Sunday, July 26, 2009

Writing as Catharsis

By Ginny Padgett

I think many writers benefit from the catharsis of writing. In fact, it’s probably a driving force for some. Recently, I made an interesting discovery about myself.

An upsetting incident presented itself to me; a dear family member was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease. I couldn’t seem to tame the raw emotions that continued to wash over me. I hate being in that kind of emotional state and I wanted relief. My Muse spoke to me! Go write about it…in a POEM. I didn’t question the directive, but I was surprised because poetry is not my preferred writing genre.

I sat down at the computer and an hour later I had a poem I called “Elastic Love,” and I had left all the emotion on the page. I’m not saying how good it was, but it did the trick for me.

A few weeks later, another situation arose carrying the baggage of unpleasant emotion; a frustrating conversation with a friend who continually spouts a negative outlook. This time I didn’t hesitate. I felt a poem coming on. Again I had success…restored equilibrium and a poem I dubbed “Human Appliances.”

This is what surprises me. I don’t derive the same kind of catharsis from writing prose as I do poetry. I guess if I were to analyze this I could come up with a hypothesis to explain this phenomenon, but I don’t care. It works for me. I probably won’t submit these poems for publication, but I do enjoy reading them occasionally.

I am curious to know if you’ve discovered unexpected benefits from your own creative endeavors. Leave a comment.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

What I've Learned So Far

By Deborah Wright Yoho

What goes through your mind, Gentle Reader, when I tell you that I teach adults to read? How can an adult not know how to read in this day and age, in this country? Oh, maybe she works with retards, or welfare mothers, or rednecks?

I became the director of a non-profit adult literacy program in 1994, after I left my job as the principal of a rural South Carolina high school - straight from three years of dealing with kids who lived on dirt roads and showed up in August barefoot or with lice. One student asked permission for dismissal at noon so he could pick cotton to earn a few dollars for his family. Another forgot to leave his loaded shotgun at home. He parked his truck, unlocked, on school grounds with the evil thing still mounted on a gun rack behind the front seat.

So when I accepted the job as an adult educator, I thought the guy at the “fillin’ station” on The Andy Griffith Show, Goober, probably represented the typical adult who struggles with reading. That is, until I met James Lazarus.

I had been on the job a week when a newspaper reporter with The State called me asking to interview an “adult illiterate” for a feature story about the United Way campaign. “Sure!" I answered, eager to grab the media spotlight. "I have someone here right now. If you have a close deadline, you can come right over."

"I'll be right there," Bill McDonald said, delighted to get this chore out of the way. I gave him directions and waited impatiently for him to arrive.

It never occurred to me to ask the adult learner and his tutor if they wanted to be interviewed. When Bill arrived, I escorted him to the classroom and introduced him. I also had to introduce myself. I had never met either James Lazarus or the lovely elderly lady who volunteered to tutor him. Luckily, James didn't care about my presumption or my rudeness.

Bill posed his first question. "Tell me, Mr. Lazarus, what do you do for a living?"

"Huh?" asked James.

"Your profession."

With immense dignity, this quiet middle-aged man stated, "Oh, I'm a pastor."

"A pastor?!" Bill's jaw dropped only slightly lower than mine.

"Yes, I have a congregation of about 300 souls just outside of town. Preaching is my profession. But I also work for the county painting playground equipment."

"What does your church think about their pastor not being able to read?"

"Well," said James. "They don't know." There was a pregnant pause as James drew a breath and then grinned. "But I guess they are about to find out!"

James Lazarus understood his secret was about to be divulged to the whole world while Bill and I never considered that he may not have wanted his face plastered six inches high on page one of the Metro section. But that is how his congregation found out their pastor couldn't read.

As for me, I learned something about stereotypes, dignity, patience, consideration for others, and plain good manners from a gentleman. To this day, I am very proud to call James Lazarus my friend.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Writing Stories That Fly, Part I

By Celinda Barefield

Lately as I have been in the middle of a writer’s block, one question has been plaguing my mind. How do you write something?

I know from my own experimentation in picking up a pen and putting something down on paper that it is not an easy task. Nor is it a straightforward one. Personally, I have read a number of self-help writing books to push me along towards the answer to this question. There are crazy amounts of these books, so the question then becomes, how do you pick a book from all the others? That’s what this post is about: types of writing books - genre specific, style specific, general self-help.

This is what I look for in a writing book. First, how old is it? If it is over 20 years old and isn’t in a second edition stay away from it. Writing, like any occupation, changes. It would be like picking up a 20-year-old science book and expecting it to be up to date. It might have some good tips, but most likely it will lead you in a bad overall direction.

Second, look at the topic; a number of these books are genre specific. They have multiple books for different genres. Therefore, if you want to get to know a certain genre, like science fiction, fantasy, romance, western, Christian, or others, there are books specifically dedicated to work with that area. Just make sure you really want to associate with a particular genre before going towards a genre-writing book.

Third, make sure you peruse the book before you commit yourself to reading it. Time is precious and so is money. You don’t want to invest in a book and find out afterwards that it doesn’t talk about point of view when all you needed was help on that topic. This is where you may run into problems with general self-help books. They might not give enough help on the subject you need. That is why style-specific point books are useful; identify what you’re really trying to correct and read before committing yourself to a 400-page horror.

Lastly, I’m going to leave you with a writing exercise. Many self-help books have them. They are meant to get us writers writing, and I’m hoping it works for me. Why don’t you give it a shot?

Try this. Choose a work that you have already started. Now, look at it again, and write a new beginning from a different point in the timeline, either before or after your original beginning.

How does the story change?

Look back at both beginnings. Which better fits your story? Why?

Next time you are stuck in your writing, think about the beginning. Maybe what you really need is to jump-start the front of your story, not the back.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Flashback or Not?

By Beth Cotten

A fellow writer, who admitted to being new at the game of novel writing, asked a group of our members how to go about properly using the writing technique known as the “flashback.” Several opinions were rendered by those present about whether flashbacks were the way to go. Of course there were varied opinions. One mentioned that it was probably not the best technique to use although many writers have used it and have been published. The conversation left me curious about what actually were the disadvantages, technically speaking, of using this method of writing.

I had purchased the book written by Chris Roerden Don’t Sabotage Your Submission: Save Your Manuscript From Turing Up D.O.A. and thought it might cover this subject. It does. Roerden dedicates eight pages to “Fatal Flashbacks.” Since the space available for this blog is much less, I will try to shrink that information to fit the requirement.

Correctly used, a flashback makes the present story clearer in a significant way. The technique is tempting, but the publishing gurus highly suggest that new writers stay away from using it as “even experienced writers have problems with it.” Why? Roerden gives eight objections to using flashbacks which I have paraphrased below.

1. A flashback requires the writer to make a shift in time which is challenging to every writer.
2. It not only stops the story’s forward motion, it actually reverses it which can be fatal to the storyline.
3. Often it inspires writers to include information that adds no value to the story.
4. Less history is needed by the reader than many writers think and can be presented in the current story in a less disruptive manner.
5. Longer flashbacks cause a greater risk of damaging the forward thrust of the plot.
6. A flashback from within a current scene is hard to segue into and then smoothly return to the action.
7. When some readers detect an impending flashback they simply jump ahead in their reading.
8. Many writers like to use flashbacks for their own convenience and not for its primary purpose.

Roerden goes on to explain in detail and through example the ways in which flashbacks and what are called mini-flashbacks can be used effectively. He cautions writers to avoid taking readers into the past if a way can be found to include “brief…selected highlights from the past” in the current action.

I highly recommend this book to anyone hoping to be published (aren’t we all?) and especially to a newbie like me.