The Beautiful Stuff Writers Workshop #22: The Ugly of Starting Over

Hey Kids. Listen, last week I got on a soap box. I’m not even slightly sorry nor is this an apology, but I understand that the purpose of this blog is mostly about writing with a little bit of “living with beautiful intention” sprinkled in. Last week was more about living with beautiful intention and we can all use more of that in this day and age.  

Now, back to writing. Full disclosure: Inappropriate language will follow, so hold on to your knickers.

I’ve been working on a novel (to be honest, I’ve been working on about six of them because I have a problem seeing things through to the end six times out of ten). But this one in particular, I wrote, edited, re-edited, edited again, rewrote, edited, and re-edited all 97,000 words multiple times, always adjusting it with every rejection letter and well-deserved bit of advice. A month ago I wanted to throw it into a dumpster and burn the mother fucker to the ground. I wanted to delete it from my hard drive, the cloud, completely wipe the piece of shit off of the face of the earth. After all those years. After all that work.

It made me so mad that I couldn’t get it right and that it always felt lukewarm that I wanted to quit novel writing all together.

So I killed it. I put it in a file that, I shit you not, I called “The Piece of Shit Series That Will Never Get Published Because It’s Fucking Awful” and left it for a few months while I figured out how to rent a dumpster and get my hands on some gasoline.

Then, like any good writer, I stewed. I festered over it. I fumed.

I hate wasting time. I hate wasting words and effort.

So instead of sending it out yet again to die in some slush pile…or deleting it completely, I started a new document called “What I hate about this book” and I sat on the proverbial therapists couch and let loose all the things that I knew weren’t working and all of which were my fault as a novice writer (I started this thing even before my Fixing Destiny books). I ripped it apart, above and beyond what I heard from outside sources.

Then…at the bottom of the page I wrote, “Is it even worth saving? Is there anything about this story that you love? If you could rewrite these characters, if you could change this plot now, knowing what you know, living what you have lived, what would you make different?”

The next two pages I laid it out. If I had free-reign (ha ha ha, silly writer, that’s your piece of shit you DO have free-reign!) I would change that girl so she wasn’t such a sniveling idiot. I would make her stand up and leave. I’d give her a bigger threat to face on her own. I’d make her tougher. I’d make that boy of hers not be such a fucking mess. She’s already had to clean up enough messes.

Etc.

Now, I’m starting to like these characters. They’ve gone from wet mops to warm bread dough, bubbling with potential and depth…but still not as formed as I would like.

And here’s what I discovered after getting real and hard with myself (whoo…that sounds naughty). I can write and edit a piece of…er…work… a million times, but if I don’t really love the characters, the story won’t follow. I have to believe in them. I have to love and hate them. Not just have them on a page to hold space while the weak plot tries to build a book around them.

This week, I encourage you to take a scene that’s not working, a novel, a short story, a poem…whatever it is that’s sticking in your craw lately, and get brutal. Be fucking horrible to the work and to your part in it. Own your shit-fest and stop tip-toeing around it. The first step to fixing a problem is admitting you have one. The next step is tearing it down to the foundation of what you’re trying to do, and building it up better, stronger, more beautiful.

Don’t be afraid. You have free-reign writer, to change, to destroy, to rebuild. And if you find, after tearing it apart that there is nothing that can save it, that you don’t have any love for the idea or characters, get yourself some gasoline and a dumpster. Because those horrible little projects that we don’t love enough to stick with will only serve as anchors that tie us to mistakes we need to move past.

Re-write or destroy, but don’t stay stagnant with your writing, or it may just cripple your creativity until you never pick up a pen again.

In Honor of Rebellion

I wrote this blog a year ago, before COVID-19, before the Black Lives Matter movement gained ground, before the staggering abuse of power from one of the most self-interested presidents we have had went full on “tear gas peaceful protesters so they don’t get in the shot of my photo op” crazy.

In the original version I was careful to try and not alienate readers with use of politics. Re-reading it now, after what we’ve all been through this year, I’m resubmitting it with more balls. (I never understood why “having balls” was equated with being tough. We all know those things can’t even withstand a little nut tap without shriveling into a vomit inducing pity party. They should really say “grow a vagina” or “have a uterus” those things can, as Betty White once said, “take a pounding”. Anyway—on to the point.)

