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Posts tagged ‘writing’

What I love about writing poetry

For National Poetry Month, I thought I’d share some thoughts on my most favorite and least favorite parts of writing a new poem:

My favorite part of writing a new poem:

  • The idea that invades my mind like twining ivy and won’t let go until the entire poem has been put to paper
  • Making messy lines and blot outs and squiggles with my colored pen on paper as I play with ideas and words
  • Typing all that mess into a fresh, new document on my computer—that feeling of chaos becoming somehow ordered
  • Rereading the poem, feeling both its wholeness and its incompleteness in my mind and body
  • Editing the poem, fussing with words and line breaks, challenging myself to see what can be more specific or fresher
  • Reading the poem for my writing critique group to see my creation through new eyes, discovering where the poem can be improved

My least favorite part of writing a new poem? Read more

Four tips for writing a synopsis that sells

Before I wrote my first synopsis, I thought it would be a breeze—after all, I’d done the hard part, right? I had finished and edited an entire book! What could be harder than that? Plenty, I was to learn.

Recently, I helped chair a major literary contest where I read over 100 book synopses. I was impressed with a handful of the synopses, but, for the most part, they were vague or poorly written or trying to be “mysterious” when they needed to be clear and to the point. I realized that I was probably not alone in my dread of the synopsis. Writing a GOOD synopsis is one of the hardest tasks undertaken by a writer.

The main purpose of a synopsis is to provide a summary of an entire novel. It must provide an overview of the plot (including the ending), characters, and theme.

Put yourself in the shoes of a literary agent who is deciding from your synopsis whether or not to read the first pages of your book. Your synopsis has to be even more perfect than your stellar novel. No pressure, right?

No worries. Below are a few tips to help you make your synopsis sing: Read more

Showing vs. telling: Take down the wall between your character and your reader

I’ve heard the phrase “show don’t tell” at least a million times in my writing career. And, mostly, that’s good advice—though there are times when “telling” is more economical and gets the job done.

But in most scenes, and especially when I want to draw my reader into deep point of view, I try to show as much as possible. I draw on the senses instead of my character’s intellect.

In other words, I want my readers to experience the event with my character instead of my character filtering the experience for them.

Below are a few “before” and “after” sentences from my current manuscript: Read more

The writer as double—will the real writer please stand up?

Reading Margaret Atwood’s book Negotiating with the Dead: A Writer on Writing, I’m contemplating the writer as double. We all have doubles, in a way, whether we’re writers or artists or scientists. We have our public persona and our private self or what I sometimes call my inside voice and my outside voice. (And, it’s that inside voice, when she gets loose, that often gets me into trouble).

Atwood says that this concept of the double started early in her life with superhero worship. Superwoman, Superman, Spiderman, etc. are all strong and kick-ass when in their saving-the-world-mode but their “real” personas are weak and fallible, i.e. Clark Kent.

Writers can be seen this way, too. We have our normal everyday self who walks the dog and washes the dishes, then we have our writing self who causes an innocent young paraplegic to die a horrible death at the hands of a time-shifting serial killer.

Atwood writes: “All writers are double, for the simple reason that you can never actually meet the author of the book you have just read. Too much time has elapsed between composition and publication, and the person who wrote the book is now a different person…”

She goes on to write, “When writers have spoken consciously of their own double natures, they’re likely to say that one half does the living, the other half the writing and…that each is parasitic upon the other.”

Throughout time, writers have written much about this double—probably most famous is the Jekyll/Hyde duo but writers have also written about their own writing doubles. Jorge Luis Borges did so in his work “Borges and I” where the first-person narrator of the person of Borges separates himself from the writer Borges.

Atwood asks, “Can an “author” exist, apart from the work and the name attached to it? The authorial part—the part that is out there in the world, the only part that may survive death—is not flesh and blood, not a real human being. And who is the writing “I”? A hand must hold the pen or hit the keys, but who is in control of that hand at the moment of writing? Which half of the equation, if either, may be said to be authentic?”

I believe both aspects of my double are authentic. My public persona—the one who runs a business—is fed by connecting with and helping others. My inner persona is fed by time spent alone putting words on the page (and all the attendant thoughts and ideas that fuel those words on the page). When these two aspects of myself get out of balance is when I fall into trouble.

And, really, it’s not like I’m two separate people–unless I’ve had one too many glasses of wine or a shot of Mama Juana I brought back from the Dominican Republic (shh…don’t tell). But parts of me rise up as needed or as the project demands. When I’m deeply involved in my writing, all my energy is directed onto the page. If someone were to interrupt me and ask a question, they likely might walk away wondering how a blathering dunderhead could write anything.

I think Atwood’s Alice Through the Looking Glass analogy sums up the double dilemma best:

“The act of writing takes place at the moment when Alice passes through the mirror. At this one instant, the glass barrier between the doubles dissolves, and Alice is neither here nor there, neither art nor life, neither the one thing nor the other, though at the same time she is all of these at once. At that moment time itself stops, and also stretches out, and both writer and reader have all the time not in the world.”

What drives you to be a storyteller?

In his acceptance speech for the 2007 Moth award in New York City, author and storyteller Garrison Keillor tells how his life in storytelling began after the drowning of his older cousin. Keillor was supposed to be taking swimming lessons that summer after the drowning but, in his first act of defiance, he rode past the smells of chlorine wafting from the YMCA and continued on to the library where he immersed himself in books and storytelling.

Keillor says the purpose of storytelling is to become intimate with strangers–something he has made his life from in hosting the radio show, “A Prairie Home Companion,” for nearly forty years.

What is the need that drives us to become storytellers? Every writer and storyteller has an event or series of events that brought them to storytelling.

My foray into storytelling was triggered by my mother’s descent into dementia in her mid-sixties. I wanted to tell the story of her difficult life that ended with her eventually forgetting all of her life’s experiences, almost as if the forgetting was a blessing for her.

Watch the 8-minute video below of Keillor and ask yourself what motivates you to be a storyteller:

What writerly traits run in your family?

My father was a difficult person to  live with but, in his own way, he was very philosophical. He was a voracious reader of daily news and current events. He loved learning new things and was always calling me and my cousins into the kitchen where he sat on his favorite stool and read interesting excerpts to us. Granted, there was a lot of eye rolling going on at the time, but over the years I gleaned his enthusiasm for reading, learning, and considering new ideas. Read more

Writing as a path to healing

Since Friday, I, like many people around the world, have experienced an array of emotions–grief, anguish, anger, and compassion, among others.

I originally began writing because I wanted to tell people’s stories. My mother developed sudden onset dementia and writing was my way to try to understand it. As I saw my mother regress before my eyes, writing about it and talking about it helped me process my grief and my sadness. Read more