Daily Writing Tip 56 of 100, Don’t Be a Chimp

For one hundred days, I’m going to post a writing tip each day. I have a whole bookshelf full of writing books and I want to do some reading and increased studying of this valuable resource. This will help me keep track of anything I’ve learned, and help motivate me to keep going. If anyone has a favorite tip of their own to add, contact me. I’d love to put it up here.

Today’s tip – Don’t Be a Chimp

Source – Gotham Writers Workshop: Writing Fiction: The Practical Guide From New York’s Acclaimed Writing School

“If I could have reached my rod I would have blown his guts out.”
—-The Big Kill, Mickey Spillane

So let’s see where we are in the creative process. Promising ideas + hard work = good fiction. Well, not quite. Something is still missing.

To tell a story effectively, you will need some mastery of craft. By craft we mean the time-tested practices that have proven helpful to the construction of good fiction.

Good writing comes down to craft far more than most people realize. True, anyone can write a story without training, which separates fiction writing from such activities as performing heart surgery or piloting a helicopter. But a working knowledge of craft is almost always necessary to make a story really good, worthy of being read by all those strangers. You could build a chair without any knowledge of woodworking because you have a good idea of what a chair is like. You would cut the wood and hammer the pieces together, and sure enough you would have a chair. But it would probably be wobbly, unsightly, and destined to break. It certainly wouldn’t sell. The same is true of fiction.

You should learn craft because it works. The “rules” of fiction craft weren’t created by any one person in particular. They simply emerged over time as guiding principles that made fiction writing stronger, in much the same way the mortise-and-tenon joint emerged as a good way to join parts of a chair.

When I read of learning craft I think of Malcolm Gladwell and his ten thousand hours. The idea is that it takes ten thousand hours of practice to get really good at something… and, conversely, if you spend ten thousand hours at something, you will get good at it.

I wish I could go back in time to when I was a teenager. I would tell me, “Write for two hours a night, most nights; three hundred days a year. In seventeen years, you will be a writer.”

If I had started at, let’s say, thirteen – I would have been a real writer by thirty. I could live with that.

But I didn’t know that at thirteen. Nobody told me about the ten thousand hours. Shame. So many years wasted.

What I learned this week, October 11, 2013

Revealed: How Gaudi’s Barcelona cathedral will finally look on completion in 2026… 144 years after building started

This amazes me to no end. Seeing the Sagrada Familia is something I want to do before I die… now I want to live long enough to see it finished.

I had better start taking care of myself.

50 People On ‘The Most Intellectual Joke I Know’

It’s hard to pick a favorite one…. maybe:

Q: What does the “B” in Benoit B. Mandelbrot stand for?

A: Benoit B. Mandelbrot.

I’ve had a small fascination with the icons marked on shipping crates… especially ones with art in them.


I always find this blog from the Dallas Museum of Art interesting



There are a lot of good things on this earth, but there are few things better than this:


Congratulations to Alice Munro. She was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature this week.

I’ve always said she is the unquestioned master of the short story. Glad to see someone working exclusively in the underrated form and genre of the literatry short story (pretty much) get this recognition. The only problem with reading Munro, as a short story writer, is that when you finish one of hers you realize that you will never be that good – that she has done something you will never be able to pull off.

There’s a new Pynchon novel out, Bleeding Edge. I’m not as excited as I have been in the past… (I have a lot to read) but still… I have to go read it.

Pynchon’s Mrs. Dalloway

Malcolm Gladwell has a new book out: David and Goliath

Excellent talk by him here: Malcolm Gladwell discusses tokens, pariahs, and pioneers


What I learned this week – August 5, 2011

I’ve been fighting through some nasty bouts of writer’s block and finding help where I can.

How to Overcome Writer’s Block


From Forbes Magazine

Stuck on what to write?

Try something different.

The only way to beat writer’s block is to write your way through it.

TIP #1: Write anything.

A decade ago, a friend of mine told me I had to stop writing short stories and write a novel. I’ve spent the last 10 years trying to do just that. I’ve had agents, finished drafts I decided I didn’t like, and given up on more than one occasion.

