Category Archives: The Writing Life

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Drilling the Inner Editor

“As I walk through the valley of death I fear no one, for I am the meanest mother fucker in the valley!” – Gen. George S. Patton’s speech to the 3rd Army.

I believe no other American general in modern history has ever been as quoted, or has been as brutally honest in his command as Gen. Patton. Many of you may have heard the quote from above. Sgt. Siek’s character rehashed it the movie Jarhead, and of course Gen. Patton reworked it into this blasphemous form from Psalm 23 of the Holy Bible.

All of that aside, Gen. Patton was responsible for a great many changes in the military, mostly dealing with aggressiveness, teamwork, and drilling training until it became an individual’s primary nature. In example, the other night at work my coworker came around the corner holding a knife. In the blink of an eye, I grabbed his wrist, almost breaking it as I pulled him to floor, disarmed the knife and had it to his throat (yes, I am prior military and have fifteen years of various forms martial arts and hand to hand combat training). Needless to say, I perceived a threat and nullified it. I acted out of training.

So now, you are wondering what all this has to with writing. Well everything. From the moment we are born we learn to communicate from our parents. They speak to us, and gradually we learn Yoda; object-subject-verb (“Destroy the Sith, we must,” Star Wars: Episode 3). Eventually, we learn the right way, the English way, of structuring a sentence, which is subject-verb-object (We must destroy the Sith).

We start going to school and teachers attempt to train us in the theory of a sentence. What a subject is, a verb, an object; you know, the simple stuff. As the years go by, the shit gets deeper. We learn about multiple types of verbs, nouns that describe nouns, participles, gerunds, and modifiers. By the time we graduate, we are desensitized to terminology, as we either didn’t pay attention, or it is so much a part of us that it really all seems trivial.

Everyone is a writer, if you think about it really, but those of us who use writing as an art, as I have always said, are truly a different breed of being. Before I go any further, let’s face the facts, the rules of English grammar and style are so extensive that no one could ever truly memorize it all. If that were the case, we wouldn’t have to pay for editors and massive style guides to reference, like the Chicago Manual of Style.

I know plenty of writers; I have been a ghost writer for a few, and have edited a fair amount of material. I have been an English tutor at a local college, and I professionally tutor English as a side job to high school kids and college freshmen. If there is one thing that I’ve learned is that we all have a few practical issues. No one’s perfect; we have strengths and weaknesses, and nothing is harder than editing ourselves because we are blinded by our own ingenuity and pride of our work, or even apt laziness.

One of the greatest men I’ve had the honor of knowing was a squad leader I had in the Army. SSG. Larsen wasn’t the yelling type you see in the movies. He didn’t need to blow up to get us motivated to learn. His leadership alone was enough to inspire greatness. When we lacked skill in an area of our training he would drill us, drill us, and drill us some more until it became nature.

Most of us speak the rules right, but we often become blind to the rules, or don’t know them when it comes to our in inner-editor. Here are some suggestions:

Keep learning and relearning about your skills by continuously evaluating your strengths and weaknesses: Read several pieces of your work objectively. Make a list of what you believe are your strengths and weaknesses. Highlight all the grammatical issues you are seeing too. Get another person who has adequate editing skills to do the same and see if he or she is seeing the same issues, or even issues that you are not seeing.

Get back to the Basics: In example, if find out you are having a hard time with sentence structure regarding verb forms and infinitives, get back to the basics. Invest some money and buy Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style and/or the Chicago Manual of Style. These should be the first two reference books on everyone’s desk. Read the rules religiously for a few weeks and try to conceive why you may be using your verb forms wrong.  

Drill: After getting a grasp on the material; practice, practice, practice!  Practice the right way and break your old habit. Keep in mind that you’re probably doing something wrong because you’ve trained yourself that way. Old habits die hard as the old cliché goes. The point is to make the elements of style second nature when you are writing, so you can have fun with the story or article when you go back for your rewrite.

Drill More: Skills seem to fade with time when the basics are not practiced regularly.  J. S. Chancellor noticed some tense issues editing a story of mine a while back. I spend at least a half hour a week practicing. There are plenty of practice test on the web to help keep your skills in check.

Share what you’re learning with others: As stated, we all have issues. Sharing with others is an invaluable way to learn, as you can learn from others as well.

