It’s been a long time since I’ve picked up a book series. I remember through middle and high school the total investment I would have in certain series, most notably Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings. There was a specific joy in finishing a book and wanting to immediately to read the next one. In the case of Harry Potter where I would have to wait for the next book release, the anticipation and hype was almost as fun as reading the books themselves. It happened slowly and without my noticing, really, that I basically stopped reading book series. I think the joy and anticipation of reading a series was replaced by TV shows. The similar anticipation was funneled into new seasons of TV shows.
Furthermore, well-written and literary adult fiction seems to rarely come in the form of a series. I don’t really know why that it is, I’ve just noticed this trend. But this changed this last week when I picked up My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante—the first in a four book series about a friendship between two women in post-War Italy. I work at a bookstore and these books are one of our top sellers, furthermore most of my fellow employees have read the series and all of them who have read it, loved it. My interest was piqued and I decided to give it a try. I was not disappointed.
I’ve only read the first book, but I was swept up into this world that I knew so little about by unique and fascinating characters—characters that I could see spending the course of three more books with. The story doesn’t have magic or a “Chosen One” as the series books in my youth did. It has small drama, pertaining to love, friendship, family, but these are realities I feel deeply nowadays. It is just as much of
a page-turner, which is the beauty of the series book. It can reignite a love of reading that you didn’t even realized had started to wane. I’m not just enjoying the read, I can’t stop reading and I can’t wait to start the next one.
What are some other literary fiction series books that you would recommend?
For the longest time (and I still struggle with this) I set up rules for myself that seriously impeded my writing process. I knew what I felt- what I wanted to convey. I could see stories and poems played out in my imagination like movies viewed through wax paper. I avoided cliches and melodrama. I avoided words I deemed not unique enough. I spent hours making sure that sentence rhythm and length varied, that I never ended a sentence on a preposition, or that I had cut out every adverb and excess word. Then, when I was done, I would reread my finished product and it would feel stiff and inaccessible.
Too often, I felt incapable of accessing the thoughts in my head I knew were worth expressing. About half way through college, a friend from my major told me to “unclench” enough times that it occurred to me that maybe I should. My problem wasn’t my rules. It was my inability to let them go. Realizing this was a pivotal moment in not just the quality of writing that I was capable of producing, but in being comfortable with my particular brand of oddity.
My rules proved to be great editing guidelines, but catastrophic for creation. Things evolve as they are put on paper, but they have to be allowed to get to that point. I found that granting my writing permission to exist independently from my beliefs about myself and what writing should be allowed my stories and poetry to become entities upon which I could look back more critically later in the editing stage.
This is not to say that I advise removing yourself from your writing. Just the opposite. My advise is to relax and reflect honestly on what kind of obstacles you’re placing in the way of your own writing. Sometimes the hurdle between you and the zen-catharsis that comes from the creation process is one you set yourself.
Being completely ignorant of matters pertaining to law and having never written anything major online, I decided I am the perfect fit for attempting to compile a legal guide for online writers. The mission will be to describe in actual human language what kind of legal obligations practically apply to this newborn community in which everyone has a voice and everyone has an opinion. As free-ranged as the chickens of the web are, they are still supervised to some extent and policed by several baseline laws, while enforcement and actual punishment would be case sensitive and jurisdiction dependent.
We will begin with the fun one - Defamation.
Defamation is “a false and unprivileged statement of fact that is harmful to someone's reputation, and published "with fault," meaning as a result of negligence or malice.” (1)
Slander is a spoken form of defamation. Libel is written defamation. Cyber-Libel is online written defamation. This is a relatively new field in law studies and is being updated to fit the modern development of society in many countries.
We are going to take a look at defamation specifically though the eyes of potential online writers, I was trying to answer this question -
What should I make sure not to write in order to avoid Cyber-Libel charges?
Today, most Cyber-Libel defamation claims result through a web page, comment, bulletin board post, review, rating or blog post.
After doing the legwork and researching Cyber-Libel, it seems as though the main issue here revolves around the word “reputation”. A person claiming to be de-famed has to actually have some form of fame that will be compromised by your statement. Merely being insulted is not enough to claim defamation.
This used to mean that mostly public figures has defamation issues, and those had to prove actual malice - knowledge of falsity or in reckless disregard for the truth.
However, a private person can also claim the defamatory words published by you have lowered his reputation in the eyes of his acquaintances, peers, colleagues, or employers - i.e., lowered his chances for friendships, relationships, employment and so on.
In some countries this doesn’t even have to be proven in a much more elaborate way than showing the words were published, are false, and pertain to the victim. Boom.
Understand this - as an online writer, even from the safety of your flickering screen, the words you choose to publish have the potential to be defamatory, probably in some ways you haven’t even thought so.
