Tag Archives: Beautiful Words

How To Develop Your Writing Voice

(Author’s Note: For June, July & August, this blog will be posting on Mondays & Thursdays only!)

A writer’s voice is a complex, hard-to-describe thing.

I think it could be compared to a rich cheese, a well-crafted symphony or a good wine.

The complexities of each of these come from a variety of sources —  Cheese, music, and wine are complicated. Voice is complicated too. 

How To Develop Your Writing Voice by Katharine Grubb

A writer’s voice can be influenced by many different things. 

Each of my children could re-tell me the story of The Three Pigs, but they would all do it differently. The differences between their interpretations will lot to do with their individuality. The distinction between the different presentations would be their voice.

So how does our voice develop? I’d like to suggest beginning novelists tinker with influences. Show me a writer with a rich voice, and I’ll show your someone who has read great books most of their life. A writer with strong voice studies voice either consciously or subconsciously, and this is reflected in the words they put down. You can also find some practical tips here. 

How do you find your writer’s voice?

 A writer with a strong voice will be one who writes often. He is at ease with a variety of words. He may understand the use of grammar rules and manipulates the rules to serve his purpose.

To find you voice, you must have three things: Exposure to beautiful words, regular writing practice, and time.  There is no short cut.

Exposure to beautiful words:  You need to read. Read as many books as you can. Read your genre, but don’t be snobby about other genres. Try reading the classics, and try to figure out why they are so great.  Read writing blogs but always be reading and thinking about what you’re reading so that the words settle into the climate of your subconscious just perfectly. Then when the atmospheric conditions are perfect, you have a storm of words that is wonderful and dramatic and maybe even scary.

Regular writing practice: Developing strong voice is much like developing muscles for great athletic accomplishment.  If you sit at the keyboard repeatedly and daily put your thoughts together in a coherent way, you get better at it. You may  be able to train yourself over and over to see grammatical errors, then you’ll get better and more efficient at spotting them. With practice, you can say things more clearly and precisely.  Make a daily word count goal and keep it. Or plan to write a half hour each day. Find the way that’s best for you and do it!

And then there’s time: It’s common to suggest that after 10,000 hours one has mastery of a skill. You may not be able to track that in this lifetime. Don’t worry about it. Instead, focus on what you can to in the next ten minutes. You’ll be surprised at what you can accomplish. Believe this: no time is ever wasted. What may look like a loss is really life experience. You can make up for lost time. YOU CAN.

A writer with a great voice will also know their strengths.

Are you funny? Encouraging? Are you really good at analyzing LOL cats? Put your energy into this! You’re probably passionate about it too. And people will notice that you are good at it and they will want to hear more from you. Become an expert. Read everything you can get your hands on about your favorite subjects.  Apply the principles in new and exciting ways.

It is voice, I would like to argue, that carries the most artistic weight of our storytelling.

The nuances, the experiences, and the complexities make us who we are. Thus, our stories will be unique to all of us. Look for ways to enjoy your life, read and write and you’ll be working on your voice.

You won’t be able to help it.


Katharine Grubb is a homeschooling mother of five, a novelist, a baker of bread, a comedian wannabe, a former running coward and the author of Write A Novel In 10 Minutes A Day. Besides pursuing her own fiction and nonfiction writing dreams, she also leads 10 Minute Novelists on Facebook, an international group for time-crunched writers that focuses on tips, encouragement, and community.

10 Ways To Make Your Words More Beautiful

April is National Poetry Month.

Today I celebrate beautiful words.

Regardless of tastes, preferences or trends, I believe the beautiful calls to us.

There is something inside of us that longs for symmetry, for rhythm, for thoughtful curves. Often we can appreciate delicate images that spurn our emotions, that bring out in us the good and noble. We all enjoy art for a variety of reasons, but no one can deny how well-crafted art serves a purpose. Art can point us to the good in humanity, echoing ancient truths. Beautiful art feeds our souls.

As we write, we can organize our words in such a way that their patterns, their meaning, their rhythm, their structure, and their message all sing together.  Beautiful words, in prose, cannot be accidents. Finely crafted words come with discipline and practice. Lovely sentences do not lay on the page passively waiting for an optic nerve to come by and give them life. Beautiful sentences dance — they vary in their length, in their structure, in the vivacity of their verbs and in the nuances of their nouns. These words paint a picture — they don’t slap it together.

10 Ways To Make Your Words More Beautiful

Beautiful words point to the strongest emotions on the human spectrum. They can inflame anger. The right words can render jealously hotter. They can pour out pain like a trickle or an avalanche. Beautiful words can sum up joy, can skip and staccato with each laugh and giggle. At their best, they are for Hallmark cards and tweets, fortune cookies and voicemails. Delicious words are for poets and teenagers, novelists and children, literati and pedestrian.

Famous Poetic Words. The 50 Most Quotes Lines of Poetry. Here’s another one I just want to sit and savor. 

Beautiful sentences dance. They vary in their length, in their structure, in the vivacity of their verbs and in the nuances of their nouns. Beautiful words paint a picture — they don’t slap it together. They can point to the strongest emotions on the human spectrum, inflaming anger, rendering jealously hotter. Beautiful words can pour out pain like a trickle or an avalanche. They can sum up joy, can skip and staccato with each laugh and giggle. They are are for Hallmark cards and tweets, fortune cookies and voicemails. Beautiful words are for poets and teenagers, novelists and children, literati and pedestrian. Words pair together like friends to create a private party of emotion and delight.

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Beautiful words play dress up when they are a metaphor, simile or allegory. They toy with their meaning, putting on a disguise, like a fake mustache or a floppy hat to be to the reader something they’re not. Oh, coy words tease and taunt the meanings and the similarities and the comparisons and the reader watches the burlesque stimulated to read more.

Buzzfeed’s Beautiful Words: 51 Of The Most Beautiful Sentences in literature. I found them very inspiring.

Beautiful words hide meaning like a treasure, daring the reader to look for clues to the mystery. Beautiful words leave ellipses like bread crumbs that tempt the reader to go deeper into the woods. Is the reader escaping the real world or rushing to danger? Beautiful words will never tell, they’ll just keep looking behind them as they run over limb and log to keep the chase going.

Beautiful words march together in alliteration. Bearing the beat together as brothers in a band, blaring their business to any reader who claps along in the parade. Beautiful words are not democratic. Some words get the short end of the stick. They are the low feeders in the phonetic and etymological gene pool. Those words are edited and beaten and mocked and their superior sisters are given chances to go to the ball.

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Untranslatable Words. This is a beautiful collection of words from other cultures that can’t be translated into English. I love the illustrations and I also like thinking of the imagination that came up for the need for these words. I also want to put them in my every day use right now. And then I found the same list even MORE beautifully illustrated! 

Beautiful words are parts of a whole. The vowels and consonants are like toddlers in a playground, picking their favorites for the swings or the ball game, holding hands or playing tag. Poor silent E can’t object. Insecure Q can’t go anywhere without U. Lonely Z finds himself picked last for the game. Bossy A tells them all to line up.The words are acrobats, flipping and flying in their palindromes and anagrams. The suffixes and prefixes fly like lost feathers as up they go to the highest of heights.

The Last Words. Huffington Post has a list of the most beautiful last lines in literature that “will make you want to read the whole book.” (Hey kids! Who wants to go to the library with me today?)

The beautiful words are our medium. They are crisp and wide like a crayon or pastel. Precise like a fine pen. Bold like charcoal and pool in the crevasses of meaning like a dab of watercolor. The words are gold and crimson and emerald and cobalt. Rich with facets and karats and sparkle. They dazzle and enchant and when they are put together like beads on a chain, we can wear them around our neck like jewels.

How can you make your words more beautiful?

1. Eliminate the adverbs and adjectives. Stick in a metaphor if you want the reader to appreciate the nuances and features of the noun. Or pick a better noun.

2. Read it out loud. Listen for rhythms and cadence. Add in phrases or clauses to slow things down, add description or amp up emotion.