TIP #2: Forget everything else.

A few years ago, based on the first 30 pages of my novel, I was signed by a big Hollywood talent agency. That led to me pitching an HBO drama sort of based on my novel to Mark Wahlberg’s production partner and ended not long after that.

Eventually, I decided to forget agents, publishers, and pretty much every dream I ever had related to the novel other than making it into something I liked.

TIP #3: Never give up.

I finished that draft earlier this year, but then I got stuck in the revisions.

One problem with writing is that it is a solitary act.

Also, writing a novel is a marathon, and I am a sprinter.

TIP #4: Do what scares you.

In order to deal with my rewriter’s block, I decided to revise my novel in public. This requires a daily act of bravery. Every day, I post a revised section of my novel on a blog I set up to do just that. (The blog is here. The novel starts here.)

TIP #5: Write what you know.

My novel is about a federal agent looking for a missing adult film star. (This is what I know.)

As far as overcoming a block, this is what’s working for me.

The battle over our constitutional protections has now reached the point where our god-given right to hang huge plastic bull testicles from our trailer hitches is being threatened.

Truck Nutz Hooters

Truck Nutz Hooters

From Fox News

On July 5, Virginia Tice, 65, from Bonneau, S.C. pulled her pickup truck into a local gas station with red, fake testicles dangling from the trailer hitch. The town’s police chief, Franco Fuda, pulled up and asked her to remove the plastic testicles.

When she refused, he wrote her a $445 ticket saying that she violated South Carolina’s obscene bumper sticker law.

David Hudson, a First Amendment attorney and scholar, says laws banning these types of decals, emblems or bumper stickers are problematic, but often someone just hasn’t challenged them.

Hudson believes Tice and her lawyer can make a good case the South Carolina law is “unconstitutionally vague and unconstitutionally broad, and it violates the First Amendment.”

Hudson detailed many cases where law enforcement officials cited individuals for the content of their bumper stickers, and in the majority of those cases, a judge tossed them out because “the First Amendment protects a great deal of offensive expression.”

Hudson also cites the Supreme Court’s opinion that “the government may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because society finds the idea itself offensive or disagreeable.”

Read More

I’m not too happy this case is going to court … it is sure to result in a hung jury.

Here in Dallas, the question has been asked and answered.

I learned that there is a way to cook pasta that looks really good and really easy. Unfortunately, it takes a pot that I can’t afford.

Alain Ducasse - Pasta Pot

Alain Ducasse - Pasta Pot, by Alessi

From the New York Times:

Alain Ducasse and the designer Patrick Jouin have created a pasta pot for Alessi that perfectly shows off Mr. Ducasse’s pasta-cooking method.

First the pot: it is slope-sided stainless steel with a mirror finish. The well-balanced cast aluminum handle stays fairly cool and serves as a nesting place for the melamine spoon that fits it. The flat lid has a steam vent, and the set comes with a melamine trivet for stove-to-table service. A recipe booklet is included. It is $238 at the Alessi store in SoHo at 130 Greene Street (Prince Street) and at the new store that opened two weeks ago at 30 East 60th Street.

Now for the pasta: Mr. Ducasse said he learned this all-in-one technique from traditional olive oil makers in the Ligurian region of Italy. Instead of boiling pasta, making a sauce and combining them, he sautés aromatics, including garlic and onion, in the pot, stirs in the pasta, then slowly adds stock, so the pasta absorbs the liquid and softens. It is an effective method, like making a risotto, that takes about 20 minutes for delicious results. The starch in the pasta, which is not discarded in boiling water, thickens the stock, making a lush sauce. The process is for short macaroni cuts like penne, not spaghetti.


But there is hope, my friends. I think I can make this recipe in a Dutch Oven. Man, looking at this is making me hungry.

More Pasta Information. From Malcolm Gladwell, the genius, via the TED network (which is chock-a-block with interesting lectures and… stuff, thanks, Carrie).

Malcolm Gladwell on Spaghetti Sauce

To a worm in horseradish, the world is horseradish.

I think I know what’s wrong. We’re all stuck in an Army Ant Death Spiral.