If you express a personal opinion or even report on an issue in a biased way, you may be liable for Cyber-Libel charges. No matter what desolate corner of the internet it was on.
Such charges can be anywhere from monetary restitution to actual jail time.
The punishment for a defamatory charge would factor in:
- Location of the specific writing in terms of internet traffic
- Amount of exposure it received
- Length of time it was posted for
- Extent of damage caused to the plaintiff’s reputation
The main defense in Cyber-Libel cases is simply claiming the words written to be true. But truth is harder to prove than you think, and also very expensive.
Saying something stupid in a comment section somewhere will not get you in jail. However, I would not recommend a lengthy blog post about the faulty personal hygiene habits of your local grocery store manager. You might trigger someone you didn’t even consider you were doing any harm to.
In general, just be kind.
Please feel free to leave defamatory Cyber-Libel comments in the section below, I promise not to sue you and to tell you which ones would actually qualify for a lawsuit!
We all want to be better writers. Even if you’re really good—even if you’re skill as a writer has been verified through publication—you still want to get better. Or you should.
There’s the temptation to do it alone. The whole “recluse/hermit” kind of approach to it, like Pynchon or Salinger or any of the writers on the long antisocial list we’ve come to know and love. But the reality of the situation is that becoming a better writer requires being told when you’re not good, and no matter how impartial you believe yourself to be, you’ll never be as unbiased as a different set of eyes.
And for those of you who’re thinking that you’ll just read more to make up for not showing your writing to other writers—as if reading is the same as interacting and learning and getting critiqued—don’t even try it. It won’t work. It has its benefits, yes. You’ll pick up on style, rhythm, you’ll learn new words, but again, it just isn’t the same.
If there’s something stopping you from sharing your writing with other writers, it is in your best interests to get over it and get over it quickly. The best writers have hired editors—you know this. The best writers have writer friends with which they share their work. You know this as well. Simple reasoning should tell you that if you want to be one of the best writers you know, you’re going to have to follow suit. There is not anything noble about trying to go it alone. You’ll just end up squandering your own potential.
So show people what you write, let them rip it apart. Let them shit on your favorite sentence. You’ll be better off.
What makes a piece of literature a classic? Is it the interesting plot or transforming characters? Is it the consistent flow or descriptive language? There are plenty of books that rise quickly up the year’s best-seller lists and then are rarely spoken of again. There are books that take the number one spot on these lists and are considered literature of the century. What makes these books special?
“A classic is a book that has never finished saying what it has to say.”
While the first edition of If & When We Wake was being edited, printed and set for release, Scott Hutchison and Francis Daulerio sat down and, over the course of a few days, had a conversation about writing, music, inspiration, and influence.
Scott: When did you write your first poem and do you still have it somewhere? Perhaps I mean your first "serious" poem. The one that made you realise that you could actually DO this...
Francis: I’ve always been interested in creative writing, but my poetry “career” is relatively new. I was in a band throughout high school and college, so all of my writing was geared towards crafting songs. Even today, most of my influences are songwriters, not poets. When we stopped playing together in 2008 I wasn't really sure what to do with myself. I tried to do my own thing musically for a little while, but after I graduated I had to trade the guitar in for a job, and that kind of sucked up all my time. A few months after I began teaching, I started really getting into poetry, and eventually I scribbled down a little poem called Gift; or, Curse while I was sitting at cafeteria duty. It’s about the past never totally going away or something like that. Nothing too groundbreaking. My buddy Rich, who I teach with, gave me some tips and encouraging words, and I guess that’s how this all started.
It’s not the best poem, but it was the first one I wrote in the style that I currently follow. It’s only four or five lines long, but I tried to thicken it up with layers. I think it was important because it allowed me to feel out the contemporary poetry world as far as what was considered acceptable, and I was able to use that information to help me craft more poems and eventually apply to grad school for my MFA.
I’ve always had that need to create, and when I wasn't able to satisfy that urge with music, I turned to poetry. How has that worked for you? Did you start out with the visual arts and shift towards music, or have they always been a separate thing?
Scott: I definitely made pictures before I ever thought about making music, though I do clearly recall telling my one of my first school teachers that I wanted to be Eric Clapton when I grew up. I remember being confused by her response at the time, though I now realise she was essentially saying “that might not be a good idea, he was really fucked up for a while.” Throughout high school I was just a guitar player and I had no interest in singing or writing lyrics, so my main creative outlet was still drawing at that point.
