The Best Non-Books on Writing – Part 2

BY JON PILL

After the online reading material of the last post, I promised there would be a follow up in a weeks time. In an effort to keep you guessing – or rather in a total lack of effort to do anything – that post is now here just a few weeks later than scheduled but no more polished or thought out for all that extra time.

This post is a collection of links to things I and those around me have found useful creatively

 

Morton Feldman and John Cage in Conversation (Youtube)

This from friend of the blog Flo, who found much in this discussion of music that has helped with her writing.

In fact it is interesting to note how many of the links below relate as much if not more to music, the one art that is almost entirely unrepresentative but which seems to be a source of endless ekphrastism at least in the particular circle of eccentrics I’ve been landed with.

Watch the conversation here.

 

Meet the Composers (Podcast)

I’ve never listened to this, so have little to say on the subject, but best friend of the blog J S Loveard said it should be on the list. Listen here.

Glass in 12 Parts (Youtube)

Ditto this.

Ira Glass on creating stuff (Youtube)

And while we’re on the subject of the glass brothers….

Desert Island Discs

This hardly needs an introduction if you’re British, but for those who hail from outside these fair isles this BBC institution involves celebrities of all stripes, including writers, choosing a series of records which they would take with them if they were to be stranded on a desert island without hope of rescue.

The music is then used to punctuate an interview about their professional careers. It is a format that works even in the vast archive where the actual tracks have been taken out for copyright reasons.

You can hunt for your favourite castaways in the BBC radio archives here.

In Their Own Words (TV Series)

This is another favourite of JS’s. A documentary series based around interviews of various novelists it basically serves as an introduction to the 20th-Century novel as directed by the people who happened to have spent time in front of the camera.

Watch the trailer here.

Civilisation BBC TV Series

Commissioned by David Attenborough in his time as one of the admin top-brass in the then new colour channel BBC 2. To make full use of the new colour format this inspiring and beautiful walk through Western European art history was curated and told by Kenneth Clarke as he wanders through museums and churches pointing cameras at nice things and then talking about them. Like Planet Earth but for sculptures, tapestries and paint.

You can the DVDs on Amazon here.

A good companion read is E M Gombrich’s The Story of Art.

BBC Modern Writers Archive

Lord Reith’s commission has a lot to answer for on this list. Including the collection of interviews with writers (one of the sources for much of the In Their Own Words series). They’ve been collected, conveniently on the BBC website, so you can hear your favourite and least favourite writers talk at you from your own computer.

Find their trapped souls here.

Every Frame A Painting

A fabulous series of short video essays, which are lovely works of art in and of themselves. You can subscribe to the channel here.

I will also leave you with this, which remains one of my favourite clips about creating:

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The Best Non-Books on Writing – Part 1

BY JON PILL

When I was doing the series of post on the best books for writers to read, I polled my pals about the sort of books they hunted up when feeling a little autodidactic. The books made the previous list but there were a lot of responses along the lines of “this website on the neterweb” or “some lecture series I watched” or “a human’s blog that I read once”.

I shoved those links into a separate document and meant to write them up as a final post to the books articles. That didn’t happen for complicated reasons (lazy, disorganised). But I’ve brought my extraordinary faculties of sedulisation to bear on the bits of fluff that serve me as a brain and sorted them into something resembling a useful list.

Here is that list. Many thanks to those who suggested links, and if I’ve missed something useful or interesting, stick it in the comments.

A lot of them just involve creative people talking about their own ways of creating, from the Ordinance Survey level of the ‘creative process’ through the fine detail of daily schedules down to the electron microscopic processes of choosing a word or punctuation marks.

I’ve split them up over a few posts starting with those links that are for eye reading:

Paris Review Interviews (The Paris Review website)

This huge archive of interviews with mostly 20th Century writers is free and contains hundreds of interviews on how writers have approached their works in general and whatever creative niggles were on their mind at the time of the interview.

It is a fabulous resource which you can access here, and if you suffer from literary tastes and read mostly Westerners then there’s a good chance your favourite authors have done an interview with the Review at some point.

Uncle Jim undiluted (Absolute Write Forum)

Fabulously pragmatic and unsentimental spec-fic hack James MacDonald (not to be confused with Dear Jim) set up this long running, wide-reaching, and hugely educational thread in which he throws out reading and writing exercises, his own personal brand of literary theory, guidance for novelists and short story writers, and information on the publishing industry.

This thread is one of the best places for the inexperienced and unpublished author to start. It is highly unsystematic though, and makes for good reading alongside Stephen King’s more structured On Writing, assuming King’s approach to work works for you.

