Tag Archives: writing

Perseverance in Writing

Perseverance is a restless state. At least for me it is.

Some writers write best when they are in their favorite chair with a steaming cup of coffee or tea nearby. They might also like to wear a comfy old sweatshirt or have an overlarge tabby purring in their lap. Their perseverance is fortified by the warmth and safety of home.

Others persevere at their desk, with a clear view out the window and a small lamp on. Their perseverance is more habitual, colder perhaps, but solid as poured concrete.

Still others persevere at noisy cafes. They need their laptop, earbuds, and the milling activity of strangers around them in order to write best. Their perseverance is fueled by a little controlled chaos.

Perseverance. Every writer needs it and can’t, in fact, succeed without it.

A saying popular at writers’ conferences goes like this, “You don’t find time to write, you make time to write.” Another writerly saying I’ve heard more than once is, “AIC: Ass in chair.”

Perseverance, for me, is a restless state of being. I mean this in two ways.

1) I’m always struggling with perseverance. Some days I’m on fire to write. Some days I’m not. Sometimes five pages come easily. At other times I can hardly write five sentences. Sometimes I’m emotionless, writing gray, egg carton words. Other days I’m livid or delirious or silly and end up writing junk food that leaves you hungry for something worthwhile.

Sticking with writing through these times – the doldrums of creatively dead writing sessions . . . the angry bursts of bitter, unusable paragraphs – that is perseverance. And I’m always taking it off and putting it on again like it’s a shirt I’m not sure I want to wear. But it should be my skin; always with me, always growing, bleeding and painful when cut.

2) Perseverance is also a restless sate for me because I have no special chair which draws out my best writing. I don’t have a routine, a dedicated space, or a certain way I write best. I often write standing up at my kitchen counter, until my feet hurt and I move to the sofa. There I loom over my laptop perched on an ottoman. After a while I get up, grab a drink, and head into the bedroom. I can’t write slouching against the headboard, so I sit with a straight back on the edge of the bed, writing until I feel burning in my shoulders. Then I head back to the kitchen.

Between paragraphs I change the laundry, start the dishes, fold the throw blankets, and perform any other random tasks while my ideas are forming. This may sound distracting, even unproductive, but this is how I almost always end up writing. This is what perseverance looks like for me. It’s a restless state.

What does perseverance look like for you? 

blank paper on desk

(photo unsplash.com)

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Book Review: The Art of Spiritual Writing by Vinita Hampton Wright

Art of Spiritual Writing-Vinita Hampton WrightThe Art of Spiritual Writing by Vinita Hampton Wright is a manual for writers attempting to write about the spiritual life. In the introduction Wright says, “For more than two decades I have advised writers and edited their work for the spirituality market. Now I have tried to distill the best of what I know for those writers who hope to serve people’s spiritual needs.” The best of what Wright knows has proven to be exceptional.

There are many reasons why I would recommend this book to writers engaging in spiritual writing. Here are a quick few.

(1) The book is concise. As an avid reader and writer, brevity is important to me. I love a good long work of classic literature like everyone else. But I don’t enjoy getting bogged down in laborious modern non-fiction. I would rather spend my time writing, or reading compelling fiction. This book was a quick, empowering, practical – yet thoughtful – read.

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Writing with Intensity – Wisdom from Max Perkins (#writing)

Lately I’ve been reading Editor to Author: the Letters of Maxwell E. Perkins. Perkins was a genius editor and an editor of genius. Here’s an excerpt from one of his letters to a writer. In this letter he is rejecting a short story. There are ideas here for writers of any ilk to consider.

I think the story failed mostly in not giving the reader a keen enough sense of the reality of what happened, so that he is moved in reading. This has nothing to do with technique, or structure, or anything of that kind, but only in the ability of a writer to feel with intensity himself, and then so express himself as to make the reader feel in that way too. If this is the case, I do not know of any way of telling a writer how to get the result. Some men can do it by nature, even though in every technical  way they write badly. It has been learned by many, too, who did not seem to have it at first, but they had to teach that to themselves entirely, for it is not at all a technical matter. Many of the very best writers of narrative, such as history, etc., have been unable to succeed with fiction. you write very well, but this story is not successful, in spite of that. (Scribners, 1987, p. 109)

 

Storytelling Wisdom from Pixar – The Rabbit Room

I highly recommend this article from The Rabbit Room: Tradecraft Pt. 1: Pixar’s 22 Rules of Storytelling. It’s filled with profound little tweets (literally) about writing better characters and telling better stories. I’ve been moved deeply by a few Pixar films – “Toy Story 3” and “UP” – and have come to look forward to each new release. Their team knows how to tell stories that reach beyond just the children in the audience. The above article is full of helpful snippets from one of their Storyboard artists that will inspire you.

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What is a Character? Insights from Orson Scott Card

Orson Scott Card, Ender's GameThis week I started reading Characters and Viewpoint by Orson Scott Card.  After thumbing through it in a Barnes and Noble for twenty minutes, and then later reading reviews on Amazon about it, and then again going back to Barnes and Noble to do more thumbing I finally decided to invest. It looks like a fantastic book that will challenge me to think deeply about the characters I’m creating. I plan to read this book slowly. I want all of Card’s wisdom to seep in deeply.

Chapter 1 contains a quote on the first page that made me excited to be a fiction writer:

“That part of what fiction is for – to give better understanding of human nature and human behavior than anyone can ever get in life.”

The rest of chapter 1 answers the question: What is a character? I didn’t even finish reading the whole chapter before I put the book down and started jotting notes about the protagonists in two stories I’m working on know. Here’s Card’s list from chapter 1, along with some quotes from the book to help explain the idea.

