Text Box:

On Writing ~

If I Don’t, I’ll Surely Die

                As writers, we’re told to bump up the conflict. Bring it to dire levels, and in the first scene, too, thank you very much. Maybe since my novels have yet to be published, I’m not someone you should listen to, but in my humble opinion, this kind of extremism can be a detriment to telling an important story. In life, we don’t always make decisions based on the fact that if we don’t do whatever it may be, we’ll surely die. In fact, many decisions really are not that important in the scheme of things. Does that make real life boring? Far from it. Adventure has a way of creeping up and immersing us until we are not exactly sure why we’re involved—no one will die if we’re not—but we are, nevertheless.

Our hero doesn’t have to have biceps that break leather straps. Our protagonist doesn’t have to be so over-the-top full of character that we feel like reaching into the story to offer a valium by page three. The day to day doesn’t have to be full of drama. As my friend Karen says, “That much drama can be exhausting.” To me, it feels like an attempt to soap opera-ize life… supersize it, if you will. So without these formulas and gimmicks, how do we sell our stories? How do we get people to pause and listen? Life is full of gimmicks and formulas we have to compete with. We see them in politics, in reality shows, on American Idol. Yet, when hear a master, we stop to listen. We stand. We clap. We cheer. They capture and surprise us with their honesty and passion. We relate to what is real in them, and with that delicious honesty, we’re willing to push aside our desire to supersize for a taste of simple and fresh.

I’m not saying there isn’t a place for gimmicks. I can think of at least one singer who, using gimmickry, was able to rise above nay-sayers, people who didn’t think she was pretty enough, and show her talent. Unfortunately, though enormously talented, many now only see her gimmicks.

So what’s a writer to do? You do what you want, what works for you. It may be that in some future scenario, I’ll grow impatient and glue glitter to my lashes or an acanthite crystal to my wetsuit. My plan, and I believe my calling, is to keep working and mastering the craft, mastering my authenticity. I want people to read my stories, wipe their eyes and thank God someone has put their struggles and hopes into words that resound.

         To Crit or not to Crit

Why have your work critiqued? Many writers say it’s one of the most important steps in writing. Editors and agents ask if work’s been through a crit group and what the group had to say about it. Why? They see a lot of … er, diamonds in the rough. Yes, it’s a great idea. Yes, it has potential, but turning a rock into a diamond is a huge task, often more work than carefully digging a new diamond and polishing it themselves. Editors don’t tend to undertake such tasks unless your name is Queen Elizabeth or a novel sorta-like-it netted five billion dollars. Drafts, and even self-edited drafts are, almost always, hairy messes.

According to John Gardner in On Becoming a Novelist, a story is like a dream writers share with others. Dreams can seem real or fake depending on structure, style and simple things such as character and dialog. To get those right, self-editing is important. But, our dreams often feel real to us despite blundering through the telling of them. So, what’s a writer to do? God has given us helpers in life, others who might step into our dream with us and let us know if it’s working—thoughtful people who read and let us know when it’s pulling or pushing them out of the dream—some call them critiquers, and some call them critters.

I call them awesome, wonderful, helpful—angels.

Finding Hope in Hard Times


WAS—Wandering Attention Syndrome.

At times, when I’m reading a story, my attention wanders and I have to stop myself. Embarrassing. What caused this story ADD? Hunger? Maybe. Thirst? Also possible. A list of all the things I have to do? Could be, but, honestly, if the story is good enough, none of that matters. I’ll plow through, denying myself food, drink, and even sleep. Dishes pile, my kids wait hours for lunch, and I almost stomp my feet in anger at having to leave the piano lesson waiting room. A good book captures me and holds me in its world. But what holds me, and what doesn’t? What causes my wandering attention syndrome, my WAS? I’ll find myself at paragraph three with only a vague idea of where I am. Wow! What happened? I go back and look it over. The scenery was good. The character description was kind of fun. Was. One word. These little words mess with sentence structure and make them amble. Its lack of power prematurely springs traps and causes editors to shake their heads, causes fingers to write “I’m sorry” notes.

Don’t make war on “was,” blaming it for all your rejection woes and write it out of your life. It’s a fine little word and useful as all get out if used right. Sometimes we need an amble, and sometimes a character is an ambler, and loveable, in part, because of it. Also, don’t assume its absence equals perfection. “Was” isn’t the only trap releaser. Other words are responsible for ambling sentence structure and Yoda-like phrasing, hypnotizing  into passivity, dangling words releasing, and sending the brain into the wandering abyss. There are plenty—of, could, would, can be, which, has, has been, can, as if, of, ing… Hmmm, what’s in the refrigerator waiting for me?