You can find the thread with all the non-Jim posts boiled off here.

Writing About Writing (Blog)

Fitting in with Uncle Jim’s pragmatic, writing-is-a-craft-slash-job-and-18th-Century-ideas-about-the-artist-as-genius-are-perpetuated-by-morons-now-drop-and-give-me-1000-words-you-maggot approach, Writing About Writing is maintained by prolific blogger and floppy haired swear-machine Chris Brecheen, whose blog broadly fall into variations on ‘Write Every Day’ and ‘Pay Attention to Social Issues When Writing’. If that’s likely to trigger you, then maybe don’t click here.

Also, if you need a relentless pit-bull to remind you to put in some BIC time the Writing About Writing Facebook feed is a wonderful pun-factory 90% of the time, but does a great line in ‘Shouldn’t You Be Writing?’ memes.

Nico Muhly’s Blog (Blog)

If modern classical music is your jam, you will probably get more out of Nico Muhly’s blogs than I did. But it’s always interesting to hear from creatives at work and Muhly is a first-class human-being to spend some reading time with, regardless of your level of musical sophistication/babarism.

Read his ramblings here.

Guardian’s 10 Tips series (Guardian Online)

At the risk of giving away a great deal about my political leanings here I do have to recommend two series from the Guardian online.

Firstly, their 10 Tips series in which writers collect their wisdom into 10 pithy bits of advice. Will Self’s advice is a particular joy, and Elmore Leonard has gained a certain amount of memetic traction (find them here.)

The other is their series of articles in which writers either describe a typical or recent writing day (click here for that) Facinating to see how people organise their time, especially if you are the sort of person who loves a good life hack… speaking of which.

Lifehack.org

It’s not exactly about writing, but for ways of organising your life (so that you have the discipline, methods, and time management to actually do the writing you should be doing if you want to be a writer) there are few places on the internet that work better.

I’d recommend giving it a quick search for ‘Getting Things Done’ and ‘Bullet Journals’ to start with.

Click here to check them out.

I’ll follow up next week with a list of things to watch, and to listen to with your other earholes.

See ya then.

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Dear Jim (#27) Re: The Movie Is Always Better

BY JON PILL

Dear Jim,

It is accepted wisdom that adapting a book is a task fraught with dangers – mostly angry fans of the book who didn’t imagine the book the way the filmmaker did, often because key creatives have never read a book let alone the one they are adapting.

The wisdom, however, isn’t wise. It isn’t even vaguely true.

Take for example: The film is always better.

Always.

It’s the most general generalisation you can get. And I imagine if you are a fan of a book that got – lets say ‘rearranged’ – rearranged in the move from ink to celluloid you can almost immediately see what’s wrong with the statement: It only takes one bad adaptation from book to screen to prove the statement wrong (thank you Karl Popper). The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (2005), for example. Or The Golden Compass (2007). Or Jackson’s recent Hobbit trilogy.

Go ahead and apply that logic the other way. When I was coming up with that Top 40 last week, I kept spotting films based on books up there. And most are as good as the books. Lots leave the book in the shade.

Popular opinion for example does not rate Mario Puzo’s The Godfather nearly as highly as Coppola’s and to take an example not on the list  – so skipping over: Cool Hand Luke, The Hustler, The ExorcistStarship Troopers, etc… – Jaws by Peter Benchley is properly, properly terrible. Spielberg’s Jaws, on the other hand, is one of the great artworks of the 20th Century.

The book is not always better. It’s not even better often enough to make it a useful rule of thumb. Cus it’s not just bad books getting fixed on screen. Great books can be the source for great films. Fight Club is almost always the subject of intense close discussion as to whether book or film is better (the correct answer is ‘yes’), and American Psycho is basically the same thing as the book in a different format. Who out there has been disappointed by either the book or film of The Princess Bride.

Other adaptations work in concert with the book. Like Cronenberg’s Naked Lunch, which is more of a dramatised and surreal ‘making of the book’ type story, than a straight adaptation, while still being thoroughly in keeping with the not-really-a-novel.

Bruce Robinson did something similar with The Rum Diary making a few changes that turned it into a bridging work between the rather straightforward book and Hunter S. Thompson’s later, more Raoul Duke-y, efforts.

Film is a great storytelling medium, every bit as rich and interesting and diverse as the written word. Assuming that moving from one to the other is a guaranteed omnishambles is daft.

So stop it. Stop repeating the flawed wisdom. Or I’ll go after something you love.

Jon out.