3. Don’t let sentences start with “There was” or “There were.”

4. Rearrange where the verb and noun are in the sentence but don’t make it passive.

5. Add an element of emotion, especially in the verb choice you make.

6. Use Anglo-Saxon words rather than Latin words. Don’t know the difference? Check out this excellent blog post that explains the difference! 

“Words are, of course, the most powerful drug used by mankind.”
Rudyard Kipling

7. Substitute any “be” verb for a verb that’s specific and vivacious. You know you’ve got a good one when you can see exactly what is happening.

8. Substitute every word for a synonym to see what you come up with. But don’t get fancy. Big, multi-syllable words may muddy your meaning.

9. Combine two short sentences or separate a long sentence into shorter ones. Sentences should be varying lengths. This is a bit hard to read, but you can get the point.

10. Look for weak modifiers like “very” or “some”. If a word in a sentence doesn’t have a precise purpose, take it out. In fact, read the sentence the omit the first word. Read it again omitting the second, then the third. If you don’t miss the word, or the meaning is unchanged, omit the word altogether.  In this point, I can safely omit the words, “weak”, “precise”, “in fact”, and “altogether.” See?

Beautiful words are our medium. We have control over them. We have them lined up in little drawers of our mind and dig through our thesaurus if we can’t find the right one. If we are good at what we do, they are chosen with care and precision. They are picked gingerly from the box and pressed into place with our fingertips. There they do not rest. They are to be re-read and deleted, edited and proofread, taken out and put back in.

I am thankful that I have such a glorious, magnificent, illogical, sometimes unwieldy medium in which to practice my art.

Sometimes I make the words more beautiful.

Sometimes they make me.


If you liked this post on beautiful words, you may also like:

Why Modern Writers Need Poems (Or Why Poems Are The Equivalent of Kale Smoothie) Or, Top 10 Ways Poetry is Better Than Food


Katharine Grubb is a homeschooling mother of five, a novelist, a baker of bread, a comedian wannabe, a former running coward and the author of Write A Novel In 10 Minutes A Day. Besides pursuing her own fiction and nonfiction writing dreams, she also leads 10 Minute Novelists on Facebook, an international group for time-crunched writers that focuses on tips, encouragement, and community.

Top 10 Ways To Make Your Words More Beautiful

by Katharine Grubb, 10 Minute Novelist

“Summer afternoon—summer afternoon; to me those have always been the two most beautiful words in the English language.”
Henry James

Regardless of tastes, preferences or trends, I believe the beautiful calls to us.

There is something inside of us that longs for symmetry, for rhythm, for thoughtful curves, for delicacy, for images that spurn our emotions, that bring out in us the good and noble. We all enjoy art for a variety for reasons, but no one can deny how beautiful art serves a purpose.

Beautiful art points us to the good in humanity.

As we write, we can organize our words  in such a way that their patterns, their meaning, their rhythm, their structure, and their message all sing together.   Finely crafted words come with discipline and practice. Beautiful sentences do not lay on the page passively waiting for an optic nerve to come by and give them life. Beautiful sentences dance — they vary in their length, in their structure, in the vivacity of their verbs and in the nuances of their nouns. Beautiful words paint a picture — they don’t slap it together. Beautiful words point to the strongest emotions on the human spectrum. Beautiful words can enflame anger.  Beautiful words can render jealously hotter. Beautiful words can pour out pain like a trickle or an avalanche. Beautiful words can sum up joy, can skip and staccato with each laugh and giggle. Beautiful words are for Hallmark cards and tweets, fortune cookies and voicemails. Beautiful words are for poets and teenagers, novelists and children, literati and pedestrian. Beautiful words pair together like friends to create a private party of emotion and delight.

Beautiful words, in prose, cannot be accidents.

Beautiful words play dress up when they are metaphor,simile or allegory. They toy with their meaning, putting on disguise, like a fake moustache or a floppy hat to be to the reader something they’re not. Oh, coy words tease and taunt the meanings and the similarities and the comparisons and the reader watches the burlesque stimulated to read more.

“I don’t know what it means and I don’t care because it’s Shakespeare and it’s like having jewels in my mouth when I say the words.”
― Frank McCourt, Angela’s Ashes

Beautiful art exalts mankind’s creativity.

Beautiful words hide meaning like a treasure, daring the reader to look for clues to the mystery. Beautiful words leave ellipses like bread crumbs that tempt the reader to go deeper into the woods. Is the reader escaping the real world or rushing to danger? Beautiful words will never tell, they’ll just keep looking behind them as they run over limb and log to keep the chase going.

Beautiful art echoes ancient truths.

Beautiful words march together in alliteration. Bearing the beat together as brothers in a band, blaring their business to any reader who claps along in the parade. Beautiful words are not democratic. Some words get the short end of the stick. They are the low feeders in the phonetic and entymological gene pool. Those words are edited and beaten and mocked and their superior sisters are given chances to go to the ball.

Beautiful art feeds our souls.

Beautiful words are parts of a whole, the vowels and consonants are like toddlers in a playground, picking their favorites for the swings or the ball game, holding hands or playing tag. Poor silent e can’t object. Poor insecure Q can’t go anywhere without U. Poor Z finds himself picked last for the game. Bossy A tells them all to line up. The words are acrobats, flipping and flying in their palindromes and anagrams. The suffixes and prefixes fly like lost feathers as up they go to the highest of heights.

“The two most beautiful words in the English language are ‘cheque enclosed.”
― Dorothy Parker

The beautiful words are our medium.

They are crisp and wide like a crayon or pastel. They are precise like a fine pen. They are bold like charcoal and pool in the crevasses of meaning like a dab of watercolor. The words are gold and crimson and emerald and cobalt. They are rich with facets and carats and sparkle. They dazzle and enchant and when they are put together like beads on a chain, we can wear them around our neck like jewels.

How can we make words more beautiful?

How can we sculpt our sentences in such a way that the true essence of our meaning shines through? How can we enhance truth through a well-crafted sentence?

Top 10 Ways To Make Your Words More Beautiful by Katharine Grubb, 10 Minute Novelist

 

Try these suggestions:

 

 

1. Eliminate the adverbs and adjectives. Stick in a metaphor if you want the reader to appreciate the nuances and features of the noun. Or pick a better noun. Need inspiration? The 50 Most Quotes Lines of Poetry. Here’s another one I just want to sit and savor. 

2. Read it out loud. Listen for rhythms and cadence. Add in phrases or clauses to slow things down, add description or amp up emotion. Need inspiration? Try reading Buzzfeed’s Beautiful Words: 51 Of The Most Beautiful Sentences in literature. I found them very inspiring.

3. Don’t let it start with “There was” or “There were.” Look at these quotes for the structure or how they begin the sentence. This may give you a good idea how to improve. The website calls it, “These 33 One-Sentence Quotes Will Blow Your Mind Every Time. Especially The 8th One.” That’s a bit of an overstatement, but they are nice and noble and short! (That can’t be said about the ads!)

4. Rearrange where the verb and noun are in the sentence, but don’t make it passive. Poets and songwriters have to tinker with word arrangement to make sentences work better rhythmically. Need examples? This fascinating article from The Guardian admires the beauty of the lyrics in Stephen Sondheim musicals. I loved this!

5. Add an element of emotion, especially in the verb choice you make. Here’s a list of 317 “power words” that you can sprinkle in your prose. The context of this article is blogging, but any of these words will do for your fiction too!

6. Use Anglo Saxon words rather than Latin words. Don’t know the difference? Check out this excellent blog post that explains the difference! 

“Poetry is the rhythmical creation of beauty in words.”
Edgar Allan Poe

7. Substitute any “be” verb for a verb that’s specific and vivacious. You know you’ve got a good one when you can see exactly what is happening. You can be more expressive with a little work and imagination. Need inspiration?  This is a beautiful collection of words from other cultures that can’t be translated into English. I love the illustrations and I also like thinking of the imagination that came up for the need for these words. I also want to put them in my every day use right now. And then I found the same list even MORE beautifully illustrated! 

8. Substitute every word for a synonym just to see what you can come up with. But don’t get fancy. Big, multi syllable words may muddy your meaning. Just for fun, check out these multi-syllable words that can add a bit of flavor. 

