THE KEY TO UNLOCKING THE ABILITY TO WRITE? TELL ME MORE.
The fact she mentioned ‘servant girls’ got my attention. I had a grandmother who left school in the eighth grade to work as a housemaid in one of those now-decaying mansions that dot the Northside of Pittsburgh. Grandma spoke about dusting knickknacks on the shelves and stitching wedding gowns. Anything to help out the family finances in a family of eight kids. Grandma told such wonderful stories that I wonder if she ever fantasized about writing them down. Would things have been different if she’d encountered a teacher like Ms. Ueland? Grandma’s son, my Daddy, always wanted to be a journalist. The dream to write was there. Maybe he inherited a writing bug in his genes? In any case, the family urged my Dad to get his head out of the clouds and study something practical. The only writing he did after that was love poems to my Mom. (The dream to write fell to me, apparently, but that’s another story.)
Back to Ms. Ueland. Barbara’s mission as a teacher was to get her students to express clearly what was true to them from their personal experiences. She led them from initial efforts of stilted, false, dead prose into courageous expressions of slices of life from the heart. Her book is a magnificent pep talk that fires up the writer within each of us. Her key to unlocking the ability to write? She demanded of her students, “Tell me more.”
For instance, she queried a budding novelist about whether the character’s muscles really ‘rippled’. Did the writer actually see that? Her student became excited and declared yes, his muscles were so big they seemed to burst the seams of his coat. Barbara responded, “Well say that! Hurrah! Put it that way. That’s alive, great!”
Barbara writes, “I am blessed with a fascinated, inexhaustible interest in all my pupils – their thoughts, adventures, failures, rages, villainies and nobilities.” She wanted them to see “how gifted they are and consequently grow in boldness and freedom.” To accomplish this, she instructed them to “forget about writing ‘writing’ and… to tell spontaneously, impulsively, what they remembered.”
If you’d like to read her book yourself, I’d recommend checking your interlibrary loan system for a copy. In my area, there’s four in the system.
To close, does anyone else have relatives in the family line who might have become writers if fate had given them the chance? If things had gone a bit differently in their lives?
Cheryl Elaine Williams
Previously blogged at Working Stiffs 2009
This is not an “I want it now” business.
There are exceptions to the rule, but generally speaking if you are in a rush to be a big star or in it for the money; you are in the wrong business, my friend. If you’re meant to be an author, you are in one of the following categories….
(a)You either work a fulltime job or two and peck away at the keyboard whenever you can.
(b)You write a lot but are practically starving, while those bills are piling up.
Have you ever heard the expression, “he’s suffering for his art”?
Writing is an art…but also a business.
If you are an actor, you’d expect to learn your craft well and go to audition after audition. The writing business is not any different. You have to know your craft well and you have to beat down door after door.
So if you’re still with me and this is your dream, you want to be an author. Here are the key elements you need to understand:
You must learn everything you can about writing.
You must conduct yourself in a professional manner.
Patience is the key, from your first word to the sale of your book, in most cases will be years.
Please treat publishers, editors, other writers and agents with respect, they are professionals. Seriously if you landed a big movie roll with Robert Di Niro and he gave you some advice, would you turn to him and say you don’t know what you are talking about…nobody knows my character like I do. If you answered yes I would, throw away the vanity pills and come back, LOL J See us editors can be humorous too. My point is that you don’t want to rush your editor because you need the money or you should be a star or someone else at the same publisher seems to be going further than you. In most cases those writers are on a different level than you because they have been at it longer. So jealousy is another thing you might want to check at the door with your hat.
Write with accuracy and creativity. From there go with your gut, if you really feel that a publisher or editor is giving you a bum rap, then go with someone else you feel better about. But you have to ask yourself is that really the case or have I run out of patience waiting for my brass ring? A readable product takes perseverance, patience and hard work, nothing more, nothing less…
Tune in next week for a “When will I get an acceptance letter…dammit?”
RUMINATIONS FOR WRITERS AND FANS OF HORROR FICTION
BY CHERYL ELAINE WILLIAMS, WRITING AS SHARLANA
“MOMMA TOLD ME NOT TO….”
Think back on the things your Mom or other caretaker advised you not to do. It could be a key to jumpstarting a writing idea. For instance….
“Honey, don’t ride your bike behind the strip mall. It’s too isolated back there and there’s trailers making deliveries.” We all know what can happen when an innocent child walks past a trailer. “Besides, the slag heap up above could fall down any day.” That eventually happened. The humongous slag heap left over from strip mining did eventually collapse in a rainstorm, burying several empty cars. Mom probably had a funny feeling about it for years. (Those are the types of warnings to listen to.)
Mom talking to her pre-teen: “Stay away from that trolley stop by the woods. You can’t see it from the street.”
