Tag Archives: Writing Tips

Busy? Break Your Writing Projects Into Small Chunks

I have a confession: this blog has been going strong for 3+ years and lately, because the other editor (Mel) and I have been really, really busy, we haven’t been posting nearly as often as we used to.

That’s because writing takes time, and with her new gig as a publisher (everyone say CONGRATULATIONS to her, by the way) and my 5-6 academic jobs (and I’m not exaggerating there!), we’re fairly low on time between the two of us.

Time slips though my fingers like sand falls from the hourglass and - wait, I don't have time to write poetry!
Time slips though my fingers like sand falls from the hourglass and – wait, I don’t have time to write poetry!

Today I was helping a student plot out a large paper assignment and the advice I gave him is the advice I need to follow myself and that I recommend anyone without a lot of time and a penchant for writing follow: break down your writing assignment into small, digestible chunks you can finish in about a half-hour every night.

I know that sounds pretty easy, but being able to judge your own ability to get a task done isn’t always as easy as it sounds. Here are a few tips that’ll help make the process easier.

1. Planning should be sessions 1-3, at the least. Planning takes time, and sometimes people feel that if they aren’t at a keyboard typing, they aren’t getting any work done and that simply isn’t true. You’re going to need to start planning before you can really start doing anything else.

Wasting Time & Not Giving a Damn: The Art of Being A Young Writer

Maybe we have to waste time to be writers.

A year ago, in the car on the way back from Seattle, I had the talk with a few friends. The I-can’t-finish-anything and I’m-not-sure-where-it’s-going talk that all writers seem to have with their reflection or a peer at some point in their career, particularly early on.

Really, what I meant was that I’m not sure if I’m good enough. And that’s tough to admit.

Maria Popova tackled this topic in her recent post “The Art of Motherfuckitude: Cheryl Strayed’s Advice to an Aspiring Writer on Faith and Humility” over at Brain Pickings. Before Wild, of course, Strayed wrote The Rumpus advice column “Sugar.”

It’s self doubt. According to Popova, “the same paralyzing self-doubt which Virginia Woolf so elegantly captured; which led Steinbeck to repeatedly berate, then galvanize himself in his diary; which sent Van Gogh into a spiral of floundering before he found his way as an artist.”

The same self doubt that caused one “Sugar” reader to write to Strayed. The reader was twenty-six—a classic writer who can’t write. She tells Strayed, “I am sick with panic that I cannot—will not—override my limitations, insecurities, jealousies, and ineptitude, to write well, with intelligence and heart and lengthiness.”

Strayed’s response is beautiful and raw. You can and should read it.

Highlights for all my fellow twenty-somethings struggling with how exactly one perfects the art of being a motherfucker:

So You Want to Write A Villanelle

Okay so maybe you don’t want to write a villanelle, but that’s only because you don’t know what a villanelle is yet. But once you do know what a villanelle is, you’ll totally want to write one because it is a fun form to write.

In 16th century Italy and Spain, dance songs known as villanella or villancico were peasant tunes without any fixed form. French poets started to write poems called villancelle that again did not follow any fixed rhymes or schemes shortly thereafter.

The first villanelle with a fixed structural form, Jean Passerat’s Villanelle also known as J’ay perdu ma tourterelle, came about in the late 19th century. While the villanelle started in France, it never really caught on there but American poets claimed the poem form and are most known for executing its rigid structural form.

One of the most famous practitioners of the villanelle is Dylan Thomas, with his poem Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night:

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Now that you’re familiar with the form, let’s talk about the specific features that make the villanelle a villanelle.

Choose Your Own Unreliable Narrator

We’re all biased, for we are all thinking, feeling beings with opinions and experiences all our own. This means that, no matter what we write, the nature of the text will always be slightly unreliable because what is presented through the text is a projection of our understanding of reality, not reality itself.

Now you can do your best to hide your bias and hide the unreliable nature of your text, or you can embrace it and choose to present your literary vision through a set of unreliable eyes.