9. Combine two short sentences or separate a long sentence into shorter ones. Sentences should be varying lengths. In a similar vein, this is a  fascinating article from NPR about loving sentences. I want to sit and read this forever.

“He wanted to cry quietly but not for himself: for the words, so beautiful and sad, like music.”
James Joyce

10. Look for weak modifiers like “very” or “some”. If a word in a sentence doesn’t have a precise purpose, take it out. In fact, read the sentence the omit the first word. Read it again omitting the second, then the third. If you don’t miss the word, or the meaning is unchanged, omit the word altogether.  In this point, I can safely omit the words, “weak”, “precise”, “in fact”, and “altogether.” See?  My friend Jude Knight has a list of “filter words” that are dull, uninteresting and serve little purpose. Use this list to weed out the ugly and make room for the beautiful.

Beautiful words are our powerful medium.

We have control over them. We have them lined up in little drawers of our mind and dig through our thesaurus if we can’t find the right one. If we are good at what we do, they are chosen with care and precision. They are picked gingerly from the box and pressed into place with our fingertips. There they do not rest. They are to be re-read and deleted, edited and proofread, taken out and put back in.

I am thankful that I have such a glorious, magnificent, illogical, sometimes unwieldy medium in which to practice my art.

Sometimes I make the words more beautiful.

Sometimes they make me.

Top 10 Questions To Ask Others and Avoid Being Labeled Another Emily Dickinson by Katharine Grubb, 10 Minute Novelists

If you are a writer, then it is likely that you prefer to be isolated from the rest of the world.

You spend your days thinking up great stories, making them as perfect as you possibly can. You may create that ideal lover, that ideal setting or that ideal story that you believe is the only story worth telling, at least for now. You may often be so engrossed in the creation of your little world that you forget that when the story is over, you may have to share it.

And that thought makes you want to pretend you’re Emily Dickinson.

Emily Dickinson was an American poet who lived about an hour from where I do now, in Amherst, Massachusetts from 1830 to 1886. Dickinson was a famed recluse. And when she died, her family found over 1800 poems that she had hand composed. Some had been “published” in that they were sent to friends, but most were left undiscovered. And this video from Crash Course and John Green explains my favorite commercial jingle related Dickson explanation. 

You don’t want to be Emily Dickinson.

Okay, having 1800 poems written would be kinda cool, but if you are going to have readers, editors, agents and publishers, you’re going to have to come out of the house and show others your work.

Screen Shot 2016-04-13 at 6.25.40 PM

This means that you should get feedback.

This means that you have to open yourself up to criticism. This means that you may risk being misunderstood or disliked. This means that someone may not agree with your choices. This means that you may need the opinions of beta readers, critique partners or writers groups in order to be the best that you can be.

Yikes. That sounds scary. It’s bad enough that we’re writers. But we have to do this too?

When we start out, we’re hesitant and flighty, nervous and fretful. We crave affirmation that we’re on the right track, but we stop so often to ask, we make little progress. Then it doesn’t help that there are so many book/websites/blogs to read about how to be a great writer that it just makes us more insecure in who we are.

Oh, we writers are an insecure bunch aren’t we?

So are we good or not? How do we know? When do we find out? Why isn’t there a rule about this?

Um, well, this is the problem with the subjectivity in good writing. No one really knows. But that doesn’t help you, the new writer.

Good writers, or at least writers who want to be the best that they can be,  use beta readers’, critique partners’ or writers’ groups’ opinions to iron out the story’s wrinkles, find out what’s missing and see what the writer doesn’t see. You can use beta readers early in your writing journey, say, after the first draft. Or you can wait several drafts into it and then let trusted people read it.  Either way, you may find it helpful to give them specific questions to answer about your manuscript. Need a beta reader? The 10 Minute Novelist Facebook group has Buddy Day every Tuesday just for this reason! 

“Judge tenderly of me.”
Emily Dickinson

I’d like to suggest that the world is only big enough for one Emily Dickinson. I’d like to suggest that you get over your fear and ask for help from other writers. To help you, I have this:

Top 10 Questions To Ask Others & Avoid Being Labeled Another Emily DIckinson by Katharine Grubb 10 Minute Novelist

1. What were the strengths of the book? Start off with a positive! If anything else goes wrong, you at least have one or two nice things others say. 

“I know nothing in the world that has as much power as a word. Sometimes I write one, and I look at it, until it begins to shine.”
Emily Dickinson

2. Who was your favorite character, why? The characters need to be interesting, not necessarily likeable. They need to have a distinct arc. They need to change either for better or worse. They need to be consistent. 

3. Did you think that the plot lines were plausible? Even if your story takes place on a distant planet, underwater or sometime in the future, you need to make sure that the things that happen have the possibility of actually happening. If it is too far fetched, even in fantasy, your reader won’t be interested. 

“There is no Frigate like a Book
To take us Lands away
Nor any Coursers like a Page
Of prancing Poetry –
This Traverse may the poorest take
Without oppress of Toll –
How frugal is the Chariot
That bears a Human soul.”
Emily Dickinson, Selected Poems

4. Did you think anything was missing? You first readers should be paying close attention to what isn’t being written about? If they say to you, I kept waiting for this to happen and it didn’t.  Then you may want to find a way to fill that hole. If one reader thinks something’s missing, another may too. 

5. Where you ever tempted to put the book down and not pick it up? Why or why not? This is a good question. Your beta reader should tell you when things get boring or dry. If you don’t need the description of the back alley behind the pizza joint, don’t put it in. If you don’t need the backstory of the girl next door that explains her scar that you’ll never mention again, then take it out. Your reader’s willingness to keep going is good marker on whether or not you’re doing your job as a storyteller.

“But a Book is only the Heart’s Portrait- every Page a Pulse.”
Emily Dickinson

6. Did you find the setting fully described? Regardless of your genre, your setting will have a role to play in the story. The story itself will dictate how much of the setting is pertinent. Pay attention to what your beta reader says about it. You may have given us too much information or maybe not enough. 

7. Did you find the characters to be distinctive? Each character needs to be developed enough that the readers have no trouble remembering who is who. My personal goal is removing all the dialogue tags from their conversations and see if I can spot the distinctions in what they say. Ask your readers if they can find distinctions easily. If they can’t, consider fleshing them out more, or combining a couple of characters together. 

“I have been bent and broken, but -I hope- into a better shape.”
Emily Dickinson

8. Did you understand the goals of each of the characters? Each character should want something. Sometimes what they say they want and what they really want are two different things. Ask your readers if the goals are clear and reasonable. If they aren’t, then spend the time to clarify them. You may find by fine tuning goals, the character itself will become richer. 

9. Did you “see it coming” or were you surprised by the progress of the story? You story should be plausible, but not predictable. Hopefully your readers can be honest with you about what they saw coming and what may seem cliched. You may have to change a few things, but that’s okay, your work will be all the better. 

“Opinion is a fitting thing but truth outlasts the sun – if then we cannot own them both, possess the oldest one.”
Emily Dickinson

10. Do you wish that other things had happened to the characters that didn’t? I had a reader once who told me that she thought my poor main character went through far too many conflicts and I should ease up on her a bit. I respectfully disagreed. The variety of conflicts made the story a good one. But check with your readers. They may give you an idea you hadn’t thought of. 

Now Emily Dickinson did write, 

“Saying nothing sometimes says the most.”
Emily Dickinson

I’d have to disagree with her. I think that we need feedback from others. It is scary. But once your get your answers, handle them gracefully. You don’t need to follow every suggestion. Just use them for what they are: another helpful tool in your novel-sculpting.

“They might not need me; but they might.
I’ll let my head be just in sight;
A smile as small as mine might be
Precisely their necessity.”
Emily Dickinson

And the nice thing about having relationships with other writers is that we can reciprocate! Our turn will come when we can be the one who is called to critique. Hopefully we’ll remember the experience and answer these questions with grace and gentleness.

You need not be afraid of others’ opinions about your work. As poetic as you may be, it’s healthier not to be an Emily Dickinson.

Take your chances with the world and be as good a you as you can be.

