Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Cliches in All Their Inglories

This is going to be a mini rant about the favorite "do not do" and "how to avoid" wisdom nuggets put out there by every writing magazine and teacher. I just received an e-mail that offers the inevitable 10 tips, which is a cliche in itself, on avoiding cliches and melodramas. It just happens that, to me, these are two of the best springboards for diving into writing.

That's right, a cliche is the perfect place to start by pulling out all stops on melodrama. Yum. The richness in most cliches, or the sheer absurdity, is what made them popular. And bring on the melodrama for its ghosts, chest beating and copious intrigue to gain insight into how an audience can sink its teeth into this delicacy year after year.

Those are only a few reasons to embrace, or at least play with, the cliches and melodrama that make writing fun at times. Just think, the decomposing body of a cliche is the ideal place to grow a new idea or plot.

Monday, January 30, 2012

The Most Noteable

The headline is a play on words from the last post, and entirely in line with what writing is to me.

When my son was young, five or six, long before he was sucked into the world of video games, we would play with the words he had in his spelling lists. We would create silly words for the very serious ones on the lists and pun our way home.

How many adults do you know who would play along this way? Would you?

Sunday, January 29, 2012

The Rhythm in Our Self Beliefs

For those writers who are scribes of rhythm and rhymes, the ones who play with the tune in the stories along with beginnings, middles and endings...it's all about believing in yourself.

It's about tuning into the music inherent in the way we put together words, the string quartets that accompany the moments when everything is perfectly timed.

But first it takes believing in yourself enough to start. Put together words in your own voice, in your own rhythm and in your own time.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Deconstruct the Writing Teacher in Your Head

If you hear the constant litanies of "Be sure you capitalize," "Dot your i's and cross your t's" and "Don't start a sentence with a preposition," then it's time to deconstruct the varying voices of past experiences.

Any time we stop ourselves from writing based on a myopic view of this wondrous adventure, we put ourselves back into that classroom of rights and wrongs, do and don't and succeed or fail. Notice how judgmental and grating that voice is in your head. Do you give it a male or female voice? Is it high-pitched shrieking or a silky appeal to the editor in you to: "Make this madness stop!"

Take a deep breath and look around at the numerous tomes on writing that surround you. I've spent hundreds on books alone, much less the college and online writing courses that have included everything from the art to the business of writing. But as a writer, each book and class made me believe deep down that only the privileged few could reach the heights and put out books that are "worthy."

That is why I'm still editing my first young adult science fiction book, which has been completed for at least three years. It is in part why another book that is near and dear to my heart is only at three chapters. I listened to that editor and teacher in my head, rather than believing in the simple truth of those words, the characters and the worlds that are mine alone and worthy.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Write What You Can Imagine

Today I was listening to three teenage boys discuss the unrealistic admonition to fall forward without  using your hands to break the fall. As anyone who has suffered a broken wrist after falling knows, it's not in our biology to roll without putting our hands out first.

We naturally extend our arms, palms out, to protect ourselves from a painful or overwhelming experience, whether it is to say "No, you can't tell me that," or to grasp the moment that "Is too wonderful for words."  Doing anything different is against our natures as human beings.

So why do so many people give the advice that we must "write what we know"? This limits us as writers, and allows others to believe that they are being sage rather than pedantic.

Our first instinct as writers must be the one that drives us to unearth the unknown within the known. And, yes, we may break a few ancient bones in the process, but it's the only way to push back against the restrictions inherent in the "rules" of writing.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

What We Share and How We Can be Daring

What this blog is asking other writers to do is acknowledge our similarities at the same time it encourages the ways we are unique.

We share the tap, tap, tap of desire to express ourselves. And in the past, with typewriters, we had a sound that accompanied this creative urge, and didn't delete whole blocks of text when we weren't looking. With a computer keyboard, the sound is muffled, and the process can be short-circuited with a "blue screen" dump that has made too many writers scream at the loss or losses it brings.

