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  • Doug Belshaw 6:40 am on March 30, 2020 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Prince de Ligne, writing   

    Imagination has more charms in writing than in speaking. It must fold its wings when it enters a salon.

    Prince de Ligne

  • Doug Belshaw 12:39 pm on March 29, 2020 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , writing   

    It’s all layers. Always rewriting over and through previous sentences and words. Just building it up, coat by coat, until it holds some weight.

    Warren Ellis (Orbital Operations)

  • Doug Belshaw 6:49 am on February 27, 2020 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: introspection, , , writing   

    Writing is a process of discovery 

    Unable, or perhaps unwilling, to do my usual exercise due to not being able to wear contact lenses at the moment, I sat down yesterday evening with my back to our bedroom radiator to read Stefan Zweig’s Montaigne.

    It’s a short book, and quite odd, in that it doesn’t really quote much from Montaigne’s Essays, nor does it go into a lot of detail about his life. Instead, what I appreciated about Zweig’s writing is that it simultaneously discusses the impact that Montaigne has had on the author, and the context within which Montaigne lived and wrote.

    I hadn’t realised, for example, that the famous circular tower in which Montaigne wrote (his ‘citadel’) was somewhere he’d retreated to aged just 37. Nor was I aware that, a decade later, Montaigne realised that he could never fully retreat from the world, and so set about on a tour of Europe, never planning ahead where to go next, but just going where he fancied. He was away (with a small retinue) for two years.

    Of course, all of this was possible for Montaigne because of his estate and the income generated by it. But I didn’t know that this was quite a recent thing, ancestrally-speaking, for the Montaignes. In fact, even that surname was purchased, along with a coat of arms. Only a couple of generations previously his family had been fish merchants!

    What I’ve always appreciated in Montaigne’s writing is that, as many others have said before me, he was a kind of 16th-century ‘blogger’. By starting from introspection, humility, and self-deprecation, he was able to write some of the finest essays ever written. Although he too had his foibles around fame and glory, it’s a reminder to me to write for myself, first and foremost.

  • Doug Belshaw 9:34 am on March 5, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Guardian, , writing   

    [George Saunders: what writers really do when they write](https://www.theguardian.com/books/2017/mar/04/what-writers-really-do-when-they-write)

    ![George Sanders](http://discours.es/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/3354.jpg)

    There’s some wonderfully quotable sections in Saunders’ essay, including:

    > The artist, in this model, is like the optometrist, always asking: It it better like this? Or like this?

    I adore section three, where Saunders talks about how relevant the craft of writing is to our current political situation:

    > Revising by the method described is a form of increasing the ambient intelligence of a piece of writing. This, in turn, communicates a sense of respect for your reader. As text is revised, it becomes more specific and embodied in the particular. It becomes more sane. It becomes less hyperbolic, sentimental, and misleading. It loses its ability to create a propagandistic fog. Falsehoods get squeezed out of it, lazy assertions stand up, naked and blushing, and rush out of the room.

    > Is any of this relevant to our current political moment?

    > Hoo, boy.

    > When I write, “Bob was an asshole,” and then, feeling this perhaps somewhat lacking in specificity, revise it to read, “Bob snapped impatiently at the barista,” then ask myself, seeking yet more specificity, why Bob might have done that, and revise to, “Bob snapped impatiently at the young barista, who reminded him of his dead wife,” and then pause and add, “who he missed so much, especially now, at Christmas,” – I didn’t make that series of changes because I wanted the story to be more compassionate. I did it because I wanted it to be less lame.

    > But it is more compassionate. Bob has gone from “pure asshole” to “grieving widower, so overcome with grief that he has behaved ungraciously to a young person, to whom, normally, he would have been nice”. Bob has changed. He started out a cartoon, on which we could heap scorn, but now he is closer to “me, on a different day”.

    > How was this done? Via pursuit of specificity. I turned my attention to Bob and, under the pressure of trying not to suck, my prose moved in the direction of specificity, and in the process my gaze became more loving toward him (ie, more gentle, nuanced, complex), and you, dear reader, witnessing my gaze become more loving, might have found your own gaze becoming slightly more loving, and together (the two of us, assisted by that imaginary grouch) reminded ourselves that it is possible for one’s gaze to become more loving.

    >Or we could just stick with “Bob was an asshole,” and post it, and wait for the “likes”, and for the pro-Bob forces to rally, and the anti-barista trolls to anonymously weigh in – but, meanwhile, there’s poor Bob, grieving and misunderstood, and there’s our poor abused barista, feeling crappy and not exactly knowing why, incrementally more convinced that the world is irrationally cruel.

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