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My Top 40 Films

BY JON PILL

After Empire magazine Tweeted out Edgar Wright’s list of 40 favourite films, I have had conversations with several friends about what would make our own top 40 lists. Being perhaps of a more obsessive bent than some, I actually went away, sweated, strained and came up with mine.

The thing we all agreed on was that the list should be “favourite” films, not “best”, or “greatest”, or the films we most admire, or would most recommend. Just films that for whatever reason are the ones we loved regardless of more objective criteria.

The list is not in a definitive order thought there is a rough gradient in place and the number one spot is my number one. There are also films on here that might not be on another day, and several films which would take their place. There were also a lot of extremely difficult cuts.

But I am drifting into apology, without further ado the list:

My Top 40 Films

After Edgar Wright

  1. The Exorcist
  2. The Godfather
  3. Cool Hand Luke
  4. Casino Royale
  5. Singin’ in the Rain
  6. The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly
  7. A Muppet Christmas Carol
  8. Infernal Affairs
  9. Jurassic Park
  10. Silence of the Lambs
  11. Pitch Perfect
  12. The Hustler
  13. Rounders
  14. Fight Club
  15. American Psycho
  16. The Prestige
  17. The Guns of Navarone
  18. Raiders of the Lost Ark
  19. Memento
  20. Donnie Darko
  21. True Romance
  22. Skyfall
  23. Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas
  24. Se7en
  25. Wall Street
  26. Network
  27. Robocop
  28. A Clockwork Orange
  29. Bubba Ho-Tep
  30. Back to the Future
  31. Starship Troopers
  32. 2001: A Space Odyssey
  33. Top Hat
  34. The Princess Bride
  35. The Graduate
  36. Pan’s Labyrinth
  37. Goldeneye
  38. Hot Fuzz
  39. Layer Cake
  40. 633 Squadron

Your thoughts and lists in the comments please.

 

 

 

 

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Dear Jon . . . (#26) Re: Joyce, at the start of the Wake

BY JON PILL

This crinkled and ragged bletter arrived many, many, many weeks ago but I failed it. It has been sat on Jim’s blog, waiting to be mirrored here. But alas it went unloved for so long.

Here it is now. Unrolled and a little smudged from the steam of the iron I used to flatten it out so it would fit into the internet:

“Dear Jon,

So thanks for your pre-game thoughts, here at base camp. The game was my idea. I’d been glancing at Finnegans Wake here and there for some time now: a dull metallic grey flash in the corner of my eye, probably as I mosey around the bookshelves toward its companions either side – Isherwood, Kelman, Kennedy. Like a mountain, at a glance, the book is intimating. And some books, like mountains, have reputations that precede them – often simply to do with sheer size. If we do a brief geological survey of books, we can see the notable English summits of Clarissa and Middlemarch (a seemingly rare exception to the predictably male propensity for writing long prick-waving novels) and the imposing imperial heights and panoramas of the Victorian social epic – the sooty slopes and smoggy climes of the Dickensian massif. Over the water, there are the modernist mountains of The Man Without QualitiesIn Search of Lost Time and Joseph and His Brothers. Eastwards stands The Brother’s Karamazov and behind that, its sister peak, the vast Russian plateau of War and Peace; westwards the American rockies as thrown up by the postmodern orogeny, the anarchic peaks of Gravity’s Rainbow and The Recognitions, Underworld and Infinite Jest. Even now, and probably unwisely, seeing as I’ll be starting on the Wake shortly I’m lost in William H. Gass’s sixhundredworder The Tunnel[…]”

Click here for the rest.

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Update: 12th July 2017

BY JON PILL

Goodness, gracious, where does it all go? The time that is. The time between tossing out the last fortnightly missive to Jim and the sudden tumbleweed silence of the last two months.

This is not a return to your regularly scheduled programming unfortunately. Work, by which I mean, writing work – off which I have been living for the last month or so – has slurped, and continues to slurp, up time and, far more importantly, energy. The blog, with its pious penury is fun to write and in its own way an important place for me to expend some of my creative soilings, but it does not cough up the necessary potatoes and so cannot take up too much of my time at the moment.

That said. I am hoping to get at least a skeleton posting schedule back up and running shortly. In the meantime, consider this a hopeful fluttering in the ribcage of the corpse.

Here’s what you’ve missed:

Writing

June was my most productive month possibly ever for writing, a little over 40k in words the vast majority of them for Poker Tube, where I was doing the live tournament reporting for the World Series of Poker.

I’ve also got back on the Buzzy Magazine roster and should have something out with them shortly on Season 7 of Game of Thrones which is airing this Sunday.

