"It's impossible to discourage the real writers; they don't give a damn what you say." Sinclair Lewis

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Writing With Feeling . . . And T.S. Eliot

by Maxine McCoy

When we sit down to write, our fears, our beliefs, our prejudices, our successes, our failures, all that we are, sit down with us. We put a piece of ourselves on the paper. The story is, without question - - us.

Paul Gallico has been quoted as saying:
"It's only when you open your veins and bleed
onto the page a little that you establish
contact with your reader."

Leo Tolstoy said:
"One ought only to write when one leaves a
piece of one's own flesh in the inkpot each
time one dips one's pen."

And to that thought, Charles Peguy added:
"A word is not the same with one writer as
with another. One tears it from his guts.
The other pulls it out of his overcoat."

At this point, I start to wonder. Flesh, blood, guts??? I don't want to die. I just want to write a book. And when I think about a guy in an overcoat I think about that old joke and I really get nervous. I don't want to expose myself either. If I write my book will I be revealing some dark corner of my soul I didn't even know I had? Maybe I'd better rethink this desire of putting words on paper.

But when the morning sun floods the patio and spills over into the room through the French doors, I tell myself grudgingly, "It's time to write." And there I am, "A writer and nothing else: a man (or very unsettled woman) alone in a room with the English language (and all that flesh, blood, and guts), trying to get human feelings right." (John K. Hutchins)

Yes! Writing is all about feelings.

Dwight V. Swain wrote, in Techniques of the Selling Writer, "No writer in his right mind writes by a set of rules... Because rules start from the wrong end: with restriction, with form, with mechanics, with exhortation about things you should and shouldn't do. Where should you start then? With feelings."

The form and mechanics are important and need to be correct in the final manuscript, but in the beginning, in that first and possibly second draft, you must write with feeling. You become your characters and then type out the hopes, fears, and joys of your heart.

There have been times when I've been writing, expressing the emotions of my heroine and suddenly, I recognize myself there on the white of my Microsoft Word. I've had to stop because the words were becoming blurred with tears and then I realize: I've denied myself this cleansing for years. I couldn't cry for myself, but I could cry for my heroine.

Writing with feeling is therapeutic.

T.S. Eliot was born with a physical disability that prevented him from associating with children his age. As a result he became frightened of social situations. Just entering a room full of people caused him dread and seemed so monumental to him that it might "disturb the universe." From these painful feelings, he was able to write The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock. Here's a few words from that poem:

And indeed there will be time
To wonder, "Do I dare?" and "Do I dare?"
Time to turn back and descend the stair,
With a bald spot in the middle of my hair -
(They will say: "How his hair is growing thin.")
My morning coat, my collar mounting firmly to the chin,
My necktie rich and modest, but asserted by a simple pin -
(They will say: "But how his arms and legs are thin!)
Do I dare
Disturb the universe?
In a minute there is time
For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.

Sometimes I feel so self-conscious about writing deep feelings that I can almost imagine T.S. Eliot sitting on my shoulder, whispering doubts in my ear. "You're setting the drug of dreams against the pain of living. Do you dare? And, do you dare?"

But then I stop and think; Eliot had the courage to continue despite his discomfort. And where did it get him? His words are read to teach personification in English classrooms in every college in America. These are those words they use:

The yellow fog that rubs its back upon the window panes,
The yellow smoke that rubs its muzzle on the window panes,
Licked its tongue into the corners of the evening,
Lingered upon the pools that stand in drains,
Let fall upon its back the soot that falls from chimneys,
Slipped by the terrace, made a sudden leap,
And seeing that it was a soft October night,
Curled once about the house, and fell asleep.

He even uses feeling in his description.

And so, this morning when the sun floods the patio and spills over into the room through the French doors, I tell myself with renewed enthusiasm, "It's time to write."

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Revising Your Manuscript

by Sandra Lord

I believe we all agree a writer resists rewriting. But most of us do not create perfect drafts the first time around, or on the second. Some writers revise their first draft starting at Chapter One and working through chapter by chapter to the end. That’s fine, but here’s another method for you to consider.

Many of us mull our story over in our minds long before approaching our computer. Before you write the first draft, keep your options and imagination open--can you change the characters, point of view, setting, situation or problem, conflict, or mix and match any of the above and make a better story? Now write your story--to the end; then stop. Don’t revise in between. Keep those creative juices flowing.

Now you’ve finished the first draft. Let the manuscript cool off, then come back to it and read it through and look for its strengths and weaknesses. Pinpoint major matters that need attending to first. Jot notes in margins on any big problems or new ideas that crop up. You may get ideas for new characters and scenes, plot may have to be rearranged, or the ending needs to be changed.

Deal with any character problems before you begin a general revision. Does you hero or heroine change in the course of the novel? Have they unusual traits? Take a hard look at your antagonist. Is he/she morally bad? Is he/she humanized? Look at your minor characters. Is there a credible conflict between protagonist and antagonist? Next, evaluate the scenes. What one is the most memorable? What made it so? What scene is the least memorable? Can you cut it? Continue this process until all the remaining scenes contribute significantly to the novel.

Now look at character’s motivation. Is it provoked by circumstance or planted ahead of time? It’s easier to established motivation by planting it ahead of the scene where the action takes place. What are the three most important actions in the book? Look at other significant actions. Is any action out of character for the heroine, hero, villain, etc.? After a section of your manuscript is revised, print it. You’ll need a clean copy for your general revision that will come later. Look at page one. Is there a hook? Do you, as a reader, want to go on to page two? If so, it’s time for the general revision where you take your clean copy and work through the manuscript chronologically. Your first objective is to tighten the manuscript. Watch for between-scenes material. Cut words, phrases, paragraphs, pages--all that are not absolutely necessary. Vary sentence lengths to avoid monotony. Avoid redundancy--saying the same thing twice in different words. Pick the better one and cut the other.

Check dialogue sequences. Is your dialogue natural, realistic for your characters? Have you used enough dialogue? Check for tag problems. Watch for “he muttered”, “screamed.” Substitute “said” if you need a tag. If only two people are talking, you do not need tags. The reader can keep them straight. Use as few tags as you can get away with. Eliminate unnecessary words, e.g., the boy nodded his head (what else do you nod?). Eliminate weasel words such as about, finally, here, just then, suddenly, etc. Check for overuse of adverbs, past perfect verb tense; any participial phrases.

Work with a clean manuscript for your next read-though. Look for words that jar you--take you out of experiencing the story. You may need to revise your prose for more punch. If you’ve done everything you can to perfect your manuscript, print it out and read it through again. No problems? It’s ready to go. Good Luck!