Writing Tip — The Need to Write

laptopw-3187095_1280Some people like to write. Some love it. And some need it.

This was brought home to me when I read a quote about acting. You can read that quote on the International Movie Database under “Personal Quotes”. The actor who made it, William Schallert, obviously loved acting. He appeared in movies and TV shows as a supporting actor for decades, the kind of actor where you recognize the face but probably don’t know the name. His last screen credit was in 2014 when he was ninety-two.

While Mr. Schallert said a person shouldn’t pursue acting unless he needs it, I believe you can be a writer if you like it or love it. But when you need it to feel good about yourself, need it like you need food or sleep, you should take that need seriously.

I didn’t realize writing was a need until recently. I began writing in elementary school, and it became a regular habit in college. Once I had kids and a husband, I thought writing was a luxury, something I could reward myself with after I got all my family and household duties done.

Then my kids were old enough to attend school, and I could spend more time on writing and trying to get published And the more I wrote, the more I wanted to write. Especially when I write fiction, I feel a deep sense of satisfaction, like when you’ve eaten a particularly good meal or put in a strenuous day of physical labor and have something to show for it. When other demands on my time force me to forgo writing, I begin to feel cramped, anxious, like an athlete who can’t exercise.

Now that I understand this need, I am structuring my day differently. I put my writing first. When I get a lot of writing accomplished, I am ready to tackle less pleasant tasks, such as grocery shopping, with more energy.

Do you feel the need to write? How do you satisfy it?

Writing Tip — When to Let a Story Go

cloudw-2238634_1280I’m an overprotective parent. When it comes to my stories. Also, with my kids, but that’s not the point of this post.

My latest short story, “A Rose from the Ashes” is due to the publisher on April 1. From the time it was accepted for an anthology of Christmas stories, I have had two and half months to polish it before an editor sees it. I think it’s the best piece of fiction I’ve written and can’t wait to introduce readers to it. I’ve asked friends, family, and friends of family for feedback. I’ve reviewed and analyzed and dissected and then scrubbed it up so it will look its best.

With the deadline looming, doubts have crept in. Have I done enough? Is my story ready to face the world alone? Have I nurtured it to the point where it can take care of itself?

With a lot of my writing, like blog posts, I just have to get the words down and get the piece out the door. But with other works, especially my fiction, I work with them so long, I develop a relationship with them.

But the point of my writing is to share it, so I have to let the stories go. I have discovered two ways to know when it’s time release my stories.

I can’t stand it

When I have gone over a story so much that I can’t stand to hear one more word from the mouth of my characters, it’s time to share it, either to be published or to let others read it and critique it.

I’m tinkering

At some point, any changes I make aren’t improving the story. They just make it different. So when I’m only trading a word here or there, I know I’m done. I’m afraid of overworking the story, like pie crust. If I tinker with it too long, I might change the basic premise and lose what attracted me to the story to begin with.

So yesterday, I attached my short story to an email and hit “send”. It’s time to let my story fend for itself and turn my attention to other pieces.

Do you feel protective of your writing/ How do you know when to let a story go?

Mondays Sparks — Writing Prompts: What are Your Other Creative Outlets?

stationery1-1158791_1280Creative people usually aren’t limited to one area of creativity. If you’re main art is writing, what are your other creative outlets? I enjoying baking, but I’ve gotten away from it lately. I should really get back to it. I love photography, especially trying to capture the wonders of nature. That love of images spills over into selecting photos for my blog. Searching for public domain images has become a surprising joy.

How do you get creative?

Writing Tip — 4 Reasons for Reading Out Loud

marketing-w13740526_1280Two years ago, I wrote on this topic and I thought it was worth revisiting during this month when I am blogging about the writing process. Because I have to deliver a short story by April 1, I recently rediscovered the benefits of reading out loud. I resorted to this practice because I have read and re-read and re-re-read my YA Christmas story, “A Rose from the Ashes” so many times that I had to go over it for a final polish in a different way.

