The Pen is Mightier than the Cliché: Slash Them From Your Writing

Cliché: The Pen Is Mightier Than The SwordClichés are everywhere, by their very nature. They appear in movies, on television, and slip into our writing before we can catch ourselves. In fact, cliché comes from the French, meaning stereotype – although, in context, it refers to printing presses1, not actual preconceived notions. They are so popular because they were once witty turns of phrase, that have worn out due to overuse. Also, as humans, we use language to communicate as efficiently as possible. Clichés allow us to convey a lot of information about life in a few short words.

However, clichés make for poor writing. When a phrase has been used for so long, we rarely even hear it or read it anymore. This causes the reader to gloss over your words, causing confusion and disinterest. Too many instances of clichéd writing will make your writing boring and unappealing.

Transform Clichés Into Fresh Prose

Stop yourself when you catch yourself heading into a cliché trap. If you edit after you write, make a note to yourself that there is a cliché that needs editing out. If you edit as you go along, find a way around your cliché. Can your cliché be transformed into a new idea, just by altering a few words? Or should a new phrase be written in its place?

Examine the elements of the cliché, and decide if it is, in fact, what you wish to say. Sometimes, especially in dialogue, clichés can create a mood or indicate the origin of a character’s accent. Whenever you volunteer to let a cliché stay, be sure that there is no other way to write it. Use a light touch, and your readers will understand the impact of your phrase.

Fun Clichés to Play With

There are entire websites devoted to lists of clichés found in the English language. Some are universal, while others may be more common in certain areas of the world. Other languages also have their own clichés, which may not translate the same in English.

Here are a few clichés, and my way of transforming them into an exciting phrase. You can extrapolate your own ideas, and share them with us below!

  • Never look a gift horse in the mouth – I don’t know about you, but I’ve never actually met a horse with a gift. If I were tempted to use this admonishment in a story, I might twist it around to say “Never look in a horse’s mouth for a gift”, which could be a far more useful warning for the story.
  • A diamond in the rough – Again, another cliché that doesn’t quite make sense. You can’t polish a lump of coal and get a diamond. “A diamond with a few rough edges” would be more apt, but the phrase doesn’t have as much impact.
  • Leave no stone unturned – This phrase was probably considered clever once. Nowadays, unless you are looking for an insect, turning over stones won’t get you very far. A guard in one of my stories might say “Turn out all the peasants into the streets!” when looking for my hero.
  • A baker’s dozen – It is far easier to write the word thirteen, and takes less effort for the reader to understand. This cliché is unnecessary, unless used in dialogue as stated above.

Clichés are part of language for a reason, but can often be slashed out of your writing without anyone missing them. Don’t be afraid to play around with them, and see what can be done to polish them into outstanding witticisms. Just do not be surprised if the cliché is overworked to the point that it needs to be let go for good.

What are your favorite hackneyed clichés? Have you ever turned a tired phrase into a sterling piece of prose?

1 The Museum of Printing: Collection
Photo Credit: 01-21-06 © Adrian Hughes

Adapt Your Voice to Expand Your Writing Opportunities

Adapt your Writer's VoiceMany beginning writers hear the term “voice,” as in, “finding your writer’s voice” but aren’t sure what it means. “Voice” is the words we choose, as well as our sentence structure, the cadence of how the words fit together.

When people speak, we may have an accent or speak in a particular dialect of our native language. We also have speech patterns, slang phrases we use, and favorite expressions. These are often influenced by the area we live, our age/generation, our socioeconomic status, and possibly even what we do for a living. (Language directly influenced by our industry is sometimes called “jargon.”)

In writing, all of these things together form a “writer’s voice.” Many of us write the way we talk. But some writers are adept at adopting different voices. If you can write in a variety of voices, you can expand your writing opportunities to include:

  • Writing in a variety of fields and industries
  • Writing for the web, print, television or radio
  • Ghostwriting
  • Making $1/word or more writing for glossy national publications or trade journal

How to Recognize Other Voices

The first step to learning how to write in different voices, is learning how to recognize different voices — and what creates them — when you read. For instance, corporate writing adopts a more formal style. Blogs can be casual, fun or newsy, depending on the audience. Sales and marketing copy has a conversational style designed to draw in — and convince — readers.