Even experienced writers feel as if they are walking through a valley of death when they submit work to a publisher. No one’s safe from the editor and those deathly looking rejection slips, but making sure your inner-editor is properly drilled and fine tuned is a good way to boost your morale. Knowing how to dispute the rules of style is important for arguing for the sake of your own personal style. Drill your inner-editor every day, make it second nature, if not primary, and know that you’re the meanest fucking writer in the valley.

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You Have the Right to Remain Silent.

En Silence by Melanie Delon

 

“Silence is a source of great strength,” Lao Tzu.

Silence.  Sometimes nothing can be more beautiful for a writer.  At other times, silence can be disturbing. 
 
If you are like methat is having no life, you may understand what I meant by that.  I often feel like I know why a majority of writers around the Victorian era were alcoholics.  They didn’t have facebook. 
 
I am a recluse.  I live in the sticks, as they call it around where I live.  I used to live about 10 miles from town.  As the world grows smaller, I only need to drive about two miles to go the grocery store or get gas.  Hell, I wouldn’t be surprised to wake up one morning with a Subway in my front yard. 
 
I believe those of us who choose to write are a different breed of human.  Where some only see big picture, we can see the individual molecules that create the scene of the whole.  We are able replicate the picture realistically, or distort into an Urban Fantasy. 
 
Though our work and passion is lonely in nature, we are all inspired by the calamity of life.  Of course, we distort and rearrange details so that we are not held liable in court for making an impression of a living person or place.  God forbid, Aunt Mary believes she’s entitled to the little bit of money we do make because she turns up in the pages of our book, or your ex feel that you’re slandering them in your new romantic novel about infidelity; especially since the bastard cheated on you a million times over with your best friend. 
 
A writer’s work is filtered through personal perspective.  Even journalist have a hard time remaining objective.  However, what about our subjects? 
 
I am pretty fond of Cindy Adam’s Writer’s Miranda Writes for Their Subjects.  I original read this in article in Writer’s Digest in 2008, I believe, and I have chosen to share with you. 
 
     1 . You have the right to remain silent and refuse to answer questions. Do you understand that I will make stuff up, with or without your input?
 
2. Anything you do say may be used in my next project. Do you understand that my opinion of you will affect how others perceive you?

3. You have the right to consult an attorney … now or in the future. Do you understand that if you seek legal action you will be, in effect, admitting you’re guilty of the actions and/or behavior of said character?

4. If you can’t afford an attorney, tough. Do you understand that I’m counting on it?

5. If you decide to answer questions, or otherwise continue our relationship, you’ll still have the right to stop answering questions at any time. Do you understand that I’ll still make stuff up?

6. Knowing and understanding your rights as I have explained them to you, are you still willing to be my friend?  

 Do our friends have the right to know when a character in a story is based on them, or should we leave them to wonder?

 

Adams, Cindy. “Writer’s Miranda Rights for Their Subjects”.  Writer’sDigest.Com.  2008. 

 

Alex Ana Neek Rasak (Writing Sex Scenes)

“Literature is all, or mostly, about sex,” Anthony Burgess. 

But what sex?  Sexual Intercourse! Oh-Jeez, not the dreaded “S” word again.  

To look at this quote is, of course, to look at ambiguity.  I am fairly certain Burgess means to use sex in relationship to gender, another ambiguous term in psychology when applied to individual morals. 

But I am not speaking about gender, sexual identity, or being a man or woman.  I am speaking about the act of physical sexual intercourse.  I am sure in today’s modern over-sexed society, Burgess has been misinterpreted plenty.  When I first read it, I was like…what? 

Literature is definitely not, not even “mostly”, about sex.   It is about desire.  The need to understand, to comprehend, and even to share empathy with characters, or situations, in which we identify with or find interesting by learning something about ourselves or the world. 

But what about sexual desire?  We all have it, right?  Well most of us in one way or another.  But sex scenes have often been said to rape literature of it artistic value.  However, sex in literature has been around for a long time.  The Bible’s Song of Songs is an interesting example.  Dante in his Divine Comedy makes an adulterous reference, though excludes to describe the act.  In fact, sex is clear in many works of literature written during times we believe society to moral and pure.  The Victorian Gothic is often filled with reference.  Jane Eyre resist Rochester’s grouping and she listens to his stories of debauchery while in he is visiting France.  D. H. Laurence, Bram Stoker, Virginia Woolf, and even Poe uses perversity in his story Ligeia. 

