Scrounging for money: how the world’s great writers made a living


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William Faulkner’s typewriter in Mississippi. The writing life may sound idyllic, but it was often a furious battle to make ends meet.
Visit Mississippi/Flickr, CC BY-SA

Camilla Nelson, University of Notre Dame Australia

It’s a lean time for writers, as arts funding shrinks on all sides, journalists are laid off in droves, broadcasting budgets are slashed, and book publishing remains in a state of seemingly unceasing upheaval. The Conversation

It often seems as if the age of living by the pen may be brought to a close by an increasingly rapacious approach to human affairs, interested only in hard numbers and bottom lines. Australian writers Frank Moorhouse and Ben Eltham have recently proposed several schemes to give writers a living wage to support their work.

And so it’s timely to reflect on some of the strange, desperate and occasionally dangerous ways in which writers have historically lived, if not always by their pens, then at least on their wits. Here’s twelve ways in which classics of western literature were written.

1) Advertising

Unlike other activities, advertising continues to pay very well (though many writers fear they may be required to sell their soul).

English crime writer Dorothy Sayers had a top floor office at Benson’s advertising, where she invented the Mustard Club, a fictional mustard-loving entity with half a million real life subscribers in the UK, and also devised “Just think what Toucan do” for Guinness.

Dorothy Sayers, apart from her contribution to crime fiction, gave the world Guinness’ toucan campaign.
Ben Sutherland/Flickr, CC BY

Peter Carey devised roof-tiling company Monier’s well-known jingle, “Top Cat in Roof Tiles”. Salman Rushdie spent many happy years at Ogilvy & Mather where he came up with “Look into the Mirror tomorrow – you’ll like what you see” for the Daily Mirror. Don Delillo was also employed at Ogilvy & Mather’s New York office, but doesn’t talk about it much.

Even F. Scott Fitzgerald did time at Barron Collier’s. Not only did he give us The Great Gatsby, he also produced – for the Muscatine Steam laundry in Muscatine, Iowa – “We keep you clean in Muscatine”.

2) Postal clerks

The postal service has provided a safe haven for many a writer. Anthony Trollope wrote his novels for three hours every morning before going off to his day job at the post office, which he kept for 33 years. Charles Bukowski also worked for the postal service, and kept his job for ten years. (His first novel was called Post Office and its protagonist was a postal clerk.)

William Faulkner was also a postmaster in Mississippi, but rather less good at holding his job. His resignation letter famously read,

As long as I live under the capitalistic system, I expect to have my life influenced by the demands of moneyed people. But I will be damned if I propose to be at the beck and call of every itinerant scoundrel who has two cents to invest in a postage stamp.

Faulkner went on to work as a night manager in a power plant where he penned As I Lay Dying in six or eight weeks, writing between the hours of midnight and 4 am.

3) Janitors and pest exterminators

Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest was inspired by CIA-backed mind control experiments.

Ken Kesey was a night cleaner in a mental hospital. He also volunteered to be an experimental guinea pig in a CIA-backed mind control study conducted under the auspices of a front organisation at the Menlo Park facility. This experience gave us One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.

Stephen King also did time as a janitor in a high school. William S. Burroughs worked as a pest exterminator in Chicago. Jack Kerouac’s resume includes stints as a cotton picker, a dishwasher, a night guard, and gas station attendant.

4) Music transcription

Desperate writers, it seems, will do just about anything. Rousseau, with his books banned, and patrons running scared, transcribed an estimated 9,000 pages of music at six sols per page between 1770 and his death in 1778.

5) Poaching

Jack London, oyster pirate, 1914.

Jack London was famously an oyster poacher, though he preferred to call himself an “oyster pirate”. There’s also an apocryphal tale that Shakespeare was forced to flee Stratford when he was nabbed for poaching deer on the nearby Lucy estate, leading to a life-long feud with the local lord.

There’s no doubt that Shakespeare was adept at turning a guinea where he could. The Earl of Rutland paid no less than four pounds and eight shillings to Shakespeare and his lead actor Richard Burbage (who also moonlighted as a painter) to create a shield and write a motto so that Rutland could appear well dressed at a tournament.

Shakespeare sent his money home to his very clever wife in Stratford, who slowly bought up lots of farmland and cornered much of the local grain trade.

6) Academic

Many writers teach, but few do it for a career. David Lodge was Professor of English, back in the day when academics didn’t worry too much about things like Excellence in Research evaluation, or applying for research council grants. JRR Tolkien was Professor of Anglo Saxon at Oxford, producing definitive editions of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and the Beowulf as well as his novels.

Robert Frost taught at Amherst and Vladimir Nabokov was Professor of Russian Literature at Cornell. But not everybody agreed this was a good idea. When Nabokov was up for a chair in literature at Harvard, the distinguished linguist Roman Jakobson protested, “What’s next? Shall we appoint elephants to teach zoology?”

7) Butterfly curator

Nabokov’s first job on arrival in the United States was as the curator of Lepidoptera at the Museum of Comparative Zoology, Harvard. He stayed there for six years.

Butterflies collected by Vladimir Nabakov.

8) Propagandist

It’s surprising how many writers have ended up on the murky side of politics. John Buchan, perhaps most famously, earned 1,000 pounds a year as the Director of the Ministry of Information, closely aligned to the War Propaganda Bureau where H.G. Wells, Arthur Conan Doyle, J.B. Priestly, and Ford Maddox Ford penned paid and unpaid articles, pamphlets and leaflets including Doyle’s To Arms! (1914) and Ford’s When Blood is Their Argument (1915). Arnold Bennett was head of British propaganda in France. Wells became Head of Enemy Propaganda until a strange series of events led to his spectacular resignation.

Orwell’s 1984 was inspired by his work as a propagandist.
Goodreads

George Orwell, who spent much of his life scraping money from wherever he could, was employed in the service of the Imperial Police in Burma, an institution he despised. On returning to London, he worked as a paid propagandist at the BBC, broadcasting to India. It was the psychic pain of the arch enemy of mindless patriotism serving as a wartime propagandist that gave us 1984.

9) Doctors, lawyers and clergymen

Some writers have known from the start that there are better ways to make a living. Henry Fielding was a Magistrate, but by “refusing to take a shilling from a man who would undoubtedly not have had another one left” halved his portion of what he called “the dirtiest money on earth”.