To begin to pick up the cadence of different writing voices, read widely. Read everything. (Where have you heard that writing advice before? Everywhere, I’m guessing!) After you read something in a unique, distinctive voice, sit down and write something using that voice.

“Finding Someone Else’s Voice”

Writing in a different voice often requires more extensive rewriting. The first words that come out of our minds and onto our computer screen are usually our “natural” writing voice. In many cases, this is also the way we speak. (If you ever hear me give a webinar, you’ll recognize that I write these blog posts in my “teaching voice,” and I speak pretty much the same way when I’m teaching someone about writing.)

To write in a different voice, consider all the different ways you can say the same thing. Use words not in your normal lexicon. Vary your techniques and your sentence structure.

If you are ghostwriting, the best thing to do is to read everything you can that person has written. The same goes for submitting queries or articles to major magazines. You want to make that “voice” part of your mind, so you can hear it in your own thought patterns. You should begin thinking like your client, or like the writers of the magazine you want to write for. When you start to think like your client or your magazine’s market, you’ll start to write in a way they can relate to, naturally.

Take the Writing Voice Challenge

Here’s an exercise for you. Take a recent article or blog post you have written and rewrite it:

  • In the voice of your favorite author
  • As sales copy
  • As a corporate communication
  • As an email to a friend

After you do this a few times, you’ll be close to an expert at adopting other voices, and then you don’t have to worry if you land an assignment that forces you to write in a voice different from your own writer’s voice. You can do it!

Feel free to share your examples below in the comments or tell us other ways you experiment with “voice” when you’re writing.

Book Clubs, Reading, and Writing with Cindy Hudson

Cindy Hudson, author of Book by Book: The Complete Guide to Creating Mother-Daughter Book Clubs

I’m excited to have this opportunity to share an interview with Cindy Hudson, the author of Book by Book. She visits Writer’s Round-About today on her blog tour so feel free to leave a comment asking any questions you may have while she is here.

Thank you so much for taking the time to share your experiences and insights today, Cindy. First, let me congratulate you on the publication of “Book by Book: The Complete Guide to Creating Mother-Daughter Book Clubs” by Seal Press last October. The book looks fantastic and, as a mother with a daughter who loves to read, it’s exciting to think about how we can share our mutual passion. I imagine a mother-daughter book club is also a great way to meet other families and build a community spirit of support, language, and literacy.

ON BOOK CLUBS

Your book shares fantastic how-to tips for mothers starting their own mother-daughter book club. What exactly IS a mother-daughter book club and how is it different from other kinds of book clubs?

Mother-daughter book clubs are made up of moms and daughters who read together with other mother-daughter pairs. They get together every month or so for a social gathering to talk about what they read, eat snacks or a meal and maybe play games or make crafts. They are lots of fun in many ways. These reading groups differ from those with members who are only adults or only kids in that they encourage inter-generational communication. This usually means you get great discussions that help you see each other as people, not just parent and child.

You founded two long-running, successful mother-daughter book clubs; what inspired you to start them?

I started my book clubs when each of my daughters was nine years old. It seemed a good way to counter the image being created among some of their friends at school that reading wasn’t cool anymore. I was horrified to think that my girls, who loved to read, would stop reading for fun. Starting the book club helped us find like-minded girls and their moms who believed that reading was cool.

Cindy Hudson with daughters Catherine and MadeleineIn the synopsis of Book by Book, the final sentence says, “… Book by Book is a great resource for helping moms and daughters form new memories and traditions.” I’m sure you developed many new memories with your own daughters, which one do you remember most fondly?

Over the 10 years I’ve been in my clubs I have so many great memories that it’s hard to choose just one. I believe the best memory though for each girl would have to be the beach weekend we went on with our group. I did this with each of my daughters, and it was a great combination of time just for the two of us to drive together for a couple of hours, then spend two days with the group cooking, eating, laughing, playing games and having fun on the shore.

