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!



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