I’ve finished my Tana French detective series and didn’t want to go to bed without another book in hand. (Nevermind there are three on my bedside table).
I began browsing my bookshelf, which is semi-organized: books I’ve read and loved. Books I want to read. School books. Writing books. and, of course, Poe books
I also have something mixed in that would seem, at first glance, not to belong. Books on psychology, the law, philosophy. I assume many writer’s bookshelves are this way.
A writer needs a wide variety of knowledge.
I know we have google at our disposal; however, I find reading books about, for example, the Psychology of Marketing allows me to get an in depth look that a wikipage or a few short articles are not going to give me. This allows me to create a more realistic character or more thorough background to make the story more believable.
For West End, I needed to understand two things, the idea of an absent or unloving mother, and the different forms depression can take. Anxiety runs throughout my work from Of Strays and Exes to Life of Clouds – which features children affected in different ways by the disappearance of their father.
I’ve heard handymen say they are the jack of all trades. I think writers are akin to that. We need to learn many things in order to live many lives.
Write what scares you…..
This is a poetry prompt given to me in one of my graduate level classes.
I don’t think it has to be just for poetry.
Experts tell us we should do something that scares us every day. I don’t know. I’ve done quite a lot of things that scare me – crossing the highest bridge in North America, swimming with sharks, – but those are kinds of scary that gives you a rush. Still valid to write about.
But in that assignment and poem, I wrote about a missing girl. Because those are the types of things that do scare me – when children go missing.
Have you seen her pass this way?
Shoe found, white.
Blood on the laces….
Write about what scares you….
Feel free to share!
“Read, read, read. Read everything — trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read! You’ll absorb it.
Then write. If it’s good, you’ll find out. If it’s not, throw it out of the window.”
Some people feel they should not read others or study the masters because it will influence their voice; however, experts recommend that is where you begin in order to develop your voice. Finding your voice takes time and it takes writing, regardless of who you read. But you do, without a doubt, need to read far and wide.
Neil Gaiman says lies are what fiction is made of. Well, yes, but….
He says, we make up people and places and put them in circumstances which aren’t true. Yes, well, but…
But we tell some sort of universal truth with these lies and that’s what makes it good fiction.
Gaiman is all about honesty, so I’m surprised he calls what we do lies. I don’t consider fiction lies. But I can see how people think it is. But then, do we call writers liars? I would hope not.
There’s a difference, isn’t there? I, personally, keep my life honest. I appreciate honesty from everyone in my circle and will not continue to be around people who are known to have lied.
Plato believed fiction was dangerous to society. He wrote in “dialogues” to teach philosophy or what he believed philosophical truths.
He was fictionalizing these dialogues. And if fictions, like philosophy, seek truth and honesty, aren’t they important?
Gaiman says the magic of fiction is the big, important truth.
I guess, if the fiction doesn’t tell us a truth, it has been a waste of our time, of our words, and is, therefore, a lie.
We’ve heard that we should read aloud to ourselves. And we absolutely know this works. We are able to hear our mistakes, rewrite and hear it a different way to see if it sounds better.
But how many of us actually do it?
Back in the day (as my students say), copy-editors and writers read the work aloud with one another or within a group to catch mistakes before publications. Some critique groups do this as well.
When I read aloud, it sounds the way I think I want it to sound. It helps me to have someone else read it to me while I’m reading it on the screen.
This is what I suggest. Microsoft word has a setting that will read the text to you. I’ve found this incredibly helpful.
There are a number of programs if you don’t have microsoft or can’t stand the monotone.
Some writers record themselves reading the story, then listen to it while they reread in order to catch mistakes.
Let’s be honest – we all make mistakes. And to be more honest – it doesn’t look good in publication. Unfortunately, I’ve sent things out with mistakes. Fortunately, I’ve had some great editors (and publishers) who called my attention to these errors.
How are you like a peanut?
I gave this prompt to my students. Even as I was assigning this prompt, I saw the looks on their faces. They were not the first class to question my sanity; that happens regularly. So, my answer, must be “I’m a little nutty.”
Some of my students came up with amazing responses.
- Like a peanut, I have a hard shell. But once I open up, I’m quite pleasant to know.
- Like a peanut, I’m coming out of my shell.
- Like a peanut, I’m a little rough around the edges, but smooth on the inside.
- Like a peanut, I am versatile.
- Like a peanut in a shell, I am not alone.
- Like a peanut, I’m caramel colored.
This is challenging and, as writers, we must challenge ourselves. When we challenge ourselves, new parts of us open and allow us to grow and see life from a different point of view.
Choose an item from your refrigerator or snack drawer and compare it to yourself.
(Or choose an item and compare it to your main character.)
If you’d like to share it in our group, please do.
Steven Tyler of Aerosmith says, “Dare to Suck.”
It seems that he and his band mates have a regular meeting in which they bring the wildest, crappiest, outlandish ideas to toss them around and see if they work.
9 out of 10 of those ideas have to be trashed – but the tenth gets you something like “Dude Walks Like a Lady.”
Why not throw around ideas that seem completely outrageous?! They can always be canned later, but in the meantime you have some ideas to play with and you might, well, come up with something good.
I wrote the line, “When I killed my neighbors dog…” My friends said, you can not use that. But I played with it to see where it might take me, and I wrote “Of Strays and Exes” by just playing with this strange line that came to me in a dream.
It was accepted for publication in Pilcrow and Dagger almost immediately and later made into a podcast. You can find it kindle now, or search P&G’s podcasts.
**Disclaimer: No animals were killed or injured in the writing of that story.