Amada Irma Perez, Dennis Mathis, Sandra Cisneros, Ten Ways Writers Confuse Readers

Ten Ways Writers Confuse Their Readers-Part I

Have you ever ended up finding something better than what you were looking for? Happened to me today and I’m glad it did. 

It started out with the desire to locate one notebook. My old faux Queen Anne end table sits next to my writing desk. It’s my writing storage area where old notebooks, binders, clipped articles, and printer paper reside. There are three years of critique notes, magazine articles, handouts and revision notebooks. 

Two hours later, after a  thorough cleaning of the dusty writing end table, I found some great tidbits of writing information. The one I found most interesting was a handout given to me by my first critique group leader Amada Perez, author of several children’s books. Her own writing journey began over a decade ago and included meeting Dennis Mathis, a professional and personal editor of award winning author Sandra Cisneros.

The 2008 handout is missing the first page but there are still several gems of good information. Mr. Mathis describes the following common problem areas when writing a short story or novel:

  1. The Hat- Don’t say on page eight that the character took off his hat if you hadn’t said on page one that he was wearing a hat. If the reader is confused, it’s the writer’s fault. You don’t get to dismiss as unsuited to your art a reader who doesn’t get it. 
  2. Missing Person- “I hadn’t eaten since the previous afternoon. Since the train had been so consistently late, I left my seat and wandered the platform in search of food. Eating a stale sandwich from a vending machine, my train pulled into the station.” Who is eating the sandwich?
  3. The Pyramid of Desireable Subjects- People, Animals, Plants, Physical Objects that are there, Observable phenomena, Things that are Not there, Abstract terms. Try to stay at the top of the pyramid.
  4. Unidentified Bodies- “She often had arguments with  her mother when she came home from work. ‘So what did you do all day?’ she’d say, then she would turn on the television. ‘As if it matters to you,’ she’d sigh.”I’ve been working my butt off. My feet are killing me.” This example was a first chapter of a novel.
5. Dead Would– “Some days she would be waiting for him on the couch wearing a provocative  outfit. She would be an aggressive lover.” The word would does have a legitimate place in the language. For example, it’s appropriate to say, “I would do it if he gave me $100.” Would is properly used in its conditional sense, not as a verb modifier. Try to stay away from the ‘would’ and go for the action. 

I will get back to the rest of these confusing writer habits in the next post. I really need to find that notebook for class. 

Amada Irma Perez, My Handy Writing Book, Post Novel Blues, Saying goodbye, WoWW, Writing

Post Novel Blues

Get a good look at her. Except for the blue hair, that was me four days ago (sans the slender arms). With my last round of revisions done I  loaded my MS “Butterfly Hearts” onto two different flash drives, sent copies to  friends who volunteered to be readers, and then powered off my laptop. First reaction? Whew, finally. Then I massaged my wrists, smiled, and went on with my day.

Within hours I wanted to go back and open up the MS. No, I shouted back to my inner voice, leave it be, go on to the next MS that’s been waiting for revisions for two months. I opened that MS, working title of Strong Women Grow Here, and began reading the first page. My eyes glazed, the words made no sense, pace slowed, I couldn’t recognize my protag, Juana’s, voice. I almost felt dizzy, discombobulated. What the heck is happening here?

Over the weekend I spoke with my writing mentor, Amada, and described the feelings. She’s published four children’s books and her latest (My Handy Writing Book) just came off the press last week. She listened and nodded her head, she understood, she’s been there. Her suggestion was to do a ritual cleansing with sage and say goodbye to Lili and the other characters in the novel. Hmmm, yes I nodded, I could do that.

Later that evening I found my white sage in my abalone shell. It smelled so, so “sagey,” deep and powerful. I felt it’s soft as a kitten silver white leaves, wrapped in cotton red yarn, and breathed in deep. High Mass in Latin, incense lanterns, low murmurs of prayers, pow-wows, curanderas and sobadoras floated through my mind. And then a huge indigo NO in block letters bulldozed through my thoughts. What? NO, you can’t purge Lili, Vero, Joe, and the kids. NO you can’t cleanse them from your home. Now I’m drawing back my drapes and looking out the window, who’s there?

Then I sat with myself. What do you want to do, what are you feeling? I’m embarassed to say. I feel, I think I’m mourning them, I’m depressed, like the postpartum blues and empty nest mixed together. But it’s a novel, my logical self says-no, the creative self insists. It’s the post novel blues. Did such a thing exist?

When in doubt, Google it. I found a 2008 article by Vickie Britton where she quotes ” It’s long been known that writers, artist, and others in the creative fields can become prone to depression, especially when people finish writing (their novel).” It may be long known, but I didn’t know that, but it does make me feel better.

A few suggestions, cited in various articles, popped up in my search:

  • Write your next new outline, brainstorm new ideas, write a short story (are you kidding me?)
  • Try something new and different that is not writing (hmm, maybe)
  • Organize your work space, clean your desk (uh, no)
  • Use the time to transition (to what?)
I decided to sleep on it. Next morning I powered up the laptop, prepared a cup of green tea (cuz I can’t drink coffee on this new eating plan) and sat down, like I have for months. I just sat there. I wanted to call or text my characters, re-read the MS, have a drink with Lili. I couldn’t type and I didn’t want to either. What to do? 
Last night I met with my writing group, WoWW (WOmen Who Write) and explained my tale of woe when it was ‘check-in’ time. Yes, they nodded and they were supportive. But, I still had the same post novel blues on my drive home. 
Later that night, I sat on my bed and stared at my laptop across my room, against a bulletin board backdrop of blue butterflies, post cards, index cards, scripture quotes, and the prints of my hands with notes in them (from my mentor),etc. And I sat with myself again. How long do these feelings last anyway? 
The next morning (it’s day 4 now) I ran errands and on my drive home, an idea popped in my head, it felt like Lili wanted to say something. When I got home I went out to my backyard and sat in my porch swing. Darn it Liliana, what do you want? 
In a flash, I felt that Lili wanted to go on a trip with her best friend Vero, and Joe can stay with the kids. She wants to go to London. Don’t I remember that has been one of her dreams. So I helped her pack her purple suitcase, with way too many clothes and that dang pair of stilettos and eyeliner (no wings, I promise she said). She set out the batches of walnut brownies for her daughter to take to the kids. I had to tell her to hurry up because she was going to be late. Vero honked the horn outside, Lili grabbed her Cherri Bombe lipstick, threw it into her purse, and ran out the door. 
And now my eyes are misting. Please don’t say “GAH,” because to me, it feels so real. Now I’m sniffing. I pull back my window curtains and wave goodbye. Lili sticks her head out of the window and yells “Cherrio,” with a huge smile on her face.