“Peanuts” Character Reveals Writing Secret

A classic Peanuts cartoon strip by Charles Schulz appeared in a recent Sunday newspaper and the punchline exemplifies what some writing gurus have advised.

Linus is at his school desk writing on the theme of returning to school after summer vacation. Over three captions we see he has written this: ” No one can deny the joys of a summer vacation with its days of warmth and freedom. It must be admitted, however, that the true joy lies in returning to our halls of learning. Is not life itself a learning process? Do we not mature according to our learning. Do not each of us desire that he…”

And there it stops.

The next three panels show him taking the paper to the teacher’s desk, handing in the paper, and returning to his desk.

Then you see him saying “Yes, Ma’am? Oh . . Why, thank you . . I’m glad you liked it . . ”

The final panel shows him sitting sideways, one elbow on the desk behind him where Charlie Brown is sitting. Linus says, “As the years go by, you learn what sells!”

Linus knew his audience; it was the teacher. And he also knew what she wanted, in essence, to hear, so he wrote what she wanted, hoping to ingratiate himself, of course, and get a good grade.

If there is a hot market that readers are feasting on, you can jump on that bandwagon and if the bandwagon is not crowded and the market has yet to be devoured, you have a shot of finding an audience. But what is hot now can soon fade away.

Or you can write what you want to write and hope you find an audience. If you write in the genre that most appeals to you, I belive your writing will be better.

Each approach has its drawbacks, nothing is guaranteed, but you must chart your writing course through tricky waters no matter which direction you go. Write well, edit even better, and write a little everyday. And be cool like Linus.

I turned in my e-books to Amazon

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The Cricket and the Butterfly; a life story

I wish I had wrote this, but I read it in a book, details following. Enjoy.

The Cricket

A poor little cricket
Hidden in the flowery grass,
Observes a butterfly
Fluttering in the meadow. The winged insect shines with the liveliest colors:
Azure, purple, and gold glitter on his wings;
Young, handsome, foppish, he hastens from flower to flower,
Taking from the best ones.
Ah! says the cricket, how his lot and mine
Are dissimilar! Lady Nature
For him did everything, and for me nothing.
I have no talent, even less beauty;
No one takes notice of me, they know me not here below;
Might as well not exist.
As he was speaking, in the meadow
Arrives a troop of children.
Immediately they are running
After this butterfly, for which they all have a longing.
Hats, handkerchiefs, caps serve to catch him.
The insect in vain tries to escape. He becomes soon their conquest.
One seizes him by the wing, another by the body;
A third arrives, and takes him by the head.
It should not be so much effort
To tear to pieces the poor creature.
Oh! Oh! says the cricket, I am no more sorry;
It costs too dear to shine in this world.
How much I am going to love my deep retreat!
To live happily, live hidden.

Jean-Pierre Claris de Florian

Dedman, Bill; Newell, Paul Clark. Empty Mansions: The Mysterious Life of Huguette Clark and the Spending of a Great American Fortune (pp. 358-360). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

 

How writers should handle critiques

I woke up in the morning the day after publishing my first e-Novel with anxiety and dread my bed companions. They were not who I wanted to wake up with.

Every writer, every artist, has within them a lurking virus ready to infect the artistic insecurity with paranoia; imagination running amok seeing brutal judgements from unseen readers.

But the reviews over time were fair and more positive than I expected. Of course there was one review that upset me, but I realized he/she missed the point. Others got it, and that is one thing to remember. Whatever you write will be liked and disliked because some people, like my brother, does not like cheese, and others, like myself, love cheese. We have different tastes, different biases, and different views. Nothing is written in stone except the 10 Commandments and they disappeared..

Something just as unnerving is the anticipation of reading judge’s critiques from writing contests, like the one I recently entered, for these are professionals with stern judgement, so anxiety peaks, dread blackens, insecurity sinks, and paranoia makes you cower in the corner, so do not open the envelope like a six year-old at Christmas, ripping open paper to get at the goodies, for there are no goodies here; instead place it on a table, let it sit while you circle it for a few days, building up your immunity enough to open the envelope. You must be in command.

