Do you ever want to throw your work in progress away? Chuck the manuscript you’ve worked on for years?
If you’re a writer, you’ve been there and done that.
The last few months I’ve taken writing classes with an editor, Toni Lopopolo and her assistant, Lisa Angle. We’re a small group of writers who brave the weekly sessions with Toni and Lisa so we can become better writers.
I’ve learned I must swing a machete through a draft to become a better writer.
Machete-wielding is a dirty job. You must be merciless. This will hurt, but it’s for your own good.
These tips will help you murder your draft:
Pluck out backstory in the first pages.
Delete the flowery prose that serves no purpose. This includes adverbs and -ing words.
Hack out the ‘terrible 20‘ words that result in the passive voice.
United We Stand: How do we get through the difficulties that threaten to tear us apart?
This was the topic of Sunday’s service at the church which I attend. Although it’s part of a series titled “Family Stuff,” it’s also appropriate for what’s happening during the post-Trump election.
Biblical scriptures are great like that, showing us that many ancient words still pertain to current circumstances.
The scripture used this past Sunday was Philllipians 1:27:
“Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.”
These words reminded me that Jesus was himself a social activist. Anyone familiar with the bible knows the numerous stories of him speaking and fighting against injustice. What is amazing is that he did so in a non-violent manner.
It has grieved me to hear about the racist incidents happening all over our country. Time magazine cited several. A compilation of Tweets enumerating hundreds of incidents on Day 1 in Trump’s America began.
Reading the tweets may anger you. The hatred is real and so is the pain. Don’t let these hateful things break your spirit.
The Southern Poverty Law Center has counted more than 300 cases of hateful harassment or intimidation in the five days since Election Day.
“They’ve been everywhere — in schools, in places of business like Walmart, on the street,” SPLC President Richard Cohen said Monday.
I’ve heard stories, from parents in my own city, that racist comments have been made in elementary school classrooms. That breaks my heart.
My comment to the parent was to report all incidents and ask the administration to gather an assembly, reaffirming that hateful speech and bullying isn’t allowed whoever the POTUS is.
I read this report today from a Latino legal civil rights organization.
MALDEF STATEMENT ON REPORTS OF POST-ELECTION BULLYING AT CALIFORNIA SCHOOLS
November 10, 2016 LOS ANGELES, CA – In the aftermath of Tuesday’s election, reports have surfaced of problems at schools, including anti-immigrant bullying. MALDEF calls on local and state officials to move swiftly to address any incidents of uncivil discourse in our schools.
Please attribute the following statement to MALDEF President and General Counsel Thomas A. Saenz.
“Every public school in the state of California is obligated under both state and federal law to step in to prevent and address bullying or harassment on any prohibited basis, including on the basis of actual or assumed immigration status or on the basis of race or ethnicity. These obligations are grounded in the federal and state constitutions; they have not and will not change regardless of who has been elected president or who is serving as president.
MALDEF calls upon school superintendents, principals, other administrators, and teachers to act promptly to address any bullying or harassment tied to the Trump campaign’s regrettable rhetoric around immigration and to take proactive steps to prevent such activity. MALDEF will not hesitate to take legal action against any school that fails to comply with its constitutional and legal obligations with respect to any such conduct.”
Now, I know all Trump supporters aren’t spewing racist remarks towards others but to those who believe electing their candidate gives license to their hate speech, they’re wrong and we have to combat these incidents.
On Nov. 9th, I took to FB, as many of us do to share, comment, vent, and lament.
“My son, in Denver, said people cheered in the streets last night, people wearing White Pride shirts. He’s uncomfortable, angry, and sad, like many of us. Fear ruled the night. I woke up needing to process the choice most Americans made and began my day like all the others, reading my devotional. Psalm 39:7 appeared. It’s about hope. Those of us who don’t like the choice will grieve but please continue to do the work you’ve always done for a better America, for all people. Do not let fear and hate destroy that work or dictate the next four years. Let hope rule the days to come.”
What can you do? What can I do?
Hope is what I will embrace. And don’t get me wrong, hope isn’t only a noun. Hope is a verb, too. Hope as a noun is a feeling of expectation but as a verb, it is a desire for something to happen. Hope in action is significant.
Hope is not passive. I’m reminded by numerous scriptures that Jesus was not a passive man, or apolitical. He confronted injustice, railed against tyranny, and engaged in ‘civil disobedience.’ Be involved with the communities that are hurting.
There are hundreds of things you can do as an individual or family to confront racist incidents. Start with your own family and talk about social justice in your home. Join a civil rights organization, participate in a local or state protest, talk to your kid’s teacher, confront hate, listen to others pain, demonstrate kindness and compassion.
Last night I read my short story to an audience of 80+. My son, brother, and some friends came out to hear me read and accept my award, which made me a little nervous but their presence meant a lot to me. The positive comments afterward helped lift me up from the weariness I and other writers often experience since we usually work in isolation.
Most writers want to write AMAZING prose. Words so delicious that readers can’t wait to scoop up every tasty morsel and flip the page for more.
