Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Greetings from Steamboat Springs

Hi everyone!!

This is gonna be a cop-out post (where I totally quote other people's writing tips!) because I'm on our annual family vacation in Steamboat Springs, Colorado--where there is zero humidity and cool mountain air. Bliss.

We drove out this year so that we could bring our bikes and other equipment. Plus, we're going to be out here for two weeks. So, we're talking TWENTY-TWO hours in the car with no DVDs and three little girls! Believe it or not, the trip was fine. We listened to one of the Harry Potter books, and I spent some time reading through some really great writing sites that I had downloaded for the trip. Here are a couple of things that I found:

Neil Gaiman: 8 Good Writing Practices

(I found these on the Paper Wait but check out Neil Gaiman's journal if you want to enter his fabulously eccentric world for a bit)

Neil Gaiman has become so popular he is often considered the “rock star” of the literary world. He trades mostly in science fiction and fantasy in a variety of forms—novels, children’s books, graphic novels, comic books, and film. Among his trend-setting works: Coraline, The Graveyard Book and The Sandman series. He takes readers, of all ages, to the very edge of imagination.

8 Good Writing Practices
1. Write.
2. Put one word after another. Find the right word, put it down.
3. Finish what you're writing. Whatever you have to do to finish it, finish it.
4. Put it aside. Read it pretending you’ve never read it before. Show it to friends whose opinion you respect and who like the kind of thing that this is.
5. Remember: when people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.
6. Fix it. Remember that, sooner or later, before it ever reaches perfection, you will have to let it go and move on and start to write the next thing. Perfection is like chasing the horizon. Keep moving.
7. Laugh at your own jokes.
8. The main rule of writing is that if you do it with enough assurance and confidence, you’re allowed to do whatever you like. (That may be a rule for life as well as for writing. But it’s definitely true for writing.) So write your story as it needs to be written. Write it honestly, and tell it as best you can. I'm not sure that there are any other rules. Not ones that matter.

10 Writing Tips That Can Help Almost Anyone

from Janet Fitch's blog (you should go and visit--she's amazing!)

1. Write the sentence, not just the story
Long ago I got a rejection from the editor of the Santa Monica Review, Jim Krusoe. It said: “Good enough story, but what’s unique about your sentences?” That was the best advice I ever got. Learn to look at your sentences, play with them, make sure there’s music, lots of edges and corners to the sounds. Read your work aloud. Read poetry aloud and try to heighten in every way your sensitivity to the sound and rhythm and shape of sentences. The music of words. I like Dylan Thomas best for this–the Ballad of the Long-Legged Bait. I also like Sexton, Eliot, and Brodsky for the poets and Durrell and Les Plesko for prose. A terrific exercise is to take a paragraph of someone’s writing who has a really strong style, and using their structure, substitute your own words for theirs, and see how they achieved their effects.

2. Pick a better verb
Most people use twenty verbs to describe everything from a run in their stocking to the explosion of an atomic bomb. You know the ones: Was, did, had, made, went, looked… One-size-fits-all looks like crap on anyone. Sew yourself a custom made suit. Pick a better verb. Challenge all those verbs to really lift some weight for you.

3. Kill the Cliché.
When you’re writing, anything you’ve ever heard or read before is a cliché.They can be combinations of words: Cold sweat. Fire-engine red, or phrases: on the same page, level playing field, or metaphors: big as a house. So quiet you could hear a pin drop. Sometimes things themselves are cliches: fuzzy dice, pink flamingo lawn ornaments, long blonde hair.Just keep asking yourself, “Honestly, have I ever seen this before?” Even if Shakespeare wrote it, or Virginia Woolf, it’s a cliché. You’re a writer and you have to invent it from scratch, all by yourself. That’s why writing is a lot of work, and demands unflinching honesty.

4. Variety is the key.
Most people write the same sentence over and over again. The same number of words–say, 8-10, or 10-12. The same sentence structure. Try to become stretchy–if you generally write 8 words, throw a 20 word sentence in there, and a few three-word shorties. If you’re generally a 20 word writer, make sure you throw in some threes, fivers and sevens, just to keep the reader from going crosseyed.

5. Explore sentences using dependent clauses
A dependent clause (a sentence fragment set off by commas, dontcha know) helps you explore your story by moving you deeper into the sentence. It allows you to stop and think harder about what you’ve already written. Often the story you’re looking for is
inside the sentence. The dependent clause helps you uncover it.

6. Use the landscape
Always tell us where we are. And don’t just tell us
where something is, make it pay off. Use description of landscape to help you establish the emotional tone of the scene. Keep notes of how other authors establish mood and foreshadow events by describing the world around the character. Look at the openings of Fitzgerald stories, and Graham Greene, they’re great at this.

7. Smarten up your protagonist
Your protagonist is your reader’s portal into the story. The more observant he or she can be, the more vivid will be the world you’re creating. They don’t have to be super-educated, they just have to be mentally active. Keep them looking, thinking, wondering, remembering.

8. Learn to write dialogue

This involves more than I can discuss here, but do it. Read the writers of great prose dialogue–people like Robert Stone and Joan Didion. Compression, saying as little as possible, making everything carry much more than is actually said. Conflict. Dialogue as part of an ongoing world, not just voices in a dark room. Never say the obvious. Skip the meet and greet.

9. Write in scenes
What is a scene? a) A scene starts and ends in one place at one time (the Aristotelian unities of time and place–this stuff goes waaaayyyy back). b) A scene starts in one place emotionally and ends in another place emotionally. Starts angry, ends embarrassed. Starts lovestruck, ends disgusted. c) Something happens in a scene, whereby the character cannot go back to the way things were before. Make sure to finish a scene before you go on to the next.
Make something happen.

10. Torture your protagonist
The writer is both a sadist and a masochist. We create people we love, and then we torture them. The more we love them, and the more cleverly we torture them along the lines of their greatest vulnerability and fear, the better the story. Sometimes we try to protect them from getting booboos that are too big. Don’t. This is your protagonist, not your kid.

So . . . I'm not getting much writing done while I'm out here, but I'm doing a lot of reading about writing (as well as working my way through my to-be- read stack). I'm gonna be rarin' to go when we get home and my kiddos go back to school (school starts August 6th in Mississippi--can you believe it????).




Tere Kirkland said...

Ah, enjoy the low humidity while you can!

Thanks for the tips and enjoy the rest of your vacay!

Katie said...

Oh wow. I LOVED this advice! Thanks man. And you aren't missing anything here except the heat. yuck. And humidity. double yuck.

Shelli (srjohannes) said...

man im going to miss your notes in LA :)

gave you guys an award today on my blog :)

salarsenッ said...

You wrote this on vacation?? Really, this is wonderful. So much info. I'm leaving for a brief weekend getaway, tomorrow. I'm taking this with me for the ride. Thank you.

BTW, you both are extremely lovely and talented ladies. So glad I found you here. ";-)

Christina Lee said...

Did you say ZERO humidity? Oh, divine! I love Jane's tips--so good!

Samantha said...

Those writing tips were wonderful! Thanks for finding them and sharing. Have a fun vacation. :)

Kimberley Griffiths Little said...

Fabulous tips, SF! Enjoy Colorado! We're dripping in heat and humidity in NM. With only a swamp cooler. . . yuck.

Kelly H-Y said...

Your vacation sounds blissful! Enjoy! And ... so brilliant to bring Harry Potter on CD for the kids to listen to in the car!

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