Here is what I found:

One judge did not like my opening paragraph and my hook. The other judge did. The judge who disliked my hook did not like my tension/pacing, but the other judge did. One liked my grammar, the other didn’t. There were some things they agreed on, so what did I learn and what can you learn?

Here is what I learned:

You must read a critique with a critical eye. If two judges disagree you must strive for objectivity-not easy when it comes to your creation-but again, I let it sit before going back my story. Your story must be read as if it was written by somebody else. If I thought one of the judges was correct, I changed something because I saw their point and agreed, but if I believed one of the judges was wrong I left it alone. Case in point, one of the judges who did not like my hook, thought one passage should be cut, but the action to me tied in with the end of the story and since the other judge had no problem with the opening and after numerous reading of the opening I left it as is.

Finally, one must realize that each judge has an opinion, but that is all it is. We all see things differently and we writers must critique the critique and not take other’s judgements at face value.

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Author Paul Auster; what writing is and who writers are, part one

One of my favorite writers-and I have many-is Paul Auster and in his novel Brooklyn Follies the following passage considers what writing is and who writers are:

“Take a close look at the lives of poets and novelists, and what you wound up with was unalloyed chaos, an infinite jumble of exceptions. That was because writing was a disease, Tom continued, what you might call an infection or influenza of the spirit, and therefore it could strike anyone at any time. The young and old, the strong and the weak, the drunk and the sober, the sane and the insane. Scan the roster of the giants and semi-giants, and you would discover writers who embraced every sexual proclivity, every political bent, and every human attribute-from the loftiest idealism to the most insidious corruption. They were criminals and lawyers, spies and doctors, soldiers and spinsters, travelers and shut-ins. If no one could be excluded, and what prevented an almost sixty-year-old ex-life insurance agent from joining their ranks? What law declared that Nathan Glass had not been infected by the disease?”

Writing was always something I wanted to do, but early rejection dissuaded me. Later in life when the regrets of unfinished desires in life weighed heavily on my spirit, I became infected with a ravenous hunger to finish what I started.

I had doubts, I had fears, and like Nathan Glass, felt I was too old. The doubts and fears, however, were no match for the fear of not writing, of not moving forward, of having that monstrous ogre of life regrets go unquenched.

I have written two collection of horror/twilight zone type of e-short stories and three e-novels and a fourth to be published soon. Success does not matter, movie deals do not matter, for feeding this wonderful infection is life giving.

If you feel you are infected, do not wait. Start writing.

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What Did Picasso Mean About Inspiration

“Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working.”

-Pablo Picasso

It seems on first reading that unless you sit down to work you will not find inspiration. There is something to that, for when you are involved in a creative endeavor the more focused you are on your work inspiration does occur, taking you in directions you had not thought of. That is one of the joys of creating.

My mind will be writing with a certain intent, but then inspiration swoops down, sneaks through my ear, seeps into my brain, where it whispers a strikingly singular thought that ignites a bursting light, giving me an ‘aha’ moment. Now I am heading into another direction. And I love it.

But . . .

Inspiration does not have to find you working. Inspiration can come through dreams. Many of my short stories have come to me through dreams, or just letting my mind wander where it chooses as I sit in a chair, TV and radio off, just me waiting for something to creep into my thoughts. It never fails (almost never). Or it can strike you as it did when I was walking in a cemetery, saw a well dressed old man, carrying a shovel among the graves with intent and purpose in his walk. I turned away and let inspiration strike me and it did. The result was Flowers for Martha Clemens.

I may be confusing inspiration with imagination. My Roget’s offers for inspiration: animate, invigorate, energize, vitalize, exhilarate, awaken, stir, thrill, and exalt, among other words. Imagination in my Roget’s says: dreaming, creative, visualize, idealize, vision, reflection, whim, fancy, among other words and phrases.

