Category Archives: Writer’s Log

Writer’s Log: 2014 Criticism

Take this you worm!

Your writing lacks… Everything. You use too many adverbs. You use handicapped dialog tags. You coat your characters with pointless attributes. You head-hop. You write in passive mode. You inject author-speak. You divert the action with inane description. Jeezus-bloody-christ, but you wear me OUT with your failure to focus on your own gottdamned story.

Truer words were nev… I hear it everyday. Or rather, I used to. You see, I had crippling criticism dog me after I wrote my first novel. And so far, it’s made all the difference.

Sure, we all like a dollop of praise now and then. But since when did att-a-boys ever teach you a damn thing? Learn from your mistakes? How about get brain-branded by your catastrophes… Fuckin-A, I’ll never do that again.

The problem is — well, there are two problems. 1) Getting quality criticism; and 2) Taking said criticism as constructive attenuation of behavior rather than as debilitating castigation. (I think my gonads just shrunk to the size of hazelnuts. Nutella anyone?)

It’s the second that is all down to you. Don your shark-skin suit and deal.

It’s the first that is the reason for this post.

Finding someone who is willing to provide poignant advice yet cut you to the bone, muzzle thrown to the curb, teeth bared and menacing — is a rarity. If you’re lucky, you may happen across one or two in your writer’s lifetime. Once located they are agony and ecstasy entwined. Do you shoot them in the face with a sawed-off or buy ’em a bottle of Glenfiddich? Both perhaps.

The point is, I’ve had a few acerbic son’s-o-bitches who’ve bothered to do me the honor of their opinion — one a very polite woman from Utah whose comments bitch slapped me until I vowed off of the passive voice forever. There was Duncan from Bend and now Phil from the burning fires of Hades itself.

Learning to write — it hurts so good.

Without them my 2014 hours spent thus far would have been, on the whole, wasted.


Writer’s Log: 2013 Edge

You, the writer, are a razor slicing down through words to the tender page, leaving a gaping wound that is your story.

Your blade can be dull and the cut you produce nothing but a bruise: bloated writing, wandering plot, pointless details, backstory, telling.

Or your blade can be keen yielding a deep slice exposing muscle and bone: a gasp of breath from your readers eager to turn the page, endure the scars.

To get from blunt to sharp takes years. Eventually, one’s mind molds anew. Altered neural pathways of writer’s thought form and one’s blade begins to shine. Upon these mental trails there grows the ability to write purified story — the raw essence of what must be said to covey the theme of a tale. Scales of rust flake away leaving only what must be written, not what can be.

