Saturday, October 31, 2009

The Power of Punctuation

Punctuation in all the right places can have a tremendous impact on a piece of writing. And, the opposite is true - punctuation in all the wrong places can greatly hinder a piece of writing. Or, even change the meaning of it, altogether.

Here's an example I love to give my students (I can't take credit for this - a friend sent this to me in a "forward" last year):

I write this sentence on the board:

Woman without her man is nothing.

I pause and let the students take in the meaning. Then, I punctuate the sentence this way:

Woman - without her, man is nothing.

I pause again and watch the students' faces change. They start to smile and nod their heads in understanding.

Punctuation is a powerful thing. In creative writing, I personally love to use dashes for dramatic pauses. I find them more effective than periods sometimes. Commas are another issue. I tend to overuse them, but I notice that in published creative fiction, they can be quite sparse. I think too many or too few (of anything) can be a bad thing. But, the good news is that it's up to the individual writer. Reading your work aloud, to "hear" the need for a short pause (,) or long pause (--) is always a great idea. Thankfully, in creative fiction, we're allowed some freedoms that formal writing doesn't offer.

So, consider punctuation thoughtfully. Consider its importance and the way it can enhance or detract from your writing. Because it's an intregal part of the communication process - and of creative fiction. ;-)

Thursday, October 29, 2009


Hey! My first award in BloggerLand (thanks, Matt!).

Never done this before, but I'll do my best to follow the instructions:

The rules are:
1. Copy the Kreativ Blogger picture and post it on your page. (Okay, done).
2. Thank the person that gave the award to you and link back to their blog. (Done - link below...).
3. Write 7 things about you that we don't know. (Below...)
4. Choose 7 other bloggers that you would like to give the award to. (Here's the tricky part - I probably only read/follow about 3 other blogs because of time constraints, and a couple of those blogs are sort of personal-friend blogs (so, I'm not sure if they want me to link to them or not. I'll ask them, though...).
5. Link to the bloggers that you chose. (See #4)
6. Let your winners know that they have the lovely award! (Will do!)
So, here are those 7 random things about me:
1. I have a real weakness for donuts. I could eat 5 of them, easily, in one sitting.
2. I wish James Taylor would make a new original album. I loved October Road.
3. I'm an Anglo-phile and would probably live in England if I wouldn't miss my family and friends so much.
4. I get tired of speaking in front of people all morning (lecturing to students). It doesn't come naturally to me. Never has, never will.
5. I love the specific quiet hush that snow brings with it.
6. I know my love of Shakespeare came directly from my watching the 70's movie version of Romeo and Juliet. I was 13 years old and hadn't read the play yet, so I had no idea about the tragic ending. I got so absorbed in it that I think I might've even talked to the screen, to Romeo - "No - she's ALIVE. Don't kill yourself!" lol Alas, he didn't listen to me...
7. I wish people didn't feel the need to judge other people. We're all in the same boat, living this life. So why point fingers?
Here are the blogs I follow and want to give this award to (I'll add more soon, hopefully):
1. Matt from Pensive Sarcasm -- he's a fellow writer and his razor-sharp, witty writing is amazing. His blog always gives me a good laugh, plus something substantive to ponder. A great mix!
2. Gayle's Bard Blog -- see my #6 to see why I love this blog. She's a lover of Shakespeare, like me.
3. The Sweet Life of a Trophy Wife - hilarious, witty, sarcastic blog of a good friend of mine. She's also a great mother and an awesome writer. Highly recommended.

Quirky Cards

This is a recent assignment I gave to my Creative Writing class, one that seemed to go over pretty well with them:

I handed each student 10 note cards and instructed them to separate the cards into 2 stacks - on 5 of the cards, they were to write down 5 occupations/careers (one per card). On the other 5, they were to write down 5 quirky behaviors (one per card). The occupations and quirky behaviors shouldn't intentionally "match." They should be entirely separate.

