Time to wrap up The 25, folks! And we’re going to do it with style.
No, really. The last bit is style.
Writers sometimes speak of style as if it were an ingredient to be added to their story or poem or memoir. Instead, style is the thing itself. E.B. White said it best, writing, “Style takes its final shape more from attitudes of mind than from principles of composition, for, as an elderly practitioner once remarked, ‘Writing is an act of faith, not a trick of grammar.’” The key, then, to developing one’s style is to write, as White states, “in a way that comes naturally.”
Sound easy? It’s not. In fact, finding the “way that comes naturally” can take a lifetime, and the way can change with each piece you begin. One key to beginning that journey is to think about style not so much as a matter of addition, but subtraction—casting off feelings of awkwardness and self-consciousness, affectation and pretension. Focus on presenting your piece clearly, in a way that connects with readers. For practice, imagine a single reader sitting across a table from you. Spend a half-hour relating your piece to that reader, as clearly and honestly as possible. Spend another half-hour striving to make the piece more clear, more honest, more affecting. Then spend another half-hour making the piece more clear, more …
I think the point Heffron makes is an insightful one. Style isn’t about imitation or any other kind of flattery to others. Because of that, I can understand why it’s one of the more difficult aspects of writing to make authentic, because it’s one of the age old bits of advice that people tend to find very difficult: Be yourself.
I remember being a child/adolescent/teen/undergrad and having people tell me that. “Just be yourself, Emmie.” As if it came second nature to them, but I suspect it doesn’t really come first nature to anyone, really. There is, of course, a lot of wisdom in those two little words, but if we’re all honest, we know that human beings spend a lot more time trying to blend in than stand out.
With a lot of things in life, I can see why we do it. It can be dangerous to stray from herd, especially when that herd is full of pubescent females who have grown massive retractable claws along with their burgeoning busts. Boys aren’t much better. We might go through a rebellious stage and put strangely colored things on our heads (or in our heads), but people have a massive drive to fit in.
Going against that grain is a painstaking uphill climb, and other famous cliches.
When you can take that advice, something changes in your life. I know we’re talking about writing here, but I’m going to give you a little of my history to illustrate how my style has grown because of those two words. I still have an evolving style (I might even call it a revolving style), but my writing now is much more interesting than it used to be. I spent most of high school just trying not to be noticed. I spent the first year of college realizing that people like what they expect, and get a wee bit upset when you do something that doesn’t jive with that. In my case, it was me beginning to realize that I didn’t believe in Christianity anymore — in my second semester at an expensive, private Christian university, no less. I lost a lot of friends over that. When it comes to religion, for all the prayer and convincing and Bibles and whatever else, there is this little fork in the road. One sign points at “You Believe,” and the other just yells, “BULLSHIT!” Three guesses which fork was me. You can’t force yourself to be something you’re not, so I quit trying. And I took off across an ocean.
In 2004, I moved to Scotland for the summer. I spent two months there by myself. Away from expectations, away from anything I was familiar with, yet I was home the second my toes touched the tarmac at the Prestwick Airport south of Glasgow. I spent those two months flitting throughout the country alone. I met people who are still in my life, namely a UT student named Marshall who is now a barrister in Leeds, and a fabulous Punjabi-Scottish man who makes chai from scratch and speaks Gaelic with equal facility called Jordan, but I just call him my best friend. He was man of honor in my wedding last month. I also met a young man named Pawel, who was the first Polish person I ever met. I heard the sounds of his language and had to learn it.
The next summer I flew to Poland with four other women, and I returned to Scotland, where Jordan introduced me to my soulmate, a beautiful, intelligent, hilarious woman named Julia, who joined him on October 2 as my maid of honor. She was just selected from a pool of hundreds of applicants to join an organization (the only organization) that does systematic research on the G20 Summit. I’m so proud of her I could burst. Six months later, I packed my bags and moved across the Atlantic. I didn’t come back for almost two years. Those people I met are still a part of me, a part of my life. None of them knew much about my life growing up. They met me in places I felt utterly at home and comfortable, and those were my first lessons about being myself.
