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.

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.

People Watching

I don’t think you can really be a writer unless you are also an avid people watcher. I really like to sit with a coffee and watch the people around me. I don’t write stories for them, I just observe and come to my own conclusions about who they are, what they think and feel. Do they seem tired, grumpy, cheery, clever, amused, interesting, rushed or laid back? Are they well dressed or a bit too casual? Does that hair style really suit them? You can go on forever.

What things do you see that cause you to decide who someone is, on one sighting alone? I think the way they dress, their body language and how their face, are big first impression tip offs. Next time you are people watching consider the first three things you notice about people. Do you notice different things than I do?

Do you write that way? When you describe a character do you write about them as if they were someone you just saw at the mall, in the parking lot at work or wherever you happen to be writing them. Do you give details about their appearance, body language and facial expressions?

Have you ever written about a stranger you watched somewhere? Try it. Give yourself a challenge and write in a different venue than your usual. If you write fiction try poetry, if you write non-fiction try fiction and so on. Go nuts and write a greeting card just for them!

Most of all, keep watching those passers by, you never know when they will become inspiration.

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.

Handling Fanmail

I started reading “Guerrilla Marketing for Writers”. One thing that struck me as was this:

“You can show your involvement with your fans by being cordial when you contact them, by being helpful to them, and by asking about them.”

Almost no one does that any more in the great big, fast, condensed world of email. Yet, I think most people have felt short changed by some one sentence, abbreviated email reply. Why don’t we show an interest in the people we email with? Especially if you are writing to someone who has shown an interest in you, or whatever you are selling. Is it so greatly time consuming? Is it too hard to write over the one sentence quota? Or do you really just not care?

The advice from the Guerrilla Marketers is good advice. You really can win people over if you show some interest in them. Maybe they have just read your book or something you wrote on a website. First of all, it’s pretty amazing that you got feedback at all. Not may people bother to send a note. When you have the chance to reply to feedback, take it.

Make the most of the chance to connect with someone. Send them your promotional spiel, your upcoming books, articles and where you are writing online but also send them answers to their questions and some questions of your own. Give them a reason to write back, or at least remember you.

/There is a lot of email flying around out there. Adding HTML and graphics isn’t the best way to make yours stand out. Ordinary, old fashioned chit chat is free, takes up a lot less bandwidth and is far more impressive.

The Email Subject Line

Lovely, luscious readers, tonight I have two, count them, two great, sensational, momentous ideas for you! Can you tell I’m kind of enthusiastic tonight? !! Too much coffee I fear. But it was GOOD coffee!

Anyway, idea number one. Next time you need to write a short bio for yourself pick up a magazine. Have you ever read the bios they print for the contributing writers. Well, you don’t know what you’ve been missing. Of course, not all of them are as magnificent as your own will be. But, they give you a great vantage point to start your own. You can even collect the best of the best contributors bios in a file and use them to keep yours even better by comparison.

OK, now you’re revved up for idea number two. Who can blame you. I’m so revved up a this point I may never need to sleep at all tonight. Wouldn’t that be nice. Think of all I could get DONE.

You will be thanking me for sharing these words of wisdom with you for many moons to come. Basically, use the space/ line for ‘subject’ in your emails. Use it, use it wisely, cautiously and smartly. Don’t be a knob and type in ‘hi’. What do you think happens to any email which looks like spam? Right! It gets the quick flush. Your email will not be read if you leave an ambiguous subject line or, worse, if you completely forget to add one at all. Don’t be an email loser, make good use of the subject line and warn others to do the same. That way people won’t be asking you why you never read their email. Unless of course, they only send those forwarded joke emails that you never actually do read. Who can blame you?!! For yourself you will now heed this grand advice and never again darken your email subject line with useless, unclear drivel. Instead, go forth and type in clear, concise and clever subject lines to alert your readers just who you are and why they should not randomly delete your very important email as spam.

So that’s it for tonight. I suggest you all drink coffee and stay up with me. We can write about the moon, scribble odes to the moon. Write on.

Family Fear Factor

Today, there are 65 subscribers to this newsletter. (Note, this was originally posted to the WordCraft newsletter on BackWash, awhile ago). Are you all crazy? I’m a fraud, I couldn’t tell you how to write your way out of a wet paper bag even if I had a map. Just ask my family.

First, they say something that feels like a polite, supportive pat on the head. But they top it with the qualifier. The qualifier is not a good thing, its something about not making money, not having perfect grammar, the typo they found in the odd article they actually did read, etc. Do people give you qualifiers?

Rejection from some editor is one thing. But, its not personal. Family and friends are another thing. How can that not be personal. Likely, they mean well. I know mine do. But each qualifier is like a mountain I have to climb out from under. For a moment I’m suffocating, buried alive under more earth than I could dig my way out from. Not so different from my nephew’s quest in the backyard, that hole to China he starts again, every Fall, in the garden.

But, you do have to keep digging. Keep trying and keep your eye on your goals, your passions and your reasons for wanting to write. Maybe you just write for yourself. But secretly you want to take the next step, its just hard to believe you really can. After all your spelling isn’t that great, the stuff you write about is boring and your grammar is as good as mine.

Welcome to the club, now get writing.

Writing Without Fluff

You can find a lot about cutting the fluff out of your writing. I know, I just searched Google for writing fluff. I did this because someone argued that there is too much gloom and reality on BackWash lately. So, I wondered if there was a guide to writing better fluff pieces. (Not so far in the search but I’m sure it’s out there, somewhere).

Anyway, life is full of drama, conflict and ugliness, sharp edges, people running with scissors, mean spirits and other assorted generally bad things. It balances out all the sparkly fluffy bits. The balance is called reality.

When you write, do you write reality or fluff? If you write fiction do you have one main conflict and focus only on that. Do you forget what it’s like to have a bad day, a day when it seems all the little things keep going wrong. Does your character live a cardboard life where she/ he has no headaches, other than the main one you’ve plotted out for them?

I think we need to trip our characters every now and then. It makes them human, keeps them real. It doesn’t have to tie into the main plot, not directly anyway. Give him a bad knee from some soccer game when he was a kid. Give her a fear of dogs from seeing her sister bitten. Or just have him skin his knee as he’s leaping all those tall buildings.

Don’t write fluff and expect us to swallow it. We know about conflict, we’ve lived it. Every day can’t be sunny and nice. Besides, if you admit it, isn’t it really those windy, blustery days you love the best? I do!