Then, the idea is to shuffle the cards and choose one random career and one random quirky behavior, and create a story/scene from that scenario. Sometimes I have the students swap cards, so that they're writing from someone else's ideas. That's always interesting! :-)

Here's an example: The first semester I taught Creative Writing, I had the most delightful 84-year-old woman as a student (she was auditing the course). She was quite proper and formal, but when she read her "card story" aloud, it was a little...surprising. She'd used another student's cards to create a scene in which a man goes through a drive-thru, orders a hamburger, then pulls over to the side and parks. He unwraps the burger and eats the pickles. Then, the cheese. Then, the tomatoes. Then, the meat. And finally, the bun. He wads up the wrapper and throws it on the seat, next to the gun laying there, and thinks ahead in his mind about the woman he's about to go use it on!

After she read the story, we were all a little shocked, and I asked her what the cards had said. She replied with a grin, "A mob hitman who eats his meal one ingredient at a time." Brilliant! Quirky! And, it gave her permission to write a story she probably never would've thought of, on her own. I think she enjoyed it more than any other exercise we did.

And, really, that's the point of the cards - to bring you out of your own head a little and create something unique, something quirky and left-of-center. I think we all need to write something like that once in awhile...

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Another Great Link

This one is called Preditors and Editors, and it's possibly the most valuable resource available to writers trying to get published. It contains a HUGE database of publishers and agents, listed alphabetically, with updated contact info. Even better, it helps writers distinguish between the legit agencies/publishers and the not-so-legit agencies/publishers. A very important distinction!

Before I ever send off a query letter to an agent, I go straight to this site, to double-check the quality of the agency first. To see if the agency has any "red flags," or even if the agency has recently gone out of business. Many times, after checking with this database, I change my mind about submitting to that particular agency, and I've probably saved myself some potential grief in the process. As well, I'm able to see positive remarks about the good agencies, and my hopes for those agencies are reinforced.

It always pays off to do your research, and this particular site should be an essential part of any writer's agent/publisher research process.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Ode to Poetry

So far, I've focused my entries on fiction because it's what I'm most comfortable writing. But I also enjoy, and occasionally write, poetry. So, here goes:

I'll be blunt - in high school and college, I didn't "get" poetry. I tried. I struggled. I sweated. I squirmed. But I just couldn't get it. It was out of my grasp, the carrot I was always reaching for but could never quite snatch.

Fast-forward several years - the lightbulb finally turned on for me during a Modern Poetry class I took when I was 30 years old. The teacher had the key that unlocked the mystery of poetry. She explained each line in tangible terms and made it easy to understand. I finally "got" it, and I appreciated it like I had never done before. It fascinated me.

Understanding it also gave me the courage to write it. Now, I still don't consider myself a true poet, and writing poetry still doesn't come easily to me. But I find it, by far, the most raw, real, personal, and subjective form of literature available. I love its freedom, its mystery, its depth, its brevity. I appreciate it. And I'm (hopefully) a better writer for appreciating it. Because there can be poetry, even in prose. In fact, there should be. Metaphor, imagery, personification, alliteration - these devices all have a place in prose, as well.

So, what's your "relationship" with poetry? Love it or loathe it?

Monday, October 26, 2009

Agent Link

From time to time, I want to share some writing links I've found helpful, entertaining, or informative. I'll try to post the links each time on my main Blog board, to keep a running list of them. Please feel free to add some of your favorite links in the comments, as well! I love finding new sites!

So, here's today's - How I Got My Agent, a blog from Writer's Digest. I love these stories, detailing the struggles, pitfalls, and sheer joys that writers experience on their way to getting an agent. And, it's encouraging because it shows we're not alone. Agented writers had to face the highs and lows and everything else in between...

Sunday, October 25, 2009

To Cuss or Not to Cuss...

Let's talk profanity. :-)

In my students' Creative Writing papers, I allow a certain amount of profanity. I tell my students that if their characters really need to cuss - if that's part of who they are as characters - then, let them.

