Don’t Bore Yourself

When your writing bores even you it’s time to get a grip and make something change. Here are ideas from – “A Writer’s Book of Days” by Judy Reeves.

Lazy Writers

Play word games, experiment with language, audition words. Use the thesaurus, appropriate a set of paint chips from Home Depot and study the names of colours, take sensory inventories, practice dialogue, eavesdrop on conversations, read Raymond Carver, Pam Houston, Don DeLillo, Lorrie Moorre. Reread your work and mark doors and windows. Open and enter during writing exercises.

Same Old Territory Writers

Free-write using the writing exercise prompts, writing only new material for the next month. No rewriting or editing allowed! Ban those characters from any further appearances in any stories from now on. Send them to the Retirement Home for Overused Characters. Flip everything: gender, age, profession, politics, hair colour, diction, intelligence, geography, sexual preferences, Everything.

Holding Back

Ask what it was exactly that made something terrible? In what ways was it difficult? What did the pain feel like? Use concrete details and specific images. Use words that describe the terrible, difficult, painful. Write through the cliché with a fresh simile or metaphor. Ask what a broken heart feels like, looks like. What other body parts are affected and how? Find fresh images. Go to your own experience, bring to mind a memory of a time you were brokenhearted, when you sobbed like a child, when you flew into a rage: describe your behaviour and your feelings. Take the time to stay with the feeling and write down what you experience.

Playing Safe

Write what matters. Be a passionate writer. Don’t waste time writing about anything you don’t care about. Also, for a reader to be involved in what she’s reading, something must be at stake. There must be some kind of tension in the writing to keep the reader’s attention. Crank up the heat, put some obstacles in the way of your characters. When a writer is playing safe you can bet the censor or critic is somehow nearby.

Too Comfortable

Just like the antidote for Playing Safe, this writer needs to create some tension, crank up the heat, experience a little confusion. Recommended: change the time and place of the daily writing practice. Raise the bar to more pages everyday. Switch genres, try something new. Don’t fit so easily in the groove, feel the bumps and ridges, the sharp edge. Let your writing surprise you, keep you awake at night. If a writer is too comfortable, you can be there aren’t any risks being taken. No risks = boring writing.

Writing Nostalgia

There isn’t much talk about writer’s cramp any more. Writer’s block is still around but the crampiness is becoming a thing of the past.

I wonder what writers, of the feather pen era, thought about when those newfangled typewriters came along? What changed for them, if they took up the new technology? What special skills were lost as the typewriter grew in popularity? Likely, there was some skill to dipping your pen into the inkwell just right, to avoid drips. There would have been skill involved in knowing when the ink on your page was dry enough to be handled.

I sometimes miss writing long hand. It’s nice to feel the flow of my words smoothing over the page. Creating stylish swirls and tall towers from the alphabet is almost as much fun as making the letters into words. Pens are fun too. I’ve been writing with a couple of gel pens in unique colours. In the past I’ve experimented with various pens, Bics were my high school pen of choice. As I evolved my pen selection became whatever was on sale at the time. Still, I always preferred black ink.

My penmanship has taken a turn for the worst due to all my time on the keyboard. After a few minutes writing long hand my words become chicken scratchings, something even a doctor would struggle to decipher.

Will penmanship become a lost art? Will calligraphy just be something you do on the computer with fancy fonts? Then of course, I wonder what the next advance will bring. Will computers have their own turn at being obsolete?

Using Catchy Phrases

Hitting their sweet spots has never been more important than for someone writing on the Net. What is a sweet spot? To take it out of writing context, think of yourself driving over a bumpy train track but steering your car to the side, to a spot where it’s not bumpy. That, sweet spot, is the easy on your car and yourself.

In writing the sweet spot, as I think of it, is hitting just the right word or phrase. Something that your reader is looking for and has a personal ‘thing’ for. For instance, to appeal to women you can use words like ‘diva, goddess, grrl’. Phrases like ‘adventure living, backpacking, Earthy’ appeal to nature lovers. There are better choices but those are the current pickings of my brain. Hope you get the idea.

