Famous Writers Who Failed First (Why Curiosity Matters More Than Grades)

If you were the kind of kid who made less than stellar grades in some subjects because you became obsessed with exploring something off the syllabus, you may have been destined to be a writer. There is a noble tradition, in fact, of writers and academic failure.

The list of celebrated novelists is filled with people who did poorly in school. Roald Dahl was told by an English teacher that he would never amount to anything. F. Scott Fitzgerald never finished at Princeton. Paste Magazine’s list of famous writers who never went to college, includes Ray Bradbury, Truman Capote, Maya Angelou, Mark Twain, Jack Kerouak, William Faulkner, and Augusten Burroughs. Many of them barely graduated from high school.

A passion for writing, a devotion to reading, and intense curiosity can transform dull students into great writers. I’m not saying that grades are irrelevant. Obviously, there is a place for testing and grades. However, when schools and parents become obsessed with assessment, kids lose out on valuable opportunities to learn and to develop their own unique talents. As a parent, I want my son to do his best. That said, I value curiosity far more than grades, because children who are capable of developing passionate interests and following through on the things that inspire them are likely to be more successful and happier than those who simply follow orders and do well on tests.

Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do… Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover. ~Mark Twain

Take the 10 Days of Beautiful Failure Challenge, and let your curiosity guide you.

Key to Creativity: Process, not Product

I’ve been hearing a lot about Wired to Create, the new book by psychologist Scott Barry Kaufman and science writer Carolyn Gregoire. Those who “derive enjoyment from the act of creating and feel in control of their creative process tend to show greater creativity than those who are focused exclusively on the outcome of their work,” the authors write.

As a writer, I found this particularly illuminating. For many years, I wrote primarily for the joy of writing and the hope of one day publishing. Somewhere in the last seven or eight years, my writing became more tied to the end product, which is a natural result, I think of being on contract, but also a result of thinking about the reader. As a novelist, I believe it is my duty to think about the reader, but I also like the idea of going back to that place of joy, the flow that arises during “the act of creating.”

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Unsound: How Musicians and Creators Survive in the Age of Free

I was excited to see the trailer for the new documentary, Unsound: How Musicians and Creators Survive in the Age of Free. This is an important movie by San Francisco based music producer Count.

From the website:

“Unsound” reveals the dramatic collapse of the music industry and the unintended consequences the internet revolution is having on creators of all kinds. Featuring noteworthy musicians, filmmakers, journalists, and beyond, “Unsound” explores the struggle for creators trying to survive in the ‘age of free’.

The End

How to End a Story

The EndStories are like relationships: the beginning is always so much fun, and the ending is fraught with turmoil.

When I sit down to start a story, the first sentence just sort of comes to me. The second sentence too. If I’m lucky, the third swiftly follows. The inimitable short story writer Kate Braverman once told a group of enraptured graduate students (they happened to be my students, and she was wowing them with her general exuberance and wonderful strangeness) that she channels her characters. A bit like spirits, some linguistically gifted version of the returning dead. They speak throughher and onto the page, as if she isn’t even there.

I, unfortunately, channel nothing. It is all rough work after sentence three. By the time I’m in the middle of the story, I’m feeling more than a little uncomfortable. Where am I going? Where have I been? Have I gotten lost in the labyrinth? Probably, yes.

Somehow, I find my way through. The characters do things. They meet with hardship and grief, or maybe they just meet some swanky fellow in a bar or a Laundromat. They get into trouble, maybe out of it. Probably not. I find myself feeling that they have done all they can do. Not much more can be said. The action has fallen. We have all had our dénouement (which, by the way, is a French term meaning untying, from Middle French desnouement, from desnouer – to untie – from Old French desnoer, from des- de- + noer meaning to tie, from Latin nodare, from nodus knot.) And here we are in the labyrinth again, attempting to untie the knot, unwind the rope, escape the not-so-fun funhouse.

It’s time to write our way out.

One wants to resolve things, after all.One feels a deeply human need toconclude. After the falling action, there is often something more. Something unexpected. And here we come to what I have been meaning to say all along: a good ending is layered. The reader thinks she has discovered everything she can possibly discover about a story, but then: another image appears, another paragraph hums along, another question begs to be answered. One is left with the feeling of having walked out of the dark theatre into the light, only to realize there was something else playing after the credits, some secret part of the film, some final moment. You can hear it through the door, vaguely, but you can’t get back in. You’re not sure what you’ve missed, but you’re certain that you’ve missed something, that the reel kept on playing, the story kept on going, after your departure. You were only an observer, a brief malingerer, there but not there. The lives within the story carry on.

Michelle Richmond is the author of four books of fiction, including the New York Times bestseller The Year of FogShe is the creator of the Guided Workbooks for Writers series. 

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What makes a great author website?

Web designer Brad Fitzgerald offers “6 Things Every Author Website Needs.”

Author Media has a similar list, 6 Things Readers Want from Your Website.

A couple of years ago, Huffington Post published a list of the 7 Best Author Websites.

My own website has been through many mutations, and I’ve tried out more than a dozen themes. A website is always a work in progress, but over the years, through trial and error, I’ve figured out what I want my site to do, although I admit it doesn’t always live up to the website I see in my head. It needs to feel clean, showcase the books effectively, have a personality, and make it easy for readers to get in touch. I’ve never hired a designer, in part because I have so much fun playing around with themes. This means I’ve dealt with a lot of funky code and unexpected blips.

I’d like to hear from readers: what do you think makes a great author website? How often do you go to an author’s website after reading his or her book? How much time do you spend there? When you go, what are you looking for? And how often do you sign up for author newsletters?