Jennifer's Journal


Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Meditations for the Driven Writer


You must find some way to elevate your act of writing...Usually this means giving the reader an enjoyable surprise. Any number of methods will do the job: humor, anecdote, an unexpected quotation, a powerful fact, an outlandish detail, a circuitous approach, an elegant arrangement of words.

…William Zinsser


The current trend is for books written in ultra-modern language, the slang of the moment.  While this may seem fresh and new for now, it will inevitably become dated.  At that point such usage will be tired and annoying.  Traditionally, written language leans toward the correctly formal.  That’s so it won’t fall on its face by going out of style.


I will try to write, not just for today but for all the tomorrows.




Life can't ever really defeat a writer who is in love with writing, for life itself is a writer's lover until death--fascinating, cruel, lavish, warm, cold, treacherous, constant.

…Edna Ferber


“Let’s do it,” a character in a recent movie said to his friend.  Trouble is, the setting for the story was 1817.  Errors of this kind jar the viewer out of the golden “suspension of belief” as the brain winces at modern slang in a historical setting.  So it is with writing.  Unless you’re doing time travel, it’s lethal to put the wrong words in your character’s mouths.


Let me remember that the reader and I are in a story world together, and nothing must be allowed to punch holes in our atmosphere.




Fiction is not photography, it's oil painting.

…Robertson Davies


Most stories are written in linear fashion, as the events unfold.  This is the natural story form perfected around a million campfires over countless generations.  Readers will accept an occasional flashback to previous events, but constant time-hopping is irritating because, being outside the norm, it requires mental readjustment with every switch.   The step from irritated to turned off is measured in fractions of a millimeter.


I will respect the traditions of story-telling on the theory that the old folk knew what they were doing.  When they got it wrong, their audience wandered off to bed in the back of the cave.




All writers have to be observers of the world, but dialogue-writers also have to be eavesdroppers on the world.

…Bonnie MacDougal


In Europe, writing a book every two years is considered “churning them out” and many writers enjoy long careers.  In North America, publishers like to see two books per year from a lead author and burn-out is epidemic.  In Europe, three hour lunches are the norm on the theory that people prefer to enjoy the process and prevent ill effects from hurrying it.  In North America, the half-hour lunch break is as common as ulcers.  Do we see correlations here?


I will write at the pace that feels comfortable to me -- and allows time to look around for more to write about.




Better to write for yourself and have no public, than to write for the public and have no self.

…Cyril Connolly


Writing in a white-hot heat is supposed to be the ultimate creative process; whole web sites are dedicated to writing a book in a month or less.  On the other hand, deep contemplation is thought to be required for work of true merit, and critics are impressed by the opus touted as having taken ten long years to complete.  No one ever said writing was a logical business.


I will accept that writing may be fast and easy some days, slow and hard others, but that it’s okay for it to be either way.


If you’ve ever had a temper tantrum because the power went off and you lost a portion of the manuscript on your computer, you may be a driven writer; if the portion lost was only two sentences, then you know you are!


Monday, September 04, 2006

Meditations for the Driven Writer

Inaction breeds doubt and fear. Action breeds confidence and courage. If you want to conquer fear, do not sit home and think about it. Go out and get busy.
…Dale Carnegie

“I don't know how you do that, write books. I could never do it in a million years!" Someone said that to me at a party the other day. It may or may not be true. But many people who would like to write never start because they think it's too difficult. Fact is, writing is a craft as well as an art; the techniques can be learned. Study then -- buy books on writing, subscribe to writing magazines, do writing exercises. Start small and work your way up to a book. You may have the great next bestseller inside you, but you'll never know it if you keep shoving its poor head back underwater, crying, “But we can’t swim!”

I will always encourage those who think they would like to write -- because nobody has a crystal ball that magically displays winners and losers in the writing game.

