It’s Okay to Hate Your Work

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If you’re creative at all, you’re well familiar with the feeling of hating your own work. At some point you’ll be 100% convinced that everything you’ve done is garbage. It’s not fun. It’s also probably not accurate. More importantly, just because you hate your work doesn’t mean anyone else does or will. Need proof? Here are some famous writers who hated their own work…

Anthony Burgess regretted A Clockwork Orange, claiming the misinterpretation of it (partly from the way it was presented in the film) would “pursue me until I die,” and also calling it his “little squib of a book” in his introduction to a later edition.

Stephen King thought his book Carrie was such a waste of time that he threw the manuscript away. His wife fished it out of the trash and encouraged him to keep trying.

Leo Tolstoy ended his life regretting and being ashamed of having written both War and Peace and Anna Karenina. Tolstoy scholar Pavel Basinsky claims it’s the Russian way to renounce everything they’ve done before. It might also be the writer’s way.

Speaking of Russian writers, Vladimir Nabokov got so disgusted with Lolita that at one point as he was working on it, he fed the pages into a fire. His wife, Vera, saved as much as she could and Nabokov ended up completing the novel.

Peter Benchley so regretted the paranoia toward sharks caused by his novel Jaws that he because a shark conservationist. He claimed in an interview that he could never write a book like that again, having learned about what sharks are actually like. Maybe hating your own work isn’t always a bad thing.

To find out more about these and other writers and the books they’ve written and hated, check out LitHub and Goodreads.

Literary Cafés

Thanks to a few well-known tipplers (coughHemingwaycough), writers have something of a reputation for indulging. Though that may be more stereotype than reality, over the years certain bars and cafés have become linked with the literary crowd who’ve gone there to eat, drink, socialize, and occasionally write. Inspired by a recent LitHub article featuring 35 Literary Cafés. I thought I’d share a couple of them here, as well as adding some the list missed.

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Café Tortoni, favourite of Jorge Luís Borges and Alfonsina Storni, whose wax figures permanently share a table there.
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Antico Caffé Greco in Rome has served Lord Byron, Percy and Mary Shelley, Hans Christian Andersen, and Nikolai Gogol, among others.
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The Elephant House in Edinburgh makes the somewhat dubious claim of being the place where J.K. Rowling started Harry Potter. Whether true or not, it’s become popular with fans.

Although not as well-known as the others on the list, here are some local-ish spots this Toronto writer thinks are worth a mention:

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The Park Hyatt Roof Lounge (currently closed for renovation) has been frequented by many writers, artists and celebrities over the years, including Margaret Atwood and Leonard Cohen.
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Sneaky Dee’s is a Toronto institution that has attracted droves of indie types–including writers–over the years. Bryan Lee O’Malley used it as a setting in Scott Pilgrim vs the World.
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Winnie’s Bar (1455 Crescent St, Montreal) was a favourite of Mordecai Richler. They specialize in alcoholic coffee (my kind of place).

Writers unknown, famous, and infamous have always populated cafés and bars all over the world. Comment and tell me which ones you think deserve a mention.

(By the way, time is running out to enter my giveaway–you have only until the end of the of the month to take part for a chance to win a paperback copy of my dark fantasy novel Love Lies Bleeding. Free book? What’s not to like?)

Weird Habits of Writers

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I recently read an article about 11 weird habits that all writers can relate to, and I’ve got to say they weren’t wrong. Dramatically staring into space while thinking about what my characters will do next? Check. Ending up on security watch lists thanks to my online research? Check. Losing track of time, dates, and reality itself thanks to working from home immersed in a fantasy world of my own creation? Check check.

Reading the list got me thinking about my own odd habits, which I’ve decided to share. After all, as the article pointed out, writers spend a lot of time alone–why not take a moment to bond over our mutual strangeness?

My Weird Habits as a Writer:

Seeking Out Mindless Activities so I Can Think: When my hands are busy but my mind is free to wander, that’s when I come up with some of my best ideas, solve problems with my stories, or mentally write entire passages (my phone is handy–and more likely to be nearby than pen and paper–for getting it all down before I inevitably forget). Mindless activities I recommend: weeding the garden, easy crafts, cleaning the house, ironing…

Telling Myself Stories to Help Me Fall Asleep: I’ve had trouble sleeping my entire life–the one thing that’s almost guaranteed to get me to sleep is telling myself a story in bed. It’s been the same story for a while now, with minor variations. Strangely enough this repetitive storytime actually does help with my writing. Every so often I’ll get an idea for a new character, or notice themes I should explore.

Watching (a lot of) TV: Sometimes it’s background noise that works a lot like any other mindless activity (see above). Sometimes it’s inspiring, giving me ideas to consider. Sometimes it’s instructive, helping me with pacing, or seeing aspects to storytelling that do or don’t work. Sometimes it’s just entertaining, which is also important.

I’ll leave it there, although there are more (so many more). What weird habits do you have as a writer (or in general)? Share your weirdness…

Just a reminder: time is running out to enter my giveaway. Want a chance to win a free copy of my dark fantasy novel, Love Lies Bleeding? Take a moment and enter.

All Memories Are Everything

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I just read an interesting article in the Atlantic about why we can’t remember most of what we read (or watch), something that, according to the article, has irritated people at least since Plato. I thought it was just me that had an issue with recollection. I still can’t accurately quote passages (or even lines) from books I’ve read half a dozen times. Sometimes I have trouble remembering a specific fact (like a name or date) right after I finish reading about it. The article explains that this happens because we’ve traded “recall” memory for “recognition” memory; in other words, we don’t remember details because we know we can look them up in an external memory bank (a book, DVD, or website, for example).

While it can be frustrating not to be able to recall something you just read, I can see a few advantages to favouring recognition memory (with external memory banks) over recall. A non-writing culture where stories are memorized and passed down verbally would be continuously at risk of losing those stories. All you need is a little chaos in the system to take the priority off memorizing or passing down information. Nobody is going to be thinking about passing on verbal traditions in the midst of a plague, war, or famine. Without a written record to preserve information, it can easily be lost forever.

When stories are passed down verbally, there’s also the ongoing risk of “broken telephone.” Over time and re-telling, parts will be changed or forgotten, in some cases, perhaps, deliberately, to suit the teller’s preferences. That can, of course, happen with books, as well. But with a book, there’s usually an early version to be found and consulted. You can’t ask someone long dead to recite you their version of a story.

On a personal level, it can actually be a good thing to forget a book you read and enjoyed. It gives you the opportunity to go back later and read it again “for the first time.” Maybe you’ll find the memories flooding back, making the re-reading experience something like a happy reunion. Or maybe you’ll really have forgotten, giving you the rare chance to enjoy it all over again, as if you’d never read the story before.

One line at the end of the Atlantic’s article leaves me feeling that the way our minds work is something quite lovely.  While maybe it would be more convenient or impressive if memories were clean facts that could be extracted at will, the article states that instead, “all memories are everything.” Humans aren’t data banks. We aren’t discrete segments of information and experiences that can be added or deleted. We are made up of bits and pieces that merge together and form a whole. Everything we’ve read and seen and done is part of us, even if we can’t always dip into our memories and pull a piece out. That is wonderful and terrifying and so completely perfect. I don’t know about anyone else, but I wouldn’t trade that for perfect recall.

What do you think?