Independence in our country used to mean the freedom to pursue our dreams. But now we’re finally opening our eyes to the fact that not everyone has the same opportunities for this pursuit. Discrimination based on race, the disparity between economic status, and various other homophobic, misogynistic, and white-power-driven stereotypes were collars that kept a majority of this nation underfoot and away from an “American Dream” that was really just a concept reserved for the continuation of power for those already in possession of it.

This week, “Hamilton” will be available for the general public’s viewing and I hope you and everyone you love has a chance to watch it. Here’s what I had to say last year, adapted to call out the injustice I should have been brave enough to speak against before.

“Independence”

For the last few weeks I’ve been listening to the “Hamilton” soundtrack, catering to my daughters’ obsession of the rhythmic and addictive lyrics. I realize there’s some language in it that many would deem inappropriate. But being a lover of all language and knowing my kids’ ability to differentiate between words used for flavoring and appropriate alternatives for mixed company, I don’t shy away from it. Because more important than a few f-bombs is the fact that they love it, and by loving it are learning from it.

I love it too. I love that this amazingly talented writer and performer (hats off to you, Lin-Manuel Miranda), took an overlooked story and breathed life and passion into for a new generation with quick-witted writing that tied the past with present day issues including but not limited to the fact that this country wasn’t built by white landowners but on the backs of the slaves they held captive for generations.

Suddenly, not just my family but the entire country will be witness to this snapshot of history and remember the grit it took for our country to break free of tyranny. If ever there was a time to break free of the tyranny in our government and economic systems, this is it.

We should all strive to remember the past. When we don’t, we stop being on guard for the behaviors and situations that can lead to tragic ends in our own country.

For the last three years we’ve been idle as a nation, allowing forgiveness for “jokes” that weren’t funny, policies that bullied our allies, and the practice of placating dictators who held their own people beneath their boots.

Some of you rolled our eyes. Some of you applauded. Some of you tried to justify his inability to understand complex foreign policy and economic issues by saying he was an outsider. (That’s like saying the intern you hired was given a roomful of mentors and material to study up on for the job and then shrugging when he runs the skid steer into a pile of propane tanks while smoking and jerking off, sans a mask while he’s at it, and shouting “I don’t need you idiots! I know exactly what I’m doing!”)

We are living beneath a dissonant administration that has sought to divide us as a nation. and WE NEED TO REALIZE THAT WHEN ONE PERSON IN POWER DISENFRANCHISES ENTIRE GROUPS BASED ON THEIR GENDER, RACE, RELIGION, OR ECONOMIC STATUS IT SETS US BACK AS A NATION AND BURNS TO THE GROUND ANY FALSE CLAIM WE HOLD THAT ALL PEOPLE ARE CREATED EQUAL IN OUR ‘GREAT’ NATION.

On this day, I want you to consider what it means to you to have independence.

Look to the people standing six feet away at the grocery story, in the parking lot, grabbing food to go. Look at them, their skin, their difference, SEE RACE AND UNDERSTAND THAT IT HAS KEPT YOUR FELLOW HUMAN BEINGS FROM BEING TREATED FAIRLY AND OWN THAT YOU’VE NOT HAD TO SUFFER THE SAME FATE BECAUSE YOU WERE BORN WITH DIFFERENT SKIN COLOR.

There are cries from the opposing side that all lives matter, failing to grasp the concept that if all lives truly mattered you’d stop imprisoning, persecuting, discriminating against, and killing people of color and see that its an unbalanced scale. It’s like having two kids; one you’ve put in the best schools, fed nutritious meals, spent quality time with, and gave adequate medical care to, the other you’ve neglected, forced into hard labor for no pay, sent to an over-taxed inner city school, given no medical care, and barely fed. Can you truly claim that they both matter equally to you? Actions and results of where we are on the path towards the American Dream speak louder than those words. So until balance is achieved, their lives matter more.

Watch “Hamilton” if you can. Think about this country. Think about what makes you proud of it (if there’s anything anymore.)

