Tag 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.


Coming Full Circle

Expert editing
Expert editing

Your Book, Your Way is being revised and renamed What Would William Shakespeare Do? If you want to read along from the beginning, you can by clicking right here.

In fact, what Stephen King did was, in its own way, as important to writers as Gutenberg’s invention of a system for the mass printing of books.

Only in reverse.

Reverse? Yes. You see, when folks examine and admire (rightfully so) what Johann Gutenberg did, there’s one important aspect that is always overlooked—what the printing press did to the rights of writers.

You see, before Mr. Gutenberg put a whole lot of ideas together in a system that could mass produce books, broadsides, pamphlets and posters, writers represented the entire publishing process. They bought the ink and paper, filled the pages with words, and then had them bound in a codex.

If a book was sold, the writer probably handled that as well.

In other words, writers had total control over their work and what happened to it because the price of ink and paper and binding (production) were within their means.

Once Gutenberg’s ideas started to spread, however, writers lost control of the means to produce their own work. Yes, they gained the ability to disseminate their words far beyond anything previously known in the history of humankind. But the purchase price of a printing press and the wherewithal to use it were far, far beyond their scope.

Over time, a couple of centuries give or take, the position of writers became similar to that of coal minors—they produced the raw material on which an entire industry depended. And their position in the food chain was roughly the same.

Most folks equate the history of book publishing with writing. But when you look closely, you realize that book publishing is the child of printing. That’s why this centuries-old industry is now in such turmoil. The means to print books and distribute them to readers has now come full circle and is within the financial grasp of writers once again.

Now you know why this website was named Full Circle Press. It is dedicated to fostering the rights of writers to their own work.

Writers Learn from Writers

Publicity still from Pushing Daisies
Publicity still from Pushing Daisies

My family is not a commercial TV family. In fact, I once figured out that I’ve spent more than half my life not being connected to the rest of the world by television.

Yes, it is bliss.

My reasons for this are few: extremely annoying commercials and extremely bad writing.

But we compensate for this by culling the best of the best in movies and TV through Netflix.

Every once in a while, we trip across something that is so well-written and so well-produced, we want to watch it again and again. The Brit TV series Sherlock is one example of that. American TV’s Northern Exposure is another.

We recently discovered another TV series that belongs in this category, Pushing Daisies.

I’ve been bowled over by the clever writing, the attention to detail in the elaborate sets and costumes, and the offbeat premise of what’s billed at a “forensic fairy tale.”

Yeah, they had me at offbeat, eccentric, quirky.

Over the course of the two-years of the series, the language of the characters grows more poetic, more Seuss-ian with so many funny lines sprinkled throughout, we know we’re going to watch it again because we were laughing so hard, we missed something.

Today, I discovered that the man behind the show, Bryan Fuller, posted the scripts for the shows online. Picture me rubbing my hands together with glee over this fact because I really, really want to read these.

As a writer, I always strive to make my prose as perfect as I can for readers because I know how much delight I get from good writing. Fuller, who was the principal writer on the show, has a gift for the music of language like my personal favorite author of all time, Dr. Seuss.

I know there’s something to be learned here. And it will be fun.

Turning Off to Turn On

This Cecropia moth caterpillar focuses its attention on one thing at a time.
This Cecropia moth caterpillar focuses its attention on one thing at a time.

I remember seeing a film at Dartmouth’s Hopkins Center years ago with the performance artist Laurie Anderson. I love her stuff, generally—funny, intelligent, thought-provoking. Pretty much the way I like my people.

In her film, she figured out how to get the sound equipment for a drum kit between her teeth and over her body. This allowed her to accompany herself with electronic percussion. She remarked that in all things digital, what we are actually using are bazillions of ones and zeros, one being equal to on and zero being equal to off.

In other words, we are either off or on.

I try to remember that whenever I feel frazzled, when too many things are competing for my attention at the same time. No matter what the great gurus of multi-tasking try to get you to believe, you’re only going to get a certain number of tasks accomplished in a day (generally six, max), and only one of them at a time.

Yeah, it’s true that you can put a pot of chili on the stove to cook while you’re writing a blog. But once you turn the stove on, your part of the task is pretty much done.

Remember, one thing at a time—and turn everything else off like the internet, the radio, the TV, your cell phone.

Really, you don’t have to bookmark that site or pay any attention at all to that blathering politician. Take that attention and focus on your work instead.

Remember, it’s your time. Your attention. Your coin to spend as is wise for you.

What can you turn off today?