Catching typos

Reading out loud slowed me down so I wouldn’t skim over parts I knew too well. I was amazed that after as many times as I had been through it, I still found typos.

Weeding out bad structure

As I read out loud, I discovered several clunky sentences. They were grammatically correct and got the meaning across, but, boy, were they ugly. When I find a sentence like that, I try to streamline it so it reads elegantly. I also detected bunches of sentences with similar structures. That quickly becomes boring, so I worked at varying the sentence length and structure within a paragraph.

In “A Rose from the Ashes”, a young boy mentions a friend’s name, Jack Dixon. When I said it out loud, I got the final “k” in Jack and the “x” in Dixon tangled. So I changed it to Josh Dixon. It’s a minor change, but it helped the flow of the dialogue.

Breaking writer’s block

If I’m stuck in a certain section of my writing, speaking it may provokes any ideas.

Working on dialogue

Reading dialogue out loud reveals all kinds of problems I might just glide over when I’m reading in my head. When I speak the dialogue, I sometimes find that it simply sounds absurd. Why on earth did I think that conversation made sense?

I have to ask this question since it’s tied to dialogue. Do you ever speak as your characters to try out dialogue before you write it? I’ve been doing it a lot lately because my short story has triggered all kinds of sequels. To get some control over these ideas, I carry on conversations between characters. So as not to alarm my husband, I do it when I’m alone. The shower’s a great place.

This trait may be hereditary. While my youngest was in the bathroom, supposedly taking a shower, I overheard a muffled voice. And I knew my youngest was alone. At least in this reality.

Writing Tip — How to Write Anywhere

trainw-2373323_1280Although I began writing in second grade, the urge didn’t really take hold until junior high. Maybe that was because the classes were so boring, I had to do something to keep my mind occupied. I wrote on any scrap of paper I found in my textbooks or notebooks. And I wrote in any class where the boredom didn’t just numb my mind but threatened to destroy it all together.

As I grew older, I got pickier, only writing when I knew I could focus for an extended period of time. Then I got married and had kids. For over seven years, I didn’t write anything except a weekly journal I keep for my kids so they can relive their childhoods when they’re grown up. At the time, I didn’t realize I needed to write like I needed to sleep.

Once my kids were in school, I began writing more.It dawned on me that if I waited for perfect conditions, I would barely write at all. So l learned to adapt my writing to the setting I’m in.

Waiting in the car — If I am waiting five to ten minutes to pick up kids at school, I write blog posts, journal entries, or proofread stories.

Sports practice and waiting rooms — Since the time period is longer, I can do more detailed editing or writing fiction. Once a game starts, I do lay pen aside to watch my kid.

Meetings — Meetings are tough because I have to pay attention but still not allow boredom to crush my mind. I work on character names and family trees.

Settings Where You Can’t Write

Sometimes,  I can’t whip out my notebook and write without appearing rude. These are settings like a junior high concert, where my kid plays for twenty minutes but I have to stay for the whole hour and a half. When my mind begins to wander, I can do two things.

  • Work on storylines in my head.
  • People watch.

I went to a memorial service where one of the speakers highjacked it, talking on and on, well past the amount of time the family had asked him to fill. It was fascinating to watch the crowd grow restless, observing what people did to pass the time and not be rude. The rabbi, who was overseeing the service, eventually got up and stepped closer and closer to the speaker, in an effort to signal to the man that he should wrap it up. The speaker didn’t notice but stopped in his own sweet time.

I would love to work a version of that into a story.

I’d also love to hear from you about how you have learned to write anywhere.

Monday Sparks — Writing Prompts: Writing Must-Haves

coffee1-2319123_1280Or maybe just “really wants”. Do you have to listen to a certain style of music when writing a certain genre? Do you need a cup of coffee handy at all times?