We want readers to feel emotion when we compose our sentences, to get goosebumps and shivers of excitement. We want readers to be inside the story. We want them to see what we see, hear what we hear, and be right where we are in our head.
Writers want to take the reader into the ghostly forest, a medieval castle, far-flung flung planet, or inside a prison.
So how do you amp up your writing?
Describe what the characters experience without telling them the emotion, i.e. fright, sadness. Describe the sensory details. Use the five senses: Sight, sound, taste, smell and touch. There are really six, but more about that one later.
Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass. Anton Chekhov
This is my stack of books on writing. The ones by Stephen King, Ann Lamott, and Natalie Goldberg are hiding somewhere:
All of these are great books for the mechanics of writing but my go to book isn’t in that stack. It’s on my Kindle.
This book describes the sixth sense: Emotions. There are 75 emotions described by the possible body language cues, thoughts, and visceral responses for each. I also have the companion e-book called Emotional Amplifiers. (The latter book is free).
2. Create compelling characters who have strengths and weaknesses, who are unique in their own way, and who have qualities worth rooting for or caring about. Show some physical characteristics, some language quirk and some personality. Give the reader a character worth remembering.
3. Create the mood by describing the setting. Again, the reader needs to be immersed in the story by visualizing the scene.
Here are some helpful tips on how to incorporate sensory details in your writing:
And here’s some handy tips for creating the mood of your scenes.
These books, The Setting Thesaurus, aren’t out yet, but I’m watching Writers Helping Writers website for the launch date, which right now is June 13, 2016. I’m excited and marked my calendar for their arrival.
I’ve pinned these charts to my “Writing Tips-Fiction” on my Pinterest boards for future reference. You might want to do the same.
I’m writing a story about a twenty-one-year-old young woman. In the midst of writing it, I think damn she’s making a lot of mistakes and I begin to edit some of the stuff out until it dawns on me the character is twenty-one.
I have this ‘thing,’ in my writing, I’ll admit it. I try to protect my main character.
This happens in the first draft. When I re-read the chapter, I realize I’ve made worse mistakes than the character I’m writing about and I lived another day.
I’ve been soft on the main character. I haven’t pushed her.
So I have to quit the coddling the protagonist because I’m being a helicopter writer. (Same as helicopter parent but with an imaginary child). And that never turns out well.
From my own experience, here are some of the signs of a hovering writer:
Boring writing: The writer is afraid to look beyond and beneath the surface. They are afraid to dig and go deeper into the mind of the main character. What will they do with all that emotion? The story then becomes dull. Good fiction has to entertain you, arouse your curiosity and get you into the story.
No character growth: If the writer doesn’t allow the character to fail, what does she learn? This is like with parenting and allowing our kids to fail which helps them to learn from their mistakes.
Nothing bad happens: A reader stops reading. Facebook, Instagram, and the kitties on YouTube are more interesting.
No drama: might as well turn on the television and watch a telenovela.
The character is two-dimensional: She speaks, she acts but she doesn’t feel. There are no emotional wounds and consequently, we feel nothing for the character.
Back to my 21-year-old protagonist. She thinks mistakes are the end of the world. And they are, at least the end of her world as she knows it. She thinks no one else can relate and doesn’t let anyone help her. Remember the arrogance of youth?
This is the point where a writer can push the character and ask the what if questions.
What if the character takes the situation into her own hands? Her depressed, angry, shaky hands.
But if I hover and don’t let her take the situation into her own hands how will the reader know that her struggle allows her to grow? By allowing her to do dumb stuff, like when she tries to control what’s going on, she finds that things don’t turn out like she wanted them to. Life gets worse.
This time in-between where we think our mistakes are the end of the world is the story I’m trying to tell. The space between happiness and misery.
If the character didn’t make the mistakes, what’s the point of the story? If I coddle her, how will I or the reader know how far she’ll go to get what she wants?
Will she realize that she can move past the crappiness of the mistake? Can she move forward, poco a poco? Little by little?
A helicopter writer won’t discover this for their character if they keep hovering. The character won’t be pushed to make a hard choice or be challenged. Neither will the writer.
Worse, the writer will find they just wasted hundreds of hours writing a story that went nowhere.
Take a look at this quiz from Fiction University, about suffering from Nice Writer Syndrome. This is another form of helicopter writing.
Writing characters can be similar to parenting your children. A dose of tough love can help them develop character, uniqueness, and growth.
Have you ever had those days when you’re so unmotivated to write that you’d rather vacuum the rug? When you think of giving up on ‘building’ a writing career? Me too.
This usually happens to me when I’m faced with another revision or starting a new piece of writing or receiving another rejection slip.
Keeping on task and moving forward isn’t easy.
Well, serendipity struck and I came across a fabulous article from Your Writer Platform. After I read the tips I thought of each one as a brick in the process of writing and in the steps to a writing career. (Pun intended).
I’ve added two more tips to their fine suggestions.
Tip #40: Relax: Chill out, it’s not the end of the world. So what you take a brief break from writing.