Top 10 Ways Poetry is Better Than Food

Poetry is better than food.

At least sometimes it is.

Just like we eat a variety of things so that we can nourish our bodies, I think we should read a variety of poems so that we can nourish our souls. I love that some poetry  is bite sized like a Dickinson poem or a haiku. I like that some poetry is a full five course meal, like a Longfellow poem.

Hungry yet?

Top 10 Ways Poetry Is Better Than Food by Katharine Grubb 10 Minute Novelists

 

1. Like vegetables, poetry is good for you. 

If you have the literary nutrition of a poem daily, the you can  appreciate rhythm, imagery, metaphor, meaning, communication, pathos, story telling and good craftsmanship. If you analyze it,  much in the same way you would analyze a novel, you will most certainly find value.  Ask yourself these questions: What is the poet trying to say? Why did he make the choices that he made? What emotions are you experiencing as a result of the poem? What insight do you have that you didn’t have before? Why was this so important to this poet? What literary elements, like alliteration and repetition and assonance are used here? What does this poet want his reader to take from it?

2. Many great writers were poets. If you read these manageable bites from great writers, you’re sampling great writing. 

YouTube is full of lectures on the great poets of literature. By taking the time to study the turbulent lives of the poets, their muses, their successes and their failures, it can make you appreciate not just the art that is created but the journey each writer took to make it. Crash Course has a great series on literature. And this one is about Emily Dickinson is hilarious. Can you sing them to I’d Like To Teach The World To Sing or Yellow Rose of Texas?

I was angry with my friend; I told my wrath,

3. Poetry won’t make you fat. Little Debbies cakes will. 

You can indulge all you want. If I want to gorge on the 500 most popular poems in literature, check out this book. It’s one of my favorites! You can even hoard, I mean, collect your favorites in one place at PoemHunter.com. 

 4. You don’t have to go to the grocery store to get great poetry.

You don’t! You can find it nearly everywhere! Besides Poetry Hunter, there’s also The Poetry Foundation, Academy of American Poets and Poetry.com which is an online community for amateur poets. If you still can’t find that one with the dashes by Emily Dickonson or the sad one by Sylvia Plath or the Wordsworth poem in which he ponders how great nature is, check your local library. It’s likely they have a whole section devoted to poetry and all of these resources are free! 

5. Poetry is for everyone. Beluga caviar is not.

Poetry was originally used to remember events, pass down history and entertain the common people long before literacy. If you are really into poetry, you’re not all that different from people of ancient civilizations who treasured the way poetry made them feel or reminded them of the past. You are not a literary snob if you can recite Paul Revere’s Ride,  you just like everyone else who wanted to remember a great event in a fun way. It’s even more fun if you listen to Sean Astin read it. 

6. Food just gives you necessary chemicals for life. Poetry makes you a great writer.

Some poems are even about food. But is food ever a poem? Not very often.
Some poems are even about food. But is food ever a poem? Not very often.

Novelists can benefit from the lessons taught by the great poets. We’re so busy making our characters likable and our plot points believable that we leave out the metaphor, the pathos, the art. I think in our rush to self-publish that we forget the necessity of the time required for good craftsmanship. As long as we don’t take a lesson from Coleridge and use drug use to create a Kubla Khan, (which I think should be an exception, not a rule.) A little nuance, a little subtlety, a little mystery a challenge may do them some good. We can learn this from great poems.

7. Poetry can get you through tough times better than chocolate ice cream.

We’ve all had some bad break-ups that requires high calorie dairy products to get over. But with poetry as the salve to your broken heart, you can articulate your pain more precisely. This is When We Two Parted  by Lord Byron. Don’t look too closely to Byron for relationship advice. He was kind of, um, weird.

8. Quoting poetry makes you look smart. If you memorize the back of the cereal box, no one cares.

I think everyone should memorize poetry. Memorize it for the sake of the discipline of it, of committing something to your soul, of tasting the words as they come off the tongue, of subconsciously realizing that these poems were put together with great care and craftsmanship. This is Longfellow! Tennyson! These aren’t slapdash inklings of a self-absorbed teen. This is something you can carry with you.But this article argues this point far better than I can. So does The New Yorker. So does The New York Times. 

So my kids and I like "We Are The Music Makers" so much that we rewrote it. It's about food, which shouldn't surprise anyone.
So my kids and I like “We Are The Music Makers” so much that we rewrote it. It’s about food, which shouldn’t surprise anyone.

9. Poetry can go with you everywhere. You don’t need a cooler. 

This article is from 2012, but it’s still mostly relevant. You can carry poetry in your head. You can carry poems on your phone. And no matter how many times you quote The Raven, you’ll never get crumbs in the bottom of your purse.

10. Good poems have a longer shelf life than dairy products.

We shouldn’t let our own voice sink to the lowest common denominator. We should, instead, nurture it with great words like those found in the poems of the past and present. We imitate what we have before us. If all we read is junk literature, the latest pulp novel, a sappy, uninspired romance — all of which are like pop culture bursts of nothing —  then our work will could potentially be stuck in the pedestrian and the common. One way to fight this is to surround ourselves with the wholesome, the healthy and the literarily nutritious.

Why do we need it poetry? Writers who savor poetry become better writers. 

 This Ted Talk lauds the value of poetry! 

What about you? What’s your favorite poet? Your favorite poem? Your favorite source for great poetry! Please share! 

Top 10 Signs You May Be A Literary Writer (For Those of Us Who Are Genre Confused)

You’re writing a book and all of your hundreds of readers want to know. “What’s it about?” And you, gather them around you, adjust your cravat, look over your half moon glasses that are pretentiously hanging from a gold chain around your neck and you say, “I’m not really sure.”

Why can’t you explain? It’s because your story seems to transcend certain genres, it’s a journey or it’s an introspective. Words like “romance” or “fantasy” don’t seem big enough.

You, dear writer, could be writing literary fiction!

But you say, “I don’t want to write literary fiction! I know the market for these kinds of stories! I have nightmares that I’m locked in a room with someone reading Proust! I wish Hemingway would be more emotional!” “Sylvia Plath just needed to get over herself!”

Calm down.

 Literary writers are kind of like the zebras of the publishing world. They’re wild, unpredictable, and you can’t put a saddle on them. It could be that your writing habits have put you into the often misunderstood category of literary fiction.  I’ve created a little checklist (a tongue-in-cheek one) for your convenience, so while you’re chain smoking your clove cigarettes, go through this list. And check off what only applies to you. If you aren’t literary, then you can celebrate by going to that NASCAR event, but if you are, then rest assured that not all famous literary writers took their own life. Some were killed by their lovers. 

Top 10 Signs You May Be A Literary Writer

Let’s get crackin!

1. You may have spent a lot of time thinking about the beauty of language. This means that in the course of your drafting, you’ve thought about rhythm and tone. You weigh the length of sentences. You kind of wish you could throw in some poetry.  I know you’re optimistic and you think that some reader, somewhere, most likely an English major creating grande lattes at Starbucks, will appreciate your craftsmanship. And your hope that if more people did, then the world would be a better place. It would be. Here’s a hug.

2. You’ve incorporated some unexpected imagery or comparisons. I would have said metaphor, but I didn’t want you to squeal like a fangirl at a Taylor Swift concert. Just because you love a good metaphor, doesn’t mean you’re book is literary, it just means that you’ve put thought into it. This is a good thing. It’s what writers are supposed to do. But if you are overly obsessed with the green light in The Great Gatsby,  have a character you’ve based on George Orwell because of his role in society or think it’s a victory when your reader asks, “what the hell does that mean?”, then you could be literary.

3. Your book is far more about the human condition and big ideas. If you’ve ever discussed your manuscript and said the phrase “a struggle between this foreign sounding word and that foreign sounding word”.  If you have babbled for a good fifteen minutes about the concepts and never mention the characters, then we might need to get you started on pipe tobacco and buy you a tweed jacket with elbow patches. There’s nothing to be ashamed of in writing abstract meaning. Look on the bright side, your high school English teacher will love this. You should quiz her.