When I was younger, I had to have black ink pens and college rule notebook paper kept in a three-ring binder. I still prefer writing that way, but if a writing opportunity arises, and I’ve forgotten my binder, I’ll write on anything.

What are your writing must-haves?

Writing Tip — Why I Hand Write

writing-padw-3202747_1280A post on Damyanti Biswas’s site reminded me of this one I wrote a few years ago on handwriting. After two years of regularly blogging and meeting other writing deadlines, I still have to write almost all my first drafts by hand. With a pen. On paper. In cursive.

I’m still not sure why I hand write first drafts. I’ve tried to type straight out of my imagination, but unless it’s for something very short, like Monday Sparks, I feel stifled. The words come so painfully that I race back to paper. That blank screen is intimidating. It seems to demand that you fill it up NOW or go away.

Pen and paper seem more inviting, more personal. Maybe it’s because that’s how I started writing fiction, using any scrap of paper I could find in my books at school to while away boring classes. Paper also lets me see my progress more easily than a computer. If I only come up with one sentence after an hour, I may have five sheets of rejected ideas, revealing how I spent my time. I can go back and try to salvage some of those ideas if I want to. All those filled sheets are very reassuring to me. And seeing my writing in my own hand makes it truly mine.

Even with a major edit, I like to run off a story, sit down with a pen, and tackle it like a painting, crossing out, writing in, highlighting. Then I go back to the computer.

If your inspiration dries up, I recommend going old school and writing with a pen. Perhaps the fresh medium will bring fresh ideas. K.M Weiland has a post listing other benefits of writing longhand.

What do you still handwrite?

 

Writing Tip — Favorite Story: “Over Seventy” by P.G. Wodehouse

over 70The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Even in this digital age, when writers can access the world from their couch, we still experience a lot of the problems and pleasures that writers did in the past . Whenever I get down about the pursuit of publishing, I turn to P.G. Wodehouse’s semi-autobiographical book, Over Seventy. It’s semi-autobiographical because Mr, Wodehouse was a humor writer and wasn’t about to let the truth interfere with a good story. From what I’ve learned about him, the basic facts in this book are true — where he went to school, how he got his first job writing, and so on. But the details may be highly fictionalized, such as the reason he was fired from a job in a bank.

Mr. Wodehouse was born in 1882, and his only ambition was to be a writer. So when he began to make a living as a writer in 1900, he did what writers do now. He tried to establish a platform. It wasn’t called that back then, but that’s what his efforts amounted to. He got a job writing articles in a newspaper while trying to sell short stories to pulp magazines. He added to this by writing occasionally for a humor column at the newspaper. Then he was selling humorous stories to well-known magazines. After he moved to New York City around 1909, he became a dramatic critic for Vanity Fair and wrote plays and lyrics for songs in musical comedies.

After all these years of work, he finally sold his first novel, in serialized form, to Saturday Evening Post. The Post was a huge step up because it was a “slick” magazine as opposed to a pulp one. I assume the word means it had shiny pages. Slick magazines were also more prestigious and paid better. When he died in 1975, he had published over ninety books and was working on a manuscript in his hospital bed.

Over Seventy has a lot of funny digressions, running from butlers to manners and the state of American TV in the 1950’s. But I especially like the chapter “My Methods, Such as They Are.” I am fascinated by an artistic person’s creative process, regardless of the art. Mr. Wodehouse wrote that the amount of work he got done in a day hung on “whether or not I put my feet up on” his desk. If he did, then he drifted off into the past. If he didn’t, he settled down to work.

Mr. Wodehouse was definitely a plotter. He always worked from a detailed scenario. This makes sense because his madcap plots were so complicated that I can see how he would have to work it all out before he started on the first draft. I love his quote about characters.

“Some writers will tell you that they just sit down and take pen in hand and let their characters carry on as they see fit. Not for me any procedure like that. I wouldn’t trust my characters an inch. If I sat back and let them take charge, heaven knows what the result would be.”

What stories have you read about writers or any artist and his or her creative process?

 

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