That changed during the four years I spent at art school. There, I was making work that generally went down well with my tutors and classmates, but I felt like I was pretending half of the time. There were fewer moments of real expression and joy at just making something. It slowly became a slightly fake, cerebral pursuit as opposed to a genuine reflection of my thoughts and personality. That’s when I started to sing and write lyrics (still very privately for the first 3 years), and the balance slowly began to shift. Music, once a hobby, became a real concern. The art that I was making started to feel emptier and by the time I graduated I had pretty much decided that I was going to be a songwriter first and visual artist second.
That said, the two often go hand in hand, and my approach to writing and recording music is eternally influenced by what I learned at college, particularly the lessons of what NOT to do. I guess I try to follow my instincts with both of these outlets now and it’s strange for drawing to take on a much less intense, more pleasurable role in my life whilst making music has become a business of sorts. I do feel a sense of belonging in the music world though, which I never quite felt at the art school. I suppose this has to do with the “gang” ethic of a band, as opposed to the lonely practise of drawing. I was interested to know whether you write quite privately, or tend to bounce ideas off those whose opinions you trust? Reading the work, I get a real sense of solitude and many hours spent within your own head.
Francis: It’s interesting how that shift occurs. I don’t know how my writing would have changed if I’d continued writing songs, but I definitely feel like what I’m writing now is authentic. I’m not going through the motions with it, at least right now. All of the poems in If & When We Wake are incredibly personal for me, so I didn't need to spend a lot of time inventing material. It’s all the culmination of my experiences over the last ten years or so. In that sense it makes everything really valid for me. Who knows how that will change as I try to push my writing further? Do you ever feel like the creative well is running low?
And yea, you pretty much nailed my creative process. A lot of time spent in my head, brooding over thoughts. I think of it as the Bon Iver approach to writing. You know how Vernon isolated himself in that hunting cabin in Wisconsin when he wrote For Emma Forever Ago? I lock myself into this quiet, private world and let myself become totally immersed in what I’m writing. It’s escape as much as it is catharsis.
I don’t know what your songwriting process looks like, but I spend exponentially more time coming up with a central image than I do actually writing a poem. The material is there, but finding a creative way to get it out is the real challenge, especially with the shorter pieces. The good thing is when it happens, it happens quickly. Some of my favorite pieces were spoken into the recorder on my phone while I was driving to work, but the amount of time that went into developing and editing those ideas is hard to quantify.
As for sharing my work, I hate it. I have a few people who I’ll reach out to for help with unfinished work, like my grad school professors, the other poets I went to school with, a few friends, and my wife, but otherwise I really don’t like bouncing ideas off of people. That’s a flaw, because sometimes it results in shit poetry that I don't realize is shit. At least not right away. I’ll feel like I’m onto something, but there’s always that doubt that keeps me from reaching out to people for tips or help. My MFA program helped me a lot with it, but I doubt I’ll ever be too extroverted when it comes to my writing. I’m just too private.
Maybe I’ll get there eventually. Have you? Do you feel like you know when a song or a picture is satisfying its requirements? I was more than happy to give you carte blanche with the drawings for the book, and I’m so pleased with the results, because I wanted them to be your own interpretations, but did you ever question whether or not a piece fit properly? Was that stressful for you at all?
Scott: I totally agree with the idea of forming words around a central image. Once that’s in place the rest of it tends to arrive reasonably quickly, and I will continue to edit everything right up to the moment I’m called upon to record the final vocal. Those key themes have eluded me for brief periods of time (though it can feel like an age when I’m waiting for something good to arrive). Conversely, I never had any trouble finding a way to represent your words in an image. My method was simply to read through until something struck me, and not to overthink things thereafter. The idea was that new light might be cast on the words and these two pieces can kind of “collaborate” on the page. I loved the fact that you gave me total freedom during this process. This book is something I’m really proud to have been involved in and it gave me a chance to get back inside my own head and work in that private, quiet manner again. So… thanks!
I suppose the major difference between the forms that you and I have chosen is the noise. My work is often pretty fucking loud, but I love the silence and the short, meditative moments that your poetry gives the reader. Do you find it disconcerting that these personal thoughts of yours will now be available to anyone who wants them? I try to look at it as a privilege rather than an intrusion. You are the one extending the invite after all... That said, it was a shock to realise during the first bouts of touring following The Midnight Organ Fight that my private thoughts had become quite the opposite. I guess I’ll ask you about how that feels in a couple of months! I enjoy the fact that any musician has two very different formats in which to present songs - on record and playing live in front of an audience. I didn’t have any choice but to become more extrovert when I made the first moves towards a career in music. Performance is a huge part of my life now and I jumped into it a lot more wholeheartedly than anyone, including myself, could have expected. Have you ever performed your poetry for an audience? It feels like a lot of the poems aren’t really made for the stage, but is that something you’re interested in?
