Sunday, August 29, 2010

The Writer's Gut

By Mayowa Atte

Not that kind of gut.

I am talking about that other writer’s gut. The writer’s instinct.

Among all the skills and talents a writer must possess to write well, few are as important, far-reaching and ethereal as instinct. What is it, this writer’s instinct? How do we cultivate it? How do we put it to good use?

Let us try a recipe. Take all the experiences that make a writer unique as a human being. Add a large helping of the story the writer wants to tell, plus an equal portion of all the writer knows of the writing craft. Blend vigorously.

What you have at the end is a writer’s instinct. It is what helps a writer choose between two or more equally applicable words, sentences, paragraphs, scenes, motivations, actions and consequences. All the ingredients blend into a fluid, personal and inspired inner compass that points the writer towards the true north of the story.

We cultivate the writer’s instinct by building up all the individual ingredients. By living full and vital lives that enrich our experience. By picking the right stories to tell. By reading and writing ceaselessly to better our craft.

How do we put our writing instincts to good use? By listening to them. There are countless moments when a writer’s gut feeling will directly contradict writing convention, the opinions of our editors, beta readers and fellow work shoppers. Our writing instincts should win a good portion of the time.

Why not all the time? Tis a fine line between trusting one’s instincts and being a writing egomaniac. Writers have to know when to accept criticism and feedback, when to ignore their instincts and gain new insights.

Your writing gut is right there. Cherish it, build it into the wonder of muscular magnificence that it is, and listen when it whispers.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Enslaved to Confusion

By Deborah Wright Yoho

As a writer, I feel buffeted by the pressures of globalization. Ever since I read Thomas Friedman’s iconic books on the subject, daily I feel like I am leaning into the wind, weathering the storms of merciless change. Deadlines. Competitions. Places to go and things to do if I ever hope to be published. Yet writing for me requires a slow pace and a measure of peace and quiet. I’d like to think of my writing as a refuge, at least a pause that refreshes. But more and more the mechanics of modern life reduce my writing time to a few moments, like taking a vitamin pill with the hope I’ll have more energy later.

My new intellectual hobby is keeping up with the effects of globalization. I am enslaved to perpetual confusion, dealing with the unrelenting learning curve required to operate my demon computer. I call it the Machine, and I refuse to talk to it.To do so would confirm the presence of another life form struggling to communicate with me in an alien language. While I know it is useless to ignore its demands, I maintain the delusion that the human mind by default should function as master over all machines. Entities with an assertive consciousness require respect I refuse to offer.

The joy of maintaining a connection to friends and family has become a chore. Nobody is ever home, cell phones are unreliable, email addresses constantly change, and who has the time for snail mail? Facebook just won’t cut it. I must plan for a three-day delay trying to reach anybody at all. Not that I am any different. People get mad at me if I don’t return their message in less than 24 hours. Half the time I want the world to just go away and the rest of the time I’m chasing after it.

My private life as a reader has been invaded. Should I buy a Kindle? Must I? Probably. The cost to feed a two-books-a-week habit is bounding away from me. I can’t indulge my preference for ink on paper much longer unless I want to spend more time with the Machine managing a waiting list at the library.

I suspect those who cherish the deliberative writing process, considering, drafting, editing, and then doing it all over again before releasing their thoughts to others, could someday become an extinct species.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Why Workshop

By Monet Jones

“Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.” What a bunch of nonsense! Most of us have heard this line from childhood and perhaps responded to insults with it. It’s a lie. Words hurt, criticisms hurt, and even “constructive criticisms” often cause anguish.

This is a fact that we must recognize if we intend to relate to readers or improve our writing style. Spoken words can insult; written words can destroy. As aspiring authors, we must be aware of the possible impact of our words, and particularly the concepts described.

We also quickly learn that the power of words is a double-edged sword. Words give us power to hurt others, while at the same time endowing critics with the ability to cut us to the quick.

For that reason, a certain amount of masochism is involved, particularly with the Columbia II Workshop, whenever one submits to a peer review. Writers who set up scenes with words must realize that we can’t be objective enough to anticipate all possible viewpoints, never mind spelling and grammar. Painting word pictures is always an inexact art, and therefore, accords suggested improvements.

This is the “raison d’être” for writers' workshops. It is my belief that no writer ever achieves a standard of professionalism that would make peer review redundant. You might have a rapier wit and think you have produced a “monumental tome of literary excellence,” only to have it drop into an abyss of indolent nescience, if none but a select few appreciate it. (The preceding statement is a façade of BS intended to impress the casual reader.)

Sunday, August 8, 2010

My Path to Inspiration

By Michelle Gwynn Jones

Whenever I tell someone that I am a writer their first question is always “What do you write?” I can see the look of confusion on their face, or horror in their eyes, as I tell them about my novel and the sequels. “Where did you get that idea?” is almost always their next question.

Some people find their inspiration in a country song, either the lyrics or the title. Others find their stories embedded in historical events and create a fictional character who was there. There are those who design the coolest spaceships known to mankind and unfold their stories in its travels.

I looked over the outlines I developed for the sequels to my novel, Daniel’s Law, and tried to remember exactly what I was doing at the time I thought of the story. I have never been able to point to anything so definite. What was the catalyst to its development? Nothing comes to mind. There were no great moments of epiphany while watching the news, attending a conference or getting a manicure which I can point to.

I do, however, remember the questions I asked myself that led to the storylines: Can citizenship be forced upon someone? How far is too far undercover? If murderers can’t inherit, can their children? Once I asked myself the original question I felt compelled to seek out an answer, sometimes with a quick Google, other times with weeks of devoted researching. It was not until I had an answers to my question that I realized this could be a story. There is always some subtlety in the law, some nuance in its interpretation, which lends it to a mystery.

While I have no idea what inspired my original inquiry I know that by the time I decided it could be a story it was well thought out.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Thinking Ahead in Another Language

By Ilmars Birznieks

Repeatedly educators and parents in our country question the
relevancy of foreign languages in schools. Their argument is that
practically in every foreign country we can get by with English.
Consequently, they propagate the idea that the learning of a foreign
language is a waste of time.

The idea that foreign languages are irrelevant and their learning
a waste of time ignores the facts. English is not spoken in every
country. It only appears that way to American tourists. People in
other countries naturally prefer to talk or negotiate in their own
language, a matter of national pride. However, in many instances U.S.
media, businessmen, and government officials working in other
countries are at a disadvantage because they cannot speak the language
of the country in which they work and live. They have to employ
translators, who do not always serve the best interest of their
employers, for faulty translations occur frequently.

Our educators and parents should seriously reconsider their
attitude towards requiring students to learn foreign languages at an
early age. Because of the global economy, which will become even more
global in the future, we will have more foreign involvement not less.
In preparing our students for that kind of future, we must not
handicap them. We must recognize that many of them, like it or not,
will have to work for a foreign company here or overseas. For them
the ability to speak a foreign language will be a distinct advantage.