It was then I began to write Elemental, the book I’m currently trying to finish for NaNoWriMo.
I knew I had something the moment I began it. You know the thrill, gentle viewers. The electric pulse that flits through you as the ragged curtains between worlds ripple back with an unseen wind and reveal a Story to you. I ended up realizing that that story wasn’t the beginning, and I put it aside to write Primeval, which is the first book in the trilogy. Now five years later, Primeval is getting ready for takeoff, and I’m writing the final pages of Elemental at last.
The point of all of this is that your style evolves when you put those two little words into practice. It will sprout out of what you thought was barren dirt and sneak tendrils into your skin. It will begin to take you over until who you are manifests on every page. I’m no Shakespeare, and I’m still a work in progress much like my writing, but there’s a lot more of me on the page than there ever was before.
So to wrap up The 25 (but certainly not my daily posts), style is what happens when you be yourself. Love yourself. The rewards are still untold, though I think I’ve gotten more from life than any woman deserves even now in the three people who form my personal triumvirate of true love. They’re what pushes me forward on this path. Who pushes you?
If I can do it, a girl who grew up with no pot to piss in (literally) and who kept her mouth shut for a decade — so can you.
- True love happens. Image by Jordan Jaquess Imaging.
- Three times for me. Image by Jordan Jaquess Imaging.
EDIT: I apologize for the weird formatting on this post. I tried looking at the HTML for a whole five minutes before I gave up. Not really sure what happened — never had trouble with copy/paste resetting font before. Weird.
Well, to me it is. I seldom see this side of noon excepting when I sneak up on it from behind, or if I have to be at work at 10. And even then, I repress any morning experiences for the first two hours — by then it’s afternoon, and all is right with the world.
I am not a morning person.
I used to be sort of passive about it. “Yeah, I don’t like mornings, la dee dah…” and then I got a job where I regularly had to be at work by 7:30 and still could never sleep until 3 or later, and it stressed me out to the point that the mere sound of my alarm triggered a stream of expletives and near-panic attacks. Sleep. I value it. It’s one of the reasons I don’t have a “real” job right now.
But lo, it’s 9:41, and I’ve been awake for about an hour and a half. Strange miracle, but here we are, with the opportunity to blog today when I thought I wouldn’t have the time. Once I go to work in 45 minutes, I won’t be home till almost 11.
Gentle viewers! We are almost done with The 25! In fact, we are on…
The perils of subjectivity arise largely from overidentifying with a subject, narrator or character in a narrative, and making it (or him or her) the vehicle for a thematic point in which the author himself is overly invested. The antidote is at least as old as the New Testament, specifically Matthew 5:43–48, where Christ instructs his followers to love their enemies. If what I have to say seems old hat, therefore, I’ll be neither disappointed nor surprised.
If you find yourself overidentifying with a topic or character, try to identify within the sympathetic subject, narrator or even oneself a trait or belief or habit that is repellent or inexcusable or just plain odd. In doing so, you’ll enhance the psychological or moral distance between yourself and the object of familiarity
Another possible strategy is to rewrite the scene or section from the point of view of someone other than the object of sympathy. This forced disconnect can achieve a similar effect.
I find it rather appropriate that this is today’s. In my frantic writing sprint (or spring, as Twitter would have it) last night before bed, I wrote a scene that bothered me immensely. The protagonist from my first book becomes….sort of an anti-hero if not a downright antagonist in the second. Basically, she starts acting like a massive twit. It drives me nuts, and I want to smack her. I found myself last night trying to put words in her mouth, make her more sympathetic in a scene where she is downright cruel. And I knew that as I was trying to do that, it wasn’t true to her behavior. She has a lot of reasons for acting the way she does — some of them more valid than others — but the bottom line is that she’ll get over it eventually, and until she does, I have to let her be a bitch. I find the whole concept exhausting. It’s like putting up with a temper tantrum because you know your child will eventually grow out of them.
