Tuesday, April 12, 2011

writers on writing

I enjoy reading writers on writing. The pleasure is multiplied when it's a writer I admire. And when their writing about writing is good enough to write about, I almost implode.

And so we come to Penny Modra, who was recently interviewed on The Design Files (one of my most favourite blogs if you haven't noticed by now).

She writes for the weekly newsletter and website Three Thousand. According to Lucy from the Design Files, subscribing to Three Thousand apparently makes me one of "20,000 super cool young Melburnians". Not so sure about that. It probably makes me a try-hard hipster more than anything, but I'll take it, along with my double ristretto, thank you.

But back to Penny. I laughed out loud at the description of her working day, because a) I think we can all relate to her love-hate relationship with email, b) the reference to staggering and wheezing around Princes Park which is right near where I live (and where I too stagger and wheeze), and c) the reference to ignoring the siren call of McNulty from the Wire to try and do some work.

But mostly I loved her advice to budding writers and publishers. How refreshing is it to have someone remind you to just be you? Here's an excerpt:
To be a good culture writer, you need to write like yourself. It’s very difficult, because most magazines you read will have a discernable tone – Vice is a good example of this – and it’s tempting to emulate that in order to try to fit in. But ‘try’ is the key word here. Don’t be a try-hard.  Being a try-hard myself, I struggle with this every day (and I know we don’t always get it right on ThreeThousand either), but good writing boils down to one thing: telling the truth. Even in fiction. Good fiction is good because it reads like the truth. I cannot believe I am about to quote Roger Ailes right now (a. because he’s the president of Fox News and b. because he’s a fat, rich old white bastard) but, “It’s always more interesting watching people be who they are than it is watching people try to be who they are not.” Write it like you’d say it to a friend. Don’t write it from a stage, because the moment you put yourself on a stage you’re volunteering to do a stand-up comedy routine or a dramatic monologue – and most people are pretty bad at both of those things. Besides which, you’re turning your readers into potential hecklers. It introduces a weird, unnecessary barrier. Also, two things: don’t use food metaphors in anything other than food writing, and don’t use the word ‘Tweeps’.
So I'm inspired. I'm trying to think of a writing project for myself at the moment, but can only think of photography projects. The only writing project I can think of is externalising all the thoughts I've had about different places I've been to in Melbourne. And at the moment I can't quite see the point, because that's what ThreeThousand is for...

Like here's where I had a coffee today. Penny's already written it up. Done it. Like a pro (albeit a good four years ago)...

So, someone set me a writing challenge. Please.


Mr. Capoeira Sydney said...

What a neat post! Looking forward for more post from you. Thank you for sharing!

Cart Ridge said...

I had fun reading the post. :)

Emma said...

An exercise... Write about someone pretending to be someone they're not, from someone else's perspective. Set it in a cafe, don't write more than 500 words, rely on dialogue just as much as description, and make sure somebody orders the French toast!

sophg said...

ack! an actual exercise... we'll see!