Jonathan Swift was the vicar of Laracor – his congregation of just 15 leaving him plenty of time to write, which he did, for the most part, in the glittering clubs of London.

Anton Chekov, Somerset Maugham and Williams Carlos Williams were doctors. So too was Arthur Conan Doyle. Doyle set up a not very successful medical practice in Portsmouth and famously penned A Study in Scarlet during the interminable wait times between patients. He later set up an ophthalmologist in Upper Wimpole St, London, but claims that he never secured so much as a single patient.

10) Cinema impressario

James Joyce scraped a living by teaching English in Trieste, while dreaming up wild moneymaking schemes. With the help of Italian friends he opened the Cinematograph Volta in Dublin, on Mary St, but couldn’t stick to it for more than seven months. He then planned to import Irish tweed to Trieste.

Ulysses would never have been written without the support of feminist publisher Harriet Shaw Weaver, who, in February 1917, shortly after she published Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man in book form, gave Joyce an income of £200 a year to support his work. Later Weaver created a trust fund, the interest from which gave Joyce an income for life.

11) Airline ticketing clerk

Harper Lee worked as a reservation clerk for Eastern Air Lines and BOAC for more than eight years. This only changed in in 1956, when the Broadway composer Michael Brown and his wife Joy gave Lee a Christmas gift with a card that said, “You have one year off from your job to write whatever you please.” Lee produced the first draft of To Kill a Mockingbird within 12 months.

Harper Lee being presented with a medal of freedom by President George W Bush in 2007.

12) Patronage

It’s hard to believe, but writers made nothing from their books until the invention of copyright in the 18th century. Instead, they relied on wealthy patrons to make a living.

This uneasy relationship led a frustrated Samuel Johnson to insert in 1755 a double-edged definition in his Dictionary. After the words, “Patron: One who countenances, supports and protects,” he added, “Commonly a wretch who supports with insolence and is paid with flattery.”

Shakespeare is said to have received an astonishing £1,000 for his flowery dedications to the Earl of Southampton (though it was more probably a still wildly generous £100). Hence he wrote, “The love I dedicate to your lordship is without end; whereof this pamphlet, without beginning, is but a superfluous moiety.”

But choosing a patron could be dangerous. The Earl of Southampton was later imprisoned by Queen Elizabeth I for his role in the Earl of Essex’s 1601 rebellion against the queen. Southampton had organised a special performance of Richard II. While there is no evidence Shakespeare was directly punished, he had good reason to be worried, with other writers tortured and even murdered in Elizabethan England.

Living by the pen

Of course, the preferred method of earning an income for writers has inevitably been journalism. Once patronage was replaced by the rise of the commercial press, writers were able to turn to the business of writing about real people. Samuel Richardson was a printer. Samuel Taylor Coleridge edited The Watchman and The Friend. Charles Dickens was a parliamentary reporter and then editor and publisher of Household Words.

Harriet Beecher Stowe’s work as a journalist allowed her to write, and support her entire family.

Indeed, writing for periodicals was what allowed many women in the 19th century to secure an independent income. Jane Austen calculated that the life-long return on her novels was a mere 84 pounds and 13 shillings (works that made millions in the centuries that followed).

But Harriet Beecher Stowe was able to become the sole income earner for her family, penning not just Uncle Tom’s Cabin, but periodicals, gift books, textbooks and popular annuals. Margaret Fuller became the first female editor of the New York Tribune, and their first female foreign correspondent covering the Italian revolutions.

Today, the problem is that not only writers but also perhaps journalists could use an arts council grant.

Camilla Nelson, Associate Professor of Writing, University of Notre Dame Australia

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

From the heart: why writers are putting themselves in nonfiction



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Waverley Cemetery in Sydney where Henry and Bertha Lawson rest.
Winston Yang, CC BY-SA

Christopher Kremmer, UNSW

History is a story about the past told by people who didn’t live there. Historical fiction and scholarly histories and biographies dominate the field, but a fresh approach, the literary nonfiction narrative of reflection, is making its presence felt. The Conversation

As a writing genre, history is no spring chicken. Livy (59 BC – 17 AD) gave us the history of ancient Rome, while Australian histories have an even longer provenance, from the First Peoples’ Dreamtime narratives to Grace Karskens’ excellent scholarly account of European settlement in The Colony: A History of Early Sydney (2009). Historical novels are nothing new either, from Walter Scott’s Waverley (1814) to Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall (2009).

A relative newcomer to the field is the literary nonfiction historical narrative, in which the archive serves as a springboard into a pool of reflection for a contemporary writer. The latest example, published this month, is Kerrie Davies’ A Wife’s Heart, published by University of Queensland Press, a book that retells the life of poet and short story writer Henry Lawson, from multiple viewpoints. Central to Davies’ narrative is a sadly damning affidavit filed by Lawson’s wife Bertha when she sued for divorce in 1903 alleging domestic violence.

When journalist and academic Davies emerged blinking from the archives and into the glare of publication and media interviews, she was greeted by headlines like “Henry Lawson, voice of a nation, larrikin, likely wife beater”.

My excitement reading that headline was due not just to the fact that Davies is a colleague and friend. I was simply happy to see that unorthodox approaches to history are welcomed, and can ignite and enrich our readings of our past.
History, as we know, is a political football. We struggle over the meaning of the past in order to control the game of present and future. A marriage like Henry Lawson’s that began in 1896 and ended seven years later can be hijacked by anyone with an agenda. Davies adopts a light touch. She moves among the many contemporaneous perspectives on Henry from friends and foes as a man who struggled with poverty, ambition, deafness, a failed marriage and alcoholism.

Bertha, who struggled to raise two children while coping with Henry’s ups and down, had her critics as well. She ended up doing a long stint in a mental institution for what today might be called manic depression. Their fraught marriage and messy divorce provides Davies with a ball of historical wool to untangle. She chases it through the archives and across the landscapes through which her subjects drifted, including a grinding stint in London. The affective impact of this pursuit turns the pond of reflection into a whirlpool, inexorably drawing the reader in.