This is the challenge. Whet your stone and stroke your skills. If persistent any writer’s blade can be honed.

~~~

I sense a recent change in my understanding of how to write well. I’m embolden to strike out clever words and turns of phrase, details that I found entertaining when written but realized added nothing. Trust the reader to tease the story from fewer select words. A novel is tens of thousands strung together, unburden readers by giving them only what’s necessary.


Silver Gypsy Maiden

The cafeteria hushed as Jacob strolled through the double doors. He glared at the cheer-table occupants, rolled his tongue across his teeth and made for the corner of the room. His back smoldered from stares of contempt. With a tilted chin he let his backpack fall and hit the table, trays rattled.

Bethany cursed, “Watch it. You ruin my clothes again and I’ll text the whole school about what you really did last night.”

Jacob ignored her and pulled a black case from his pack, laid it on the table and flipped the clasp. From within he lifted a silver figurine. It clicked as he set it down. “What I really did? And how would you know?” The senior boy spun the statuette with a flip of his fingers. As it twirled the glare from the overhead lights reflected like glitter off the polished surface. It wobbled and stopped. The slender hand of a shimmering gypsy maiden pointed at Bethany. Jacob stowed the figurine and said, “Looks like you’re next.”

Bethany leveled a look. “Ha. Instead of playing with toys maybe you should figure out what to tell her.” She lifted a painted nail toward the doors.

Principal Dewar, twill-skirted, bobbed, dark hair, clip-walked up to Jacob, murmurs from the pubescent jury followed as a wave. “Bring your sack,” she said. “You’ll need it to empty your locker.”

Resolute, the boy trailed the woman. He couldn’t help but watch her ass jiggle beneath the Ma’cion couture. That night visions of the principal’s sharp cheekbones and penetrating eyes had him wondering if the woman’s thighs rubbed together as she walked.

 


Writer’s Log: 2007 The Spiral

[REF: my comment on Zarah’s blog]

I’m of a mind that, like many endeavors, the process of learning to write is a spiral.
LearnApplyReview
Learn -> apply -> review …

Hopefully, at each loop, one expands the spiral outward with the assembled knowledge and skill from the inner circles.

For writing, the complexity of the inner circles is limited: use proper grammar and spelling, use active voice, reduce the use of adverbs and dialog tags.

The further one gets from the center, the more nuanced the rules become — more like guidelines. Although the lessons become less specific, they become more challenging. One of those is finding one’s own voice.

What I find compelling about this visualization is that a spiral never ends: around and around we go, ever outward.

Lately, I’ve hardly written a thing: I’m in a wide curve, rounding from Review through Learn, approximately two-thousand hours from the center. (2000 on my way to 10k.)

This lull, I tell myself, is me digesting some of the more nuanced guidelines — like that of finding my own voice. That, as well as focus on the refinement of the writing itself. Story, not so much. Plot? Nope. Just the writing. The sound, the flow, the cadence.

Here’s some random exercises I’ve used to inch my way around the pivot-point:


Grave of a child

I’ve stopped reading and writing.

childsgrave

My kindle is chock full of “To Read”s yet, there they sit. I’ve got a dozen story ideas listed on a whiteboard each one glaring down at me. My blog inbox is bulging. My outbox is crickets. My fingers creak as I write these words. In fact, penning this post feels like digging the grave of a child. But it has festered and begun to stink and so must be put to rest.

I spend my time now, wasting it. Youtube, Netflix, and of course the job — I have to teach myself Accounting 101 in the next few months. It’s killing me inside.

And yet, there’s this tectonic ache building within me. The stress between artistic plates strains as I attempt to ignore it. But when the slip finally comes on what will I expend my efforts? What topic, concept, or endeavor deserves my time? And herein is the thrust of this post…

Why do we read what we read? Why did you choose to read these words? What drove you to select that novel? That Aeon or Medium or WordPress article? And, more importantly, should I consider your underlying needs for written entertainment as I choose my next writer’s work?

There’s no end to online explorations as to “why we write and/or create” — what the muse whispers in our ear — what inner force compels us to imagine, sculpt and produce.

But what about the flip side? What drives you to consume? What notions worm their insidious threads of quest, of exploration into your mind? Notions that will not be suppressed — that insist that you read that novel, research that technology or phenomenon, study and probe those people, places, events and ideas until you are satiated?

And shouldn’t such factors influence what creative topic or concept I choose next? For I prefer (as do all writers) to write words that will get read and enjoyed, celebrated even. Sure, we write foremost for ourselves. But if we didn’t care to have our work consumed by others, we would write it — and then delete it. So of course writers crave readers.

But what do readers crave? And why? Why do you read what you read, watch what you watch?


Telling is easy, showing is hard

Kill me now. Right fucking now. Alright, wait a moment, but just a moment. Have that shiv ready.

I’ve said it before. As have a million bloody armchair writer/teachers. I’ve said it to myself a dozen-fifty times. The truth is: this is a truth that never stops being true.

And you can beat your head against it, and wrestle with it, but the bottom line always comes down to the fact that the best stories go the distance, spend the effort, take the time to show the reader and not tell the reader.

Everyone died.
The end.

There. The ultimate “telling” story line.

What more do you need, really, to get the point across about this story? If that’s all you wanted to convey, the fact that “everyone died,” then you’re done.

But if you want to entertain, and here, I think, is the crux of the matter, if you want to entertain a reader then you must lead them purposefully on a storytime journey.

Yeah your story is complex and the physics and chemistry and technology and geology and climate and every gottdamned natural (or unnatural aspect) is integral to your story and you just have to get that knowledge into the reader… Or do you? Maybe it’s our assumptions about what WE, the writer think is important — just isn’t.

And if it is, then the information should must come from one of the characters. If the CHARACTER thinks it’s important to dwell upon, then that must be the test as to whether the reader should dwell upon it too.

Phil says: get out of the damn way and let the story tell the story.

But it’s so much damn work. Christ on a swizzel-stick, can’t I just TELL the reader some stuff? Sure, but apparently only, like .004% of your story should be of the flavor, “And so it transpired, Job felt he must succumb to his wife’s beatings, lest his lord think him a braggart and a louse of the lowest level.”

Showing is work. Telling is not. But telling is not entertaining. Showing, reader discovery through envisioned settings, behavior and events — is. Sorry.

So, get back to work you mewling Mole!

 

 


Writer’s Log: 1885 Pedalin’

Back when I used to ride a street bike through the hills of Marin County.

Pedalin’

I pedaled long,
barbed fence after fence raced my fleeting form.
I pedaled smooth,
muscled metronome, one revolution per second.
I pedaled steep,
shady redwoods grew at impossible angles on the mountain side.
I pedaled quick,
a blue Mercedes grazed my left hip.
I pedaled hard,
salty beads slid down from my armpits and temples.

I coasted.

Black and yellow bees, large enough to hurt,
buzzed at my head.
Thin strands of weeds, tanned in the summer sun
whipped at my ankles.
Flitting brown sparrows, trim ones with sleek profiles,
air danced at my side.
Heady scented wind, warm but touched with ocean mist,
streamed into my lungs.

I pedaled slow,
cool sweat chilled the nape of my neck.
I pedaled on,
under bolls of clouds hanging listless in an achingly blue sky.

I stopped.
I had reached the cheese factory and it was time for lunch.
I ate.
I pedaled home.