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.

Writer of the moonlight

Sunny mornings, thundery afternoons. That’s been the weather pattern lately, meaning the days start bright, but become gray by afternoon, making it seem later than it really is.

This weather has me thinking about things like light and dark.

Recently someone said to me, “I can see you writing some dark stuff.” They didn’t mean it in a negative way, just a sense they got, and they were spot on.

For those of us who write things that are a bit darker, there are reasons why we prefer the thunder to the sun.

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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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A recommitment to writing

I’ve done over the past few months what I often do, which is turn inward. I always tell myself I’ll keep a blog going, and it’s not for lack of words and ideas that I don’t. It’s more just that introvert’s tendency to want to live in your own head, in your own private writings, in your own little world.

I’m recommitted to writing – not that I left necessarily, but I got distracted by other things for a while. Now I’m clearing those other things out of my life so that I can get back to that one thing.

That got me to thinking about why it look me so long to get here…

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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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