Archive for the 'Journaling' Category

Reading like a Writer

I have a friend, who reads a lot but doesn’t write very much, who gets really irritated with me whenever we discuss books.  She claims I’m a snob; she doesn’t understand why I can’t just “relax and and enjoy the book.”

I do enjoy books.  Reading is my absolute favorite thing to do when I’m not studying or writing.  The difference between my friend and me, though, is that as a writer, every book that I read helps me to hone my craft and my art.  It’s not that she doesn’t read well, it’s just that she doesn’t write, and so doesn’t read like a writer.

A writer should not read passively.  When a book is really, really good, I might lose myself in it, but later, when the book is done, I always go back to try to identify just what it was the author did that made his/her book so absorbing.  And when a book is really, really bad, I’m always tempted to put it down and stop torturing myself, but instead, I try to identify just what it is that makes that particular book so unreadable.

So I’ve begun keeping a notebook, a reading journal, in which I jot down my thoughts about what I’m reading at any given moment.  There are a few key elements that I pay special attention to when I read:

  • Plot.  I have a hard time with plotting, sometimes, and I think that the best way to learn how to do it effectively is by seeing what works (and what doesn’t) in someone else’s writing.  How does the author move his/her story from point A to point B?  Do the characters actively move the story along?  Does something external (outside the characters’ control) happen that the characters have to react to?
  • Characterization.  When I read a book in which I feel that I really get to know a character, I try to identify the cues that the author gives me about the character’s personality, motivation, background, etc.  How much of the character’s personality controls the progress of the novel?
  • Dialogue.  Does the dialogue feel authentic?  What kind of tags does the author use in dialogue?  How much slang/idiom do the characters use, and how much formal speech?  How does the author differentiate characters through dialogue?
  • Language.  This is especially important to me; the books that I like the best all employ language in such a way that it emphasizes the meaning of a story, the differences between characters, the mood or the setting.  It doesn’t have to be lyrical or poetic; it just has to achieve an effect.
  • Setting.  How does the author evoke a sense of place?  What details does he/she use to make the setting come alive?  How, when and where does the author insert these details?  In a good novel, the setting can be a character in and of itself; how does an author achieve this?

Most importantly, though, a writer must read, and read a bit of everything.  It’s how we know what’s being published currently, what’s been done to death, what’s fresh and new, what works and what doesn’t.  Just as a doctor or lawyer does research to stay current in his field, so must a writer.

And, too, read because you enjoy it.  Writing makes a great excuse for reading.  🙂


Prompt: A picture is worth…

… a thousand words?  Visual images can make great spurs to generate material for poetry or fiction.  I’ve put some links here to pictures I find interesting and inspiring; I hope you do, too. 

Get writing!

Prompt: Dreams

There’s an interesting post at Writer Chick Talks about dreams.  Not the kind that you have at night, but the dreams that you have for your life.  All of us have dreams; we dream about the kind of life we want to live, the things we want to do, the things we want to see, what we want to accomplish and what kind of mark we want to make.  When we’re little, our dreams are big; too often, though, our dreams diminish as we get older and reality weighs us down.

Since dreams are so universal, it’s a rich area for writers of all types to explore.  What kind of dreams did you have for your life when you were a child?  How have they changed as you’ve gotten older?  What is it you most wanted when you were little, and what is it that you want most now?  What is the difference between your goals and your dreams?

This is an interesting characterization exercise, too, if you write fiction; certainly your characters must have dreams.  How do your characters’ dreams for their lives relate to the story they’re in?  How do they influence the way your character behaves?  How do they influence the way your character sees the world?

 Get writing!

Consider the audience

One of the things I like about blogging is that it forces me to consider audience as I write, even if what I’m writing is a collection of insignificant musings.

I work part-time as a writing tutor at a small university; I work with a number of students who are in developmental/remedial writing classes.  These are students who struggle with writing, and one of the things they struggle with most is audience; they can’t conceive, it seems, of writing for an audience.  If what they say makes sense to them, they reason, it should make sense to everyone else.

