Monday, August 25, 2014

What Inspires You?

I was recently asked on my Goodreads author page: What inspires you?

I'm easily inspired, so I'm afraid I might come off a bit garish to those that struggle with "getting inspired."
Truthfully, I was inspired by the question because it gave me a moment to think about something I hadn't given much thought to in a while.

This is my answer to the readers question.

I make myself an observer of life going on around me, from the seemingly mundane to the marvelous, from the dreadfully boring to the amazing. There's a story hidden behind every person and every act. If I forget that, it's only because I permitted myself to become weighed down and distracted by the cares and worries of my own life, and even those bear stories worth telling.

Now that brings a more detailed question to my scary little mind:
If I am working on a particular project, story, book, or what-have-you, and I need some inspiration to continue on or fill a certain bill, how do I get it?

My answer for myself and any who would ask is, stop trying so hard. I know, I know, it all sounds very antithetical to what we are trying to accomplish here, but inspiration is not some kind of galley slave you can keep chained to the oars and demand it row when the wind fails your sails. Neither can inspiration be tricked into giving up its treasures at a particular time.
What I do in times like that is work on something else, read a book entirely unrelated to what I am working on or do some research on some aspect of what I am working on. Often inspiration comes walking by whistling a liesurely tune and acting as if he would pass by my house entirely without noticing me sprawled on the porch gasping for breath.
Very seldom does the particular dose of inspiration I need at the time come from the internet, Twitter, Facebook or other social media. Go for a walk instead, no matter where you live. Call a friend and have no agenda. Go play at the park with your child.
Then you just might find that your inspiration had been hanging out with them and waiting for you to join the party.

Origin and history of the word, Inspiration, from
c.1300, "immediate influence of God or a god," especially that under which the holy books were written, from O.Fr. inspiration, from L.L. inspirationem (nom. inspiratio), from L. inspiratus, pp. of inspirare "inspire, inflame, blow into," from in-"in" + spirare "to breathe" (see spirit)

There you have it. Beathe in something fresh. Chill and try not to try to hard.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Whoever Liked Grammar?

Grammar and punctuation were not many peoples favorite subject in their early educations, and in later college educations was only taken seriously since without it you'd fail. Admittedly it wasn't something I was very interested in either, until I decided to get serious about writing.

If I wanted to improve my craft, I needed to go lower to the roots and not start at the top of the tree. I remember taking a community college class in basic grammar, only because I had procrastinated in signing up, and College Composition was already closed. When I showed up the professor asked, "What are you doing here?" which didn't do much for my self esteem, but he was wondering why I would take it at all.
But, I learned many things in that basic course that helped to improve my writing. The first two sessions were wholly taken up by the professor, younger than me, lecturing the mostly teens and burgeoning adults on the importance and value of COMPLETING the ENTIRE class, while I sat starving for his knowledge and hoping he would teach me something. I was the old man in the class (my early 50s).

At this point I'm finding it hard to transition into my intended subject so I'll just leap.

Three books every aspiring writer should read and keep on their shelf:

Strunk and White's 'Elements of Style'

If you were stranded on a desert island and needed to improve your writing this would be the book to have. It takes a no nonsense approach to STYLE, not flair but style. Not just die to the rules grammar, but syntax people would like to read,which is not dissimilar to properly penned words. My copy of this book is dog-eared, bent, folded and near mutilated.

Next on the list of top hits I would put 'Eats, Shoots and Leaves' by Lynne Truss. 
I know reading a book on punctuation sounds like one of the torments from hell, but Lynne makes it worth your while; it's very humorous style leaves you grinning and learned.

Wikipedia quote-
The title of the book is an amphibology--a verbal fallacy arising from an ambiguous grammatical construction—​and derived from a joke about bad punctuation:
A panda walks into a café. He orders a sandwich, eats it, then draws a gun and proceeds to fire it at the other patrons.
"Why?" asks the confused, surviving waiter amidst the carnage, as the panda makes towards the exit. The panda produces a badly punctuated wildlife manual and tosses it over his shoulder.
"Well, I'm a panda," he says. "Look it up."
The waiter turns to the relevant entry in the manual and, sure enough, finds an explanation. "Panda. Large black-and-white bear-like mammal, native to China. Eats, shoots and leaves."
Irrish-American author Frank McCourt, author of Angela's Ashes, wrote the foreword to the U.S. edition of Eats, Shoots & Leaves. In keeping with the general lighthearted tone of the book, he praises Truss for bringing life back into the art of punctuation, adding, "If Lynne Truss were Roman Catholic I'd nominate her for sainthood."
I can't improve on that.
Last but not least is 'Sin and Syntax'

Now, it has been quite a while since I read this last one, but I remember it being like reading something that suddenly enlightened me on some finer points of deep spiritual life, only this was on crafting prose; the two not too unlike each other.

These three books were important primers on grammar, style, punctuation and prose. I'm sure there are many others. I am also sure not everyone is dying to read a book on any of those subjects.
Do it. You will be glad you did.


Monday, August 4, 2014

For Goodness Sakes, Be Brief

"For Goodness Sakes, Be Brief" - I thought it was a cool title, and could think of nothing else to put there. There I go again. I could have left off the first sentence, and come to think of it, this one too. Left them out in the cold cold darkness of never existed and if it did, leave it in the garbage can or dustbin, you choose.

I've struggled all my writing speaking life with being brief. I love words. I love the sound and sight of them, especially my own. But, alas, I have had to learn to clip, truncate and edit my words down to the 'only necessaries.'

I found it wins more hearers, readers etc. People look at an article, and unless you are famous, really famous, they will not read more than a sentence, if that, unless they can see the end from where they are sitting.

Blessed is the preacher who preaches short, for he will be invited back again.- from my circle of friends.

If no other bit of advice stuck into my heart it was this: Kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings   -Elmore Leonard quoted by Stephen King but probably originating with William Faulkner's “In writing, you must kill all your darlings.

Have you ever found yourself infatuated with a sentence of your own creation, yet down in your heart you knew it was Frankenstein's Monster, which he wanted to be great but was horrendous. I have.
I have hovered over the delete key as I've edited my work, knowing it needed to go but doing everything to keep it. I have spent countless wasted creative minutes maybe hours trying to make that sentence work. You too? I thought so.

So, in closing I'm reminded of something learned from the author I admire most for his storytelling ability, Stephen King.
He received a scribbled comment at the bottom of a rejection slip that changed the way he rewrote his fiction once and forever. Jotted below the machine-generated signature of the editor was this note: 
“Not bad, but PUFFY. You need to revise for length. 
Formula: 2nd  Draft = 1st Draft – 10%. Good luck.”

I've taken this to heart and it has served me well. Twitter has helped with its damned 140 character limit.
Still I came back and added this next line.

I am so well know for going long, I've requested this on my headstone when I die, because it's what i am guilty of saying at the end of every conversation- "Just one more thing..." 
I never stop. God help me.

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