There are a few different varieties of unreliable narrators used in text and some great examples out there in literature.

Humbert Humbert from Lolita

Lolita, if you haven’t read it, is a book with a charming, literary, intelligent, protagonist who tells the story of his love affair with a 12-year-old girl to justify the murder of her other lover. Let that sink in for a minute. The opening lines of the book illustrate just how seductive this unreliable narrator is:

Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta. She was Lo, plain Lo, in the morning, standing four feet ten in one sock. She was Lola in slacks. She was Dolly at school. She was Dolores on the dotted line. But in my arms she was always Lolita.

Humbert Humbert’s command of language can sometimes mask his unreliable nature, but in the book the audience he is addressing with his tale is a jury that is trying him for murder. Humbert Humbert is being charming and displaying wit to literally try and get away with murder. When it comes to unreliable narrators, Humbert Humbert is a plain old liar, or an unreliable narrator that deliberately tells a skewed version of events that take place within the story. Humbert Humbert is most certainly twisting reality to serve his purpose of avoiding a conviction.


The Narrator from Fight Club

Fight Club‘s never-named narrator isn’t unreliable by choice. You see, he suffers from insomnia and, despite everything he tries like visiting doctors or joining support groups for diseases he doesn’t actually have, he cannot sleep. This lack of sleep creates a split personality and a disconnect from what is really taking place in the story that completely catches a reader off guard.

Throwback Thursday: Authors, Editors, and Readers Alike All Hate the Word Very, a Lot.

I’m guilty of using the word very. It’s probably appeared in more than one of my blog posts and academic papers. I have one professor, though, that always points it out in my writing and tells me to take it out. He says it’s useless. He says it adds nothing to further my point. He says it’s lazy writing.

He’s right, and there are others that agree with him.

So avoid using the word ‘very’ because it’s lazy. A man is not very tired, he is exhausted. Don’t use very sad, use morose. Language was invented for one reason, boys – to woo women – and, in that endeavor, laziness will not do. It also won’t do in your essays.
N.H. Kleinbaum, Dead Poets Society

Substitute ‘damn’ every time you’re inclined to write ‘very;’ your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.
Mark Twain

Well, you could take Mark Twain’s advise, but I feel like damn wouldn’t be deleted as often by publishers now as it was when Mark Twain uttered those words sometime before 1910 when he died. There are other ways of avoiding the word very.

Pinterest For Writers

I use Pinterest for a lot of things like looking up tasting recipes, crocheting projects, and, of course, for inspiration for writing. No, really. Pinterest is great for writers.

Earlier today I was playing on my Pinterest account and found this wonderful infograph:

All great tips you should follow!

In addition to this useful infograph, here are some boards I follow that I think would be useful for any writer to follow as well:

Want to Learn a New Literary Technique? Turn to Disney.

While Disney is controversial in the feminist realm for weak female characters, selling the image of a passive woman being the only desirable type of woman and a host of other things I won’t list here (but will rather link the reader to instead), at the root of every Disney story is writing from a team of talented individuals that know what they are doing.

For a well written theme, look no further than the Disney classics. Theme is defined as the main topic of a text, or in this case, movie. In Disney’s Hercules, for example, the main theme is true strength comes from sacrifice. Looking back even further to earlier movies like Sleeping Beauty, strong, well-represented and almost cliche themes like true loves conquers all are clearly portrayed throughout the film.

And I shall awaken her with true love’s kiss, and if that doesn’t work, I’ll just be some kind of weird pervert that kisses sleeping 16 year old girls.

Avoiding Plot Holes

Plot holes, the bane of every writer’s existence. It’s not as if writers put plot holes in on purpose – sometimes a writer gets so caught up in a story that they miss the fact that there’s an inconsistency in the plot, or editing and rearranging a story leaves a plot hole where one wasn’t before. I’m here to tell you that it’s okay.

