Thursday, December 21, 2006

A Writer's Gifts

Most writers have a gift for some, or even several, aspects of the craft, but no one is a natural at the whole process.

Writing is a complex craft.

1. Mechanics--grammar, syntax, punctuation, spelling, style, etc.

2. Non-fiction, fiction, poetry.

3. Non-fiction--topic, theme, essay, article, book.

4. Fiction--genre, plot, characters, dialog, setting, viewpoint, and theme.

5. Poetry--topic, structure, and passion.

Writing is a complex craft starting with words--their choice, their arrangement, and their effect. This use of words will depend on the writer's purpose which may be to inform, to entertain, to persuade, or to delight. As a result the craft is divided into three categories: non-fiction, fiction, and poetry, but the first consideration is the mechanics of writing.

The mechanics of writing consists of a knowledge of grammar, syntax, punctuation, spelling, and style. Although a writer may not be aware of grammar, he or she automatically makes use of it in order to be understood by the reader. The English language follows certain rules of words, their order, and their meaning if one is to comprehend the purpose of the writer. As well as syntax, in writing certain customs in the use of punctuation marks have been established and are acceptable by most writers and readers. Spelling has also been established by practices acceptable to authors and their readers. Then the manner in which the writer uses all these mechanics begets his or her style.

Now writing can be divided in three broad classes: non-fiction, fiction, and poetry which are sub-divided into still many more species. With this great variety, it becomes obvious that no writer is proficient at all these aspects of the craft. Some are adroit at writing non-fiction, be it reporting, informing, or persuading, while others are gifted in fiction, be it short stories or novels, while still others are endowed in poetry, be it haiku or epic.

Each class has its special characteristics: non-fiction requires a choice of purpose, a theme, a topic, and the abilities to put words, sentences, and paragraphs together to achieve that aim. Here again, some writers are better than others at this. Some write articles, others essays, and others books. Each aspect of the craft can be developed, but some have a natural affinity and aptness to a component of the business, yet none is adapt all details. One may be strong in description, another in narrative, or another in argument. A gifted writer usually excels in several aptitudes, but none are successful with all.

Similarly, in fiction, some authors excel at characterization, others plot is their forte, while still others outshine in style or artistry. If one looks at the great writers, one sees immediately that some excel at characterization. Characters that they created are remain in our minds and continue to be remembered from generation to generation. Charles Dickens characters are unforgettable. Others excel at plot; Jules Vernes plot are as realistic today as when he wrote them. Of course, there is the master of all, William Shakespeare, whose characters, plots, and artistry live on from age to age.

Poetry is a genre of it's own with axioms of its own. But here also, certain aspects of the craft are more developed in some poet than in others. Some concentrate on form, while other on content. Each poet perfects one or two aspects of the craft, but seldom all. Again Shakespeare comes to mind, but even he was not completely proficient entirely.

No writer is entirely excellent in every aspect of writing although every one would like to be. The best one can do is to develop those areas that interest them most.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

A Writer's Tools

Faulkner said, “The tools I need for work are paper, tobacco, food, and a little whisky.”

Every writer needs certain tools to accomplish the task of being a writer. For some, it is a simple assortment of equipment, basically paper and a writing instrument--a pencil or pen--and nothing more while most need a typewriter or a computer and nothing more while still others need a special place with a special ambiance--quiet, background music, lighting, a comfortable desk and chair, and a special beverage--coffee, tea, etc., or like Faulkner, a little whisky.

Today's writer will most likely opt for a computer of some sort--desktop, laptop, or even a PDA of some sort. Paper is no longer an essential because most work can be saved to a hard drive or diskette, and sent to it destination via the Internet. Tobacco is becoming obsolete as more people are kicking the habit due to the health concerns. Food is still an essential, but others will forgo the whisky.

The computer has taken much of the drudgery from writing. A good word processing program is an essential and there are many on the market but the two most common and acceptable are Microsoft Word and Corel Wordperfect although other can be used. For the financially struggling author there is OpenOffice, which is a free program from: It has all the power and flexibility of the first two mentioned as well as being able to convert any file to PDF format which makes it possible for any platform to read it whether PC or Mac.

Many experts advise that a writer should have a dedicated place in which to write. I suppose this is true of the freelancer more than the salaried scribbler. Perhaps such an area is more conducive to the discipline needed to put thoughts to paper or monitor screen, but certainly not every author can find such a location. If the writer is a harried housewife on a limited budget in a limited household, such an area might be hard to come by, but it might be profitable to find a spot and use it consistently to make writing a habit. Since human are habit oriented creatures, creating a writing habit seem like a good approach.