ON WRITING

My daughter loves to write stories (just like me) so discussing books we’ve both read has given me opportunities to share what I know about how to write a well-built story. What sorts of things do you talk about when discussing the books after reading?

It’s maybe not surprising that the life situations written about are front and center during our discussions. The characters we read about have issues to solve with their friends, with their parents, and with other adults. They are usually figuring out what kind of person they are going to be, and what’s important to them. They are often also learning how to communicate. Some are finding out how to deal with loss. It’s so valuable for a girl to get her mom’s perspectives on these issues, and also for a mom to know how her daughter sees them. It’s maybe just as valuable for girls to see how other moms think, and for moms to hear what their daughters’ peers have to say.

As a writer-mother, sharing reading with your daughters is one half of a literary partnership, do/did you ever share the other half, writing, with them? How do you involve your family in that side of your love of language?

That’s a great question. I will sometimes read an essay I’m writing aloud to my daughters and see how it hits them. And if there’s a piece written by someone in my writer’s group that I think will resonate with them I read that as well. At my prompting, my own mom started writing stories about her life a few years ago, which is really exciting for me. She lives in Louisiana, while we’re in Oregon, and when she comes to visit she usually brings new stories to read out loud to all of us. Not only has this been a great way for my girls to learn more about their grandmother and her life, it’s given them a chance to see the power that story has for each of us. And they also see that the power in story has value whether it’s printed in a publication or simply read out loud at a gathering.

Our family plays such an important role in the success of our writing career. What do you feel is their greatest contribution to your own success?

They respect the time I spend writing. Over the years I’ve taken classes and workshops that have taken me away from home, and I’ve felt nothing but support from my daughters and my husband even though that means more work for each of them while I’m gone. It’s been great for me to know I could work to improve my craft without feeling guilty about leaving my family to do it.

ON LITERACY

Some kids are more resistant to reading than others. What tips do you have to foster a love of reading in our children and keep them motivated to participate in the book club?

Most important I think is to make sure it’s fun. If reading feels too much like homework, kids won’t want to do it. Also, book clubs can be motivating to get kids to read something they may not normally pick up just so they’ll be ready to talk about it when they get together at a meeting. You can even add other activities that will enhance the reading, like cooking a recipe that goes along with something in the book or planning your meeting around the theme of the book.

Illiteracy is still very common, even in countries where literacy is a staple cornerstone of public education. What advice do you have for parents who have trouble reading?

Parents who are not strong readers may be reluctant to read with their child. But reading together can help them both to improve their literacy skills, so in some ways it’s even more important that these parents do consider being in book groups. It’s easier if you start when your daughter is younger, because you can select beginning reader books.The two of you may even want a book club of two until you feel confident enough to include others. Librarians are great at making recommendations for books that are tailored to reading ability.

Getting started young is one of the best ways to encourage a love of language. My six-year-old son is significantly dyslexic and despite reading to him even before he was born, and having a mother and sister passionate about language, he tends to avoid words. It has been difficult to inspire him to enjoy reading when learning to read has been such a challenge. How do you handle disabilities like dyslexia in a book club?

I haven’t had to address that specifically in either of my book groups, but I know that some of our members feel more comfortable listening to audio tapes of the books. That way they can participate in discussions even if reading is a challenge for them. It may be helpful to have a print copy and an audiotape of the book if that’s possible, so struggling readers can follow along with the words they are hearing. Or if you have two copies of the book, you can read out loud, stopping when necessary, while your daughter (or son) follows along in her own copy. Reading graphic novels, with their visual cues for the written words may be helpful too. We’re fortunate at this time that many talented writers are turning to graphic novels as a new way to tell their stories, so there are lots of great titles to choose from.