Inconsistencies happen to the best of us, but there are ways of avoiding, correcting, and eliminating them within your story.

1. Map out the multiple plots of your story – major and minor.

That is one intricate plot.

This requires a few things, such as a wall, a lot of colored string (I use yarn), and either post-it notes or index cards.

Now, I know what you’re thinking – “If I do this, I will come off like a murderer.” Fear not! With the use of bring, colorful yarn and the lack of bloody photos and decapitated girls around, your plot chart will most definitely not look like you are a murderer. Although, I suppose if you’re writing a book about murder, then it might.

Anyway, this is great if you’re the kind of person that needs to visualize their work. Even if you aren’t, being able to tangibly layout your plot, your character interactions, and connect all of what is happening in your story in such a way can help you avoid any plot holes because you’ll be able to see where part of your story doesn’t make sense.

In Shakespeare’s play King Lear, after Act III scene VI, the Fool disappears from the story and the reader, or viewer, is never told why. Is this a plot hole? Sort of. Some directors have used this gap in the play to their advantage to explain why the Fool is never heard from again, but as far as the text goes, there is no real explanation for the lack of the Fool in the rest of the play. If King Lear‘s plot were put up on a wall and mapped out the Fool’s string falls after Act III scene VI.

As a writer, being able to see where things just drop out of the story like that can help you figure out if you have any plot holes or inconsistencies within your work.

Everyday Inspiration

I don’t like to make generalizations, but let’s face it, book lovers and writers tend to be an introverted bunch of people. We like to live vicariously through our stories—which is good because as much as I like reading about the zombie apocalypse, I’d rather not live it.

As far as writers go, most of the ones I know tend to fall on one side of the same coin. They are either, like me, of the get-out-there-and-experience-shit variety—because what better way to write about it? Or, they tend to be of the aforementioned introverted type. The classic writer, locked away in his room typing away.

But it’s important, regardless of what kind of writer you are, to get out there and experience life because inspiration can strike in the strangest of places. Here are just a few tips how:

Take Public Transportation

I have a few poems and short stories that have been inspired by a trip on the bus or train. Buses and other forms of public transit tend to be places where you can find all types of people and personalities. You can be sitting next to someone who’s homeless or someone who owns their own company.

Sometimes, being so close to strangers leads to some pretty memorable experiences.

One time, on my way to the Greyhound station downtown, a couple boarded the MAX together. The woman was swaying and slurring her words. It was 7 a.m. She was saying goodbye to the man she was with, but she wouldn’t leave, no matter how many times he asked her. The lights on the doors flickered. “The doors are closing,” a woman’s voice said on the loud speaker. But each time the door attempted to shut, it was stopped by the woman’s large bottom and wide hips. She swatted at the door like it was a fly.

It was a little funny and sad. And when she started yelling and another man on board started yelling back, a tiny part of me was even afraid. But then it ended. And I wrote it down. An anecdote in a larger story.

Walk Through the City

Deadlines: Friends or Foes

I’m a writer, sometimes. What do I mean by that? Well, I write, but not all the time. I have school and work and friends and sleep. All of those things keep me from writing on a regular basis, but when I know a deadline is coming up, suddenly I find the time to write.

I don’t know what it is about a deadline – perhaps it’s my previous experience writing for a magazine, or my training as a student, but deadlines inspire me.

I can go almost a full year without writing poetry, even when I set aside time just to sit and write and work, but when a deadline is coming up for a journal I want to submit to, suddenly inspiration strikes.

I can go through painful breakups, I can see the most beautiful sunset, I can have my life flash before my eyes but these things don’t drive me to write. A due date gets me going, somehow.

Even my trip to The Great Wall of China didn't yield the same amount of poetry a looming deadline inspires.
Even my trip to The Great Wall of China didn’t yield the same amount of poetry a looming deadline inspires.

And now I ponder, how can I drive myself to write without having to wait for upcoming deadlines?