Most writers also need other tools: a desk, a comfortable chair, a dictionary, a thesaurus, pens and pencils, and paper of some sort for quick notes--notepad or secretary notebook--a calendar. Others need a radio, a CD player, or connection to the media on the Internet and maybe that little whisky that Faulkner found so helpful.

Like Faulkner, though, the essential tools are pencil or pen and paper. More than one writer, and some very famous ones, was able to create masterpieces with these simple bare necessities. The main tools are the writer’s thoughts and ideas.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

A Single Technique

Writing is hard work, and like all hard work, one tries to avoid it if possible. Yet writers feel the urge to write, the need to write, and the inspiration to write, but these are not what produces. The writer must have a technique for writing.

Many writers use the approach of fantasizing. They imagine that their article, essay, short story, or novel will make them the great find of the literary world. They see themselves as being lionized by society with recognition and financial success, but that is not reality, and soon the incentive to write disappears so they produce little or nothing.

Others wait for inspiration, a vague, nebulous event which seldom happens. So they bide their time waiting for the muse to send them to the typewriter or keyboard. Sometimes Clio (the muse of history), Erato (the muse of lyric and amatory poetry), Euterpe (the muse of music), Terpsichore (the muse of choral song), or Thalia (the muse of comedy and bucolic poetry) do appear, but most often they do not, and again nothing is accomplished. Since the muse does not arrive, the would be writer does something else.

That something else takes the form of many other distraction. It can be meaningless chores about the office, the kitchen, the yard, any place but at the keyboard. It can be a telephone call, a visit to socialize with a friend, reading to pass the time , or studying the mail. Often the writer excuses this procrastination as necessary to mentally organize what is envisioned, but actually it is to avoid the disciplined task of authorship.

Only one technique is sure to bear fruit, that is to sit down at the typewriter or computer and to write. If at first nothing worthwhile issues, keeping at it will soon result in something acceptable. Usually when writing is difficult, upon review it is impossible to tell what was burdensome and what was effortless. The act of writing is a complex activity that is honed by practice, practice, and more practice, so sitting and writing is of utmost importance to any author.

Of all the techniques used, the most important is to sit down and write.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Discipline Medicine

Most writers suffer from a lack of discipline. The urge to procrastinate is strong as writing is agonizing work because it is done alone without support from colleagues, acquaintances, and friends unlike other occupations that take place in an office, a store, a factory, or some other location where people are present. Thus a strong incentive is needed.

Of course this motivation can take many forms: self-satisfaction, honor, glory, recognition, and money. One, or all of these, can serve as the drive to write, yet self-discipline is difficult to acquire and maintain. Sitting at a typewriter or computer requires conditioning; usually this involves a timetable, a schedule, an agenda, and an objective. The subject matter is the first contingency to be decided, and then the next decision is the format: Will it be an article, an essay, a poem, a short story, or a novel? Next is the time table for the work: Does it require a definite time frame, hours, days, weeks, months, or even years. Once this is decided a schedule needs to be set up, then the daily agenda, and finally the final outcome.

Even this will not eliminate procrastination. But remedies do exist to alleviate this condition. Probably one of the best antidotes is an assignment from an outside source: a newspaper, a magazine, a publisher, an editor, a wife, or a partner. Reporters appear to always meet their deadlines, article writers do most of the time, novelists often do, but writers who are driven by editors, wives, or partners usually do.

If the assignment is followed by a deadline, it can be a great impetus to work. Most people, and that includes writers, seem to require a time limitation to force them to produce, to finish a job. Beginning is easy, but continuing to a finale is burdensome and tends to lead to dallying. Writers can think of more reasons not to act than most other people; gazing off into space waiting for the muse to strike, dreaming of far off exotic places, any reason not to act comes to mind.

Another good motivator is the stack of bills piling up beside the typewriter or computer. If writing is the main source of income, it is a commanding inducement, especially if the wife or partner urges the writer to produce. The need to pay the bills can force one to sit and write, to complete the assignment, and to meet the deadline because the money is needed.

So the greatest remedy for lack of self-discipline is an assignment, a deadline, and a stack of bills. If all three are present, there can be no better reason to get at that writing job and to finish it.

Friday, December 15, 2006


The self-indulgent writer listens only to the mumblings of sycophants, toadies, and flatterers, thus failing to heed the valid criticisms of editors, critiquers, and reviewers.

Since improvement involves the time to review, to edit, to revise, and to rewrite, the self-indulgent writer avoids or neglects to do this. All writing can be enhanced by revision and review: a change in viewpoint, a change in syntax, a change in sentence structure, or a change in design. Most flourishing writers take the time and effort to appraise their work before submission to an editor, a publisher, or a broadcaster.