Not everyone sees it that way. Though he has not commented on Davies’ book specifically, Sydney journalist and author David Marr recently disclosed his distaste for biographies in which authors share the personal reflections and experiences they have had while researching and writing their books.

For evidence of the correctness of his position, Marr conveniently points to his own writing, quoting from a scene in Patrick White: A Life in which he reports a medical emergency he witnessed at White’s home not long before the Nobel Laureate’s death in 1991. Marr was witnessing what could have been (but wasn’t) his venerable subject’s demise. Yet his own voice is detached. He expresses no personal emotion or reaction, acting instead as a fly on the wall observer.

As he wrote recently in The Monthly

I’m on the side of invisible biographers. I don’t give a damn about their happy thoughts as they tread in the footsteps of their subjects. Spare me their personal reflections on the Straits of Gibraltar or the old House of Reps. I’m not interested in their research triumphs. I want the life, not the homework.

In A Wife’s Heart, Kerrie Davies transgresses Marr’s “law”, sharing generously of her own life story while telling Henry and Bertha’s. Readers learn that, like Bertha, Davies is a single parent whose marriage has ended in divorce. The pressures are financial as well as emotional, just as they were for the Lawsons.

Lawson’s grave lies next to his wife’s in Waverley Cemetery.
Sardaka, CC BY-SA

At first I found these personal references, which begin on page three of the book, jarring. I simply wasn’t ready to have the focus shifted so early in the story. However, as the book progresses the personal reflections merge with her subjects’ narratives. Conflicting accounts by the Lawsons’ friends and colleagues give the book the feel of a detective novel, a texture well suited to a story of marital failure in which there seems plenty of blame to go round.

Some readers no doubt share Marr’s views about biography, but there are good reasons why younger authors working in a less journalistic genre might profitably venture where Marr warns them not to go.

The distant voice of the “invisible” biographer – like the voice of God booming from above Mount Sinai – has a slightly anachronistic feel these days. To depart from this voice challenges readers who like being reassured by an authoritative tone, or perhaps, put less kindly, enjoy being told what to think. But others prefer more open, less conclusive arguments and reflections.

For some, Marr’s preference for invisibility is out of synch in a world in which readers routinely write back at authors, questioning their logic and exposing mistakes in the “comments section” that now follows most online articles. The invisible narrator’s biases are more implicit, or opaque. That may seem subversive in an era when transparency is valued.

Marr’s argument is that the reader is not well served by an introspective or performative narrator, and that is often true. Some of the worst nonfiction I’ve read in recent years was penned by authors who lost focus on their subject by sharing too much of themselves.

The changing economics of publishing are contributing to our evolving literary landscape. The ranks of subeditors patrolling the borders of mainstream media publications, beating the literary crap out of upstarts who dare to use the personal pronoun “I” are being depleted.

On the bright side, literary rules exist to be broken in the more diffuse structure of contemporary publishing. There never was a golden age.

The subjects of Marr’s early biographies, like White and former Attorney General Sir Garfield Barwick, were alive and highly influential when he started writing about them, good reasons for being careful and adopting an orthodox style. But for Davies, archival sources were all she had. No living witnesses of the trouble between Henry and Bertha survive. The author was left to curate documents. Personalising the narrative breathes life into documentary sources.

There are dangers in interpreting the facts of history. Historians grapple constantly with the problem, while historical novelists can choose whether to stick with the facts or alter them, sometimes radically. Literary nonfiction’s third path allows the juxtaposition of an author’s experience and perspective alongside the archival evidence. This might just reduce the temptation to invent or over egg.

Meanwhile, in the world outside the book, the world in which we live, marital violence is at epidemic levels, commanding our society and governments’ attentions. In that context, Davies’ personal story as a single parent acts as a footbridge connecting contemporary readers to the world of her subjects.

Beyond questions of literary technique, Davies’ academic writing on the Lawson story reveals that her literary reflection was catalysed by previous accounts by respected historians that favour Henry over Bertha.

In a conference paper delivered in 2015 she noted:

The biographers of the iconic bush poet and writer – most notably Denton Prout (1963) Manning Clark (1978) and Colin Roderick (1982, 1991) – have all constructed a victim as hero narrative around Lawson’s life, blaming Bertha Lawson (nee Bredt) for his personal and creative decline. In their biographies, Lawson’s marriage breakdown and judicial separation from Bertha Lawson is narrated as a destructive turning point, with Bertha portrayed as a callous persecutor who “spun the wheel of retribution” … against her husband. The unanimous interpretation in these works is that Bertha Lawson in her legal claims disregarded Henry’s evident inability to pay child support, resulting in his imprisonment at Darlinghurst Gaol sporadically from 1905 to 1910.

Was Lawson a wife beater? Davies thinks so, but some who knew Bertha believed otherwise. We may never know, but it’s a worthwhile conversation in which all voices and literary styles are welcome.

Marr’s argument for invisibility is undermined somewhat by the fact – which he acknowledges – that he has previously put himself into his stories about others, including the White biography (in a note near the end of the book), and in essays on Kevin Rudd and the Bill Henson case. In all of these his narratives were better for it.

Kerrie Davies and David Marr will be speaking at separate events at next month’s Sydney Writers Festival.

Christopher Kremmer, Senior Lecturer in Literary & Narrative Journalism, School of the Arts & Media, UNSW

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

The key to writing a Pulitzer Prize-winning story? Get emotional



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A bust of newspaper magnate Joseph Pulitzer looks on as reporters look through a box containing the announcements of the 1996 Pulitzer Prizes at Columbia University.
AP Photo/Wally Santana

Karin Wahl-Jorgensen, Cardiff University

The 2017 Pulitzer Prizes have just been announced, and this year’s winners of the prestigious award include Charleston Gazette-Mail reporter Eric Eyre for his investigative report on the drug companies that flooded West Virginia with opioids and New York Times Magazine writer C.J. Chivers for his article about a veteran of the war in Afghanistan suffering from PTSD. The Conversation

I’ve done research on award-winners for some time, analyzing Pulitzers granted since 1995 (the first year for which award-winning stories are available through the organization’s online archive). In studying the winning stories, we’re able to see what gets recognized as good journalism.

My research reveals something surprising: What distinguishes Pulitzer Prize-winning stories is not only painstaking journalistic work on important social issues, but also the use of emotional storytelling.

