Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Virtues of a Good Pen

I've been meaning to post about this article for a while. It's been patiently waiting for me in my "to be blogged" pile. Skip the Paris Cafes And Get a Good Pen was in the Wall Street Journal on September 29th.

In it, Mark Helprin writes:

The fewer tools the better, and they need not be costly or complicated. Whether you use a pencil, a pen, an old typewriter or something electrical is largely irrelevant to the result, although there is magic in writing by hand. It's not just that it has been that way for 5,000 years or more, and has engraved upon our expectations of literature the effects associated with the pen—the pauses; considerations; sometimes the racing; the scratching out; the transportation of words and phrases with arrows, lines and circles; the closeness of the eyes to the page; the very touching of the page—but that the pen, not being a machine (it does not meet the scientific definition of a machine), is a surrender to a different power than those of mere speed and efficiency. 

In short, a pen (somehow) helps you think and feel. And although once you find a pen you like you'll probably stick with it the way an addict sticks with heroin, it can be anything from a Mont Blanc to a Bic.. . . 

Still, don't hurry. Live dangerously. People love to look at the rough and scarred original manuscripts in the display cases of the New York Public Library or in facsimile editions. It's not just because it brings them to the kind of authenticity one cannot help but treasure but because they know that if there is, indeed, magic, it is here to be seen, in worn pages that glow with concentration, genius and love.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Concord Free Press: Giving Books Away for Free

I saw an article about the Concord Free Press the other day and was intrigued. How can a press give away books for free? Yet, this is what they do. All that they ask is that you make a donation (of any amount) to someone else, post it on their website, and then pass the book along to someone else.

So, I checked out their website. They refer to their project as "An Ongoing Experiment in Generosity." The writers don't get paid, the graphic designer doesn't get paid and they get reduced printing costs. They do accept donations to help offset the costs involved and sell some related items in order to raise funds.

Honestly, I have mixed feelings on this. The writers don't get paid. Now, I am the first to acknowledge that (most) writers don't make much. I wrote for free for years before starting to get even a small amount of payment for my work. Those of us who write do so out of love (and perhaps necessity - the words have to come out) first and the hope of remuneration second, but still, it's nice to have that hope. And on principle, I feel that writers should be paid. We work hard. We earn it. And, like everyone else we have bills to pay.

Still, I can understand the desire to have someone read one's words and this vehicle provides an audience. In addition, the writers retain the rights and have the ability to traditionally publish at a later date. And I understand the gift of generosity. In one way or another, the universe (God) rewards it. In light of the big picture, it usually pays off.

All in all, it is an intriguing concept. I wonder if it is something we Catholic writers could do in order to help promote and share our words and our works?

Friday, October 19, 2012

No Excuses

How long have you been working on your current project? A day? A month? Six months? A year? Ten years? Since the Reagan administration?


I'll be honest. The project I'm working on now I started in June of 2010, so I'm looking at two and a half years right now and isn't like I've been writing the next War and Peace. I've had to put it away for long periods of time. It can be disheartening to admit that, but I'm happy that I'm working on it on a semi-regular basis right now (at least once a week) and that I'm making progress. Maybe, before another two and a half years are up, I will manage to complete it!

I'm came across this quote today in the July/August issue of Poets and Writers which offered a good reminder.

"The truth is, if we're doing good work there is no need to justify it. No matter how long it takes; no matter how many revisions have been scrapped or how many agents and editors have rejected us, we shouldn't have to offer excuses for how we got here. Living a life (with its attendant mortgage payments, pediatrician appointments, and flat tires) and writing a great poem or story or essay or book are not mutually exclusive. Quite the opposite. The writing life is messy, and there's no secret to success. Instead there are many paths leading to where you want to go."

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Book Review: Books: A Living History

Books: A Living History
by Martyn Lyons
Los Angeles: The J. Paul Getty Museum, 2011

Martyn Lyons, educated at the University of Oxford and widely known as a leading historian of the book, offers a fascinating survey of the printed word in "Books: A Living History." He examines the history of the book, starting with the advent of writing itself in ancient civilizations, making his way through the middle ages, the creation of the printing press, the modern era, and the digital age. He defines books as all forms of written communication, "from cuneiform script to the printed codex to the digitized electronic book."

There are many wonderful tidbits of information tucked within these pages. One thing I learned was where the terms "upper case" and "lower case" come from - they refer to the storage case for manual type for printers. Capitals were in the upper section and ordinary letters were in the lower section. It is possible all of you reading this already knew that, but I found it fascinating. Having worked in graphic design, I also found his discussion of the development of fonts very interesting.

Lyons also examines the development of literature, and the increase in demand for "cheap fiction" in the 1900s. He also looks at the publishing industry - the role of bookstores and libraries, the royalty system and how the digital era is changing the publication of books. 

The photographs that accompany the text are very instructive in themselves. One could learn much simply by looking at them and reading the associated captions.

"Books: A Living History" is an enjoyable book for anyone interested in history or the printed word.


Sunday, October 7, 2012

Work in Progress - Trudging through the Middle

I am at that place in my work in progress in which I want to set the manuscript on fire. Usually, this is only a figurative problem. After all, despite my sometimes tumultuous relationship with my laptop, I’m not likely to actually set it on fire. This time, I am writing in a notebook. I truly could live out this fantasy, and it is only the more level-headed side of my brain that is keeping me from following through.

Read more of my post on the Catholic Writer's Guild Blog