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Scott Lax Blog

Dickens in the Age of Twitter

I recently read A CHRISTMAS CAROL IN PROSE, by Charles Dickens. It's of course what all the various film incarnations have been based upon, and has provided so many with a sense of what Christmas - for those who believe or sort of believe - is about. (Or don't believe in Christmas, it's still a great novella, I think.)

Partial as I am to the 1951 movie version of "Scrooge," above all the other interpretations, there is nothing like the novella. It took me inside of Dickens's sensibility and mastery of language, as well as into 1830's London.

How modern it is, in so many ways: Human nature hasn't changed much; nor has need, or poverty, or greed or love of family; faith remains, and cynicism does, too.

What has changed so much, I fear, is the pace at which opinions are formed and words are spoken. I don't want to imagine Dickens imparting wisdom in 140-character bytes.

If your means are small this Christmas season, and your mind is rushing, try reading A CHRISTMAS CAROL IN PROSE by Dickens. It sticks with you; it doesn't evaporate into the vapors. It stays, rather, in the mists of literary wonder, which, if you react as I did, enriches your life far more than a new sweater or a night on the town.  Read More 

The Meaning of "Murder Your Darlings"

There's an expression that's bandied about at writing classes and other literary gatherings. It's this: "Murder your darlings." It's often misunderstood and misquoted (its bogus variations are many and often funny), but that's the quotation, according to The Paris Review's THE WRITER'S CHAPBOOK.

The author of that quote is G.K.Chesterton. Here's what it means to me: the parts of your writing that you fall in love with are the very same things you might want to sleep on, or consider for a longer while, before you leave them in. They're often overly emotional, or sentimental, or clever, or snarky words; or any number of things that don't serve the writing, the story. You may be over-explaining in a way that you think is elegant and brilliant, but that bogs down the story and insults the reader's intelligence by essentially providing an intellectual spoiler -- by telling your reader what to think.

If you write a sentence that you think is brilliant or witty or wise, but it doesn't serve the story, cut it...murder it, in other words. You can always save your darling on the shelf, in a computer file, or a notebook or stack of scrap paper. But get rid of it in your creative writing.

So there you go. The answer to one of the most misunderstood quotations in English literature. It doesn't refer to killing off characters, or any other weird interpretations. It's simply looking at that in your writing that you have fallen in love with, and asking yourself if it really needs to be there, or if you just like the sound of it. Or worse, if you're showing off, for any reason: your knowledge, your wit, your unique perspective.

Since I bash Twitter on a regular basis, I'll relate it to Twitter: Ninety-eight percent of what is on Twitter is "darling" writing. It ought to be cut, or never published, or relegated to one's diary, where it can rest comfortably, away from the eyes of an increasingly illiterate and overly-accepting reading public. "I had eight big fatty pieces of bacon today!" isn't literature; it's bad writing. And bad eating.  Read More 

Professional Writers Should be Aware of Social Media's Impact as Well as Benefits

I'm not against social media -- far from it. While I don't do Twitter or Facebook for now (maybe when a new book is out), I think they can be excellent tools to connect with family and friends and clients and readers; and to market your writing in general.

But be careful -- those domains are not yours. I think the jury is still out (if not even in session yet) about whether you own your own words on domains that are not like this one, which is an Authors Guild domain (and thus I know they protect my rights, not infringe on them). Just make sure you own your own words if that's important to you.

And, too, if you're a professional writer, and you post using ungrammatical sentences and rant about things that you might better keep to a private conversation, you need to be aware that your words will stay out here on the ether forever. Or until the sun goes super-nova, anyway.

I write controversial things, and likely always will. But I stand behind them (or at least wince with the knowledge that at least once I stood behind them). I guess all I'm saying is think before you post. It's all too easy to publish these days. Professional writers need to self-edit more than ever.  Read More 

Avoid the Oil Spill of Twitter and Blogging about Nonsense and Nothingness

How will you know when you're a good writer? My experience tells me you won't ever know. Because the better you get, the more you know you don't know.

I've seen good writers turn into not good writers because of a few successes. It happens to writers like it happens to athletes or CEOs of companies or spouses: Overconfidence, arrogance, and entitlement.

It's spread over the Internet like an oil spill: preening to a faceless mass of "followers" (as if bloggers and Twitterers, by nature of their ability to pour out seemingly endless drivel, trivialities and snark, are actually accomplishing something), typers spew ungrammatical and baseless globs of words.

What, exactly, are those writers accomplishing? They rant, snipe and moan about their lives or professions; but what does this have to do with writing? Maybe it saves them therapy, but it's not making them writers, anymore than me tightening a leaky faucet makes me a plumber. I don't know what it is; maybe it's some 21st Century version of Andy Warhol's 15 minutes of fame, except it's a virtual, ethereal eternity of simply being known. For whatever that's worth. Is being known worthwhile in and of itself? As a writer, would you rather be like Lindsay Lohan or an excellent, but little known stage actor? Which do you think would give you more satisfaction, more sense of worth in your life and art? If the answer is the former, then type away and let it out there unchecked; if the latter, hone your craft.

This blog is for those who wish to write, or at least learn a little bit about the writing life. I don't have many answers; I may not have any at all. But I can share what little I've learned about writing.

If you want to write for publication, or write better than you do, you'll have to learn the craft; study the art, practice writing. Read, write, edit, take classes, do what you need to do. But don't delude yourself that pouring out your observations about your job or home life or politics - without controlling principles, without form, without evidence, without skill, without art, for goodness sake - is literary writing. It's not.

Avoid those that spill the oil and muck up the sea of intelligence in which we try to swim. A lot of people are writing away, writing thousands, millions of words - and in some sense, in the sense that they're writing instead of mugging someone on the street - I suppose that's a healthy thing. But it's not writing as art; it demeans writing as art. Throwing a burger on a grill doesn't make you a trained chef. that takes years and years of hard work and sacrifice. Throwing some words in a Tweet don't make you a writer.

Much journalism is going down - or has already gone down - a dark and stupid road to oblivion. Don't go down that road if you want to write fiction and nonfiction that actually makes a difference. Be a writer if that's what you want to be.  Read More