Win a copy of Cindy Hudson's Book by Book: The  Complete Guide to Creating Mother-Daughter Book Clubs
Don’t forget to get your entries in today for a chance to win a copy of Cindy’s “Book by Book: The Complete Guide to Creating Mother-Daughter Book Clubs“. Get your family involved and passionate about reading and writing. It’s a easy, inexpensive, and rewarding hobby for the whole family.

ON FAMILY

Finally, a mother-daughter book club is a fantastic way to bond with our daughters but I know my son would want to be involved too. Does your book share ideas for including other family members?

While the focus of my book really is on mothers and daughters, the ideas I have for these type of book groups can be extended easily to create a family group or a mixed group of boys and girls. I’ve heard from other clubs that they successfully include younger siblings, both brothers and sisters, in their book meetings. As your kids get older though, they may be less willing to discuss sensitive issues like sex and body changes in the company of the opposite sex. Open discussion is really what you’re aiming for, so if you sense this is happening, you could restructure then.

Thank you again for your time, Cindy. I wish you fantastic success with this book and appreciate your contribution to encouraging our children to read. My personal experience with dyslexia (since my mother and I are both dyslexic, not just my son) has made me very aware of how important learning to read is for creating a successful future. I want that for my children. Thank you for writing a book that helps bring a love of language into our home.

Random Acts of Poetry

Random Poetry: On Healthy Animal HandlingI’m a fan of random and found art, bits of beauty or composition that either happen accidentally or by a solitary, unthanked and perhaps unknowing artist. There’s also random poetry in our daily lives; spotting these lines takes some practice, but it sharpens your mind as a writer and opens your creative processes to new ideas.

When you write for a living, every word is carefully chosen, and articles, novels or stories flow in a logical line. Sometimes that line becomes a rut but you can easily jog your creativity off the beaten path with some sly wordplay.

In the continuing spirit of (Inter) National Poetry Month, here’s a few ways to spot random poetry, and a couple of uses for those found bits of word art.

1. Portable signs

These signs are found everywhere outside businesses and strip malls. Sometimes the poem writes itself, like in this recent example I found locally:


“Leather Christmas N Hollywood Brings Gourmet Mores.”

Morals and mores enjoyed by leather fans at Christmas would be an acquired taste, come to think of it. Especially in Hollywood. It’s a short little freeform that makes you think, which is the point. In the cold, real world, each word was advertising a business: the leather shop, the Christmas Store, the Hollywood memorabilia place, and the gourmet food boutique. But a harried mall owner trying to squeeze everyone in probably had no idea he was creating a lovely little line of poetic whimsy.

2. Television listings

I have satellite TV, complete with an online guide to tell me what’s coming up next on each channel. If you read some of these listings together, it’s great, dramatic stuff:


“Desperate Housewives
‘Til Lies Do Us Part
The Chocolate Soldier Tales
From the Darkside; Bridezillas Shimmy
[as] Gilad’s Bodies
in Motion [up] One Tree Hill
Beyond the Steps [and] The Spaces Inbetween.”

I’ve added an occasional word in parentheses to connect some titles, but the meat of the tiny, lyrical meal is right there, randomly stacked on top of one another.

3. Spam

“My lips kiss you
like giraffes in the city
please her
with larger members
of the church
the word is to be free”

Whether written by a spammer with a shaky grasp of English or a frustrated poet/bot, there are some classic treats to be mined from an otherwise annoying nuisance. Enjoy the poetic lunacy but don’t ever, ever click on the links. Just look at it like you would an interesting cloud: take a mental picture, appreciate the accidental beauty, and watch it float away into the spam folder to be deleted.

Discover your own Random Poetry

Now that you see the random poetry of mangled communication everywhere, what do you do with it? Keep some stellar examples as writing prompts for a day when you’re chained down by writer’s block, or collect several and piece them together into one flowing epic. Random poetry allows you to be silly with words, so play with them like Lego blocks and build towers of weird inspiration. It will loosen your Muse, make you laugh and maybe even cause you to write a few nonsense poems of your own.

What random snippets of language have you discovered had a poetic ring to it? Share some of your own random poetry in the comments below.

