Monday’s Writerly Quote

Happy Monday!!!

Yeah, did you believe that? But I bet my Monday is worse than yours. Currently I’m standing in a line. And this isn’t just any line…oh no… This is that line. You know which line I mean. The DMV line.

Shudder and weep for me.

But I’m making good use of time, right? Blogging in line. It works. Anyway, oddly enough I came across this quote this morning from Henry David Thoreau:

How vain it is to sit down to write when you have not stood to live.

At first, we probably wouldn’t think of standing in line at the DMV of all places as standing up to live, but it is. It’s really living, because isn’t what we do for most of our lives is wait for something. And if anything can amplify the frustration of waiting, it’s the DMV.

I mean, they say the A/C is on, but we all still feel like we’re standing in front of a hot oven. And forget the flies buzzing around, like something’s gone rotten in here. (I’ll let you know if I find it.) The walls are mustard yellow and taupe and gray. There are a few beauty shots of Utah, likely an attempt to make the wait in line less depressing.

Just a second. Oh, this is new. Now there’s a line you have to wait in before you get to the real line. How thrilling! Well, I’m in the second line now, doing real living.

Point being, for a writer, any moment in life is good fodder for writing. We can make our stories that much more authentic by simply paying attention to our lives.

Now, please, make sure your interaction with the real world does include more than three occasional visit to the DMV. Okay?

Do you loathe the DMV our your country’s equivalent? What moments in life do you have to deal with regularly that you dislike? And those you like? What do you do to stand up and live?

Monday’s Writerly Quote

Have you ever read or heard about agents who are looking for something “original” or “unique” and then remember that other phrase: “There’s nothing new under the sun.”

So how in the world are we supposed to write something “original” or “unique?”

It’s true in the beginning of most of our writing careers we’re more or less regurgitating all the stories we’ve seen or read over the course of our lives. And if we’re really being honest, often it’s a very poor copy of mediocre ideas in the first place.

But then we gain experience. We keep reading and writing and we dare to get feedback from our peers and we grow as writers. And hopefully we come to the same realization that C.S. Lewis presents us with today:

Even in literature and art, no man who bothers about originality will ever be original: whereas if you simply try to tell the truth (without caring twopence how often it has been told before) you will, nine times out of ten, become original without ever having noticed it.

What does he mean about telling the truth? Are you out to help people discover something they’ve never once considered before? Well, maybe. But if you recall his bit about not caring twopence how often it has been told before, then we’ve learned that our “truth” won’t be original, just that we have within us an original way of saying it.

Telling the truth in literature is casting aside cliché and other writing shortcuts and in some aspects, exposing ourselves in our quest for the truth. Whether you’ve got a sci-fi, a fantasy, a historical romance—whatever your category—there is some truth you mean to tell in that story and if you do your very best to be honest about it you’ll find the originality you’ve been seeking.

Often we don’t even know what that truth is until we write the story. And it’s probably better that we don’t know exactly what we’re after until it’s come out of us. The rough drafts are when we discover, the revisions are when we polish it well so others may discover.

Make the truth your goal and tell the best, most honest story you can. Then you’ll be original.

What do you think of this quote? Have you ever read stories where you felt like they were trying too hard to be original? Have you found this quote to be true in your own writing? What do you see ‘telling the truth’ as meaning?

Monday’s Writerly Quote

I know many of us, especially us Row80ers, are in the midst of editing and revising. It can be one of the most difficult parts of the process, but it’s also the most necessary. This is where we take that lump of coal and eventually end up with a diamond.

Even Mark Twain agrees, in a way:

Writing is easy. All you have to do is cross out the wrong words.

Okay, so it’s a bit tongue-in-cheek, but he’s right. The majority of us writers (and I really could say ‘all’ in that I haven’t run into a bad story ‘idea’ yet) have a fabulous story rumbling around in our minds. The issue is figuring out which words need to be crossed out as we translate from mind to paper.

Something we should all understand is that if we want to be great writers we will never stop editing. Let me say that one more time. If you want to be a great writer, you will never get to a point where you create a perfect first draft. You may create a pretty awesome first draft one day, but if you’re the type satisfied with mediocre effort, do us readers a favor and seek another career.

As a reader, I want the best from that author. I should want to do the same for my own readers, and I hope you do, too.

