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12 Essential Essays for Writers



The Electric Typewriter and Amanda Oliver have put toghether a list of their all-time favourite essays for writers:

On Keeping a Notebook by Joan Didion - A great essay about making notes that gets to the very core of the writing process

Write Like a Motherfucker by Cheryl Strayed - Raw, emotional advice on the role of humility and surrender in the often tortured world of the writer

Thoughts on Writing by Elizabeth Gilbert  - On disicpline, hard work, rejection and why it’s never too late to start

Write Till You Drop by Annie Dillard - “Do you think I could be a writer?” “I don’t know… . Do you like sentences?”

Everything you Need to Know About Writing Successfully - in Ten Minutes by Stephen King - Short, sharp advice on everything from talent and self-criticism to having fun and entertaining your audience

Why I Write by George Orwell - On egoism, a love of beauty, the quest for truth and the desire to change the world — Orwell’s ‘four great motive for writing’.

Despite Tough Guys, Life Is Not the Only School for Real Novelists by Kurt Vonnegut - A beautifully argued defence of the role of teaching in developing writers.

That Crafty Feeling by Zadie Smith - A lecture by a great essayist and novelist on the craft of writing.

A Place You All Know Well by Michael Chabon - On the central role of exporation in writing.

The Nature of Fun by David Foster Wallace (excerpt) - DFW on what drives writers to write

Uncanny the Singing That Comes from Certain Husks by Joy Williams - “Who cares if the writer is not whole? Of course the writer is not whole, or even particularly well…”

Where Do You Get Your Ideas? by Neil Gaiman - A meditation on inspriation

Those Words That Echo…Echo…Echo Through Life by Jamaica Kincaid - Another great essay from the the New York Times Writers on Writing series

If you any suggestions for additions, let us know!

From DISCOVERY to DISAPPEARANCE, the list of words worth thinking twice about is long. It is also incomplete. Once we start to watch our language, other terms surface that merit a second thought. Some are more jarring than others. The racially charged ‘half-breed’ should long since have gone the way of ‘primitive’ and ‘savage.’ A kindred ‘historical racial relic,’ ‘mixed-blood,’ also deserves a closer look. This bloody way of reckoning is only com- pounded by scholars’ continued talk of a Creek being ‘only one-quarter Indian’ and a Cherokee ‘seven-eighths white.’

A whole catalog of less obviously noxious words still fouls everyday parlance. Colonial era endures, even though for Natives it is not yet over. ‘Conversion’ has no room for the complicated ways Natives dealt with spiritual encounters. ‘Removal’ (‘a soft word,’ said one Jackson opponent, ‘and words are delusive’) has not yet given way to a hard alternative, ‘ethnic cleansing.’ Even seemingly solid terms such as ‘marriage,’ ‘trade,’ ‘war,’ and ‘peace’ can, considered up close, dissolve into many shades of meaning.

The real danger is not adding too many words to the roster of suspects but adding too few. Face it: ‘precontact,’ ‘discovery,’ ‘backcountry,’ and the like leave us ‘implicated in the reproduction of colonial categories of thought, knowledge, and power.’ Getting out of this lexical rut will not be easy; language lessons for grown-ups rarely are. But surely at the dawn of a new millennium we can at least aspire to other ways of talking about early America.

And so it goes. However imaginative and illuminating the work by scholars of Native history, however successfully it has helped usher Indians back to the early American theater, that theater still resounds with words drafted ages ago by people with an agenda, words that have been (and still can be) weapons. It turns out that whether we study Pequots or Puritans, Catawbas or Carolinians, Tecumseh or Thomas Jefferson, Alexander McGillivray or Andrew Jackson, we are all, in more ways than one, ‘colonial historians.’ In the never-ending struggle to come to terms with early America, as a twentieth-century philosopher put it, ‘we have met the enemy and he is us.’

James H. Merrell on loaded language in scholarship about post-Columbus North America.

"Second Thoughts on Colonial Historians and American Indians," William and Mary Quarterly, Vol. 69, No. 3 (July 2012).

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7 dangerous myths about women who wear hijabs

The hijab is not the most important part of being a Muslim woman, but it is certainly the most visible. In a time when Islamophobia only seems to be on the rise in the West, a practice that is so personal and diverse has become a warped and misunderstood part of a flat and monolithic picture of Muslim women.

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Let’s examine a traditionally male-dominated role that is very well-respected, and well-paid, in many parts of the world — that of a doctor. In the UK, it is listed as one of the top ten lucrative careers, and the average annual income of a family doctor in the US is well into six figures. It also confers on you significant social status, and a common stereotype in Asian communities is of parents encouraging their children to become doctors.

One of my lecturers at university once presented us with this thought exercise: why are doctors so highly paid, and so well-respected? Our answers were predictable. Because they save lives, their skills are extremely important, and it takes years and years of education to become one. All sound, logical reasons. But these traits that doctors possess are universal. So why is it, she asked, that doctors in Russia are so lowly paid? Making less than £7,500 a year, it is one of the lowest paid professions in Russia, and poorly respected at that. Why is this?

The answer is crushingly, breathtakingly simple. In Russia, the majority of doctors are women. Here’s a quote from Carol Schmidt, a geriatric nurse practitioner who toured medical facilities in Moscow: “Their status and pay are more like our blue-collar workers, even though they require about the same amount of training as the American doctor… medical practice is stereotyped as a caring vocation ‘naturally suited‘ to women, [which puts it at] a second-class level in the Soviet psyche.”

What this illustrates perfectly is this — women are not devalued in the job market because women’s work is seen to have little value. It is the other way round. Women’s work is devalued in the job market because women are seen to have little value.
Patriarchy’s Magic Trick: How Anything Perceived As Women’s Work Immediately Sheds Its Value | Crates and Ribbons (via muffdiver)
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