The Mark Blog

Bookmark This: 30 Writing Tips From The Masters

Stephen King believes in killing your darlings. George Orwell says if it's possible to cut a word out, always cut it. And Kurt Vonnegut says to start as close to the end as possible. When it comes to writing, we can all use a little bit of advice. compiled a list of 30 invaluable nuggets of wisdom from our favorite writers. From Stephen King to Toni Morrison to Neil Gaiman, these quick hits will inspire you to keep going.

Read the rest of the article here.

Writers' Reel: Ray Bradbury Inspires in this Documentary

Ray Bradbury
This week’s Writers’ Reel goes back in time with a compelling short documentary on author Ray Bradbury. Thank The Atlantic for highlighting this 1963 gem of a film where viewers can catch a glimpse into Bradbury’s home life, his process on writing a short story, and how much money he actually made as an emerging writer.
Three interesting tidbits we learned:
1. Bradbury, who lived many years in Los Angeles, never learned how to drive and considered driving a “science fiction nightmare.”
2. If he hadn't discovered writing, he would have been a magician.
3. Bradbury was afraid of the dark until he was 20.
“A writer moves about observing, seeing as much as he can, trying to guess how man will play the game. Constantly measuring the way life is against the way he feels it out to be. He’s a magnet passing through a factual world, taking from it what he needs.”
Read what The Atlantic had to say about the documentary here.


Bookmark This: Your Submission Checklist

If your New Year’s resolution was to finally submit your work, this week’s Bookmark This is for you. The Review Review breaks down what literary editors are really looking for when it comes to submissions. From writing a good cover letter to learning how to respond to a personal rejection, the essay is a great primer to read before taking that creative leap.
“You, of course, are a writer. Let’s say you are just starting to send out. You are thinking, 'Am I any good? Will this make people I love believe I’m worthwhile? Is that third paragraph unnecessary as R said in workshop, but I still like it, and if I keep it, and my story gets published then that will show R, but what if R is right after all? Is this my first step to fame and glory? Am I a genius? Am I in fact too good for this magazine I’m sending to or not good enough?  Am I an idiot? Will my parents stop suggesting other jobs I could do given my education? Will strangers want to sleep with me because of my prose?' Etc. etc.
None of this is of interest to the editor. Remember the editor’s deepest wish: Send something perfect for us, please.
So your job is to help the editor by sending work that is developed, complete, thoroughly revised, and—of great importance—appropriate for the magazine.
To do that last part of your job well, you have to read the magazines.
Yes, you do.”
Read the rest of the essay here.

Writers’ Reel: Author Jhumpa Lahiri on Taking It Slow

Jhumpa Lahiri sits down with The New Yorker and reveals how she grew up reading Little Women, her own mysterious relationship to writing, and the importance of taking her time when it comes to her process.

“The key is to try to understand the elements that are failing and why. And then you move to the next draft with a little bit more clarity. Because of that, when I do write the 949th flawed draft that leads to the 950th successful one, it’s a matter of analyzing the flaws.“

Read more about her latest novel here.

Cover of The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri

Bookmark This: What Books to Give “That Difficult/Particular Person” in Your Life

For the final Bookmark This of the year, the PEN Center USA staff selected books to give even the most discerning people. From your too-cheerful aunt to your male friend with relationship problems, they’ve got you covered. And don’t forget to chime in with your own humorous book ideas below. 

Libby Flores
“For anyone that has trouble saying ‘it’: Please Read This For Me: How to Tell the Man You Love Things You Can’t Put Into Words by Neil Chesanow.
Also a great gift for that dark writer in your life who could use these as writing prompts, Please Read This For Me gives you a script for almost any difficult relationship issue. You're in a sticky situation— just hand your loved one the page to read. The delivery can be hilarious or heartbreaking.”
Page 82, "You act like Cary Grant in public and Archie Bunker at home." 
Page 134, "I think about marriage all the time."
Page 136, "You'd probably prefer if I were an orphan." 

Grant Hutchins
"For your excessively cheerful aunt: Worstward Ho by Samuel Beckett.
A brief excerpt from this unrelentingly grim and hopeless book has been hilariously misappropriated by various chirpy self-help books: ‘Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.’ Give this gift to remind your favorite relatives of the bleak, inescapable nightmare that is the ‘holiday season’ all year 'round.”

Michelle Meyering
“Reserved for the silliest, cuddliest, tickliest lovies on your list: I Like You by Sandol Stoddard Warburg.
This is the book that Romeo would have given Juliet, Charlie Brown would have given Snoopy."

Lilliam Rivera
“For your guy friends who are forever wondering why their relationships keep failing: This is How You Lose Her by Junot Diaz.
Diaz’s whole collection is tough and smart, but I would point your friends to the last story, ‘The Cheater’s Guide to Love,’ so that they can make sure to take down some notes on what not to do.”

