Archives: writing

Why I Write

Why I Write

“When I sit down to write a book, I do not say to myself, ‘I am going to produce a work of art.’ I write it because there is some lie that I want to expose, some fact to which I want to draw attention, and my initial concern is to get a hearing.” – George Orwell

Why I Write: If I answer truthfully, I don’t know why I write. Just as I don’t know why I breathe or water comes from the tap. City bred, it never occurred to me there were places water did not flow on demand. City bred libraries were scattered across neighborhoods. Words, ready for selection, were mere blocks away. A welcoming librarian smiled at the revolving stacks of books I placed before her. On rare occasions she might say, “Are you sure about that title? It might be a tad old for you.” I was never sure but I was always curious. The potential for escape lay between every binding.

Mr. Marks, my Sophomore English teacher, marked a spontaneous essay assignment with an A.  His comments written in red ink, first terrified then delighted me. He liked it. I was dumbfounded. That first positive comment regarding my writing niggled. No matter how many times my internal dialogue said, “maybe you can write,” my pragmatism retorted, “don’t be ridiculous”. Self-defeat reigned. 

Decades later a friend brought me Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg. She said, “You need to read this.” She offered no explanation. It rested on my night stand for months. Picked up to slay insomnia, I read through the remaining night. It gave me the courage to say I want to write. I set the task of 300 words a day. I had no plot, no plan; my only tools were a keyboard and MSWord.  I was compelled to write to learn how my story turned out.  All the outside fears of what others would think fell away. THEY didn’t have to know and THEY didn’t have to like what I wrote.

I still want to write and I do. Doing it both tortures and fulfills me. Well beyond 300 words a day, a veteran of several NANOWRIMOs and engaged in all aspects of writing and reading I still don’t know why. Like breathing and water writing is a necessity.

George Orwell wrote the following https://orwell.ru/library/essays/wiw/english/e_wiw . It’s a lovely read.

Other writers I know have many reasons for why they continue. I will share their thoughts with future guest blogs. I’d love to hear what drives you.

Drafts, New Ideas, & Resistance

Drafts, New Ideas, & Resistance

Ideas can be new, a lusty temptation, a much-needed sledgehammer to break out of a plot corner, or a lethal form of resistance. Many are forgotten before pen, pencil, or paper scrap can be found.

Yikes, no pen, no paper.

Like you, I’m a writer. I’m in the middle of a draft. A challenging draft. It is especially tough because I’ve reached a plateau in my practice. I need to break through the current wall of resistance. I stepped away from the manuscript two weeks after a steady roll. Why? I had an idea. A good idea. A great idea (aren’t they all) for a new book. Writers have scads of ideas. They come over coffee, while driving, in the shower, or three a.m. Writers, hoarders of office supplies, are often without jotting basics when randomness hits.

New story ideas are exciting, like a second date, possibility without the tedium of attention or work. Sledgehammer ideas are gifts from the gods. They make the hero vulnerable, the villain likable, and the plot twists windy as a country road.

When’s the last time you dug under an idea to ask why this idea, now? If you are in the midst of a writing project, that you have committed to like marriage and a new idea pops up, resist the temptation. I know from sad experience. I must return to my current steady title . I must pocket my sexy new idea for another time, t and fulfill my commitment to write to finish.

Have you read Stephen Pressfield’s The War of Art? If no, read it. If you’re not writing, if you claim to be blocked, if you think you’re writing is crap, or you don’t have the right inspiration — stop talking or actually listening to your corseted internal editor. READ IT NOW.

I don’t get a cent or an atta girl for recommending this book. I recommend it because it calls you, me, and every other writer out on the elaborate, inane, and blockage generating lengths we will indulge to interrupt our writing and complete something, anything. Drafts are meant to be written not perfect.

Inspiration Comes in Many Forms

Inspiration comes in many forms and is often missed for a lack of attention. I met Julia Cameron, in Seattle in 1995, at a Center for Creative Education event. I had no idea that a casual introduction and brief chat would change my life.

Her message, own your creativity, resonated like nothing before.
She became my pied piper. I did morning pages with verve, set ritual artist’s dates for myself and created personal radar to identify and repel the destructive shadow artists in my life.

Morning Pages

At our meeting, I asked, “MS. Cameron do you offer classes on The Artist’s Way or can you recommend a teacher in Seattle?”

            “No, why?”

            “I love this book and I’d like to develop a class around it.”