We were a bunch of ragtag rebels once. Who burned things and refused to be taxed without representation. Who stood up to an upper ruling class who didn’t give two shits about us. Our country was built on the riots of people who had had enough of injustice. That’s why the FIRST amendment of our constitution guarantees the right to protest. Because for all the stupid ways those first founders screwed up, at least they recognized that a country full of free and empowered people is stronger than those kept under the shiny shoe of a narcissistic dictator.

Revolutions rarely take a day. They are years in the making, with sacrifices of blood and lives. Revolutions are not free. There is a cost to rise up against the powers that seek to tie us, bind us, use our one precious lifetime for their own gain.

I could tell you to sit back, relax, enjoy the barbecues and hot dogs, slather your standard American body down with potato salad and jump into a kiddie pool filled with Bud Light while waving sparklers from every available appendage…but I won’t.

Today I’m going to tell you to remember the past, remember the fight. Remember there are things worth standing up for and things don’t change unless you rise up and change them.

Free yourself from the fear, trepidation, and self-doubt that keeps you from standing up for the rights of every man, woman, non-binary, and child in this country. We are Americans and we stand together against the forces that seek to keep any one of us down.

Rise up.

Don’t give away your shot.

Be young, scrappy, and hungry, and take back your life, your country, and the principles that sparked revolution and never give up the fight to win freedom for all of us to pursue happiness.

Photo by Sides Imagery on Pexels.com

The Beautiful Writers Workshop #21: The Keeper Shelf

Happy Thursday, writers! Today we’re jumping right into the craft of writing and, more to the point, how the books we read influence and inspire us. Many of us know that to be a better* writer, we must spend a lot of time reading good books.

 *I’ve heard it said many times that if you want to write well, you must devote an equal if not greater time reading, especially within your genre. I have mixed feelings on this. Yes, reading good work in your genre can be important to how you formulate story, find inspiration, and learn. But if you are doing it solely from the perspective as a writer, it can also cause you to lose a bit of that magic we call your ‘voice’. And, don’t misunderstand, I LOVE TO READ. But I will often lose myself in a good book (Thanks a bunch Chuck Wendig, you beautiful beast of a writer) to the extent that I use up most of my ‘free time’ and close the cover in a self-made brain fog, where in I can’t find my laptop let alone write something coherent. So I guess what I’m saying is: Balance.

Today, I want to talk about what you read and in particular your “Keeper Shelf”.

Ladies and Gentleman Hectic Eclectic (Part 1)

All of us have a “Keeper Shelf”, I’m sure of it. These are the books and stories that we love so much we can’t bear to part with them. They have somehow touched us, shaped us, hit that chord deep inside that makes us want to read them over and over again. This shelf is unique for each person and what’s lovely about your Keeper Shelf is that you’ve chosen these books because something about them worked so intrinsically well that you keep coming back, even when you know how it ends. These are the best ‘how to’ manuals we have as writers.

Hectic Eclectic (Part Deux). Ballerinas next to Deadpool (thanks April Kramer), a dash of Xian Terra cotta warrior and an empty bottle of what my father said was part of his worst college experience. Oh…and some of my all time favorite books. High brow.

This week, I want you to take an introspective look at an area you are struggling with in your own novel/work. For some of us, that might be dialogue. It might be story arc, it might be how best to show (not tell) emotion, character quirks, climax, scene setting, you name it. At least one of those authors on your keeper shelf has nailed a concept that you are struggling with. Once you identify what you’re trying to accomplish with a story, scene, or character, I would love you to take another look at one of your ‘faves’ that did it right.

Read, re-read, dissect it, pull it apart and diagram it on post-it notes…

“Ah, she doesn’t say Mel is sad…she makes the sky cloud over—even the setting turns dark—and  Mel misses breakfast for the third time because she can’t pull herself out of bed, and her eyes hurt, and her mom won’t stop asking her if she’s all right.”

“Ah—I can see these characters care about each other because they can pick on tender parts in their banter and only love each other more for it.”

“She leaves every chapter with a tiny cliffhanger…that’s why I can’t put it down.”

“He’s made Nessie so human and imperfect, by all the things she does despite of her internal dialogue, he makes her a hero that feels personal.”

You get the idea. It is the sincerest form of flattery and honor to use someone’s work to make yours better. Obviously, I’m not advocating for plagiarism; you will and should write your own story, but if another author’s work helps you see the difference between what works and what doesn’t, then utilize their book as a tool to get you there.

