Between the Posts

If you want to be a writer you have to write. And read. A lot. That about sums up the advice experts will give you.

So where to start? By starting. First one word, then one sentence, then a paragraph, then a scene, or a chapter (if you are that organized right off the bat). Then you start to sew a few scenes and chapters together. You may have an outline, or you might just organically grow your story as you move on. But sooner or later, you have a chunk of work.

Oh, there’s much more to it than that of course, including a whole text you must read on the alchemy needed in order to pull off the magic that lies between the pages of the best written books. But we won’t go into that now. Conjuring up a great story is a unique process for each of us. But there’s one thing that we must all do – and I argue that this is the most challenging task – and that is master the craft of writing.

There’s a lot to learn: What makes a compelling opening sentence?  What is an active voice vs. passive? Why does one lean sentence with a few powerful words, say so much more than a big, fat, gloppy, adjective-laden paragraph?  Why do some sentences sound better when the word order is shifted around? I found the greatest task of all was figuring out the exact algorithm of words and sentences that would unlock the cinematic visions in my head and arrange them onto the page. It’s all about problem solving for me…like solving a giant sudoku puzzle. When you finally arrive at the right combination of words, it’s somehow beautiful. Just like magic.

The basic act of getting a full story written down is no less than a herculean feat. And then comes the hard part: editing. I have to admit that I initially scoffed at the metric “writing is 10% putting words down on paper and 90% editing.” However, I’ve been schooled.

You need to review and revise your work: over and over. Read it out loud. See where your sentences are awkward and stilted. Revise, substitute words, reorder sentences where needed. Have someone else read it out loud. Nothing like an unfamiliar tongue flitting around your words to help you experience the cadence and rythym of your own text. Is that the same voice you heard in your head when you were writing? If not, what adjustments are needed? Does your reader see the same powerful visions that you pictured? If not, what’s missing? Try to capture that essence on the page.

Writing is a disciplined practice. Take every opportunity to hone your craft. There are many who will guide you. But the best way to learn is from reading the works of those who do it well. Pay attention to their sentences, their openings, their metaphors, their ways of describing the scenes you long to produce in your own work: fight scenes, dialogue, chase sequences, quiet and emotionally gripping soliloquies. Learn from the best, and then craft in your own voice.  Share with others. Publish where you can, through blogs, journals or books. Others will learn from you…or they will just enjoy and get lost in your words. That’s the real goal.

That’s the only goal for me.

So that’s why I keep writing. And that’s why I’ll try to post some things from time to time on this blog. Because through the practice of writing, and thinking about and reflecting on writing, I’ll learn more. And somewhere along the way, between all the posts, I’ll hit the mark. I’ll reach that goal.

 

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Want to Become a Writer?

cat-on-typewriter

Step one… get a cat. Better yet, get two.

Everyone knows that writers have cats. Hemingway had scores of them. I had the best. Below is a picture of Patrick, who spent hours beside my keyboard as I typed away at my first novel.  Bumping my nose with his head whenever he needed a cuddle. When he got sick with a rare kidney illness, I was crushed. He was only 18 months old. I finished the most important chapter of my book on our last day together.  He could no longer make the jump to my desk, so I sat on the floor beside him as I worked, tears streaming down my face. It was fitting we would finish it together. We had come so far.

Patrick computer

Grief is an empty and horrible state. It seemed wrong to even think of replacing Patrick, But after a month of writing alone, and enduring night after night of my daughter crying herself to sleep, we made another trip to the cat rescue centre.

We came home with two: Henry and Glenn.

Henry was like a fuzzy caterpillar, all sweetness and little cooing sounds. He was ours the minute we held him. Glenn was a surprise, trotting all around us with these massive ears, adorable little tiger strips and leopard spots all over his belly, and best of all, two extra toes on each foot – a Hemingway cat! (What could be more perfect?) We had to bring him home. We found out afterward we had adopted a mixed Bengal kitten. A what? Look it up, most sites will warn you “for experienced cat owners only”.

He’s not the kitty to lay quietly while I tap on the keyboard, and he will not be ignored. I write this as he is stepping on the keys and trying to entice me to play with him (I’m an easy target).

Patrick will never be forgotten. He was the best writing partner ever. But our home is warm and alive again, with purring furbabies. I feel like Hemingway, surrounded by intelligent, curious wonders.

And the keyboard taps on.

kittens 1 kittens 3 kittens2