            “Then do.”

Her ease and graciousness shocked me. As an aside, she wore a hand-painted dress by a Taos artist that I coveted. The dress flowed with the same grace as her answer. In that moment I learned to share my creativity not to hug it to my chest. I took her at her word and offered classes based on her book and its principles.

Teaching became a love. But after multiple cross country moves and many class sessions, I realized I had become a shadow artist as an acolyte of Julia Cameron. My desire was to write. I knew I had a book in me. When asked, on occasion, as I changed jobs and locales, “What do you plan to do next?”

            My cavalier response was, “I’m going to write a book.”

In retrospect, I realize it was an uninformed declaration. As uninformed as when several decades earlier I said, “I want a baby.”

Just as I knew nothing about babies or the speed they turn into self-actualized teens, I had no idea what it took to put one word after another to form a sentence or to compile sentences into a paragraph. Sure, I knew the mechanics. I had written hundreds of business letters and managed multiple product documentation teams but I had not allowed myself to write creatively.

Time to put up or shut up. I bought the perfect desk, placed it in the ideal spot and acquired two drawers full of pens, pencils, highlighters, and multi-hued and sized post-it notes. I used my working knowledge of MSWord to create a chapter and version number scheme. I added three jump drives to my supply collection to ensure sufficient space for regular backup of my masterworks.

50words

I also had multiple blank legal pads, notebooks bound in leather, composition books and a mound of scattered thoughts on scraps of paper.  My despicable computer display reflected every attempt as imperfection.  I needed inspiration.

I didn’t want some words or some sentences, I wanted perfection, the lightning bolt idea crafted into a gold star publication. I was ready. I had the tools of my chosen art.

Where does one find inspiration? I have no idea. True, there are writers who have lived through extraordinary adventures or who have had an idea that nags until writing, medication or insanity are the plausible cures. Based on the thousand plus writers I have worked with, the inspired are a rare breed.

For most of us, books come from work, not blinding inspiration. We must face the demon of the blank page or screen. We must set goals and we must do the work. No one else can tell your story. If not now, when?

Book Lists

Pick a genre, era, or topic there is a book list. As a writer I’m addicted to book lists, they are opioids for my reading addiction. I seek them out in libraries, online, and in news feeds. I share the lists I find with fellow readers and writers. If by chance a shared list choice becomes a book club title, a mutual read discovered in conversation or a pass along to a fellow traveler all the better. The hours of reading are enhanced by pooled thoughts Reading of new and loved authors also serve as a tutorial for readers who are also writers. Prose enchantment can lead to a hangover composed of how did she or he do that? The hangover can only be cured by writer analysis.

The holidays offer up a plethora of possibilities. Tis the season of Book Lists. 2018 lists are long — The New York Times Notable 100; nominees for prizes — The Man Booker Shortlist;  short — The Ten Best Books of 2018; funny – The Best Comedy Books That Can Save Us From 2018, classical – The Guardian’s List of the Top 100 Books of All Time.

Some titles are put through an annual final four style tournament. Books are pitted against each other in an online popularity vote until one remains as the Tournament of Books winner for the New Year.

Book lists are great. Right? Yes, to a point. There are also lists that stratify types of writers. Books by Women, Books by African Americans, Books by Natives, Books by LGBTQ authors, you get the gist. The lists like all lists are interesting and somewhat addictive when searching for new voices. Such lists shine a light on authors that might not be included in more established lists. There is a downside. Lists stratified by race, gender or geographical identity also imply that these authors are indeed writers of a sort but they have not earned the unqualified identification of AUTHOR (white male).

Stratification hints that books written by women of any color are for females, LGBTQ authors write for the rainbow community, African American writers serve a population of color and thus all are somewhat less than books written by the ages-old cadre of male writers.

Books are a collaboration between writer and reader. Pages written are learned and shared experiences when the meld is successful. All that matters is the writing that creates touchstones by an author of any color, origin, or historical background. When that connection is made societal pigeon holes become irrelevant. Read a book because it appeals to not because it has been blessed by a list. Happy reading.

I Can’t Afford an Editor

I Can’t Afford an Editor.”   

I hear this claim in every class I teach or writer’s group I attend. The complaint hides two fears: bloody red ink on your manuscript and the idea that a supposed, expert stranger will tell you what to write. The cost is a factor but it is not the factor. 

 

To allay your fears and minimize the cost know that editing is an iterative, not a one and done process. What do I mean?