Geneva Skeen
“For the Overindulgent (Insert-Family-Member-Here): Lounge Acts by Doug Nufer.
I had the delight of spending a couple late nights rambling around Seattle with experimental poet Doug Nufer this year, including experiencing a live reading from Lounge Acts -- a clever collection of one-liner boozy band names. Pairs excellently with post-holiday dinner party activities, especially since there's a live recording available.”

Adam Somers
“For the writers and non-writers: Ron Carlson Writes a Story by Ron Carlson.
It's a good tune-up for writers and it helps people outside of writing get an idea of what's going on in writers' heads."

Stacy Valis
“For children of all ages: Now We are Six by A. A. Milne
Now We Are Six is a book of 35 children’s verses. The older I get, the better the book gets.”


Bookmark This: Dinah Lenney on Taking Risks

This week’s Bookmark features an essay from the Bennington Writing Seminar’s faculty blog “From the Vortex” by author Dinah Lenney tackling the age old question, “Why do we write?” In her thoughtful essay titled "Singing Lessons," the creative nonfiction author writes about the sometimes safe choices we make when writing, only sticking to what we know, never taking a risk. 

“Not so long ago, in a classroom in L.A., I asked a group of students, 'Off the top of your heads, why do you write?' 'It’s a compulsion,' said one. 'It’s my job,' said another. Several expressed the desire 'to reach a reader.' Two insisted they use language to make sense of their lives. But it was the guy sitting just across the table who got to me: 'Why do I write?' he said. 'Because I can’t sing.'

Which made me laugh and remember and consider: who thinks she can? Who’s that sure of herself? Be suspicious of her, that’s what I’m saying. Be suspicious of any artist—singer, painter, writer—who doesn’t doubt herself; who isn’t willing to risk what she knows and engage with what she doesn’t every time.”

Read the rest of the essay here.

For more on Lenney, click here.

Writers’ Reel: David Sedaris Takes On The Holidays

In this week’s Writers’ Reel, listen to author David Sedaris as he reads from his hilarious essay “SantaLand Diaries,” about his stint as a Macy’s elf. The essay is part of his classic collection titled Holidays on Ice.

Listen and get in to the holiday spirit!

Bookmark This: Happy Birthday, Joan Didion!

This year, PEN Center USA presented the Lifetime Achievement Award to Joan Didion at the 23rd Literary Awards Festival. The acclaimed essayist and author of groundbreaking novels The Year of Magical ThinkingSlouching Towards BethlehemThe White Album, just to name a few, is a literary legend. Today marks the celebrated writer’s 79th birthday. Wish her a happy birthday by reading 15 of her essays, collected on The Electric Typewriter site.

Click here.

Writers' Reel: C. S. Lewis on your "Right to Happiness."

C. S. Lewis wrote more than thirty books, including the much-beloved children's series The Chronicles of Narnia. In honor of what would have been the author’s birthday last week, watch this great doodle depicting one of Lewis’s final essays, titled “We Have No (Unlimited) Right to Happiness,” where the author considers the issue of sexual morality.

“When two people achieve lasting happiness, this is not solely because they are great lovers but because they are also—I must put it crudely—good people; controlled, loyal, fair-minded, mutually adaptable people.”

“If we establish a "right to (sexual) happiness" which supersedes all the ordinary rules of behavior, we do so not because of what our passion shows itself to be in experience but because of what it professes to be while we are in the grip of it.”

To read the full essay, click here.

Bookmark This: What Books Are You Thankful For?

In the spirit of Thanksgiving, the PEN Center USA staff selected the books for which they are most grateful. Find out which books made the cut and join in on the conversation! What are the books that have made an impact on you?
Grant Hutchins
Hamlet by William Shakespeare
“Not Shakespeare's best play, but the most fathomless (in both senses of the word) protagonist ever written. There's nothing like it.”



Libby Flores
Anagrams by Lorrie Moore
“These emotive, irrational, funny, and irate characters illustrated to me as a writer how tenderness can be written into pain. ”





Daniel Lisi
Drunks and Other Poems of Recovery by Jack McCarthy
"This book gave me an invaluable and life-changing insight on addiction and recovery."






Michelle Meyering
American Primitive by Mary Oliver
“This book of poems taught me how to write with a gentle hand, how to trust my reader, and—above all—how rooted our human experience is in nature. I'll be forever grateful for it and for Mary.”




LIlliam Rivera
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
“I first read this book when I was twelve, and I still keep coming back to it every year. It’s the ultimate dysfunctional ‘family’ story.”






Adam Somers
On the Road by Jack Kerouac
“I read this when I was fifteen and it changed my life.”






Stacy Valis
The Family of Man by Edward Steichen
“As a young photographer, this book, with its theme of commonality among people from all over the world, had a huge impact on me. It reinforces the power of the image to inspire unification, change, joy, sadness, love.”