Famous Razors

No, not one of these!

Razors aren’t just for shaving. In philosophy, a razor is a rule of thumb that allows for the elimination (the “shaving off”) of unlikely explanations.

The most famous is Occam’s razor (sometimes written as Ockham’s razor), named after William of Ockham, (1288-1348), an English friar, philosopher and theologian who reckoned “Entia non sunt multiplicanda sine necessitate”, which translates as “Entities should not be multiplied beyond necessity” — in short, the simplest explanation is most likely to be correct. This is exemplified by the phrase, “If you hear hoofbeats in the night, think horses, not zebras.”

But William of Ockham isn’t the only one with a razor. Here’s a few more you might like to consider, some serious, some not so serious…

Hume’s razor: “If the cause, assigned for any effect, be not sufficient to produce it, we must either reject that cause, or add to it such qualities as will give it a just proportion to the effect.”

Hitchens’s razor: (from the late Christopher Hitchens). “The burden of proof or onus in a debate lies with the claim-maker, and if he or she does not meet it, the opponent does not need to argue against the unfounded claim.” Or as Marcello Truzzi, founding co-chairman of the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal once put it, “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof.”

Heinlein’s Razor: has since been defined as variations on “Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity, but don’t rule out malice.”

Newton’s flaming laser sword (or Alder’s razor): “If something cannot be settled by experiment or observation then it is not worthy of debate.”

Sturgeon’s revelation (aka Sturgeon’s law): “Ninety percent of everything is crap.”

Murphy’s law: “Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.”

Finagle’s Law: “Anything that can go wrong, will — at the worst possible moment.”

Mrs Murphy’s Law: :Anything that can go wrong will go wrong while Murphy is out of town.”

Muphry’s law: (Note the spelling!) “If you write anything criticizing editing or proofreading, there will be a fault of some kind in what you have written.”

Parkinson’s law: “Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.”

Peter principle, The: “Managers rise to the level of their incompetence.” (People stop being promoted once they stop performing effectively.)

Segal’s law: “A man with a watch knows what time it is. A man with two watches is never sure.”

Hofstadter’s Law: “It always takes longer than you expect, even when you take into account Hofstadter’s Law.”

 

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The hard facts …

… from Joe Konrath:

No matter how talented you are, no matter how hard working, no matter how awesome and committed your publisher might be, statistically you are far more likely to lose the game of publishing than you are to win it. This isn’t a bad thing. Nor is it good. It’s just the nature of the beast. You could argue it’s the nature of life itself. Our job is to do what we can to influence the odds, but it’s foolish at best to argue the odds don’t matter, or don’t even exist.

(Incidentally, the whole (long) post is worth reading.)

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Literary Putdowns

In America, only the successful writer is important, in France all writers are important, in England no writer is important, and in Australia you have to explain what a writer is.
Geoffrey Cottrell

It was one of the dullest speeches I ever heard. The Agee woman told us for three quarters of an hour how she came to write her beastly book, when a simple apology was all that was required.
P.G. Wodehouse

He has never been known to use a word that might send a reader to the dictionary.
William Faulkner (on Ernest Hemingway)

To say that Agatha Christie’s characters are cardboard cut-outs is an insult to cardboard cut-outs.
Ruth Rendell

If you have any young friends who aspire to become writers, the second greatest favor you can do them is to present them with copies of The Elements of Style. The first greatest, of course, is to shoot them now, while they’re happy.
Dorothy Parker

What a man Balzac would have been if he had known how to write.
Gustave Flaubert (on Honoré de Balzac)

An editor should have a pimp for a brother so he’d have someone to look up to.
Gene Fowler

From the moment I picked your book up until I laid it down I was convulsed with laughter. Some day I intend reading it.
Groucho Marx

A great many people now reading and writing would be better employed keeping rabbits.
Edith Sitwell

You’ve got the brain of a four-year-old boy, and I bet he was glad to get rid of it.
Groucho Marx

This is not a book that should be tossed lightly aside. It should be hurled with great force.
Dorothy Parker

Thank you for sending me a copy of your book. I’ll waste no time reading it.
Moses Hadas

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Five quotes on writing from Ian Rankin

