Writing Rules – Part II

(Yes, I’m thinking of making this a series)

By Bob McCrillis

Who knew?

While poking around on the internet to find some of Ray Bradbury’s earliest short stories, I discovered his twelve rules for writing. Elmore Leonard wasn’t the only one – imagine. A celebrated author, presumably with a busy schedule, took the time to codify his rules and tips.  His willingness to share them with the world was, to me, even more shocking – why encourage competitors?

My much-boasted-about short story per week for a year effort came from the first of Mr. Bradbury’s twelve rules:

  • Don’t start out writing novels. They take too long. Begin your writing life instead by cranking out “a hell of a lot of short stories,” as many as one per week. Take a year to do it; he claims that it simply isn’t possible to write 52 bad short stories in a row. He waited until the age of 30 to write his first novel, Fahrenheit 451. “Worth waiting for, huh?”

Continue reading “Writing Rules – Part II”

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Writing is Ruining My Reading

By Bob McCrillis

Escape Denied

Since I learned to read, books have been my ticket to adventure and a means of escape from…well, escape from lots of things. That is not to say that my reading list runs in any particular direction. For example, the last book I finished was Thomas Merton’s Seven Story Mountain, which details his search for God. Ultimately Merton was accepted as a monk at a monastery in Kentucky where he spent the rest of his life writing and advocating for social justice. However, this weighty tome is bookended by Michael Connelly novels featuring the flawed detective Harry Bosch.

The problem? Instead of becoming, for a time, a hard-bitten Los Angeles detective on the trail of a psychotic killer, I’m pondering whether Connelly should have taken us deeper into what triggered Harry’s flashback to Viet Nam. With Merton, I filled pages with notes. Not on his lifelong struggle to find meaning in life, or the superficiality that he found in the Church of England, but comments like “too many clauses” and “why not simplify” or “these damn euphemisms are frustrating me!” Continue reading “Writing is Ruining My Reading”

In Celebration of Deadlines

By Bob McCrillis

Did you know the origin of the term deadline? It arose, among many other horrors, at the Confederate prisoner of war camp at Andersonville, Georgia. The Confederate guards established a line about twenty feet inside the stockade walls which no prisoner was allowed to cross. Should a prisoner cross, or even touch, the line, he was shot by the tower guards. According to War Department records, this policy was strictly enforced, leading to the term deadline.

It’s not too difficult to see how the concept could migrate to the newspaper world in the days of manually set type and travel-impaired distribution. With such long lead times between presentation of copy and delivery of a finished newspaper, getting copy in time to print it was very serious business. I was unable to find a verified instance of an editor shooting a delinquent reporter of columnist but I’m sure punishment was severe. Continue reading “In Celebration of Deadlines”

Rules for Writing

By Bob McCrillis

Elmore Leonard, as we all know, is fabulously popular in the crime genre. What I didn’t know was that his work is popular with literary people – the kind who actually have a shot a Pulitzer. Understand, I don’t personally know any of those writers, but read it in the New Yorker.

I was also unaware of his very cold-eyed approach to the business of writing for publication. When he left advertising to write novels in the early Fifties, he found that Westerns were popular so he wrote Westerns. When Westerns dropped out of favor, he switched to Crime.

A writer like this should be my hero, right? Work intended for publication is a product. It needs to be within a recognizable genre. Then I found his Ten Rules for Good Writing.

My work breaks every one – I’m doomed! Continue reading “Rules for Writing”

Specialization: How Much Is Too Much?

By Bob McCrillis

In a wide-ranging conversation with two other writers for whom I have great admiration, I made the comment that “Most of my stories are set in the turmoil of the Sixties and Seventies. It was a period of great social upheaval, which affected each of us differently. We didn’t all go to Woodstock – regardless of what some would have you believe.”

Both of my friends argued that I was crimping my ability as a writer. Worse, I might be limiting the marketability of my books. The sweeping social changes of the present are having the same uneven effect on ordinary men and women. Writing about their struggles to adjust, triumphs, and failures are worthy of exploration.

“You don’t want to be thought of a guy who just writes about old stuff.” I was told. Continue reading “Specialization: How Much Is Too Much?”

The Crash

By Bob McCrillis

Over the holiday week, the Goddess of Rhamnous, Nemesis, schooled me on my dangerous tendency to hubris.

As you know, I’ve set myself the project of writing a short story every week for a year – as recommended by Ray Bradbury. Quite proud of myself after the first four weeks, I added a page for the resulting stories to my website.

“I’m accepting the Ray Bradbury Challenge,” I crowed. “Just watch how great this will be. My stories will be good and can only get better – and I’ll have fifty-two publishable stories,” said I.

Should have known better. Continue reading “The Crash”

Avoiding Seduction

By Bob McCrillis

Got your attention, didn’t I? Certainly generates more interest than Paperclips: the pros and cons.

Yes, I was serious last week when I told you I’d be talking about paperclips this week. The modern “Gem-type” paperclip has been in production since the late 19th century. The exact date of its incarnation is in doubt but there is general agreement that it was in the 1890’s. And, in my opinion, has been helping disorganized people become even more disorganized for the past century and a half.

The little twist of wire’s utility as a missile in the office or classroom is well known. It also provides raw material for the Zen-like chain making that gets all writers and other office drones through conference calls. It can even, reportedly, be used as a make-shift lock pick. It, oh yes, also holds sheets of paper together. Continue reading “Avoiding Seduction”