Have You Finished That Book Yet?

Portrait of a Woman (Portrait de femme)

  • Have you heard of the Hawking Index?

It’s an attempt at an estimate of how far into bestsellers people read, and it’s named after A Brief History of Time, apparently one of the least-finished books ever written.

I’ve recently read suffered through a book by an acclaimed contemporary author, whose earlier novel I found very interesting. The experience got me thinking, and I’m not alone.

“…you should stop reading when…you aren’t impressed, lulled, entertained, lightened, depressed, remoulded, whatever you go to books for.”

— Tom Lamont, Observer writer

When I started the book I’m referring to I felt it was not my kind of read pretty much from the very beginning: it was doing nothing for me. I didn’t want to quit, though, and kept thinking, what if the next page, chapter…brings some kind of revelation?

“…if you give up on a book the minute you don’t like a character, twig a plot development, see quite where the author’s going with it all, have a sudden yen for a game of Candy Crush – then you’re going to miss out.”

— Alex Clark, writer and literary critic

The revelation never happened. I finished the book, and I felt two things: relief, because I was finally done with it, and regret, because I could have spent my time differently. Not once since I closed the book have I thought about the story, the characters…

Should all books be read from cover to cover? What say you?

Image: Paul Cézanne. Portrait of a Woman (Portrait de femme), c. 1898. Oil on canvas, Overall: 36 3/4 x 28 7/8 in. (93.3 x 73.3 cm). BF164. Public Domain.

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Is Professional Writing Doomed?

Tarring the Boat (Le Bateau goudronné)

  • Is there future in freelance writing?

Freelance copy/content writing that has to do with selling or marketing is a different story. But what about writing (produced by writers to make a living) that aims at informing, or merely entertaining?

Magazine articles and newspaper articles fall under this category, but so do short stories, novels, books of poetry, etc.

“There is so much wonderful writing on the internet, which is free. Eventually, writing will be like musical recordings. Everyone will have access to everything. … The world is changing–has changed–considerably. Many excellent writers give away 200-page books for free–really excellent. Digitization is creating an entire new world.” — RK, Bob Bly‘s Facebook friend

  • Is the internet killing professional writing?

Back in 2008 Bob Bly interviewed writer Harlan Ellison, and the latter blamed the internet for making life a lot harder for professional writers. Mr. Ellison criticized the “slovenliness of thinking” on the web as well as the “slacker-gen philosophy and belief today that everything should be free.”

“With all the sites publishing articles and short stories for
which authors are not paid, and which readers don’t pay to read —
well, what would you expect?”

  • Do success stories still happen?

Notwithstanding (or in part thanks to?) the changes and challenges brought on by the internet, Kindle, etc. — yes, success stories still happen.

“Last month, Lara Prescott was preparing to graduate from her three-year creative writing fellowship at the University of Texas. Two weeks later, she is sitting on book deals worth at least $2m (£1.5m), after publishers on both sides of the Atlantic battled to get their hands on her first novel.”

Will you write for the love of writing, in other words be an amateur? Will you hold on to your dream of writing for a living? Will you be the next success story?

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Image: Édouard Manet. Tarring the Boat (Le Bateau goudronné), July–August 1873. Oil on canvas, Overall: 19 11/16 x 24 1/8 in. (50 x 61.2 cm). BF166. Public Domain.

Men & Women of Letters vs. Content Providers, or Writing in The Age of Computers

On the Beach

“The virtues of the ­computer—faster, easier, simpler—are vices when it comes to writing. The pen personalizes the labor of writing, reminding us that we are responsible for what we write.” — from PHENOMENOLOGY OF THE HAND by Mark Bauerlein

Anne Tyler writes in longhand, then revises in sections in “quite small and distinct handwriting – it is almost like knitting a novel”. When the “knitting” is done, she types up the manuscript, then writes it out in longhand — again. The whole thing.

Anne Tyler is not alone in her love for the old-fashioned tools of the trade (in particular, white paper with no lines, and a Pilot P500 gel pen), but some writers take it to the extreme:

“A blank computer screen makes me want to throw up,” says Niven Govinden. “It’s not conducive to good writing.” Or is it? What do you think?

Are you drawn to the old-fashioned? Do you write longhand? Do you find the soft glow of a computer screen exciting and inspiring? Share in the comments.

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Image credit: Maurice Brazil Prendergast. On the Beach, 1896–1897. Watercolor with graphite underdrawing on wove paper, Overall: 13 3/4 x 10 in. (34.9 x 25.4 cm). BF695. Public Domain.

The Battle of Two Annes, or Real Life in Memoir and Fiction

The Card Players (Les Joueurs de cartes)

Do “you own everything that happened to you”? What if you were not nice to them without realizing it? Is there such a thing as an objective memoir?

Is it okay if your “fiction is taken from real life”? Do writers have a right to appropriate somebody else’s life stories? Do writers “own everything that happened to other people”?

What do you think? Feel free to share your views in the comments.

Image credit: Paul Cézanne. The Card Players (Les Joueurs de cartes), 1890–1892. Oil on canvas, Overall: 53 1/4 x 71 5/8 in. (135.3 x 181.9 cm). BF564. Public Domain.