This is surprising because U.S. journalism has long championed its objectivity. And because objectivity tends to be seen as emotionless, emotional storytelling tends to be viewed as anathema to good journalism.

The winning stories, however, upend this narrative, showing that it’s possible to retain objectivity and also stir the feelings of readers.

An objective framework

The journalistic goal of objectivity first emerged around the end of the 19th century. It was motivated, in part, by a desire to broaden newspaper readership base by asserting the independence of the press from political parties and ideologies. And in order to maintain objectivity, the thinking went that journalism should be based on cold, hard facts. Journalists needed repress their own views and feelings.

According to standard practice of news reporting, the information should be delivered in an “inverted pyramid”-style lead paragraph, telling readers the most important facts first. The idea is that the objective style sends a strong signal about the independence and trustworthiness of journalism – something that, in the age of fake news, may be more important now than ever.

However, the objective style of journalism has been criticized for its dullness, for “freeze-drying the topic and manufacturing boring journalism.”

Getting personal

Instead of relying on the edicts of objectivity, award-winning journalism draws heavily on telling personal stories about people caught up in news events. My research shows that across hard news award categories – feature, explanatory, international, national, public service and investigative reporting – Pulitzer Prize winners eschew the standard “inverted pyramid.” Instead, they’ll often rely on what journalists refer to as an “anecdotal lead.”

An anecdotal lead draws the reader into a story with wider sociopolitical implications by illustrating how it affects a particular individual or group.

We see it in the winner of this year’s feature writing award, C.J. Chivers’ “The Fighter,” which shows the horrors of war by telling the story of one marine’s descent into violence after his service in Afghanistan:

“Sam Siatta was deep in a tequila haze, so staggeringly drunk that he would later say he retained no memory of the crime he was beginning to commit. It was a few minutes after 2 a.m. on April 13, 2014. Siatta had just forced his way into a single-story home in Normal, Ill., a college town on the prairie about 130 miles southwest of Chicago. A Marine Corps veteran of the war in Afghanistan, he was a 24-year-old freshman studying on the G.I. Bill at the university nearby, Illinois State. He had a record of valor in infantry combat and no criminal past.”

Similarly, the Associated Press won the coveted Public Service Pulitzer last year for a series exposing the grueling labor conditions in the seafood industry. The series opened with the experience of Burmese slaves forced to work in Indonesia:

“The Burmese slaves sat on the floor and stared through the rusty bars of their locked cage, hidden on a tiny tropical island thousands of miles from home. Just a few yards away, other workers loaded cargo ships with slave-caught seafood that clouds the supply networks of major supermarkets, restaurants and even pet stores in the United States. But the eight imprisoned men were considered flight risks – laborers who might dare run away. They lived on a few bites of rice and curry a day in a space barely big enough to lie down, stuck until the next trawler forces them back to sea.”

The Associated Press won the Pulitzer Prize in 2016 for articles documenting the use of slave labor in the commercial seafood industry in Indonesia and Thailand.
AP Photo/Dita Alangkara

By using personal stories to elicit empathy for individuals, these stories all enable us to understand how real people are caught up in the large, bewildering forces that drive our world.

Outsourcing emotions

Of the stories I analyzed, more than three in five used anecdotal leads, while just under one in five drew on the conventional inverted pyramid. Stories of individuals caught up in the news were featured in 62.4 percent of stories.

It’s a trend that has been remarkably stable since the mid-1990s.

This type of storytelling is just one of several markers of what I have referred to as a “strategic ritual of emotionality”: an institutionalized and systematic practice of journalists infusing their reporting with emotion.

However, this doesn’t mean that the journalists write about their own emotions. Instead, they “outsource” emotions to the people whose stories they tell. According to my research, stories often use emotional language – for example, quoting worried investors, frightened children, hopeful villagers or anxious parents – but never in reference to the journalist’s emotions. What this suggests is that award-winning journalism is able to both maintain its allegiance to objectivity and tell emotional stories.

I’m not the first to notice the emotionality of award-winning journalism. For example, the journalist and academic Susan Shapiro has criticized the “sob sister” style of journalism which of is “calculated to snag readers by the emotions and not let them go until they burst, on cue, into tears.”

What my research suggests, however, is that Pulitzer Prize-winning journalism’s use of emotional storytelling is not merely focused on emotional appeals for their own sake. Rather, eliciting empathy from readers enables journalism to render abstract and complex events understandable and relatable.

In a world where our experiences and backgrounds are so varied, this type of storytelling is indispensable. And if journalism can successfully tap into universal emotions to bridge divides and elicit mutual understanding, such an achievement truly deserves an award.

Karin Wahl-Jorgensen, Professor; Director of Research Development and Environment, School of Journalism, Cardiff University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

#ThanksforTyping: the women behind famous male writers


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Vladimir and Vera Nabokov in 1969.
Giuseppe Pino, Wikimedia Commons, CC BY

Camilla Nelson, University of Notre Dame Australia

It started when an American academic noticed how frequently the acknowledgements sections of weighty academic tomes featured a male author thanking his nameless wife for typing. The Conversation

The academic, Bruce Holsigner, began sharing the screenshots on Twitter under the hashtag #ThanksforTyping.

And the response was stupendous. As the screenshots flooded in, a veritable army of unpaid women suddenly became visible. Not only were they typing, and retyping, but translating and editing and – um – doing the actual research.

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Of course #ThanksForTyping is not a practice that’s confined to academics. A considerable portion of the western canon is built on the unpaid labour of women.
So here’s my top ten list of the male writers who thanked – or failed to thank – their long-suffering wives.

1) Leo Tolstoy

Sophia Tolstaya not only gave birth to Leo’s 13 children, she also published his books and took care of the family’s financial interests. She acted as her husband’s secretary, famously copying out War and Peace – including multiple revisions – seven times. In the age before the typewriter, the writing was all done by hand. Leo, as scholars have established, was a lot less than grateful. At age 82, following the legendary act of renunciation in which Leo gave away significant amounts of the couple’s property to roam the country with a begging bowl, his family was left impoverished.

