Unruled Paper

by Steve Mitchell

Shamelessly Idiosyncratic EditionPerhaps, in that great rush of New Year’s Visioneering and Resolution Crafting you’ve decided you’re finally going to begin to write that thing you’ve been talking about writing, whatever that thing is. You could sign up for classes or a workshop, you could take James Patterson’s online writing series. I’m sure he needs the cash. Or, you could take another tack: hang out in bars, get into brawls, shoot heroin in dirty alleyways until you look and sound like Mickey Rourke. You could alienate your friends and family in the name of authentic experience and high art. Or, you could check out some books on writing and creativity. These days it seems nearly everyone’s written one. You could spend the year simply reading books about writing and put off the actual writing until 2017. Given the vast choices available, it seems almost silly to recommend a few books on craft but silliness has never stopped me before. What follows is a completely idiosyncratic list of books I admire that have something to do with the craft of writing. Use them sparingly. Alternate reading with silence, staring out open windows, and pacing in circles.Books

All Art is Propaganda by George Orwell, compiled by George Packer Even though it’s old-school, this book is worth the price of admission for Orwell’s classic essay, Politics and the English Language, which dares to assert that words have meaning and that every word matters. Yes, that’s every word: not just the pretty or cool-sounding ones. Orwell links clarity of writing to clarity of thought and has absolutely no patience for sloppiness of any kind. Almost any Orwell essay is brilliant. Politics and the English Language is essential.Here’s Christopher Hitchens on George Orwell.

Notes on the Cinematographer by Robert BressonThe next two selections are from filmmakers. I think at some point, interesting studies will be done on how filmmaking influenced writing from the beginning of the 20th Century onward, but at this point I only know of a few. Robert Bresson, a French director who had his own startling vision of what and how film should be, put together this book of aphorisms or zen koans, some of them almost completely opaque. But they stimulate thought and encourage us to see the world around us in new and sometimes astounding ways. Because this is a shamelessly idiosyncratic list I include this book, even though it is currently out of print. It can possibly be found on used book sites and what ever it costs, it’s worth it.Notes on ‘Notes’.

The Conversations: Walter Murch and the Art of Editing Film by Michael Ondaatje Author Michael Ondaatje met film editor Walter Murch when both were working on the film adaptation of Ondaatje’s The English Patient. A deep and lasting friendship was formed and, from that friendship, this series of conversations in which the writer and editor talk about their respective crafts. This is the best book ever written on noticing—what is the first thing you see in a new situation and the next, then the next; why does your eye move here instead of there; why is a sound suddenly apparent when before it was inaudible—and noticing is the foundation of all writing: if we can’t see, hear, smell, taste, if we can’t notice, we’ll never be able to write.Here’s a short review.

Writing by Marguerite DurasIf you want a completely unique theory of writing from an absolute iconclast, you can’t go wrong with this book by Marguerite Duras, a writer who’s nearly ascended to sainthood in France. Written in her spare, late style, this book is not a series of rules or how-to exercises, but an investigation into her thoughts and feelings on the act of writing and, like the other books listed here, it’s aimed at pushing our thinking, observational powers, and our trust to the breaking point.Molly Gaudry on Marguerite Duras.

The Midnight Disease: The Drive to Write, Writer’s Block, and The Creative Brain by Alice FlahertyFlying in from out of left field, this book explores the neurology and psychobiology of the act of writing. What underlies the ability, desire, and even the compulsion to write? Neurologist Alice Flahery first explores the brain state called hypergraphia—the overwhelming desire to write—then the science behind its opposite, writer’s block. While scientific and medically based, the book is grounded in Flaherty’s own experience of hypergraphia, triggered by a postpartum mood disorder. It’s a fascinating look at the little understood border between creativity and the body.

Here’s a bit on Alice Flaherty.EventsNeedless to say, you can read all the how to books you like, but there are others ways to be inspired.Nature

It’s out there. In your backyard or a short drive away. There has to be a tree close by. Talk to a tree.The Street

Here again, not that far away. Amazing things happen on normal streets. You don’t have to be in Paris or Jerusalem. You might sit on a bench with this guy and strike up a conversation.A Face

Okay, there’s really nothing better than this. There’s an empirical scientific question at stake here: how many stories can be derived from a single face?Books

Read. Just shut up and read. Everything. From anywhere. The bad stuff and the good stuff. The things you like and the things you don’t. The only realm mistake in reading is to read the same kind of thing over and over.And,Here’s John Cage on How to Get Started:Please send any announcements of writerly or bookish events in the Triad area or beyond to: neuralarts@triad.rr.comSteve Mitchell’s short story collection, The Naming of Ghosts, is published by Press 53. He has a deep belief in the primacy of doubt and an abiding conviction that great wisdom informs very bad movies. He’s co-owner of Scuppernong Books in Greensboro, NC.