Bad Writing Habits Follow Me Wherever I Go

I’ve been working on removing an excess of interiority from my novel.  Scenes which otherwise might clip along are bogged down by my protagonist, the beloved Emma Jean, thinking too damn much. 

We’ve been talking about this bad habit of mine in my weekly writing group, but I hadn’t internalized it until I started reading Between, Georgia by Joshilyn Jackson.

Today, on the treadmill again (though why I bothered since I ate pizza for dinner, I’m not sure), as I was reading and pondering Emma Jean, it hit me. 

What I need to do is to get Emma Jean out of her own head and into observing others.  Clearly, she does this already–part of the fun of the novel is her irreverent opinions of people, and life, and events.  But she also needs to get away from her damn navel gazing, especially when we’re in the middle of a scene.

Then, double whammy, another thought hit me (I guess this is why I go to the gym): In my late, lamented unfinished last novel, Language of Trees, I wrote in first person.  And the reason I decided to write in third person this time, was that writing my Trees protagonist in first person made her too much of a whiny baby navel gazer. 

And I’m still battling the same damn problem. 

The good news is that at least I’m figuring it out.

No Readers But Lots of Writers?

The other day I dragged myself to the gym.  (Yes, I do manage to accomplish that once in awhile.)  The man on the treadmill next to me, who later introduced himself as Richard, was reading a Michael Connelly novel and I was reading Between, Georgia by Joshilyn Jackson.

We were discussing the vagaries of putting books on hold at our local library.  The owner of the gym, George, stopped by and joined our conversation.  George has 4000 books at his house (I thought I had a lot) and related a story about a recent shopping trip to Powell’s.

Anyway, George contends that people don’t read books any longer.  Richard and I nodded our heads and commiserated with this statement, even though I’m not sure its true.  Is it true?  One does hear an awful lot about declining bookstore revenues and publishers consolidating.

But a week or so ago I was reading a book about blogging, and I’ve read so many lately I can’t remember which one.  The author made an interesting point–that all of a sudden, writing is important again.  He interviewed a blogger (I’ve got to go through my books and figure out where I got this) who talked about how when he was growing up it wasn’t hip to be a writer.  But now, suddenly, it is.

The number of blogs in existence doubles every six months or so.  Blogs are based on writing, duh.  Websites proliferate–and lord knows, those of us who write SEO copy are VERY aware of how much writing they require. 

So suddenly words are multiplying like crazy and yet there are no readers.  What gives?

In some ways it pains me to say this, but what gives is that we’re reading differently  Reading on the web on a coffee break instead of cracking open the novel or a magazine for a few minutes.  Reading the news on our yahoo home page because we’re at the computer anyway. 

What’s missing in all this is the good old fashioned book.  We even read those on the internet these days–witness the boom in e-books.

I maintain that computers will never replace the book.  There’s something so tactile and sensual about holding a book in your hands, feeling its heft, smelling the paper, seeing the words.  Like George, I love books and buy way too many of them.

And yet I spend untold hours a day at my computer, digesting words.  If I’m lucky, I spend half an hour reading a book. 

Go figure.

Rewriting Without Ruination

As a rule a man’s a fool,

When its hot he wants it cool,

When its cool he wants it hot,

Always wanting what is not.

(By the way, my sister managed to snag this plaque for her own office.  I’m not bitter about that or anything.)

Anyway, I finally got down to working on my novel this morning.  I’m walking a delicate line, trying to trim and edit the excesses of my protaganist’s voice without ruining what makes it charming.  Not at all sure I’ve figured out how to do this in a way that satisfies me yet.

But.  Now that I’ve actually worked on my novel for the first time in ages, its all I want to do.  I think this is the true reason why I resist writing–not because I don’t like it, but because I like it too much.  I’m afraid I’ll be so pulled into it that I’ll ignore eveything else, like paying assignments, for instance.

At this moment, none of that matters.  It only matters that I wrote.  All is right with the world again.

