Tag Archives: writing discipline

Writer Rules. I mean, Writers Rule!

I recently read a post on the Here Be Dragons blog entitled, “Are We Having Fun Yet?” in which the author, Agatha, shares a refreshing, honest rant over the agony that can be refining a manuscript into its final draft.  She references Stephen King’s book On Writing (which many keep recommending and my slack-ass has yet to read) and specifically addresses a few writing rules that are compounding her frustration, such as how to approach that infamous first chapter (i.e., beginning at the beginning of the action to hook the reader rather than leading in with too much description of setting) and the debatable requirement that there be tension on every single page.

This got me thinking about all the RULES we new writers are trying so diligently to follow to not only write that novel, but also craft it into something marketable so it has a shot at getting published.  We scour the blogosphere for the sage wisdom of literary agents and published authors, and we look to our most beloved books for guidance.  It goes without saying that the pressure this places on us is tremendous, especially when we look back to the precious first drafts we wrote from our hearts and realize they are violating rules left and right…

Suddenly the Adverb becomes our arch nemesis, and we’re playing Whack-a-Mole against any dialogue tags other than Said.

A few months back, The Guardian (inspired by Elmore Leonard’s The 10 Rules of Writing) published the article “Ten Rules for Writing Fiction,” in which they surveyed 29 renowned authors for their own list of dos and don’ts.  This was a fascinating read for me.  At first, it overwhelmed me, because of course as I scanned down the screen I was tripping over everything that I apparently do wrong…and yet, the more author lists that I read, the more I noticed how varied their perspectives were.  For being a list of “rules,” it if anything taught me there is no consistent formula set in stone.

While there are no doubt sound universal suggestions out there we should adhere to, I think we also need to find solace in the fact that there couldn’t possibly be a one-size-fits all approach to writing a good book.  We are all unique and have something different to bring to the table, and that’s something that should be celebrated in our writing as well.  I particularly like how Ollin Morales (Courage 2 Create blog) phrased it in his comment on Agatha’s post:

“I’d rather write a book that I love and everybody hates, than one that everybody loves and I hate.”

True dat.  And I also commend the truth Corra McFeydon just shared in her A Lit Major’s Notebook blog, a post appropriately titled, “The Truth.”  It is here that Corra, also in the process of writing a novel, admits that she does not desire to be a professional writer because, right now at least, it’s killing her spirit in what she loved about writing in the first place.  Seeking to break free from the rules and schedules that constrict her, she asserts:

“That’s why my novel will be written when the spirit hits me — as a product of my intensity, my laughter, and my free spirit — even though apparently that’s not how to be successful.”

I began this project for me, and if it remains just for myself after I’ve at least given it a shot at going elsewhere, so be it if I’m happy with the end product.  But even abiding by our own expectations entails discipline as we make time for our writing and edit it until it becomes the best version of itself.  I think most of the rules I’m opting to follow these days are self-imposed based on my own standards (which are quite high—I’m an English teacher after all, and grade myself constantly ;)).

That being said, one external rule I’m trying to stick to is the advised first-time-author word count of 100,000—not in my first draft that I’m wrapping up presently, but when I go back through to polish up.  Yet another blog post I recently read that I really appreciate for its straightforward guidance on how to cut, let’s say, 19,000 words for a final manuscript is, well, “How to Cut 19,000 Words” from the ‘Lethal Inheritance’ blog—Tahlia Newland tells us how she did just that when her agent asked her trim down her YA fantasy novel of same name.  I was at first absolutely psyched out that cutting words meant cutting entire paragraphs and chapters—and sometimes it does and perhaps will, but it’s reassuring to know that it can be achieved on a sentence/word level as well, an edit so subtle you’d hardly miss a thing.

I’m curious:  Which writing rules do YOU swear by?  And which rules do you think are totally bogus?

