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There’s been a lot of talk in the past week about the Intellectual Dark Web, largely because of an article by Bari Weiss in the New York Times. It’s a good article, and I think is mostly fair to the IDW members it profiles (though the pictures are weird and melodramatic).

Personally, I’ve known about what is now called the Intellectual Dark Web for a while. I like Dave Rubin’s show, Joe Rogan’s podcasts, and some of Christina Hoff Sommer’s writing. I think Maajid Nawaz does some good anti-extremist work, as does Ayaan Hirsi Ali.

I even read Jordan Peterson’s book. …


Flashbacks Can Be Overused — Here’s One Way To Get The Same Effect With A Slightly Different Technique

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Flashbacks, like so many writing tools, can be done successfully but are often overused. And this is coming from a guy who wrote a book with loads of flashbacks — whole chapters of flashbacks. But I see people use them too much, and I notice myself leaning on them at times as well.

First, it’s important to articulate what flashbacks are for: they should either build character or fill in the plot. While they don’t follow the chronological arc of a story, they must follow the emotional and psychological arc of the story — meaning that it should feel to readers like the flashbacks are in a natural place and not jarring them out of the contiguous effect of the story. …


A quick expansion on a tweet.

I wrote this tweet about writing and prose style on Friday, and it went like this:

Active voice > passive voice.

Verbs > adjectives > adverbs.

Fewer words > more words.

People had very strong reactions to it, which surprised me, mostly because I’m not the first person to put forward any of these ideas. …


Hint: It’s Not Your Word Count

The Philadelphia Phillies recently hired Gabe Kapler as their new manager and he is, well, something else. He certainly makes every man in the region feel a little inadequate…

He says he’s intense, and the guy looks the part.

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Gabe Kapler: super intense dude.

In his first interview he said:

“Intensity does not mean impatience. Intensity means attention to detail.”

Maybe it’s because I love sports as much as I love books, but I immediately saw writing advice in this quote.

So many writers measure their success in word count, in daily output, in the number of hours spent in the chair tapping at keys. …


Some days are harder than others for us writers. Here’s how I get by when those times happen.

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There are days when it seems like your character will not act in any significant way, like a toddler who refuses to put on pants. When the plot will not progress. When you have a typo in every line you write, and every text message you send, and every tweet you post.

For all of us, on some days we just don’t have it.

But we’re supposed to write every day, right? The cliche isn’t to write every day except when it’s not going well. So, here’s what I do when that happens. Maybe it’ll help you too.

First, I write anyway and just accept that it’ll be shit. Sometimes, when it feels like some angel is handing me the sentences directly from prose heaven, it reads like shit with a few days’ perspective. So at least on the bad days I’m honest about it. And like anything else with writing, sometimes it cleans up well in editing the next day, sometimes I chuck a lot of it. A bad day’s writing may feel like a waste of time, but the results may not be as bad as I’m convinced they are as I type out each miserable word. …


Short stories aren’t long stories jammed into fewer pages, they require their own conception and techniques.

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A few weeks ago, during a residency for my MFA students, I consistently said that short stories are not condensed stories, they’re distilled stories. I stand by that statement, but when I posted it on social media a few weeks ago people asked for a more detailed explanation. So, here goes.

One phenomenon I see in beginning writers is that when they think of short stories they think of novels crammed into 15–20 pages. They think a short story not only can but should have many elements of a novel. …


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I was recently discussing a story with a student of mine who had gotten the “so what?” response in workshop. If you’ve never heard that term, it sounds harsher than it is, and in the right context is actually a legitimate critique.

I’ve been over this several times with many of my students and I think it’s an important thing for any writer to understand.

A “so what?” story is one where there is no change to anything based on the events of the story. The characters make no consequential decisions, their actions do nothing to alter any aspect of the world of the story. Things might happen, but there is no rhetorical purpose to them happening. …


Civil Discussion Among People Who Disagree Can Do So Much To Make A Better Society

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A few months ago I wrote about how people are afraid of different ideas. The situation seems to have gotten worse.

For example, Out magazine published an article last week wherein the author advocates dropping friends who are Republicans. And then last night someone poured a bottle of water over broadcaster/comedian Kat Timpf before she was scheduled to speak at an event in Brooklyn.

This idea that all people with differing opinions are necessarily bad and, in some cases, worthy of assault, is an intellectual climate at about the level of Neanderthal society. …


It Seems Like Most People Really Just Want A Good Performance

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My first thought upon hearing the announcement that Jodie Whittaker will be the new Doctor and the first woman to perform the role of the Time Lord: I hope she’s good.

Funny. That’s the same thought I had with every other new Doctor. I like the show and so I hope the new actor does a good job.

What’s the fuss?

Ok, I get it, a woman will be taking over an iconic and up-until-now male roll. That’s a thing, no doubt, and there’s a cultural significance to it. …


It Makes A Statement Of Quality Under The Guise Of A Description Of Content

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For years I’ve used the term “literary fiction” with my students and always put an asterisk next to it. I don’t like the term, I think it doesn’t actually describe what people use it to describe, and it’s pejorative to other genres of writing.

When we talk about “literary fiction” today we really mean writing set in the present or the recent past and which is about our real world. It tends to be a catchall term for writing that doesn't fit into a genre: sci-fi, fantasy, romance, historical fiction, etc.

The problem, though, is that we also use the word “literary” to describe the quality of writing, not it’s subject matter. High quality writing is considered “literary” and low quality writing isn’t. The latter is often called pulp or mass market or airport fiction — something like that. …

About

Joshua Isard

Author of Conquistador of the Useless, a novel. Director of Arcadia’s MFA Program in Creative Writing. Shooting the wall.

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