Stalking Authors: Fyodor Dostoyevsky and the 4 Authors’ Q & A

I apologize that I’ve fallen off the face of blog-verse once again. Last week, I had my kanji test (more  officially called the Japan Kanji Aptitude Test) and I was going for Level 2 (Level 1 being the hardest), so that was that. Given, it would have been cool if I actually passed. This time, despite my cram sessions, I don’t think I made the cut. I guess I just have to keep going!

Also, I got accepted into one of the colleges I’ve applied to! I’ll hopefully have more updates come March…

But enough about my academics. Today, I’ll wrap up my blog series, Stalking Authors, with the acclaimed Fyodor Dostoyevsky! 

Dostoyevsky is the author of books like Crime and Punishment (my favourite!) and the Brothers Karamazov, as well as short stories like Notes from the Underground & the Double. His stories centres around themes like psychology, redemption, and theology. If you have not yet read him, I recommend you do. 

Writing Habits…Journaling:

So one disclaimer: It was exceedingly difficult to find information on Dostoyevsky’s writing habits. I think it’s partly because he’s a Russian author and because he’s from the 19th century. What I did find was some odd eating habits (Russian cuisines and specifically made strong black tea) and that he journalled. 

The Drawings and Calligraphy of Fyodor Dostoevsky contains his drafting notes covered with his writings and drawings. There are mainly three aspects that helped him when brainstorming like this: Art, Penmanship, and Narratives.

Art: 

Dostoyevsky was educated at the Military Engineering Academy, where he picked up his drawing skills. He was fascinated with architecture, and liked to draw motifs around that subject. One can find illustrations like oak leaves, fleurons, and Gothic architecture features (i. e. Windows, towers, arches, etc.). Some say that the vertical style of Gothic architecture is symbolic to his writings. After all, what better way than to brainstorm symbolism than by drawing them?

Penmanship: 

Along the lines of his art, Dostoyevsky liked to change his fonts depending on character, setting, and story. For stories like the Idiot and Demons, he used a lot of flowery calligraphy. For others, he would use sharp little fonts and scrawling letters. Other times, he would resort to simple longhand. But whatever fonts he used, he would use them accordingly. Which, by the way, totally resonates with how I like to change my fonts according to certain WIPs. 

Narratives:

And here comes the most important aspect to his writing: He used his notes to brainstorm segments of his story. When I would look into his notes, I won’t be able to make heads or tails of his narratives and seemingly random arrangement, but to Dostoyevsky, the process was logical and vital to him creating masterworks of classics.

4 Authors’ Q & A

Before all the craze of journaling and storyboarding, people from 200 years ago were already on it. To conclude this series, I’d like to call back our previous guests we’ve stalked so far for a little Q & A session.

Q1. Can you tell us about your writing habits?

Lewis (CSL): I have breakfast around 8:00am, then start writing from 9:00 until lunch on an ideal day. Then I take a walk, have tea, and read or write some more. 

Tolkien (JRRT): Habits? What are habits?

Lindgren (AL): I usually write or edit one of my books till lunch (often in bed), then go over to the publishers in the afternoon to work as an editor.

Dostoyevsky (FMD): I don’t know (since there isn’t much information). 

Q2. What should aspiring authors write about?

CSL: People should write about the things they are interested in and love.

JRRT: I wholeheartedly agree with what Lewis says. My interest in languages and old tales began from an early age, and look where it evolved into!

AL: I agree, but would add that people should try writing for the child within themselves. That’s where the miracle happens. 

(Lewis and Tolkien cheerfully agree.)

FMD: I would say the same. Except, any topic you choose to write, think about it on deeper levels. That really helps you get the bigger picture of the story.  

Q3. Do you type or hand write?

CSL: People should never type. It tends to destroy the writing flow.

Biblo objects!

JRRT: And I fully disagree. My American Hammond Varityper (made in 1927) worked perfectly fine, except that it was kind of heavy. I’ve always dreamt of having an electronic typewriter that could type in Fëanorian script.

AL: Well, I began my career as a typist/secretary, so I may be biased…

CSL: (dismayed) You all are! And Tolkien, my friend, what about your wonderful long-hand?

JRRT: (grudgingly) It causes me great pain, but I do write my notes longhand.  

FMD: Ahem, I hope I’m not intruding, but I write everything by hand. So what’s a typewriter? I’m afraid my Engineering school didn’t cover that topic.

REST: (smiling) Never you mind, dear sir. It’s been found people can both hand write and type, to certain extents. 

Q4. How should people edit?

CSL: I don’t. But then when I must, I have my wife help me work out scenes that don’t quite fit. Or reading it aloud helps.

JRRT: Well,I kind of have my best editing partner here with me [refers to Lewis], and he does a fantastic job of it. When he would get bored at a section, I would try to revise it. He always told me I could “do better than that”!

AL: In case you didn’t know, I’m an editor and an author. So this comes to me naturally, I suppose. I write in the mornings–that’s when I have my writing cap on–then I go over to the publishers and put on my editing hat. 