You have shelve(s) of Master’s Classes right in your own home so go through some of your old favorites and pull out the things those writers are doing to connect with you as a reader so you can do the same with your own readers.

Constant and continual improvement in our writing craft is essential to success. Because someday, we all hope that a reader gets to the last page of our book, closes the cover, puts it up on that top shelf in their library, and says, “That’s a keeper.”

The Beautiful Writers Workshop #20: Finding Romance in a Time of Disconnect

The world is a tense place right now and I know I’m not the only one who’s been suffering with a busy and worried mind. These days, these times, these overcrowded houses, and insecurities about the future don’t make for good bedfellows and it’s not just artists who are suffering.

A recent study revealed that fewer people are having sex. Especially in the younger age groups. A combination of the world’s current crises, economic disparity, job loss, women’s fears of sexual violence, and a general unease about the current “hook up” culture have left a great many of us feeling as though sex just isn’t worth all the hullabaloo. (Clear sign that people aren’t getting enough play time between the sheets is the uptake in old-timey language like “hullabaloo”, “horse feathers”, “fiddle faddle”, wisenheimer”, “canoodling” and “shenanigans”)

So, what better time for yours truly to have signed up for an online Romance Writers Conference this weekend, brought to us by the lovely folks at The Wordsmith Institute. Despite feeling a little ‘meh’ about love in general, my hope is that it will ignite some latent ideas that will help me finish the two or three novels that have just been sitting like cold leftovers in my fridge.

 (I should eat that before it goes bad, but I’m just not feeling like all that fiddle-faddle. I’ll make a quesadilla.)

I’m not sure how many of my writing clan out there dabbles in romance or what your current feelings are on the matter, but I think that when we are faced with a world in such serious and important chaos, the idea of a little escapism should not be dismissed too lightly. Passion comes in many forms, and when we stoke the fires of one form, we help to ignite the others. A passionate life is not just in the pursuit of justice, it is in the pursuit of love and happiness as well. And a good romance novel will follow this pursuit.

So, for today’s exercise, whether or not you write romance, I would like you to try your hand at a touch of eroticism (there’s a double meaning in there). I’m not suggesting you sit down and write your tawdriest letter to Penthouse. I don’t want to know about girth or the overused metaphors of trembling phalluses or ‘moist’ orifices. (Yuck, I think I just grossed myself out).

I want you to find the eroticism in the small details, objects, places, memories. Eroticism is more than just what you think of when you see an eggplant emoji.

Awe, they’re canoodling! (Photo by Dainis Graveris on Pexels.com)

Take your time, focus on the minute details of moments. The way a finger plucks a grape from the vine, or how a callus feels against the small of your back. Focus on the path of a rain droplet down a leaf, the low blood-warming rumble of thunder, the smell of skin warmed by sunshine. The juice of a mango running down your wrist.

Write about those moments and observations, as if it were the world teasing you.

What makes them sensual? What makes your breath quicken?

If you need more direct inspiration, here are some great suggestions from Natalie Goldberg’s “Writing Down the Bones”:

  1. What makes you hot?
  2. Name all the sexual fruits you know? What makes them so?
  3. What do you crave when you are in love?
  4. What is the most erotic part of your body? (and please, be creative, we all know the obvious ones—reach for something more interesting—well, not literally…or yes literally–what do I care what you do in the privacy of your own home? I support however you process).
  5. Write the body as a landscape.
  6. What do you connect with? (physicality, music, touch, words: think of this similarly as how you learn. Visually, orally, auditory, by doing, by reading?)
  7. Do you remember the very first time you felt desire? When was the first time you felt erotic?

Okay! There you go, something fun to get out of the world for a minute. I hope it helps to boost your writing if not your mood. Maybe your cohabiter will even benefit from these shenanigans. As Monty Python so eloquently said: “wink, wink, nudge, nudge”.

The Beautiful Writers Workshop #19: Writing Your Truth

In the midst of a nation undergoing painful and necessary growth, I’m happy to have you joining me here today.

