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April 16, 2010


Emerson Zora Hamsa

Thanks so much for the writing (and love) advice. Some of your comments brought me to tears, confirmed that this journey is doing what is supposed to to. I certainly feel better knowing that this path is familiar to many writers. I have enjoyed your voice this week; thank you for lending yourself to TEV! Take care.



For your audience of young writers the most useful advice might be: be patient, spend as much time as it takes to get characters, scenes, plots exactly right, don't do as I did early on, send things to agents or editors before they're ready.


This is such a great post.

No one knows all the answers. All the answers are personal. Write your truth.

Thank you.


Historically, writers have been the worst lovers possible, the Brownings being perhaps the one happy exception to that rule. So I would avoid anybody out there to avoid falling in love with one if at all possible. I mean, actors are probably better choices, and that tells you something.


I was alternately choked up and nodding in agreement with a big grin on my face reading this post. I write poetry, not fiction, and I didn't even notice until rereading that you specified "fiction" anywhere in this piece. Every single item here feels perfectly apt for any writer.


So good. I like how you had to go through love to get to writing. I am writing memoir but #5 spoke to me the most.

Kathryn Paterson

This is quite possibly the best advice I have ever heard on writing. OH MY GOD, THANK YOU for this!


Thanks for it, Mark...A reader from Panamá.

Chabon McSafran-Foer

This is good, heartening advice.

Reed Sanders

That's good stuff, thanks

Diane Dehler

Poignant and straight from the heart. There are pearls of wisdom here.

Cyndi Hughes

Amen! I especially love #9 and #10. I'm sharing this dose of inspiration with the members of the Writers' League of Texas.

jessica handler

This is wonderful, and is now printed out and over my desk. Thanks for getting into my brain and heart.


i revisit this from time to time. it's still be best love (and writing) advice i've read.

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  • The Elegant Variation is "Fowler’s (1926, 1965) term for the inept writer’s overstrained efforts at freshness or vividness of expression. Prose guilty of elegant variation calls attention to itself and doesn’t permit its ideas to seem naturally clear. It typically seeks fancy new words for familiar things, and it scrambles for synonyms in order to avoid at all costs repeating a word, even though repetition might be the natural, normal thing to do: The audience had a certain bovine placidity, instead of The audience was as placid as cows. Elegant variation is often the rock, and a stereotype, a cliché, or a tired metaphor the hard place between which inexperienced or foolish writers come to grief. The familiar middle ground in treating these homely topics is almost always the safest. In untrained or unrestrained hands, a thesaurus can be dangerous."


  • The Bookshop by Penelope Fitzgerald


    Penelope Fitzgerald's second novel is the tale of Florence Green, a widow who seeks, in the late 1950s, to bring a bookstore to an isolated British town, encountering all manner of obstacles, including incompetent builders, vindictive gentry, small minded bankers, an irritable poltergeist, but, above all, a town that might not, in fact, want a bookshop. Fitzgerald's prose is spare but evocative – there's no wasted effort and her work reminds one of Hemingway's dictum that every word should fight for its right to be on the page. Florence is an engaging creation, stubbornly committed to her plan even as uncertainty regarding the wisdom of the enterprise gnaws at her. But The Bookshop concerns itself, finally, with the astonishing vindictiveness of which provincials are capable, and, as so much English fiction must, it grapples with the inevitabilities of class. It's a dense marvel at 123 pages, a book you won't want to – or be able to – rush through.
  • The Rider by Tim Krabbe


    Tim Krabbé's superb 1978 memoir-cum-novel is the single best book we've read about cycling, a book that will come closer to bringing you inside a grueling road race than anything else out there. A kilometer-by-kilometer look at just what is required to endure some of the most grueling terrain in the world, Krabbé explains the tactics, the choices and – above all – the grinding, endless, excruciating pain that every cyclist faces and makes it heart-pounding rather than expository or tedious. No writer has better captured both the agony and the determination to ride through the agony. He's an elegant stylist (ably served by Sam Garrett's fine translation) and The Rider manages to be that rarest hybrid – an authentic, accurate book about cycling that's a pleasure to read. "Non-racers," he writes. "The emptiness of those lives shocks me."