War correspondent Neil Shea shares his best writing advice in this week’s Writing Lessons: “My work involves observing the order and disorder of people’s lives, the decisions they make or don’t, how they fight, surrender, or pray through.”
(Photo of Neil Shea by Steven Alvarez)
To avoid getting beat up at school—I was the only American, and recesses were serial reenactments of the Alamo—I acquired a quick tongue. I fended off blows with storytelling.
You want the bristle hair to stir at the back of the neck.
"The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function."—F. Scott Fitzgerald
In F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Essays From the Edge, Patricia Hampl contends that the Jazz Age novelist’s chronicle of his mental collapse, much derided by his critics, anticipated the rise of autobiographical writing in America.
Thinking well takes time: time for doubt, time for analysis and synthesis, time to let your intuition operate, time to have a second thought. The faster we write, the faster we respond (on Twitter or Facebook, in discussion threads or texts), the more superficial the level of consciousness we’re working from. We’re skimming the surface of our minds (which, like the surface of other things, is mostly foam and crud), forgoing reason, judgment, artistry, craft. That is not the place from which the most intelligent forms of communication, the ones that used to play a larger role in our lives—novels, essays, serious journalism—originate. But it is the place our public discourse, and our private discourse, too, increasingly inhabits.