FMD: I can’t really say. My notes almost always helped me form my thoughts into a coherent enough story, and I was always writing on a deadline. If I had more time to edit, I would have been able to achieve a greater literary style!

Q5. How can authors improve their prose?

CSL: People should never use “big words” for the sake of it. That causes a big misunderstanding. Clarity is the most important thing when writing. We don’t want to be told the cake was tasty. We want to taste the cake. 

JRRT: When you can’t work it into prose, write it in poetry. Poetry has a different flow from hard prose, and it really improves your writing. Oh, and creating new languages as well as maps also come in handy!

AL: If you can’t explain what you wrote to children, there’s a problem. Or better yet, have a child read your work (unless it’s not appropriate), and ask them about the parts that’s hard to understand. You’ll be surprised at how on the point they can be.

FMD: Notebooking every single idea that comes to you helps. Try adding little sketches, different cursive styles, etc., etc. Or, to drastically change things, you can be sent to an execution stopped at the last minute, then to Siberia. (Smiles diabolically)

JRRT: I like the idea of notebooks, which I sort of did. I don’t know about execution. Somme was enough for me.

CSL: Yes, wars, are a terrible thing. But it does help you rethink the world around you…I think we’re a little off-topic, don’t you think? 

REST: That’s quite true.

CSL: I think that’s it, and thank you for having us!

Okay, so there we have it. A nice conclusion to our series, Stalking Authors. I hope you liked the series! Did you find any new perspectives about writing? Who was your favourite author in the series? Let me know in the comments below; I’d love to chat with you!

Stalking Authors: Astrid Lindgren

Hej! Hur är läget?

In case you didn’t understand, this is the Swedish way of greeting–Hello, what’s up? And the reason I’m attempting Swedish is quite simply because….

The author I’m stalking today is Astrid Lindgren!

Not many people I’ve talked to are Lindgren-enthusiasts. So the first thing to do is introduce who this amazing writer is–and perhaps form Lindgren-enthusiasts out of you, too!

Because, aerodynamics.

Astrid Lindgren is the acclaimed Swedish author of books like Pippi Longstocking, Children of Noisy Village, Mio, My Son, Ronia the Robber’s Daughter (which became a TV anime series in Japan), and Kalle Blomkvist, Master Detective. She is the author of 34 books and 41 picture books, that sold over 165 million copies and have been translated into more than 100 languages. All of her works are bright and packed with exhilarating adventures, but with a twinge of reality that offers a deep insight. 

That’s Ronja to you.

Writing Habits:

Astrid Lindgren’s writing routine was balanced between her job as the editor of Rabén & Sjögren and her writing. In the morning up till lunch (often in bed), she would write or edit her books. Then, after a brief lunch, she would walk to the publishers and put on her editor’s hat in the children’s books department. 

Philosophy:

Since I couldn’t find “official” advice from her about writing, I compiled a few quotes I felt that showed how and why she wrote.

‘Uncle Melker, you know what? If you can’t write so that I understand it, then you might as well stop.’

Tjorven, from Seacrow Island

‘And so I write the way I myself would like the book to be – if I were a child. I write for the child within me.’

From the newspaper Expressen, 6 Dec 1970

‘I want to write for a readership that can create miracles. Children create miracles when they read.’

From “That’s why children need books”, the speech Astrid Lindgren held at the reception of the H C Andersen Award in April 1958.

‘I know what the meaning of life isn’t. Collecting money and knicknacks and things, being famous and grinning from the pages of women’s glossy magazines, being so afraid of loneliness and quiet that you never get a calm moment to think: What am I doing with my short time here on earth?’

Astrid Lindgren, from “The meaning of life”

Although this post turned out to be a little shorter than usual, this pretty much sums up the adventurous, relentless writer Astrid Lindgren is. I love how great writers keep their inner child alive (something C. S. Lewis also valued). And a little parting story for you:

Pippi Longstocking came alive by Astrid telling bed-side stories about this crazily strong and kind girl to her daughter. Which, came to be everyone’s favourite bedtime stories around the world. I also started my writing journey by recounting stories about great heists and battles to my younger siblings, so this is really encouraging. You never know when the silliest stories you tell become an actual published work!

Are you on your way to becoming a Lindgren-enthusiast like me? Do you tell bedtime stories to your family? Do you enjoy writing for children? Let me know in the comments below!

Until next week, comrades!

Stalking Authors: J. R. R. Tolkien

Hello, world!

I apologize greatly for how I’d suddenly dropped off the blog-space last week. An unforeseen illness confined me to bed. But I am well again, so that’s what matters. 

I’m officially back in service.

Today we have the acclaimed king of the fantasy genre: J. R. R. Tolkien! I’ve just finally gotten around to watching the movie, Tolkien, which was amazing. Although, like all movies, some parts are dramatized for the sake of it. I still loved it, and recommend it. 

