Category: writing

more than just a writer

You are a scientist: examining life through telescope and microscope, observing both the great expanse and the most minuscule but essential detail.

You are a composer and musician: listening to the rhythm, pacing the beat, moving your characters dancing across the page.

You are a magician:  fashioning people and places from the lofty atmosphere of imagination.

You are a parent: protective of your characters and mindful of their actions.

You are an architect and builder: mortaring words and stacking paragraphs, mindful of delicate balance and pleasing form.

You are the Dreamweaver, the Educator, the Wanderer in unknown lands, the Obsessive always searching for the suitable word and flawless phrase.

You are the Faithful One who cherishes the written word in an era of images and sound.

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the duality of a writer

Solitude is an essential tool for every writer. He or she must become a hermit in a self-created cave, The voice of the muse, the inner creator can only be heard where there is no distraction. Writing becomes a self-imposed exile.

And yet, the writer is also a missionary of sorts, always aware that just outside the cave stands The Reader waiting impatiently. When we write, we “speak” to the unseen Reader.

The duality often becomes a conflict. We want to be true to the inner voice but we also take into consideration the Reader. After all, if we write in a language only we can understand, what would be the point of expressing it at all? We’d just be talking to ourselves. Why put words to paper? Why post it? Why share it at all?

Because the writer feels she or he has a message, something worth sharing with the world.

The challenge is having the hermit and the missionary working in harmony with each other.

Too much isolation is like doing shadow puppets in a dark cave. Only you know what you’re doing and even then can’t be sure of it.

Conversely, too much concern for the Reader may distort your inner voice, diminish the message and weaken the power of your words.

That is the duality of the writer. I myself, can only write when I am alone and the chance of interruptions is minimal. At the same time, I am the critical Reader keeping check on my writing, making sure it is understandable, cohesive and, most of all, not boring.

I have some really good arguments with myself.

Basildon Park

Get to work

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My mind likes to wander, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The trouble is when the mind acts like an errant child running off when there’s a task to be done. Interestingly, that happens the most when I need write. Seems it wants to do a hundred things first before sitting down and facing the keyboard.

And when I finally sit down, my mind refuses to cooperate and stubbornly goes blank. It’s not Writer’s Block nor is it lack of direction. It’s just that my mind doesn’t want to work, doesn’t want to agonize over the right word, doesn’t want to come up with a creative paragraph that basically says “He then went to the [wherever].” 

So I have to coax my brain into writing mode. What sometimes gets the words flowing is reading Chinese Buddhist Poetry.

Like this one by HanShan:

Clambering up the Cold Mountain path,
The Cold Mountain trail goes on and on:

The long gorge choked with scree and boulders,

The wide creek, the mist-blurred grass.

The moss is slippery, though there’s been no rain

The pine sings, but there’s no wind.

Who can leap the world’s ties

And sit with me among the white clouds?

If that doesn’t work then I turn to The Chinese Art of Writing. I find the section on the various style of poetry to be inspiring.

At the present moment I have to write a battle scene. Having never been in a battle since I  was a kid growing up in the Bronx, never mind a battle during the Crusades, I haven’t a clue where to start. But then I remembered something I saw in a Gore Vidal interview. He stated that the best action writer he knows of is Edgar Rice Burroughs who wrote the Tarzan series. Really?  So, I found some excerpts and yeah, Vidal was right. Even these many years later his action sequences draw you in. Check it out for yourself.  Tarzan of the Apes.

Of course, there are times my mind refuses to play along. I need new enticements to wake up the hamster to turn the wheel and spew out some really good words.

So, fellow writers, what works for you?

Standing with saints

I never was a fan of Saint Francis. I dismissed him as a self-punishing, wimpy, ethereal saint who talked to birds and was best suited to stand in the small gardens of Italian grandmothers.

How little I knew.

I did recall one incident in his life that nagged at me. Before Francis’ conversion, he dreamed of becoming a knight. When war broke out between the towns of Assisi (his home) and Perugia, Francis in armor charged into the battle. His side lost and Francis was taken prisoner. So obviously, he wasn’t just standing on the sidelines.

Did the saint kill someone? In his zeal to become a knight, did he shed blood?

And so began my journey of discovery as I researched all I could find on the life of Saint Francis to write a novel I hope will take him down from the birdbath pedestal and stand once again on earth.