Anyway, those catchy phrases and words are even more important online because people will be searching for them. Your article will be picked over by search spiders and those catchy, sweet spots will be caught in their web and added to a mind boggling list. You may not be first on the search list but you will appear somewhere. That’s why those sweet spots should be considered, not just in titles, subtitles and descriptions but throughout the article or essay. Don’t go crazy over it. Too much is not a good thing. But keep them in mind and don’t think it’s too cliché to use the odd cliché if it’s an effective sweet spot.

Consider some of your own sweet spot words and phrases. Which appeal to you especially? Why?

One way to find sweet spots for a certain group of people is to join one of their online discussions, chats or boards and keep track of what comes up frequently. Let me know if you come up with more sneaky ideas.

Frankenstein with Words

I was downstairs, getting some cereal and looking at the breakfast dishes my Mom left when my brother came to take her to the airport this morning. I was thinking how we imbue (there’s a 20$ word for you) inanimate objects with feelings, thoughts and ideas. I mean, it was just a coffee cup, but it made me feel a twinge of sadness. Funny how that cup is still exactly where she left it, as if waiting for her to finish her coffee. Meanwhile, she is on the plane, flying back down to Florida, right now.

Anyway, that’s how the idea started. It got me thinking that we do the same thing when we write. After all, words are just flat letters on a flat page or computer screen. Whatever life they have, whatever feelings they have, are life and feelings that we give them. Not just in fiction writing where you have to make readers care or have an interest in reading about your characters. But, in non-fiction too where you appeal to reader’s curiousity, make them read on, hear what you have to say. Make them want to read about and consider your ideas.

So, writing is in fact like being Dr. Frankenstein – giving life to inanimate objects. Though the writing isn’t a dead thing being brought back to life it does compare as the same words and letters have been used over and over for so many generations of writers and read by so many generations of readers. Words can be a dead thing if no one gives them that spark of life.

That spark is what lifts writing off the page.

Is your Meter Running?

Meter is one of those words with several meanings. It’s a measurement of size, though we spell it metre in Canada. It’s a device like a parking meter, measuring time. It’s also measurement of rhythm and pace.

According to my Funk Wagnalls dictionary, a meter is:

“A measured rhythm constituting one of the chief characteristics of verse.”

Meter isn’t just for poetry. There is some form of poetry in our fiction and nonfiction writing. The words you choose, how you arrange them and how they sound when they come together, are all part of writing something people will want to read more of. Think about it.

Recently in the BackWash message boards PussNBoots, one of the Adult columnist’s said:

“Every writer searches for their own ‘voice’. The best way to find it is to write. Also, pay attention to the voices of writers you admire. Read their work out loud to hear the rhythm and meter. Listen to why they chose particular words.”

I thought that was brilliant. Reading your work out loud is the best way to check it’s meter, the rhythm of your words. That doesn’t mean you need to make your writing longer or chop it down, just choose different words or arrange them differently. See how your words flow, does the rhythm change or get monotonous? Is it dramatic and fast paced when you write about action? Or are the sentences you use kind of long and clunky? Do you tend to start sentences with the same pattern or rhythm? Vary your sentence structure.

“Tom went to the market, at Guildwood, everyday” Could be “Everyday, Tom would go to Guildwood’s market.” Not great examples but you get the idea, I hope.

Not Knowing Where You’re Going

“At a moment of heightened awareness there is a confrontation of image and idea. Words come together in a flow, seeking out their own order, their own rhythm; lines measure themselves into a given form; words you didn’t think you knew or had long forgotten suddenly cojoin to tell you what you are feeling, seeking out insight and revelation. In that first flow, all you know is that you are in mid-air between elation and fear. “Keep going, just keep going!” you tell yourself, not knowing where that first line will lead.” – Shulamis Yelin.

That’s how I start writing. I’m not a planner. I don’t have a schedule, a format or any real idea of where I’m going once the idea has germinated from my brain onto the physical plane of my computer screen.

