Charles Daly

Freelance copywriter specializing in long-form B2B content

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7 Books on Writing You Haven’t Read

“You can be cautious or you can be creative, but there’s no such thing as a cautious creative..” -George Lois

I assume you’ve read Bird-by-BirdThe Elements of Style, and Stephen King’s On Writing, (all of which are incredible) so they aren’t on this list.

Here are seven unsung gems that have made me a better writer.

Damn Good Advice (For People with Talent!) by George Lois

Lois was one of the founders of advertising’s creative revolution in the 1960s and has been called “the real Don Draper” a comparison he hates.

Some of his advice is ad-industry and copywriting specific, but much of it applies to artists in any medium:

“If you want to do something sharp and innovative, you have to know what went on before. Museums are custodians of epiphanies, and these epiphanies enter the central nervous system and deep recesses of the mind.”

He then gives the example of one of his own epiphanies that led to an Esquire cover featuring Mohamed Ali posing as St. Sebastian.

Cassavettes on Cassavettes by John Cassavettes and Ray Carney
Director John Cassavettes looks back on his career and creates a rambling, brilliant, and occasionally self-contradictory creative ethos. Cassavettes is the patron saint of anyone who dreams of creative freedom, following your vision unmolested by “suits” and critics.

One passage that stuck with me:

“I’ve never seen an exploding helicopter. I’ve never seen anybody go and blow somebody’s head off. So why should I make films about them? But I have seen people destroy themselves in the smallest way, I’ve seen people withdraw, I’ve seen people hide behind political ideas, behind dope, behind the sexual revolution, behind fascism, behind hypocrisy, and I’ve myself done all these things. So I can understand them. What we are saying is so gentle. It’s gentleness. We have problems, terrible problems, but our problems are human problems.”

The Spooky Art: Thoughts on Writing By Norman Mailer
It’s full of Mailer’s trademark braggadocio and posturing, but if you can stomach that, he has some excellent advice, particularly for young writers.

He suggests treating writing like a 9–to-5 job. Mailer being Mailer, he also recommends a lot of obsolete drugs like seconal and benzedrine (the former to help you come down from the latter) and boasts of his own tolerance and the good ideas he had on said drugs.

Then, occasionally, he knocks you on your ass with stuff like this:

“Characters in novels sometimes radiate more energy, therefore, when we don’t enter their mind. It is one of the techniques a novelist acquires instinctively — don’t go into your protagonist’s thoughts until you have something to say about his or her inner life that is more interesting than the reader’s suppositions.”

Plotting and Writing Suspense Fiction by Patricia Highsmith
Lessons on the mechanics and theory of thriller writing by the author of The Talented Mr. Ripley and The Price of Salt, which was adapted into the movie Carol. One of her most helpful suggestions is to ask of each scene, “what happens?” and “why should we care??

“Writing is a way of organizing experience and life itself.”

A Technique for Producing Ideas by James Webb Young
If you’ve worked in advertising, this one is not underrated or unsung.

No matter who you are, this slim volume (something like 30 pages) will improve your thinking and make it possible to have good ideas on command. He emphasizes the importance of a drawdown period where you step away from the problem to make room for the solution.

Young defines an idea thus:

“An idea is nothing more or less than a new combination of old elements”

Write to Sell by Andy Maslan
A new classic in the world of copywriting, this is where I got the 5-draft method for everything I write from fiction to emails. Put simply, it goes like this:
Draft 1 — Rough as rough can be. Just write it, nobody but you has to see it.
Draft 2 — Check your draft against the outline and intended theme.
Draft 3 — Edit for structural issues and paragraph order (this is where I add links in blog posts.)
Draft 4 — Edit for tone and flow. Read it aloud.
Draft 5 — Print and proofread.

Draft no. 4 by John McFee
Speaking of drafts… This one points out the good news/bad news that the first draft takes about as long to write as all the other drafts combined.

The take-home message of every book on this list is basically: get to work! Or, as McPhee writes:

“It doesn’t matter that something you’ve done before worked out well. Your last piece is never going to write your next one for you.”


This post originally appeared in The Startup.

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Friday Roundup, without hope, without despair

Was reminded of some words of wisdom–I first encountered in my English major days–from Austin Kleon quoting Raymond Carver who was quoting Isak Dinesen. Carver and Kleon both put these words on a 3×5 card on the wall, and I’m doing the same.

every day without hope without despair 3x5 Isak Dinesen raymond carter austin kloean

Here’s what I’ve been up to the past 7 days:

 

What I’m Reading

Devil in a Blue Dress — Walter Mosley

 

Hard-Boiled, an anthology of American crime fiction

 

Picasso’s Picasso — David Douglas Duncan. Duncan was a photo-journalist who covered the Korean war around the time my dad was there. He went on to become Picasso’s personal photographer.

 

What I’m Listening to

Joe Rogan and Cameron Hanes talking about bow hunting. This is a MUST if you have strong opinions about hunting but haven’t spent time outdoors.

 

Gorgeous” by Taylor Swift

 

Megamix Depresivo (Depressive Megamix) From Love Lasts 3 Years By Frederic Beigbeder. Contemporary French literature’s great contribution to the heartbreak playlist genre

 

More Oasis, the Verve, and the brothers Gallagher. I made a playlist.

 

What I’m Doing

Sharing my handwriting (gasp) and pages from my notebooks.

 

Looking at a first draft of dad’s book by January, 2018.