Francis: I was really happy that you didn't ask for directions about drawings. I definitely wanted the book to be more of a collaboration instead of me delegating ideas.
I have done a few readings, but I can’t say I enjoy it. Have you been to the Blind Poet in Edinburgh? It’s a little bar near the university where I did my residency a few summers ago. I gave my first reading there during an Open Mic, and it went pretty well. They have cheap whiskey, too, so that helped. It was a good initiation. I figured if I was terrible, no one would remember me anyway. The poems themselves aren’t fit too well for a live audience, but I find that I can talk between them to give context and a bit of a back-story, which filled what would otherwise be uncomfortable gaps.
It’s weird, because I loved being on stage when I was in a band. I was the singer and I really got into being up there in front of a crowd making noise. Now I write these quiet little poems about tomatoes and people dying, and it feels like such a different beast. I’d be so much more comfortable getting up with my guitar and just playing some songs, but I guess I did this to myself, right? I’m sure it’ll grow on me.
I’m glad you feel that silence! That’s totally what I go for as I write. With this book I tried to create an environment for readers, not just a set of ideas. I wanted to paint a landscape and build a context for people to feel like they’re part of as they read. I think that’s why the central image thing is so important for me, and also why I try to focus so much on natural settings. I want people to feel the dirt and the grass when they’re interacting with the poems. It’s not just the words. It’s about the full experience, which is another reason why I think your illustrations add so much to the book.
Despite my hesitation to share unfinished work, I’m actually really excited for people to read this. While I’m writing, I’m very shut off, but now that it’s done I want as many people to see it as possible. I’m removed from the writing process enough at this point that the whole privacy thing doesn’t scare me anymore. I think it might be difficult for some of my family members to read, so I am a bit nervous about ripping open old scars. But otherwise, I hope everyone who reads it can take something out of it. I like to think that people will be able to identify with the poems on their own personal levels. We’ve all experienced loss of some type. Everybody’s been through some shit, and that has to count for something. I’m sure you have people tell you that they identify Organ Fight with some really important moments in their lives, maybe not in the way you had intended. Do you think about that as you write? Is listener interpretation something you think about when you put an album together?
Scott: I have been to The Blind Poet! A friend of mine read there a couple of years ago, though I didn’t get any of that free whisky. Damn. Personally, I’d hate to get up and read for people. Nobody really knows what to do at poetry events. Do we applaud? Do we interact? Nope, let’s just shuffle our feet and cough every so often. There are very established modes of behaviour for audiences at rock concerts, and I love playing to that. And this is something that, like it or not, is present in the back of my mind when we’re making an album. I do think forward to the potentially massive set closer, or the bit where everyone in the crowd is singing along. It’s not that I design the music to work in that setting, but it’s definitely a (partly subliminal) consideration.
Having said that, I’d never second guess a listener’s interpretation of the material. Once an album or song is released, it doesn’t belong to me anymore. The feeling that went into making it is probably long gone by that point, having spent too many hours in the studio thinking about the snare sound as opposed to the sentiment. I think my family certainly found it enlightening, if a little odd, to hear how my life had been going over the course of the last few albums. Singing a song about suicide when your parents are in the audience is an interesting experience, especially when they didn’t know you had been having such thoughts. But ultimately, it’s a song about NOT killing myself. I think anyone close to you will recognise the same sense of catharsis in your work and realise that this is your way of staying sane.
Going back to the performance thing, perhaps some things are meant to exist only on the page, and it’s an interesting question as to whether anyone even wants to hear why you or I wrote something. I feel like your work lends itself really well to the reader’s immersement in their own memories. Something about the amount of space left on the page around the words makes it very easy to drift off into thought whilst reading your work. Is it intentional to use the page in this way? Graphically speaking, you’ve laid it all out very sparsely which I think works really well. I like how this contrasts with some of the ‘busier’ drawings. I’m not very good at minimalism. Even when I was a wee boy, my mum said i would always fill the page right to the edge when I was drawing. It’s often that way with my music, for better or worse. I’m intrigued as to what kind of music you made/make… Does it relate to your poetry at all? Or is your writing intentionally opposite to what you did with the band?