Argh.  Can you even imagine Jane Austen sweating it out like this?  I can’t imagine she was slapped in the face by rules at every turn, as we are at every page we flip and link we click.  But then again…


Fraying at the End

Ah, yes, that Family Guy clip makes me laugh and want to cry at the same time…little Stewie may as well be prodding me over how it’s been over a year and a half since I started my manuscript.  And that’s when I actually started writing it; the idea had come to me a couple years before that, in the form of random scribblings on the pages of my journal or Starbucks napkins and envelopes…and the more I read about other writers’ processes, the more universal that mode of transcription appears to be—I see us all just dwelling in these rooms with Post-Its and index cards and newspaper scraps thumb-tacked to the wall and strung together with yarn, the map room in the midst of a warzone where our batty, “Beautiful Minds” strategize…

That digression aside, I’m seriously having issues pulling it all together right now.  I haven’t even been able to follow the advice I shared in “The Beginning of the End,” back in March…yeesh.  And why, when the journey has already been so long and is so close to its end destination?

Because there is very good reason for that initial voyage to require some time.  Unlike what many tend to perceive, writing is a lot of work, not merely something one just dashes off in a burst of inspiration as one’s Muse sings softly in one ear as Her sister strokes a harp into the other, with the brooding writer sequestered in a candlelit garret, feverishly scribbling with ink-stained fingers—films like Becoming Jane or Shakespeare in Love would have you believe even a masterpiece can be penned overnight.  Not that I’m remotely considering myself in the ranks of Jane Austen or William Shakespeare simply by virtue of taking a stab at this writing thang, but I can’t keep psyching myself out with how much I’m not them either, or I’ll utterly paralyze myself.

You know what helps with that, though?  Empathy.  Lua Fowles, for instance, shares her experience grappling with “The Fear of the First Draft” in her Like a Bowl of Oranges blog.  And if it isn’t the fear that can slow you down, it’s the procrastination—Eva, author of the Write in Berlin blog, shares a few surefire tips on how to do so in “The Art of Avoiding to Write.”  Even when you do find your groove, there is a process to it, a method underlying all that madness that ensures the narrative is structured and worded effectively—I love author Wendy Robertson’s take on her own process in “The Joys of Cranking the Engine of a Novel” in her A Life Twice Tasted Blog (she’s one of the gracious and encouraging facilitators of the Room to Write workshop I attended in Spring).

And even when a writer does finish that first draft, the pilgrimage is far from over.  Never mind the elusive quest of getting published, the revision alone is going to be another prolonging factor.  Some revise as they go along, others leave the bulk of it for the end; regardless, it’s yet more process to undertake, and that requires some time, people.  Again, empathy to the rescue!—see Lua once more in “Editing 1 (oh no) 1” and Agatha’s appropriate analogy in “Digging in the Dirt” from her Here Be Dragons blog.  I personally am one of those who revises along the way, so my constant backtracking is another reason for delay.

Whatever excuses I can arguably throw out there to defend why it’s taking me so long to finish writing this book, the brutally honest truth about it is that the story has gone quiet in my head.  I’ve sat, and I’ve written.  But whereas before I was satisfied and moved forward, now I only go back and delete and rewrite and delete and think and re-envision and write and delete…never seeming to get it right.  What I write these days feels artificially imposed on my characters, you see, because I don’t seem to see them or hear them anymore.  No kidding, I almost feel abandoned…and melancholy, as I didn’t get the proper chance to say goodbye.  So what sort of cerebral seance could I conduct to summon their spirits back to my consciousness?  How can I get them back?

Maybe it’s because the story really is ready to end, and this is its way of telling me.

Or, egad!  Maybe the story already ended within its alternative universe, and I failed to write it down in time!

Maybe it’s only because I’ve been tending to it lately in fits and starts and need to more fully immerse myself back into its world.

Maybe it’s because after stringing those varying colors of yarn all around the walls, I now sincerely have no idea where to take those loose ends, which to tie up neatly in bows and which to continue on out the window and into the sunset on their own happy trails unbenownst to any of us.  Seriously, maybe I’ve over-thought myself into a rut and simply don’t know how to end it.

Maybe the Muses have stopped singing for me.

Or maybe, just maybe, I’m not ready for it to end…

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“I’m a novelist; I’m never going to finish the book.”  – James, Sliding Doors


Remote Control

Today’s post comes to you via my new netbook, my new key to freedom!  Or is it… 


When my first iBook laptop went kaput after 5 years in 2007, I have since been desk-bound with my newer  iMac.  Yes, I am on Team Mac, but unfortunately don’t wish to shell out the quid on another iBook.  But this is beside the point…

My new lil’ Sony netbook is liberating me from my hybrid home office/guest bedroom.  So far, I’ve made it all the way to the living room.  Baby steps, baby steps.  What I’m getting psyched about is the ability to work on my writing project remotely in London cafes, pubs, parks, and even cemeteries, such that I can still get out and about and explore this city in the newly-turned gorgeous weather without the eternal guilt over neglecting my writing.