 

Working on my iPhone dependence. I’m following three new rules:

1. I don’t check my phone when I wake up or before bed.

2. I Check in a couple times per day, not continuously. (My Tweets are queued up. I really #amwriting)

3. Notifications are turned off.

SEAL’s Podcast Honors Nanking Journalist

Jocko Wilink is a man uniquely qualified to talk about the full spectrum of violence. From competitive aggression on the jiu jitsu jocko-willink mat–where he holds a black belt–to horror in the streets of Ramadi, Iraq–where he lead a joint task force of SEALs and Marines through some of the toughest fighting in that war.

Now a civilian, he hosts a podcast that often explores the dark side of history.

So when Jocko begins an episode with a disclaimer–that the content will be horrific “even for him”–you know it’s about to get heavy.

His 60th episode reviews Iris Chang’s The Rape of Nanking: The Forgotten Holocaust of World War IIHe opens the show by reading the disclaimer from the book’s preface, followed by his own words of caution. “This episode is not for children,” he says, “this episode is barely even for adults.”


Iris Chang’s 1997 book was the first major work in English documenting the Nanking Massacre, an orgy of killing, mass rape, and torture by Japanese soldiers in the city of Nanking, China that left 300,000 dead as part of a campaign that killed an estimated 20 million civilians across East Asia.

They killed and maimed in every way you could imagine and many you couldn’t. They made games of killing and dismemberment. They killed with swords, fire, bayonets, and acid. They buried people alive, ran them over with tanks, and used living victims for bayonet practice. One Japanese newspaper at the time wrote a “sports” piece about a beheading contest between two young officers–first to 100 wins.  The book contains descriptions that nobody who reads it will ever be able un-read.

nanking-mascre Chang’s project began as a matter of curiosity. As the daughter of Chinese immigrants, she had grown up hearing stories about wartime atrocities. These stories were so graphic she assumed they were just metaphors for the brutality of war, or legends that had been embellished with time.

What she soon found was a glimpse into the abyss.

Her research led her to personal accounts from survivors, the journals of unashamed perpetrators, and gruesome  photographic evidence (DO NOT Google image search this whatever you do.)

The book was an overnight bestseller that launched Chang on an international lecture tour. But she was unprepared for what happened next.

iris-chang

Women who had survived sexual slavery during the war started reaching out to her. They came from all over Asia, and many had never spoken about their experiences. Her work was praised by human rights groups and attacked by Japanese nationalists who denied the massacre–a controversy that’s still going on. At speaking events she was approached by survivors from other conflicts and genocides and by aid workers and veterans. People who had spent time on the dark side, people like Jocko, felt she got it right.

All of this weighed heavy on the young journalist. What started as fatigue from her book tour became anxiety, depression, and eventually, a nervous breakdown. She feared the political enemies of her book, she struggled with her new position as the voice of the atrocity. But most of all, she could not escape the things she had seen and heard in her research. It finally became more than she could bare, and Chang took her own life in 2004 at the age of 36.

In her suicide note she wrote, “I will never be able to escape from myself and my thoughts…”

Jocko chose Chang’s story to talk about the terrible cost of looking straight at evil, the perils of ignoring it, and the importance standing up to it. He relates his own war experiences and identifies with her as someone who chose to stare-down evil for a living.

He ends by stressing the importance of “being the light.” As if to answer what’s the point in studying something so horrific? He argues that to be a source of brightness, one must understand just how dark things can get.

He reads from The Woman Who Could Not Forget, a biography of Iris written by her mother, Dr. Ying Ying ChangIn it she writes of the brightness her daughter left behind:

Iris’ life was short but brilliant, like a splendid rainbow across the sky, one that the goddess she was named after would be proud of… What she left behind is a legacy of a life full of courage and conviction, and life’s work that will continue to illuminate and inspire.

Photo: Washington Post 

Showing Up, By the Numbers

If you do three morning pages  every day, you’ll write 273,750 words every year (assuming 250 words/ page.) That’s Crime and Punishment plus Lord of the Flies, all before breakfast.

 

Writing three hours a day gets you to 10,000 hours of practice in ten years. A decade will go by fast if you’re living the kind of life worth writing about. Graham Greene wrote 25 books in a lifetime of three hour days.

 

Just three pages a day for a year is over a thousand pages. You could still draft a novel in a year writing just one page a day.

 

Will Self measures his output in “Conrads.” One Conrad is 800 words.  At a rate of one Conrad per day, you can write a short novel in under 70 days.

 

Friday Roundup – Writing is Spooky

“Writing is spooky. There is no routine of an office to keep you going, only the blank page each morning, and you never know where your words are coming from, those divine words.”

–Norman Mailer

 

 

 

  • However, library attendance has gone up as bookstores close in NYC’s poorest borough. One woman has set out* to open an  indy bookstore in the Bronx through the NY Public Library’s business plan competition.

 

 

 

 

 

 

*as of July 2016

The Transvestite Semicolon

Some Adjustments

Your spine will thank you.

“Carry Bolt Cutters Everywhere”

And other advice from Werner Herzog.

Hesitation and a Trip Over the Falls

Big wave Surfing legend, Anthony Tashnick demonstrates what happens when you hesitate in his line of work.

Big wave Surfing legend Anthony Tashnick demonstrates what happens when you hesitate at Mavericks.

Post by Swellnet.

If Not Now…

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