Writer’s Quote Wednesday // Oscar Wilde

Hello and happy mid-week! Welcome to Writer’s Quote Wednesday, a weekly event hosted by Colleen at Silver Threading. Each week bloggers share their favorite quotes to motivate and inspire one another to keep think, writing, and working towards our goals. My contribution for the week is from the infamous Irish author, poet, and playwright, Oscar Wilde.

3565Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wills Wilde was born on October 16, 1854, in Dublin, Ireland. His father, William Wilde, was an eye and ear surgeon, as well as an author of significant works on medicine, archeology, and folklore. His mother, Jane Wilde, was an Irish poet who wrote under the pen name “Speranza”, meaning hope.

Wilde wrote numerous short stories and one novel. Known for his biting wit, he became one of the most successful playwrights of the late Victorian era in London and one of the greatest celebrities of his day. Several of his plays continue to be widely performed, especially The Importance of Being Earnest.

Many people know of the one novel written by Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray, the story of a fashionable young man who sells his soul for eternal youth and beauty. First published complete in July of 1890 it has been called Wilde’s most popular work. The book caused quite a scandal when it was first published, offending many people’s morals. Wilde would defend his book aggressively against those who believed he should be imprisoned for ” violating the laws guarding the public morality”. The book would later be brought up to the trial that would lead to his imprisonment and lifelong hardship.

As the result of a widely covered series of trials, Wilde suffered a dramatic downfall and was imprisoned for two years hard labor after being convicted of “gross indecency” with other men. The imprisonment was hard on him and his health declined during that time. After Wilde was released from prison he set sail for Dieppe by the night ferry. He never returned to Ireland.

In November of 1900, Wilde developed cerebral meningitis, a result of an injury he received to his ear drum while imprisoned. He died November 30th, 1900, exiled and poor.

“The books that the world calls immoral are books that show the world its own shame.”

// Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray

This week I began reading a The Prince by Niccolò Machiavelli and because it is a little bit of a difficult read I have been doing research as I go. I don’t think I realized before what a negative connotation the name Machiavelli had. To be Machiavellian is to be associated with dishonesty, cunning, and bad faith. The book and the man have come to be known as heartless and evil.

I am only in the beginning still but so far I just don’t see this book, or the advice in it on how to rule nations in it, as evil. I read this as an honest and accurate observation on human nature. It’s a realist’s account of how to gain power and keep it, if that is what you want to do, and let’s face it, that is exactly what a lot of people throughout history have wanted to do. There is no sugar coating in this book and I find the frankness refreshing. I think the book only appears evil because we see ourselves in it. It shows us our own selfishness and cruelty.

I don’t think The Prince was ever hated enough to be banned, it only has an air of negativity and bad taste surrounding it. It is still a classic and considered by many to be a must read. But it is about war and power and people like that sort of thing.

I do wonder about other books people have disliked because they found it didn’t agree with their moral sensibilities. Books like A Brave New World, Lord of the Flies, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, and even the Harry Potter series are books that are often challenged and called immoral or unfit to be read by anyone. Yet, each of these teaches us great lessons about human nature.

I have to wonder if the reason books are hated is because they show us too much of ourselves. Why would a book be of a bad influence if the urges in it weren’t a part of us already? And if the urges in it were present in us before the reading, might it not just be something that comes to people naturally and can never be eradicated? If so, calling books immoral would be to call ourselves them same, and to try to ban or hide theses books from the public would be to turn a blind eye to our nature.

I think people who read books and walk away feeling disgusted or overly angry are those who have looked at the reality of things and could not handle it. They are people who will never see that we are who we are, and the world is what it is. We can change, sure, but only very slowly and with many false starts and failures. It is better to accept that we are, at the core, just as much cruel as we are kind and go from there. Books will be our reminder again and again and keep us on the track to improving rather than perfecting, which is entirely impossible.

Books that show us who we are, are the most important kind, and I hope to read as many of that sort as I can.


Original image: “The House of Leaves – Burning 4” by LearningLark 


Writer’s Quote Wednesday // Lawrence Block

Hello and happy middle of the week everyone! It’s time for Writer’s Quote Wednesday, a weekly event hosted by Colleen at Silver Threading. Each week bloggers share their favorite quotes to inspire and motivate each other to keep writing and working toward our goals. My contribution this week is from legendary crime and mystery writer, Lawrence Block.

0013729e47710ead97c605Block was born June 24, 1938, in Buffalo, New York.  He attended Antioch College in Yellow Springs, OH, but left before graduating. His earliest published writing appeared in the 1950s, frequently under pseudonyms, and many of these novels are now considered classics of the pulp fiction genre. During his early writing years, Block also worked in the mailroom of a publishing house and reviewed the submission slush pile for a literary agency. He has cited the latter experience as a valuable lesson for a beginning writer.

