I’m taking the holiday weekend off and not writing a blog post today. Instead, I’d like to point you to a great resource.Poets & Writers online is packed full of information for creative writers. The page I’m referring you to, Tools for Writers, links you to the following:
Literary Journals and Magazines
Conferences and Residencies
Writing Prompts and Exercises
Book Review Outlets
Poets & Writers Guides (handbooks)
Top Topics for Writers (articles)
Grants & Awards
Jobs for Writers
Oh, and you can also access the magazine… 🙂
Is this a treasure trove, or what?
Like us on Facebook
I hope you’ve also noticed–and clicked!–the link to my new Creative Power Writing Facebook page in the left-hand column. Through it, I’ll be regularly connecting you with great sites like Poets & Writers, inspirational quotations, writing prompts, invaluable tips and articles, contests, best writing books, and more!
See you next week. In the meantime, get something published.
Writers don’t spend a lot of time debating this. As a teacher and writing coach, however, I’ve found that venue can be critical to a writer’s success.
Writing is portable, so you can choose where you are most able to concentrate, where you are most comfortable, and where you gain the most inspiration. Sometimes we plop ourselves down in an office, on the bed, or at the kitchen table based on the first or second of these reasons, never giving ample thought to the third.
Imagine if you chose where to write based on how it might supercharge your writing?
What makes a piece of writing outstanding? For fiction, there’s an engaging plot, layered characters, a theme that touches our hearts, scintillating dialogue. Nonfiction needs a novel premise and intriguing points backed up with well-researched information. Many authors can accomplish these. But what lifts an author from being merely a popular writer to a place among the all-time greats?
It’s the quality of the writing. What marks them as master wordsmiths is the way they manipulate words and use rhetorical techniques to expert effect. This may seem difficult to quantify, but we can identify some of the strokes that make the rest of us sigh, “I wish I’d written that!”
Barbara Kingsolver, The Poisonwood Bible
Let’s analyze a powerful excerpt from one of my favorite authors, Barbara Kingsolver. In The Poisonwood Bible, Leah’s missionary father has moved his family to the Congo. They have endured all manner of hardships, including fire ants, a flood, hunger, and little Ruth May contracting malaria after hiding her quinine pills. Now a green mamba has killed Ruth May. Leah narrates:
A honeycreeper sang from the bushes outside the window. It seemed impossible that an ordinary, bright day should be proceeding outside our house. Mother spread a small, soft hand onto hers and washed the fingers one at a time. She cradled and lifted the head to rinse it, taking care not to get the soapy water in Ruth May’s eyes. As she dried the limp blond hair with a towel, she leaned in close, inhaling the scent of my sister’s scalp. I felt invisible. By the force of my mother’s desire to conduct this ritual in private, she had caused me to disappear. Still, I couldn’t leave the room. After she dried and wrapped her baby in a towel she hummed quietly while combing out the tangles and plaiting the damp hair. Then she began to cut our mosquito netting into long sheets and stitch the layers together. At last we understood. She was making a shroud.
I hate poetry.
Flowery phrases forming phlegmatic facets
Run-on sentences defying punctuation
Fragments with as many meanings as choices on a Chinese menu
Mixed metaphors, silly similes
Secret symbols must be deciphered
Why can’t a cigar be a cigar?
I hated poetry because I didn’t understand it. It seemed like poets went out of their way to make their ideas inscrutable. Maybe they did this on purpose to make themselves seem more important or to make their scholarly club more exclusive. Why, the lines didn’t make grammatical sense or form complete ideas. And talk about run-on! By the time you reached a period (if ever), you’d have forgotten the beginning of the idea!
Writing ain’t easy–even if you love it. But at least you usually know whether you’re doing something well or not. One thing, though, might be slipping beneath your radar. If you don’t pay attention, it’s guaranteed to make your writing fail. See if you can figure it out before it’s too late. Here’s an example:
He wrote some lovely sentences. Those words sing clever news. I do hope that you read ’em all. They’re stuffed with everything!