The guilt…oh, the guilt.  I am wondering if other writers out there will gasp at what I’m about to confess or own up that they sometimes feel the same way.  When I speak of liberation, this applies to writing as well, as, along with reading, it is the ultimate way to escape into the free life of the mind at any given moment, taking me into other locations and minds and hearts. 

Yet as of recently, I’ve been more conscious of the limiting effects of indulging this pasttime.  Rather than free, I can feel trapped…for one thing, there is the guilt I mentioned above when I heaven forbid do something else with my free time after work or on the weekend and have not planted my bum in my desk chair to crank out at least a couple more pages or revise what has already been written. 

Adding to this, I once thought it freeing that I could work through my plots and characters even away from my computer and pen and paper, as ideas and revelations will come to me in the shower or during my commute. 

“The best time to plan a book is while you’re doing the dishes.”   –Agatha Christie

“What no wife of a writer can ever understand is that a writer is working when he’s staring out of the window.”  –Burton Rascoe

This has had the effect, however, of overwhelming my thoughts, exhausting me noggin when it’s set in hyperdrive and I find myself trying to figure out how to get a character into or out of a situation while I simultaneously need to get my work done…my brain needs to be in on that, too, after all, and my high levels of distractibility ever since I took on writing as a primary and ongoing endeavor are leading me into some embarassing situations. The other week, I was working through a plot line in my head as I was exiting the Notting Hill Gate Tube station, and, realizing I should probably top-up my Oyster card—my prepaid public transport pass—I walked up to a kiosk touch-screen and cancelled a stranger’s transaction, not realizing he’d been standing there and about to finish adding £50 to his card!  I’d never felt so foolish and kept apologizing profusely from the adjacent kiosk as I saw him restarting his transaction all over again in my peripheral vision. 

“Writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia.”  –E.L. Doctorow

Even when I try to escape into reading to calm my overworking mind, I find I’m not enjoying it in the way that I used to—reading as a writer, there is the tendency to analyze the character and plot development, the descriptive detail and overall style and construction, not in analysis of the text itself (which is perfectly okay and necessary to truly engaging with it), but in comparison with my own style and approach, which is maddening.  Yes, reading can inform our writing, but what if I just want to read for reading’s sake?  Can I recover this ability at some point, or in taking on writing have I forever altered the relationship I have with other people’s stories?  And most importantly, should I feel bad to be feeling this way, or is it natural?  Writers of the world, please advise 🙂

In the meantime, I’m hoping that I haven’t just substituted a ball and chain with a house-arrest bracelet that permits me more mobility, but still holds me prisoner to obligation and guilt. I think instead my wee netbook and I will have many happy travels together as we get back out there to resume control of my everyday and observe life for it’s own sake—and, sure, if it provides good material for a story, that’s not too shabby either even if it does serve to feed my aforementioned neuroses.

“How vain it is to sit down to write when you have not stood up to live.”   –Henry David Thoreau, Journal, 19 August 1851


Chairman of the Bored

“An author is a fool who, not content with boring those he lives with, insists on boring future generations.”
– Charles de Montesquieu

Uh-oh…my worst fear is happening right now, so I have to take a break from my story.  And yes, I’m sure you have guessed it:  I’M BORED.  Not with writing it (though that sometimes happens, too), but in rereading it.  Yet I can’t figure out if I’m getting bored because I’ve already reread and revised these same parts several times before or because these are just genuinely boring scenes that readers would get even more bored with.

Is it bad that my first instinct is to get up and walk away for the night rather than keep plugging through?   I mean, it’s not like I’m a published author against a deadline, after all…yet I know that real writers do not wait for inspiration to write; it’s a discipline, and part of that discipline is trudging through when the going is difficult.  That said, I’ve been looking at it for hours now, so if I mentally step away to dash off this post right now and then go crack open someone else’s novel to read, that’s also an investment in my writing future, no?  And to continue over-rationalizing for myself, life has to exist outside of the storyworld as well if we’re to accumulate any authentic experience and emotion to be able to draw on for those stories—living life, versus only writing about it, is how we get our ideas (consider this post of inadvertent character-finding in “Of Characters and Other Weirdos” from the Write in Berlin blog).

“Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing.”
– Ben Franklin

I hear you, Ben, and will try my best to make the most of this night if I do, in fact, shut down the computer until tomorrow.  And when I do revisit this little yawn-factory that is the last quarter of my story, I will be refreshed and ready to infuse some oomph into it.  And I think corresponding with this boredom is my great knack for comparing myself to others’ writing again.  And if the latter is the case, then maybe I need to adopt this mentality and just get over myself:

“My books are water; those of the great geniuses are wine.  Everybody drinks water.”
– Mark Twain (1835-1910)

Well, hopefully I can work on becoming water and not the sleeping pill the water is washing down.  Okay then, I’m off to get my sight back. If you ever encounter this same feeling, please cure my boredom with your comments!


Digging a Rut into a Wishing Well

Meh.  I’m starting to sink into the funk I babbled about previously in “My Inner Critical Beeyotch.”  The dealio is that I’ve approached the point in my project where I really need to start bringing everything to climax and a concise resolution; the mental obstacle that I’m encountering now is not a writing block, but, rather, a plotting block.  In fact, my problem is the opposite of writer’s block, as ideas and words are flowing really naturally now, but I think what’s working against me is that, as far as the books I like to read, I gravitate to the lengthier novels that I lose myself in for a nice chunk of time, the ones with gradual character and plot development, that steep you into some of the minutiae to help you feel more intimate with the characters, like you’re really accompanying them through a personal journey.  I’ve been consequently following a pace that feels natural and necessary to me, knowing full well the word count still wouldn’t come close to some of those beasts I have on my bookshelf.  Unfortunately, the tidbit of advice that keeps coming to my attention through various sources is that word length for first-time authors should not exceed 90,000-100,000 words.  Um, well…I’m already in that vicinity and feel like I have a ways to go.

Here’s what I’m struggling with:  I started this project as something for me, a creative outlet I’ve been wanting to plug into for years and am only first now seizing the opportunity.  At the outset, I told myself it was first and foremost for me, but if I finished it and was pleased enough, it wouldn’t hurt to try to make something more of it by submitting it to agents in pursuit of that pipe dream of getting published.  Why just let it sit there on the computer, right?  But that said, I don’t want to be overly inhibited by keeping my eye on the publishing prize. I want to create, not sell out, but I also want to be realistic.

Should I just keep writing as I have been to get the ideas out, get the conflicts resolved, knowing full well I’ll have to go back and take an ax to a massive amount of it?  I suppose it’s better to have the clay to mold with, as Bonni Goldberg discusses on page 9 of Room to Write (see “More Messiness From the Membrane“), as I can always take away.  I need to remember my workshop guidance:  “Kill your darlings, kill your darlings, kill your darlings…”

All right, then.  Chill, Monkey, and focus on the next writing prompt.

The Prompt:

Page 21 of Room to Write asks us to record our wishes.  As Goldberg says:

“Wishes are voices of the imagination, taking you out of the realm of reality on a daily basis.  For this reason, in creative writing, it is worth paying attention to them.”

We can write our secret wishes, our past or long-time favorites, or the one that is nudging us this very minute.  I will follow this last one, for obvious reasons.

Response:

Today I wish for clarity of mind…that I can sift and sort and structure my swarming ideas into a manageable plot to continue writing…that I will hold fast to my original goals surrounding theme and mood…and that my instinct will guide me through my pacing and revision.  I wish that the end product will be something I am utterly proud of and content to share with those closest to me, with the added bonus of being something marketable, so that I may also share my story with the world. I wish for the patience, inspiration, and discipline to see me through toward this end in the meantime.

Reflection:

Ah, it’s nice to let that out.  No shame in wishing.  What do YOU wish for?



In the Beginning, There Was the Blank Page…

…or, these days, the blank computer screen.  Every true writer’s mind has a story just dying to get out of it, yet this doesn’t necessarily make getting started any easier.  Following up directly on my previous post regarding the writing conference I attended last weekend (sponsored by the organization Room to Write), one of the topics we addressed was beginnings, which cannot be more critical to a story, particularly if you want to get it published.

