What is “The Sustainable Writer?”

Sustainable WriterWriting well demands some of our most precious resources: our time, energy, and attention.In occasional blog posts here, I’ll be thinking about issues related to sustainability and writing. What practices, for instance, help to sustain writers for the long haul? And how can we work (as writers, readers, or editors) in ways that help to sustain the ecosystem of our vocation, the publishing industry.

Review of Gabriell Hamilton’s New Memoir

Sustainable writers are of course sustained readers, so I’ll feature book reviews occasionally here
of new works.  This review comes from the woman who first taught me to love reading, my mom, Linda Brown . . . .  

A Tasty Memoir:  Blood, Bones, and Butter
by Gabriell  Hamilton
Reviewed by Linda Brown, August 14, 2012

I first met Gabriell Hamilton when I read an article by her in the May issue of Bon Appétit, entitled “Blood, Bones, and Baked Eggplant,” and I fell instantly in love: with her, her Italian mother-in-law, Alda—and Italy in general. At the end of the article, I read that Gabriell was the chef/owner of Prune—a restaurant in New York City’s West Village and that her book, Blood, Bones, and Butter had just been published by Random House. I made a bee-line to my library and (good luck) it was on the shelf. I spent several happy hours enjoying Gabriell’s world. Her writing style is direct and compelling. She created windows into her world, her life, and her mind. Her journey is told through her love of food, beginning, of course, with the aromas from her Mother’s kitchen—applewood smoke, rosemary and garlic and spit-roasted lamb. The story unfolds through France, Greece, and Turkey – and the many years of working at catering factories to pay the rent—and finally, her own kitchen at “Prune” (with its challenges) and her mother-in-law’s kitchen in Italy (with its challenges) and her life’s challenges—not enough love, broken family and relationships—but the love of good food and the preparation of it remains her passion and has been her savior. When I finished reading, I felt as if I knew her and I would love to fly to New York and have dinner at “Prune.” When you finish the book, I think you’ll want to join me.

Books I Recommend on Writing

On Writing and Editing

Bird by Bird (Pantheon, 1994) By Anne Lamott Lamott’s reflections on the writing process in this slim volume are comforting and practical. I cannot count how many times I’ve recommended this book to scientists, poets, and students of creative writing (and how many times they have reported back that they found it helpful).

My Dyslexia  (W.W. Norton, 2011) By Philip Schultz This memoir by Pulitzer-Prize winning poet Philip Schultz offers an illuminating and insightful account of what it was like to grow up with undiagnosed dyslexia and how the experience shaped him as a person and a writer.  Though his learning disorder was  identified only late in life, he convincingly conveys how the way his brain processes language shaped the way he eventually learned to read and write, as well as his own self-image.  A must-read for writers with dyslexia and parents and teachers of dyslexic children.

The Subversive Copyeditor: Advice from Chicago By Carol Fisher Saller (Chicago UP, 2009) I wish I had read this wise little book from veteran University of Chicago manuscript editor before I began working as an editor and writing coach.  Saller’s reflections are funny, generous, and, dead-on.  This book is useful for both editors and authors for the light Saller sheds on the editorial process and the art of communication about communication.

Thinking like Your Editor: How to Write Great Serious Non-fiction and Get it Published Susan Rabiner and Alfred Fortunato (Norton, 2002) For researchers who aspire to reach a broader audience, this book offers essential insights into the process of working with agents and moving gracefully between argument and story.

The Writer’s Home Companion: An Anthology of the World’s Best Writing Advice Edited by Joan Bloker (Henry Holt, 1997). This anthology compiled by the writer of the classic book for graduate students, Writing Your Dissertation in Fifteen Minutes A Day, is simply terrific. The wisdom offered by diverse writers here on the practice of their craft will take you a long way. And Bloker’s book on dissertation writing, by the way, is worth reading for any writer working on a long, complex project.


Finding Shape in the Stone

Since my last post, I’m happy to say my current project seems to be taking a clearer shape. I’m beginning to experience that strange, wonderful sensation that comes when a project gels. Instead of reaching toward some pattern to impose on my ideas and research, it feels as if I’m discovering something that was always there–finding the shape in the stone, as Michelangelo said. Maybe that sensation is just an illusion, a kind of deja-vu of the creative process. But who cares? It feels great and brings us closer to finishing the sculpture.

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Sustainable Writers Don’t Know What They’re Writing (at least half the time!)

“So what’s your new project?” At holiday gatherings, people have been tossing this question my way like a football before settling back on the sofa for a little back-and-forth chat. My stomach lurches, though, when I see that conversational volley coming. I more »

Editing in Support of Sustainable Writing

Good editing is good writing (or something damn close!). This is why some of the best editors are also, or even primarily, writers. In this blog, I share some tips I wrote for a recent editing workshop. These basic principles can help editors to give feedback in ways likely to sustain the author’s growth.

All editors face a quandary: how do we help writers improve their manuscripts without undercutting their sense of authority or confidence in their ability?  Terrific editorial feedback raises real questions about the manuscript in ways that put the decision-making ball firmly back in the author’s court.

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Sustainable Publishing for Academic Authors

Since I really do follow the principles sketched out in my first three posts to this blog–balancing daily but short periods of writing, marketing, and exercising every day–this post will be short and sweet. If you’re an academic author, you already know how fast and profoundly scholarly publishing is changing.  If you’re not, maybe you’ve seen the recent documentary “Page One,” which reveals how newspapers, particularly The New York Times, are struggling to find a sustainable path to continue to stay in business.

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Sustainable Writers Swim (or jog or go to the movies with friends…)

I’ve been violating one of the big principles of sustainable writing lately by working all the time.  Sustainable writers, in my experience, work regularly, generally daily.  For two beautifully
different renderings of this principle, read Anne Lamott’s first chapter of Bird by Bird and Robert Boice’s  How Writer’s journey to  Comfort and Fluency.  Writing—and doing all the associated tasks that go with the work— all day, every day,  every evening— is the big No-No.

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Keeping the Flow: The Sustainable Writer and Bookstores

As I’ve been helping my publisher to get the word out about my book of poems, I’ve been spending a lot of time in bookstores, talking with bookstore owners and staff more than ever before. I’m fortunate to live in a place with a good number of indie bookstores as well as big chains. Working with the good folks at Charis Books & More in April for The Book of Sarah reading felt like catching up with old friends.  About a decade ago, I read there from a collection of essays. Giving a reading there again was kind of like going home. With so many independent bookstores closing in recent years, I know I’m really lucky to have a place to go home to—which leads me to another aspect of sustainability and writing. In the ecosystem of literary life, writers and readers aren’t just interconnected beings. We’re one and the same.

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