If you follow my writings and my blog, you know where I stand on the issue and I want to take a moment to urge every white person in this country to re-examine their own lives, understand the privileges they have, and really start opening your hearts, minds, and ears to listen to People of Color.

Keep your mouths shut and listen.

It isn’t about you. It isn’t about your guilt, it isn’t about how it makes YOU feel. It isn’t about arguing your way out of the discomfort. It’s about anyone and everyone who has had to limit themselves out of fear, who was held back or down because of the color of their skin. Listen, work to understand and ask what you can do to be the most effective in fighting alongside them. Let’s start working towards a country and nation where we are all free to walk down the street, drive our cars, go out for ice cream, go out for a jog without being pursued, punished, incarcerated or killed.

Now, in line with that, I wanted to talk about a program that I had planned to start this summer with a beautiful human and social organizer, Queen (you may remember the piece on her son Dontré. If you haven’t read it, please do: “Weapons Used Against Me”)

Queen and I had envisioned a free writing workshop for disadvantaged youth and others in the community who’s voices were constantly being silenced or marginalized. The idea was to encourage and teach them how to find their true voice (outside of influence), to tell their story, in their truth and have a safe place to do so. A place where it wasn’t about the moderator’s discomfort, or what could or could not be said. A place for them to find power in their own purpose. Then, how to take those words and get them noticed. How to be heard in a world that is too used to turning away when something makes it uncomfortable. I had hopes of finding publishers for their work, and if nothing else sponsoring publishing of their work myself with all proceeds going back to the participants.

Then COVID came along and sort of blew it all to hell. But, I’m in contact with Queen and will find a way, in the next coming months, to bring the workshop back to the table. Because writing things down matters. Because putting emotion, thought, and personal truth down in words on paper immortalizes the truth of you and your place in time. And the more voices we listen to, the bigger the truth we find.

Today’s exercise is about finding your voice. And that can be scary as hell. We humans can harbor some pretty dark shit in our souls. We hold on to traumas like moths in a closet that we’re afraid to let out. But they slowly eat away at everything we own. We shrug and say “It’s okay, it’s no big deal how I feel, how I felt, how I survived…”

Humans, it is a big deal. It matters and you matter. So write it down.

Write down what you’re feeling about today’s social climate. About your own feelings about racism, what you notice in yourself at the bridging of the topic, what you wish for, what you hate about yourself, what you love. What can you change? What will you change?

I will keep you updated on the progress of the class and how you can participate, contribute, or spread the world to people who may need this kind of therapeutic and power-restoring practice.

Normally I’d say “Happy Writing” but today I’ll leave you with this.

Write in Truth.

The Beautiful Writers Workshop #18 Writing Challenges: Why Word Counts and Time Limits Work

Today’s blog will be short as I’m embarking on a new writing challenge brought to me by the fantabulous people over at Zombie Pirate Publishing. Not only is it a genre that I have yet to dabble in, but the subject has to involve a planet I know relatively little about.

What madness would possess me? Well…I don’t like boxes. I don’t like to be put into one, and I don’t like to contain anyone else in one. I think we were gifted free-will for a purpose. I also believe that it’s a lot more fun to participate in life than it is to sit on the sidelines, stuck inside some box somebody once, a long time ago, put you in.

So while I’m busy researching space travel and alternate dimensions and typical characteristics of rebellions, I encourage you, sometime this summer, to find a writing challenge that pushes you outside of your comfort zone and into that strange and beautiful place of self-awareness.

You see, until we’re faced with a challenge, we never really know what we are capable of. If we are always comfortably in our box, we assume those lines around us won’t bend; that the walls can’t be broken. Challenge brings change, and with it a casting off of limits. When we break through walls/limits we come to understand how amazingly capable we really are, and then realize how much our excuses have held us back.

I believe in every single one of you. I believe you can write 15,000 words in seven days, edit it, and submit it for consideration in a publication. I believe you will finish a 50,000 word novel in a month. I believe these things because I’ve seen it happen. Because I’ve done it. And I’ll keep doing it, especially in times when my tank is empty and I start to question my worth. Because I know I am capable…deep down. I just need reminding. We all do.