  • Only you can write your 1st draft. Introducing an editor at this phase is a form of creative suicide;
  • Create a full draft, celebrate, and self-edit after you take the following steps:
    • Celebrate your accomplishment
    • Allow the text to marinate in a safe inaccessible place for 2-6 weeks
    • Read the full manuscript as a reader, not a writer
      • Understand that you can never be a fully objective reader
    • Return to the text to read as a self-editor
      • Is the point of view consistent?
      • Are there adequate transitions?
      • Have you used enough dialogue to move the action forward?
      • Is the pace and tone in keeping with the genre?
      • Did you use the five senses as tools to show not tell your story?
  • Use your self-edits to write a second draft.
    • Be amazed by how you have improved the text
  • Do a copyedit of the second draft, use online tools to help you
    • Spell & grammar checks
    • Grammarly.com
    • Search and replace tools
  • Ask other writers to act as beta readers:
    • Specify what you want from readers
    • Specify the desired turn around time
      • Be sure the anticipated return is reasonable for the length of the manuscript
      • Don’t resent a no response, timing is everything
      • Be willing to reciprocate
  • Read through the provided edits with care
    • Consider every comment and use those that resonate to complete your third draft

Presuming that you’ve made edits to the manuscript based on reader feedback, re-read the text with the above-bulleted self-edit questions in mind, performed a second tools scan, and made all changes you can identify you will have a completed third draft and you haven’t spent a cent. Congratulations!

Time to hire an editor.

How do you find the right editor?

See you next post. Happy writing.

 

 

 

                         

 

 

Cara Caras, Baking, and Readers

Cara Caras, Baking, and Readers

 

I am a writer and a baker. When I feel stuck in my writing, I bake. I recently made a new recipe: Cara Cara Cake. A Cara Cara is a seasonal orange available in the northeast from late January until almost March. The bright rind is a color once limited to circus clowns. The semi-sweet, juicy flesh imitates the dark pink of Blood Oranges. I stumbled upon a recipe for a Bundt-type cake that included two whole unspecified oranges. I chose the Cara Caras to adapt the cake  chttps://food52.com/recipes/75095-sunset-s-whole-orange-cake as I choose the identity markers of a character, accessible and yet unexpected.

I don’t believe a recipe has to be followed to the letter for a good outcome. I am a pantser as a writer and as a baker. Recipes are concepts rather than scripture. First drafts, like a new recipe, are a test of imagination and skill. Submission-ready manuscripts are concepts tempered and coereced into final formats, like batter that becomes a fully iced and decorated cake.

 

Despite experience in both arenas I have yet to learn which of my creations will be a hit with my audience. I expected my new cake to be good, but I did not expect it to elicit rhapsody from the various audiences served. The response was so great I was asked for the recipe by a dozen people. Every event after the first serving brought a request for a re-bake. While flattering, I try not to repeat recipes just I try not to create stale characters. Yet, I have come to learn that an audience is a collaborator regardless of what I create. I have to trust that that the taster of my deserts or the reader of my work has accepted what I present and that in some way it touches on what is good food for him or her. I also have to accept when collaborators withhold feedback or give flat responses. Thank god for tasters, editors, and readers.

Make Your Own Rules

If you write and you want to learn more about your craft you’ve probably read dozens of articles that include the following:

The 3 rules of…

7 rules to…

If you want to be published follow the 10 rules…

Preface the word rule with a number between one and ten and you are well on your way to a silver bullet article or blog.  Why silver bullet? Like a diet that starts on New Year’s Day, our magical thinking likes to believe the last set of rules read will rock our writing world. We don’t like to accept that a successful diet requires less food and more exercise and successful writing requires, wait for it, writing. You become a better writer by writing. Bummer, huh?

As a writing instructor, I’ve seen eager faces wait for the silver-platter epiphany. I’ve also experienced the group reaction of eight students who become simultaneously crestfallen at the reality of writing as a practice.

If you need rules as a writer, make your own. Define your writing ritual. My writing ritual is of little value to you. I can’t tell you which space resonates with you. I can’t say whether you should sit or stand, use a keyboard, a number 2 pencil, or a quill, play music as you write or meditate before you begin. Writing is personal. Success is defined by you and the goals you set. Success is reached by the recipe you create to attain your goals. Stay true and practice, practice, practice until you become the writer you want to be.

 

Happy Writing.

© 2021 Lee Heffner – Author