Sometimes the seeds never get past the germination stage. They become part of the cluster of ideas in a folder on my computer. The ‘Idea Folder’ is full of half planted ideas. Now and then I go back and rescue one, add some root hormone, whatever it takes. But, most of them just get kind of sad and pot bound. I forgive myself for letting them stagnate into infinity. You have to forgive yourself. Each idea is like a little soul and you are the only one who can give it the bloom of life. I do feel guilt for not taking those ideas into fruition.

Enough garden terminology?

I read the above quote in an article about writing poetry. As a writer of any style of wordage you should read about all kinds of writing. How to write or better still ‘how I write’ articles and books can be really inspirational. Not just for the art of writing but the craft too. The technique in putting a spin on your words. The ideas about the ideas. You can never have too many ideas. Well, except for those really weird ideas we keep in the closet or swept under some rug or other. I won’t tell if you don’t tell.

Mistaken Words

What are your words? The ones you always have to look up and check spelling or meanings? Looking at a book with “the most common mistakes in English usage” I found a couple of my own.

  • Accept and except.

These even sound about the same. Do you know which is which? When do you accept and when do you except?

  • Lay and lie.

For me it’s really the word lay. A chicken lays eggs. Do people lay down or lie down?

Then, there are common mistakes I see myself. Not my own mistakes but those of others.

  • They’re and there.

They’re going to the park on the way there.

  • Your and you’re.

You’re going too fast your speed is too high.

  • Where and were.

Where were you?

  • A lot and alot.

Alot is not a word. It should always be a lot.

  • Do you know which is the principle and which is the Principal?
  • When is it better to further your efforts to go farther?

No doubt those aren’t glowing examples of grammar but sometimes knowing how words fit in helps you remember which one you need at the time.

  • Other confused words are anything with double “0’s”. Choose chose, too to, loose lose and so on.
  • But my personal worst mistake is its and it’s. I still can not keep them straight. Sometimes I get lazy and just type ‘its’ regardless of correctness.

I can stick up for my laziness by saying that’s how language is built, it evolves from laziness and a need for better understanding in communication. But, I know in the case of ‘its’ I’m just being lazy when I should, or at least could, be checking my handy dandy dictionary.

Navigation, Style and Content

What are the keys to a good website? I think there are 3 main things. I have created this list from many years (since 1998) spent reviewing websites.

Navigation, style and content. You can adapt that to NSC, or not. Not works for me, I’m not even sure how to say that.

Anyway, navigation is probably the most under rated website building thing. But, if people can’t find your content… what’s the point? Navigation needs to be simple, easy to use and easy to find. Some people hide navigation in graphics. Some of them hide it in text. Have you ever seen a site where you click on your browser type to enter it? There is nothing there to say “hey! this is how you enter my site!” Unless it’s a site for psychics, it’s not very useful and it’s a navigational flop. Not to mention pretty annoying for someone who spends time trying to find access to the site and gives up eventually.

I put content ahead of style because content is what people actually came to your site for. It wasn’t a demonstration of frames, flash or pop up ads. Hope that didn’t come as a shock to anyone. Content should be spelled right, proofread for typos and at least a little fact checking is a good idea. It’s also a good idea to change your content now and then. Ideally you should update your site as often as you want people to come in and visit it. If you want daily visits a blog is a good way to go. But, blog everyday with something at least a little unique and interesting. Focus is a good thing too. Being too diversified makes it hard for readers to know your voice and understand what you believe in, who you are. People like to see pictures of the people they read because they want to know who is behind the words.

Last, style, it’s kind of the buffer between your content and navigation. It’s what makes your site colourful, unique and gives it an attitude that people can see even before they start reading your content. But, style should not take over your site. After all, you want them to read your words too. Things like flash or a ton of graphics will drown you out. Also, people are not likely to wait for an unknown site to load. Especially when it’s just a bunch of graphics, not what they came for.