It’s one reason I like different POVs in fiction. I love seeing a story told from different angles and getting inside different heads. I also enjoy a good first person POV, but there’s something to be said for different POVs. Sometimes a big story just needs to be told that way.
It all boils down to one little sentence, in my opinion: tell the truth. Listen to your story and your characters, and let them drive your story forward. If you want to give it a shot, find a scene in your story where things fall a little flat and subjective and rewrite it from the viewpoint of an antagonist, or even someone who just doesn’t like your main character very much. See what happens. If you’re NaNoing, just keep plugging along at your word count.
I was going to post a picture of a pretty morning to enhance the objectivity of this post, but then I changed my mind. Google gives mornings some damn good PR. So instead, I give you Garfield.
Time is what turns kittens into cats.
It’s also something that tends to run out on you and leave you naked and wondering why you ended up in the grocery store with no clothes on. It’s because you didn’t have time to get dressed, silly.
The problem with my work schedule is that my day goes something like this:
10 AM or 5 PM: Start work. If I’m a double, I start at 10. Otherwise I usually work at 5.
12 AM-2:30 AM: Off work. Happy dance!!!! Now what?
3:00 AM: I’m hungry. Dinna time!
3:30 AM: Hang time with spouse.
4:30 AM- 5:30 AM: Bed.
This means I wake up no earlier than noon most days. Today that was 1. Which means on a day when I have to be at work at 4 instead of 5, I have an hour less of that time stuff to: write 2,000 words, eat, shower, PUT ON CLOTHES!, talk to the husband, and get ready to go. That’s not much time stuff.
So here is my two hour sprint of writing/food/clothes. Day 2, I’ma kick yo butt.
Tension results from two factors: resistance and ambiguity. In nearly every piece of narrative writing, fiction or otherwise, someone is trying to achieve something. Tension results from external or internal opposition to achievement of the goal (resistance), or uncertainty as to the narrator or character’s understanding of the situation in which she finds herself (ambiguity), specifically its perils (psychological, emotional, physical).
Tension is essential because it keeps readers reading. Thus, in every scene you write, strive to heighten tension by doing one of two things: Enhancing the forces impeding achievement of the goal, or confusing/complicating the narrator or character’s understanding of the situation.
At the end of every writing session, take time to find and stress those elements within the narrative that serve these purposes. Trim away elements that do not, unless they add necessary color.
This is excellent advice. My biggest problem when I was completing the second draft of book one was that it a: was far too scattered and b: lacked the necessary tension to propel it to the conclusion. I remedied a lot of that with the second draft, but when I pull it out again December 1, that’s what I will be looking for as I read.
I think Corbett says it best when he says that tension is what keeps readers turning pages. You can also describe it as conflict, whether internal or external. I like to think of it as a rope. When a reader picks up your book, your first chapter should hook her (if it doesn’t, you’ve got a whole other problem). When that happens, you tie a rope around your reader’s waist. Now, it’s a long-ass rope. Think hundreds of feet. Your job the second that knot gets tied around your new pet reader is to pull him where you want him to end up (this reader’s gender is ambiguous). You can’t pull your reader anywhere if your rope is slack. And you have a LOT of rope to mess with.
As soon as you get the rope around your reader, your job is to pull it tight. To create tension early so that reader doesn’t wander off to look at that cactus over there or fall in a river. You could strain and reel your reader in over those hundreds of feet of rope, or you could simply start running in the direction you want the reader to go. Take off. Make that rope pull tight before the reader knows she has any slack to wander off. Create tension so your reader can’t help but follow where you lead. Once the tension’s there, you don’t have to pull him at a sprint for four hundred pages, but you want enough tension there at all times to guide him as you lead. Enough that you don’t stop to tie your shoe and she goes off chasing mongooses under a bush. (This reader is very easily distracted; readers often are.) If you do let up the tension for a moment, it should be because you want to stop long enough for your reader to look around and see where you are now before plunging forward.
Your words are your rope. It should be a good, strong rope. You don’t want it frayed or rotten in bits so it breaks when the tension gets applied. It’s a tricky thing to pull a reader through a story; make sure you have the best rope possible.