So embrace the editing process, friends. Let’s figure out which wrong words to cross out and show our readers stories they won’t be able to put down. Let’s never settle for mediocrity.

Do you like the editing process? Hate it? What have you done to help yourself better embrace it? How many drafts do you go through before you let anyone read your story?

Monday’s Writerly Quote

It’s been awhile since I did one of these. I’ll keep doing them until I run out of good quotes to post. I think that will be awhile yet.

Today’s quote is brought to you, not only by the letter M but by Vladimir Nobokov, who wrote Lolita, among other novels. This quote made me think a lot about my earlier writing days when I info dumped with the best of them.

We live not only in a world of thoughts, but also in a world of things. Words without experience are meaningless.

Often we think because we’re describing something, we’re showing our readers our world and forget that we’re telling people about our world. (More on this in a minute).

For those of you new to the writing game, you may hear a lot about people saying show, don’t tell. But not a whole lot of people bother to explain what that means. It’s almost a thing you already know or you don’t. The problem with telling is you are just putting down words without experience and they become meaningless to your reader.

The issue for us writers is we have the perfect vision of our story in our heads. And that story is probably fascinating and brilliant, but that doesn’t mean we’ve translated it brilliantly.

So what is telling? The biggest first clue is whenever you use the phrase: could tell. You’ve already got tell in the mix, which tells us you’re telling. For example:

Jae could tell you were confused.

But it’s more than just using the word tell. It’s basically naming the conclusion you want the writer to come to without leading them there. Think of yourself as setting up a crime scene for Sherlock. What do you want him to see without saying a word? That’s how your stories should be written.

She was nervous. –VS- She gripped the podium to calm her shaking hands.

Don’t tell me they were angry, afraid, nervous, happy, etc., etc. Show me. Then your words will create an experience that will be meaningful.

But one should also remember, a first draft will probably be full of these and that’s okay. Sometimes we can use them as place markers while we get the guts of the story recorded. Then we can go back in editing and really polish up the words to make sure that meaningful experience comes through.

So, show, don’t tell. Craft meaningful experiences with your words. Polish it up. And don’t worry, I’ll be right there with you doing my own polishing. It’s all a part of our process as writers.

What do you think about the quote? Did you already know what ‘showing vs. telling’ meant? How would you explain it to a new writer? Any great advice you received on how to make sure your writing is showing?


Monday’s Writerly Quote

We’ve all been through it, or are going through it. And if you haven’t, hold on to your keyboard, you will in the near future. You finish a rough draft, pat yourself on the back for a job well done. After all, lots of people say they’re going to write novels, but you, my friend, have actually done it.

Now what? The EDITING! And with that editing comes some suffering. Why? I’ll let Stephen King explain.

Kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings.

Hold up a sec, Stephen! Are you saying I need to kill off my characters? But I’ve got sequels in the making. Nooooooo!

No. What Stephen means is find those scenes that you spent a lot of time on, or those supporting characters you are enamored with, or those bits of phrases and sentences you really thought you wrote brilliantly and be ready to kill them like Uma Thurman looking for sweet revenge after being in a coma.

Here’s the thing: those scenes, sentences, characters, they may be weighing your book down. But it’s hard, because you love them so much. You spent a lot of time on said scene. Or everyone in your writer’s group told you that opening sentence was brilliant. Guess what? Doesn’t matter. Because if you’re serious about telling a good story, even things you love most must be up for execution. It doesn’t mean you’ll get rid of everything you love, it just means you must be willing to.

I had what I thought was a great opener for SHADE. It spelled danger, coupled with an intriguing concept. The line got me high praises at a writer’s conference and I felt pretty darn good about it if I do say so myself. But guess what? I had to kill it. Noooooo! Really, I did. I kept trying to force it in elsewhere. But it’s brilliant, I reasoned. It must remaineth! Nope. I killed it. It doesn’t show up anywhere in the novel. The idea of it does, but not the line itself. But once I got rid of it, I was able to move forward in a slightly different direction and have gained a lot more opportunities with SHADE since.

So kill your darlings my friend. Besides, it’s the one time it’s completely okay to murder something.

Have you had to kill any darlings? Any that were excruciating to do away with? Or do you disagree and shield those darlings like a mama bear?