Somewhere, during the great feminist movement, sex, in one way or another became graphically written on the pages.  I can’t say I’ve read an Angela Carter story that hasn’t used sex as a metaphor, but most of her work that I am acquainted with was written before the so-called “second wave” of the feminist movement in the 1970’s. 

Today, sex is everywhere.  Books, TV, internet, bill boards, street corners, magazines, you name it, it’s there.  I believe that for some modern writers, sex seems necessary.  Romantic and Erotic Authors make their money wooing the wiles of women and men.  However, when it pops up in popular contemporary literature, even genre fiction, critics place it on a double-edged sword. 

And then there is the stories where sex must be used.  If you have read any Bret Easton Ellis, then you know how he uses sex to convey his characters and modern society.  American Psycho had so much sex in it, I thought I was reading Penthouse fan literature at times.  Less Than Zero was like verging on the tip end of a moral dilemma.  Yet it was necessary to show Bateman and Clay’s psychological state. 

I am no amateur to implying a sex scene in my work.  However, I have come on a character who requires me to express her character in the terms of sex.  I guess her being a girl has made it all the more challenging.  I penned my first graphic scene last night using sex as metaphor for drug abuse and anorexia.  My theme explores, sometimes in brief, all the hot topics of our day.  It is my first attempt at being generally Contemporary; though I am attempting to raise the bar, so to speak, on what is and isn’t acceptable to speak about in my rural society.   Here is an excerpt:

 I hesitate at first to do the same.  Not that the thought hasn’t crossed my mind to be with another girl, just there is an overwhelming sense of disgust in myself for finding her attractive.  I feel intensely bitter exploring the fine patina of her firm tummy and crevasses of her protruding ribs.  Suddenly, I witness the letters E-P-I-P-H-A-N-Y floating out of her glossy blue eyes.  I hardly know if it spells anything, but I realize her flesh is like an offering from God and I am at the altar.

Of course this is subject to change and I do go into rather graphic detail between Alex and Mouse, but I am attempting to do so much more than have two girls, people, have sex.  Sex written for the sake of being written is wrong.  It must have purpose and move the plot.

On Inspiration: Apathetic Procrastinator and Literary Perfectionist

Hey, Mind Flayers, Zombies, and Ghouls, as well as Elves, Paladins, Death Knights, Dragons, Santa Clause, Elvis and the Tooth Fairy.  I have felt a bit inspirational lately.  However, procrastination aside, school, and family life are keeping me from pounding out every little thought that comes to my mind (and, o-yeah, I do not procrastinate and I don’t believe in writer’s block).   Inspiration is all around us; you and me that is, and if you fell to believe me you are being apathetic. 

 Why do I say this?  Because either you have to agree, that inspiration is always seeping into your brain.  That simple conversation you had with store clerk or that creaking sound coming from underneath your floorboard can be a story in the making.  Now, can I promise you that it will be a great story?  Hell no!  That depends on the elements of craft and your level of skill. 

However, I am going to say that if you disagree with me, you’re still being inspired.  You have been inspired to form an idea or opinion about my own opinions.  Would that make a good story?  Probably to a bunch of old school literary fiction lovers.

If you are felling to see my point, ask yourself this.  Am I the apathetic procrastinator of the written word or a literary perfectionist?   Both of these stereotypes have a couple of things in common.  One, they both are endlessly searching for the perfect story.  Two, neither can put a thought down on paper for differing reasons.  The apathetic procrastinator gets nothing done because his idea is not going to become a major motion picture.  The literary perfectionist gets something down on paper, but fails to finish because he is using too many adjectives or his or her story isn’t, well, perfect from beginning to end as he or she places their thoughts into substance. 

I believe there is no such thing as the perfect story, there is only good writing and bad writing.  The qualifiers of these principles will be a different blog.  Point being, take your idea and put it to paper, finish it, and lock it away and move on to the next idea.  You can come back to it later and make it sound all pretty.

Jack London said, “You can’t wait for inspiration, you have to go after it with a club.”  Good old Jack fails to mention you don’t have to go far to beat your inspiration into something someone, somewhere, will read and enjoy. 