Writing challenges not only force us to sit our asses in the chair and knock our procrastination methods to the curb, they also show us how much we can actually write when we focus. Sitting for thirty minutes on a good stint will sometimes give me 1,500 words. (This doesn’t account for the editing which probably will drop a third of that). The point is, when you know you don’t have the time to second guess or organize your sock drawer, you give yourself the freedom to just write the damn book.

And, sad as it may seem, sometimes that’s all we need; permission.

Go and write. Look into the Zombie Pirate Publishing site, check out local groups in your area. I did an amazing one a year or two ago for the Rocky Mountain Writers that lasted one weekend and garnered 12,000 words. One of the most fun novellas I’ve ever written and my first foray to action/spy-fi (yes…spy-fi. It’s a genre I just now made up. Copyright.)

That’s it…that’s all I’ve got. No fun pictures or anything. I’m on a mission now, I ain’t got time for that. I gotta make up some swinging character names and decide how genetic mutations might let someone breath H2 and He.

Go find a mission. If you can’t find one, make one. Give yourself a time limit, and a word count and make it a little more than you think you can handle. Hell, make it a lot more than you think you can handle and watch how you surprise yourself.

I’ll be back next week with a full report of how often I found myself crying in the closet and banging my head against the wall for comfort.

Until next time, kids, happy writing.

The Beautiful Writers Workshop: #17 Drunk and In Charge of A Bicycle (or How We Should Be Approaching Life in Difficult Times)

Before anyone gets their knickers in a quandary… (see, fancy words are still running over from last week)…I am not, nor have a I ever been (well maybe once but it was completely unintentional and never repeated), drunk and in charge of a bicycle.

Bradbury_2240962bThat line actually comes from an Irish Police report retold by Ray Bradbury in his book, “Zen in the Art of Writing”. Bradbury was talking about the way we approach storytelling and writing, and that is: drunk with life and not knowing where off to next. Such a trip, he wrote, is one half terror and exactly one half exhilaration.

So many schools of thought exist on how best to write your novel or short story. Plan it out, with all of the beautiful arcs, subplots, crises and climaxes, and scientifically bring it home with a satisfying resolution.

Or just write it, in wobbling paces of exhilaration and stumbling wrecks of metal and wheels.

One brings about better structure and fewer injuries…er…plot holes. It also makes the revision process shorter.

The other burns with uninhibited joy and rides the coaster of character dilemmas into the natural hills and valleys of human failure. It is organic and creative, and often a bitch to edit.

I tend to believe that not every writer is always one or the other. Usually, it is a balance between the two…much like riding a bike. The drunk part comes in when we let go of the inhibitions that close down creativity, and/or let our work be curtailed by criticism. Self or otherwise.

This is a time of both terror and not knowing what will come next. A less playful and lighthearted scenario than Bradbury probably meant.

All around us, voices are shouting and arguing. Outside there is a divisive and angry cloud, smothering the world. We are beset from all sides with advice about what we should do, should be doing, should have, should not have, what to feel guilty about, what to embrace…etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.

etc
Come on…”The King and I”? This is classic stuff! Yule Brenner! Somebody better be impressed.

We run the risk of letting all of these limitations and confusing ‘advice’ smother the bumbling beauty of writing the stories and characters that intrigue and bring us joy.

It doesn’t all have to be hard-hitting commentary. Let’s face it, we’re in the midst of the first three story arcs of a dystopian novel already. And if we know anything from those story lines, it’s that the true worth of the human race is often preserved in the beauty and art we are capable of.

Writing, drunk in love with the art, is Katniss putting flowers on Rue’s grave, and Peeta painting sunsets while other tributes throw spears around him. It’s Tris not choosing any one trait to define her, but embracing the balance of being a little bit of everything.

 

It’s in the saving of books instead burning them.book burning

So, the exercise is simple.

Write.

This week write. Something beautiful. Something true. Fly by the seat of your pants and damn the torpedos (yeah, I mixed my metaphors, what of it?)

Find a reason to fall back in love with your art, your characters, your world. Find a reason for us to go on. Shut the door and unplug the news, and try embracing something other than the fear and hatred that have become our everyday.

What will save the human race will be the dreamers who live, half in terror, half in exhilaration, and not knowing, exactly where we’re off to next, but knowing its beauty is only limited by our imaginations.

That takes the kind of courage rarely seen in the world today.

