On Fridays, Evan Peterson spotlights five stories that writers of all stripes should check out. It’s the Week in Writing:
Frequently, this column focuses on stories that offer insight into the writing process, or a particularly good discussion about grammar. But this week, the Nobel for literature was handed out, and a book advance for a famous young writer sparked a bit of a controversy—so let's start there.
Lena Dunham's book deal:
I don't remember an author's advance ever getting this much attention, but Lena Dunham's $3.5 million deal to write a book of essays seems to have polarized the writing world. Dunham is the creator of the HBO series “Girls.” On one side, there's a group that is happy and impressed by the 26-year-old's accomplishments; and on the other side, there are people who think the publishing industry should be paying more writers anything
instead of giving such a huge sum to one popular millennial. In this blog post for The Atlantic
, Ta-Nehisi Coates writes that you can blame the publishing industry, but don't blame Dunham.
China and the Nobel Prize in literature:
Much of the coverage of Chinese writer Mo Yan's Nobel Prize in literature this week centered on the shifting politics in China that now favor the Nobel committee. This article from Businessweek
points that out and highlights an extra challenge that a Chinese writer must overcome, which makes Yan's achievement even more remarkable: evading China's censorship restrictions. Yan often did this by writing satire, and told an interviewer that restrictions on writers anywhere force them to tell stories through characters.
The digital correspondence archive:
The archives of famous writers are often collected in museums and universities for posterity. Often, this includes personal correspondence. But what happens when the majority of this correspondence inevitably becomes digital. We've examined the idea of letter writing in the digital age several times, but this article in The Daily Beast
takes on an interesting component of that idea: Will we remember and know people the same way through email or Twitter archives as we might through a stack of written letters?
Teaching kids to write email:
Maily is a new iPad app geared for the four- to eight- year-old set and aimed at teaching them good online etiquette at an early age. This piece from Fast Company
's design blog focuses on the look and usability of Maily, but the writing lesson here is easy to find. Even as writers, we spend too time making sure our email has exactly the right tone and consideration for the reader. A mail app for four-year-olds could conceivably cure the next generation of that.
Are most quotes written accurately?:
Not as in, did we get the words right? But are we to believe people always speak properly, without fillers such as “um” or “like” when we read what's printed in blog posts or news stories? Novelist Lee Child took this on in a different way, examining quotes used by fiction writers in this piece for The Wall Street Journal
. She makes the point that what reviewers call “good dialogue” should not be mistaken for real dialogue. Good dialogue in fiction, she notes, “must propel the reader irresistibly forward.” I suppose the same point could be made for real-life quotes.
Evan Peterson is a writer based in Chicago, and the editor of OpenMarkets magazine at CME Group. He's on Twitter at @evanmpeterson.