Francis: Poetry readings can be terribly awkward if the readers don’t know what the hell they’re doing. They’re like solo performances. If the performer is uncomfortable, everybody else will be too. There’s also the problem of etiquette, though. Readings aren’t the most widely attended events, so people don’t know how to handle themselves when they go. I guess it’s a chicken/egg kind of thing. There’s no way to determine who makes it weird, but I think if a crowd is good and a reader is good it can feel really natural. We’ll have to wait and see how the readings go for this book. The minimalism you were talking about works on the page, I think, but doesn't lend itself too well to a smooth reading. Part of me just wants to get up there and read the whole goddamn thing straight through. Let the narrative do the work. That could also backfire hard…
My writing styles have shifted a bit over the years, but emotionally I think there’s a pretty noticeable connection between my lyrics and my poetry. Before my band stopped playing, we had just started recording what would have been our third album. My grandfather had recently passed, and it was basically me pouring out my sorrows into a grouping of ten or so pissed off and depressed songs. Some of them weren’t bad, but a lot of them were just undirected emotional purges. We gave the band up before we got anything recorded, and I was left with this incomplete feeling. I didn't get the catharsis I was looking for because the whole concept never came to fruition in a way that would have given me some closure. I felt like I didn't fully get to say goodbye. That was eight years ago now, and part of me is happy that we never finished it. I think it was all too fresh, and the extra time has given me the ability to step back and let everything settle. In a lot of ways I guess I let that need be my starting point for If & When We Wake. It picks up where those songs would have, but in a more mature and crafted way. It also gave me time to zoom out and see how those feelings informed the other experiences in my life, which let the poems in the book take on other topics.
I still write songs here and there. Some of them have served as starting points for poems. I’m really into the indie rock and folk groups. Modest Mouse, Typhoon, Fleet Foxes, Iron & Wine, Horse Feathers, Gregory Alan Isakov. I don’t think there’s a big difference between their writing and mine, at least where theme and image are concerned. I’m certainly not comparing myself to them, though. You can definitely find their influences in my writing. And there are bands like Death Cab for Cutie, who actually led me to Frightened Rabbit, that I can listen to no matter what’s going on in my life. These bands are just as important to me as the poets I’ve grown to love. They’ve permeated every aspect of my life, and I approach their works in the same way I’d approach a book or a piece of art. Do you have bands like that?
I’d love to get back into music some day, because I do miss it, but I don’t know how or why that would ever realistically happen. A pipedream I guess. For now I’m just going to see what happens with this book, and hopefully I’ll sit down to start writing the next one soon. What’s next for Frabbits? You guys are heading into the studio soon, right?
Scott: I have only a handful of bands that are always with me. I suppose it’s similar to the way we tend to make friends; the most meaningful relationships are formed in your 20’s. For me that happened with The National, TV on the Radio, Wilco, Ryan Adams, Sigur Ros, Mogwai, The Twilight Sad, Neutral Milk Hotel… Frightened Rabbit wouldn’t be what it is without those bands and artists. I’ve been surreptitiously (or perhaps not so!) ripping all of those guys off for the past 10 years. But then you can skew and twist the things you steal to make them your own. For this latest album, which we start recording in June, the influences are different again but the aforementioned will always be there, chipping in.
The point when an album starts to come together after a year of slowly finding the puzzle pieces is an incredibly exciting time. I’m sure it’s the same feeling for you with this book. I’m really looking forward to it coming out! I think we first met in October 2013, that’s when you handed me the first manuscript. It’s been a long journey. Congratulations, Fran!
Francis: Yea, that was October, before your show at the Electric Factory. I can’t believe how far this whole thing has come since then, and I couldn’t be happier about how it’s all turning out. It’s funny. Some years before that, my wife and I saw you guys play at the First Unitarian Church in Philly with the Bad Veins, and halfway through their opening set I realized we were standing next to you. I didn’t have the balls to say anything, which was probably for the best. I get really awkward in those types of situations. I hadn’t really even considered writing a book yet, and to think how much has happened since then just blows me away. Thanks so much for getting involved in this project with me! It’s really turned my vision into something remarkable.
Scott: Ha! Well, I’m glad you had the balls to ask me to illustrate the book! It was a big relief when I read your work after that show at the Electric Factory and realised that it is truly brilliant. I love that it can be read both as tiny moments and as a greater whole. I guess it’s often the same with songs and albums. The reader/listener can scratch the surface and still enjoy the work, but there is layer upon layer hiding below that can be so rewarding if you care to get a spade. I hope we can work together again in the future and can’t wait for the book to come out. Exciting times!
Francis: I’m glad you enjoyed collaborating on this! It’s the first creative project I’ve worked on that I’ve truly felt reflected my original vision. It’s been great having you on board. I owe you quite a few beers, or perhaps some good whiskey. We’ll get that all sorted out soon!
The Quiet Moments Are Upon You
“Eleanor Levine’s voice is an invitation to smash all the clichés and to liberate the imagination from all the chains that civilization has created to enslave us.”
—Jaime Manrique, award-winning author of Cervantes Street
The quiet moments of life are on display in Waitress at the Red Moon Pizzeria, Eleanor Levine’s collection of poetry that refuses to accept that the past is something to be ashamed of.