But, I also caution my students - too much profanity can actually detract from the writing. Case in point, the movie Good Will Hunting. Now, I like that film. It's got some great moments in it and some well-written sections. But the first time I saw it, all I could hear was the "f" word. I even started counting them, for fun, and lost track after about 30 or so. I'm not a prude, and I don't mind profanity in movies, to a degree. But when it overshadows the dialogue, the characters, the plot, it's too much.

Think of it this way - if you have a character who uses that "f" word every other sentence, then after awhile, the reader starts to become numb to it. The word loses its impact, just like any other word you might say over and over and over again. But, if you have a character who never, ever cusses, and suddenly that character is infuriated by some situation and says, "F$%# that!", then it makes the reader sit up and pay attention. It's much more effective, used in moderation.

Certainly, profanity is not mandatory. In fact, most of my characters don't use profanity, and when they do, it's in moderation. That's just my personal choice, and it reflects the kind of novels I write ("cozy" women's fiction). Action/mystery seems to be a genre that lends itself to more profanity, but not always. I once heard John Grisham say that he uses very little profanity (if any) in his books, and that certainly hasn't stopped the sale of them!

In the end, it's your choice as a writer to include profanity or not to include it. Just be sure that it's necessary to the character/plot, and not simply "thrown in" for the sake of being controversial or startling. Every word, even cuss words, must serve a purpose in your writing.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Character Sketch

To help me get to know my (main) characters better, I use this "sketch/profile."

What is the character's...
* physical presence? (height, weight, hair color, skin color, eye color, etc...)
* personality? (get as detailed as possible - even could take a Briggs-Meyers test AS your character, to get to know him/her better)
* special quirks, phobias?
* background? (including childhood, siblings, friends, education, etc.)
* current career? (Why did he/she choose that career? How does it fit his/her personality? Is he/she happy in it?)
* hobbies?
* family situation? (married/single? current and past relationships with parents and siblings - birth order, dynamics between siblings, parental issues, etc.)
* past loves (who were they, how did they meet, what was the relationship, how deep was it, and how far did it go, and when and how did it end?)

Additional questions:
* How does the character react to: fear, love, death, decision-making, hard-to-like people, boredom, conflicts, crises, children, etc...
* What’s in the purse/wallet?
* What kind of car does he/she drive and how old is it?
* What’s his/her idea of a perfect evening? Perfect day?
* Neat freaks or sloppy?
* Favorite tv shows, music, movies?
* Dog or cat person?
* Religious or political affiliation?
* Any tattoos or piercings? If so, where are they located and what's the significance?
* Speak more than one language?
* How many other cities/countries has the character visited?

* Describe his/her room or living space - what’s in it? Color scheme, items (computer, clock, CD’s, furniture)? What could you tell about this character by just walking into his/her house or office?


Certainly, the list could go on and on. And the odd thing is, you probably won't end up revealing even HALF of these specific details inside your story/novel. There's not room to do that (without wasting valuable plot time), and it's really not necessary. These details are for you, the writer, more than for the reader.

I'm sure many of you already have some sort of "character sketch" you usually follow, probably even similar to this one. I'd love to hear some of the questions you use to get to know your own characters!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Out-of-Character Characters

Well-drawn characters should feel like real people - with strong personalities, quirks, weight issues, Bachelor's degrees, huge DVD collections, sibling rivalries, sleep-walking issues, etc. They should be full and deep and intricate and complex, just like real people.

Which leads me to state something slightly controversial: I believe that real people don't change. Now, certainly, people can become jaded or more open-minded, can develop new musical tastes, can even change political parties throughout their lifetimes. But the core of who they are, their very essence, generally does not change: core values/beliefs, personality traits, basic view of the world. These things, I've found, usually remain the same, even over decades of time.