The Beautiful Writers Workshop #16: High Emotion Words

…did no one else start singing Whitney Houston after that title?

“I get so emotional baby, every time I think of yoouooouu…”

No?

Well then go back to bed, get up again, and rethink your life.

Whitney
I don’t know why I like it…but I just do.

Today we’re getting off the poetry train (thank god, we thought it would never end!!!–ungrateful louts) and getting back into other aspects of writing, specifically word choice.

Now, I guess you could argue that this is related to poetry but right now I want you to think about words in terms of the emotions they convey and why using the wrong word can lead to either a tepid response in your reader or just plain confusion.

This is a good time to bring up the death traps of “very”, “really” and any “-ly” word you tend to over use. Chances are if you are using one of these precursors or the dangling adverb-maker, there is a better word out there for the emotion you are trying to evoke.

(He wasn’t very sorry. He was contrite, remorseful, ashamed. She wasn’t very pretty. She was luminous, stunning, bonnie or even fetching if you feel somewhat Scottish)

Remember, your ultimate goal is not to have your book or story be the one that readers want pick up because it’s an apt substitute for melatonin. You want them to not be able to put the book down, unless they need an emotional respite from the roller coaster you sent them on. So your word choice, in addition to being like an arrow to a bullseye, needs to light up hard or intense emotions in their brains.

I’m going  to offer an important disclaimer…I’ll even go so far to say as it’s imperious. Just like eating cake every day for every meal, or riding twenty rollercoasters back to back to back, too much of a good thing is NOT a good thing. When you overuse these impactful words, they start to over power the reader’s ability to keep up, in addition to that, you start to sound like a goddamn narcissistic douche bag.

“Watch me word, Underlings! Witness the power of my supreme expression of the English language! Cower to my mighty thesaurus and the power of my underused MFA!”

scholar
Sure, but it keeps him from licking his balls.

ahem…you get the idea. Overuse of ‘heavy’ or ‘flowery’ language will disenchant your readers and come across as dishonest (i.e. fake like a Kardashian’s talent).

Take a scene from your current book and highlight or “find” all of your adverbs and precursors. You don’t have to replace them all but particularly (yes thats a -ly word) pay attention to the ones that describe meaningful or pivotal scenes, where you want the reader to feel what your character feels.

Jane wasn’t very sad. She was decimated. Desmond wasn’t very angry, he was enraged. Katelyn wasn’t very happy she was glowing with a newfound sense of hope.

There you go. That’s your job for this week. Oh, and here are a list of heavy-emotion words if you need a little help. If you find one or two inspirational, meaty if you will, find a home for them in your work, where appropriate.

Positive:

Jubilant, elated, ecstatic, contented, serene, vivacious, encouraging, blissful, pleased, enchanted, warm, sunny, joyful, anticipation, admiration, exquisite, graceful, delighted, amused, amiable, dazzling, mesmerizing, captivating, invigorating, splendid, charming

Negative:

Oppressive, sardonic, overbearing, irritated, obnoxious, disgruntled, disenchanted, distressed, miserable, sadistic, resentful, aggravated, sour, crippling, debilitating, horrified, heavy, loathing, disgust, desperate, contempt, brutal, bloody, flawed

Others:

Evenhanded, indifferent, passive, apathetic, secretive, secular, pious, composed, awestruck, mysterious, ambivalent, horrified, pragmatic, cautious, accepting, reserved, pensive, vigilance, ancient, delicious, feeble, solemn, famished, puzzling, complicated, massive, skeletal, tremendous, efficient

 

The Beautiful Stuff Writers Workshop #15: Poetry and An Easy-Sleazy Exercise

As we are in the last week of National Poetry month I have a couple to share from last week’s exercises before we get into some fun little distractions from your current pandemic confusion.

But first…some Verse…

 

LESSONS

 

The children must be taught

But why?

So they can “grow up”?

So they can feed this horrible and unequal shipwreck of a country?

This continuous machine that steals their joy

and forces them into tiny boxes of pre-approved paths?

Paths that continue to feed the privileged?

who ride, like great white kings, on the backs of former dreamers?

Dreamers forced to live on the crumbs of cake that fall

from their slovenly white jowls?

The children MUST be taught

A new lesson.