4. Your characters do get from point A to point B, but they take a long, long time to get there. Before you panic, take a moment and think. You probably do have good reasons to have your characters go off on tangents about what they did as children while they are standing in line at the Piggly Wiggly. But if your story’s big climactic moment is, after 250 pages, choosing paper over plastic, then, honey, we need to get you cat.

5. You want your MFA to count for something. Of course you do. I’ll take an order of fries with that burger, please.

6. You have nightmares trying to categorize it on Kindle Direct. Your book not really a mystery because you reveal the killer on page 82. Your book is not really a love story because she dumps him at the altar and your book not really fantasy because the aliens were just a metaphor. Let’s just admit it: this book is literary. Now, maybe The New Yorker is a better venue for you. Don’t wash that holey sweater. We’ll need it for your author photo.

7. Your brother asked how many explosions your book had it in and you stabbed him with the cheese knife. How are you going to serve your Wensleydale now?

8. You’ve lost writer friends over your stance on structure. “Three Acts? That’s totally predictable!” And then you launch a tirade that Stephen King’s On Writing could be a little bit self-serving. And you once hit someone because their idea of a great book has the number 50 and a color between black and white in it. And the longer you do this, the more you understand why writers drink themselves to death. Their friends are idiots. Let’s calm down. We have J.D. Salinger on the phone. He wants to meet you for drinks. See? You feel better already.

9. You find the expectations of specific genre too confining. And while you may be an Agatha Christie fan, or have a crush on Lovecraft or cry in your share of Harlequin romances, you’ve decided that you’ll take your favorite parts and twist them up. Marketability can go out with the window with all the vampire fiction as far as you are concerned. Your stories are beyond genre. Yes dear, put down that feather and quill. If your books can’t be categorized into a specific genre, then there’s a reason. You’re a literary writer and all the Chardonnay in the world can’t change that.

10. There are phrases in your books that require Google translator and your thought is, “come on, readers! Why are you so freaking lazy? You should just know Latin!”

Scoring: For every one of these ten signs that you agree to, give yourself one ounce of caviar. If you have more than six ounces, you’ll need some champagne and a friend. I’m on my way over. If you have zero points here, or zero ounces of caviar, then you are not a literary writer.

Your stories are probably solid, balancing both action and character development, you tell your stories simply enough without any of your characters resembling Frasier Crane, and you probably can explain the story itself to a prospective reader who can say, without any dirty looks from you, “Oh! It’s a thriller!” (Or a mystery, or science fiction, or fantasy, or a romance.) Your books are easy enough to find on a store shelf. And your genre choice helps your reader understand what to expect. You may not have fretted over every single word for its poetic weight, but you write well. But you don’t need caviar. Chips, salsa and beer will do fine.

The world needs literary fiction.

We need to have unpredictable, meaningful, symbolic stories that remind us that the good guys don’t always win and that not every ending is happy. So wear your literary label with pride!

“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.” You can do this. I believe in you!

Even More Top Ten Emergency Writing Prompts for Nanowrimo!

Last week I suggested ten emergency writing prompts for Nanowrimo. Here are 10 more!

1. Put your character in an actual emergency. Food allergies, car accident, flash flood, explosive plumbing, gas leak — none of these are planned. You don’t have to plan yours too. And even if it looks rather deux et machina -ish, don’t worry about it. You can always go back and fix it later.

2. What does your character have in his pocket, purse or glove compartment? Candy? A gun? Drugs? A crucifix? A hundred thousand dollars in cash? Microfilm? A flash drive? A recording? An epi-pen? A switchblade?  He remembers!  And it uses it, just as the right time to get past this little problem he’s facing. Or, better still, the antagonist finds it in his possession and uses it against him!

3. Someone asks him to do something against his character and he must do it. For instance: the drug dealer has to rescue kids from a fire, the hooker with the heart of gold saves the First Lady, the victim of abuse stands up to the lady who cuts her off in the parking lot.

nanowrimo writing novel national creativity help prompts ideas

4. The paranormal sneaks in. Okay, this might not work for everyone. But what if a unicorn appears in the kitchen and tells him what to do? What if the lawn gnome knows where the treasure is? What if there is a zombie coming across the backyard and the hostas aren’t doing their job of keeping him out?

5. Have your character take a break. Maybe if he sat down and ate something, slept and had a crazy dream, did his laundry and bumped into someone at the laundromat, maybe he would think of the solution to the problem, see a clue, meet a friend, fall in love . . . . oh the possibilities are endless!

6. What would Kevin Bacon do? No really. Think about your favorite movies and steal, steal, steal! There are no new ideas. You are smart enough to disguise any dialogue, scene, or plot point from film. Write in down now and then tweak it later.

7. Go backstory. What has propelled the bad guy to do the bad things? What makes your protagonist want what he wants? Dig a little deeper, even for a thousand words or so and that may be enough to get you on your feet.

8. Cupid strikes! Nothing complicates life more than romance. What if there’s a secret love connection between a supporting character and the antagonist? What if another supporting character confesses a life long crush towards the main character? What if the romantic advances that have been in the story all along were just a ruse to advance the goals of the antagonist?

9. And if you really get stuck, ask Twitter. I love some of the ideas that my followers come up with. And then when I’m done (if I ever get done) I can remind them of their help and maybe gain a reader!

10. And then, hit the showers. No kidding. There’s something about hot water and physical touch that stimulates our brain. You may have a new idea for your story when you get out!

Remember, the point of Nano is quantity, not quality. This draft is supposed to be messy. Use these ideas to up your word count. You can clean it up, make it more plausible, omit the cliched scenes, and take out the lawn gnome later.

Conquering Twitter in 10 Minutes A DayWant more tips on how to make Twitter work for you? CONQUERING TWITTER in 10 MINUTES DAY is available for pre-order! Specifically written for authors, this book will help you think about yourself, your brand, your books, and your goals on Twitter, create great questions to ask and organize your time in such a way that you can get the most out of every tweet.

Available for $.99! 


I am a fiction writing and time management coach. I help time crunched novelists strengthen their craft, manage their time and gain confidence so they can find readers for their stories.

Katharine Grubb is a homeschooling mother of five, a novelist, a baker of bread, a comedian wannabe, a former running coward and the author of Write A Novel In 10 Minutes A Day. Besides pursuing her own fiction and nonfiction writing dreams, she also leads 10 Minute Novelists on Facebook, an international group for time-crunched writers that focuses on tips, encouragement and community. 

What’s Wrong With Art? (A Complaint by Author Katharine Grubb) for #MondayBlogs

Art!

Hey, ART!

What is wrong with you? 

From someone on the outside, you  like something simple. And yet the closer I get to you, the more complicated you are. You’re like a first love, you’re like adolescence, you’re like a cat.

What's Wrong With Art  by Katharine Grubb

I’d like to think that my art comes from  words.

I’d like to think that my ultimate goal is to have something beautiful at the end of all the thinking and rewriting, like a sentence or a novel or a blog post. But more often than not, I stumble into the task. The words slip through my fingers like sugar and all I have is a sticky mess.

Art, why can’t you behave?

Why can’t you line your words up logically the first time, instead of me chasing after your mercurial thoughts? Why can’t you have a black and white answer? Why can’t I see the cause and effects simply? Why does there have to be a mystery? Why do you have to penetrate my soul so deeply?

Why are you so freaking hard?


(Writer scratches head and sighs.

Decides that if art was logical, predictable, black and white, a non-mysterious sequence of causes and effects, it wouldn’t be art.  

It would be math. )


Art, you are spilled paint and dried up markers.

You are the improvisational banter in the kitchen. You are the last minute handmade birthday card. You are the in the thumbing of the rhythm on the steering wheel while I sing Taylor Swift with my kids. You are the loaf of bread I baked this afternoon. You are lofty and unreachable when I think of your associations with DaVinci and Michaelangelo. You are deceptive when I think of Anna Pavlova and Mikhail Baryshnikov who appear to fly. You are down to earth when you inspire B.B.King and Joni Mitchell. Your wit is as quick as lightning when I see you in Flannery O’Connor and Mark Twain.

