Linktastic Tuesday: writing advice, ms length, and books for the beach

I wrote this post this morning … and then WordPress ate it. I responded by eating 2 pieces of cake slathered in rich chocolate frosting. Take that, lost hour of my life! Not so lost anymore! Ahem. Anyway, the cake was delicious and made me feel better. I did want to share a few links on this lovely, pollen-coated Tuesday*, so now, here they are, version two:

1.
Richard Gilbert has a great review/interview post with author Althea Black on his blog, Narrative. Black is the author of the short story collection I Knew You’d Be Lovely, and her advice on the writing process was frank and to-the-point, which is the kind of writing advice I most love to hear. Black describes how she put herself through a DIY MFA, reading and learning from writing books, and working hard at what she does (writing I Knew You’d Be Lovely was a 15-year process!) My favorite advice (because it’s true, and because it’s the hardest to do):

Through many hours of revising, I learned that if there’s a section of your story that depresses you to look at, you should cut it. If there’s a word that feels fancy or a character’s action that feels forced, cut. If there’s a paragraph where you can feel how hard you’re trying, cut. Cut anything that feels writerly or show-offy or self-conscious. Cut anything that doesn’t keep the ball moving. That really great metaphor that does nothing to advance your story? Cut.

I love Black’s focus on economy of language — “never say with twenty words what you can say with two.” I will admit I was not familiar with Black or her stories but I am now going to rush out and find a copy of this collection.

2.
Did you know The Great Gatsby is a novella? Me neither. It comes in just short of 50,000 words, which is the possibly arbitrary (and definitely debatable) number separating novel from novella.** Did you know you can find out the word counts of your favorite books on Amazon? Me neither. (Here’s how. You can only do it on “search inside this book” titles.)

I learned all this in “The Secret Lives of Novellas,” a short essay by Daniel Torday on the Glimmer Train site. Torday discusses his earlier obsession with word counts and what they represent, and how he realized that his WIP was long enough when it felt right to him, not because of a number. The WIP was published this spring, as a novella.

3.
Looking for something to read on your summer vacation? Or, like me, just always looking for something to read? Two good lists of new titles for summer:
-Flavorwire: 10 New Must-reads for May
-Bookpage: 20 summer standouts

*I’m having a hell of an allergy attack today and am a sniveling, sneezing mess. Seriously, driving is not a safe activity for me. Too much sneezing.
** In his essay, Torday mentions that E.M. Forster defined the novel as “any fictitious prose work over 50,000 words.” In my MFA program, I was taught that the publishing industry considers 75,000 words a novel, though clearly that’s just a guideline. Nathan Bransford suggests 70,000-80,000 for a debut novel, and no more than 150,000. So, novellas: 35K-70K?
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4 thoughts on “Linktastic Tuesday: writing advice, ms length, and books for the beach

  1. Thanks for featuring my post, Elizabeth. It does amaze that Alethea Black worked 15 years to get that collection together. She started maybe two years after college and was almost 40 when it came out. Makes my going-on-seven years for my memoir look piddling.

  2. Fifteen years is a long time! But not really surprising — short stories require such an intensity of emotion and a perfection that is hard to achieve. I know with my own stories I tend to need to revisit them over a period of years. Everyone works a pace that’s right for them!

  3. Just clicked on your 10 Must-Reads for May and saw that Nell Freudenberger has a new book out! How did I not know this?! I love her books. Love the writing advice from Althea Black, too. I also have found, when revising my book, that I just have to be ruthless and cut everything that bores me a little, everything that doesn’t necessarily HAVE to be in the chapter, everything that makes me wonder if it really moves the story along. I chopped another 80 pages two weeks ago. I think I have a good solid 300 pages of excised material at this point – enough for at least one more book (If only all those chopped scenes constituted a book!)

    • I just finished Nell Freudenberger’s novel a week or so ago – interesting concept, perhaps not as solid has her previous work, but well written just the same. I’m impressed you’ve been able to cut so much from your book. Revisions are brutal and stressful, but I keep trying to tell myself that in the end it will be worth it!

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