Inspiration is all around us.  It’s in the news, in the sky, on your way to work, in the little quirks your kids say, under your house, and in the walls.  All you need do is be willing to accept it with open eyes and ears and use some imaginative manipulation.

But Sister, Diaries Are For Writers Too!

“There are many reasons for keeping a diary: to make a note of facts that one considers important; to open one’s heart, to give vent to one’s feelings, to make confessions; from the instinct of economy which sometimes encourages a writer to make good use of even the smallest crumbs of his life, so that he may have one more book to publish; or again from vanity and self-satisfaction.” ~ Alberto Moravia

 “Keeping a diary is for girls,” my sister said to me this morning.  I, of course, took offense to this sexist statement.  My reply was “sex may be between the legs, but gender is something in the head.”  I bet that she thought about my answer while catching some late evening Monday sitcom.  She is old-fashioned and will not ever understand what I said, but by tomorrow, or the day after, she will forget altogether.  Nevertheless, I guarantee that if she kept a journal, or diary, she could reflect on it more closely and she would be less likely to forget.  

But what is a diary or journal?  Many out there still think have a sexist connotation to the word diary.  Many people, like my sister, imagine a teenage girl sitting on her bed crying her eyes out in it because her boyfriend has broken up with her and then her brother later stealing it and reading it to his buds, only to become embarrassed to learn that she has a crush on them, or thinks they are complete jerks.  On the other hand, a journal is associated with the mad scientist who holds the secret clue to solving that mystery. 

Hollywood, once again, can take some of the blame for this.  However, according to Liza Minnelli when people die in Hollywood they do not ask if that person has a will, but did they have a diary. 

A diary or journal can be a gateway to a person’s heart and soul.  And as a writer, it should be the closest and most prized possession at hand.  The Journal should be allowed to overflow with a life of its own.  I am writing this blog because I met a couple of youngsters last night at a writing conference who dream of being on the top New York Times list, yet they gave a yucky reply, and is he gay eye, when I pulled out my journal because I had a really great thought.  However, I am speaking to both writers and hoping to help make non-writers writers in their own person way.

To say that a journal (I will use it interchangeably with diary from here on) is only for girls then you possibly know little about some of the great male masters of literature, art, and politics; C. S. Lewis, Leo Tolstoy, Ernest Hemingway, Christopher Columbus, Ben Franklin, Kurt Cobain, Marilyn Manson, and George Washington just to name a few. 

Throughout history, journals have helped historians learn most of the information we know of, well, history.  They offer not only a who, what, where, when, but help answer the why by providing psychological and cultural context. 

Yet, to the writer they offer something special.  A journal will allow you to develop a healthy habit of daily writing, which is the primary secret of writing.  Not only does it allow the practice of skill, but for you to understand your own psychology, your feelings in other words, and culture.  That is very important.

But I don’t know how to journal? 

Well that is ok.  It is a relatively simple thing to do.  It only requires a pen and paper, or your favorite word processor, and as much time as you wish to devote.  My first advice is to start small.  Write about the thing that happened that caused you to have the largest emotional response, or affected you in such a way you are not soon to forget and then do it again the next day, or when you have time. After doing this every day, or however you schedule your journaling activities, for a while you will begin to notice a profound depth in your writing and develop a sense of pride unlike anything that you have ever felt. 

Journals may be for recording the events of your day, and how you felt about them, but they are great for organizing your thoughts on things.  From bits of newspapers or stories that are interesting, letters, poems, quotations, memories, anecdotes, dreams, and lists of your favorite or least favorite books or movies or whatever, a journal is used for everything under the sun you can think of in words.  Some people have been known to keep separate journals for all these ideas above, but one is fine for starters.

In my journal, I keep quotations, learn a new word every day, keep story ideas, make character sketches of people I meet, and have conversations with myself on how to evolve my craft.  Sounds weird, huh? Having a conversations with yourself, but they have been some of the best conversations I have ever had! 

Another reason to keep a journal is one last book, one last chance to tell the greatest story of all to the world, your own.  Anais Nin and Virginia Woolf left outstanding journals that have only expanded the deepness, understanding, and preservation of the great stories each wrote.   As a student, these have been valuable resources.  As a writer, these have become stepping-stones to climbing a mountain, which I, as all writers, wish to climb and show that they will be remembered for some contribution to literature and the world.  However, to say that one will ever be as great as either Woolf or Nin is absurd, but is worth writing about.