A daughter worries about her father buried deep in the ground, alone except for the cicadas that cover the ground every seventeen years while her mother attends Wagnerian acupuncture lessons and struggles to maintain the sanctity of her children’s Jewish heritage even as it slips into the cracks of passing time.
A sister laments the monotony of her brother’s chosen lifestyle but wonders if the commotion of her own life merits any higher worth as she faces rejection and acceptance from the women she desires as sexual and emotional companions.
“After you read Levine, the world, poetry, life itself, seem newly minted.”
Deeply personal and joyfully candid, Waitress at the Red Moon Pizzeria is an invitation to view the past through a new lens: one that is untainted by regret, shame, or fear.
Eleanor Levine’s poetry has been published in over 50 journals and magazines including Fiction, The Wall Street Journal, The Kentucky Review, and Thrice Fiction. Waitress at the Red Moon Pizzeria is her first poetry collection.
Pub date: January 29, 2016 ca. 96 pages $13.00
It is what sets good writing apart from the rest, and it often goes unnoticed: Rhythm. Read Hemingway’s opening paragraphs to A Farewell to Arms aloud to yourself. Notice the percussion in the way your voice sounds. The stresses, the unstressed syllables, the lengthy words versus the shorter ones. You almost can’t help but hear it spoken in a deep, masculine voice of Ernest himself.
So how can we make sure that our writing follows suit? I’m not saying that these tricks will help you write like Hemingway, but they will help you recognize the importance of rhythm in your writing.
Read it out loud.
Sounds elementary, but reading your writing out loud will help you recognize the rhythmic strong points and shortcomings in your work. You don’t really hear what you write when you read it in your head. You only hear it when you hear it, so let yourself hear it and let the truth come to the surface.
Count your words.
Rhythm comes from the right blend of long words, short words, long sentences, and short sentences. If you write short all of the time, the rhythm will suffer--just watch.
I am writing. The topic is rhythm. These sentences are short.
If I kept going on like that I bet you’d stop reading. If you count your words, you’ll see how varied your sentence length is or isn’t.
Tap your foot.
Pretend you’re writing lyrics. Try to figure out how they flow over a beat. Try to see if they flow at all. If your writing doesn’t read quite like a rap, that isn’t the end of the world, but if you have a few lines that seem rhythmically hip-hop-esque, that’s a good thing.
Treat it like a speech.
This goes hand in hand with the first tip, read it out loud. Write it to be read aloud. Think about “how will this sound?” rather than just “how does this read?” It really makes a considerable difference. Think about the great speeches of history. Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech. “I have a dream.” Pause. Short sentence, then longer sentences, immortalized in history.
Don’t forget that storytelling is also an oral art. Make sure that you don’t neglect the rhythm of your writing.
There are few things that compare to settling into a cozy chair and opening your book to the spot that you so unwillingly left it last time you read. Sometimes, it’s even as easy as pressing play on your favorite device! As technology invades our lives more and more these days, there can be some great literary benefits. Books can be easier to carry, and more accessible because of electronic reading tablets, though I prefer books made from paper, personally.
With the creation of new mediums in which books can be presented, I am grateful for audio books, and cd sets and apps that have someone else read them out for you. Some of the things we do in our day to day lives are just boring, like folding clothes, cleaning, or doing the dishes. In the same way that a book can take you from sitting on the couch and into another world, an audio book can too, but you now have use of your eyes and your hands.
One time I ran five whole miles because I was so into my audiobook that it didn’t really phase me that my legs were dead tired. A good story can easily distract you from whatever less desirable task you are doing at the time. I also once took a road trip with my mom where we had an audio book playing, and other drivers on the road must have thought, when looking in the car, that we hated each other. We were both just looking straight ahead and not saying anything at all. Little did they know that we were in the middle of unveiling a murder mystery plot and we were riveted!
Audio books are a fantastic way to pass some time, and you can even be (semi) productive as you listen. I would recommend listening to them while driving, working out, or even having a nice bubble bath. As a listener, you get the same fantastic effect of reading a book with your own two eyes. Your imagination is still activated and you are still learning and thinking, but with an audio book, it just takes two ears instead of two eyes.
If you haven’t already, try it. If you have a long commute to work, listen to it on the way there and back. It will most likely wake you up in the morning! If you are doing a long workout, you can knock out multiple chapters in one shot. And if you are taking a bath while listening, well, you might just turn into a raisin. It is a great way to continue to enrich your literary life while still being able to do the things you would normally do in a day. I encourage you to give it a try! And if you don’t like the one you are listening to, get rid of it! You can’t work out to something that you find extremely dull and boring. It kind of defeats the point of getting your mind off of your aching muscles!