Nevertheless, as I write, there is a conflict. I get caught between conveying the earthly, determined and sometimes foolish aspects of the saint with the ‘sanctified’ image so many people love. I already know that some readers will think I’ve made up things he said and did; like the time he told a troubled brother being tormented by a demon telling him lies. Francis advised that the next time the demon appeared, he should say, ‘Open your mouth one more time and I will shit in it.’

A very different image of the saint, indeed.

The purpose of my writing is not to destroy anything but the pedestal. I want Francis to stand with the reader of the book, to bring sainthood, holiness and the light of the soul to be within easy reach for all who struggle to embrace it.

Books are dead

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or soon will be.

Consider this.

Statistic Verification
Source: National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, The Associated Press
Research Date: 1.1.2014
Attention span is the amount of concentrated time on a task without becoming distracted. Most educators and psychologists agree that the ability to focus attention on a task is crucial for the achievement of one’s goals. It’s no surprise attention spans have been decreasing over the past decade with the increase in external stimulation.

The average attention span is five minutes. Ten years ago, it used to be 12 minutes.

So I’d better keep this short.

E books will be the digital ghost of hand-held, turn-the-page, dogeared, write-in-the-margins, lend-to-a-friend traditional book.

Self Publishing will transform literature into a mass, unsupervised, free-for-all American Idol Audition without a Simon Cowell making  scathing critical remarks.

A paragraph will be no longer than the average text message.

Unless, something changes. Writing must transform as it has in the past, not just to suite changing styles in language but to keep up with what technology is doing to the mind.
A writer’s competition is not other writers. We must now compete with cable TV, text messaging, video games and, sadly, a diminishing attention span. But how? We need to experiment as other writers have started by shortening paragraphs and writing books that in a past age would seem more like a bare-bones outline.

I wonder how many readers will see this last line?

Procrastination

“Don’t Like to Write, But Like Having Written”

Dorothy Parker? George R. R. Martin? Frank Norris? Robert Louis Stevenson? Cornelia Otis Skinner? Clive Barnes? Gloria Steinem? Hedley Donovan?

No one is sure exactly who first said that. (see The Quote Investigator)

I suppose most writers have felt that way at some time in their careers. I did hear one writer of Romance novels say that she could spend all day writing, that she had no interest in doing anything else. I don’t remember her name (my version of writer’s block). Maybe I was in shock. I do remember thinking at the time, ‘So, you’d rather write about romance than actually experience it?’
Or, maybe that was just my defenses kicking in since I am one of those writers who need to duct tape themselves to the chair, face a blank wall and have all required refreshments close at hand. Even then, there are emails to write and answer, research that leads me far from what I was looking for in the first place, like ‘Gee, who really said the above quotation and who the heck is Hedley Donavan?’
So I have to find ways to trick myself into sitting down and actually writing. Last year I tried NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), which is a self-imposed marathon of writing. On November 1st of each year, “participants begin working towards the goal of writing a 50,000-word novel by 11:59 PM on November 30.”
I made it to 40,000 and I am still working on it. (more on that later).
In my own defense, the delay wasn’t all the fault of procrastination. Family emergencies sent my life in a totally unexpected direction, which forced me to rent a new house, fly out East, a car accident in Missouri and a bunch of other surprises jumping out of the shadows for no other reason than give me more excuses not to write.
The interesting thing about dragging my feet when it comes to writing—or should that be dragging my fingers?—is once I do get started and the words are flowing it becomes a wonderful roller-coaster ride of exploration, discovery and joy.
Often I’ve had to ask myself, “Writing gives me a sense of fulfillment and pleasure. It’s like conducting an orchestra or painting on a blank canvas with words of colors yet to be seen. Why then do I procrastinate? Why do I find a hundred and one things to distract me?”
Yes, there are times of frustration like when your words are pouring forth and then suddenly come to an abrupt stop. Or when you know that one word in the sentence is so wrong but you can’t think of anything better. But I know that no matter what you do in life, you’re going to have some bad days.
And when those days happen, I go and find a way to trick myself into making my writing a priority so I don’t end up with a dozen unfinished manuscripts nagging at me.
If any of your readers have a few tricks of their own to vanquish procrastination, please let me know. I could use a few more.

Procrastination