Here we are for Day 2: Time for me to get back to the drawing board.
Before today's additions...but here's where I am.
Good afternoon, gentle viewers, and a Happy Halloween to you! Or a joyous Samhain, if that’s how you roll. Or you know, Dia de los Muertos is tomorrow, I reckon. Holiday season is in full swing! And I have the tea to prove it. Nom nom nom.
Twelve short hours before NaNo begins. I looked around for a midnight write-in, but the closest one to me was downtown D.C. (snore), and I’m not driving over an hour to hang out in a Starbucks at midnight. It does look like there are some serious NaNo events throughout the month in Maryland, though, so I should be able to find something. In fact, I am going to a write-in on Thursday because it’s close and my day off. Woohoo!
Apart from my NaNoRebels challenge goals (1,500 words a day, an hour or more a week refueling), I’ve set a few goals for myself for the month. Here they are!
1. Finish the first draft of book two (almost there!). This is so that when I pitch to agents in January, I will not only have one bright and shiny work to show them, but two! That’s right, people. For the low price of ink on paper, you get two — count ’em — two finished works! If this woman can write two, she can probably write more.
Salesman Jesus wants you to publish my books.
2. Get a start on book three for the same reasons as Goal #1, if you change “two” to “three.”
3. Behind Goal #3, we have one last little thing to say on my goals! While in general the idea for NaNoWriMo is quantity and not so much quality, my personal goal is to write lucid and cohesive work this month. I don’t want to have to spend another month making it readable when I go back and edit.
Anyhoo. I wrote almost 3,000 words yesterday, finally pushing book two forward in plot and action. That’s a huzzah moment. I also went back and read it and liked what I had, even though I wrote it with my pink earbuds glued to my ears rocking Daft Punk at 3 a.m.
Right now I’m at about 87,000 words, which should be right on track for the end to be at around 120,000 for the first draft. It’s long, but I wanted hefty books. They’re supposed to be chronicles, for FSM’s sake, so it makes sense that they wouldn’t be 250-pagers.
The fun thing about this trilogy is writing different characters who are also different species. The first protagonist was a seer and a shapeshifter (she’s still around), and the second is a witch who was forcibly turned into a vampire against her will. That gives me some fun things to work with and to explore the magic of the world a lot more in the second book rather than having to look at it solely from an observer’s point of view. Anna gets to be actively involved in the magic aspects of things.
My chunk from last night also introduced a new character who will be awesome. He is going to be tricky to write for a lot of different reasons (not the least of which that he is completely batshit insane), but he’s got a lot to offer the story and the other characters. Plus, I got to hear him say, “Here, kitty, kitty, kitty” to Sarah. Ha. She deserved that.
It’s Halloween time, gentle viewers! Get your spook on!
Picture me as I look ahead at the month of November. It’s getting cold outside. The challenge is before me, waving its little red flag. My feet start to paw the ground in front of me. I might even snort a little, bursts of steam in the chilled air. The arrival of November will launch me forward to tackle that challenge. So what am I doing to prepare?
I’ve focused myself on the fact that no matter what, the challenge of writing 1,500 words of fiction per day plus spending time actively nursing my psyche each week and working and planning for the holidays will be just that. Challenging. It’s going to require discipline more than anything — to get up early and write before work if I’m going to be working a double close (which they have me scheduled for next Sunday), to get my body back in shape, and to continue posting here every day to cheer the rest of you on who have decided to travel those thirty days of insanity with me.
I get to wave the flag for you to paw at the ground. I hope all of you end up ripping that red waving flag to bits with your horns as you conquer the challenge.
As many have said before me, writing can be a lonely calling. We spend a lot of time closeted with our thoughts in our own little world and don’t necessarily interact much. But I’ve seen a trend pop up toward social writing, where writers involve one another, support one another, and ultimately help each other grow. That kind of community is as precious as a golden septum piercing.
Well, I think it's hella tight.