A new way…the way of their heart.

The way their soul already knows.

The way that shouts out,

“You don’t get to tell me what my potential is–

You don’t get to standardize my worth by tests and deficient wages.”

The lesson of straightening spines

To topple the oligarchy from their shoulders

and down into the mud, to take their turn in wallowing.

Lessons must be learned.

The children must be taught.

 

–J. McLaughlin (Fort Collins, CO)

 

And from Miss Elliana (past contributor) :

 

IMBALANCE

 

And so it is,

Not one damn word in my head,

While the world rolls and sways,

Constantly tipping the balance point

Now to humanity

Now to the hungry gnash of teeth.

And I can’t remember the last words I said to you.

I can’t remember if

I was human that night

Or gnashing.

I must have felt the full and oceanic spectrum

all the love

and the hate

desire

and regret

Heart and mind, a mirror of the worldly indecision.

I like to imagine I was kind.

Even though I’m well aware,

of the splendid mess I am

for that boy.

A stammering, uncontrolled fool.

But these are stammering, uncontrolled and

foolish times.

 

–Elliana Byrne (Boulder, CO)

 

Finally, because I cannot ask you to do something that I wouldn’t do myself I decided to experiment with storytelling/dialogue in poetry:

 

TRUTH

 

“The truth–“she breathed. “The truth is that love changes.

In ways we don’t expect when we first fall.

It grows and festers, or it cools and softens.

It recedes and fades.

Sometimes it aches,

like a bone that healed wrong.”

 

His thought crashed out loud.

Thick skinned rhino parting reeds.

“How did you love me?”

 

Heavy stillness settled

Hot, lazy, savanna swelter

hanging over, waterhole dried.

Air so thick, she could cut it

With the truth.

 

“The festering, aching way.”

And, since it’s still Poetry Month…here’s some ideas to squeeze in a few more exercises in the art for this last day of April!

You’re welcome.

  1. Write about something that will always be out of reach (everything from the cookie jar to the corner office)
  2. Write a poem where each line/sentence is about each day of a week (maybe last week, maybe an alternate universe week)
  3. What does your favorite color taste like?
  4. What it feels like when you don’t belong in a group of others. (do you want to belong or are you trying to stay an outcast? Play with the difference in those emotions.)
  5. Start the first line of your poem with a word or phrase from a recent passing conversation between you and someone you don’t know. (it can be a simple, “how’s your day going?” from the clerk at the grocery check out line, or more intrusive like a “Have you found Jesus?” concern from a person on your front door step. Maybe it’s the “It’s called a blinker, jackass!” you hear from behind you in traffic (back in the day when we sat in traffic).

Happy Writing!

 

The Beautiful Stuff Writers Workshop #14: Poetry: The Quarrel with Ourselves

“We make out of the quarrel with others, rhetoric, but of the quarrel with ourselves, poetry.” –William Butler Yeats

 

I cannot believe it’s taken me nearly all month to remember that it is, in fact, National Poetry Month. I think I may have skimmed over something in the deluge of news clips and overthought, under-edited articles that pervade my cyber space, but in a world where days blend together, I nearly missed it.

You know what coming next, don’t you?

Oh,I’m not being lazy! It’s good practice!

And its more a matter of economy–I’ve got end-of-school projects due and a Black Belt Progress check this week, and therefore, my plate is a little full. So this week your exercise is simple. Go outside, mask it up if you find yourself in a bustling park, of course, but if it’s a deserted early morn, breathe the un fettered air, allow a scrap of paper and pen to tag along with you.

Take ten minutes of just being aware of the moment. What do you see? What do you hear? What do you feel? What do you smell? Use these observations and notice how they filter and affect the thoughts already on your mind. Have a quarrel with yourself and see what arguments emerge. What solutions? What epiphanies?

Then go find yourself a favorite place to sit and write me a poem.

I was going to give you some restrictions but I think we’ve all had enough of those. Any length, any form, rhyming or blatantly against, iambic pentameter–why the f%*k not? Limerick or Odyssey, dark or light, whatever is on the tip of your brain, no matter how sharp or dull.

Send them along, and let me know if you want me to include them in the weeks to come.

I’ll craft one as well.

Happy Writing!