It is a new and refreshing way to ‘read’ and I am hoping that you will try using an audio book to liven up your day, and through that, see that books and stories can make even the most boring of things exciting! Time to spice up those chores!
We’ve all experienced something that was so fantastic, touched us so deeply, and moved us so profoundly that it is sad when it is over. For me, this happens the most when I am anticipating a great live theater show. I become excited days and days in advance, take the time to get all fancied up, and then enjoy every minute of the experience. Most of the time, the letdown afterwards is inevitable. There is something about becoming emotionally invested in something that makes you feel that after it is over, you have lost a little part of you. I’ve pretty much gone into mourning over the thought of never having those same experiences again. Dramatic, yes, but if you feel things deeply, you’ll know it’s true.
For us literary minded people, the exact same thing can happen when a beloved character dies, when an unexpected and unwelcomed plot twist takes place, or even when the book is just plain over. You spend so much of your time and energy reading and understanding the story that when it’s over, you are lost. It’s like losing a friend. You want to continue to enjoy their presence, but there is no way to. I guess that’s why many people love series. You can prolong your relationship with the setting, emotions, and characters of the story. But this usually makes the final parting that much more difficult. The depth of my despair after reading the last page of the seventh Harry Potter book was so much! Whether you’d like to admit it or not, you know you’re with me.
To be able to engage your readers to that extent takes effort and skill. Your story will be successful only if you have characters that people can relate to, and are curious about. I’ve read so many books where I wish that I could actually meet the character. Now that is good writing. Your characters must be lifelike and realistic in order to garner that sort of reaction out of your audience. I believe that as an author, you should want to leave your readers yearning for more after they read the final sentence. This is how you create lifelong readers of your work. This is easier said than done, I know. But with that being said, I think it proves that you have to spend just as much time developing strong characters as you do in developing a plot.
We as readers want to celebrate with them, grieve with them, learn and grow with them, and just be with them. I think this is true across any genre. For mysteries or thrillers, you want to create a character that readers want to root for to succeed. For love stories, you want to create a man that all of your female readers would want to marry. For horror, you want to create that one character that the reader continually hopes for to stay alive. Give your characters some spark, some depth, and some personality. Two dimensional characters are extremely hard to relate to. Even if you write a character that you want the reader to dislike, show the reader that they are not worthy.
Creating a compelling story with great characters is hard. But it is these characters that will draw the reader in, giving them a way to become emotionally attached. It is this attachment that creates the sense of sorrow when it is eventually broken at the conclusion of the story. Your goal, author, should be to create something that will give your reader a way to connect mentally and emotionally to your story, stirring them with a provocative and creative art form. After it is finished, your reader will feel a beautiful letdown.
A common problem writers experience is the lack of motivation or inspiration to actually write. They may have every intention to make progress on their masterpiece, but simply opening a blank Word document feels like an enormous task. There are several tricks I’ve learned to combat this problem, but today I’m going to focus on what I think is the biggest cause of this lack of motivation: location.
Are you trying to write, but the inspiration just isn’t coming to you? Look around. What are your surroundings? Personally, I can’t accomplish anything if I’m sitting in my bed with the heat of my laptop burning through my sheets. So if I actually want to get something done, I have to get out of my room. My favorite place to go to write is a small, local coffee shop. I can just sit there for hours with the best coffee ever, surrounded by wonderful pieces by local artists, and the words flow much more easily. Experiment with the coffee shops your area has to offer. See which provides the best atmosphere to stimulate your creativity. If your area is lacking in cute, indie coffee shops, try Starbucks! Some people find Starbucks to be an excellent place to write, despite its lack of hipster cred.
Or maybe coffee shops aren’t the best fit for you. I know plenty of people who prefer to go outside. When the weather permits it, beaches and parks are popular places for writers to get in the proper mood to be productive. Set yourself up on a bench, picnic table, or blanket, or see how this new environment affects your creative output.
Go to a library or bookshop. Not every small bookshop has a nook for you to chill with a laptop or notebook for a while, but there’s always, at least, Barnes and Noble. Libraries and bookshops are great places to write because they’re (usually) quiet, and you’re surrounded by the very thing you’re trying to create, which I find hugely motivating. If I don’t feel like spending money on a cup of coffee, this is usually my second choice for a writing location.
