Out of the Great Hodgepodge of Your Life – by Frederick Buechner

The word fiction comes from a Latin verb meaning “to shape, fashion, feign.” That is what fiction does, and in many ways it is what faith does too You fashion your story, as you fashion your faith, out of the great hodgepodge of your life-the things that have happened to you and the things you have dreamed of happening. They are the raw material of both. Then, if you’re a writer like me, you try less to impose a shape on the hodgepodge than to see what shape emerges from it, is hidden in it. You try to sense what direction it is moving in. You listen to it. You avoid forcing your characters to march too steadily to the drumbeat of your artistic purpose, but leave them some measure of real freedom to be themselves. If minor characters show signs of becoming major characters, you at least give them a shot at it because in the world of fiction it may take many pages before you find out who the major characters really are just as in the real world it may take you many years to find out that the stranger you talked to for half an hour once in a railway station may have done more to point you to where your true homeland lies than your closest friend or your psychiatrist.

– from Secrets in the Dark

The Three Hats

On a shelf in the little room where I write, there are three hats.


The first one is a black beret. If you could see me walking through the neighborhood wearing my beret and carrying my sketchbook, with my beard and my sunglasses and my sandals, you would say to yourself, “Now, there goes an artist if ever there was one.” “And a right stylish artist at that,” some might say. I hope someone might say that.


The second hat is a sun-faded, well-loved, and well-worn New York Yankees baseball cap, my gamer from the last year the Yankees won the World Series. Gamer is the proper name for the new hat you buy at the beginning of the season. You wear it the first time you watch your team play in the new season, or the first time you listen to the team’s game on the radio, and always when you are going to bump into a Red Sox fan and you want to make a point.


The third hat is a brown fedora. When worn at the correct rakish, Indiana Jones angle, it makes a writer feel like a million bucks. The fedora suggests that I, the man underneath, am a man to be reckoned with, a man of action and decisiveness and clarity. [I revised the previous sentence, because the proofreader pointed out a grammatical problem with the original. Ok?] A man who can make the tough calls and will do so gladly.


One of the tricks to making a book is to know which hat you are wearing while you are working on the different tasks required to make your book come to life.


– Robert Benson “Dancing on the Head of a Pen”

Will It Move?

There is a terrific exchange between the great editor Maxwell Perkins – who edited F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway, among others – and one of his authors. The author was complaining that one of this books wasn’t getting enough advertising support from the publisher.  Perkins reply – over eighty years old – is still critically relevant to every type of creative. Comparing advertising a product to a man attempting to move a car, Perkins wrote:


“If he can get it to move, the more he pushes the faster it will move and the more easily. But if he can’t get it to move, he can push till he drops dead and it will stand still.”


– Ryan Holiday – “Perennial Seller”

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