Tag Archives: amwriting

Can Opposites Attract?

It’s a saying for a reason, but sometimes I wonder. So as a Blogging 101 assignment, I played with my header and added some widgets (well, actually I did that a few days ago) so I creeped on the Writing 101 prompt for this beauty and wrote a contrast dialogue. As it happens in the piece I’m working on now–two of my characters are about night and day difference and they are currently in conflict with one another though they have been assigned as partners in their new jobs–tell me what you think of my contrast dialogue.

“Whoa there, Princess. Watch where you’re going,” Jordan ducked out of the way just in time before I bowled him over on the sidewalk in my inattentive musing. I resisted the urge to growl at him.

            “Sorry,” I murmured, stepping to the side, but refusing to defer any more. A week and a half had done little to improve our relationship. In fact, my animosity had grown as his barbs stuck further and further into my skin.

            “Latte, better enjoy it now. Not going to be drinking those for a while, princess,” he pivoted and fell into step beside me as we walked toward the office.

            “I’m aware,” I rolled my eyes.

            “Eric wants us in the conference room this morning. We’re talking emergency protocols this morning. Think you can handle it?”

            I stopped, put a hand on my hip and stared at his back. He hadn’t noticed that I stopped walking. When he did, he turned and faced me with his wide, challenging stance.

            “What is your problem with me, Jordan?”

            “I don’t have a problem.”

            I snorted and started walking past him again. “Could have fooled me.”

            “I imagine there is a lot out there that could fool you, princess.”

            “See?” I stopped and turned on him again. This time pointing my index finger right at his smug nose. “That, right there. Patronizing and smug. Condescending. What is your deal?”

            “Fine, you really want to do this?”

            “Yes, please.”

            “You don’t belong on this project,” he said it simply and then crossed his arms over his chest. The sun light reflected off his head and I squinted against it, staring at the dark and powerful force he’d become in front of me. “Look at you. Naïve, sheltered white woman with no experience in the journalist field. You think you can go to Africa to save and Christianize the poor little black savage children. But that’s not the way it works, and you’ll end up in Africa alone and scared, hysterical and exhausted and then you’ll go home and all our resources and time will have been wasted on training and sending you there in the first place. It’s abominable and selfish.”

            “You think you know me,” I said shaking my head and pulling in a breath to calm the anger threatening to take over. “Just because I’m not like you. I’m not a black man, and I don’t have the experience you have so that gives you the right to become the almighty judge and jury over this project. Let me just tell you something. First, I’m not a princess. Nothing has ever been handed to me. I have had to work hard my entire life and I have experienced pain and heartache to a degree that you can’t possibly imagine so I’m not as sheltered as you’d like to believe. I may be a white girl, and I may have never been to Africa, but I’m not self-righteous enough to believe I can save anyone let alone judge them as you have done to me. I barely even believe in God so I’m not arrogant enough to try to force those beliefs on anyone else.

“Second, we are partners. I expect you to treat me as such, not as your problem. You are not my boss, and despite how you feel about me, I have nothing to prove to you. “ I tossed my braid over my shoulder and stomped off down the sidewalk.

I could hear his footsteps following closely behind me, though I’d hoped he would just disappear into the earth. Maybe we were just too different.

“Clara.”

I didn’t stop. I had no desire to speak to that arrogant, self-absorbed…

“Clara!”

I turned. “What?”

He stumbled into me, unprepared for my abrupt about-face. Placing both hands on my shoulders, he steadied himself and me, barely keeping us both from tumbling onto the sidewalk.

“I should apologize,” he said. I could see my cornflower blue eyes reflected in the deep pools of his dark charcoal eyes, which had softened for the first time since we met. “I guess I maybe have been a little hard on you.”

“You don’t owe me anything, Jordan,” I pursed my lips. His apology, half-hearted and choked out, meant little to me. We could work together, but that didn’t mean we had to be friends. “Let’s just get to work.”

Who I Write For

Today I’m writing this for you. Yes, you. Because you are who I write for.

talking with hands

When I first started writing, I thought I was doing it for myself. The goal, I told myself, was to someday be published, but the stories were mine so it didn’t really matter who or what my readers thought.