Writing Resistance

Today, I know all about Rosie’s decision to leave The View.  I know all about the storms that ravaged towns in Texas near the border to Mexico.  All about them.

Why?  Because I’m supposed to be writing.  This is my morning to work on my novel.  Its so much easier to look at stories on the internet which are. So. Urgent.

Another story I had to read was about how the governor of my state, Ted Kulongoski, is existing on food stamps for a month.  I had to read that story because my friend Leigh’s partner Jon works for the Oregon Food Bank and he dreamed up the idea.

Had to read it.  Couldn’t wait.

Now I’m going to go work on my novel, really I am.  Oh, except I probably ought to check email.  Just in case someone, anyone, someone please, wrote me….

Blog for Writing Information

I’ve just begun a companion blog to Word Strumpet.  Its a place to park longer articles and will more informational and less topical. 

You can find it here.

I just posted my article on story over there.

A Single-Spaced World

Suddenly, it is a single-spaced world. 

This thought just occurred to me as I was editing an article I am going to post on my new companion blog.  Last time I tried importing something from Word that was double-spaced I got everything all messed up, even after I’d figured out how to do it without making the Type Pad plain text formatting gods mad.  So I was putting this article into single space.

And that’s when it hit me.

All SEO copywriting, of which I have been doing a LOT, is single spaced. 

Blog posts are single spaced.

Isn’t it strange that after years of having the traditional format for writing be double-spaced, now in many applications that is no longer true?

I know double spacing is still the standard for print media and journalism.  But much of the internet is a single-space world.  What that says, to me, is that there’s just so damn much content in the world now, we don’t have room for double spacing any more.


Mayborn Writers Conference

Just got back in touch with my friend George Getschow after a few months of us both being so buried in work that we’ve not been in contact.  That’s a bad thing–I miss him. 

He’s buried in work because he is the organizer of one of the best writing conferences in the country–the Mayborn Literary Non-Fiction Writers Conference of the Southwest.  That’s a mouthful and I can never remember the full name, but its an amazing conference.  You can read all about it here.

Joyce Carol Oates is the keynote speaker, along with an amazing roster of luminaries.  George has a knack for getting big names, because the conference has such a great reputation.  Last year he had Gay Talese and the first year Susan Orlean as keynoters.

I’ll be leading the book manuscript workshop this year as I did last year, working with 10 amazing writers to critique their manuscripts.  The conference is giving away $12,000 in contracts–yes, real book contracts–this year, so its really worth entering the contest.  I was impressed with the caliber of work last year, much of it coming from seasoned professionals. 

George teaches journalism at the University of North Texas, and he is the standard bearer for literary non-fiction, a passionate advocate of the craft.  Every year around the time of the Mayborn conference, he also teaches a three-week conference in Archer City.

Archer City is the birthplace and occasional stomping ground of author Larry McMurtry, author of Lonesome Dove, and The Last Picture Show which is actually set in Archer City.  McMurtry owns bookstores there. I’ve traveled to the town the last two summers to talk to George’s students about using fictional techniques in non-fiction.  The place is amazing, a true western icon. 

I wrote a story about my experiences the first year that was published here.   You have to go to the archives, then click on November 2005, then click on Texas.

Anyway, check out the conference and if you have any interest in literary non-fiction, consider going.

List of Writing Prompts–1

Prompts Time yourself, (10-20 minutes), do not quit writing no matter what I don’t know how she does it. I don’t know why he does it. You’re on the wrong road. The last bus left. It’s dark, it’s cold and I am hungry. I love being lost. The Ides of March. What use is it anyway? When I opened the door…. The last time I saw his face…. Please tell me its not true. When the power goes out, life slows down. In the mountains, there you feel free (thanks to T.S. Eliot) She walked into the ocean. Along time ago, I…. The worst thing I ever did was…. I hate the way he does that. Never say that again. The best thing in life is… A long time ago, in a universe far away…(thanks to George Lucas) Life is not what you think it is.