And I am continuing to write for Front Vision. But there is always room in my schedule if you need something written, or know someone who does. Blog posts, ghost writing, articles, erotic poetry… you name it I’ll write it. Get my email from the About part of the site and hit me up. I’m not proud and I gotta eat.

Reading

A lot of this, mostly disciplined until the last few weeks when my ‘Currently Reading’ pile exploded to sixteen books. Among them is Finnegans Wake which I continue alone, having been abandoned both by the GoodReads group and by Jim, both of whom were reading it with me.

Other key books include The Expanse series (on book 2 atm, not as good as the TV series, but fun) and the gigantic The Norton Anthology of Theory & Criticism which I suspect will be an endless frustration of pseudo-intellectual gabble about stuff which sociology, anthropology and psychology are all studying by looking at facts.

Much to Jim’s relief, I have also started American Pastoral.

Life

Keeping on top of writing, reading, and the various habits I try to keep going: eating well, meditating, exercising, socialising and various smaller things mostly aimed at keeping my mental health solid as the little grey cells will allow, all makes for a certain amount of cat juggling and ball herding.

While May was a fabulous month where everything lined up, the last month and a half-has been rather more chaotic and as a result, while specific things have been working it comes at a cost of other things. Word count goes up, exercise gets pushed out for example.

Being self-employed gives me plenty of flexibility to manage my time. But it is possible to get a little paralysed by the choices. I’m hoping that there will be a series of articles on time management in a little while, but not until I get back into practice what I intend to preach.

Till then there should be a few more Dear Jim’s and book reviews coming out. But they will probably remain sporadic at best for the next couple of months.

For everyone reading this, thanks for sticking with me. You’re my kind of sucker.

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Dear Jim… (#25) Re: Work In Progress

BY JON PILL

Rolled him up in a nice clean sheet
And laided him upon the bed
A bottle of whiskey at his feet
And a gallon of porter at his head

And whack Fol-De-Dah now dance to your partner
Welt the floor, your trotters shake
Wasn’t it the truth I told you
Lots of fun at Finnegan’s wake

Dear Jim,

the Wikipedia page for our upcoming joint-toss of Joyce’s word-salad epic. I read it recently as prep work. Because if Ulysses can ‘only ever be reread’ then one suspects that going cold into the most notoriously difficult English language (is it really a) novel is unfoolwisehardy. The Wiki Wiki West whips out a heavily caveated synopsis:

–Given the book’s fluid and changeable approach to plot and characters, a definitive, critically agreed-upon plot synopsis remains elusive, it says.

So armed with a vague sense of what to look for, I look forwards to barging up past Eve and Adam’s, from swerve of shore to bend of bay and out to Howth Castle and the environs where I am anticipating onomatopoeia (especially mck-gneow for prfffft bodilybleeeeeugggghhhh functions ), graphic sexual descriptions (in his sexts to Nora Barnacle he uses the phrase ‘arseful of farts’), and liberally scattered Celtic myths and languages (Saint Finnegan’s Fisher Salmon of Grail Snakes thrown out of the Mabinogion).

I am also looking forward to passing off other’s critical ideas about who dreams what in what chapter of the novel as my own original thoughts at pointy-headed literary parties while swilling cheap Irish whiskey like its fine Scotch (I am myself a quarter-Scotch through my mother’s line).

My expectations are mixed ;or the Whake seems like something that will annoy and enjoy me in equal measure. Joyce is both horribly pretentious in general – with his prescriptions for what the novel should be – and funny, silly, beautiful, striking, puzzling strange, absurd and interesting in the specific (Anthony Burgess reckons there’s a laugh on every page of Tom O’Finland’s Hake).

I recently reread Ulez because the ‘phones were slack at work and I picked up some lectures about it on Audible.co.uk, its much better on second reading and parts I felt were failed experiments worked better this time around.

You can only every reread Ulysses, they said.

That makes me hopeful for this undertaking. I can’t help by think this is going to be tough, but we’ll take it one sentence at a time (sounded out loud in my best Irish accent I suspect, and sometimes in my worst). But even as we stand on the precipice that is page one (past riverrun) I’m still not 101% sure I know what I’ll be in for. So expect the unexpected and I’ll see you next week to discuss Chapters One and Two.

And that more or less is my pre-game thoughts. We will see exactly how much fun we have at Finnegan’s Wake. I’m hoping for Lotsa, but will accept just some as I’ve been reading

Yosinaccertainly pun-ishmentally,

Jonathan-David-Jesus-Adam-Bloom

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