IanRankin

  • I still think most writers are just kids who refuse to grow up. We’re still playing imaginary games, with our imaginary friends.
  • I don’t have many friends. It’s not because I’m a misanthrope. It’s because I’m reserved. I’m self-contained. I get all my adventures in my head when I’m writing my books.
  • I used to think that whenever I heard that someone had taken ten years to write a novel, I’d think it must be a big, serious book. Now I think, ‘No — it took you one year to write, and nine years to sit around eating Kit Kats.’
  • I am, of course, a frustrated rock star – I’d much rather be a rock star than a writer. Or own a record shop. Still, it’s not a bad life, is it? You just sit at a computer and make stuff up.
  • My first novel was turned down by half a dozen publishers. And even after having published five or six books, I wasn’t making enough money to live on, and was beginning to think I’d have to give up the dream of being a full-time writer.

Ian Rankin, author of 20 Inspector Rebus novels and around 20 others.

Photo by Tim Duncan – Own work, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3588034

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17 quotes about writing

writing
Easy reading is damned hard writing.
Nathaniel Hawthorne

…I have this one nasty habit. Makes me hard to live with. I write…
Robert A. Heinlein

Those who write clearly have readers; those who write obscurely have commentators.
Albert Camus

Writing historical fiction is a legitimate use of Multiple Personality disorder.
Peggy Ullman Bell

If you would not be forgotten as soon as you’re gone, either write things worth reading or do things worth writing.
Benjamin Franklin

One of the symptoms of an approaching nervous breakdown is the belief that one’s work is terribly important.
Bertrand Russell

I don’t want to achieve immortality through my work. I want to achieve it by not dying.
Woody Allen

Some editors are failed writers, but so are most writers.
T. S. Eliot

Denial ain’t just a river in Egypt.
Mark Twain

The difference between fiction and reality? Fiction has to make sense.
Tom Clancy
(paraphrasing Mark Twain)

A great many people think they are thinking when they are acutally rearranging their prejudices.
William James

A witty saying proves nothing.
Voltaire

Most people would sooner die than think; in fact, they do so.
Bertrand Russell

Destiny is not a matter of change, it is a matter of choice; it is not a thing to be waited for, it is a thing to be achieved.
William Jennings Bryan

Write drunk. Edit sober.
Peter De Vries

I love deadlines. I love the whooshing noise they make as they go by.
Douglas Adams

The reason I talk to myself is because I’m the only one whose answers I accept.
George Carlin

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The benefit of my experience

Or how John Steinbeck kept from going nuts …

… let me give you the benefit of my experience in facing 400 pages of blank stock—the appalling stuff that must be filled. I know that no one really wants the benefit of anyone’s experience, which is probably why it is so freely offered. But the following are some of the things I have had to do to keep from going nuts.

 

1 : Abandon the idea that you are ever going to finish. Lose track of the 400 pages and write just one page for each day, it helps. Then when it gets finished, you are always surprised.
 
2 : Write freely and as rapidly as possible and throw the whole thing on paper. Never correct or rewrite until the whole thing is down. Rewrite in process is usually found to be an excuse for not going on. It also interferes with flow and rhythm which can only come from a kind of unconscious association with the material.
 
3 : Forget your generalized audience. In the first place, the nameless, faceless audience will scare you to death and in the second place, unlike the theater, it doesn’t exist. In writing, your audience is one single reader. I have found that sometimes it helps to pick out one person—a real person you know, or an imagined person and write to that one.
 
4 : If a scene or a section gets the better of you and you still think you want it—bypass it and go on. When you have finished the whole you can come back to it and then you may find that the reason it gave trouble is because it didn’t belong there.
 
5 : Beware of a scene that becomes too dear to you, dearer than the rest. It will usually be found that it is out of drawing.
 
6 : If you are using dialogue—say it aloud as you write it. Only then will it have the sound of speech.

63

Found in the magnificent Paris Review, issue 63, Fall 1975
John Steinbeck, The Art of Fiction No. 45 (Continued)
Interviewed by George Plimpton and Frank Crowther

(The whole piece, around 10,000 words, is a rewarding and entertaining read.)

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