Block’s first short story, “You Can’t Lose,” was published in 1957 in Manhunt, the first of dozens of short stories and articles that he would publish over the years in publications including American Heritage, Redbook, Playboy, Cosmopolitan, GQ, and the New York Times. He has published more than 50 novels and more than 100 short stories, as well as a series of books for writers.

Block is probably best known for two long-running New York–set series about the ex-cop and recovering alcoholic P.I. Matthew Scudder and the gentleman burglar Bernie Rhodenbarr.

A father of three daughters, Block lives in New York City with his second wife, Lynne. When he isn’t touring or attending mystery conventions, he and Lynne are frequent travelers, as members of the Travelers’ Century Club for nearly a decade now, and have visited about 150 countries.

One thing that helps is to give myself permission to write badly. I tell myself that I’m going to do my five or 10 pages no matter what, and that I can always tear them up the following morning if I want. I’ll have lost nothing—writing and tearing up five pages would leave me no further behind than if I took the day off.

// Lawrence Block

One of my new years resolutions this year was to start doing more writing outside of this blog. Blogging is good practice and it helps build a good writing habit but it is not the kind of writing I want to as a career. I don’t want to be a professional blogger, I want to be an author. The thing is, writing fiction is scary. I have ideas, I have characters but the process for getting all of that out of my head and into a readable story seems like a mystery. How do you…do the thing that makes a story?

I have been a little paralyzed by the realization that I have no idea how to write something. It sounds stupid but when you start thinking about settings, and description, and making your dialog interesting, and explaining things so that your reader sees what you see it all gets very overwhelming very quickly.

So I hadn’t written anything but a bunch of notes. Then I found this quote. The first part about giving yourself permission to write badly is very good advice, but the rest of the quote is even better. Write every day, and give yourself permission to tear up what you write if you don’t like it. If it’s bad you have lost nothing you wouldn’t have by not writing at all. More than likely, you will walk away with something you can use. Even if you don’t you will gain practice and continue to build a writing habit. You will also create a perfect environment for inspiration to find you and if you are lucky something truly genius will come through you.

So now I write a little every day. Not five pages but a few paragraphs, all of them absolute shit, but practice makes perfect. I read it the next day and if I hate it goes into the recycle bin. So far I have hated it but I haven’t deleted anything. Instead, I try to rework and rearrange what I did the day before and make it a little better. I am still hating it but I think it gets improves day by day.

I have no idea what I am doing but I have come to the conclusion that the only way to learn is to actually do it and it helps to know that I can always delete it and I’ll still be better off than if I had never written at all.


Biographical information via Goodreads, Wikipedia, and Amazon

Original image: Rethink Everything by Reilly Butler

Writer’s Quote Wednesday // C.S. Lewis

Hello and happy middle of the week everyone! It’s time for Writer’s Quote Wednesday, a weekly event hosted by Colleen at Silver Threading. Each week bloggers share their favorite quotes to inspire and motivate each other to keep writing and working toward our goals. My contribution for the week is from the British novelist, essayist, and poet, C.S. Lewis.

Clive Staples Lewis was born in Belfast, Ireland, on November 29th, 1898. As a boy, Lewis was fascinated with anthropomorphic animals; he fell in love with Beatrix Potter‘s stories and often wrote and illustrated his own animal stories. He and his brother Warnie created the world of Boxen, inhabited and run by animals. Lewis loved to read. His father’s house was filled with books, and he felt that finding a book to read was as easy as walking into a field and “finding a new blade of grass”.

1069006Growing up Lewis loved Norse and Greek mythology, and Irish mythology and literature. He loved nature; its beauty reminded him of the stories of the North, and the stories of the North reminded him of the beauties of nature. His teenage writings moved away from the tales of Boxen, and he used different art forms, including epic poetry and opera. In 1916, Lewis was awarded a scholarship at University College, Oxford. Within months of entering Oxford, the British Army shipped him to France to fight in the First World War. His experience of the horror of war confirmed his atheism.

Lewis is probably best known for his series of children’s fantasy novels The Chronicles of Narnia. Set in the fictional realm of Narnia, a fantasy world of magic, mythical beasts, and talking animals, the series narrates the adventures of various children who play central roles in the unfolding history of that world. To date, the Narnia books have sold over 100 million copies and been transformed into three major motion pictures. In all Lewis wrote more than 30 novels.

Lewis and fellow novelist J. R. R. Tolkien,  author of the classics The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, were close friends. They both served on the English faculty at Oxford University and were active in the informal Oxford literary group known as the Inklings. Tolkien would eventually inspire Lewis’ return to Christianity.