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2) Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Anna Grigoryevna in the 1880s.
Wikimedia Commons

Stenography, or writing in shorthand, was a popular occupation for writer’s wives. In 1866, Fyodor Dostoyevsky employed a stenographer named Anna Grigoryevna to help him finish his novel The Gambler, for which he had signed a risky contract. If he did not deliver by November his publisher F. T. Stellovsky would acquire the right to publish Dostoyevsky’s works for a further nine years without any compensation. Fyodor dictated The Gambler, and Anna wrote it down in shorthand, then copied it out neatly. Fyodor proposed to Anna within eight weeks, and married her two months later. Anna took over her husband’s financial affairs, made Fyodor give up gambling, and stopped him from signing further dodgy contracts.

3) T.S. Eliot

As well as being the most influential poet of his time, T.S. Eliot was a director of Faber & Faber, in which capacity he employed a typist named Esme Valerie Fletcher as his assistant. Towards the end of 1956, the 68-year-old poet proposed marriage. He wrote the poem A Dedication to My Wife, which is filled with lines like “To whom I owe the leaping delight” and other adoring phrases which are almost un-Eliot-like in their warmth and sentimentality. After his death, Valerie became the editor and annotator of Eliot’s works.

4) Vladimir Nabokov

Nabokov’s wife, Vera, was her husband’s sternest critic and biggest fan. Vera acted as his typist, editor and literary agent, and did all the driving. Vera was vigilant in making Vladimir rewrite his fastidious prose if it wasn’t up to scratch. There’s also a story that she saved Lolita from the flames, when the manuscript was abandoned in a bout of frustrated rage.

5) William Wordsworth

Not only did William Wordsworth’s sister Dorothy produce the fair copies of her brother’s work, but his wife and sister-in-law also helped out with the transcribing. Rumour has it that Dorothy did far more than simply transcribe: she also acted as his literary executor after his death, and edited his unpublished works.

6) F. Scott Fitzgerald

Fitzgerald was more indebted to his wife Zelda than he ever let on. As Zelda scathingly announced, after the publication of This Side of Paradise:

I recognize a portion of an old diary of mine which mysteriously disappeared shortly after my marriage, and also scraps of letters which, though considerably edited, sound to me vaguely familiar. In fact, Mr. Fitzgerald—I believe that is how he spells his name—seems to believe that plagiarism begins at home.

In a recently published book The Subversive Art of Zelda Fitzgerald, by my colleague Deborah Pike, you can finally read some of these stolen passages and their sources side by side.

The French novelist Colette, 1890.
Wikimedia Commons

7) “Willy” aka Henry Gauthier-Villars

“Willy” was the pen name of the once famous but now forgotten writer Henry Gauthier-Villars, a tremendously successful self-promoter and author of 50 novels penned by a stable of ghostwriters, including his wife. The apocryphal story goes that Henry would go so far as to lock his wife in a room until she had produced the desired quantity of prose. One day his wife, deciding she had finally had enough, left. She published the rest of her work under a surname you might recognise: Colette.

8) Peter Carey

Alison Summers was Peter Carey’s wife and editor for 20 years. She’s been thanked for a lot more than typing in all of Carey’s best known books, such as The True History of the Kelly Gang, where he thanks Summers for her “clear literary intelligence and flawless dramatic instinct”. This all changed following their famously acrimonious divorce, after which Summers claimed she had been transformed into a minor character – described as the “Alimony Whore” – in Theft: A Love Story. Carey denied the link.

9) Mark Twain

On a happier note, Samuel Clemens – better known as Mark Twain – met Olivia Langdon in 1867, and took her to a reading by Charles Dickens. They married, and Olivia almost inevitably became her husband’s editor, assisting him with his books, and also with his journalism, until her death in 1904.

10) John Stuart Mill

Of course, if you want to thank your wife, and do the job properly, there’s no better example than John Stuart Mill. His effusive thanks to his wife Harriet is exemplary. Mill wrote, in the dedication to On Liberty, that Harriet had been responsible for all of the “great thoughts” he ever had. More than a few churlish critics have taken issue with Mill’s claim, arguing that more than a few of these thoughts got published before John and Harriet even met.

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A tale of one’s own

Of course, there have been times when the hard work has also run in the other direction. George Eliot’s portrait of Dorothea Brooke in Middlemarch, slaving away as an assistant for her strikingly untalented husband, Edward Casaubon, writing his unfinished book Key to All Mythologies, is not a portrait of her own relationship. Her soulmate George Henry Lewes never faltered in his admiration for his far more famous partner, and even, legend has it, went to fetch her library books.

Leonard Woolf, husband to Virginia, the author of A Room of One’s Own – perhaps the most famous argument for a space for women writers in a male dominated tradition – also gave up much to comfort his finally inconsolable wife. He took her on trips to Harley Street, and long cures in the country. As Virginia wrote in her fateful suicide note of 1941,

You have been entirely patient with me, and incredibly good … I don’t think two people could have been happier than we have been.

Camilla Nelson, Associate Professor of Writing, University of Notre Dame Australia

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Here is what makes some writing ‘world leading’



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Peshkova / Shutterstock.com

Dominic Wyse, UCL

There is a wonderful scene in the film Amadeus that depicts Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart dictating, from his death bed, the words and music of his Requiem mass – a piece thought of as a requiem for the composer’s death which is now regarded as one of the greatest pieces of music ever written. Mozart dictates to the rival composer Salieri, who in equal measure admires and hates Mozart. A central theme of Peter Schaffer’s original play, which the film is based on, is the originality of genius versus “mediocrities everywhere”. The Conversation

Building on my recent work on the philosophy and history of writing, I’ve been trying to work out what constitutes “world-leading” writing, and effective writing more generally. Over the past three years I’ve analysed interviews with the world’s greatest writers as well as examined renowned guides to writing styles and standards of language. I’ve also been studying young people’s creativity and writing. And, throughout my work, the composition of music has been compared with the composition of written text.

World leading is a big claim. Perhaps we would agree, just as the Nobel Prize committee did, that Peter Higgs’s and François Englert’s work in physics on the Higgs boson particle was world leading. How about Virginia Wolfe’s contribution to literature? Or Andrew Wiles’s mathematical proof that solved the 300-year riddle of Fermat’s last theorem?