First of all, as far as how you begin to write each day, the key is:  1) ensuring that you do write every day, even if just a few sentences; and, 2) the authors leading the conference particularly advised us to write first thing in the morning.  That is when our heads can be freshest and leave us feeling for the rest of the day that we’ve already accomplished something massive (so you don’t have to feel guilty taking that nap 🙂 ).  While I wish I could discipline myself to haul my keester out of bed earlier than the minimum allowable time for getting ready for work, I have to admit I have my most significant rush of ideas in the morning as I shower, as though I’m massaging them out of me noggin as I shampoo my hair.  I always hate that I have to leave for work soon after then, just when I’m in the groove and risk losing the momentum by the time I return home drained from the daily toil.

As far as the actual beginning of our story or novel, we must note that the first chapter (indeed, first page) is the “imprint of the entire book.” The sense of place and voice established in that first page predicts the rest of the book.  My tutors also stressed the impact of including a sense of smell right from the getgo, as it creates a lingering impression unlike the other senses (and is unfortunately one of the most underutilized, as I’ve mentioned before in my “Smell No Evil” post).

With regard to place, we were advised to give places names, even if it’s a fake name to anonymize an actual place.  In this way, a place, if prevalent enough to the story, can become a character in itself.  Closely related in terms of setting, the time period in which our story takes place should be implied well enough to give a clear sense, yet we don’t have to preach to the reader when exactly it is.

With regard to the sample of best-selling novels we read in preparation for the course, we evaluated the following common denominators that we noted across each of their beginnings:

– Drama or sense of impending danger

– Character (be it the main character’s name or an archetype to be represented throughout)

– Setting (again, the sense of time and place)

– Conflict (at least a sense of the issue at the crux of the story)

– “Filmic”—i.e., achieves ready visualization and engagement through drama and descriptive language

Finally, we may have a strong temptation to overly explain some aspect of the story right out the gate, be it the character, setting, conflict, etc.  To avoid this, we need to give our reader credit and exercise restraint—we can always introduce this information in a creative way later on.

I do believe I am at the end of discussing beginnings, so meet me here next time for a few words on dialogue.


POVs of the Published

Since I’m relatively out of commission this week as I’m visiting Stateside and busy mixin’-n-minglin’ with all my loved ones (not to mention that my dear hosts, my parents, have an excruciatingly slow dial-up connection to contend with), the rest of my posts in the upcoming days are admittedly pre-scheduled snippets of what I learned from my Room to Write writing conference last weekend.   To follow up on my previous post, I’d like to expound a little more on a few of the quotations uttered during that workshop that I identified of value in their simple truths:

“80% of the meaning of a novel comes from the reader and 20% from the writer.”

Anyone who writes knows that even fiction is autobiographical in some way.  Writers are the originators of their stories and draw from their life experiences and personal frames of reference to structure and weave these tales, yet it is inevitable that different readers will pull different meaning away from even the same text.

This is something I stressed to my high school students constantly when we approached a new story or novel—my favorite task to assign to them would be maintaining margin notes (provided they, and not the library, were the owners of their books!).  These would be basic symbols that they could quickly transcribe with pencil in hand as they read so that they would not have to interrupt their reading too much—e.g., a “!” for something that surprised them, a “?” for something that confused them or prompted a topic for discussion, or a “*” for a line that resonated with them in some way, be it its content, beauty in phrasing, or some other aspect rendering it significant to them.  In doing this, the outcome is often the same—while there may be some passages that elicit a common reaction from all of them (as the author surely intended), there were always those that garnered different attention, whether spurring both like and dislike or perhaps overlooked entirely by some while having heartfelt impact on others.

That is where the reader’s life experience and personal frame of reference forms unique interpretations, as when a spectator in an art gallery looks upon an abstract painting or scultpure and sees in it the infinite wisdom of millenia of human history whereas the person next to him/her snorts at it with irreverence and comments that a child could have achieved the same result.  Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, as they say, and so is meaning.  We need to give our readers credit that they can fill any gaps we leave and not bind and chain them to a narrow view through our lens alone.

“Writers taste life twice–once when they live it, once when they write it.”