It was a high counsel that I once heard given to a young person, "Always do what you are afraid to do."
…Ralph Waldo Emerson

There is no right or wrong way to write. Some people swear by outlines; some won’t use one. Some people start at the beginning and write through a story in sequence; some write unconnected scenes and cobble them together. Some do elaborate character charts; some create their characters on the page. Some are fanatic about the selection of every comma; some take a casual attitude as long as the sentences say what they mean. Some love revision and some despise the thought. Every writer approaches the job from a different perspective -- and well they should since no two writers are the same. The beauty of writing is that every story is unique to the individual.

I will resist the urge to tell people how to write in the certain knowledge they’ll ignore me and do it their way if they’re going to be good at it.

I am a galley slave to pen and ink.
…Honore de Balzac

To be a successful writer, so they say, you must write as much as you can every day. No doubt they’re right from a strictly commercial point of view; the more books you have on the shelves, the more likely readers are to remember your name. Yet shutting yourself up in your office cuts you off from the outside world where your subject matter resides. It wears grooves in one section of your brain, creating ruts that cut off the light and stifle the spirit. You can write on a reasonable schedule and enjoy a long career, or you can write hard and fast and burn out early. Only a handful can have it both ways.

I will remember that I am in charge of the words; my work isn’t the boss of me!

One of the few things I know about writing is this: spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it, all, right away, every time. Do not hoard what seems good for a later place in the book, or for another book; give it, give it all, give it now.
…Annie Dillard, The Writing Life

Hundreds of tenured professors have tried to write romances or mysteries, westerns, thrillers or sci-fi epics, in secret. Some even admit to it in print. A few succeed, but the majority fail. The reason: basic contempt for the genre of choice. You have to enjoy a genre and respect its tenants in order to write it; you have to understand it on a gut level based on reading it. You can’t slap something on paper in hope of making money while saving your best ideas for a future literary opus. You have to give it your best, because the reader can tell when you’re faking it.

Passion in writing is like passion in the bedroom; fake it and you’re the one who winds up frustrated.


A real decision is measured by the fact that you've taken new action. If there's no action, you haven't truly decided.
… Anthony Robbins

The best way to become a writer is to begin. Buy yourself a laptop and word processing program. Choose a place in your house and establish it as your writing corner. Furnish it with a comfortable chair, a small table to hold the laptop when not in use; a note book for stray ideas and a few pens for capturing them. Sit down and start writing bits and pieces of whatever comes to mind. Write something, anything, even if it’s “I can’t think of how to begin this idiot story.” Cull nothing; inspiration doesn’t like second guesses. Write. Begin. Now.

I will remember that books are shy creatures that must be lured out of the jungle of the mind with quiet patience, perseverance – and the occasional piece of chocolate.

Writing is like prostitution. First you do it for love, and then for a few close friends, and then for money.
…Moliere (Jean-Baptiste Poquelin)

Many mentally ill people hear voices telling them to do things that can get them arrested. For this malady, they’re sedated to zombie-like inactivity. Writers hear voices all the time but are encouraged to listen to them and write down what they say. They are paid to step into the alternate world in their mind, take the flickering scenes before them and, like reconstructing bad dreams to make them better, turn them into their own reality. This doesn’t mean they aren’t mental cases…

A facility with words can be a blessing or a curse; it all depends on what you do with it.

Anything to keep from writing, they say. That’s why so many male writers commit adultery and female writers have clean houses.
…Carolyn See

Writing is labor; there’s no getting around it. A book takes long hours of sitting before a computer screen. It requires completing pages on a regular schedule, whether you feel like it or not. It’s extremely tiring as all available energy is sent to the brain to fuel mental activity. It’s restricting, since you must refuse all the impromptu shopping trips, lunches, and visits that make life fun. The tyranny of the deadline always hangs above you; when you meet one, there’s always another. And everybody feels qualified to criticize the finished product, from your next door neighbor to the meanest critic in the land. Weird, isn’t it, how many people would kill for the job?

Recall always that writing is the only craft in which we are paid for creating something out of pure imagination. We rise or fall solely by what is in our minds.

If you’ve ever “zoned out” in the middle of a conversation, you may be a driven writer. If whoever was talking to you got up and left and you barely noticed, you know you are!