In addition to the work of people such as Mozart, Higgs/Englert, Wolfe and Wiles, a sense of what is “world leading” is also fundamental to assessing research more generally. For example in the UK’s 2014 Research Excellence Framework (REF) exercise, an assessment of research in all the UK’s universities that takes place every few years, 30% of research outputs across all academic disciplines were rated as world leading. These outputs included musical compositions and performances, artefacts and exhibitions, and, of course, journal articles, chapters and books. Across all these different outputs the most important criterion to demonstrate world-leading research quality was “originality”.

But what is originality? And how do people write something original?

How to be original

With regard to writing, one source of information about originality is in the words of world-leading writers themselves. For the Nobel Prize-winning author Ernest Hemingway, writing involved the creation of a whole new thing, a “birth” that – if it succeeded – would be immortal. Hemingway suggested that originality draws from things that already exist but also that the creation must be genuinely new, and even “alive”.

Originality is not just the preserve of fiction writers. The biographer Michael Holroyd said he disliked the “non” in non-fiction, preferring instead the descriptions “re-creative writing” or with an addition: “non-fiction stories”. Holroyd felt that there can be originality in the primary research that underpins an outstanding biography as well as the ways in which the story is ultimately told. Primary research is also part of the work of novelists. Marilyn Robinson’s first book, Housekeeping, was revered by critics. This success was achieved in part, according to Robinson, through careful scholarship including reading of primary historical sources.

Another source of information about originality can be found in psychological research on creativity. Soviet psychologist Lev Vygotsky saw originality emerging from particular kinds of thinking that combined unknown conditions with experiences recorded in memory. And psychologist Morris Stein’s definition of creativity included the idea that “the creative work is a novel work that is accepted as tenable or useful or satisfying by a group in some point in time”. So a feature of originality, in writing or other creative outputs, is that ultimately it can only be determined through the judgements of others.

A writerly ear

Comparison of musical composition with the composition of words can teach us more about writing. Melodies in music are like themes or lines of argument in writing. And musical metaphors are common in writers’ attempts to explain the more ethereal aspects of creativity. Jack Kerouac spoke of “blowing like the tenor man”, describing the improvisation of the saxophonist when playing jazz music, to elucidate his understanding of the improvisational qualities of fiction writing.

The ears and the mind engage with one another in the composition of music. This is also true of the composition of written text. My hypothesis, inspired by my research, is that the “the writer’s ear” is equally as important as that of the musician.

The writer’s ear explains the ability to “read like a writer”, which involves not only admiring writing, and engaging emotionally, but also perceiving the techniques that writers use. The ear of the writer is instrumental in the initial attention to a wide range of relevant sources for writing: for example the previous research in the field. This consideration of previous work is part of the writer’s drive for originality – the writer’s ear supports the selection of the original idea for research. The writer’s ear also ultimately attunes the rhythms of the specific written language, in a paper or book, that is also needed to convince people that the output is world leading.

But even those authors with a good ear for writing would never say the process is easy. When American novelist and essayist William Styron was asked if he enjoyed writing, he replied:

I certainly don’t. I get a fine, warm feeling when I’m doing well, but that pleasure is pretty much negated by the pain of getting started each day. Let’s face it, writing is hell.

Dominic Wyse, Professor of Education, UCL

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Sweek


The link below is to an article that takes a look at Sweek, a free writing and reading app.

For more visit:
http://www.noshelfrequired.com/free-mobile-reading-and-writing-platform-for-all-to-use-yes-please-and-thank-you-sweek/

Crimes of grammar and other writing misdemeanours


Roslyn Petelin, The University of Queensland

Writing an article like this is just asking for trouble. Already, I can hear one reader asking “Why do you need just?” Another suggesting that like should be replaced by such as. And yet another saying “fancy using a cliché like asking for trouble!”

Another will mutter: “Where’s your evidence?”

My evidence lies in the vehement protestations that I face when going through solutions to an editing test or grammar quiz with on-campus students in my writing courses at The University of Queensland, and no, that’s not deferential capitalisation. It is capital ‘T’.

Confirming evidence lies in the querulous discussion-board posts from dozens of students when they see the answers to quizzes on the English Grammar and Style massive open online course that I designed.


Katie Krueger/Flickr

Further evidence lies in the fervour with which people comment about articles such as the one that you are currently reading. For instance, a 2013 article 10 grammar rules you can forget: How to stop worrying and write proper by the style editor of The Guardian, David Marsh, prompted 956 comments. Marsh loves breaking “real” rules. The title of his recent book is For Who the Bell Tolls. I’d prefer properly to proper and whom to who, but not everybody else would.

Marsh’s 10 forgettable rules are ones that my favourite grammarian, Professor Geoffrey Pullum, co-author of The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language calls zombie rules: “though dead, they shamble mindlessly on”. A list of zombie rules invariably includes never beginning a sentence with “and”, “but”, or “because”, as well as the strictures that are a hangover from Latin: never split an infinitive and never end a sentence with a preposition. It (should it be they?) couldn’t be done in Latin, but it (they?) can be done in English. Just covering my bases here.

So, what’s my stance on adhering to Standard English? I’m certainly not a grammar Nazi, nor even a grammando, a portmanteau term that first appeared in The New York Times in 2012 that’s hardly any softer. Am I a vigilante, a pedant, a per(s)nickety person? Am I a snoot? Snoot is the acronym that the late David Foster Wallace and his mother — both English teachers — coined from Sprachgefühl Necessitates Our Ongoing Tendance or, for those with neither German nor a cache of obsolete words in their vocabulary, Syntax Nudniks of Our Time.

David Foster Wallace
yoosi barzilai Flickr

Foster Wallace reserves snoot for a “really extreme usage fanatic”, the sort of person whose idea of Sunday fun would have been to find mistakes in the late William Safire’s On Language column in the New York Times magazine. Safire was a style maven who wrote articles with intriguing opening lines such as this: “A sinister force for solecism exists on Madison Avenue. It is the work of the copywrongers”.

Growing up with a mother who would stage a “pretend” coughing fit when her children made a grammar error clearly contributed to Foster Wallace’s SNOOTitude. His 50-page essay “Authority and American Usage”, published in 2005, constitutes a brilliant, if somewhat eccentric, coverage of English grammar.