From the Online Etymology Dictionary I found this about inspiration: “The sense evolution seems to be from “breathe into” to “infuse animation or influence,” thus “affect, rouse, guide or control,” especially by divine influence. Inspire (v.) in Middle English also was used to mean “breath or put life or spirit into the human body; impart reason to a human soul.” Literal sense “act of inhaling” attested in English from 1560s. Meaning “one who inspires others” is attested by 1867.”

For imagine I found this: “mid-14c., “to form a mental image of,” from Old French imaginer “sculpt, carve, paint; decorate, embellish” (13c.), from Latin imaginari “to form a mental picture, picture to oneself, imagine” (also, in Late Latin imaginare “to form an image of, represent”), from imago “an image, a likeness” (see image (n.)). Sense of “suppose, assume” is first recorded late 14c. Related: Imagined; imagining.”

It seems that inspiration and imagination are connected in the creative process. When inspired something ‘breathes’ something into your soul and it infuses your imagination.

I don’t like that Picasso appears insistent that inspiration only finds you when working, because nobody likes to be working. I will take revelry, dreams, and lazing about. But I was inspired to imagine the following e-Books available on Amazon. And now back to work as my revelry is over. For now.

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Two exercises to tone up your novel writing

In order for your novel to flow smoothly, keeping your readers interest, there are two writing exercises to challenge yourself with to make the writing better.

One is to experiment with short stories, and I include flash fiction as well. Writing a short story  is like going on a diet. It forces you to take the fat out of a story, leaving you with lean writing. In a short story you can not pad with cake and ice cream, meandering through a landscape of unneeded calories as you struggle to build a word count acceptable for a novel. Short stories and flash fiction  mean getting to the climax quick with shorter wordplay, using fewer words, and less is more. It is about thinning your writing, compressing and condensing.

The second exercise is to write poetry. I confess my creative sense and sensibility does not lend itself to this discipline. If I could overcome this obstinate obstacle my novels would be better. But do as I say, not as I do. Challenge yourself. I do have a degree in English Literature and have read and studied poetry, so I have background to fall upon. What poetry does is force you to develop a better understanding of imagery and metaphor. And of course a rhythm.

Imagery are the sensory feelings and thoughts conveyed to the reader through words; so use the right words for the right image. For instance, take the cliché phrase ‘He has as much chance as a snowball in Hell.’ Blah. How about ‘He has as much chance as a Dracula does of getting a suntan.’ Two things here, a cliché has been eliminated and a more colorful imagery has been put in it’s place.

All writing, even a novel is an experiment, but through short stories and poetry, you are preparing yourself for a marathon called a novel and the better prepared you are the better you will do. When you compress your writing from exercising through short stories and mix in appropriate imagery you will be a lean, mean writing machine.

I could have written more, expanding on my theme here, but I am trying to cut down on words.

At Amazon my E-books, fat or thin, depending on your sense and sensibility.

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How To Write a Novel in 60 days + 24

Not only can you write a novel in 60 days, but it only takes a few hours a day. And that leaves you more time for watching cute animal and baby videos.

I am about to give you a formula that you can use to write a novel in 60 days, plus an extra 24. The extra days I will explain later. This formula is predicated on math, but  the formula is something you can play with, adjust, and toy with as your mileage will vary.

But it does give you a road to discipline yourself, something a writer needs. Especially me.

It works like this. An internet search will tell you a novel is anywhere from 80,000 to 100,000 words. It is not a law, there are exceptions, we are using this as a guideline. Let us use 90,000. It is not difficult to write 1,5000 words a day. Of late that has taken me three to four hours, depending on what little roadblocks I encounter. If you write 1,500 words a day it takes 60 days to reach 90,000. Feel free to do the math, that was never by strong suit, but the calculator has told me 60 is the answer.

See how easy that was. For many who have not tried writing a novel because it seems overwhelming, the math says it is doable in 60 days.