So many of us live with an ever-present need to write something, anything, as a mantra of sorts. We think of plot, characterization and dialogue as we brush our teeth, as we drive to work and when we kiss our children goodnight. The first step is to recognize how many seemingly insignificant actions and emotions build to trigger this muse.

Where we take these moment-to-moment inspirations leads to the daring aspect of this blog. If we follow them, they dare us on to greater triumphs. If we discard or discount the ebb and flow of these gems of meaning, it haunts us. So the next step is to acknowledge that we never lose this steady stream of writing prompts, we just build on them.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Create Waves in Writing Worlds

As writers we are ultimate overseers of the worlds within words.

The power to create and destroy those worlds is ours. It's all or nothing on a free-flight of imagination.

And it all begins with a stroke of a key, the sweep of a pen nub on parchment, the whisper of an idea into a tape recorder or a crayon on lined paper. We then catch that wave of thought and turn it into a story, a poem or a brilliant treatise on "greening." And all along, the writer who is shaping those words is shaped by them.

How many times do we look out at a vast ocean of possible worlds in words, only to dig our toes into the sand on the shore and yearn?

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The Genesis of Fear

We fear what we cannot explain fully or embrace unconditionally. In writing, it can either be starting or stopping that makes our hearts stop...then start again.

Think about this word and the taste it leaves in our mouths. Is fear cold, bitter or does it break through to shock you back into awareness?

In fact, fear holds a misty, shimmering chimera at its center. In mythology, this creature flares into life with the tail of a snake, the head of a lion and a goat middle. It stands for a fantasy that others consider foolish. In genetics, the chimera is described as a single organism with a distinctive mix of differing cells.

As writers, fear can be a sign that we are getting too close to a truth that must come out. So it could be the one feeling and word we can conquer to propel us past the criticism to the intense satisfaction we derive from writing.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Nothing to Hide Behind: The Active Voice

To actively express ourselves, we need to voice the rhythms and poetry inherent in each of us. Yet in the many restrictions on writing woven into our childhoods, workplaces and through ongoing critical assessments, both internal and external, we often hide behind words.

Consider the way we pad our writing so that others will accept it as intelligent, original or academic. Instead of using the raw voice of experience and want that shouts our unique vision of the world, we take on a persona of passive assent that we believe others expect from us. 

The active voice is more than a writing exercise. It's a way to expose ourselves through the rawness of words carefully or freely chosen that don't hide behind the past (tense) or passive need to please.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Chomping Down on Characters

"Character" is the word to play with for the day. Like in dreams, we people our writing with various images of ourselves that we see in others around us.

These posts are also typed character by character, and as many elementary, middle and high schools, "character" counts.

We can be in character, according to others, or out of character when looking at a blank page. We can write a character assassination that is literal, or push our characters to heights we dream of but don't truly believe we can reach.

I can be a character...but prefer to manipulate the many varieties of the she's, he's and others who populate the pages of my books. And those characters, like the words and worlds around me can never be pinned down to one color, one language or one true understanding. They evolve as I do with each word, sentence and page my characters draw me into.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Food and Writing "Diets"

Every time I reach for the full-fat Greek yogurt, apply honey and add the nuts and fruit, that food-conscious part of me screams about the fat and enjoys the "good" parts. In deconstructing this automatic reaction to all things enjoyable about food, it struck me today that we tend to do the same thing with writing.

Given the freedom to write anything we want, to start a story with "It was a dark and stormy night," or to write around the edges into the center of the paper, many writers will cringe and back away from such heresy.

Admit it, both food and writing have been pared down to the point that all joy in eating or storytelling is a guilty pleasure at best, or something we just do for the nutrients.

So the word today is "food" for thought, for sustenance and the color of everything we have denied ourselves in order to fit in.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Write, Play in One Word a Day

My word for the day is "play." It waves in so many ways.