I was wrong.

Audience 95% of literature. Once it’s been created, it’s out there—out of the author’s control. You only have “control” for that fraction of a moment that you are creating it, but once it is out there—it’s OUT there.

I think this might be why authors sometimes struggle to finish their creations—they are holding on to that last bit of control because they know once they stamp “done” on it, that’s it; it’s all about the audience, baby.

In 1884, Mark Twain published The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.  With it he published this author’s note:

PERSONS attempting to find a motive in this narrative will be prosecuted;persons attempting to find a moral in it will be banished; persons attempting to find a plot in it will be shot.”

He knew what would happen when he let go of that manuscript because he had been around the block more than once by that point. Once the manuscript goes to print, it’s about the audience, not about the author.

Huck Finn took about seven years to write, but it has been in the audience’s hands for 130 years.

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/22770148-huck-finn?from_search=true

Likewise, Pride and Prejudice took about a year to write, and 15 years to publish, but has been in the audiences hands for over 200 years (published in 1812).

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/1885.Pride_and_Prejudice?from_search=true

So unless you are writing in a private journal or diary, if you are writing a story, your audience will, in fact, take over your work.

Which is not necessarily a bad thing, but it can affect your perception, not only of the writing that you do, but also of the quality, time, effort and ideas that are generated by your writing and/or adaptions of your writing.

Do you change your story to fit what an audience would expect/know/like? Why/why not?

If someone critiques your work and “gets it wrong,” how do you react?

What does it mean for someone to be “right” or “wrong” about your work?

What exactly does the audience expect of the author?

All of these are questions I am asking you—the reader—my reader. Because in my ideal world, the reader and the writer are friends; they can have an open conversation about the work and the work is in a constant state of flux—ever changing because of this constant conversation we are having.

The story never has to end.

Finding Powerful Actions

Action.


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That’s what gets an audience’s attention. It’s why we are engaged and why we are interested. Activity is what makes us want to me more involved in the characters, plot, setting and situation.

Without action, you have very little with which to engage your audience.

So how do we write with better action?

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My students struggle with this every year and so we have a talk about verbs. There are occasion verbs and being verbs and helping verbs—you know those auxiliary verbs. But those are kind of boring verbs. They do a lot of telling. No one wants to be told what to do. For teenagers, this statement really hits home; they are, after all the kings and queens of rebellion, are they not?

So, I tell them, we want to use POWERFUL verbs. And powerful verbs show rather than tell.

But again, telling them this is not nearly as effective as showing, so it then becomes example time.


THE MAN IS A MONSTER.


Is this showing or telling?

It’s telling—sure, you’ve told me the man is a monster but you have really limited what I know about him. I have no information about him other than ‘monster’. Do you mean literally? Figuratively? What has he done to make himself a monster? Is he an evil monster? A good monster? How do you define monster? You have really done nothing more than given a description and required too much work of your reader.

So, instead—show your audience and let them draw conclusions.


THE MAN RIPPED OFF THE SHEEP’S HEAD AND ATE THE EYEBALLS WITH A SICKENING SQUISHY CRUNCH.


Okay, now we’re talking. I still understand  that the guy is pretty monstrous, but now I am able to infer much more about him based on the action! You have told me 3x as much about the man and you didn’t have to do much more than change the wording to an action filled sentence.

BUT it did have to change.

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And that’s hard. Changing our writing habits is never easy. We fall into patterns and part of this makes up our own unique voice, but at the same time we have to be willing to change and adapt our work in order for it to reach its optimal potential.

So I start looking at my own work.

How often do I use powerful verbs?  This often makes me think of the scene in Dead Poet’s Society where Mr. Keating is teaching his students the power of words. He tells them to“ avoid using the word ‘very’ because it’s lazy. A man is not very tired, he is exhausted. Don’t use very sad, use morose.” When you search for the write words, you are able to create something magnificent, which is why one of the next scenes in the movie between Keating and Todd is so powerful:

John Keating: Close your eyes, close your eyes! Close ’em! Now, describe what you see.

Todd Anderson: Uh, I-I close my eyes.

John Keating: Yes.

