Writing Tip #5-Tell Yourself The Story

I love writing. I love teaching. I love teaching writing. I love listening to writers talk about their manuscripts. I love problem solving with writers. I love the delicacy and boldness of writing. These tips are things I’ve learned over the years that have held me in good stead and kept me going through the hard dry times. I hope they help you.

And hey, they are only one minute long. Click Here

 

“Someday, I need to write Stephen King a letter and tell him how much I love his craft book ON WRITING.I remember I came to it with trepidation. Like he was going to-what?-scare me into writing by saying mean and horror-filled edicts to the tender hearted writer. Uh, no. It’s a wonderful book. It feels like he leans toward the writer reading his book and says, “hey this is how I did it. It worked for me. Try it.” One of his counsels that I quote the most often is: Tell yourself the story. That’s the first draft. I love that bit of advice. Tell yourself the story. That’s the first draft.”

Thinking Out Loud*- Triggers

Last week, I was in a meeting where all the participants were asked to take a test survey and give our responses to it. The survey administrators wanted to know if the questions were clear or confusing.

The issue of triggers came up. One person said: “Some of the questions kind of triggered me.” While I was wondering what questions provoked that response and why? Another person said, “I have to say I appreciate triggers because it tells me there is something there for me to work on.”

I thought about this exchange a lot. And the notion of trigger warnings. Do we need to warn people when content is violent or sexual? Do we need to sanitize our language so that no one is emotionally provoked? Is it a good idea that newscasts warn us when footage might be disturbing? Have movie and television ratings limited our viewing and storytelling abilities or made us more responsible for our content choices?

When I worked as a journalist, we knew the papers and news stations whose ethic was: If it bleeds, it leads. They knew shock sells. They knew the people who slow down and rubber neck at auto accidents are the people that want to see those new stories. I have to say the choices of those news organizations felt demeaning to me as if I wasn’t interested in the causes and results of the accidents.

I used to believe that it is okay to lace a character’s language with profanity if it is the way that character expresses themselves. I used to believe that if sexual exploration is part of a character’s desire line then that character’s sexual exploits had to be part of the plot. Now I hesitate. I worry. I equivocate. Does writing for young people mean I should disinfect the world for them? Or does writing for young people place a greater responsibility on being honest and writing true characters? (Full disclosure: my novel EVIDENCE OF THINGS NOT SEEN could probably have “TRIGGERS INSIDE” slapped on the cover.)

I recently received a critique note on a middle grade novel which asked “Do you think this character’s view of nursing homes might be a trigger for people who had family members die in nursing homes during CO-Vid?” As much as I wanted to say ‘fuck it’ to the note, I considered it. Ultimately, I kept the character’s bombastic view intact. She ninety-two. She’s seen a thing or two. And she’s highly opinionated.

Where I land is the word ‘gratuitous.’ If the language or the sex is not a part of the story or the character’s life and story and only serves to shock, then either I cut it or I have to take another look at ways to make the language or the scene deepen the world of the story. It’s all about serving story.

But here’s the thing: as writers, I do not think it is our job to cleanse the world for our readers or viewers. I do not think any art should be decontaminated for potential triggers. I do think it is the readers and the viewers responsibility to look deeper when a character or a story or a line of dialogue evokes a memory or thought that feels awkward or uncomfortable. I do think that when we sterilize our fictional worlds, we rob the reader of asking the important questions like what did that film, piece of music, book make me feel and why?

 

*As the youngest in my bio-family, I was a late talker. The walking talking tribe of my older sisters and my parents were paragraphs and sentences ahead of me when I arrived. I was hesitant to speak up, to think out loud. I thought I had to be perfect. Hah!  This series, for however long it lasts, is about me speaking up and thinking out loud. 

Writing Tip #4-Lower Your Expectations

I love writing. I love teaching. I love teaching writing. I love listening to writers talk about their manuscripts. I love problem solving with writers. I love the delicacy and boldness of writing. These tips are things I’ve learned over the years that have held me in good stead and kept me going through the hard dry times. I hope they help you.

And hey, they are only one minute long. Click here.

“My friend Brian Yansky always gets a laugh when he is asked: how do you get a first draft done? And he says, I keep my expectations low. I used to want to disagree with him. No Brian, your writing has to be good. You have to be inspired. You have to—Yeah, right. Get the words on paper. Commit to showing up on the page. And yeah, no great expectations. Sometimes 1500 words that need editing and shaping are better than no words.”

Thinking Out Loud* – The ‘She/Her’ Thing

Last month I took part in a two week, on-line residency where everyone announced their pronouns when they introduced themselves and tagged their zoom name with their identifying pronouns. Until then, I had never felt the need to put my pronouns in my email signature or to introduce myself by stating my pronouns.

I mean, why should I? I’m normal.

Oh crap.

There it is.  Cisgender privilege running the show.

Consider the possibility that being cisgendered isn’t the only identity. Consider being someone other than who you are. Consider how announcing your pronouns might let others know not only who you are but also that you are open to whatever pronouns they choose. Consider the welcoming relief of this simple recognition.

So why do I put she/her after my name? Because I want you to know that I don’t assume what your pronouns are. I want you to know that I embrace the possibility of what you choose.

 

*As the youngest in my bio-family, I was a late talker. The walking talking tribe of my older sisters and my parents were paragraphs and sentences ahead of me when I arrived. I was hesitant to speak up, to think out loud. I thought I had to be perfect. Hah!  This series, for however long it lasts, is about me speaking up and thinking out loud. 

Writing Tip #3 – Write The Ending

I love writing. I love teaching. I love teaching writing. I love listening to writers talk about their manuscripts. I love problem solving with writers. I love the delicacy and boldness of writing. These tips are things I’ve learned over the years that have held me in good stead and kept me going through the hard dry times. I hope they help you.

And hey, they are only one minute long. Click here.

“This writing tip comes from the great Marion Dane Bauer. Give yourself permission to write the end of your story. Seriously. Sometimes when we are in the dark long middle of a manuscript, we get glimmers of the ending. We feel where we want the story and our beloved characters to end up. Go ahead. Write it. Yes, it may change but sometimes writing the ending is like a creating a homing device so that when you return to the middle, you know where you are headed. You know how to find your way home.”