Pre-teen to Mom: “Nobody’s been kidnapped from Overlook stop.”
Sharp retort: “There’s always a first time. Anybody can get off there. You don’t know who they are.” Caretakers are most effective in instilling a fear of mass murderers. That fear stays with us for life, which is what makes thriller fiction so exciting.
All of us have personal ‘Thou Shalt Nots’ nagging at our brain, prohibitions grown out of family tradition. Baggage we picked up along the way. Kick these around in your mind and you can see possibilities develop for a story. For instance, my Dad refused to let me run the lawnmower. “Machines got a mind of their own. Mrs. (Smith) cut off her big toe.”
The possibility never occurred to Dad of teaching me use of proper footware and safety techniques. The sight of Mrs. Smith sitting poolside with her foot sticking out, four little pinkies and one sewn-up gash where the big toe used to be, was enough to cool my ardor for running the mower. Kudos to families who empower their females to become familiar with power machines. Anyway, another ‘Thou Shalt Not’ came from my Grandmother.
“Riding horses is dangerous. My brother fell from one and died.” Mother heard that story all her life. Eventually she overcame it by taking riding lessons at a local stable, but only years later when she was over thirty and Grandma was out of the way. It took Mom decades to overcome a ‘family prohibition’.
How about the old “Don’t walk through the cemetery alone?” “Don’t go rafting in (Devil’s Creek)?” “Don’t go up in the attic, you could fall through the ceiling?”
Our ceilings always looked pretty sturdy to me, but the fear was always there that we could fall off the criss-crossing slats of wood that lined our attic floor and fall through the insulation material in between. Then again, maybe Dad wanted to keep all kids out of the attic so no one would hide to smoke up there and burn the house down.
To sum up, have some fun and ruminate on those ‘Don’t Do’s’ of your life and let your imagination run wild. Anybody care to share theirs?
(End) (500 words)
BY: SHARLANA WILLIAMS
Snow falls day after day, frost freezes on our windows, the afternoon hours remain gloomy even as the daylight hours linger a tad longer than the month before. Things tend to break down in this bone-chilling weather. Car batteries die, garage door openers go on the fritz (for those in the Northern climate ranges, anyway). Bodies break down. Yes, bodies!
In the extended history of my family, January, February and March have been very popular times to die. It almost seems like many of my deceased relatives held on through the Christmas holiday season. Then the poor souls ran out of steam. The winter months became for them a harbinger of death, and the Angel of Death came to effect a harvest. I bring this to your consideration because writers and fans of horror deal with the subject of death in our manuscripts on a regular basis. What plot point is more terrifying than death, which is more heroic than those who battle against it?
Last summer I was driving along another main street in another Pittsburgh area community, and an elderly woman tripped on the sidewalk. The SUV in front of me screeched to the curb and three people rushed out to help. Bless them for doing so, I think we’re a kinder society now. But then again this was summertime, and it makes me sad to recall that no one stopped to help my Uncle in wintertime.
My family took Great-Aunt Ann into our home and she pretty much stayed upstairs since she walked with a walker and sat at her window and watched the neighbors. (I’m thinking of Eleanor Rigby here.) She collapsed with a heart attack while maneuvering around her bedroom, and yes it was the coldest month of the year. What is it about frost on the windows, anyway? Does Death scrawl a message there?
Anyway, Mum went one January 8th, a stepbrother some years later in February and Dad two weeks after that. November’s just as lethal because we morph from leaves dying in fall to frozen winters, and I’ve lost my share of relatives and acquaintances in November and December, too.
What is it about humans dying in time with the Earth’s decay? Does anyone have any thoughts on this? Thanks for bearing with me on a dark topic, but then again we are horror writers and readers, and ‘Death’ is our business.
Happy editor Tuesday,
Good morning everyone. This Tuesday instead of a blog I would like to discuss, how real should fiction be?
Vampires aren’t real, so why are writers crucified if they break Vampire lore rules. “My husband stands over my shoulder while I’m writing, “Oh you can’t say that…you can’t have a vampire drink dead blood… they can’t have dead blood.” He’s right--but why the hell not? It’s fiction for godsakes. I wish vampires were real. I am big fan. J But they are not!
I have done extensive research on the subject and the concensus is that the story has to be as real as possible in order for the reader to feel as though the story could really happen and that they are a part of it. Hmmmm…as a writer and an editor who wants to put out the best fiction possible, I follow these rules. But personally this puzzles me.
So I can make up an entire town, everyone and everything in it, but god forbid I don’t call my local police department for their exact procedures.
So wave to the fairies flying around your window that look like Dick Butkus, slide down your rabbit hole, and tell me what you think.
This particular blog is spun from my comment on another person’s blog.
I am an editor, writer and voracious reader.
So that being said, there are other sides to it.