Todd Anderson: Uh, and this image floats beside me.

John Keating: A sweaty-toothed madman.

Todd Anderson: A sweaty-toothed madman with a stare that pounds my brain.

John Keating: Oh, that’s *excellent*! Now, give him action – make him do something!

Todd Anderson: H-His hands reach out and choke me.

John Keating: That’s it! Wonderful, wonderful!

Todd Anderson: And all the time he’s mumbling.

John Keating: What’s he mumbling?

Todd Anderson: Mumbling truth.

John Keating: Yeah, yes.

Todd Anderson: Truth like-like a blanket that always leaves your feet cold.

John Keating: [some of the class start to laugh] Forget them, forget them! Stay with the blanket. Tell me about that blanket!

Todd Anderson: Y-Y-You push it, stretch it, it’ll never be enough. You kick at it, beat it, it’ll never cover any of us. From the moment we enter crying t-to the moment we leave dying, it’ll just cover your face as you wail and cry and scream.

[long pause then class applauds]

John Keating: Don’t you forget this.

I get chills every time I watch and think about this moment of recognition, of learning, of embracing language as a way to communicate on multiple levels. Because that’s what the goal of a writer is. To communicate.

Action.

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Acquiring a Writing Game Plan

declutter 3

De-clutter

In writing about this challenge, I’ve decided to address all of the challenges but in a slightly different order than what Goins had listed. After you have started to build your writing (stealing and starting), I feel it is important to keep yourself organized and decluttered. You need a game plan. Until you come up with a way to keep yourself writing and accountable you won’t take yourself seriously as a writer. Every great writer knows the same. As Ray Bradbury says,

 “Just write every day of your life. Read intensely. Then see what happens. Most of my friends who are put on that diet have very pleasant careers.”

The problem is finding the discipline to write in spite of or in addition to our already hectic lives can be problematic. So to make writing a priority, you have to come up with a plan. First is to declutter your writing space—if you have a writing space. If you don’t, you should set aside a space for yourself. I have found that when you have a designated space it becomes sacred. That’s the reason why “man caves” are such a popular concept. You don’t mess with a man in his man cave or a person crafting dinner in the kitchen. That is their space for whatever craft they are producing (or not producing). Writers need space too. Find a space, keep it sacred.

Declutter 1 Declutter 2

 Then make a plan for how you are going to write seriously and stick to it. During the past year, I realized that if I was truly going to claim the title I would have to make writing more of a priority in my life. The difference between writing being a hobby and being an occupation is the amount of time, effort, and dedication you give to it. Isn’t that true of sports? Your sport can be a pastime or you can “go pro”. Of course, going pro means you get paid for your work, which is the ultimate goal of any writer, but to do such a thing you have to put in the conditioning hours first like any athlete would. So you make a plan. The key is to make your plan realistic.

I decided to make my plan 250 words per day and to model it after the “magic spreadsheet” concept I discovered online. I am not a part of a community with the magic spreadsheet as I found recording it on a shared spreadsheet to be a little over my digital capacity/skill-set, but I created my own and I keep track of my “points” and I post it on my website so my followers and supporters can keep me accountable. And they ask me about it constantly, especially my close friends. This plan and accountability step has been crucial this past year in my success as a writer. The more I write, the more I produce and the more I continue to grow as a writer.

Magic spreadsheet 1

Only then can I work on de-cluttering my writing, which  is all a part of the editing process. Less is more. Wordy does not mean “smart” a lesson I have to teach my students over and over again every year—a lesson I have to learn over and over again as I continue to write. I start with my goal of reaching certain word counts, then I polish and declutter it as I edit.

Connect, Share, and Publish 

Once my own goals are established and I have my plans in place, then my confidence begins to build. Harper Lee once said,

“I would advise anyone who aspires to a writing career that before developing his talent he would be wise to develop a thick hide.”