I just thought this was such a lovely sentiment as it conveys the sweet gift of life writers truly can enjoy…it’s almost like a form of immortality, getting to multiply one’s life experience in this way.  Of course, when writing fiction, we are not necessarily chronicling the factual details of our lives, but we certainly draw from the essence of what we live through to fuel our stories with authenticity and heart—and, yes, the wee tidbits that really do happen to us that we can incorporate are not only special ways of documenting those moments for posterity, but likewise add a genuine touch of reality to what could otherwise entail too much suspension of belief…not to mention that sometimes crazy things happen to us that one simply could not make up!

On revision:  “Kill your darlings–if you love it, delete it.”

I found this advice so interesting in its irony.  One would think that you should leave something in because you love it, but what I infer from this statement is a warning against being blinded by favoritism to what may not be suitable for a particular story.  I have heard this uttered by other published authors as well as they related times when they wrote a scene that they thought was so powerful and well-written, yet had to concede it did not further/enhance their plot in necessary ways.

It isn’t about destroying a scene or passage entirely, but, rather, removing it from one particular text with the hope that it will possibly offer better relevance to another work that you write.  I catch myself all too often wanting to put something in a story for the sake of squeezing it in somewhere because I think it’s such a marvelous observation or insight—and that may be true, but if it comes across as forced, it is really belittling the rest of what I’ve written and probably not optimizing its own efficacy.  So there you have it…we be warned.

On research:  “Write, don’t research.”

This quotation was of particular relief to me.  While one of my favorite genres to read is historical fiction, for example, I am not ambitious enough at this stage to undertake writing it myself because the research involved seems so intensive.  As a lifelong learner, I think it’s a fun and enriching aspect of writing, however, and certainly do carry out a degree of research for my own projects.  Yet in doing so, I’ve been paranoid that a lot of it does tend to be online, as if I’m taking the lazy route.  It’s terribly convenient to be able spelunk the web to verify a fact on the very same screen as the work in progress, though I’ve often second-guessed whether this is the professional way to approach it.

Well, I learned from my lovely mentors that the internet should indeed be valued as a legitimate resource provided you are using discretion in which websites you consult—Wikipedia, for example, is the notorious taboo online reference to avoid (and, naturally, it’s always the first cyber stop my students would make, much to my chagrin).  Qualify your sources for their credibility:  verify the author/institution that sponsors it, and cross-reference its claim against other sources.  Sites like Wikipedia allow any average schmo to post information without checks in place for validity, so it should be a no-go zone for your research of any purpose.

I do consult print books the old-fashioned way to verify bits and pieces of historical information, which reassures me that I’m not approaching this totally amateurly…and yet, what’s at the heart of the above quotation is that we should first and foremost write our story rather than pressure ourselves with the research from the getgo.  This isn’t to say we can blatantly disregard fact and rewrite our own histories, but simply that if we get too caught up in researching the details, we might inhibit our writing and the depth of feeling that could infuse it through our imaginations.  We were told that if we close our eyes and imagine the experience of what we want to research, we might surprise ourselves with how our accurate our imaginations are.

One example given to a fellow aspiring author related to a scene on a sailboat tha she is writing.  She was advised to just conjure in her mind what it would feel like to be on that boat, how the motion and the air and the spit of water might feel.  Just in doing this, she can create a more authentic experience than merely cataloguing the parts of the boat and sailing terms.  Certainly, checking her facts as far as what technical aspects she may reference is important, but this is not something she’d need to prioritize initially.  Rather, she should write the scene, then research and correct for the details as necessary retroactively.

So that’s my two cents on the UK authors’ two pence offered at the writing workshop.  Hopefully it offers useful nuggets of guidance for your own writing.  Coming up in my next three blog posts will be further advice provided on beginnings, endings, and dialogue.  Cheers!


Fresh Air, Fresh Faces, Fresh Ideas

Ahhh…as I expel the diesel-perfumed air that I inhaled all day today in London, my mental lungs proceed to gulp in the intoxicating purity of the breezes breathed in this past weekend in the Northeast England countryside.  I mentioned in my previous post that I was venturing out of the city for a writing-focused retreat sponsored by the organization Room to Write.  I truly don’t think that I can duly convey what the experience came to mean to me and will not attempt to do so–rather, I will hold that close to my heart and simply say that I had the privilege of being brought into the fold of some of the loveliest, most accomplished, talented, yet modest and genuinely good-natured  folks with whom I could have ever interacted.  Sipping tea with them in the conservatory of a Victorian country estate amidst an endless supply of sandwiches, scones, and fruit on a day colored by blue skies, green gardens, and brown deer was sheer heaven…it’s so me (in my dreams), and I could have pinched myself.  Hopefully my Midwest American accent was not as piercing on their ears as the sun was in our eyes 🙂