Likewise, characters in our books/stories/plays should not drastically change. Of course, they should evolve, grow, learn from mistakes, or else why write about them in the first place? Nobody lives in a stagnant place. There's always room for growth and improvement and lessons learned. A character should grow from Point A to Point Z, surely.

But - the very core of who the character is should remain the same. Because when it doesn't, then it leads the character to do something...well, out-of-character. And that frustrates readers. They will pause the reading, scratch their heads and furrow their brows, and say, "That character would never do/say something like that." Even worse, readers might stop trusting the writer altogether, wondering if the writer knows his/her characters at all.

I'll let you in on a little secret. One of my guilty pleasures is watching The Young and the Restless. (*waits for tomatoes to be thrown at the screen* LOL) I've watched it since I was in college, so I know these characters pretty darn well. One time, a few years back, Victor Newman did something TOTALLY out-of-character. I don't even remember what it was, but it had me practically talking to the screen: "What?! Victor would never do that! How stupid!" I can't tell you how frustrated I was that the writers had gotten so lazy. Or sloppy. Or careless. Whatever the case, as the viewer, I was pointing my finger directly at them.

As a writer, trust that your readers are smart, that they will care for and know your characters -- well enough to hold you accountable for sloppy/lazy/careless writing.

So, how do we avoid angering our readers, and keeping our characters "in character?" Know the characters. Well. Better than anyone else. Know their habits, their morning routine, how many sugars go into their coffee. Know their dating history, their future goals, how much they love or hate their current career. Have a conversation with them (internally, unless you don't mind that your friends/family might think you're going a little nuts). Know the way they talk, walk, whisper, dream, hold grudges, love, and hate. Know everything about them.

Then, the likelihood of them doing anything "out-of-character" will diminish drastically. And you will have happy readers. Which is always a good thing. ;-)

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Character Stew

Let's talk characters. I have 3 blog entries in mind (this is the first) that will deal with characterization.

First, creating them:

Creating a character is a bit like making a stew. It doesn't happen all at once, in an instant, BAM! No, it happens in stages, as the author puts on the apron, hums a tune, and then begins - sprinkling in bits of description, dialogue, relationships to other characters, inner turmoil, background details, decisions, etc. Then, the stew simmers and is brought to a boil.

Think about creating characters the way you get to know a person in real life. The first time you meet someone, you make an initial assessment - how he/she looks, talks, carries himself/herself. Then, you communicate - and you learn even more about who that person is from the accent, mannerisms, hesitations, word choices. And, over time, you find out the likes/dislikes, the personal history, education, career, religious beliefs, etc. It takes time to "know" and develop a character, much like it takes time to know a real-life person.

Mainly, don't feel like you have to give the character away on the very first page. Just like real people do, let your characters have a few secrets, to be revealed at a later time. Then, bit by bit, action by action, page by page, let the readers decide for themselves who this character is. "Show, don't tell" is especially important here. Be careful not to use too much exposition (background information) to tell directly "about" the character. Instead, show the character to the readers and let them develop their own "relationship" with the characters, without your "telling" them what that relationship is. Easier said than done, of course. It's a tedious process, characterization. It takes hard work, diligence, sensitivity, and practice.

Another tip is to READ. See how other authors do it. How do they craft their characters? The best thing to do is to re-visit a book you've already read - one in which the characters were so richly drawn that they felt absolutely real, and that when the book was over, you felt sad to leave them. Go back to those books - but this time, go back as a writer instead of a reader. Observe exactly how the author made you care so much in the first place. See whether, in tasting their character "stew," you can identify the individual ingredients that made the stew so rich and hearty.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Passive Voice

I'm going to share one of my greatest writing weaknesses (oops, see? I just made the error in that sentence! - "I'm = I am," lol). The evil passive voice. Overuse of the dreaded "to be" verb.

I didn't even know I had a problem with this until a Creative Writing teacher of mine - at the Master's level - started circling the verbs in my papers. It shocked me. Until that moment, no other teacher in all my years of schooling had ever marked passive voice.