In my writer's mind, the word has more meaning when applied on several levels. It's the beat of blood through the heart and through the veins, the tendons and muscles that allows me to propel a pencil in whirls and lines on notebook paper. It's grasping that paper when a wind attempts to snatch it from me outside.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The Many Ways Writing is Valued or Devalued

As school children, we put a value on the written word based on grades. An "A" meant we had pleased the teacher and might have a future in writing, or it could just be that our penmanship was better than all the others. A "B" meant we had somehow missed the mark and needed to improve. A "C" trumpeted average, a "D" that we were defective and an "F" that we were clearly failures.

How many writers survive this trial by grading? Sadly, I don't believe we will ever be able to quantify this soul-sucking attempt to judge and destroy.

So if you are reading this as someone who still sees that grade on your fifth-grade paper, the one where you took flight on a spaceship to a planet where killer broccoli attempted to destroy every child who landed...take heart.

You created that story, that writing, believing in an imagination and story that could not be bound by alien vegetation, much less the subjective view of an adult. Be kinder to that  young storyteller.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Celebrating Words and Their True Meanings

As a general rule, we become more self-correcting as we age. Most children can speak, sign or laugh colorfully and with a simple truth until they are told that what they say or write isn't nice or correct.

I was in a now-defunct Borders several years ago attempting to find another series that would take my child into his teens as a reader when a mother dragged her 5-year-old into the children's reading section. The mother proceeded to pick out joke books, while her daughter attempted to pull away. The woman's admonition? "Let's get you a book so that you can tell better jokes."

That child had gone from telling one liners in a natural way, to telling no jokes because it wasn't natural or filled with the laughter and lightness that most children seek.

So, what if we take a few minutes every now and then to use words in the silliest, most nonsensical ways? Could we go back before the judgments killed all pleasure in word play? Try punning your way through a little pause in work, out loud or silently, on paper, on the screen. Write a few words on a computer screen that evoke a strong feeling, any one you choose, then color them by how they might taste, feel or crunch underfoot. Celebrate this ability to create new avenues of self-expression in the most common words, and enjoy the chance to play with your food, walk in the rain barefoot and laugh loudly at silly jokes.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

When Even Perfection is Not Good Enough

A majority of Americans have lives filled with magazines, newspapers, television shows and other media that constantly shout at our inability to be perfect enough not to need or want their advice. But if we follow the advice of these thousands of voices telling us that we are imperfect and must be fixed, we have no time to create, nor the energy to fight back against this onslaught.

That is why I urge everyone who picks up a pen or pencil, grabs a laptop or a keyboard, or has enough courage to sit or lie still on the grass in the backyard or a park, to shut out the noise around you that doesn't feed your inner writer. If we listen to these voices, we will never learn what makes us unique and never write another word due to the fear of our words never being good enough.

In other words, we must be the only ones who choose what form perfection takes in our writings.

Granted, you can get inspiration from the few books that don't offer a prescription, such as "Becoming a Writer," by Dorothea Brande. Aside from her encouragement to write regularly, she attempted in 1934 to get around all the other academic credos on writing to the person who writes because she or he must. But, first, we must write to push all doubts aside that writing is what we do to live, not what we do to make a living.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

The Sound and Taste of Words

I'm taking two online classes this spring. One, XHTML, is a language that provides guaranteed outcomes in most cases. The second, in multimedia, is another area that provides somewhat immediate gratification in terms of creative output.

Unlike writing, what I put into coding, photography, graphics and animations may be open to interpretation, but my projects don't have to be compared to all the other "greats" in history for me to consider them creative. Don't get me wrong...all these avenues open up worlds that help my writing. They remind me that nothing is set in stone, that you can mess up, go back and find out where you went wrong, and make it better the next time.

They also give me renewed respect for every driven artist of words, ideas, images, computers, and even text. It's inspiring to see so many avenues of expression and know that it takes dedication and sometimes absolute trust in oneself to overcome the world's habit of saying that so much is impossible.

In the case of writers, we listen to everything around us even in a resounding silence. We taste words in a way that only someone who sees and experiences their variations can do without being called crazy. We are then driven to describe thought feasts in words, in imagery and to recreate a scene, a confrontation, a loving moment, sheer exhaustion or the feeling, more than a thought, that made us change our minds about the possibility of failure -- and write.

