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Mind your Ps and Qs January 17, 2011

Posted by laurenrobbins6 in writing.
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I once knew where this saying came from (a long time ago in History of the Middle Ages class) but have forgotten it now. However, I thought it would be a nice introduction to my latest writing challenge. Recently, I was challenged to write a lipogrammatic short story. After a very useful session with wikipedia, I found that “lipogrammatic” means a story excluding a letter of the alphabet. Or, it could be that you are sucking a letter out of your novel to make it more slim.

Challenge accepted! I said. How hard can it be anyway? I decided not to use the letter “P” and to stick with 6 pages–complete with a beginning, middle, and end. Because “P”, I thought, isn’t that essential a letter anyway. I knew that “e” was the most common letter in the English language, and vowels would be right out–unless I wanted to write a really artsy book.

And, in fact, one can write a moderately normal story without the letter p. Difficult? oh yes! Impossible? no.

Given that my inspiration came from a tea tin, the story itself does not aspire to be anything like an “insight into the mortality of human kind”–to paraphrase a review of this year’s Pulitzer Prize winner. I’m about 2 and 1/2 pages into it and I’m getting the feeling that it might not be able to aspire to anything passing for humorous either.

Nonetheless, I will continue undaunted. I just need to add something in to spice it up a bit…like a tornado (which, conveniently, does not contain in it, the letter “P”).

Surprisingly, while writing this story, I discovered something. When you are conciously avoiding a letter, you are also avoiding certain words that contain that letter. And this means that you are thinking more about word choice. In avoiding certain words, I have found a host of MORE INTERESTING descriptions than I would have if I had written a story without sucking a letter out of it.

Finding your Inner Writer Zen January 8, 2011

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In answer to the question: “How do you stay focused on a task or activity?” the first thing that comes to my mind is “no idea.” Because living in the world of technology–even through my very un-hip, lag-behind gadgets (aka, my laptop and pay-as-you-go phone)– means that focusing on a single activity is a thing of the past. (Which, if that took up our whole time, would lead to the death of the novel.)

Fortunately, the published authors of the world (for the most part) are able to concentrate on their novel long enough to finish it. This thought prompts me to ask, “When was the last time I finished anything?” Papers, yes. My senior thesis–a MUCH longer paper–yes. But a creative writing piece? I honestly can’t remember. Not even a short story.

So, case and point, I have no magical tips on how to stay focused on an activity. But I do know WHY it’s so difficult to stay focused in your writing life. There are so many ideas buzzing around, faintly in the background, that it’s sometimes difficult to pluck one out of the air and work on it. The brain is like a field of fireflies flickering on and off. Sometimes, when you’re working on an idea, the little firefly idea turns OFF and you’re left with nothing (only to have it flash ON later only at the most inconvenient moment when there really is no pen and paper at hand…or keypad).

For instance, I just read an article that connects exactly to a book idea that I had (supplying the magical missing motive that’s always so elusive). I even wrote down my idea, with an eye to finally finishing the book that’s been buzzing around for a  few years, flashing on and off in my idea field. But then I think, “I should really wait to start writing until”…

Here’s a tip to finding your inner writer zen: IGNORE thoughts like those. They will only lead to you farther away from your goal of just finishing something.

It doesn’t have to be perfect, or correct, or even what you thought you wanted it to be. It just needs to be finished. Every time I think about this goal, I think about the novel a few of my friends wrote me for my birthday. It was, I think, the most thoughtful present I’ve gotten, and every time I think about not finishing a novel, I tell myself, “If they can do it, I can do it!”

So, channel your inner zen, ignore thoughts such as planning and procrastination, and (at the risk of sounding like a certain commercial) JUST DO IT!

And the prize goes to… January 1, 2011

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In the grand tradition of the new year, I’ve made a resolution to write more for my blog and wordpress has handed me another very nice tool called “postaday” where they give you subjects to muse about in your next blog. The one today was “who deserves more credit than they get?”

That’s a tough one, but I think that since this is a writing blog, the people who I want to acknowledge are the authors who are masters of networking, representative of public demand, and who other, snootier authors might call sacrificing of their artistic abilities.

Yes, you might have guessed it already but I’ll give you a hint: they’re romance authors. I know, everyone makes fun of them, calling their books trash, or chick lit (which always reminds me of the colorful gum). But really, we should all use those ephitets fondly because your typical, everyday romance author taps into the most profitable market in the literary world everytime she (or maybe he) publishes one of those trashy novels/novellas.

And who among us (literary snobs included) hasn’t devoured the latest Harlequin book now and again, or sat down with another Meg Cabot novel in a discreet corner of the library? Because fantasy sensations such as J.K. Rowling come only once every few years, if one sets out to live up to her publishing success in the fantasy world, one might be very dissapointed. But, on the other hand, if a writer wanted to publish their romance novel, they have at their fingertips a vast, growing market where (unlike what is commonly thought). Yes, Stephanie Myers is just one example. Her books aren’t really fantasy as much as maudlin romance novels (although the marketing for her books has been riding the coattails of the fantasy boom).

Romance authors really should get more credit than they deserve. As an English major, I know that I’m going out on a limb when I say that marketing is everything in the book world. And, as a parting thought, most of the great classics that we study now were also labelled as popular fiction, sometimes read on the sly (aka brown paper bagging), and generally were thought trashy in their day due to the mass marketing, publicity, and appeasing the public demand for sensation.

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