A character is:

  • What he/she does – “People become, in our minds, what we see them do.”
  • Someone with motive – “Motive is what gives moral value to a character’s acts….A character is what he does, ye – but even more, a character is what he means to do.”
  • Someone with a past – “People are what they have done, and what has been done to them.”
  • Someone with a reputation – “Whether his reputation is deserved or not, however, it must be taken into account. Part of a character’s identity is what others say about him.”
  • Someone who is stereotyped by others, and someone who may themselves have stereotypes of others – “As storytellers we can’t stop our readers from making stereotype judgments. In fact, we count on them. … That’s part of the poser of stereotypes – they set up expectations so you can surprise your reader.”
  • Someone who has a network of relationships (i.e. our characters will talk to their spouses differently than they talk to their co-workers, or the cashier at the bank) – “One of the most startling and effective devices in fiction [is] to take characters out of one setting and put them in another, where different facets of their personality come to the fore.”
  • Someone with habits and patterns – “Habits not only make the character more realistic, but also open up story possibilities.”
  • Someone with talents and abilities – “Your readers will also perk up when a fictional character turns out to be unusually good at something.”
  • Someone with tastes and preferences – “Real people have preferences, and so should fictional characters. Not only do such tastes help the reader feel like he knows the character better, they also open up possibilities within the story.”
  • Someone with a unique physical description – “A person’s body is certainly an important part of who he is … [but] … Far too many writers – especially beginners – think that a physical description of a character is characterization.”

Case Study: Rose Miersma

Rose is the main character in a short story I’m working on currently. I call her a “main character” because I’m not sure yet if she’s a hero or a villain and calling her a “protagonist” seems to heroic. I’ve decided to take the above bullet points and try to define each one of them for Rose.

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A quick list of those who have walked into fear

In yesterday’s post I talked about how I got to hear Donald Miller speak at an event, and specifically, about how he mentioned the idea that protagonists always need to be “walking into fear” in order for stories to be compelling. Just as an exercise, I’ve generated a list of some of my favorite heroes and protagonists. Alongside each name is the object of fear they were walking into. I didn’t limit myself to just characters found in books, and I didn’t limit myself to just “serious” stories either. Protagonists of comedies walk towards fear just as much heroes from dramas.

Luke Skywalker – Faced the most evil and powerful force in the galaxy as well as secrets from his family’s past

Harry Potter – Faced the most evil and powerful force in the world and tracked down his parents’ killer

Frodo Baggins – Walked directly into the heart of the most evil and powerful force in his world and carried with him an object his enemy desperately wanted

Shawn Spencer and Burton Guster from “Psych” – routinely tracked down killers with the local police and always put themselves in harm’s way

Richard Castle and Kate Becket from “Castle” – routinely tracked down killers and put themselves in harm’s way

Guy Montag from Fahrenheit 451 – breaks the law and risks his life when he starts to question societal norms

Will FerrellWill Ferrell’s character, “Harold Click,” in “Stranger than Fiction” – when he falls in love he leaves the safety of his calm, ordered, predictable life to chase the girl and to discover the mystery voice inside his head

Tom Hanks’ character, “Joe Fox,” in “You’ve Got Mail” – he’s an uber-successful businessman who could have whatever he wants, but in order to win the love of his life he has to do two things he’s never done before: 1) swallow his pride, 2) ask for forgiveness

This is just a list from off the top of my head. If I was standing in front of my bookshelf I could probably think of many more. I’m sure you can too.

Writers, here’s the question to ask yourself: Is my protagonist walking into fear? If not, why not? (Because I’m sensing you’ll need a really good reason…)

Write strong!

-Andy

Walking into Fear with Donald Miller

Last night I attended a fundraising event for an anti-trafficking group, Women at Risk International. NYT Bestselling author, Donald Miller, was the keynote speaker.

Blue Like JazzAt the beginning of his presentation he introduced himself as a storyteller. Throughout the rest of his address he spoke in story and writing terms. He talked about “protagonists,” “good turns,” “bad turns,” and used other storytelling phrases. Something he said in passing got the cogs in my head turning. I was not taking notes, so this is not a direct quote. But he said something along the lines of:

Happiness isn’t a very good story. When you’re writing a story you need to make sure your protagonist is walking into fear. Then, once they’ve faced the fear, you’ll have joy, which is a much better way to end a story than just happiness. 

That phrase, “walking into fear,” really popped out at me. I immediately thought of Luke Skywalker walking into the cave on Dagobah. Then I started thinking about the goblin project and the short stories I’ve been working on lately. Are my protagonists walking into fear? If they’re not, should they be?

I’m just starting to write a new scene for the goblin project that takes my protagonist and his companions on a life-threatening mini-adventure right in the middle of their quest. I was planning to use it as a time to not only grow the characters, but also to reveal some new information about the mysterious place they are headed. Now I’m thinking it might also be a good time to put a little fear into their hearts.

I don’t think I’ve made the quest scary enough. My protagonist is dogged about where he’s going and what he’s doing. He’s on a mission to save the other goblins that live on the mountain. Period. I’ve written him to be a brave, relentless hero. I’ve inserted a little bit of self-doubt, and I’ve had one of his companions question the legitimacy of the quest, but I don’t think I’ve actually made my protagonist fearful of where they’re going.

My thanks goes out to Donald Miller for getting me to think this way. A comment he made in passing during an address that wasn’t specifically about writing will (hopefully) help me to craft much stronger stories.