You are full of contradictions. You are full of whimsy. You are serious and playful. You are hard as a diamond and soft as a kitten. You make Mary Cassatt my comfort food and Bon Jovi my anthem.

What frustrates me about you is our wrestling matches. We battle over the trivial: the names of the characters, the name of the street they live on, the exact motion of their eyes when their lover enters the room. And sometimes I forget, even though I should know better, that you are not always present in the details, but to look for you in the big picture and the details will come. You are what my muse and I have made and often you are as uncontrollable as a newborn child.

Why do I labor so much for you?

 You have consumed me. You have propelled me. You were with me as a child when I rearranged by heart shape collages on Valentine’s Day. You were with me when I tried to recreate Laura Ingalls in my 1970s way. You have always been with me when I thought something was pretty, when I thought something was clever, when I thought something was brilliant. You were there to lead me and move me. You silenced the voices around me that told me I couldn’t. You were the one that prodded me on.  

I see now that you are in me and I am in you.

When I string my words together like beads on a wire I am speaking your language, I am calling out to your children. When I look at my collections of ideas like big messes and piles and want them all the harmonize into something fantastic and special, it’s because I want to please you. When I am seduced by the charms of my muse and follow her to the dark corners it’s you I hope to find. You are the one that created my eyes to see the value in blank canvas, to see the potential in the pallet of colors, to long for more vibrancy and dynamic, more movement and more passion. It is for the sake of art.

Even today when I sit here and feel the rhythm of the keys under my fingertips, I hope that I will form the crude raw materials of what can be fine. I hope that a germ of an idea will take root and grow into something. I’ve seen the sturdy creations in my hands before and they are breathtaking and I am proud, but how I want another one. How I want to hold it in my hand again.

Art, you are my first love. You are my obsession. You are a part of me. 

Oh art, you exasperate and befuddle me, but I love you so. 

Never ever leave me.

Art? Please never let me go. 


I am a fiction writing and time management coach. I help time crunched novelists strengthen their craft, manage their time and gain confidence so they can find readers for their stories.

Katharine Grubb is a homeschooling mother of five, a novelist, a baker of bread, a comedian wannabe, a former running coward, PTSD survivor, and the author of Write A Novel In 10 Minutes A Day. Besides pursuing her own fiction and nonfiction writing dreams, she also leads 10 Minute Novelists on Facebook, an international group for time-crunched writers that focuses on tips, encouragement and community. She blogs at www.10minutenovelist.com. She lives in Massachusetts with her family. Her new novel, Soulless Creatures, which is about two 18 year old boys, not vampires, will be released August 2015.

Why I Write: A Guest Post By Carolyn Astfalk

I only recently pondered why I write. I simply knew that I had to write, so I did.

My love affair with the written word started with clumsily-illustrated stories and spelling bees and grew to student newspapers in grade school, high school, and college. My affection for pen and ink led me to try my hand at calligraphy. During summer visits, I sat spellbound as my aunt, my mother’s only sister, analyzed my handwriting as well as written samples from my family members, friends, and teachers.

My penchant for fiction grew out of Nancy Drew speed reading competitions with my best friend and blossomed into the memorization of S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders and my love for Margaret Mitchell’s classic Gone With the Wind. I savored the beauty of classical Latin and Greek in college and later became known as the resident “Grammar Lady” in my office. At one time or another, I devoured the content of sundry magazines and newspapers, blogs, and nonfiction books.

Why do I write?
Why I Write: A Series from the authors of 10 Minute Novelists

My love of books eventually moved me from a self-proclaimed loather of libraries to one of their biggest fans. (To be fair, the gloomy, musty local library and a snippy librarian had more to do with my enmity than books themselves.)

I kept a daily journal from the age of thirteen clear through to twenty-five, recording mundane details, events, and feelings (a lot about boys who didn’t like me back). I poured out boredom, heartbreak, confusion and joy in slanted cursive created with blue ink.

I continued to write as part of my work in public relations and communications. There were news releases, summaries, newsletters, columns, and position papers. I dabbled in short fiction with a community college course in short stories and a library class on children’s writing.

I was still a newlywed on the beach in St. Martin when I started scribbling notes and dialogue in the back of a journal, trying to capture all the details of a story that started as a dream and evolved into a drama.

It wasn’t until National Novel Writing Month in 2010, while my husband travelled for work and my children slept, that I dove headlong into the craft of novel writing. Without a clue as to what I was doing, I set my sights on writing 55,000 words in thirty days, an unprecedented feat for me.

I began with a printout of a newspaper story that intrigued me and the vague idea my protagonist would be a teenage girl. There was treasure, intrigue, and a light, innocent romance. Then day after day I stared at the large, white expanse of a new Microsoft Word document and proceeded to make stuff up, following every tangent as if it were the lifeline that would save me from leaving my muddled morass incomplete.

I emerged from that experience with a horrible first draft but a concrete means of transferring the stories that flickered like movies in my mind into coherent, concrete products.

Until that point, I hadn't realized that the cinematic scenes that played out in my imagination while I cleaned, drove, or showered, could be translated into a coherent mass of words with arcs, themes, tension, and plot. -- Carolyn Astfalk

Until that point, I hadn’t realized that the cinematic scenes that played out in my imagination while I cleaned, drove, or showered, could be translated into a coherent mass of words with arcs, themes, tension, and plot.

The more I indulged the words and scenes in my head, the more they flowed, often unbidden and intrusive.

I scrambled for pens and scraps of paper, afraid of losing any nugget of potential literary gold. The words and the ideas multiplied faster than rabbits in spring. That was when I conceded that I had to write, if not for my love of words then for my love of sanity.

There are other, lesser reasons I continue to write.

Yes, I feel “called” in a sense to write, to share particular stories, experiences, and themes that I hope will edify, entertain, and glorify. I’m certain I’m neither the most talented nor most skilled writer (not even close), but perhaps there is some small way in which my work has purpose beyond the sphere of my small and short life.

How else could I explain the time, energy, and bits of my soul I’ve poured into writing, reading, and attempting to improve my skills? For nearly five years, this fiction-writing gig has amounted to a part-time job, one for which I’ve not yet earned a penny.


 

Carolyn AstfalkCarolyn’s debut novel, Stay With Me, will be released on October 1, 2015. At that time, she hopes to earn a few pennies to contribute to her family’s wealth and offset the time and financial drain of her word habit. Until then, you can find me playing with letters and words at My Scribbler’s Heart Blog. Carolyn resides with her husband and four children in Hershey, Pennsylvania.

What Is Beautiful To Me by Katharine Grubb

 

What is beautiful?

 It is beautiful to stop and take deep breaths. To understand that your breathing not just helps your body but it also calms you down. Your deep breaths soothe your mind. Deep breaths free you up to think and act clearly. Deep breathing is a pacifier, a soother, a psychological binky.  You can wrap yourself up in your own breaths and rest deeply. You can breathe the toxins out of your body. You can breathe out the bad thoughts and the invasive poisons.

Why do I write?
Why I Write: A Series from the authors of 10 Minute Novelists

What is beautiful?

It is beautiful to choose to be free and walk in truth. What’s beautiful in the journey of truth is to see all of the people join you. They want to hold your hand and lead you along. They want what you’ve got. It is beautiful to be winsome and lovely, to be calm and kind. It is beautiful that these things are so much better for us than almost anything else.

What is beautiful?

It is beautiful when words inspires new life and new hope. It is hard to understand that something new and fresh and hopeful can come out of such suffering. How can that be? How can it be that the suffering produces so much beauty?

Now with every step that I see this beauty unfolding around me, I have to make a choice.

Do I keep going with more and more beauty or do I stop and listen to the voices that are behind me?  The jarring voices behind me are filled of accusations. They are blind to the beauty around me. They are blind to the richness in hopeful words.  They’d rather find comfort in their mockery and hatred than look up to see beauty.

Beauty is looking at all my scars and knowing where they came from and getting up and fighting anyway.  Katharine GrubbWhat is beautiful?

Beauty is looking at all my scars and knowing where they came from and getting up and fighting anyway. Beauty is choosing to live my life away from anyone who harms me emotionally. Beauty is knowing my preferences and my passions and my talents and my ideas and working hard to put them into action. Beauty is speaking only good things about others. Beauty is defending the boundaries of others.

