Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Putting the work in your works

There are two people who seem to want to get in the way of good writing, and the vile pair have an insidious hiding place: inside of us.

You know them: Ego Maniac, the One Draft Wonder.  He'll spew out something on the fly and if people don't like it, it's because they can't understand his genius.  The other half of the destructive duo is Self Doubt, the perpetual revisionist.  He's the one who is never happy with what he creates and makes excuses as to why he can't let it be read or published. 

I'd love to say, "Kill them to death," but in reality, they're who keeps us honest.  We're at our best when we walk the knife edge between the two.  Objectivity isn't easy.  When we go deep into ourselves to write something, we have a hard time detaching ourselves from it.  If it's not loved, we feel that we're not loved.  And that applies to our own impressions of what we've done, as well.  If we don't love our own work, we self-hate.  We shouldn't. Nor should we be over-confident.

Our works take work.  We write, read, revise, read, set aside, return, read, revise, read, etc.  Good writing can take many drafts to get right.  Sometimes the sentiment is dead on, but the words were using aren't worthy of the feelings we're trying to express.  They just don't evoke the same passion in an outside reader.  Sometimes the words are beautiful, and meaningless.  We need to recognize this; we need to fix our problems. 

I never saw this more clearly than in my effort to write a sonnet.  I knew what I wanted to say. I knew the rhyme scheme and meter I needed.  I made something that was technically correct, and it was...fair.  It didn't really knock my socks off.  That's because writing within formal parameters is hard work!  But it's work worth doing.  If we want to not just write, but write well, we need to do the work.  Readers will see the difference between the scribbler who simply vomits words onto a page, and the artist who carefully and lovingly crafts something magical.  

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Caution: Emotions Hiding Within

When you start digging deep within yourself to write, and we're not talking about superficial stories that are fun to read, but rather the stuff you keep locked away in the deep reaches of your self (yes, that's two words), you're apt to open some doors you may rather have left closed.  Not that it's a bad thing to open these doors because a door goes both ways: the emotions you let out allow other emotions back in.  It's just that you may not be ready for what those doors have been carefully hiding, perhaps for years. 

I had the opportunity to scribe a poem recently: my first foray into the art form.  This wasn't like the short stories I've written before.  Those were intended to amuse or confuse the reader--simple little tales.  This one was all me, pulled deep from within.  I hadn't realized what I was writing or where it was coming from until I heard it read aloud.  I wasn't ready for the rush of emotions it unleashed.

Overall, this will be a cathartic experience, I think, and a learning one.  I can't tell anyone what they might experience in a similar situation; it's far too tied to self.  I will venture to inform, nascent writers, that when you're ready and willing to open a vein, not for the purposes of performing for an audience, not for the adoration, not for shock value, but for the sake of art itself, brace yourself: you're in for a surprise.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Pampering the Inner Writer

The writer in all of us is a temperamental artist, and needs to be coddled once in a while. So why not spoil it? Besides, when you spoil your inner writer, you get the benefit too!

For me, it's tactile things, things that hearken back to a less technology-oriented time. Did I mention that, my Kindle aside, I'm a Luddite at heart? My pampering, this time, has taken the form of a leather journal cover from Oberon Design. So many beautiful choices, it was hard to settle upon one. To fill the journal, I love the Moleskine journals. They simply feel nice, and are built to open flat, which makes them easy to use, too. I already have some fine fountain pens (Waterman, Parker, Rotring, Lamy, and others), but I'm just as happy with a straight pen and a bottle of cocoa brown ink I picked up from Levenger. For ambiance, I have a brass candle lamp with a cut glass shade. I love the shadows that candles cast. They add an air of mystery that saturating electric lights robs from us.

Whether it's writing in my journal, or writing letters (wax sealed, of course!), taking myself back in time with some fine things from a bygone era really helps bring out the writer in me. And when my inner writer is happy, and productive, I'm happy too.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Writing to Win

It's hard to see things clearly when you have your head up your ass. When I first discovered the writing community in Second Life, I wandered about Cookie Island exploring all the creative opportunities it afforded. One thing of note was the INKsters' Daily Writing Contest.

"Not for me," I proudly thought. "I don't write to compete with anyone." It's amazing how smugness can mask cowardice and stupidity. I don't compete? What did I think publishing was all about? Everything I will send in to be published is effectively being entered into a contest, competing with all the myriad submissions the publisher receives. If I want to be published, I'll be competing, whether I want to admit it or not.

So if I'm competing anyway, why not hone the skill? The INKsters' Daily Contest is a perfect whetstone for your pen. First and foremost it gets you writing which, without doing, you're not much of a writer. Second, it encourages you to write well. When you don't win, which will be often, you're forced to pick up your game. When you do win, you learn what worked and can use that to later advantage.

So now, my head once again in daylight, I plan on submitting an entry as often as I can. I'm not afraid of losing any longer, because that will only force me to get better. I'm not afraid of competition, because the more competition I have the better I need to be. And getting good raises your chances of winning the big prize: publication.

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