But this phenomenon isn’t limited to inexperienced writers, or to people who don’t enjoy writing.  When I have taken writing classes and workshops, or participated in writers’ groups, most fledgling writers, when asked why they write, answer that they want to express themselves.

But writing is not just self-expression; it is communication. Unless you write on paper, in a notebook that you plan to keep entirely private and never, ever show to anyone, writing is a two-way street.  It is not enough that your writing make sense to you, the writer; if it is to be successful, it must also make sense to your reader.  And if you want to be paid for your writing, considering audience is absolutely crucial.  Editors of publications consider their readership when they buy stories; writers must also consider readership when they try to sell stories.

So this begs the question of how to consider audience while you’re writing.  There’s probably an infinite number of ways to go about this, but there are some of the things I try to pin down when I begin a story; these helps me to focus the story and keep it consistent, and if I have a target audience in mind, editing becomes easier after the first draft is done.  Some of the things I try to keep in mind:

  • What do I want readers to gain/take from this story? 
  • What age group is likely to read this story?
  • What genre, if any, does my story fit into?

If I have a general theme or idea, target age group and target genre audience in mind when I begin writing, it becomes easier to consider whether my language is appropriate for the age group I’m writing for, whether my story fulfills genre expectations, whether or not it’s cliche for the genre I’m writing in, and so on.

This is true not just for fiction, but for blogging as well.  Since my blog is public, and I have a (somewhat loose) connecting theme in my blog, I’m able to consider who might be likely to read the blog, and what they might expect from a blog on my topic.

Writing Rituals

Here’s an interesting article:Creativity: The Right Writing Ritual, by Susan K. Perry, Ph.D.  Dr. Kerry, the author of Writing in Flow, says that one of the keys to creative success is in rituals.

I think most of us who write, and who have been doing so for some time, use rituals to stimulate our writing whether we realize it or not.  It’s usually not anything grand or elaborate; some writers might have a cup of coffee and check their email, while others might take a short walk before sitting down to paper or keyboard.

I think that it can be helpful to take a look at your rituals, the habitual things you do before you sit down to write.  I did this some years ago as an exercise for a class; I discovered that one of my problems in generating new material was that my habits were so varied and disorganized; my rituals wasted time, when they should have saved time by getting me in the mood for writing.  It didn’t seem like my rituals ought to get in the way; I didn’t do anything that was terribly unusual or involved in my writing rituals; I usually spent some time playing a computer game, checked my email and a message board that I participated in.  The problem was that I let time get away from me, locked myself into the pre-writing activity instead of spending the time actually writing. 

So I decided to cut down on the extraneous activities that I always did before writing; I set a timer so that I knew when to end my game of solitaire, and set another timer so that I knew that it was time to stop reading through my emails.  The time limit helped; it let me form a habit of productivity.

I still slack off, fall off the creative/productive wagon every now and again.  But it’s that hard to get back on, to relearn my habits and my rituals that make writing a satisfying activity.

Welcome to WritingFix: The Best Place for Interactive Writing Ideas on the Internet

Welcome to WritingFix: The Best Place for Interactive Writing Ideas on the Internet

If you write, this is a truly terrific site to poke around in.

Prompt: Technology

Technology is both a blessing and a hassle. For instance, computer technology lets me communicate quickly and easily with friends who live a continent away; cellular telephone technology ensures that I can always be reached in the case of an emergency; medical technology has kept my husband’s grandmother alive for longer than anyone ever expected her to live. But computers break down; sometimes we don’t want to be reached; sometimes letting things take their natural course instead of interfering with our inventions might be preferable.

We live in such a techno-oriented society that it’s easy to forget how dependent we are upon human inventions. So think today about technology. How do you depend on it? How would you adapt if all, or even one, of our major technologies were to disappear? If you write fiction, consider the same questions for your characters. This can be as simple as a scene in which all of the lights go out, or as dramatic as the ramifications of a global war.

Get writing!

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