Once I started to recognize and fix the evils of passive voice, my writing changed for the better. It truly did. Now, yes, I still have the tendency (*see first sentence) to let it sneak in, but at least now I'm aware of it and can change it during the editing process as much as possible.

I've found that many of my writing students don't know how to recognize passive voice or how to correct it. So, I give them this simple example sentence:

Romeo and Juliet was written by Shakespeare.

That sentence is passive for two reasons: 1) Romeo & Juliet, the subject, is passive (not "doing" the action), and 2) we have that pesky "was" - a passive verb. Other forms of passive "to be" verbs to watch out for: is, am, are, were, be, being, been.

An easy way to fix that sentence, to make it active:

Shakespeare wrote Romeo and Juliet.

Now, we have Shakespeare, the subject, performing the action in the sentence, and our verb suddenly became active, wrote.

A writer should try to make his/her sentences active rather than passive (as much as possible) because it makes the writing more exciting, more active. It's not possible to eliminate the passive voice from every single sentence. But if you start to see the "be" verbs in EVERY sentence you write, there's a problem.

The reader will probably never notice active/passive sentences, but something about active sentences makes the writing more interesting. And that's always a good thing. ;-)

So, just curious: Anybody else have trouble/difficulty with passive voice? Do you have a similar story to mine, where you didn't even realize you had that "issue" until later on in your writing life?

Sunday, October 18, 2009

The Powers of Observation

For writers, I think observation is vital. We should be constantly eavesdropping, making mental notes, observing details in our daily lives: like the way a squirrel rummages for food, the tone of a couple having a fight in a booth next to us, the awkward expression people wear when they're not being 100% honest with us (or with themselves!).

I actually developed an assignment for my students called an "Observation Paper": Choose a place (a park, library, restaurant, mall, bookstore, etc). Observe everything around you - the atmosphere, the smells, the sights, the sounds, the people. Use your senses to sharpen your focus.

Some of the best papers I've had from students come from this assignment. They love the freedom of it (I don't require a certain format - they can make a long list of detailed descriptions, or turn them into a poem or story, or write long paragraphs of description, whatever they want).

Often, our observations can end up in our stories/poetry. Little bits of actual conversations can be turned into character dialogue. An incident you observe can be the plot foundation of a future story. Someone's personality flaw can become the core of a main character.

Observation is a powerful tool that helps us sharpen our descriptive skills - and, can spice up our writing like almost nothing else can. As well, I think it injects a certain realism into the text that you can't get any other way...

Friday, October 16, 2009

Learning Something from BAD Books

Okay, admit it. There are occasions when you've eagerly started reading a bestselling novel (that you've plunked down $30 hard-earned dollars for), and been wildly disappointed. Maybe as you flip through those pages, you see unrealistic plotlines, paper-thin characters, endless cliches, bits of stilted dialogue, or even poor basic language structures.

Then, admit this. Your next thought is: I could write a story/book better than this one. WHY is this person published, and I'm not?

The interesting thing is that we, as writers, can actually learn something from these poorly-written, how-on-earth-is-THIS-a-bestseller books. We can learn what NOT to do in our own writing.

For instance, when I was a student getting my teaching degree, I learned a heck of a lot about what makes a good teacher by watching good teachers. It makes sense. But - I also learned a lot about what kind of teacher I did not want to be, by watching the less-than-great teachers: overly-harsh, overly-critical, insensitive, aloof, uncaring, or boring.

I like to apply this to writing, as well. When I pick up a book I'm not particularly fond of, one that has (in my opinion) tremendous flaws, I don't stop reading right away. I try to learn from it. I study the flaws, study how they're made, then make a mental note to avoid them in my own writing.

