Sunday, January 13, 2013

Honest advice to a young writer, from F. Scott Fitzgerald

Thanks to for this excerpt from a 1938 letter written by Fitzgerald to a family friend's child:

"Dear Frances:

I've read the story carefully and, Frances, I'm afraid the price for doing professional work is a good deal higher than you are prepared to pay at present. You've got to sell your heart, your strongest reactions, not the little minor things that only touch you lightly, the little experiences that you might tell at dinner. This is especially true when you begin to write, when you have not yet developed the tricks of interesting people on paper, when you have none of the technique which it takes time to learn. When, in short, you have only your emotions to sell.

This is the experience of all writers. It was necessary for Dickens to put into Oliver Twist the child's passionate resentment at being abused and starved that had haunted his whole childhood. Ernest Hemingway's first stories 'In Our Time' went right down to the bottom of all that he had ever felt and known. In 'This Side of Paradise' I wrote about a love affair that was still bleeding as fresh as the skin wound on a haemophile.

The amateur, seeing how the professional having learned all that he'll ever learn about writing can take a trivial thing such as the most superficial reactions of three uncharacterized girls and make it witty and charming – the amateur thinks he or she can do the same. But the amateur can only realize his ability to transfer his emotions to another person by some such desperate and radical expedient as tearing your first tragic love story out of your heart and putting it on pages for people to see.

That, anyhow, is the price of admission. Whether you are prepared to pay it or, whether it coincides or conflicts with your attitude on what is 'nice' is something for you to decide. But literature, even light literature, will accept nothing less from the neophyte. It is one of those professions that wants the 'works.' You wouldn't be interested in a soldier who was only a little brave."  ...

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Working on a memoir? Study Diane Keaton

Diane Keaton's memoir Then Again, published in May 2012, can serve as a writer's guide to the craft of memoir. Spend some time with it and you'll see an excellent example of a memoir with a twist. Not wanting to write a movie-star biography, Diane Keaton used her mother's journal writing as a way of revisiting and having a conversation with her. Along the way, Keaton takes use through the years as she became an actress, and enjoyed major success with movies, and also with several famous fellas in the industry.

Keaton speaks of "opening and closing doors all my life. But the door marked LETTING GO has remained shut." As her Mom struggled through Alzheimer's disease, Keaton recognizes there is no turning back her mother's illness, nor that of others: . "...even genius didn't stop Ralph Waldo Emerson, Iris Murdoch, E.B. White, or Somerset Maugham from the "insidious onset."

You'll be intrigued by Keaton's ability to weave the stories of her life together, and will agree with the New York Times claim that Then Again is "A far-reaching, lucid book about mothers, daughters, childhood, aging, mortality, joyfulness, love, work and the search for self-knowledge."

Read it for pleasure, and by all means, study it if you're working on a memoir.