Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The Writing Path

 Writers, Writing and Wannabes    

      There are always news tidbits to catch our attention – an interesting medical development, a frog so little it’s dwarfed by the dime it’s squatting upon, or how many people are living in poverty. 
      Within days, sometimes hours, we forget most of these. One remained in my mind. It wasn’t related to anything of particular importance to our health or our economy. It was just a little throwaway statistic. To me, it was a bit of a “believe it or not” issue, and I could hardly believe that 81% of our populace feels they have a story worth writing.

      Hard to believe? I thought so. Until I thought about it a moment. How often have you heard someone say, “That’d make a great story”? Or, “You ought to write that down”?
And generally, that’s correct. Our grandfather’s tales of the good ‘ole days, the nerve-racking experiences of a vacation gone wrong, workplace incidents – all have made good stories in the telling, so you decide to turn them into a written narrative.

        You read the words you’ve written. Something has changed. The story has lost its impact, it no longer seems especially interesting, and it has certainly lost every smidgen of its original humor.
     What went wrong? For one thing, in the vocal version, the teller used body language. Just try translating that into words, you would-be-writers.
     Then, there are all the different voice inflections that are used as a story is told. They don’t translate well, either.
      Okay, the English language is full of words. They fill dictionaries so thick we can barely lift them. If you’re writing on a computer you don’t have to worry with those archaic things called reference books. A dictionary or thesaurus is at your service, with the click of a key.
     With those tools, writing should be a snap, right?
     Wrong. There are rules in writing.

     Any sensible person would now either turn on the TV, or pick up that book they’ve been intending to read for the last two months.
     A determined writer does neither of these things. They enroll in some type of writing class; a local seminar, perhaps, or one conducted online. They plunk down money to learn more about the various ways they can torment themselves by attempting to arrange words into interesting sentences.

      Now, if you’re one of these wannabe writers, you may have already learned you can't spell. The little doodad you won in the fifth grade as a spelling prize means nothing. At times, even one-syllable words have brought you to a halt.
      That’s a bit frustrating, but no big problem.  Computer and writing apps have spell check, and if you’ve come anywhere near the correct combination of letters, they’ll very graciously supply the correct spelling.
      Punctuation? Maybe you have a good grasp of the rules. Most likely you don’t. There’re a few pitfalls here: editors don’t like exclamation points. Please don’t rely on that little mark to tell them something is being said with special emphasis. “Show me,” they insist. So you show them, with that elusive word that’s tucked away in the dictionary – or the thesaurus. It’s there, if you can remember how to spell it.
                                                                            ! ,  ? ! , . " - ' ,  
Those little squiggles above have rules governing their use. The comma, for example, has at least 15 rules of 'dos' and 'don'ts'. 

      There’s also a little problem for those who learned to type many years ago. Long, long ago, typists inserted two spaces at the end of a sentence. Click, click. It’s as automatic as breathing. Today, it’s a no-no. Has something to do with our brainy computers handling the spacing, with no input from the writer.
      If the writing bug has given you a serious case of writing fever, all these little spelling and punctuation problems are shrugged off. You’ve learned to cope - you have mastered a multitude of online writing helps.  All you need is a little boost from a writing course. Something to take off the rough edges of what you’re writing. 

     That’s not at all difficult. There are many classes being offered online. All the eager writer needs to do is look for one that fits their needs – and shake out that piggy bank for a bit of financing

     So let the fun begin.

          One class, Making Writing a Happy Habit, coached by Cynthia Morris, is an enjoyable and enthusiastic venture into learning why you write and how to keep writing, no matter what. Students explore their goals and weaknesses, and share their problems with other aspiring writers. In this class there is a great amount of camaraderie as the writers find their writing problems are very similar – and there is constant coaching and encouragement. Cynthia also offers a great variety of online classes, tips, and writing help books.

     There are classes for every phase of writing- for every step along the way. The wannabe can find guidance from the first sentence, to the signing of a publishing contract. There’re also free tips and guidelines, best used as ongoing support.

