Friday, July 26, 2013

Writing Tips from Daniel Pinkwater and The Belle

Daniel Pinkwater, prolific author of children's books and other works, was born in 1941. I thought to myself, Good, he's not that old, he'll write many more books.

Then it said he was 71, which does sound old, doesn't it, and then I realized, yes, dear reader, I realized that my being born in 1945, makes me edging ever closer to the cliff of 7-0.

My daughter Sarah tipped me off to the wonderfulness of Daniel Pinkwater, who she and Ethan met at a diner in Jersey, bouncing along in their borrowed stick-shift Audi.

I've been reading Fish Whistle, which she recommended, wrin in the year of our lord 1989 and published by a strange company for good literature: Addison-Wesley Publishing. Some of my psych texts were published by that firm.

The book is enormous fun to read and if you tiptoed into my bedroom - and please don't - you'd hear me chuckling away.

I love the short-essay form. Each one is rarely more than 3 pages long.

Ya know how people are always critiquing your work? Here's what he says about dat:
Here's my policy regarding experts in creative writing: Ignore what they say. Ignore what they say when they tell you you're bad. Ignore what they say when they tell you you're good.

In his chapter called "And Zen I Wrote" he writes:

This is how to prepare to be a good writer - or any kind of artist. It's the kind of information you won't get anywhere else....

The first thing I did was teach myself to sit at a table. Seems simple, but not many people can do it. Specifically, I had a lot of trouble 'getting started.' People who want to do art use that phrase a lot. "I can't seem to get started."...

I made a goal of sitting for one hour at the table where I was supposed to do my work. The rules were, once I sat down, I was not to get up for one hour. I wasn't obliged to do any work, but I wasn't allowed to do anything else. It took me a few days to get so that I could sit quietly and do my work. If I did manage to sit for an hour - I allowed myself to regard it as my day's successful creative work.


The next thing I wanted to do was to develop my powers of observation - not my powers of description, that's easier. I wanted to get beyond what I could describe and find strata of experience that I was probably missing. (Sorry, Daniel, I don't really understand this, but it's gorgeous writing!)

He concludes by saying:

And it still took me a while to be a swell writer - but those exercises I told you about were the most useful things I did. Fun too. It puts me in a good mood just thinking about them.

(Love that last sentence, Daniel!)
Now it's certainly no secret that if you wanna be a good writer, and I sincerely do, you must read good literature. You can mix the good literature - my favorites are Steinbeck, Chekhov, Robert Bausch - with fast-paced thrillers such as Nelson DeMille.

You never know when you'll need action-drama in your works.

I like writing on something that resembles a typewriter. This Acer laptop I'm typing on sucks! But I can't blog on my desktop upstairs, it doesn't let me!

As all writers know, and I B Singer emphasized this, our homes are possessed by demons. Write a masterpiece and accidentally delete it? You won't find it in your trash. I know this for a fact.

One time long ago I wrote an article for Art Matters about a Russian artist - Vladamir Shatalov - who came to America and couldn't write for years and years.

Finally, his 'bloc' broke, and he poured forth his Russian heart into magnificent paintings and I had the honor to write about him. My then BF, artist Chris Ray, called it a 'masterpiece.'

While writing it, I had a broken thumb from playing volleyball, so I typed it with my left hand on my Selectric.

All writing should be done in drafts.

The first draft is terrible. Really bad.

You'll want it to sit overnite and then read it in the morning. You'll see how awful it is and you'll rewrite it. And rewrite it. Until you can't stand it anymore and say, I quit. It's good enough.

Writers must keep scads of paper handy. You never know when you're gonna get an idea. I keep pads of paper in the pouch on the driver's side with a selection of pens.

If a pen fails you, throw it out. Mercilessly. There's a thousand more where that came from.

A pad is necessary on the bedside table, as well as in your pocketbook.

Where do ideas come from?

No one knows.

I often get ideas when I'm reading.

Or sitting on my screened-in back porch watching bears try to get in and eat me up.

Sitting silently, doing nothing, closing your eyes is a good way to get ideas.

Hold on! I'm gonna do that right now and see if I get an idea to write about.

What's the first thing you see when you close your eyes.

I saw a memory from earlier today.

When I was talking to my accountant about a grant we're working on, I stood by my living room window and glory be saw the first hummingbirds of the season.

There were two of them, tiny as butterflies, but dark brown, suspended in the air by their quickly-beating wings, as they sipped the sugar water from my feeder.

It was such a lovely sight, such a perfect, lovely sight, that I might want to do something with this. Something. Like what?


I confess. I've already wrin a poem about a hummingbird. I found it in my accordion file under poems about "birds."

It was critiqued by Chris Bursk who wrote "Not such a good title." I wrote it maybe 15 yrs ago and read it at a Candlelight Vigil at Norristown State Hospital.

A famous psychiatrist and researcher sat at my table. I was nervous to be with him, silly me. When I sat back down after reading the poem, he said, "Now, that's emotion!"

The man is devoid of emotion.


I cut myself a
thick slice of tomato,
salted it lightly,
and took it out
on the front steps.

What looked to be a
flying insect,
a cicada, maybe,
shot down from
a tree in a single line,
positioning itself,
and sucked in silence on the
pink flowers I had
thought were rather disappointing.

It was a hummingbird,
a warm brown,
not colorful like you'd
find in books,
but dull as a mud puddle
or rain water collected
in a bird bath.

She spun around
with invisible wings.
I held my breath.
She would not stay.
The moment she arrived
she readied herself for departure,
her tail pointed in the
direction in which she would leave.

1 comment:

  1. Loved this post, have always liked Pinkwater, enjoyed the poem, and on top of that, I love hummingbirds, so what more can I ask? I am happy and sated. I feel like I just had a delicious meal, compliments of Ruthie's blog! Thanks. Wait...still a bit thirsty so off to drink my iced vanilla chai brewing in the kitchen!