So, off you go. Put up your brilliant websites, make the rest of us green with envy. That, or you know we’ll be there to borrow your best ideas and adapt them for our own sites. Did I just type that… ignore that woman behind the curtain she knows way too many of my secrets.

Writing is Erotic

Writing is kind of erotic. Kind of your own special luxury, something you do alone, to please yourself. It’s almost like a secret life. A dirty little secret you don’t share with friends or family who can just never really understand.

Do you feel guilty for the time you write? Are there other people lined up outside your writing door, perhaps listening in at your keyhole, waiting, lurking with all their demands. Do you ignore them just long enough to write one article, one chapter, one paragraph? When you stop writing, break your flow, ruin your focus, do they even appreciate what you gave up to give them this time away from your writing? Wouldn’t you like to live with a sign that says “I’d rather be writing”. Your own personal fetish.

But, when you are in the midst of that writing bubble, when you tune out the world and all you know are the words flowing from your brain to your fingers, isn’t it almost as good (if not better) than an orgasm? Feel those words, use your favourite words, rub them in just the right way. It feels so good to see those sensual, almost exotic, just so good, words again. Sometimes it’s the way they sound. Sometimes it’s the way they look on the page. Sometimes, if you can even admit it to yourself, you just like them for what they are: words, your words.

Writing is like playing with words. Your parents wouldn’t let you play with your food. But now, you can play with your words, it’s almost like something which should be forbidden, it’s almost too good. As you write the tension builds up, the words brushing your mind, smoothing down your skin to caress against the page. You can feel the vibrations of the keyboard as your fingers touch the keys. No wonder we like to keep physical expressions of this erotic nature at hand. Even now, I bet you have a coffee, some tasty treat or other near at hand.

Now, go nibble. Lick your lips and taste those words. Tease them, seduce them and most of all play with your words.

Squelch Pessimism

Squelch your own pessimism. Grab it in a claw hold and squeeze relentlessly until you feel it oozing out between your fingers, put the screws to it just as it’s been doing to you for far too long. Kill it, kill it now! *Crazed laughter echoes around the room*

There! Now don’t you feel better? Isn’t it time you gave yourself a break? You know you can write, the mechanics are there for anyone to read, study and perfect. The heart of writing and the style are things you bring from within yourself. You know you have plenty to say, endless thoughts and stories to tell. So, what’s holding you back? Pessimism, that bloated ghost of “I can’t” rotting away your optimism and spirit of adventure. So, fight back. Take back your words and get them on the page in spite of all the reasons you’re afraid to take the chance.

Do you think the editors of the world are going to be peeved at you for submitting your work? Of course they won’t. They need content. Don’t be stupidly careless and submit your work without proofreading, that’s a given, right?! So, don’t let fear of editors hold you back. They want what you’ve got. You just have to send it to them cause they have no way of knowing you’ve got what they want.

What else do you fear or let hold you back? Family and friends not quite fully on your side? Get those people out of your mind. You can’t ignore them but you could push them to the back seats long enough to get your writing going. Besides, most of them will shut up when you have a couple of cheques to show for your work. That’s really what their biggest argument is about. At least in every case I’ve heard so far. I have to wonder in my case, are they attacking the writing career or me? Bet you wonder the same thing though you may never put it into words. However, if you can get the career off the ground, that will become a moot point. So do yourself a favour and just keep on trucking… err writing. Keep trying and have faith in yourself.

What else brings you into major pessimistic mode? Those are the biggest two for me. Lack of faith in myself due to family/ friends and lack of faith that anything I write could possibly of interest or good enough for an editor to put into print. But, it’s interesting that in spite of my lack of faith in myself other people feel just the opposite. If you look I’m sure you can find people who think you’re wrong about yourself too. Somewhere there is someone who is your biggest fan and it’s not just that optimist inside your own head. Look for your fans, support them as they support you. When the pessimism gets hold of you the best thing you can do is remember your fans and drive ahead through the storm till you get to the other side.