This is why I write. I write because the fight for beauty is worth it. 


 

KI am a fiction writing and time management coach. I help time crunched novelists strengthen their craft, manage their time and gain confidence so they can find readers for their stories.atharine Grubb is the author of Write A Novel In 10 Minutes A Day, Falling For Your Madness, and Conquering Twitter in 10 Minutes A DayBesides homeschooling her five children, baking bread and doing crazy amounts of laundry, she also leads 10 Minute Novelists, the liveliest writers’ group on Facebook. Her new book, Soulless Creatures, about two college roommates who bet a brand new car that one of them doesn’t have a soul, will be released August, 2015. Katharine and her family live in Massachusetts.


Starting in July, a new weekly newsletter, The Rallying Cry,  will be released from Katharine Grubb. Sign up if you need a weekly dose of encouragement covering all of your life, not just writing.

Starting in July, a new weekly newsletter, <em>The Rallying Cry, </em> will be released from Katharine Grubb. Sign up if you need a weekly dose of encouragement covering all of your life, not just writing. <em>The Rallying Cry </em> will be an honest, kleenex-worthy, you-can-do-this, faith-filled message of hope for those who need it. You can sign up below.

 The Rallying Cry  will be an honest, kleenex-worthy, you-can-do-this, faith-filled message of hope for those who need it. You can sign up below.

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Why I Write By Katharine Grubb, Founder 10 Minute Novelists

 

 You may have been like me. You may have always needed to write.

You may have been like me and you had five children under eight years old and all you could think about is a story.  Or maybe you wondered why if you could tell a funny story about a bunny at bath time, why you couldn’t tell something more complicated and interesting for others? So in your desperation, you checked a book out of the library and you read it while you were nursing the baby.  Or when you sat at the playground or watched the children play in the back yard. You thought about writing even though you were supposed to be watching to see if  your son ate dirt again.

Why do I write?
Why I Write: A Series from the authors of 10 Minute Novelists

I write because there was something deep inside of me that longed to create.

I’m not the only one who had that something.

We create because we are hungry for expression. We create because we know that life is more than folding laundry and planning dinner and reminding the three year old, as patiently as you can, that she really needs a nap. We create because we have these active imaginations that aren’t happy with the story about the bunny. We create because we see bits and pieces of beauty in the world around us and we want to gather them all up together in our arms and reshape them into something wonderful. We create because we know that if we don’t, it would feel like smothering our souls. We create because we’ve always had a box of crayons or an idea of a story, or a wonder about us. We create because we so easily feel the nuances of pain and sadness, of glory and love. We create because we must.

We write because if we don’t, we’ll be defeated by the forces of darkness around us.

We write because if we don’t, the words will swirl around in our brains and our souls and eat us alive from the inside out. We write because if we don’t, then as we are exposed more and more to pain and relief, hope and despair, passion and stoicism, we’ll have no way to process it. We write because we have read the words of the great writers and we want to imitate them, even if it means doing it feebly. We write because there are people whose stories we want to tell; they have become old friends in our hearts and we think others  should know them. We write because we saw something magical and we want to tell the world about it. We write because our fingers love being on the keyboard. We write because we know when a bouquet of words comes together well, their aroma lasts longer than flowers.

We write because we don’t what we would do with ourselves if we didn’t. 

We write because we don’t like the messiness of the bits and pieces of things scattered in our homes, our computer’s desktops and in our brains. We have no places to put them, no vision of what they could be, no organization or plan. They are messy and imperfect, but these little creations are ours to cherish, not unlike the children we snuggle with at bedtime. We write to make order of them.

Why do you write? I want to hear from you.

Beauty, Truth, and the Power to Transcend: A Guest Post by Carolyn Astfalk

 

Sometimes we recognize beauty on sight.

Where beauty exists in the natural world, it’s often easily discernible. Other times, we have to dig to see the beauty or observe from a different perspective to grasp its intricacy or totality.

Whether we readily recognize beauty or not, its creation isn’t a slapdash affair. It can be a complicated, messy process that requires deliberate planning, execution, and revision.

Beauty, Truth, and the Power to Transcend by Carolyn Astfalk

However difficult it may be to infuse our art with beauty, it is critical to its acceptance and appreciation. Truth and beauty create transcendence, and it’s transcendence that resonates with readers. Beauty, in its universality, becomes personalist.

“In so far as it seeks the beautiful, fruit of an imagination which rises above the everyday, art is by its nature a kind of appeal to the mystery. Even when they explore the darkest depths of the soul or the most unsettling aspects of evil, artists give voice in a way to the universal desire for redemption.”

This passage, taken from Pope Saint John Paul II’s 1999 “Letter to Artists,” sets the bar high for any artist. Writers assemble letters into an inexhaustible number of unique arrangements to create truth and beauty, and in doing so, touch upon something so innate, so universal, that it brings life to the deepest stirrings of our souls.

While writing can and many times should be light, its purpose is not to be taken lightly.

So often in life, we choose expedience over luxury. The shortcut rather than the scenic route. The functional over the ornate. Pressed for time and pulled in a dozen different directions, short and to the point is often better than long-winded and grandiose.

After all, you can appreciate music anywhere, not just in the confines of a spectacular concert hall. You can eat anywhere, not just in a fine restaurant. And you can worship anywhere, not just in a grand cathedral.

So, too, can the words you create and consume be utilitarian. Words are used to describe furniture assembly, medicinal dosage, and technical documentation. But they are also used to profess love, offer prayers, and pour out heartfelt confessions.

Why do I write?
Why I Write: A Series from the authors of 10 Minute Novelists

So accustomed are we to those humdrum uses, that we can fail to recognize and recall the beauty and artistry of words.

In a 2002 message, then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (later Pope Benedict XVI) wrote:

“The encounter with the beautiful can become the wound of the arrow that strikes the heart and in this way opens our eyes, so that later, from this experience, we take the criteria for judgment and can correctly evaluate the arguments.”

To illustrate this arcane point, he follows with an example, one to which many can relate. Then Cardinal Ratzinger recalls attending a Bach concert conducted by Leonard Bernstein. He says, “The music had such an extraordinary force of reality that we realized, no longer by deduction, but by the impact on our hearts, that it could not have originated from nothingness, but could only have come to be through the power of the Truth that became real in the composer’s imagination.”

He’s talking here about the existence of God, but even aside from the theological implications, it rings true. Who hasn’t felt the truth in the swelling crescendo of music, the subtlety of a painted likeness, or the recitation of mellifluous words?

Words capture truth and beauty in myriad ways. Not by sight or sound or meaning alone, but by all three.

Words possess physical beauty. It is seen in a looping descender or a graceful ascender. There is beauty in practiced, professional calligraphy and in a loved one’s unique script. There is intrinsic beauty in a recipe written lovingly by the hand of a now-deceased grandmother and in the elementary scrawl of a young child writing “I love you” for the first time.

Words have aural beauty. A beauty expressed in rhythm, alliteration, and sometimes onomatopoeia – a beautiful sounding word in itself.

Words have cognizant beauty. They possess the power to elevate and enlighten, to encourage, and to embolden. Perhaps most importantly, through their truth, they communicate that we are not alone.

That perhaps is the greatest mystery and magic of words. Created alone or consumed alone, in private or public, in silence or aloud, executed by flesh and bone or binary sequence, they exist because another exists. Because truth exists. And beauty exists. If only we have eyes to see it.


 

Carolyn AstfalkCarolyn Astfalk resides with her husband and four children in Hershey, Pennsylvania. She blogs at My Scribbler’s Heart (http://carolynastfalk.com/category/my-scribblers-heart-blog/) Her debut novel, Stay With Me, will be published by Full Quiver Publishing in October 2015.

 

Five Lessons For Prose Writers From Poetry: A Guest Post by Elizabeth Buege

I’m a wordaholic. I love to work with words in as many different ways as possible, so right now, I’m a writing teacher, a freelance editor, and a writer.

For all that I’m hooked on words, though, I’m definitely not is a poet.

