Delete the explanation

The other week in class, my writing instructor said, “When you get rid of the explanation, the emotion really comes through.”

That hit me, because I was like…this is truth. This is a life lesson.

Reveal something without directly saying it, and you make it much more powerful.

Watch how others around you reveal things without speaking.

Watch how the world reveals itself.

Learn to reveal yourself without feeling the need to JADE (justify, argue, defend, explain).

And if you’re a writer, learn how to make your writing do the work for you – if you show enough, it should minimize how much you have to tell.

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Literary mea culpas, literary prayers

In my writing class, there’s a certain format to things. We read a bit of this, then reflect. Read another passage, discuss. A literary liturgy of sorts.

There’s something about this class that reminds me of Catholic masses, only without the standing and kneeling. (Though, I would say, our literary docent probably wouldn’t mind if we stood or knelt or did handstands – this isn’t a formal environment.)

If I’m honest, there is something prayerful about this process. If a prayer is, as the dictionary informs me, “a solemn request for help,” then I am a praying person. I may not direct that energy at an omniscient being, but I do constantly commune with my characters in my mind, pleading with them —

“Tell me what happened to you.”
“How did you feel about that?”
“Thank you, thank you for sharing yourself with me.”
“I’m sorry, I’m really truly sorry I have to expose you like this. I’m sorry I have to make this hurt.”

I’m sorry. I’m sorry.

I will get better at this. I will write less, but say more. I will be ruthless and intentional. I will navigate the terrain of this story without fear. I will keep going, even when my devotion begins to crack and my faith in the thing starts to evaporate away. I will continue. I will persevere.

Writing program!

I got into a two year intensive writing program for people writing books – fiction and non-fiction, though mine is fiction.

Emotions are high – I’m excited, I’m terrified, I’m confident, I’m plagued with self-doubt. The word of the week is vacillation.

I knew I wanted to do this, but I didn’t know how much I *needed* this until I got my acceptance. The need is similar to a compulsion, of which I have several – it’s that sort of feeling – like anxiety swirled with desire and sprinkled with just a tiny bit of queasiness. Looking at the first year’s curriculum is honestly terrifying – 9 classes and 3 weekend intensives.

I owe this to the 3-Day Novel Contest. It was last year during 3DN that I wrote the very first draft of my book – and it was one of those years that something magical happened. If the writing process in general is like driving through a traffic-burdened city, with lots of stops and starts and turns and merges, then 3DN is (if you do it right) like driving down a deserted desert highway in a convertible with the top down and your hair blowing everywhere.

In 2018, it paid off. I ended up with a story that…well, I have no idea where it came from. Characters just came to life, as if I swallowed inspiration and they all burst from my forehead. It was a strange experience, one I’ve had before but not for many years. It makes me understand the what the ancient poets meant when they said it was the Muses working through them. I felt as if I was merely taking dictation. The story wrote itself.

I had a feeling about that messy, complicated story that started to emerge. I worked at it months, developed a robust outline, turned in application and a writing sample…

And now, 1 year and 1 week after I began it, I will be formally beginning a writing program during which I will be doing a lot of skill-building and working toward having a complete first draft by next summer. Second year focuses on revising and editing.

I’m still a bit stunned. It feels so unreal – and I keep waiting for the universe to drop something bad on me to balance out the good. That’s how stories go, after all – the protagonist never follows a straight line. It’s obstacle after obstacle, it’s moments of doubt, it’s lots of questioning and sacrifice before they finally reach the end.

What challenges will come my way? Muses, gods, fates and faeries ~ be kind.

Outline this.

I had a day off, and spent it drafting an outline.

I’ve never been one who was able to write to an outline. My stories like to go off on little weekend retreats without telling me then come back and start ordering me around with the pride and swagger of a newly hatched adolescent. Mostly they have no idea what they’re talking about, and refuse to listen to reason.

But when I try to force them to go in a certain direction, I always end up watching the story collapse in on itself.

I found that an important part of the writing process is figuring out your writing process. You only do that by writing.

Let go of the idea that the first thing you write will be the first thing you publish. For many people, it takes a while to get into your stride – to find your voice, your style, and how you work best.

Take classes and seminars and talk to other writers.

Then go home, forget everything you were told, and just figure out what works for you.

What works for me is this: Free write a loose first draft. Do a quick first round edit, where a loose outline is made and the story is split into sections.

And then I use the loose draft as a template, and essentially write over it. I never, ever get attached.

Honestly, there’s no right or wrong way to write. There’s just your way. I had to listen to what other writers do and try on a lot of different methods before I found what works for me.

That’s part of why they say if you can imagine yourself doing anything else, then do it. There’s a self-discovery element to writing that tends to vacillate between exhilarating and “OMG I need therapy.”

Today, I had to do an outline, because I’m applying for something that requires submitting an outline. I’m pretty sure my story is going to rebel now. I’ll wake up tomorrow and it’ll be missing, only to turn up again in a few more days with new haircut and a few tattoos, including one of a heart with an arrow through it that says “Outline this” in big, bold letters.

A message is not a story

As an independent editor/beta reader, I see a lot of writers fall into the message trap – they have something they want to say, something they feel is important, and they’re very passionate about it.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with this – in fact, even if you’re a pantser (vs a plotter), you should be able to articulate what the core of your story is about. There may be more than one theme or message or question that you’re exploring, or there may be just one central message or theme.

The problem I see, especially with newer writers, is that they sometimes focus on the message instead of the story.

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The art of subtlety in writing

I belong to a support group, and someone in that group recommended reading a YA book called ‘Jacob Have I Loved.’ It’s about a girl who grows up on an island in the Chesapeake Bay area with a twin sister who’s very different from her – favored and pampered by their parents and the community in general. The title refers to this Bible verse (even though it’s not a religious book):

As it is written, ‘Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.’ – Romans 9:13

To give context, in the Bible, Jacob and Esau are twins. Esau is the older one, but Jacob deceives him and receives a very important blessing from their elderly father. The book invokes the conflict between Jacob and Esau in the title; the narrator relates to Esau, as technically she’s the oldest, but it’s the youngest who manages to take attention away from her.

I was reading with a purpose – specifically to look at the dynamic between the siblings and within the family unit. Art reflects life, after all.

What I found were great examples of ‘show, don’t tell’ and subtlety in writing.

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Word gardener

Grad school is out for the summer, which means I finally have more time to decompress…and think, and write, and read about things that aren’t part of my grad program. Someone once described grad school to me as intellectual boot camp, and I think there’s a truth to that. I would actually call it emotional boot camp as well. This isn’t my first grad program, so I knew going in that it would, at times, encompass a lot of my brain’s energy.

I’m also doing it with a chronic illness (which keeps throwing new and interesting symptoms at me), and a searing need to write. And writing is what I’m here to write about.

I don’t post as much of my writing publicly because it’s shifted. I had a few realizations as I got older, and one was that my early fixation on publishing had less to do with publishing and more to do with wanting to feel heard.

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