Photo Credit: Animal Cleanliness by freedryk
Photo Credit: Towing Haiku by iamdonte

Should Fiction Be Poetic? Part 2 of our chat with Hugo and Nebula Award-nominee Rachel Swirsky

In the first part of our series featuring science fiction and fantasy author Rachel Swirsky, the young talent revealed a collection of her poetry and short stories entitled “Through the Drowsy Dark” will be released by Aqueduct Press at the end of May. This got us talking about the differences between poetry and prose, if prose should be poetic, and how to achieve that effect in your work.

Dawn: Since it’s National Poetry Month… what are the similarities and differences between writing poetry and short fiction?

Rachel: I think poetry is intensely useful for fiction writers. It teaches one how to create images that are concrete rather than abstract, to fully exploit each word, and to understand language on the detail-level. Poetry spoils me, because you can work on each word until it’s perfect. You can rewrite a poem dozens or hundreds of times to make sure each word is exactly what you want it to be.

Dawn: You can’t do that in a short story…

Rachel: Once you’re dealing with thousands of words in short stories, you can’t give each phrase the same level of attention. With novels, there’s even less ability to focus on the micro-level.

When I took a novel workshop at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, Lan Samantha Chang said that one of the most common difficulties she sees short story writers having with the novel form is letting go of their control. Novels are too long to perfect word by word, and usually too much for a writer to keep in mind all at once in the way you can with a short story (or so I’m told).

Poetry is the opposite: you have an extremely high degree of control over the words and it’s fairly easy to keep the whole thing in mind at once, or even to memorize the whole project if you want to. Sometimes that control can be maddening if you can’t create the effect you want, and I know there have been plenty of times when I’ve caught myself retyping the same three words over and over, changing them slightly and then changing them back, until I’m completely frustrated. This is usually a good time to walk away.

Dawn: Your prose is very poetic — one of the things I love about it. Do you make a conscious effort to do that?

Rachel: I do make an effort to be poetic in what I write. Which is to say, poetry is extremely conscious of the language it uses to convey ideas. It’s easier for people writing prose to abstract themselves from the means of communication, because prose is an unmarked form–we use it when we speak, and when we write notes to each other, and when we write up reports at work. It’s ubiquitous, so we can pretend it’s not even there, much like fish probably don’t think, “Hey, I’m swimming through the water” every thirty seconds. But it is there.

Dawn: I think it’s easier to “try” to abstract ourselves from the means of communication. But truly transparent prose can take as much work as poetic prose. Otherwise, it looks self-conscious…

Rachel: Transparent prose attempts to use language in a way that the audience won’t notice–to take advantage of the ubiquity of the medium so it disappears. This can be a beautiful technique. Prose that we consider poetic, or sometimes I hear people use the term self-conscious, is playing more overtly with the medium of language.

Different styles have different kinds of effects on the reader, and may play better or worse with the kind of content you’re trying to express. I try to think about what effect I’m having and what effect I’m trying to create, and then I usually spend a lot of time with the sentence-level language to make sure that it’s doing what I want it to.

Dawn: What do you find most challenging about fiction – the language, plot, characters, world-building or something else?

Rachel: That depends on the story. I probably spend more time on language than on anything else, but I don’t tend to find it challenging, per se.

I don’t feel like I have a lot of problems understanding characters, although relaying that understanding on the page is a different challenge.

I tend to come into stories with plot arcs I already understand, but sometimes the exact process of how to show the characters getting from 60% of the way through the story to 80% can be very difficult for me. Beginnings, early middles, and endings are easy–it’s that latter middle part of the arc which seems to sag. I don’t even want to know what that’s going to be like on a 100,000-word novel instead of a 2,000- to 10,000-word short story.

I wish I was better at dialogue. I think I write dialogue decently enough, but when you read the work of someone who really has an ear for it, it can be this astonishing, amazing thing. Andy Duncan captures people’s speech in ways that feel dynamic, fresh, novel, and totally real–he writes the dialogue equivalent of surprising yet inevitable endings. His dialogue is a small, focused, surprise–but then you realize the character could never speak any other way.