I read poetry, but I can’t find the patience to write my own. Still, the poems I’ve read have taught me valuable things that I now apply to my prose (as well as that of my students and authors). The following rules come from poetry, but the principles are universal. Whatever you love to write, they still apply.

Those of us who write prose don't have

Here are the top five writing lessons I’ve learned from poetry:

Know your reader.

Children’s poets taught me that it was possible to really know your reader. This goes beyond identifying your target audience. I’m talking about knowing them on a personal level—understanding what they want, how they see the world, and how they want to be addressed. A.A. Milne and Robert Louis Stevenson both did this for me. Milne’s poems told stories the way I wanted to hear stories when I was small—each was told from a child’s perspective with a childlike respect for that perspective. Stevenson likewise captured childhood with poems like “Bed in Summer.” What child hasn’t bemoaned going to bed in full daylight? Both of these men clearly knew children. Write for the people you know, and get to know the people you write for.

Read out loud.

I started reading out loud when I first memorized poems to recite. What a difference it made in the way I saw those poems! Hearing words aloud adds another dimension—one that shouldn’t be ignored in longer forms of writing. When you read silently, you can pick up some of the sounds and flow, but reading aloud is what really brings the lines to life. Whenever I write, I read tricky spots out loud to make sure the flow is smooth and the structure logical. I encourage my students and authors to do the same with their work. Note what your words sound like when read out loud; you don’t want to ignore an important aspect of your writing.

Five Lessons For Prose Writers From Poetry: A Guest Post by Elizabeth Buege

Pay attention to more than a word’s meaning.

Writing is about the sounds and order of words, not just their literal meanings. I grew up on a lot of great books, but I give poetry partial credit for teaching me that stories are richer when they’re full of strong images and sounds. “The Highwayman” by Alfred Noyes is a poem that did that for me. Not only is the story sweet and sad, the sound of it is like music. It has rich imagery and great repetition of words. It’s not just a poetry thing, either—I’ve found that many of my favorite books are also richly-worded. It’s something I now push for in my prose. Does your writing sound like music? As you focus on meaning, don’t forget to consider sound and order, too.

Blend beautiful and concise.

In being concise, you don’t need to give up beautiful language. Likewise, to write beautiful pieces, you don’t have to give up conciseness. It’s tempting to spruce up a piece with flowery language, but wordiness will quickly become tedious. Poetry demonstrated to me that writers can communicate their points beautifully without using too many words. If you’re having trouble using words in a concise or lovely way, read some poems—let the skill of the poets show you how both can be done at once.

Don’t be afraid to rewrite.

The secret to great writing is the same across genres: revise, revise, revise! In college, I took two poetry classes. I didn’t learn enough to make me a poet, but I did learn enough to embrace rewriting. For several poems, the first draft was missing something. Only when I scrapped all but one line and shaped that one line into a new piece did I discover what I really wanted to say. The same goes for prose. If your first draft isn’t what it needs to be, pick out the parts that are truest to you and toss the rest. There’s no shame in starting over.

I don’t connect with every poem I encounter, but I truly believe that poetry is one of the loveliest forms of writing. Luckily, those of us who write prose don’t have to leave all the lovely words to the poets. Take their tools and make them your own. Then, get out there and make your own writing beautiful!

Elizabeth BugueEarlier in the month, I shared 7 poets who impacted my work. If poetry and specific poems have already made you a stronger writer, I’d love to hear about it. Leave me a comment!
My website is www.elizabethbuege.com, my blog is www.elizabethbuege.com/blog, and my Twitter name is @ekbuege. 

A Melody of Beautiful Words: A Guest Post by Amalie Cantor

 

Music and the Art of Writing

Before I embraced the mantle of “writer,” I spent two years in graduate school studying to become a professor of music theory. For those who may not know, music theorists take apart musical structures and analyze them as you might a work of literature. After years of searching, I thought I had finally found the perfect career path. My love of music always intertwined with my love for language. To me, music’s notes and rhythms were letters and words of a tongue I longed to better understand.

But, as Victor Hugo once wrote, “Music expresses that which cannot be said and on which it is impossible to be silent.” I could never adequately explain in words the emotions and images that musical masterpieces evoked in my mind, at least not objectively enough for scholarly inquiry. How do we interpret the meaning of a scale? Could I write a thesaurus for chordal structures? Music survives and thrives in its universality. Attempts at specific translation dishonor its purpose.

A Melody Of Beautiful Words

But beautiful writing, in music as in prose, is intentionally expressive.

The philosopher Roger Scruton argues that “Music exists when rhythmic, melodic, or harmonic order is deliberately created, and consciously listened to, and it is only language-using, self-conscious creatures, I argue, who are capable of organizing sounds in this way. . . .” If we cannot understand music, even if only at its basest, most emotional level, then its beauty is for naught.

Meaningful prose and poetry likewise rely upon an ability to express and to be understood. William Carlos Williams, in his poem “January Morning,” wrote:

I wanted to write a poem
that you would understand.
For what good is it to me
if you can’t understand it?

A-Melody-of-Beautiful-Words

Neither musicians nor poets write to be misunderstood. They write because something beautiful hidden within their souls cannot be spoken in any other way.

Music and poetry, in their attempts to express the inexpressible, create languages all their own. Notes and ideas become phrases become verses become songs, each element building upon the others in ecstasy or tragedy, joy or despair. What then can such works teach us about our own writing?

Music_expresses_hugo_quote

  1. Beautiful writing is emotional.

Our words impact readers most when they portray the most desperate, dangerous longings of our souls. As writers, connecting to those emotions can be painful, even terrifying. We must remember that we are eternally trapped within our own skin and limited perception. To commune with our readers, we must break through that skin and gift our fears to the world, lest we fortify the walls between us rather than breach them.

  1. Beautiful writing is intentional

I strongly advocate freewriting. Allowing the pen to flow wherever it will generates the seeds of what we wish to express. But no amount of freewriting will produce a perfect piece. Beauty and meaning come from the careful cultivation of those seeds into fully mature words, phrases, and ideas. The emotional value of the end product depends entirely on our intentional, deliberate nurturing.

  1. Beautiful writing is musical.

Like the movements of a symphony, beautiful words ebb and flow in rhythmic variation. They use metaphor and symbolism to define the undefinable. They employ alliteration and cadence and climax and crescendo in such a way that the words sing in our hearts as well in our heads. We must engage with all the tools available to us until we find precisely the melodic lift that each line needs.

  1. Beautiful writing is a process.

Ideas may simmer in our heads for days, months, even years before they are ready to escape onto the page. Then, once an idea reaches the page, it may go through dozens, even hundreds, of revisions before it is ready to be shared. Each word or turn of phrase must be tasted, seasoned for proper flavor and nuance before it can be served.

Ludwig von Beethoven, one of the most beloved composers of all time, left behind thousands of pages of notebooks and sketches. Not all of his ideas found homes in his published works, yet no one today would consider his career a failure.

For those of us who have jobs, children, or other responsibilities, allowing beauty to come in its own time may seem like a Sisyphean task. The reward may not always feel worth the effort.

Do it anyway. 

When we take the time to create beauty, whether in music, literature, or art, we embrace one of our most primal ambitions: to discover ourselves and our place in the world around us. We embrace our desire for companionship and camaraderie and even conflict now and again. We reach into the souls of both writer and reader and draw them together in a symphony of order and chaos and intellect and emotion. Whether we are read by one or a million, our words reflect the innermost truth about ourselves. We owe it to our souls to make them to shine.

photoAC

Amalie Cantor currently lives in Norman, Oklahoma with her partner Katherine and their feline familiars, Sadie and Salem.  She writes poetry, prose, and fiction focusing on the intersection of identity and spirituality.  She also blogs about whatever shiny object has captured her attention at DaughterOfKieran.com.  When not hiding behind a computer screen, Amalie enjoys cooking, knitting, crocheting, and enjoying the literary debauchery of her local book club.  She also watches far too many bad BBC shows and is pretty sure her personal trainer has reported her missing. Her debut novel, Choosing Her Chains, will be independently published in summer 2016.