Monday, March 29, 2010

The Writing Muse

What does yours look like? How does s/he work?

We, as writers, are a fickle group. If we can't write, we blame our muse, s/he has temporarily left us, forcing us to fumble about in the darkness upon the paper to which we are to place our words. If we are able to write, we have a myriad of phrases to describe the moment...

S/He is sitting on our shoulder.
S/He is whispering in our ear.
S/He is sitting across from us, dictating.
S/He is placing the words in our minds like the notes of a perfect concerto.
S/He is screaming at us to write the damned words.
S/He is torturing us, fire on our fingers which only typing will extinguish.

Okay, you noticed the "s/he" in the above sentences. I always thought the muses were female and I am guessing that is due to my studies of Greek mythology. Originally, maybe they were but only because men were the creative types and women were the family and not required to ...

No matter how I tried to finish the above sentence, I could see myself deeper and deeper in a quagmire and sinking fast.

Today's writers are of both sexes and their accompanying muses are what they feel comfortable with. My one friend has a muse who he says is a miniature faun; yes, part man, part goat. Another friend told me her muse was a butt naked stud with the eyes of James Dean.

My muse? Well, I discovered mine changes sex, likes to wear costumes or disguises depending on my moods and what I'm writing. Sometimes I have a clown up there, sitting on my shoulder. Yes, I'm of the shoulder persuasion. Anyway, I've had a clown, a spaceman, a pirate, a naughty imp, and the stereotype Greek goddess in sheer silks, sometimes with wings. Most of the time I would say she appears to look like Sophia Loren. The voice is usually a soft whisper in my ear, but not necessarily all the time; I have been yelled at.

So, tell me about your muse. Tell us how they appear and work with you.

(as a side note; consider this a creative writing assignment... just don't tell your muse!)

Monday, March 22, 2010

Be True To Yourself

My momma taught me: If you don't have something good to say, don't say anything.

Hmm? Did your momma happen to teach you when/when not to adhere to that rule?

You've heard of the 90/10 rule? Some call it the 80/20 rule but I think 90/10 is closer to the truth. Anyway, how the rule works is 90% of the time, only 10% of the people adhere to the "don't say anything" when 90% of the people should do that 10% of the time. Now that I've put it to words, I think it should be 10% of the time 10% of the people do it when 90% of the time 90% should be adhering to "don't say anything!"

As the Riddler would say: Riddle me this. You've just read/edited a book by an acquaintance. The book was 'eh' and the edits will be notorious. S/He thinks they've written the next GAN -- Great American Novel. You, as a professional editor and published writer, look at it and realize, without too much difficulty, the Great Amerian Novel will be edited down to the Great Ameriacn NO. What are you going to do?

You've submitted enough times to know the publisher will be rejecting this manuscript faster than a speeding bullet back to the author.

You want to help with edits but the acquaintance feels the book is ready to go 'as is' since the spouse and two grown children plus one English teacher have already went over it with the proverbial fine tooth comb.

Who are the worst critics in the world? I don't mean the hardest or meanest; I mean the person who reads your manuscript and gives you false hope? Your mother, father, spouse and children. An English teacher usually makes sure the spelling is correct and the sentence structure is proper but doesn't find the trip ups such as active vs passive, incongruent story threads, etc.

Before a flame war begins, the above falls into the 90/10 rule mentioned above. There ARE those spouses, parents and children who actually do help but they fall into the 10% category. My first defense reader is my wife but she knows her limitations. Still, with her assistance, some edits get caught and corrected before I send it out for a professional review. In no way do I consider -- and I love you, dear -- her judgment final... at least in regards to my writing.

I will be honest; not brutal, in my final words to this author.

But, like the Riddler says: Riddle me this -- How would you handle this, either as the editor or the author of said piece?

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Conquer All Obstacles

Jo-Anne Vandermuelen has a novel out entitled "Conquer All Obstacles" and that title alone says it all. Although her story is of love and passion, the title is valid on many levels which includes writing.

As a writer you are faced with many different types of ruts on your road to being published. It really doesn't matter if your style is non-ficitonal article writing or fictional novels, those little road bumps hold true to all genres.

There are seven (7) obstacles to overcome in your writing project. They are:
1) Concept.
2) Capture.
3) Character
4) Conflict
5) Climax
6) Conclusion
7) Collection

Let's examine these.

CONCEPT. We all know what that means. A thought; an idea. It is the spark of your imagination to begin the article or story. Yes, imagination does play a part in a non-fictional work. Perhaps you've read an article about something in your particular field of work and it ignites your mind to realize you could write an article expanding on this or that. Or, if you want to go the other way, perhaps an illusionary trip with a short story. I read a comment about a clown and a baby at a circus -- it burst forth in my imagination and will soon be going out in search of publication.

CAPTURE. You need to ensnare both your publisher and your audience. I'm sure when you read clown and circus above, you were ho-hum, but when I added the baby aspect... your mind questioned exactly what I could be doing. That is the capture aspect. Also, the title can be part of the capture. Would you be reading this blarticle (blog-article) if the title had been Seven Points of Writing?