 “don’t read my diary when I’m gone, ok I’m going to work now , when you wake up please read my diary, look through my things and figure me out.” Kurt Cobain wrote this ambiguous statement in his journal.   Take it for what it is, but you should write about it.

The Road May Be Paved, but Dear It’s All Up Hill

The Narror Path
Taken By H. D. Sharpe

    

Motivation is when your dreams put on work clothes~ Benjamin Franklin(1706-1790); Publisher, Inventor, Scientist, Politician, and Writer.     

 Dreams.  We all have them.  Maybe no one better aspired to fill all of his, like old Ben.  If you have not ever thought about this: Benjamin Franklin is the only person on American currency who never served as a president.  And he is on the largest face dollar of laymen-trade currency to say the least.  Why is that?  Because he is an example of a person who was not afraid to explore, to fulfill his dreams by working for them.  This is not an American History blog about my favorite founding father; however subjective I will afford to be about him.    

I have learned a few abstract things today from association with the physical world that I wish to share and I shall digress my day in reverse.    

In a conversation I had a few hours ago with a writer who brought up that she was tired of people feeling as though things should be given to them without putting the work into reaching their goal.  This reminding of earlier today when I took my son to Water Knob Rock on the Blue Ridge Parkway.  My little one is a scout, and working hard to finish up his Wolf Patch.  He needed to go out on a trail to finish one of the requirements, so I took him to the closest place I could think of.  The winding trail is only half mile, but its elevation starts at over 6,000 ft. and ascends 200 ft. over hot pavement and a very rocky, dried out river bed.       

About five minutes into our little hike my little guy, Noah, wanted to give up.  I told him, “If you  want something you have to work hard for it and not give up.  Nothing’s give to you.  Walk it out.”  I am prior service, Army (Hooah!), and can be a little pushy at times, but only when it’s for his own well-being.   After I said this to him, I begun to think of my own dreams; my path as a writer has been an uphill struggle.  I took the picture above as I had that very thought.  I feel that the picture above says it all about any path in life.  The path may be paved with beautiful imagery of the reward all around us, but it’s an uphill struggle with no end in sight.  Only an abstract thought of what could lie around the bend.  Around the bend could be the end, or success, or as my son learned a dried up, rocky river bed.  You just never know what the climb involves, nor if you will succeed.      

Even if one succeeds, is there a downhill?  The stroll back to the truck a half mile away was just as slippery hard.  With desire and hard work, my son saw through his dream today, finishing his last task to gain his patch.  He only stopped that one time on the path to idle in his dream before he tried to quit.       

 Yet he has another year of new tasks  on the horizon to become a WEBLOS.  A lot of people only get a taste of what they wish to do before giving in, or claim to be posers, shooting lies at the mouth as the lay down in the paths of others like snakes.      

 I stepped on top of a black snake today before I realized what the hell it was.  I knew I felt something wiggling under my feet.  It even struck at me, should see my shoe.  But, oh,  how many times have I done this on a path.  This black snake slowed me, as others have in past.  To be successful, one has to align themself with other serious people.  The writing process may be a lonely process, but the business side is full of competition.  Not only are we competitors, we are friends, associates, colleagues, and critics who help one another out on the way.  Beware of those snakes who will crawl beneath your feet and bite at your toes.  They are neither friend, nor critic.  God forbid they get their poisonous fangs in your flesh.    

 I am only a young, fledgling writer, but I work extremely hard everyday to better myself.  I have the same feeling as everyone else: fear of being rejected, fear of being misjudged, afraid of bad criticism; however, I finally realized how much I sat around and looked at the scenery a few months back when I could be submitting my work.  If you don’t put on your work clothes (and in our business that’s envelopes, stamps, ect) how do you expect to make it?  Well, you can’t.    

 I really wished that after the Revision Chapter in those college text books was a chapter called Submission, Receiving criticism, and Dealing with Rejection.   That’s only in a perfect world.      

 Bottom Line: If you give up to view the scenery, why bother?  Other than writing, there should be a commitment everyday to brush up skills and learn new ones, grey areas you have problems with, time set aside for editing/revision, and to conduct business.  Oh yeah, don’t forget to learn a brand new word.    

 

   

  

At the end of the rocky path