I need to be a bit of a snoot because part of my brief as a writing educator is to prepare graduates for their utilitarian need to function as writing workers in a writing-reliant workplace where professional standards are crucial and errors erode credibility. (I see the other part of my brief as fostering a love of language that will provide them with lifelong recreational pleasure.)

How do I teach students to avoid grammar errors, ambiguous syntax, and infelicities and gaucheries in style? In the closing chapter of my new book on effective writing, I list around 80 potential problems in grammar, punctuation, style, and syntax.

My hateful eight

My brief for this article is to highlight eight of these problems. Should I identify ones that peeve me the most or ones that cause most dissonance for readers? What’s the peevishness threshold of readers of The Conversation? Let’s go with mine, for now; they may also be yours. They are in no particular order and they depend on the writing context in which they are set: academic, corporate, creative, or journalistic.

Archaic language: amongst, whilst. Replace them with among and while.

Resistance to the singular “they” Here’s an unbearably tedious example from a book published in 2016 in London: “The four victims each found a small book like this in his or her home, or among his or her possessions, several weeks before the murder occurred in each case”. Replace his or her with their.

In January this year, The American Dialect Society announced the singular “they” as their Word of the Year for 2015, decades after Australia welcomed and widely adopted it.

Placement of modifiers. Modifiers need to have a clear, direct relationship with the word/s that they modify. The title of Rob Lowe’s autobiography should be Stories I Tell Only My Friends, not Stories I Only Tell My Friends. However, I’ll leave Brian Wilson alone with “God only knows what I’d be without you”, though I know that he meant “Only God knows what I’d be without you”.

And how amusing is this commentary, which appeared in The Times on 18 April 2015? “A longboat full of Vikings, promoting the new British Museum exhibition, was seen sailing past the Palace of Westminster yesterday. Famously uncivilised, destructive and rapacious, with an almost insatiable appetite for rough sex and heavy drinking, the MPs nevertheless looked up for a bit to admire the vessel”.

Incorrect pronouns. The irritating genteelism of “They asked Agatha and myself to dinner” and the grammatically incorrect “They asked Agatha and I to dinner”, when in both instances it should be me .

Ambiguity/obfuscation “Few Bordeaux give as much pleasure at this price”. How ethical is that on a bottle of red wine of unidentified origin?

The wrong preposition The rich are very different to you and me. (Change “to” to “from” to make sense.) Not to be mistaken with. (Change “with” to “for”). No qualms with. (Change “with” to “about”.)


Alastair Bennett/Flickr

The wrong word. There are dozens of “confusable” words that a spell checker won’t necessarily help with: “Yes, it is likely that working off campus may effect what you are trying to do”. Ironically, this could be correct, but I know that that wasn’t the writer’s intended message. And how about practice/practise, principal/principle, lead/led, and many more.

Worryingly equivocal language. After the Easter strike some time ago, the CEO of QANTAS, Alan Joyce, sent out an apologetic letter that included the sentence: “Despite some sensational coverage recently, safety was never an issue … We always respond conservatively to any mechanical or performance issue”. I hoped at the time that that’s not what he meant because I felt far from reassured by the message.

Alert readers will have noticed that I haven’t railed against poorly punctuated sentences. I’ll do that next time. A poorly punctuated sentence cannot be grammatically correct.

The Conversation

Roslyn Petelin, Associate Professor in Writing, The University of Queensland

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Getting tense (about tense in fiction)


Camilla Nelson, University of Notre Dame Australia

Writers, over the last decade, have been waxing lyrical about the rise of the present tense in English fiction. But this morning I read something entirely new – for me, at least. I read a manuscript written almost uniformly in the continuous tense and I found myself getting – the pun is irresistible – tense. Rather than the much-vaunted vivifying effects attributed to present tense narration, this piece of formal trickery hinted at a qualitatively different thing – the potential flattening effect of mono-tense fiction.

Historically, English language fiction, for the most part, has been written in an unobtrusive past simple tense, sometimes called the narrative tense. Odes to the past simple do not exist in writer’s style or “how to” manuals, because, when it comes to fiction, at least, past simple is relatively invisible and it’s every other tense that stands out.

Of course, the danger is that the past simple fits the reader like a comfortable old shoe. In your average past tense narrative, everything already exists, so the argument goes, in a tidy and predetermined sequence. It provides a stable point of reference from which the reader looks safely back on the story.

For this reason, present tense narration is billed as the roar of late modernity. It is the tense of real time technologies, soundbites and satellite relays. It signals an inability to find a stable place from which to speak in a complicated world in which everything has an undetermined future.

Jay McInerney, Bright Lights, Big City (1984).
Vintage

Jay McInerney’s 1980s extravaganza Bright Light, Big City is often said to have entrenched the present tense craze among the fashionable affectations of the instant gratification generation – but this is perhaps because it calls attention to its present tense by shouting it out in the second person (“You are not the kind of guy who would be at a place like this at this time of the morning”).

Raymond Carver produced work in the present tense back in the psychedelic seventies (“I am sitting over coffee and cigarettes at my friend Rita’s and I am telling her about it.”), as did Malcolm Bradbury. Margaret Atwood produced Surfacing, followed by Cat’s Eye and The Handmaid’s Tale.

More recently, present tense is a feature in DBC Pierre’s Vernon God Little and Ian McEwan’s Saturday. It is mobilised to brilliant effect in JM Coetzee’s Disgrace, creating an edgy sort of atmosphere in which anything is possible (“He goes straight through to the bedroom, which is pleasant smelling and softly lit, and undresses”). In Wolf Hall, Hillary Mantel uses it to pull the distant past over the threshold of the present, creating the present tense as the new tense du jour for the historical novel (“He turns his head sideways, his hair rests on his own vomit, the dog barks”).

In fact, it’s perfectly possible to find a surprising amount of present tense in the nineteenth century novel, including works by Charlotte Bronte and Charles Dickens (where it is used to create a sense that, as Inspector Bucket puts it in Bleak House, “You don’t know what I’m going to say and do, five minutes from this present time … ”).

It’s tempting to spot a steady diffusion of the present tense marking the era from the industrial revolution to the information age, and to equate this with a sense of the world speeding up. (Or alternatively, to equate the death of the author’s distant God-like omniscience with the rise of democracy.)