Friday, January 13, 2012

It's All in the Timing

Think back, once more, although it will not be the last time if you work with me this year.

Take a step inside that kindergarten or first grade classroom. Look around and think about the longing we all had to belong. Now, consider how many items you post on certain social networks. Do they take you back to the days when "Red Rover, Red Rover, let Jane come over," allowed us to run full-tilt toward the linked hands that kept us out of that line up across a sandy playground.

Back inside that elementary school room, we learned reading, writing and arithmetic. But the writing part was mostly scrawling capital letters and their counterparts on sheet after sheet of tablet paper. And many of us also stared out of  the clerestory windows wishing we were home instead of sweating it out in a portable classroom.

The point is that this dismantling of childhood writing dreams began when we were unable to break the hold of linked hands holding us back. And it continues into adult life and hopes because many of us still believe that  a teacher or other "expert" can grade writing without subjectivity, which is impossible.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Uncovering Our Roots as Writers

To begin at the beginning, you must embrace the moment you became a writer. And even though you might point to a mysterious emergence as a teen or that time in a required English class at a college or university that the teacher read your short story, that is not where it starts.

My roots are as strong and far-reaching as that little girl who made up her own songs, and sang them loudly in the cab of my father's truck. Thinking back, I am amazed that it was the one time when he didn't yell at me to stop. And I don't know about other neighborhoods, but the kids in ours created plays and acted them out in backyards up and down the street. We recreated families with our dolls and ran around after the family dog attempting to get her to talk like Mr. Ed.

We created fun through ideas, words, laughter, and in a somewhat desperate attempt to connect and keep the audience, and the players, coming back for more.

Somewhere in those moments between my first word and the minute I walked into first grade, the writer in me attempted to come out and play.

So tell me when you really started to use words as a way to communicate, amuse, bemuse or cry in ink, charcoal or dust. It's where the writer in you began.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The Would Haves of 'If Only'

We too often petition fate to overlook the knowns and unknowns that ultimately lead to a "would have if only" statement. I would have taken more courses in writing, listened to my high school English teacher (or college professor) and diagrammed more sentences, or be a true veteran of  writing contests -- if only I had known that all those actions or reactions would help single me out from all the unknown writers.

Admit it, you have wondered or are wondering if you have missed your chance as a writer. Sadly, too many writers I know believe that they only get one chance. But that is because we only hear and read about authors who have succeeded (sometimes after dozens of rejections) in getting an agent or publisher to consider them relevant.

I practice being happy for other writers who are making an excellent living through publishing books, whether paper or digital. Book sales show, over and over again, that people are reading and that they read for the pleasure of it, just like many of us write because it brings us joy.

If you have ever transcended the "would haves" through writing, then hold onto that feeling. That covers all the feelings that writing can unearth. And stop listening to your doubts, unless you can turn them into story and that story drives you forward. In other words, we don't have would haves, could haves or should haves with any power to stop us, if we use them instead to imbue our inner storyteller who has no sense of time or space.

Take a peek sometime at the being you once were, and still are, deep down who knows that the story is organic and can't be silenced completely, just shamed to a whisper.

Monday, January 9, 2012

The 'Could Have' Refrain and Drain

Consider that you could have climbed Mt. Everest by now, even though most people would never choose that as a goal. Personally, I won't go where pens can't flow and the oxygen level makes it difficult to think. But the idea is that writers must make monumental sacrifices to prove our worth.

This shows in the arbitrary amount of words, pages or books that some writers believe they must put together as the only way to become a true writer. It plays out in the dozens or hundreds of ways we challenge ourselves before allowing hope to overcome the "could haves" we adopt along the way.

That "could have" refrain drains the life out of our fledgling dreams of relevancy. It differs from the "can do" we must adopt to head off the doubt and an insane sense of shame in believing that we can write. Think about how many writing exercises teachers and others have given us that are supposed to encourage flights of fancy, but more times become another way for us to say what we could have done to make it good enough to impress, earn a good grade or win a prize.