So what are the extra 24 days for? After each five days you take two days to review your previous 7,500 words, using this time to edit, correcting grammar and spelling, and doing so in painstaking, letter by letter, period by period if necessary, manner. Do that for the first day and the second day make notes of how you want to the story to move forward and of what you want your characters to do next.

I pause here to remind that there are two approaches to writing fiction. One is to map out the story ahead of time with outlines and everything necessary to where you only have to fill in the details. I can’t do that, too much work. I prefer, like Ray Bradbury, Elmore Leonard, and many others, to make it up as I go, trusting the characters to let you know what happens next. So that is what I do the second day. Make notes for the next few chapters. And I run with it for the next five days.

So after sixty days of writing and two days after each set of five days you have written a novel, have done the editing and rewrites and you breath a sigh of relief, congratulate yourself, and eat a cookie. Take six days for your vacation to the Bahamas and you have 90 days. Since a year is over 360 days, you can actually write four novels a year with 24 days in the Bahamas. You are prolific. You are as crazy about writing as Stephen King. Scary isn’t it.

As I said, it is a formula, a place for you to start and tinker with. Good luck.

I wrote the following e-novels before I figured the math. They are found at Amazon here.

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What Writers Should Do Second, Not First

When writing a story writers can fall into a trap, one based on what they have read or seen in movies, a trap they  must escape. Let me explain.

A short story I wrote, Flowers for Martha Clemens, was based on something I saw, then I ran away with it into the twilight zone. I saw an old man, perhaps mid 70’s, carrying a shovel  in a cemetery. He walked with purpose among the graves, his clothes not those of a cemetery worker. I stopped to watch the old man, but then thought if I saw what he was going to do it might make sense and I would forget the whole incident. Better to turn away, not see what he was going to do and make up my own story.

The first thought of a writer would be obvious. The old man is going to dig up a grave. We have seen and read about grave robbers, and though the idea of a 70 year old grave robber has a bit of interest, I though it better to ignore my first instinct. Instead of robbing a grave he would dig up the grave for another reason, one more macabre. One reviewer said she liked the story “for the hauntingly melancholy vibe that sucks you into the story.”

Because of her comment I knew I made the right choice, one not based on the obvious, but one going in a new direction. That is why writers need to make unusual choices and not trust your first instinct. Better to play around with choices, bouncing things around in your mind, coming up with a few to choose from is even better.

Creativity is found in challenging your mind, writing outside the page, creating a sense of play, and getting a bit weird if need be. Creativity is challenging yourself to make new things. Writing need not be stolid, it should be fun.

6,466 Words That Anger And Please

Writers have bad days when words come slow, if they come at all. Then there are the good days where words pour out like a Pacific Northwest rain, fast and hard. But what happens when they flow to fast, too hard.

Maybe it was the two pots of tea that stimulated the senses, but 6,466 words is one heck of an output for me. I did not know what was coming next, I was in a zone where characters, situations, dialogue took over, my fingers tapping keys with little thought. I was not in control, some creative force was. I loved it.

But something happened when the words began piling up. Fingers must have got tired and when they did, bad things happened; then my mind got tired and bad things happened.

I noticed after a few thousand words there were more typos. Then they began increasing with two or three in every sentence, then three or four. When you are in a zone this becomes irritating seeing those words underlined in red, the color that infuriates bulls. I saw the red, the cape, and the bull in me took over. My fist pounded the arm of the chair. Then as typos overran my brain, my fist pounded the table behind me.

As I got close to 6,000 words loose objects were thrown with fierce bullheadedness. Soft objects will not do, noise is the only way to ameliorate the anger, the only way assuage the frustration.

I finally came to the end. The tornado was over. FEMA came in to assess the damage. I received counseling and was released from the hospital. In the end I was thrilled with my 6, 446 words.

And now I must go, this post a warm-up to another day of writing. I am not planning on a 6,000 word day. The room is empty except for desk, computer, and chair. I have no idea what will happen. Writing is adventure, writing is risk, writing is dangerous.

No keyboard was injured during the creative flow.

My dangerous e-Books on Amazon you can find here.

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