But there’s another way to see it, too. Any individual past-tense novel may well contain every one of the English language’s twelve tenses. In comparison, a present tense novel tends to contain only two or three.

Take Virginia Woolf, for example:

Mrs Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself. For Lucy had her work cut out for her. The doors would be taken off their hinges. Rumpelmayer’s men were coming. And then, thought Clarissa Dalloway, what a morning – fresh as if issed to children on a beach. What a lark! What a plunge! For so it had always seemed to her when, with a little squeak of the hinges, which she could hear now, she had burst open the French windows and plunged at Bourton into the open air.

Virginia Woolf, Mrs. Dalloway (1964).
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt P

Here Woolf uses past simple to frame the sentence, followed by future tense for the reported speech. The next sentence is in the past perfect (“For Lucy had her work cut out for her.”) followed by the future tense (“The doors would be taken off their hinges.”) An internal dialogue bursts into life with two short exclamatory sentences (“What a lark! What a plunge!”) before returning once again to past perfect. Indeed, as Mrs Dalloway runs on, the tenses constantly shift, conjuring up a flux of emotions.

By way of contrast, the ubiquity of the continuous past tense (typified by the use of the word “was”) in the manuscript I read this morning makes the reader feel as if you are a long way off from the action, as you are no longer talking about specific actions or events, but generalised or ongoing actions, such as actions that occur everyday. It lacks specificity. The continuous tense is always begging to be interrupted.

For garden-variety writing, the rule probably holds true: “Jesus wept” is stronger than “Jesus was weeping”, while the passive form, “the weeping was done by Jesus”, is a little ridiculous. The other problem is that sentences (like my three preceding clauses) also get longer and less economical as you need to add in additional words, very often verbs and gerunds that aren’t really doing much.

Gertrude Stein had a particular fascination with the continuous present tense, and the continuous past is a feature in quite a few of William Faulkner’s long recursive sentences, which can yank together half a dozen different temporal zones. But this kind of recursion, like subordination, creates complexity, and requires formidable skill. At risk of sounding like a pipe-smoking, tweed-wearing literary Luddite, mono and duo-tense novels can begin to feel a little thin.

The Conversation

Camilla Nelson, Senior Lecturer in Writing, University of Notre Dame Australia

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Ethics and writing


Jen Webb, University of Canberra

It comes up, from time to time. Ethics and writing. Two concepts that are chained together in a dysfunctional marriage. How to write, ethically? How to write ethically while remaining true to the aesthetic imperative, the narrative trajectory, a reader’s requirements? And, by the way, what is ethical writing?

In the field of education the answer is straightforward: to write ethically means avoiding plagiarism, and resisting the impulse to make up “facts”.

For Milan Kundera, the answer is straightforward.

A novel that does not discover a hitherto unknown segment of existence is immoral. Knowledge is the novel’s only morality.

For Oscar Wilde, the answer is straightforward. “There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book”, he writes, in the preface to his The Picture of Dorian Grey.

Books are well written or badly written. That is all.

These answers don’t help much. Creative writers necessarily avoid plagiarism, but we necessarily make things up. Not all writers feel impelled to contribute knowledge. And, Mr Wilde, what is the actual difference between “well written” and “badly written”?

Good; bad: like “ethics”, these words are what scholars of semiotics call “empty signifiers”. Any word stands in for the object or concept it names. But, except for proper nouns, no word really stands in for anything else; all any of them can do is direct our attention to the thing or concept being named. Empty signifiers are words that point to no concrete object, no agreed meaning; words that “absorb rather than emit meaning”.

To say “good writing” and “ethical writing” is to name concepts that apparently “we all” recognise, but on which “we all” are unlikely to agree. (My “good writing” is your pulp fiction. Et cetera.)

It’s an issue of taste, to some extent; or of contemporary values; or of politics. Which is where we come back to ethics. I won’t try to summarise the vast literature on ethics here. My concern is how we tell stories, and produce images, that contain a certain organic “truth” (that word very deliberately rendered in scare quotes, since it is yet another empty signifier), and that avoid didacticism.

Joan Didion begins her essay Why I Write by describing the art as one of

imposing oneself upon other people, of saying listen to me, see it my way, change your mind.

Yes certainly; but continually “imposing oneself upon other people” can leave us looking rather like the monks in Monty Python and the Holy Grail: endlessly chanting the same phrase, endlessly hitting ourselves (and our readers) over the head.

There is no complete answer to the question of ethical writing; but perhaps Michel Foucault comes close in his observation that

ethics is the considered form that freedom takes when it is informed by reflection.

That is, ethical writing is the writing we do when we have consciously reflected on the meanings we are making, or the world we are representing. I may not like a work, and I may not agree with its worldview, but (pace Oscar Wilde) if it was written under the conditions of reflective practice, it is necessarily ethical.

Writers are always making representations: materialising the world and relationships within that world; because words do more than simply name the things for which they stand. Organized into phrases, sentences, paragraphs, whole works, words can construct a context that readers will feel, see, hear, smell.

Words, organized in this way, can bridge the divide between the abstraction of language, and the concreteness of the material world; can make things (seem, and feel) real.

Perhaps this is a way to think about ethical writing: we can use language to make work that addresses the actuality of things, and the lived experience of many people.

The power of narrative and poetic representation is evident in the emotional, visceral, responses people have to works that manage materiality well. Whether it’s laughter or tears or recounting the experience to friends, “good” writing moves us.

The efforts of governments to censor representational works also points to the power of such works. The attempt by the Australian government, in 2001, to ensure that “there were no personalising or humanising images” of refugees is one such example.

Australian writers and artists have, over the past 15 years, responded to this decree not with silence or abstractions, but with works that personalize and individualise. Writers in detention centres in Australia or the Pacific are also writing poems and stories and recording impressions that personalize, individualise, humanize those communities.

Some such works may be agitprop, others naïve or didactic. But for me, many are ethical in the terms defined by Wilde and Kundera: they are “well written”, using elegant sentences, fresh approaches; and they expose “a hitherto unknown segment of existence”.

The Conversation

Jen Webb, Director of the Centre for Creative and Cultural Research, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.