part, but he certainly belongs in a stable.

This president is the definition of a moving target. In order to get him to think about something essential, even for a single second, his helpers have to convince him that it was his idea. Except that he doesn’t have any ideas. On top of this, he has several hours of total irrationality per day, cause unknown.

Dealing with him is ‘like trying to figure out what a child wants,’ according to one member of his transition team. The last person to speak to the president, at any given moment, is the only influence on his thinking. It can take hours to get him steered in the right direction.

But. Then he goes to bed, eats a shedload of cheeseburgers, and watches right-wing cable news until he’s foaming at the mouth. (Trump’s supposed 35% base of support in the population will never see anything wrong in his conduct, because they get their ‘news’ from the same filthy outlets that he does.)

In the middle of the night he phones his billionaire pals for long rambling confabs. Any American over the age of eight knows this is not the way to run the White House, but it sounds like Trump’s mental age is lower than that.

He eschews preparation or scripts and ad-libs instead, creating many a ‘wackadoo moment’, as Michael Wolff puts it. Trump prefers EOs (Executive Orders) to legislation – he seems never to have heard of the other two branches of government. And he longs for his old chums, Rudy Giuliani and Chris Christie, to join his team, but so far can’t find jobs for which they’d ever be confirmed.

Trump believes it’s perfectly okay to lie to the media, but feels they get him all wrong: ‘My exaggerations are exaggerated’. He’s fixated on Time Magazine covers, which he figures should portray him every week, and longs for the New York Times’s ‘nut job’ Maggie Haberman to write just one nice article about him, which seems unlikely.

The White House is now a cross between King Lear and an episode of “Dallas”, a maelstrom of brainlessness, founded on bigotry, vulgarity, inertia and family. Trump’s an ‘idiot surrounded by clowns’, as one insider put it. They’re all dumber than each other, and Trump’s putty in their hands. Silly putty.

Having nothing but contempt for expertise, he put his own kids in charge. ‘Jared has this’, Trump said about his son-in-law and the Russia investigation. No, Jared screwed it up. Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump, or Jarvanka as Steve Bannon named the couple, are good at putting their yuppie oar in and making everything even worse.

Psychologically incapable of taking a close look at himself, Trump never wanted to win the election. He was just hoping to expand his brand. With no real ideology, no principles either guiding or otherwise, the White House under Trump has descended into one long damage-limitation exercise.

He is tended by an undisciplined team of back-stabbers, who chase behind him, sweeping things under the carpet. They’re now all agreed that the job is to muffle him as much as possible, and stifle incoming information under the blankets of their own fear. Melania often doesn’t know where her husband is. Isn’t she lucky?

Michael Wolff, for some reason, was allowed to take a seat amongst them all in the West Wing. He was like a real fly on the wall, unwanted and unnoticed. A good writer, probably a real wit, he seems to be applying a curious restraint here, given the grand guignol he found himself in.

But he unearthed a genuine narrative in the middle of this giant political disaster, by focusing on what’s really dangerous and chilling. When the going got tough, there was Wolff, still sitting on his little sofa! By that point, everybody had probably permanently forgotten who he was, because they forget everything around that place.

This is not a gossipy book, as the Trumparatchik Sarah Huckabee Sanders has tried to characterize it, but a serious look at the predicament we’re all in, at the mercy of a mentally challenged man with his fingers on that ‘big’ nuclear button.

‘He’s a guy who really hated school’, says Bannon, Trump’s head anarchist. Trump won’t read. He can’t. Not even the shortest position paper. He’s ‘total television’. If you try to brief him on something, his eyes roll back into his head and he flees the room. He can’t even sit still for a PowerPoint.

But neither, in a real sense, do any of these people read. Kushner went to Harvard, so he may have read at least one book. Bannon seems dimly aware of Shakespeare – perhaps he thinks he’s Iago. Mike Pence, as we know, reads the bible. Does that count? Where there is no reading there is no thought.

This is quite a portrait of the ‘postliterate’ pussy-grabber-in-chief. Trump speaks of himself in the third person: he’s ‘the Trumpster’. He’s afraid everybody wants to touch his toothbrush. He finds the White House slummy, can’t work the light switches, and is phobic about its rodent problems. The bigger rats he hired himself.

He has a craving for other men’s wives, whom he occasionally wins by painstakingly convincing them of their husbands’ infidelity. He assesses everyone, including potential government appointees, by how they look: he goes for second-rate generals with plenty of ‘fruit salad’ on their chests. Just a sucker for a guy in uniform.

Our faults are not in our stars. They are in the President of the United States, and he’s moving on us like a bitch.

LE and TMcE

 

(This review originally appeared in The Herald on January 13, 2018.)