Literary Clubs: 

The really funny thing about J. R. R. Tolkien is that it’s almost impossible to find a specific routine he preferred. So for Tolkien, I decided to share the literary clubs he belonged to. 

The first one is the Tea Club, Barrovian Society (T.C.B.S.). This club was formed in his school years as teenagers. The club included three other members, Geoffrey Bache Smith, Robert Gilson and Christopher Wiseman, from King Edward’s School in Birmingham. As portrayed in the movie, they did share their artistic works and often spent many days dreaming about their future. The usual meeting place was at Barrow’s Store, a tea shop. They also met in the school library on occasion. 

THE TCBS

The second and more well-known club he was a part of was the Inklings. Now, I can’t deny that I love this group since it was mainly founded by C. S. Lewis (!!!) and J. R. R. Tolkien, who were good friends. (Never mind the fact they sort of fought on various occasions.) They began by meeting every Monday morning “for a  glass”. They would discuss politics, literature, and also critique each other’s works. Then, it developed into a more solid group with more members (mostly men), and they switched from Monday mornings to Thursday evenings. The Inklings met in places like pubs and like locations. 

Writing Advice:

This includes general advice for writers seen in Tolkien’s letters, as well as specific advice for fantasy writers (especially those in the high fantasy genre).  

  1. Create a reliable map. “I wisely started with a map, and made the story fit (generally with meticulous care for distances). The other way about lands one in confusions and impossibilities, and in any case it is weary work to compose a map from a story.”
  2. Keep your childish side alive. “Most of my philological colleagues are shocked (cert. behind my back, sometimes to my face) at the fall of a philological into ‘Trivial literature’; a,d anyway the cry is: ‘now we know how you have been wasting your time for 20 years’.”
  3. Keep writing, no matter what. From his correspondences, it’s clear that Tolkien struggled with various things in his life, from illness to overwork to his son being in the Royal Navy during WW2. But he kept writing, no matter what.
  4. Listen to critics. “When he [C. S. Lewis] would say, ‘You can do better than that.  Better, Tolkien, please!’ I would try. I’d sit down and write the section over and over.  That happened with the scene I think is the best in the book, the confrontation between Gandalf and his rival wizard, Saruman, in the ravaged city of Isengard.”  He writes that he “cut out some passages of light-hearted hobbit conversation which he [Lewis] found tiresome, thinking that if he did most other readers (if any) would feel the same…to tell the truth he never really like hobbits very much, least of all Merry and Pippin.  But a great number of readers do, and would like more than they have got”. 
  5. Write about what you love. “I began the construction of languages in early boyhood: I am primarily a scientific philologist.  My interests were, and remain, largely scientific. But I was also interested in traditional tales (especially those concerning dragons); writing (not reading) verse and metrical devices.  These things began to flow together when I was an undergraduate to the despair of my tutors and near-wrecking of my career”.
  6. Poetry works into prose. Tolkien wrote in poetry and verses when he couldn’t write it in prose. “The first version of the song of Strider concerning Luthien,… originally appeared in the Leeds University magazine, but the whole tale, as sketched by Aragorn, was written in a poem of great length”.
  7. Names matter. “The invention of languages is the foundation. The ‘stones’ were made rather to provide a world for the languages than the reverse. To me a name comes first and the story follows.”
  8. You are also a character in your story. “I met a lot of things on the way that astonished me … I had never been to [the town of] Bree. [Seeing the character] Strider sitting in the corner at the inn was a shock, and I had no more idea who he was than had Frodo … I was as mystified as Frodo at Gandalf’s failure to appear on September 22.” 

“I am in fact a Hobbit in all but size.”

  1. Real people make great characters. “There was a curious local character, an old man who used to go about sweeping gossip and weather-wisdom and such like.  To amuse my boys I named him Gaffer Gamgee, and the name became part of family lore to fix on old chaps of the kind. At that time I was beginning on The Hobbit.  The choice of Gamgee was primarily directed by alliteration; but I did not invent it. It was caught out of childhood memory, as a comic word or name. It was in fact the name when I was small (in Birmingham) for ‘cotton-wool’”
  2. Edit as you go. Tolkien spent almost twenty years on Lord of the Rings. Given his language inventions and earliest ideas, as well as later creations of Middle Earth continued, he could have spent almost thirty years and more on one set of story he wished to tell. In that span, he kept on revising his world and editing. Even after all he did, he still viewed his work as needing revisions. So, it just goes to show there isn’t enough editing you can do. 
Well said, well said.

This is so different from what we saw from Lewis, but at the same time so insightful! Although I don’t intend to write high fantasy, this is such an excellent guide to world-building. Like advice number 9, for example, is something I already do. I usually start with a base character I know well enough in real life, then modify the person into an entirely new character. 

I hope you enjoyed this week’s installation! Are there any Tolkien junkies out there? Did you know about Tolkien and his literary clubs? Are you in one like him? Let me know in the comments below.

Until next week, comrades!