CHARACTER. Short stories, novellas and novels thrive on characters. If the created hero is your stock standard, more than likely your reader will be dozing off. Big, buff heros need reality and it means a weakness, a fraility. Give them one. In non-fiction writing, your character is going to be less than stellar. You will be writing about a real person more than likely. Then again, maybe your lead characters is a bacterium in an article. Whatever light you cast your hero (lead) into, they must shine.

CONFLICT. As Bill Alexander explained many times on his PBS oil painting shows -- to have darkness, you must have light; to have light, you must have darkness. This holds true in writing. You must have conflict to have happiness. This conflict can be as simple as your hero overcoming an inhibition such as a fear of snakes. Your hero must grow. I can hear you scream this is not true in non-fiction article writing. Wrong. Even if you were writing about a new form bacterium, there would be some detail to show conflict. Perhaps a difficulty in growing it, containing it, using it; all of them are forms of conflict.

CLIMAX. A short story or novel always has a big thunderous scene where everything comes together. The bad guy is caught; the lovers realize their true emotions; the battle is won. Even non-fiction has this moment. Using the bacterium again, the moment of discovery or the realization of the uses of the bacterium; those are climactic aspects.

CONCLUSION. This is where you, the writer, bring it all together. Your hero lounges in the sun; the couple rest blissfully on the beach or the biologists explain how the bacterium will aid mankind.

COLLECTION. Sending it out to publishers, printers, agents, whoever to get your work seen and to receive the money due you for your long, anguishing hours of torment to complete the piece.

Ah-ha! The BIG obstacle for you to overcome. You, as a writer, a typer of words, have fearlessly fought the battle through the first six speed bumps or ruts to complete your work. Now you need to send it out, to finally receive what is rightfully due you. Hence, the title. Conquer All Obstacles. This is one aspect where many writers tend to back down, to hedge into the shadows to disappear. It is a fear of rejection. It is only through rejection you learn to grow, to aspire, to become a writer. If you never submit, you will never have the chance at publication. If you never get published, then really, are you a writer? No, you're a person who typed a lot of words aka a word typer. Also, as a typer of words, a writer, it is your involvement, your desire to be printed which pushes you to send out the manuscript over and over and over. Rejection is the hardest obstacle to overcome, but to be a writer, you must overcome rejection to earn the seventh step: to see your work in print and collect.

There truly is a difference between 'a typer of words' and 'a word typer' -- which one are you?

Remove the obstacle, overcome your fears, become your hero: submit.

Monday, March 1, 2010

And They Call It Writer's Block...

Which is worse? Procrastination? Writer's Block?

Or, are they one and the same? Writer's block comes in a myriad of disguises. Procrastination? Too busy; bad plot; phone calls; and the list can go on and on.

Many believe writer's block to be some huge plague to stop them from writing.


I say it is a crutch to allow a writer to blame somebody or something else for their failure to perform.

Cry 1: The plot just isn't working. Well, then fix the damned thing. The plot was your idea and if it isn't working properly, enabling you to continue, fix it. Don't go wailing writer's block.

Cry 2: The kids keep bothering me. Establish a time when they (the family) leave you alone and only bother you with actual emergencies. If your ten year old has broken an arm and it is attached only by a small dangling piece of skin -- have the sixteen year old drive to emergency. You're working!

Cry 3: People visiting; phone calls and such. Look at your watch and say: Got to get back to work and go to your home office (whatever you want to call it) and start writing. At a real workplace, coffee breaks only last so long. Helloooo?

Cry 4: I'll do it later. Yeah, right. If you had a real job, do you think your boss would buy into that game plan? I think not! So why do it with your writing?

I hear all of you out there. "But I really do have a full time job and writing is my passion. I just need..."

Get over yourself. If writing is truly your passion, then writer's block is like "I don't feel good today" for the office. Admit to yourself the truth. If you don't want to write today, say so. Don't blame it on some lame excuse like writer's block. Be honest with yourself.

So, just why am I discussing writer's block today? To be honest -- I have absolutely no idea what I was going to discuss. I had writer's block. I considered blowing it off, using the day to go shopping or family visiting. That would have been my excuse. But, I realized, it wouldn't work. Somebody once told me that tomorrow never comes because when you wake up, it is today. Well, hockey pucks! Tomorrow will come and I'd still have to write about something.

I usually compose my blogs during the week and weekend so it will be ready on Monday morning. This week, I didn't. Tongue in cheek; I had writer's block.

So, how did I write this? I sat down. That's right, I plopped my butt in the chair and I starting writing. I didn't know what I was going to say or how I was going to say it but I started to say something. That is true of all writing -- just start writing, putting to the cyber paper any words you've got in your head, something, anything; just start!

If you type it, words will come.

I've gone back over and cleaned up my non-congruent thoughts, organized them and hopefully, given you an article from which you will learn.

Therefore, in closing, there is no writer's block; just a bunch of dumb reasons. Deal with it!