Quotes

Sy and Editing

Sy Safransky has this to say about editing: Readers sometimes ask how much I edit my own writing. I edit until each paragraph has lost the ten pounds it gained over the winter. I edit until each sentence can survive three days in the wilderness on its own. My father taught me to look at a sentence and, if it didn’t deserve to live, shoot it between the eyes.  Sy Safransky, The Sun Magazine, May 2011

Quotes

What is memoir good for?

Writing is the way I try to make sense of my life, try to find meaning in accident, reasons why what happens happens. Sometimes just holding a pen in my hand and writing milk butter eggs sugar calms me. Truth is what I’m ultimately after—truth or clarity. Writing memoir is a way to figure out who you used to be and how you got to be who you are.  — Abigail Thomas, “Thinking about Memoir,” AARP magazine, July/August 2008

Quotes

The neurological impact of sensory detail.

Stories should be aimed not at our heads but at our hearts. “And this is where things get interesting, because description actually allows access to our hearts in a neurophysical way.” I have wondered why reading something with sensory detail leaves more of an impression than writing that doesn’t have sensory detail. According to studies, “when we read about an odor, it engages the exact same part of the brain as actually smelling it, and those parts of the brain reside in the lower region, alongside our emotional centers. . . When you write using smells, or images, or sensations, you’re actually gaining access to the emotional area of the brain, and this is why stories can take such precise aim at the heart. Words like lavender, cinnamon, and soap, for example, elicit a response not only from the language processing areas of our brain, but also those devoted to…

Quotes

Concrete Details

J.T. Bushnell wrote, “I once burst into tears during a Tobias Wolff reading . . . as Wolff intoned the final passages from ‘Bullet in the Brain,’ I broke the silence of the packed auditorium with a gasp, a sob.” Bushnell goes on to explain his strong emotional reaction. “It was the final scene that set me off.” This is what he remembered. Heat. A baseball field. Yellow grass, the whirr of insects, himself leaning against a tree as the boys of the neighborhood gather for a pickup game. “Half a page later, the story ends with the passage that brought me to a fever pitch.” For now Anders can still make time. Time for the shadows to lengthen on the field, time for the tethered dog to bark at the flying ball, time for the boy in right field to smack his sweat-blackened mitt. “These passages by themselves seem…

Quotes

What writing brings you joy?

“I write because I believe my words can change the world. Every paragraph, every sentence, every syllable I construct is written with the express intention of changing people and their families. I hope as you read this you are in fact changing and I hope you’ll let your families read this so they can change too. Of course I’m kidding. I write for cash and because as a child I was told I had excellent penmanship.” “What’s the writing that makes you happy? That’s the writing to do.”  Doug Ellin, Creator, Executive Producer, “Entourage” From September 2005 issue of Writer’s Digest magazine

Quotes

The personal essay is an act . . .

“The personal essay begins as an act of exploration. We write in order to figure out where we’re going and make sense of where we’ve been.” — Susan Bono Susan Bono is an extraordinary writer whose words go right to the heart. You can read her excellent writing in her collection of short essays in What Have We Here: Essays about Keeping House and Finding Home. Susan is a writing teacher and freelance editor specializing in memoir. She facilitates writing workshops at Copperfield’s Books in Petaluma. California.