You can read stories and poetry by Rachel Swirsky at:

Tor.com
Subterranean Magazine
Fantasy Magazine
Weird Tales
Beneath Ceaseless Skies

Find out more at RachelSwirsky.com

I also really wish I could do tight, focused plotting — the kinds of plots you find in farces or murder mysteries. I’ve been watching episodes of Coupling and Doctor Who by Steven Moffat, and he hits the plot points with just the right amount of precision and wit, with never a wasted word. I want to know how to do that.

Book Review: Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing

Mignon Fogarty the Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing.How much do you really know about language usage? Are you sure you use “they’re“, “there“, and “their” correctly? When is it appropriate to use “whom“, “whome“, or just “who“? Confused about whether to “lay” or “lie“? Grammar Girl has the answers and she gives them in a way that makes it simple to understand.

I can’t think of any book that covers so many language quirks within its pages. To be honest, I found it a little draining to read. I read Grammar Girl’s book, several pages an hour, one tip after another without pause, but it is a book better suited to reflective browsing. In the same way that reading a dictionary will do wonders for your vocabulary but can be exhausting if attempted in a single sitting, Grammar Girls’ Quick and Dirty Tips for Betting Writing will do wonders for your writing but can be overwhelming if rushed. It is the kind of book one needs to savor, allowing each tip to simmer in your mind before sampling the next.

Having failed ninth grade English, and dropped out of school soon after, I never learned the ‘rules’ in a formal setting. I am amazed at what my nine-year-old daughter brings home from school about phonics and usage. She is learning things in grade four that I had never learned before; she teaches me! Twelve years removed from school I’m beginning to understand the difference between nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, etc. I’m still working on understanding objects, subjects, and participles. I write instinctively, having read extensively, but am beginning to learn WHY a sentence works one way better than another and WHY this word differs depending on tense.

Feeling a little out of my element with grammatical context I found every page was a learning experience. There was so much to absorb in this plethora of information and insight that I had never truly comprehended before. Every tip offers an opportunity to learn about language from regional distinctions to popular adaptations. Not only does Grammar Girl, Mignon Fogarty, share simple tricks to help us remember ‘the rules’, she also explains the grammatical reason, the ‘proof’, that they are, in fact, the grammatically correct.

I found Grammar Girl’s book intense. I am learning so much! I LOVE IT!

Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing is a book I know will sit upon my desk for years to come. It is not the kind I might read once then allow to gather dust on the shelf of the formerly loved. Despite it’s cheery cover and warm voice this is definitely a writers reference, and it includes a detailed index to make it even more effective as a reference guide.

If you’re looking for an addition to your desk, particularly a comprehensive guide to modern word usage and grammar, then this is the book you need. I want to give a big shout out, “THANK YOU!” to Michele Tune. I had never heard of Grammar Girl, or her book before Michele shared both on her blog and had I not won my copy of Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing it might still be sitting on my Amazon wish list! Thank you, Michele.

Do you have a particular usage stumbling block? Want to know if Mignon Fogarty covers it in Quick and Dirty Tips? Drop a comment below and I’ll look it up for you!

SG1 Series Part Three: Action & Dialogue

All Show, No Tell – The Audio/Visual Experience

One of the greatest lessons writers can gain by watching television series (and movies) is the importance of action and dialogue. In today’s world, we expect richer, active, even sensual experiences. We fill our entertainment hours with games, movies, soap operas, drama, theatre, ballet, situational comedy and reality television. Tangible, engaging experience involves interactions with all of our senses.

Thankfully, written media offers a wonderful opportunity to reach readers on a level of expression that goes far and beyond other forms. With words we can cause readers to see, feel, taste, smell and hear. The only way to truly allow a reader to experience a story is to show it, rather than tell it.

The Stargate Series, thanks to its audio/visual medium, is ALL SHOW AND NO TELL. Viewers watch the characters through every interaction, through every scene. We never experience internal monologue or exposition. Every vital element must be expressed to viewers through action and dialogue. The writers and producers of the Stargate SG1 series have mastered the subtlety needed to get the vital facts to viewers. They cut the chaff and engage viewers in this rich, science fiction environment.

