The first 250 words, Part Two

A while ago I did a post about judging a book by its first 250 words (it’s common for writing contests to pick this number for your writing sample). I showed that some famous books have beginnings that don’t really hit on the substance of the book. On the other hand, I showed that some books do manage to jump right into the meat of the book with the first 250 words. In either case, it’s interesting.

Since then, I’ve looked at some other well-known and best-selling books. After the break, another set of examples.

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Neil Gaiman gets into gaming

Wayward Manor, coming out in December.

I’m not a big gamer, having mostly played the old Cyan games (Myst, Riven, and the sequels) but I appreciate the humorous, quirky stuff (“Monkey Island” anyone?”)

Terry Pratchett’s “Discworld” also spawned a couple of fun and funny games, long “out of print” I’m afraid.  In this age of thermonuclear graphics and high-speed destruction, I’m not sure there’s a lot of room for dry wit, or even soaking wet wit any more.

Wayward Manor

Hand in Hand

Via Neil Gaiman’s journal, advice from authors, written on their hands.

Neil Gaiman Hand

There’s a common thread through many of these photos: the idea that a large part of successful writing is just plain sticking to it.

At the Asilomar writer conference, there was an ending ceremony where all of us wrote something to inspire ourselves on each of two index cards. One was burned in a big rustic fireplace (I had a sudden flash of a prim agent reading my reassembled card while sitting on a cloud floating over London) and the other copy was kept. Mine is currently taped to my computer case. It has one word. “Persist.”


Two of the hand photos in the photo gallery have the same word.

Robert Heinlein’s famous “Rules for Writing:”

1.) You must write.
2.) You must finish what you write.
3.) You must refrain from rewriting, except to editorial order.
4.) You must put the work on the market.
5.) You must keep the work on the market until it is sold.

I’d plug the word “excessive” into Rule 3, but I know what he meant–I’ve seen people who have been “polishing” the same manuscript for ten years. Otherwise the same overall theme of “not giving up” is there.

Ray Bradbury, RIP

Ray Bradbury died yesterday. He was 91.

People who like to write fantasy and science fiction may remember a phase they went through when they tried to write like Ray Bradbury. Well, at least I did, back in high school. This turned out to be a lot like trying to follow a Tolkien elf through deep snow: you watch in amazement as he dances lightly over the snow ahead of you, barely leaving a mark, while you slog through the drifts, up to your waist and struggling for every step.

There was some Bradbury I liked better than other Bradbury, but none of it was bad. I have a shelf of his most famous work. It’s still growing. I hadn’t kept up you see, and while I’d gotten copies of new works when I learned of them I was amazed to find–at a used bookstore–two books of his that I had never read or even heard of. Short stories and detective novels! After all this time, I finally got to meet Elmo Crumley.

Needless to say, I did a sweep of the internet and found a few more new/old Bradbury books to fill in the gaps.

There are words in foreign languages for things that don’t have good English words that quite fit. There should be one for the wonderful feeling you get when you find out a favorite author wrote a bunch of things ten years ago that you haven’t read yet.

The number of people he inspired to become writers must be legion.

In my other life as a space entrepreneur and rocket designer, Bradbury stood as one of my greatest inspirations there too, with his love of space and people going out there. A Muse for all seasons.

Neil Gaiman, another snow dancer who makes wordsmithing seem so effortless, wrote about Bradbury’s passing on his journal.

Driving and writing in fog

Found on Neil Gaiman’s journal:

It’s a weird thing, writing.

Sometimes you can look out across what you’re writing, and it’s like looking out over a landscape on a glorious, clear summer’s day. You can see every leaf on every tree, and hear the birdsong, and you know where you’ll be going on your walk.

And that’s wonderful.

Sometimes it’s like driving through fog. You can’t really see where you’re going. You have just enough of the road in front of you to know that you’re probably still on the road, and if you drive slowly and keep your headlamps lowered you’ll still get where you were going.

And that’s hard while you’re doing it, but satisfying at the end of a day like that, where you look down and you got 1500 words that didn’t exist in that order down on paper, half of what you’d get on a good day, and you drove slowly, but you drove.

And sometimes you come out of the fog into clarity, and you can see just what you’re doing and where you’re going, and you couldn’t see or know any of that five minutes before.

And that’s magic.

That’s pretty much it, isn’t it?

You could do worse than bookmark Gaiman’s blog.  Now that’s a writer.