Maybe you’re not in the mood to go out, and you’d just really prefer to stay home and write today. I’ve found that the only way I can be productive at home is if I set up a specific place to write. I don’t yet have an office or a writing desk (one day–the dream is alive), so I clear off whatever flat, table-like surface is accessible and most conveniently located (usually my vanity is the best option). When I say I “clear it off,” I mean I make it spotless. I remove every miscellaneous item that has taken residence upon it, I wipe it down to get rid of any dust that has accumulated, and if I feel it’s necessary for whatever mood I’m in, I’ll even clear out a drawer and dedicate it to items that are relevant to my progress (pens and other stationery, notes, any pieces of art I’ve collected for inspiration, etc.). Only after I’ve completely set up a space that is purely for writing can I sit down and get to work. I make much more progress this way than I would if I were to remain in my bed, but it usually does not produce the same level of results as if I get out of the house altogether.
And finally, as Leslie Knope so rightly advises: “If you have the ability to go to Paris, by all means, go to Paris.”
Writing is hard. I sound whiney and this is something that we all already know--that is why so few people are writers. It’s damn hard. But I am beginning to find that this difficulty is self-imposed. We all can write. We’ve all written things that we are proud of, despite the plethora of things that we probably aren’t so proud of.
Anyway, as I was saying, the difficulty of writing is self-imposed. The difficulty of writing is not in writing, it is in writing well, and we--the writers--are our own harshest critics. We write a sentence, look back, hate it, try again, hate it, and so it goes. We end feeling dejected with something we just don’t even want to go back and edit because we hate it.
I’m as guilty as anybody, even writing this post, right here, I hate most of it and grow dissatisfied with each keystroke. In an effort to, I don’t want to say “heal” myself, but in an effort to get over this fear of writing poorly, I have been writing everyday without stopping. I write until I write five-hundred words or so and I do not stop. Sometimes the end result is repetitive gibberish, but so what, it doesn’t take very long when you don’t allow yourself to stop. I do this exercise every day, and I do it on a typewriter so I can’t delete and just have to keep forging ahead until my page is full.
When I’ve finished, I put the page in a manila folder and then into a drawer in my desk.
I leave the pages be.
Then, every Saturday, I review the writings of the previous week and I circle/highlight the things that I like. I copy them down into my “ideas journal” (I hate the way that sounds, but there is really no other way to describe what it is--being a journal full of ideas).
What I have found is this:
First, the collection of pages serves as a good recap of my life, week, how I feel, etc. It is interesting to me, at least. Second, there are some pretty damn good ideas in there when I just let myself go. Or at least I like to think so. Even just a phrase or a sentence can serve as a kernel from which something else can pop. Third, I feel more satisfied with myself. I have a tangible page of writing from each day, and I have a folder full of them. The folder may not contain my magnum opus, but I see it as practice. I am getting better. Even if 1% of what I write is good, if I see this through for a year (this year being a leap year) I will have 366 pages of stream-of-consciousness whatever-I-end-up-with and three and two thirds of those pages will be actual good writing. I like to think that more than one percent of what I write is at least “good.”
The way I see it, to use a very, very, very lame analogy. If I go to bat 366 times, I’ll definitely strike out a bunch, but I’ll also hit some singles, some doubles, triples, and even a couple home runs.
Have you ever been at a loss on where to start writing? I’m guessing you have. Why not draw on personal experience?
It must be part of the human condition to think that we lead boring lives. Every other person’s life looks better than our own, and we wish and dream for change. That’s called discontent, people. It is poisonous and will only lead to trouble and despair. We constantly compare out lives to the movies that we see, or the books that we read. Who doesn’t want to be Elizabeth Bennett or Jack Ryan (Tom Clancy’s famous character). We read a book and (usually) think, ‘what I wouldn’t give to be that person’ or ‘wow, my life is so boring’, but this will get you nowhere except into a pit of despair.
Instead of hopelessly wishing for a different life, look to the one you lead for inspiration. I just bet that you could take any one experience that you’ve had in your day and turn it into a story. Walked your dog? Write a funny story about how everything that could have gone wrong did. Ripped a hole in your favorite shirt? Turn into an emotionally charged narrative about lose. Tripped on the stairs in front of the person you are smitten with? Turn it around and make it a romantic story. The possibilities are endless.
Please, don’t believe the lie that you lead a life that is less worthy than those around you. You are you, and you are awesome. What you do is unique to you, and you should take full advantage of that opportunity. If you are looking for some inspiration, check out YouTube personality Olan Rodgers. You won’t regret it. He is the perfect example of what I’m talking about here. One of his stories can turn my day right around, and his stories are about the most simple, most strange things. If you watch, you’ll understand. Follow his format if this seems weird. He is successful at it, so you can be too! Maybe not in the same way, but it will certainly add some flavor to your own personal and creative life.
I challenge you to take moments in your life and transform them. Use them as creative fodder and see where it takes you. Maybe even string a couple stories together and make a character that resembles you. Remember, you are great, your life can be the perfect inspiration, and no one does your life better than you.
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