At the right time, when you are confident that your genuine voice and writing can survive these pressures to conform and perfect, you can take a course or read a book about how to market your writing. For now, enjoy where words take you. Play with them, write the colors that they remind you of. Try describing the smells of childhood, the pain from your first heartbreak, the funniest or weirdest thing you have ever thought or believed.

Take a notebook or paper with you and a small pen. Use a napkin, if you are drawn to an idea or something you overheard and it grows. Or don't.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

The Could Haves, Would Haves and Should Haves

For the next year, this blog will attempt to free another aspect of writing for me and whoever wants to go along for the ride. If you winced at the thought that anyone could help empower that writer with a small case "w" that inhabits your brain and aura, then you apparently need this as much as I do.

I have one book finished, young adult science fiction, that is in a never-ending round of rewrites. Another book is in my head, in 10 chapters, in five notebooks and in my dreams. That's not to mention the essays, poems and even games that are chomping at my white matter at any minute.

If you delve into any writer's portfolio, whether fiction or nonfiction, those accomplishments seldom jive with the person you are talking to about that writing. This post will tackle the "Should Haves" we all encounter based on education, history and just plain fear.

To start, let's define the writing that this blog specifically addresses. Today, I looked up how to replace a kitchen faucet and found two websites with different writing styles in terms of their depth and breadth. As a visual and hands-on learner with a good grasp of the sequential/auditory avenues, one description was the better written, to me. Those instructions provided how to get around every road block that a homeowner could experience, which allows me to get all the materials needed for the job and walks me through the procedure. This writing could be considered technical/editorial.

If you write articles, essays, opinion columns and other editorial features, then you have dealt with deadlines, editorial preference and defining your audience. If you are a medical writer, technical writer, journalist, editor or student (of any age), engineer, scientist, health care worker, truck driver, etc., no matter how well versed in writing day to day, month by month and year by year, when it comes to fiction, so many people embrace the "could haves, would haves and should haves" that prevent us from expressing who and what we are in prose.

It's personal, for all of us. So, let's start with the first post below and deal with the "should haves" in our way.

Should Haves

The "should haves" almost always shriek: "I should have done that. I should have known better. I should have done better. I should have tried harder."

They are not the sound of reason where writing fiction or nonfiction is concerned. They are the stakes we drive through our motivation believing that we are being responsible. It is the first refrain that parents and teachers press, even on themselves, when it comes to writing.

So, give up the "should haves" and replace them with something along the lines of, "I do my best in the unique way I do everything."

But never miss a deadline -- just be more realistic when you make one in the first place.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Welcome Aboard

Take time for writing, even if it's three lines of what anyone else would consider nonsense. Then go back a few days later and pick out those words, phrases or sentences that paint the picture of the words and ideas that you wrote down. Build on each word, each line and each victory that writing gives you, personally.

Make sure that you are writing, at first, with pencil or pen on paper, if you can. Or set your words in clay and cure them for prosperity. In this digital age, we can lose sight of the dynamic nature of prose that evolves from its start in our memories and in how we voice our truths.

Today, I listened to  David Morrell, the author of the Rambo series, talk about the evolution of book sales and marketing at a Southwest Writers meeting. But he stressed the passion for writing that may or may not end in publishing. In doing so, he reminded me to write because I can't imagine a life without it, not because it will lead to fortune and fame.

Another writer recently talked about not honoring the book you have written, and having it deleted from your computer or burned after your death without sharing it. If this is the case for you, then take the book you have and share it without asking for a critique. In fact, stop anyone who wants to offer praise or criticism, because that  is not the reason for sharing.

When you are satisfied that the books, poems, essays and articles you have written display the honesty you showed in writing down those first words, above, then take the chance on a writing group. But choose carefully to ensure that others don't try to replace your voice with one they are more comfortable with...their own.

Finally, please come back here and share your experiences and how you make writing work for you.