You can learn almost as much from a bad book as you can from a well-written book. Not that you should waste your precious time purposely seeking them out, of course. But on the hopefully-rare occasion that you do run into them, take a little while to study them - and to figure out how you don't want your own books to be.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Quote of the Day

Finish every day and be done with it. You have done what you could; some blunders and absurdities crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day; you shall begin it serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense. ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

Such a beautiful, inspirational life philosophy - which, I think, can also be applied to writing. We should let old disappointments, rejections, self-doubt, even writer's block, drift away with the past. There's no reason to waste even another moment dwelling on them. Onward and upward!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Whew. I "Just Did It!"

Please, my fellow authors, allow me a bit of self-indulgence for a moment.

Here I sit, listening to the pouring rain on my roof, and to the glorious sound of pages being printed. 445 of them, to be precise.

The re-writes for the agent are completed. Finis. I'm about to thumb through the manuscript, attach the address labels, and run this puppy down to the post office.

I have no idea what will come of the re-writes - whether the agent will be impressed enough or fall in love enough with the book to offer representation. But, I did it. I buckled down, backside to chair, fingertips to keyboard, and did it. Over the past 4 1/2 weeks, I wrote new chapters, re-wrote existing chapters, and took my fine tooth comb to the novel - all between essay-grading, getting sick, and enduring all that everyday life stuff that gets in the way. And, it's a better book, for all the changes. That is what I'm most proud of - considering someone's advice, agreeing with it, and churning out what I believe is ultimately a better work. Which is what it's about, after all. Putting our personal best onto that page.

I share this with you because I know that you, my fellow writers, understand. You know the thrill of setting a deadline and actually meeting it (well, a few days late, if you're anything like me, lol). Of working so hard on something you're so passionate about. Of pushing away the self-doubt and the impossible odds of publication long enough to get something accomplished.

So, again, I say - Just Do It. And if you've already done it, turn off your computer, shut your eyes, and rest awhile. You've earned it.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Just Do It.

That phrase is from an old 80's Nike commercial, if I'm not mistaken. But I think it's a perfect phrase to apply to the writing process.

You can have all the brilliant ideas in the world, but if you don't sit down and start typing, they'll never have life. They'll never be given a chance to breathe, to be seen.

So. Here I sit on a peaceful Saturday morning, after a particularly challenging work week (being ill didn't help). I have a self-imposed goal of sending out my novel re-writes to the agent on Monday. This Monday. 2 days away. I'm close. Very close. Still, there are temptations all around - watching the 100 t.v. shows stored in my DVR, catching up on much-needed sleep, reading a book, playing on Facebook. Not to mention the 100 essays I should probably be grading right now. But, these re-writes are important to me and I want to finish them.

Today, I issue a challenge for you and for me. If there's a piece of writing you've been working on, if there's an idea germinating in your head, if there's a self-imposed deadline you've been avoiding for awhile: Just Do It. Turn off the phones and the t.v., log off of Facebook, ignore the piled-up laundry and the stacked-up bills for one afternoon - and get to work! :-)

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Movies, Movies, Movies!

Aside from being a huge lover of books, I'm also a huge lover of film. Always have been. As a writer, I love learning something from well-written films. I get caught up in the stories and characterizations in a different way than, perhaps, if I weren't a writer.

Here's a perfect example:

I showed this short film to my class last week. It's amazing. I'm not normally a fan of shorts, but this is a well-crafted piece of writing, beginning to end. It's one of 18 shorts in a movie called, I Love You, Paris. (Don't let the subtitles scare you away - it's actually fun to see the words on screen - makes the experience even richer). Out of the 18 shorts, I fell completely in love with about 9 of them, fell in like with about 6 of them, and could sort of take or leave the rest of them. This collection of shorts is quirky, moving, poignant, funny, gut-wrenching, and did I mention, amazing??

I told my students to view this short film much like they would read a short story - to notice the subtleties, the symbolism, the characterization, the themes of human nature - all crammed masterfully into a very short space of time.