So in addition to the personal pep talks and being my own personal cheerleader, I’ve tried this week to get practical. To figure out what my goals are for NaNoWriMo and give myself more focus than just “getting through” the thirty days of November. For those of us participating in the NaNoRebel group (or even if you’re doing it classic style), there are some questions to ask yourself before the first comes up and gooses you.
1. If your goal is to work an existing story, do you know where it’s going? This can mean an outline if you’re the plan-y type, but if you’re like me it can mean immersing yourself in your story and feeling it out. Watching your characters unfold in your head to see what lies beyond the turns. That can help stave off writer’s block before it starts.
2. Are you trying to finish a story or just get one started or to do a big push in the middle to get stuff out? (That sounded like toilet humor, but it wasn’t. I promise.)
3. If you’re starting from scratch, do you have a feel for your story from start to finish? Any notes you can jot down can be helpful if flying blind scares you.
4. If you’re re-writing this month, what are your goals for your new draft? Write them down and keep a list of your insidious first draft foibles that always need editing out (some examples: passive voice, use of adverbs, issues with dialogue attribution, a tendency to let the readers see you set the scene instead of lifting the curtain on an already hot set).
5. Are you aiming for just quantity or do you want quality as well? I’ve heard many people say they end up with 50,000 words of crap at the end of the month. This doesn’t have to be true, especially if you do some of the above.
6. Are you doing this just because or are you doing it because you feel the tug of the words? Regardless, this is a big commitment and a lot of work. As long as you’re doing it for yourself and your story, you’ll get something out of it. And if you share your whiz-bang awesome progress with me, I’ll give you a cookie. (Or some other prize. See this post for details.)
All that said, I’m spending the rest of the day before I have to go sling beers reading what I have of my second book. So far, so awesome, but I have a ways to go, and I need to get to the end to decide what my goals are for NaNoWriMo. 50,000 words would easily take me to the end of book two and partway into book three, which is most likely the goal, but we shall see.
See you all later, gentle viewers. I’ll be here pawing the ground.
I know, I know. Double post action today. However, first of all, I need to celebrate getting draft two of book one finished. Yep. Done-zo. Even untangled the snarl at the end of the yarn ball into a perfectly awesome ending and a snazzy epilogue. It’s lookin’ like a book, folks. Onward to book two!
So as I plunge back into the first draft of book two (it’s about 85% done) and try to digest the Big Mac that seemed like a great idea for a celebratory dinner (I didn’t say I was thinking clearly), I thought I’d jet back to The 25 for a little post on creativity. Plus, I stumbled across another blog earlier that inspired some of the other stuff I want to write about before it disappears back into the ether.
Here’s what they have to say:
Creativity is the secret sauce of the writing life. Its ingredients are different for everyone, and may change over time, which can make it difficult to keep the cupboards stocked. When you get stuck, take 30 minutes and try one of these:
- Switch genres. Write a poem before diving into a narrative piece.
- Review incomplete writing for a scrap of idea or language; let it lead you in.
- Burn kindling. Keep a file of art, poems, quotes, pressed flowers—whatever ignites your imagination. Sift through it when you need a spark.
- Grow your own list of triggers. Repeat what works until it doesn’t; then try something new.
Creativity isn’t always a formula. There isn’t always a zing poof of inspiration (that sounds suspiciously like dusting a vampire on Buffy) that leads to the ultimate creative endeavor. As Sarah Toole Miller mentioned on her blog today, sometimes when you write you discover that you “stumbled upon a tiny bit of magic.”
That sums up what I feel about creativity. I feel like my life finds me wandering about the day to day collecting bits of magic in a jar.
Perhaps this jar.
When the time comes to put ass in chair and write, I get out my little jar and see what’s floating around in there. Sometimes one bit of magic shines brighter than others. Sometimes one or two have already died in captivity. Regardless of how shiny they stay or how quickly the shine fades, I keep filling that jar. Whether it’s scribbled on the back of a pay stub that never made it out of my work check presenter or a receipt or a napkin or occasionally my skin, the jar gets filled whenever I spot a bit of magic.
Gotta write book two now. Get your write on, gentle viewers.