Would you continue to read WowPow if I wrote like this? (Rhetorical question!) Did you notice how sing-song-y it sounded? But what exactly is wrong with the writing that makes it fail? Can you figure it out if I break apart the paragraph like this—?
He wrote some lovely sentences.
Those words sing clever news. I do hope that you read ’em all. They’re stuffed with everything!
Now the problem becomes evident—the sentences are all the same length. This gives them a regular, bouncy rhythm, not unlike The Cat in the Hat[Happy birthday, Dr. Seuss!] or “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” Delightful when you’re a toddler, like my granddaughter, but not so endearing, otherwise. Now, I’ve created this extreme example as an illustration, but you’d be surprised how many writers unwittingly think in measured ideas. They might sail “in and out of weeks, and almost over a year” [Maurice Sendak, Where the Wild Things Are], have aminotaurat the center and be full of ten-dollar words, but if those sentences are all the same length—epic rhythm fail. [You make your own joke here.]
I used to be a language snob, complete with William Safire trading card. Growing up with teacher parents who corrected my grammar made me hypersensitive to language rules. (“Where’s he at? Between the ‘a’ and the ‘t’!” and “You’re ‘done’? Let’s stick a fork in you!”) Plus, excelling at grammar, punctuation and spelling tempted me to think people who didn’t speak “properly” were uneducated or lazy. How could you hear correct grammar at school and (sometimes!) on TV and still say, “I didn’t do nothing” or “I should of went fishing”?
My “Aha!” Moment
Then I had a daughter with dyslexia, who not only couldn’t follow the inconsistent, irrational rules of English spelling (How do you pronounce “ghoti”?)* and grammar, but still doesn’t remember the differences between (oops! among) to, two and too.
Another sea-change in my attitude occurred when I read The Story of English by McCrum, Cran and MacNeil. As I railed against Ebonics in the seventies, I was shocked to read that my own “proper” language was the product of hundreds of years of the same sort of evolutionary bastardization. English began as West Germanic, with the Angles, Saxons and Jutes arriving in England and pushing the Celts westward. It was changed by invading Norse speakers in the 9th and 10th centuries and Norman-French speakers in the 11th. During the Renaissance, French, Latin, Greek and Italian influences changed the language and grammar. Scholars tidied up English in the 16th and 17th, but punctuation was still haphazard in the early 17th century. English has been enlarged by words and constructions from Asia, the Caribbean, Africa and Native Americans. Continue reading The Shocking Truth about “Proper” English: How Millennials are Changing our Punctuation and Grammar and What it Means to Us as Writers
So, did you cure all your warts last week? At least, I hope you used blood, sweat and tears (and toil) and searched here, there and everywhere for examples of the Rule of Three. I swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth in giving you the “thinner, lighter, and faster” version of how to use it to add creative power to your own writing.
♠ You can apply the Rule of Three to all sorts of writing building blocks: words and phrases and clauses and sentences. (I know, that’s not three. Get over it. I needed to write it that way for the *Note* that’s coming next.) [*Note* Did you recognize “words and phrases and clauses,” a use of the Rule of Three fromSchoolhouse Rock’s “Conjunction Junction”?]
♣There are three main Rule of Three processes you can apply to those building blocks: repetition, lists and progressions.
♥The Rule of Three can also be applied to the structures of the creative and business works you write.
You’re reading WowPow because, like most writers (me, too!), you’re always looking to better your craft. There are so many resources available today that you could spend your children’s inheritance and your summer vacation sifting through them to find even one that speaks to you. To save your children from penury and make sure you actually wiggle your piggies in the sand, I’m sharing the writing resources I can’t live without. These are real, honest-to-J. K. Rowling, published-by-fancy-dancy-publishers books. I’ve read them multiple times and I get new inspiration every time.
These should be on your desk, getting dog-eared and spine-broken. If you’ve already read them, let this be a reminder to read ’em again.