On 22 November, exactly one week before his 65th birthday, Lewis collapsed in his bedroom at 5:30 pm and died a few minutes later. Media coverage of his death was almost completely overshadowed by news of the assassination of US President John F. Kennedy, which occurred on the same day (approximately 55 minutes following Lewis’ collapse), as did the death of English writer Aldous Huxley, author of Brave New World. This coincidence was the inspiration for Peter Kreeft’s book Between Heaven and Hell: A Dialog Somewhere Beyond Death with John F. Kennedy, C. S. Lewis, & Aldous Huxley.

C. S. Lewis is commemorated on 22 November in the church calendar of the Episcopal Church.

Don’t use words too big for the subject. Don’t say ‘infinitely’ when you mean ‘very’; otherwise you’ll have no word left when you want to talk about something really infinite.

// C.S. Lewis


One of the reasons I keep doing these Writer’s Quote Wednesday posts, besides getting to learn about an awesome new author every week, is that I enjoy collecting little bits of writing advice like this. I like when an author gives a little tip that feels somehow more real, more right, than the “rules” you get in a high school English class. It’s even better if this author can tell you why this bit of advice is important in a way that you can understand, especially if it gives you that “AHA!” feeling.

People like to sound smart and profound, so your instinct is to make all your writing sound smart and profound. You do that by using words like “infinite” as much as you can, but when you understand that not every subject deserves a word like that you can see why you shouldn’t always use it. You learn that writing sounds better when you use the word that is right for what you are trying to say, not what you want to sound like. It’s a hard lesson to grasp but when you do it’s almost as if a weight has been lifted. You realize you don’t have to try so hard. It is perfectly ok, no, it is best, to use simpler words. Save the special words for when you are saying something truly special and those words will really pop!

To improve my ability to use the right word I work daily to expand my vocabulary. I read every day and I try to read something from someone who lives in a different part of the world from me, or who lived in a different time. I use a dictionary/thesaurus app on my phone. If I have to use a word too often I try to find an alternative. If I am not 100% sure what a word means I look it up along with its synonyms and antonyms. I follow a few blogs that focus on language, my favorite is Strong Language. I try to play word games on my phone like Words With Friends or Word Academy. Finally, I keep a tab open with Dictioanry.com’s word of the day up.

I squirrel these words away. I try them out in conversation here and there with friends. I come up with little stories that I can use them in. I do whatever I can to make them stick because I know that there will come a time when each one will be needed. I only have to be patient and never use one before it’s time has come.

For some bonus tips here is the entire letter written to a young fan of Lewis’, Joan Lancaster, in June of 1956 that this little tip is from:

The Kilns,
Headington Quarry,
26 June 1956

Dear Joan–

Thanks for your letter of the 3rd. You describe your Wonderful Night v. well. That is, you describe the place and the people and the night and the feeling of it all, very well — but not the thing itself — the setting but not the jewel. And no wonder! Wordsworth often does just the same. His Prelude (you’re bound to read it about 10 years hence. Don’t try it now, or you’ll only spoil it for later reading) is full of moments in which everything except the thing itself is described. If you become a writer you’ll be trying to describe the thing all your life: and lucky if, out of dozens of books, one or two sentences, just for a moment, come near to getting it across.

About amn’t I, aren’t I and am I not, of course there are no right or wrong answers about language in the sense in which there are right and wrong answers in Arithmetic. “Good English” is whatever educated people talk; so that what is good in one place or time would not be so in another. Amn’t I was good 50 years ago in the North of Ireland where I was brought up, but bad in Southern England. Aren’t I would have been hideously bad in Ireland but very good in England. And of course I just don’t know which (if either) is good in modern Florida. Don’t take any notice of teachers and textbooks in such matters. Nor of logic. It is good to say “more than one passenger was hurt,” although more than one equals at least two and therefore logically the verb ought to be plural were not singular was!

What really matters is:–

1. Always try to use the language so as to make quite clear what you mean and make sure your sentence couldn’t mean anything else.

2. Always prefer the plain direct word to the long, vague one. Don’timplement promises, but keep them.

3. Never use abstract nouns when concrete ones will do. If you mean “More people died” don’t say “Mortality rose.”

4. In writing. Don’t use adjectives which merely tell us how you want us to feel about the thing you are describing. I mean, instead of telling us a thing was “terrible,” describe it so that we’ll be terrified. Don’t say it was “delightful”; make us say “delightful” when we’ve read the description. You see, all those words (horrifying, wonderful, hideous, exquisite) are only like saying to your readers, “Please will you do my job for me.”

5. Don’t use words too big for the subject. Don’t say “infinitely” when you mean “very”; otherwise you’ll have no word left when you want to talk about something really infinite.

Thanks for the photos. You and Aslan both look v. well. I hope you’ll like your new home.

With love
C.S. Lewis


Original image: The majestic Orion Nebula imaged with the 2.2m ESO/MPG telescope.
via Wikimedia 

Biographical information via Wikipedia and Goodreads

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