Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘history’

21 MAY, 2012

Snoopy’s Guide to the Writing Life: Ray Bradbury on Creative Purpose in the Face of Rejection

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“The blizzard doesn’t last forever; it just seems so.”

Famous advice on writing abounds — Kurt Vonnegut’s 8 tips on how to make a great story, David Ogilvy’s 10 no-bullshit tips, Henry Miller’s 11 commandments, Jack Kerouac’s 30 beliefs and techniques, John Steinbeck’s 6 pointers, and various invaluable insight from other great writers. In Snoopy’s Guide to the Writing Life, Barnaby Conrad and Monte Schulz, son of Peanuts creator Charles M. Schulz, bring a delightfully refreshing lens to the writing advice genre by asking 30 famous authors and entertainers to each respond to a favorite Snoopy comic strip with a 500-word essay on the triumphs and tribulations of the writing life. The all-star roster includes William F. Buckley, Jr., Julia Child, Ed McBain, and Elizabeth George, but my favorite contribution comes from the always-insightful Ray Bradbury:

The amazing Blackstone came to town when I was seven, and I saw how he came alive onstage and thought, God, I want to grow up to be like that! And I ran up to help him vanish an elephant. To this day I don’t know where the elephant went. One moment it was there, the next — abracadabra — with a wave of the wand it was gone!

In 1929 Buck Rogers came into the world, and on that day in October a single panel of Buck Rogers comic strip hurled me into the future. I never came back.

It was only natural when I was twelve that I decided to become a writer and laid out a huge roll of butcher paper to begin scribbling an endless tale that scrolled right on up to Now, never guessing that the butcher paper would run forever.

Snoopy has written me on many occasions from his miniature typewriter, asking me to explain what happened to me in the great blizzard of rejection slips of 1935. Then there was the snowstorm of rejection slips in ’37 and ’38 and an even worse winter snowstorm of rejections when I was twenty-one and twenty-two. That almost tells it, doesn’t it, that starting when I was fifteen I began to send short stories to magazines like Esquire, and they, very promptly, sent them back two days before they got them! I have several walls in several rooms of my house covered with the snowstorm of rejections, but they didn’t realize what a strong person I was; I persevered and wrote a thousand more dreadful short stories, which were rejected in turn. Then, during the late forties, I actually began to sell short stories and accomplished some sort of deliverance from snowstorms in my fourth decade. But even today, my latest books of short stories contain at least seven stories that were rejected by every magazine in the United States and also in Sweden! So, dear Snoopy, take heart from this. The blizzard doesn’t last forever; it just seems so.

What a fine complement to this recent omnibus of wisdom on how to find your purpose and do what you love.

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17 MAY, 2012

1 + 1 = 3: Ken Burns on What Makes a Great Story

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How stories keep the wolf from the door and why math has no place in storytelling.

What makes a great story? Kurt Vonnegut had 8 rules, Jack Kerouac had 30 beliefs and techniques, evolutionary biology has some theories, and famous writers have some tips. In this short film by Sarah Klein and Tom Mason, PBS’s Ken Burns, who for the past quarter-century has been relaying history’s most fascinating stories in his unparalleled films and has even earned himself some loving parody, shares his formula for spellbinding storytelling: 1 + 1 = 3, or a story where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Beneath it all is his beautiful blend of personal truth and astute insight into the universal onuses of being human.

I don’t know why I tell stories about history… There’s a kind of classic dime-store Ken Burns wolf-at-the-door things… My mother had cancer all of my life, she died when I was 11, there wasn’t a moment from when I wasn’t aware — two-and-a-half, three — that there was something dreadfully wrong in my life. It might be that what I’m engaged in in a historical pursuit is a thin layer, perhaps thickly disguised, waking of the dead, that I try to make Abraham Lincoln and Jackie Robinson and Louis Armstrong come alive, and it may be very obvious and very close to home who I’m actually trying to wake up.

We have to keep the wolf from the door… We tell stories to continue ourselves. We all think an exception is going to be made in our case, and we’re going to live forever. And being a human is actually arriving at the understanding that that’s not going to be. Story is there to just remind us that it’s just okay.

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15 MAY, 2012

Animated Anatomy of Shakespearean Slurs

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Heartless hinds, fishmongers, and lots of thumb-biting.

Nearly two years ago, The Snark Handbook: Insult Edition gave us high-brow verbal sparring lessons with some of literary history’s finest comebacks, taunts, and effronteries. Now, from educator April Gudenrath and the team at TED-Ed comes this primer on Shakespearean insults, which served to unify the audience and to develop relationships between characters in a very short and sharp way.

Do you bite your thumb at us, sir?

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