As I tuck that sweet and shimmering memory in my breast pocket, I shall tend to some matters of business.  I promised that I’d share some valuable advice learned over the weekend, and I’m a lady of my word.  As I’m heading Stateside in the morning for a week—and consequently going to subject myself to 7 days of my parents’ torturously slow dial-up internet connection that I truly think would run faster if a hamster generated it by running in its wheel—I’ll break it up into smaller bits written in advance, but to be scheduled to post across subsequent days.  Fair enough?

All right then, I’d like to start simply with some gems of quotations that I picked up.  I will repeat them as direct quotations here, though most are probably just my close paraphrases of the actual content, and I apologize in advance to the plagiarism gods for not specifically citing their speaker of origin (as the facilitators may have been quoting from elsewhere in at least a couple cases) .  Whatever…you’ll get the point, capiche?

“80% of the meaning of a novel comes from the reader and 20% from the writer.”

“Writers taste life twice–once when they live it, once when they write it.”

On revision:  “Kill your darlings–if you love it, delete it.”

On research:  “Write, don’t research.”

I will follow up in a later post with a bit of elaboration on these…I have an early flight and had better catch some sleep.  In the meantime, keep writing!


The Art of Discipline

On page 19 of Room to Write, Bonni Goldberg pauses to reflect on the importance of discipline in writing.  Her personal mantra when the going gets difficult is:

“Writers write, writers write…”

It all goes back to her emphasis on “showing up on the page” and curbing our tendencies to procrastinate or wait for inspiration to hit us.

The Prompt:

In light of the above, Goldberg asks us to write about discipline in one of 3 ways:

1.  Begin a poem or essay on what understanding you’ve reached on what it means to be disciplined, what you accept about it or what you reject;

2.  Track one of your existing characters as he/she copes with some element of discipline; or,

3.  Relate a past event that involved discipline in your life.

Going with Door #1 today…

Response:

Discipline is..

dedication and details

a dreaded dungeon

of dankness that congests my chest and blurs my eyes

resistance

like trying to run along the ocean floor.

But discipline is also

drizzling drops

of decadent delicacy

embedding structure within passion

to convert it to a sugared treat.

Reading the results

the rejuvenating reward;

whereas

idling for inspiration

the idiocy that is

waiting for words to come to you

rather than working to walk amongst them again.

The daily dollop, then,

the routine regimen,

the waking willingness

to expend effort and enjoy the effervescent energy

of Creation.

Reflection:

I can’t say I had any deliberate reason for the particular consonants and vowels I repeated in this other than they were the ones that started a lot of the words that were coming to mind with regard to the topic .  And I actually think I automatically latched onto to alliteration as a device to give me discipline, to set boundaries in which I could creatively explore.

Ironically, I’m not disciplined enough right now to spend more time on this or even take a second pass on what I just dashed off to revise or expand.  Ah well.  In truth, I think even just that brief time reflecting on it was validating, as that’s the point–if we perceive our goals as laborious tasks immense in proportion, of course we’re going to hit a psychological road-block; we’re just setting ourselves up for it.  The approach that seems widely recommended across writers is to chisel bit by bit off that boulder.  It may not feel like much at the time, but the aggregate results over the span of days will be noticeable if we discipline ourselves to set and accomplish reasonable daily goals.  If I’ve learned anything from my professional experience, it’s that goal-setting needs to focus on feasible, measurable results.

For me lately, on days when I’m not writing for my project, I’m making sure I’m at least writing a new blog post to stay warmed up.  And as for when I am working on my extended piece, sometimes I just roll with it, but other times I might set a word count–in yesterday’s case, 2,000.  It started out slow, requiring much discipline, but once I got into it, I tapped into a torrent of new ideas and ways that they could tie back to the old, and before I knew it, I had written almost 2,500 words by the time I reached a good time to stop for a break.  And even if I can at least add a few sentences of maybe a 100 or so words, I can feel the same level of satisfaction, even if I end up deleting it the next day.  Simply because I know I tried.  I worked at it, and I showed up on the page today.


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