For the love of beautiful language…

[edited from a post I wrote in 2016]

My writer friends, do you ever find yourself using the same or similar words and phrases over and over again? It’s inevitable. We tend to write the way we talk. Most of us use a characteristic phraseology that makes up our everyday language. Our speech may be reflective of the region we live in, our ethnic origins or even our age. While these peculiarities lend color and flavor to our writing, even they can get repetitive after a while. It will be especially evident if we write longer fiction pieces or novels. What can we do to add variations to the words we pen?

Some of my earliest writing was in the form of poetry. That is not a coincidence. Poetry is introduced to us in the cradle by means of nursery rhymes and bedtime lullabies. As we grow and mature into our teen years and beyond, often music becomes a huge influence. Thus the lyrics of songs speak to us the way nothing else can. Many musicians like Bob Dylan, Jim Morrison, Patty Smith, Joni Mitchell, and Bruce Springsteen are considered to be not just song writers but poets as well.

Anthropologically, poetry in the form of song or saga has been used to help the balladeer or the skald keep the oral history of a people alive through story telling. It is some of the earliest writing ever discovered. The Epic of Gilgamesh, for example, dates back to 2000 BCE. Another Sumerian text, The Tale of the Shipwrecked Sailor, may be even older than that.

What am I getting at, you ask? Poetry composition can be a delightful way to hone our skills in using creative vocabulary and illustative terminology. “But, I don’t want to be a poet,” you say. Shut up, yes you do. Here’s why…

I do enjoy writing poetry, but it is not my main avenue of expression. I am primarily a fiction writer. However, composing poetry demands that we paint a picture with our words, if you will. Putting things into verse, even if the verse doesn’t rhyme, pushes you to use descriptive and colorful terms that you wouldn’t use in day-to-day speech.

In describing my front lawn, for example, you could simply state, “the lawn was full of dead dandelions,” and that would be true! Before you write that ask, “What do those dandelions remind me of?” “What idea do they conjure?” They are dead, so how about headstones in a graveyard? They are skinny, so how about emaciated refugees fleeing a disaster or famine? They have tufts of thin, white spores… does that remind you of hair or clouds or even foam at the crest of a wave? Now write it like this, “Like a wave of fleeing refugees, the dandelions marched across the expanse of grass.”

I didn’t write a poem, but I wrote a poetic sentence. Obviously, a little of that can go a long way, too. Every sentence does not have to be metaphorical in nature. But in the right place, it can transform ordinary writing into extraordinary writing. I encourage you, if you have not attempted to write poetry before now, give it a try. Follow other poets here on WordPress; there are a multitude of talented poets to choose from. Learn the different styles and structures. Perhaps you will find you want to be a poet, after all!

Bogged Down In the Telling

Sometimes I forget to listen to the most basic advice. One of the best ‘rules’ of writing is to show and not tell. ‘Telling’ or over-explaining in fiction can really make the story drag. Twice now, I’ve lost momentum in my two works in progress and haven’t realized why. After enthusiastic beginnings and two great plots to develop, the stories became burdensome and I lost interest and joy. How does that happen?

Fortunately, in talking it over with another writer, it was brought to my attention that with my science fiction piece, I had been trying to ‘tell’ everything –that is to provide an explanation for every little circumstance that arose in the story. Granted, it is my pet peeve when I don’t understand ‘why’ something is the way it is, so I tend to lay out settings and background information logically. But a little of that can go a long way. Additionally, information can be woven throughout the story incrementally so as not to overwhelm [read: bore] the reader in the beginning. Besides, I’m already asking the reader to suspend disbelief in writing science fiction, so it only follows that certain aspects just can’t be perfectly explained –they just ‘are’ they way I’ve written them. And trying to explain everything just makes the writing tedious. I know all this, but I just didn’t apply it. Showing and not telling is more enjoyable for the reader AND the writer.

Happy writing and productive editing!

Header image via Pinterest.

Self deprecating humor, solid advice

I decided to revisit a post I wrote back in 2016 and update it a little bit. When I started blogging, I used a self deprecating title and tagline to catch the reader’s eye —advice from WordPress’ Blogging 101 course. It was fun for a while, but in time I chose to make the blog more professional and eliminate the silliness. The blog was called: Meg Sorick Writes Better Than She Dresses and the tagline read: “She tried to look picturesque but only succeeded in being untidy.” To explain, here is the post I wrote in 2016:

Have you wondered what the deal is with the tagline for my blog: “She tried to look picturesque but only succeeded in being untidy?” It’s a quote from Oscar Wilde’s “A Picture of Dorian Grey” and refers to Victoria, Lord Henry Wotton’s wife. In the scene from which the quote was taken, Dorian is lounging around at Lord Henry’s house waiting for him when Victoria comes in. This is how the narrator describes her:

“She was a curious woman whose dresses always looked as if they had been designed in a rage and put on in a tempest. She was usually in love with somebody, and, as her passion was never returned, she had kept all her illusions. She tried to look picturesque, but only succeeded in being untidy.” There’s more of it, but that’s the bit I like.

I imagine you all read the blog title and the tagline and think to yourself, “that Meg must be a mess.” Well, not true, mostly. For one thing, I rarely wear dresses. Skirts, yes. I can match them with a black t-shirt. My friends and family do roll their eyes at me though, because I tend to wear the same or similar things all the time. But that doesn’t mean I don’t want to look nice, I do. Those fitted black t-shirts from H&M are very flattering. And no I’m not too old to be shopping at H&M. Not for t-shirts, anyway. Besides, I am also cheap.

I guess I don’t easily tire of wearing the same things. I’ve always said I’d do well in an environment where someone told me what to wear. Like the army or prison, maybe. Frankly, it sure makes getting dressed in the morning easier and faster. I will not be the reason you are late getting out the door. Nevertheless, I assure you I am not untidy. I just really find those lines from ‘Dorian Grey’ amusing.

When you think of a writer, what image pops into your head? The disheveled man or woman, still in their bathrobe, sitting at the computer with coffee stains all over their notebooks and crumpled bits of paper strewn across the desk and overflowing the wastebasket? If you write full time, work from home and don’t actually have to see people face to face, would it be easy to slip into that habit? I think it could be. My office is in my home but seeing patients prevents me from sliding down that slippery slope of not bothering.

Imagine what that would do to one’s self esteem after a while. Not getting dressed, not fixing your hair or putting on makeup. Who cares? No one’s going to see me… That’s just one step away from: “I’m not worth it.” I wrote a post in December about treating your writing like a job. Making time for it, being disciplined so that it doesn’t get shoved onto the pile of unfulfilled dreams. Let this advice be another aspect of that discipline: Take care of yourself. Get up and stretch, get some exercise. Come home and shower and make yourself presentable. Wear perfume, just for yourself. Put on makeup so that when you walk by the mirror you won’t be terrified (ok, that’s just me, you probably look fine without makeup). Guys – shave (or at least groom, if your a beard guy), ditch the sweatpants and put on clean jeans and a nice shirt.

Don’t let your writing space turn into a dump, either. Granted, when you’re in the middle of a project, a certain amount of clutter is inevitable but don’t let it get out of hand. Wipe up the coffee stains, empty the wastebasket and whisk the crumbs off the keyboard. Wait till you see how much better that feels. You wouldn’t get away with that if it was your desk in an office building, right? Pretend that it is.

Will these habits help me find inspiration? Cure writer’s block? Help me edit more clearly? I say yes. Don’t believe me? Give it a try.