If you're anything like me, you end up not just watching films, but dissecting them, scrutinizing them, peeking behind the curtain to see how the screenwriter did it. As writers, that's our job. We're allowed to peek behind that curtain. In fact, we should. But, I'll save that for another blog entry...

So, what are some of your favorite movies - that speak most particularly to the "writer in you?"

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Never Let 'Em See You Sweat!

Raise your hand if this is true for you:

Easy reading is damn hard writing. ~Nathaniel Hawthorne

Aside from the occasional creative spurts that flow easily from your brain, straight to your fingertips, writing can be a challenge. (And if it's not, then good for you - you may stop reading now. :-) For most of us, there's a process, a diligence, a self-discipline that's involved behind-the-scenes. There's work. Damn hard work.

I had a conversation with my aunt (a fellow book-lover) awhile back. I was talking about the intricacies of writing - show-don't-tell, characterization, setting, etc. And she paused and said, "I don't think of any of that stuff when I'm reading, especially if it's a good book."

And it struck me - the reader shouldn't see the activity behind the curtain. They shouldn't be aware of the "special effects," the brainstorming, the blood, sweat, and tears the writer has had to endure. The finished product should be "easy."

Just like when you go to a live play or musical and the players involved make it look seamless, flawless - the actors all know their lines, the music is in all the right keys. Sitting there, an audience member should never be aware of the hours upon hours of hard labor that went into that flawless performance. And if the audience is aware, then it's not flawless.

So, pour all that hard work into your writing. And know that it will eventually PAY OFF -- when the reader doesn't see it.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

It's All in Your Head

Last week, I had two different students approach me with the same particular frustration: they have this great idea and they see it so clearly in their heads - but they just can't seem to transport it to the paper in a way that the reader can "see" exactly what they want him/her to see.

We talked about how that's probably the greatest challenge of writing - transporting the picture you see in your own head to the page - and then from the page to the reader's mind. Sometimes, that picture can get lost in translation. Sure, I would love it if readers "saw" my characters, my plot, my ideas, exactly the way that I see them in my own head, detail for detail. But the truth is, that's virtually impossible.

For instance, if I tell you to picture a tree with three branches, thick with emerald-green leaves, the image in your head might come close to mine, but it won't be identical. My tree will look different than your tree. It might be shorter, or the branches might lean in a different direction from yours. But I suppose that's the beauty of it all - because we're different people with different perspectives on the world, our interpretations will be utterly unique.

So, my suggestion to my students was to relax, and do the best they could do with the tools in their writing toolboxes - dialogue, imagery, characterization, setting - in order to place their unique vision onto the page. Then, to let it go. At that point, even if the reader's vision ends up being slightly different, it's okay. Because in the end, a tree will still be a tree.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Life Gets in the Way...

So, on my plate currently: 7 classes, about 100 essays to grade over the next week, 300 pgs of my novel still to revise - oh, and getting SICK. Hey - that wasn't in the plan!

Seriously, it's times like these when real life seems to get in the way of my writing. And that stresses me out. Here, I've been so diligent and disciplined, juggling my essay-grading and my revisions for the last three weeks, and Wham! Suddenly I'm struck with flu-like symptoms that are begging for my attention. Tamiflu, come and rescue me!!!

It's frustrating, sure. But I make myself step back and realize what's important. My health is - absolutely. So, I try to rest, take fluids, stay home from school 2 days, and get well. I'm not there yet, but I hope it's soon.

Of course, this also means that both my essay-grading and my re-writes have now fallen behind. But when I'm tempted to feel guilty about that fact, I remind myself: I'm not Superwoman. When things start to intervene with writing, sometimes I think it's important to re-evaluate. To remember what the real priorities are. Like good health, family, friends, career.

Sure, writing is on that list, too. But I think writing has to be nudged down a few notches when life gets in the way. It'll eventually make its way back up to the top, but until those other important things are taken care of, the writing needs to take a backseat -- or else it will suffer, too...