ACTION – Something is ALWAYS happening.

In fiction we can resort to other forms of narration to tell the story but the most engaging, interesting and enriching is to ‘show’ the story through a series of SCENES. (Note: Fiction isn’t ‘all show’ and ‘no tell’ – read more but “show, don’t tell” is a vital writer tip – learn why.)

Every move your characters make, everything they see and experience, everything that happens to and around them is action. Whenever the SG1 step through the Stargate they’re taking action. What they do on the other side is action-packed.

Action isn’t always about guns blazing and car chases. Simple things like dinner, work and even sex involve action. The important thing to remember is anything you show happening must move the story forward. Every scene should take the story toward its climax, its ending.

DIALOGUE – Communication with purpose.

Getting characters to communicate is a significant action that offers writers a chance to use language between characters to share other important information. All dialogue should serve a purpose in your story. It could be character development, fact expression, or relationship based but it must move the story forward.

I’ll go into dialogue more in future Writer’s Round-About entries. Meanwhile read more about dialogue, writing dialogue, dialogue tips, and dialogue in scripts vs. novels.

Television series are rich with elements that involve viewers. We reach into the stories, interacting on a cerebral level that generates interest in the characters and what happens to them. We see it happening, we hear it happening and the audio/visual cues pull us into the action. The exact same scene could be written in two different ways, ‘show’ or ‘tell’.

If you tell the story to someone it creates the distance of a second-hand account. As writers we want to close that gap as much as possible. Sometimes it’s appropriate to give your readers distance but most of the time readers want to be fully engaged. Pull them in by showing them the action. Then they can use all their senses to experience a story, rather than just read about it.

Related Articles:

Measure Your Artistic Growth

Have you ever stumbled across something you wrote years ago and cringed? While some writers tend to throw away old works or pieces that just don’t work I am a bower bird. I gather up and archive by date everything I’ve worked on and as such have computer disks of articles, poems, stories, snippets, plots and lists that gather dust.

Every now and again I go on an adventure into the past to measure my artistic growth or hunt for long forgotten nuggets and raw gemstones. These archives are a wondrous mine of information and inspiration.

Date Everything: I find the most vital piece of information dug up in my archive is dates. By tracking dates you can watch patterns of creativity and progress. It is also interesting to consider what events caused various inspirations.

For example: In 2000 I wrote a number of poems that focused on creating life and the responsibility of parenting. These track back to the months I was pregnant with my first child and showed how much this major life event was in my thoughts. I compare these earlier attempts with similar poems written in 2004 (the birth of my son) and can stage the amazing growth those four years played in maturity, voice and technique.

Polishing Gems: Sometimes I dig through my archives and uncover an unpolished gem. If I remember writing the piece I also tend to remember the frustration I felt at the time. The work might not have come easily and I may never have been satisfied with what I created. Years later, I come back and the raw material is there. With the experience gained in those intervening years I can shape, craft and polish the writing into something sharper and clearer than the original.

Sifting Ideas: These archives area also a wealth of ideas for new material. Topics that have fallen out of you interest can be sparked or characters you had forgotten about may come back to life with an archive revival. Old blog/journal entries, poems or articles may be the lead you need for a new novel or the character of an older story the bones of a new one.

Photographs and Pictures: Other things to include in your archives are photographs, drawings and graphics. “A pictures is worth a thousand words” and you may just find those words are drawn out of you by an old photograph or painting.

Reading: Being immersed in language and art is a wonderful way to recharge your creativity. Reading is a great way to relax and the added delight of enjoying your own writing and rediscovering pieces you had forgotten about is empowering for your spirit. Yes, some of the work will be cringe worthy, but it is also enlivening. How far has time brought you?

Do you keep an archive of your work? Why or why not? How do you measure your artistic growth? Do you feel it’s important to look back and see the path you’ve trod?