Category Archives: Writing

Sometimes, It Just Flows

I used index cards for plotting by novels.
I used index cards for plotting by novels.

Every writer I know has to learn the lessons taught by every other writer who comes before. The lessons, like the truest platitudes, are simple and direct. And yet, somehow, every newbie thinks these lessons can be ignored.

Take diligence, for example. I’m talking about the diligence that comes from writing every day. The kind of diligence that gets you to the last page of the book you’re writing. The kind of diligence that moves all the other crud out of the way so that you focus on your work.

At one point in my writing career, I spent time reading interviews with other writers, mostly in the Paris Review of Books (still the best, in my opinion). When asked, every single writer talked about the importance of regular writing habits. Every one of them echoed Carl Sandburg’s dictum that books are written “One word at a time.”

There’s no way around that in any creative endeavor, from making soup to making a quilt, to constructing a building or drawing a picture of your cat. It’s one onion, one seam, one wall or one line at a time.

I’m coming around the corner on a novel. I can feel its publication date on the horizon, like the morning sun at the moment before it crests over the mountains to our east.

Mind, I’ve had to adjust the arc of the story a bit to fit my time frame better, and spent time going back to assess what I’ve learned about my characters. But the writing flows. It’s become a need, an act that I must do like a ritual every morning before I can move onto anything else in my day. Yep, Sandburg was right—one word at a time, daily.

Empty Sentences

Old typewriterYears ago, I was hired by a tech firm that was in the business of teaching personnel recruiters how to filch (yep, steal though that was NEVER the word they used) tech workers from other companies. (In my defense, I didn’t realize that when I was hired.)

It was the tech boom years, and folks who could understand code were thin on the ground, hence the professional theft training.

Well, I was supposed to develop a “class” about international personnel recruiting and my first step was plunging into research mode.

Now, I can write marketing fluff with the best of them so I have a pretty good nose for this stuff. But I have to say that I doffed my metaphoric cap in awe at the total vapidity I found on websites (mostly startups) that were peddling…well…I was never quite sure.

At times, I could be found clutching my forehead and mumbling things like: “What in the hell does that mean?”

I see this sort of eerily empty language again and again and again on the web—corporate-speak, edu-speak, political-speak. When you examine it closely, it always falls apart, amounting to nothing more than the rattle of empty drums that someone wants you to believe are full.

That’s one of the reasons why I am concerned about the current trend to “write more,” “write faster,” and this “write a novel in a month” event that now endows November with more importance than being the carrier of Thanksgiving Day.

Yes, it is true that the single most important rule of writing is writing regularly. Most books die for lack of attention. That’s why you hear so many authors stress the importance of a daily word regimen. If you don’t keep working on a project, you lose enthusiasm and the thread of your story.

But based on the work that gets produced in this throw-it-on-the-wall-and-see-what-sticks method, much of it is not worth reading.

So along comes this article in the book section of my beloved Guardian of London (my favorite online newspaper) and I find that my disquiet over our empty language puts me in the august company of George Orwell and Thomas Merton.