And every knows why she would advise all writers in this way. Developing confidence is one way to develop the “thick hide”. Does that mean your confidence cannot shatter; of course not, but it does ensure that you have a leg to stand on as you face criticism. It also helps as you start putting yourself out there more and more, which is why connecting with others and networking is also a vital part of the process. Other writers not only help you develop as a writer, they are your support system. Without this support, you are not likely to succeed. I went out in my community and looked for support wherever I could find it. In Winston, there is a wonderful group—The Winston Salem Writers (http://wswriters.org/). They develop workshops, critique groups, outings, contests, and all sorts of places and events for writers to connect on multiple levels. Joining the group is a worthwhile investment for a number of reasons, not the least of which is to help you connect to a local group of artists. During the 1920s, the Harlem Renaissance flourished and developed not because of the vast amount of creativity and genius that flowed from the African American writers, poets, and artists. Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, and a multitude of others emerged and were heard because they came together as a community and supported one another. They connected, they collaborated, and they supported each other; as a result the human race was able to receive beautiful new additions to our literary history that might have remained buried in obscurity otherwise. Artists should always learn from the past and continue to thrive with each other’s help.

 

Finishing the Writing Challenge: Stealing, Starting, Building

steal

When I last posted, I was on step 5 of the writing challenge. I proceeded to finish the fifteen days, but to be honest 15 days is not enough time to ‘master’ anything, let alone good writing habits, so I am continuing with each one and picking a focus as I go along. On Goins’ blog, he lists the rest of the habits as:

6. Steal

7. Start

8. Build

9. Connect

10. Share

11. De-clutter

12. Provoke

13. Publish

14. Brand

15. Serve

For this week I am going to focus on steal, start and build. These three ideas go hand in hand for many reasons and all of them help to improve writing on a basic level.

Stealing is valuable advice. We spend so much time and energy trying to be original, trying to stand out, trying to be non-conformists and radicalists that we forget what Solomon so clearly states in the Bible:

“What has been will be again,/ What has been done will be done again; /there is nothing new under the sun./ Is there anything of which one can say, / “Look! This is something new”?/ It was here already, long ago;/ It was here before our time.” (Ecclesiastes 1:9-10).

Even if you don’t believe in the Bible as truth (as I do), most scholars agree that Biblical texts contain wisdom and this is evidenced in this passage. Great teachers don’t reinvent the wheel or try to do it all on their own. You learn that the first day you step in a classroom. Even before the students arrive, you collaborate with your colleagues, because if you don’t you have immediately set yourself up for failure. John Donne said it best:


 

            No man is an island,

            Entire of itself,

            Every man is a piece of the continent,

            A part of the main.

            If a clod be washed away by the sea,

            Europe is the less.

            As well as if a promontory were.

            As well as if a manor of thy friend’s

            Or if thine own were:

            Any man’s death diminishes me,

            Because I am involved in mankind,

            And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;

            It tolls for thee.


No man or woman is an island so it’s important to ‘steal’—if you can get past the connotations of the word and understand what that means for an artist. This doesn’t give an artist freedom to plagiarize—why would any artist want to do that? What it does give the artist license to do is to “scoop up all the little pieces of inspiration” and then curate them (Goins). It’s like taking a dozen smashed teacups—all originals into themselves—and creating a picture frame from the shattered pieces. You create something new by using the ideas and inspirations all around you. You must “meld together pieces of the chaotic mess we call life” and end up with a new creation (Goins).

Then you start. And no one starts pretty, you start where you are. For the vast majority of us, it’s a pretty ugly place. For gold to be purified, it must first go through the refining fire. So waiting for the “perfect” moment or the perfect idea won’t work. Perfection doesn’t exist. You must start where you are and make it beautiful as a part of the refining process.

Once you’ve started, then you can build it. But this takes dedication. I have been keeping up with my word counts daily as a way to discipline myself to write more. Each day I record how much I have written either on a novel or blogging so I can have accountability for what I do. This is how I build my writing habits. Establishing a habit isn’t easier, if it was I doubt it would be worth doing. I have found that this works for me, but only if I can have a tangible result. The more I write, the more progress I see with my writing—but I can’t expect it all to be beautiful. If I did, I might as well quit now.

Writing is what you make it for yourself. You can write for relaxation, for fun, for entertainment.  The main difference between writing and being a Writer is once you claim the title, you claim a new perspective and it is that new perspective that will make all the difference in your prospective ideas.

http://goinswriter.com/great-writers/