Tuesday, April 4, 2017
From my years of writing words intended for many more eyes and hearts than they often reach, I have synthesized the following bittersweet truths and guidelines for myself, as well as for fellow writers:
1) Exasperation over sometimes absurdly long delays in artistic gratification may be part of a bigger plan for eventual success, in which time is irrelevant. Write memorable words and they will be remembered, even if not within the time frame you desire.
2) Expectations of others' reactions to your words can hinder your openness to hearing those reactions. Listening does not guarantee hearing any more than looking guarantees seeing. Remove your filters--the expectations--and take time to process feedback without simultaneously qualifying its relevance.
3) There is no such thing as a definitive "final draft." The author must settle on defining "final" in terms of a work's readiness to move others without further revisions--and the author's readiness to move on to another project.
4) Your words are yours to hatch and nurture, no matter how long they have to sit in a journal, a computer file, or your mind; consider them as germinating, not wasting away.
5) Some obscure comments from editors make sense in their own time, via epiphanies visible only to eyes freshened by time away from a manuscript. Celebrate each realization with a zealous revision and a self-congratulatory hug for your progress.
6) Treasure all comments about how your words moved a reader, even if those words only appeared on a post you wrote on Facebook, Twitter, or your blog. The point is to move people, and if your public works evoke written responses, even negative ones, you have succeeded in evoking emotions and inspiring others to write.
Wednesday, April 9, 2014
Most us of have heard the saying, “You’re only as good as your word.” Does that also imply that you’re only as memorable as your word(s), too? Does it matter whether you matter as much as the matter you write? Maybe you’re fine with remaining anonymous, letting your words supersede your self. But most writers have more ego than that; it’s not a bad thing, but a fact. If you’re like me, you write words because your inner graffiti artist wants to leave a mark upon the world, to draw eyes to unexpected views that represent you to others and make them remember you.
[that was my graffiti, yes]
You have surely been advised to “Show, don’t tell” in your writing. Well, here’s how to apply that adage to yourself, as author, to be as memorable as your words:
- Show your respect for words via precise word choices, no matter how many revisions it takes to find them.
- Show your respect for your readers via subtlety and conciseness, to honor their ability to interpret and their appreciation of precious time—both of which are disregarded by superfluous words and overwritten descriptions.
- Show your depth of observations and psychological insights by developing characters that seem realistic and evoke empathy from readers.
- Show your wit via well-paced, cleverly worded phrases that carry readers along, rather than force them to follow.
- Show your intelligence via apt analogies, thoughtful symbolism, and insightful observations.
- Show your style via figurative language that reflects images the way you’d post pictures on Instagram to reflect your personality.
- Show your values via your fictional characters’ successes and failures, qualities and faults, their coping methods, and their various points-of-view.
- Show your personal path in life by noticing and accentuating the thematic threads that run through many of your writings.
- Show your artistic influences via your allusions.
- Show your understanding of your readers by choosing age- and/or genre-appropriate matter to unfold.
Tuesday, February 4, 2014
The books we read build layers of memories, like sedimentary rocks, offering us new vantages from which to view the world and share our unique perspectives via our own grains of truth. Choose your literary foundations carefully.
Ask yourself what new "things" are now familiar because of your reading about them. Which books made them familiar? Then reread, or at least review, those books to see HOW they added experiences to your memories--experiences you never actually had, except through the lens of another writer's prose.
Also ask yourself what familiar "things" or experiences, as presented via an author's perspective, enlighten your own memories of things familiar. Was it your own first love, a powerful school memory, a trip to another state or country? Again, reread or review the books that made you nod and say, "Oh I can relate to this--but I'd almost forgotten how it felt!" Do it before you forget those books and those feelings. Do it to add layers to your memory banks and enrich your writing.
Coming-of-age books are a perfect example of how authors make "familiar things new." I love reading them because they reawaken my own memories and often make me forgive myself for my foibles of the past, for my immaturity as a teenager, and for my failure to apply those lessons today. In fact, they sometimes help me to see myself in a broader way that benefits me as a parent. Pick up one of your old favorite coming-of-age books and read it today for a very eye-opening experience. I have reread, for example, The Catcher in the Rye at various stages of life, and each rereading offers me a broader view of young adulthood and how I've become who I am today. I always advocate rereading those books you deemed "life-changing" in your late teens or early 20's as a method of self-examination. It also does wonders for your own writing.
Introspection elicited by the words of others will help you create words that elicit the same in your readers. Take the time to read, reread, and ponder in between typing. Your words, and your readers, will thank you.
I need to go read now.
Sunday, September 22, 2013
Memorable writing is like tape: it sticks with you and seals the gaps between the writer's and reader's minds.
In other words, we write and read to connect with others and establish new memories. If you want to improve the "memorability" of your own writing, start by thinking about images and scenes from books that have stayed with you long after you read them; find and reread some of those memorable words and take notes about what made them stick with you. Then apply what you've noted to a recent page of your own work. Based on your notes, can you see similarities in style that you have emulated, possibly even unconsciously? Do you see how you could enhance your work by incorporating some of your favorite elements from the works you've admired? If you find a passage in your own work that reminds you of a line (or lines) that resonated with you in another writer's work, use that comparison not only to maintain the kind of style that obviously appeals to you, but also to pitch your work to publishers and/or readers as "reminiscent of the style of author ___," which may aid in marketing your story.
For example, during and after reading The Irresistible Henry House, a captivating, witty novel by Lisa Grunwald, I kept thinking about how the style reminded me of John Irving's, and how one editor who read an early draft of my own as-yet-unpublished, humorous middle-grade novel referred to my Fergal McBean: One-Lad Bandt as "like John Irving for kids!" So I decided to compare the opening line of Grunwald's novel with my own opening line about Fergal McBean:
Grunwald's first line: "By the time Henry House was four months old, a copy of his picture was being carried in the pocketbooks of seven different women, each of whom called him her son."
My first line: "When Fergal McBean was born, just outside of Dublin, Ireland, his Ma first gaped, then gasped, and finally grasped the unique beauty of her child."
I immediately smiled to myself at the stylistic similarities in tone, which were entirely accidental, since I just read Henry House's story during the time in which I've been submitting the manuscript for Fergal's tale of fitting in as an outcast-turned-hero. Knowing how much I have enjoyed Grunwald's book, and knowing that my tastes have not changed much since childhood, gives me the idea to consider who, among my favorite MG and YA authors, has essentially the same kind of storytelling style as Grunwald and Irving. I have come up with the following list from my memorable favorites: Roald Dahl, E.B. White, "Lemony Snicket," Sherman Alexie, among others. What they all have in common with the adult books by Irving and Grunwald: a playful style that takes no character's life too seriously; flawed, yet endearing characters whose personalities and desires are revealed via their interactions with others, rather than just by a narrator; lively language, often containing wordplay; humorous juxtaposition of imagery and concepts; the comical downplaying of events (the opposite of hyperbole); and fast-paced, tightly written scenes. With a heightened sense of the stylistic attributes I admire now firmly in mind, I will be able to proceed with the sequel to Fergal's first book with more confidence. An enthusiastic agent to rep the series might help, too....