Writer . . . with Children

Wise words from Douglas Wilson for writers who have a family to care for, taken from his new book Wordsmithy: Hot Tips for the Writing Life (Canon Press, 2011), page 40:

I have read enough books to know that the “Acknowledgements” section frequently includes a tribute to the wife and kids, who always let Dad go off to the study for the interminable time it took to produce the book. This is a reasonable thing to acknowledge, of course, but I would encourage writers not to overdo it — the disappearing that is, not the acknowledging. When an extra load develops, try to have it land on you and not on the family. If it has to get done now, then get up at five, and nobody else pays. So if you need to, get up at five, but always try to go home at five.

Think of it this way. A 60-hour work week is an honest job and a significant load, but a lot of the problems that come to people who work this much happen because of where those 60 hours are placed. Apportion 40 hours to your regular job, the calling which pays the bills, and then 20 hours for your half-time job of getting a writing career started. It is possible to work those 60 hours and still have lots of time left over for family. A week has a total of 168 hours in it. Sixty hours of work leaves 108, and 8 hours of sleep a night take away another 56 hours, leaving you with 52 hours a week to play tag in the backyard with the kids.

Read like someone who can afford to forget most of what you read

A tip for writers from Douglas Wilson, Wordsmithy: Hot Tips for the Writing Life (Canon Press, 2011), pages 36–37:

We test students right after they read something mostly to ensure that they have in fact read it. From this, many have drawn the erroneous conclusion that the only good that can be extracted from the reading is that which can be displayed on or measured by such a test.

This is wildly inaccurate. Most of the good your reading and education has done for you is not something you can recall at all. . . .

Mark every striking thing that you read. You won’t remember everything you read, and you won’t even remember everything you mark. Nevertheless, it is not a sin to remember some things or to mark them in such a way as to be able to find them again. I use blue highlighters on everything, to such an extent that one of my granddaughters assumed, reasonably enough, that this is what I use whenever I am “coloring.”

But you are not cramming for a test. You are simply marking things because this is a good way to read with your eyes open. You read widely to be shaped, not so that you might be prepared to regurgitate. Read like someone who can afford to forget most of what you read. It does not matter because you are still going to be shaped by it.

Top 10 P.G. Wodehouse Titles

British humorist P.G. Wodehouse penned close to 100 books in his prolific career. That’s great for him, but it also means I find myself up against the dashed difficult problem of determining where to begin. So to help me navigate the options I contacted the man who introduced me to Wodehouse a number of years back, Douglas Wilson. “As a general rule, the Blandings Castle books and the Jeeves books are the best,” he told me. And then followed that summary with “a rough and ready list” of 10 titles that take the biscuit:

  1. Joy in the Morning
  2. Leave it to Psmith
  3. Galahad at Blandings
  4. Uncle Dynamite
  5. Uncle Fred in the Springtime
  6. The Code of the Woosters
  7. Meet Mr. Mulliner
  8. Right Ho, Jeeves
  9. Lord Emsworth and Others
  10. Heavy Weather

Now that’s a bit more manageable.

Any other Wodehouse fans out there? What are your favorites?

[Note: the character sketches were pinched from this blog.]