How are writers garbage pickers?

white-male-2064827_1920When I arrived at the gym yesterday, I parked the car next to the Big 5 Sporting Goods store’s huge garbage containers, located in my gym’s parking area. I felt embarrassed for the man I saw lurking behind the bins. He wore a baseball cap and tried to appear invisible as he rummaged through the trash. The image of him prowling there stayed with me, and I couldn’t help but think of it as a metaphor for writers.

Continue reading “How are writers garbage pickers?”

Read this interview on my blog with guest author Terry Tierney who believes “Writing is breath. Never stop breathing.”

0Terry’s bio:

Terry’s stories and poems have appeared in over forty literary magazines, and his poetry collection, The Poet’s Garage, will be published in May 2020 by Unsolicited Press. He taught college composition and creative writing, and he later survived several Silicon Valley startups as a software engineering manager. Lucky Ride (Unsolicited Press), an irreverent Vietnam-era road novel is set to release in 2022. His website is Continue reading “Read this interview on my blog with guest author Terry Tierney who believes “Writing is breath. Never stop breathing.””

Letting the Imagination Lead

supernova-1183663_1920In addition to writing adult fiction and non-fiction, I also create pieces for children. Today, I tried to start a children’s story of a girl sleeping in an elegant dollhouse based on a dream image that has stayed with me.  But after a few sentences, I felt extremely critical of what I had written.  I had to stop…for now.  Let it breathe, I said to myself. Let the criticalness soften—fall away. Continue reading “Letting the Imagination Lead”

A Fish Story

One thing my fisherman son has taught me is how important patience is to a writer. My son has fished all of his life. For two years, when he was nine and ten, he went to nearby lakes whenever he could, and each time he told me he would bring fish back for dinner. He didn’t.

But failure didn’t seem to bother him. It was the process he enjoyed, finding just the right bait, putting it on the hook, and sending if off into the depths. He loved sitting or standing on shore, waiting for a nibble, taking in all of the activity around him. So if he didn’t catch anything, it wasn’t a loss because he had gained so much from the experience, filling his vision and hearing with sights and sofishing.jpgunds that enriched him in every way. It also gave him an opportunity to drop out of the daily treadmill and think without interruption for a long period of time.

We writers should be familiar with this process. We constantly dip our pens (or computer fingers) into the depths of the unconscious, hoping to snag images and characters, memories and experiences, that we can later embellish with our imaginations. And even if a particular writing period isn’t as fruitful as we’d hoped (no fish for dinner that night), the practice itself of tuning out the outer world and turning inward has its own benefits, a kind of meditation without the ritualistic structure.

This kind of work requires a high degree of patience. For those of us who write novels, it can take many years for one to finally crystallize and be ready for publication. But that’s only the beginning! Finding a publisher is another arduous route we have to take, and there’s no guarantee that our work will ever be accepted by a traditional publisher. Therefore, we must take pleasure in the activity itself, recognizing that the undertaking is as important as the product.

I was recently reminded yet again of this need for patient watching what I’m snagging from the waters of the unconscious while revising a novel that will be published in 2019: Tillie: A Canadian Girl in Training. While I had written a good deal of the narrative, I was having trouble finding the main character’s voice and style. If I’m not drawn in by a character, I’m certain my reader won’t be either, and I wasn’t connecting with her in the way I wanted to. But I kept playing around with the material, and eventually the character broke free of whatever restraints I had put on her, becoming fully realized. Such a relief to have all of that time and effort pay off!

So the moral of this story is don’t take your hook out of the water too soon or you might miss out on whatever bigger fish waiting there for you to catch.



The Tyranny of Show vs Tell

If you’ve ever taken a writing workshop, you’ve heard many times the bromide “show, don’t tell,” but often the showing part dominates the telling and becomes tyrannical. As a writer friend once pointed out, when we’re writing fiction, we are storytelling and not storyshowing, and there are many ways to tell an engaging story.

Of course, some beginning writers do tend to summarize more than dramatize. They haven’t learned yet how to traverse between generalities and specifics. And in our early drafts, even more experienced writers often are just trying to capture their characters before they can disappear. Showing, then, tends to happen later in the drafting process.

However, it is important to know when one or the other is required, and that’s the advantage of using this shorthand workshop comment. When we show, we try to embellish scenes and important moments through using descriptive details that create images. Dialogue also helps to nail down character traits and interaction. When we tell, we are usually summarizing background information or periods that don’t need to be in the spotlight. We don’t want to call too much attention to some aspects of the tale we’re conveying.

I’m all for using whatever tools are at our disposal, and I don’t reject the idea that knowing how to show and tell effectively are important elements in writing narrative. However, they aren’t the only “show” in town. There are other ways to create drama and develop character that often get overlooked by the overused workshop mantra.

I’ve been rereading Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse, and I’m absorbed by her characters’ inner lives. Not only does Woolf violate many of the strictures we hear in writing workshops about the dangers of switching points of view within a chapter, but she also rarely resorts to showing or dramatizing a scene. Instead, she seems to inhabit her settings and characters’ interiors, taking the reader with her inside their inner worlds, portraying how complex they are. I feel as if I’m watching a movie of their internal processes.

Of course, Woolf isn’t the only writer who takes a different approach to creating compelling narratives by not depending on show versus tell. W. G. Sebald’s hybrid “novels” have their own narrative logic that also disrupt the usual notion of what constitutes a story. And there are many others in this category: Samuel Beckett, David Foster Wallace, Proust, and other likeminded authors who aren’t afraid of a character’s introspection. In fact, I’m often bored by passages in some naturalistic works that race along, fueled by external action, forgetting to linger and let their creations sink down into the unconscious from which we have emerged.

What’s your take on this topic?


Do Writers Really Need a GPS?

I have a love/hate relationship with my GPS. On the one hand, I appreciate being able to input an address and magically have this robotic voice guide me to my destination, assuming it knows where to send me. But I also miss the hands-on experience of studying a map and finding my own route, one that makes sense to me and is visually verifiable. When I’m being directed by my GPS, I’m totally in the hands of the GPS gods, and I lose the fun of making my own plan.

You may be asking, but what does this have to do with writing? Isn’t this a blog for readers and writers?

LexmarkAIOScan9Yes. And that’s why I chose this topic.

It occurred to me recently that when writers follows an outline, when they know in advance where their story is going, they are using a kind of writer’s GPS. It may get them to a destination. But they’ll miss out on a lot. Instead of getting lost at times and stumbling into scenarios they had’t anticipated or letting the characters and situations guide them on this narrative journey, they rely on a plan that can eliminate the kind of surprises and interaction at the heart and soul of stories.

Okay, so I’m making a parallel between using a GPS and writing, and I’ve already extolled the virtues of maps that I can hold and peruse. You may be wondering what the difference is between writing that follows a plan (GPS) and writing that uses a map instead. Isn’t it the same thing?

Yes and no. Yes in the sense that somewhere in the writer’s unconscious a plan does exist, but she hasn’t teased it out yet. The reason it isn’t the same thing is because the GPS takes control. It assumes it knows where to go just as a writer does who actively plots a story beforehand. With a map, there are many more possibilities. We know that there’s a path, but we have to use our senses and trust in the unconscious to help us find it. That requires depending more on intuition than on conscious plotting.

What kind of device do you depend on?