      Some classes focus on techniques and the basic rules of writing. These are especially important, but aren’t for wimps or know-it-alls. It takes a tough skin to endure the criticism of those wonderful words you submitted in the lesson plan. In addition, if you are convinced you know your writing is correct and interesting and doesn’t need the suggestions you’re receiving––well, you have more to learn than you suspected.
     Often a sample of your writing is requested. The student submits an interesting paragraph or two with nice colorful descriptions, and a bit of exciting action, and sits back waiting for a bit of praise. Obviously, a person with an exceptional amount of talent has written this. Surely the instructor will recognize this fact.
     Wrong. Something unheard of has happened. That perfectly worded sentence is passive.  How can that be? Come on, now, it was full of action, how can it be passive?
     Read the rules.
     Okay, first lesson learned.  More writing submitted. Something called POV pops up.  It seems a writer must be careful about switching from the point of view of one character to another.
Read the rules.

      So goes the class. The student learns their first beautiful scene-setting paragraph is entirely too bland for an opening - something exciting is in order. This may have something to do with our changing society – the need to have something stimulating and exciting, now. Who wants to take the time to read a description of the peaceful pastoral scene. No, the reader wants thunder and flashes of lightening. A weeping heroine, a racing car - action is in demand - in a non-passive sentence, of course - and  the goal of a writer, is to tweak the interest of the reader, so again, go by the rules.
     You’ve taken several classes, studied the rules, and perhaps you’ve learned you have a great idea but are a long way from being a skillful writer. What comes next? Do you give up? No. You edit, you rewrite. You repeat the process again and again.
One writing coach has stated that if you truly want to write, you will. Nothing will stop you.
      There’s one more step to take. Before sending your finished manuscript out to take its chances in the cruel world, you must have it read and edited, either by a professional (not an inexpensive route) or by a critique group. You cannot critique your own work.  You can edit and edit again, but your mind   will skim over unclear statements and repetitious words.
      Some of those in a group may be more critical than you’re comfortable with, but even the most severe and painful criticism can be helpful. Usually!
      Having other writers read your work is extremely helpful, and fun, besides. You’re meeting other writers and even learning by critiquing their work. You will also learn that the words that were in your mind didn’t always make it to the printed page. Rewrite, rewrite, rewrite.
      Use the suggestions, both the good and the bad, constructively. Think about it. There’s no rule, no law saying you must do as one critic insists. Remember the old fable of the man who tried to please everyone? ‘Taint possible. Your work is yours. It’s your decision.

     You still want to write that story? Get a soft cushion for your chair, vow to ignore the laundry, the scattered newspapers, all big sale advertisements, and learn to drink your coffee cold.

     That's  the path you've embarked upon. Enjoy.


Monday, February 27, 2012

Things Saved


Many bits of information have come my way, usually forwarded through Facebook, , some funny, some educational, and some worrisome. And I save them. My files are worthy of the attention of those folks featured on television – the one that shows the homes of hoarders. And just like those hoarders, there’s some good stuff stashed away in my files – if I could just find it.

Tonight, I’m systematically (if you believe that, you don’t know me very well), going through the clearly marked “Fun Stuff” file. I see a lot of 'stuff' in there -everything from cartoons to old worn out jokes, but “systematic” isn’t going to fit this project. No way. Haphazard is a much better word.

The very first thing I opened was a group of fun-poking cartoons about aging. A few were saved the rest discarded.
Next came a file of old Southern sayings listed alphabetically – the  Southern saying, spelled phonically on the left, the meaning on the right.

Many of these have migrated westward and are readily understood by Texans––at least this Texan.  Hm-m-m. This could explain why I get questioning looks when chatting with out-of-state friends.

To name a few that caught my eye:
Catty-corner(ed)            Diagonal
Cattywampus                Askew, awry, not straight
Chinchy                        Real stingy
Conniption                    A major fit, a total loss of control of one’s temper
Consarned                     An expression used by those who don’t wish to say “damned” 
Fixins                          What is needed to prepare a dish
Frazzle                         Worn out, fatigue, nervous because of some happening
Heap                            Quanity, a great amount
Holler                          A small valley––also to talk at the top of your voice
Kick up a ruckus           To cause a commotion
Kilt                              Past tense of kill

This dictionery of sayings is a keeper.  My score for the night: one file tossed in the trash, one file saved, and an hour or so browsing and laughing. But I’m curious––Were the meaning of those words clear to you––without reading the definitions?

This project may be too time-consuming to continue. I’ll give it some thought.