Those writers that do not assess their work abandon themselves to self-pity and blame their lack of success on unreceptive editors, publishers, the publishing industry, the media, and to a general misunderstanding of them as authors. They fail to realize that their self-indulgence is the reason for their failure. They fail to understand that success is more hard work than talent or genius. It is easier to blame others than it is to strive, to develop, and to improve their talents.

Often these writers depend on the obsequiousness of friends and relatives to justify their worth as an author, novelist, playwright, poet, journalist, essayist, or even a critic. Friends are usually poor judges of writing or they refuse to be honest for fear of alienating, disappointing, or denigrating that person. Relatives also make poor sounding boards from the same reason, but also through envy and belief that they can do as well or better. Generally their commendation is unsound and of little use to the serious writer who hopes for an effective evaluation of the composition.

Thus, the self-indulgent writer eliminates any review or criticism, and even neglects to evaluate his or her own work by taking the time to even use a grammar and spellchecker that are part of most, if not all, word processors. Submissions are sent with typos, spelling mistakes, and gross grammar errors. Then they wonder why their work is rejected, thus the mumbling of self-indulgent writers.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Dredging the Truth

To seek and find truth requires that we communicate within rather than without. When we communicate outside, with other people, truth is always watered down by differing perceptions, consensus, and compromise. People have different understandings.

However, to reach a very effective level using this methodology there is much work that we must do to remove the impediments and obstacles that we have built to block our path.

There is always a very easy check on the quality of thoughts that we are processing. That check is asking ourselves ‘What is the feeling in my gut?’. If we are processing thoughts that are aiding our true honest desires we have a good feeling in the gut. If we process thoughts that are abetting our true honest desires we have a bad feeling in the gut. When you feel that bad feeling it is a clear signal to examine your current thoughts and change them to positive thoughts.

Self-examination is seeking the truth within us rather than from outward searching. Outward searching is marred by the feelings, perceptions, and compromises that others have made because people have different understandings.

If we look within ourselves, we question, and the answers are the universal truths that we seek. Every question has an answer; every problem has a solution. Answers and solutions may not come immediately; some take time to find—an hour, a day, a year, or even many years. If we search for it or allow it to come to us, we will find it.

For a writer, this is especially important because it involves thoughts, beliefs, and feelings that are to be expressed so they make sense to the reader. This is difficult because our interpretations are filtered through our emotions, our upbringing, our culture, and the world around us. Only through introspection can we arrive at the truth that, of course, is another word for self-examination.

How do we achieve this self-examination? Many philosophies have been developed to realize this introspection, but a simple act is all that is necessary: take a moment to concentrate on your inner mind and to ask a single question; let your subconscious seek the answer throughout the day and the answer will come without effort. Make it a daily ritual and be surprised by the outcome. Be careful not to let negative thought about the question hinder the search for the answer.

One important truth is the discovery that ‘our thoughts create our life experiences.’ This is probably the first universal truth that is discovered, and once this is realized and accepted one has found and important phase of self-examination.

One of the universal truth is that there is no past or future only the present—the here and now of the moment.

Every action has an alternate reaction.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006


Self-examination sheds light on a writers motives, goals, and aspirations, while self indulgence hide the obvious and absorbs any illumination before it occurs.

When a writer exams his motives, goals, and aspirations, he opens up new viewpoints because he or she sees other avenues to writing; perhaps the short story writer can see a novel develop from the theme of a short story, or an article to clarify that subject matter. Poetry might follow from the passion and fervor of the story. Then again the reverse may happen; the poet sees a short story or even a novel from a poem. The possibilities are unlimited if the writer examines honestly his purpose, his objective, and his motivation. Is the purpose financial, fame, or personal satisfaction? With this clarity, comes the energy to pursue writing with more vigor and enthusiasm, with more diversity and a broader outlook, and with more devotion and direction.

Once a writer examines the reason for writing, then the direction becomes clearer and more aware. If the writer is more concerned with the financial aspect then the pursuit becomes more focused; one writer will choose a writing career between freelance and employment. Also the writer’s personality will help to decide on the course of action necessary to further a career. Freelance writers are more independent, more risk taking, perhaps more confident of ability, while the employed writer likes the assurance that a regular pay check brings, is partial to the motivation of a deadline, and feels more comfortable with that.

Whether the writer is employed or freelances, honest self-examination will open up a feeling of connecting with others, will make him or her relate more to others. Self-examination will bring about a clearer understanding of how readers will respond to the written word. This extroversion expands the writer’s knowledge, awareness of others, and makes the writing greater and thus a better writer.

Another plus for the writer is that self-examination clarifies all aspects of writing from the mechanics to the essence or spirit of the writing. Syntax, punctuation, spelling, and format become more important as the text improves. As the text improves so does the concentration on the attitude become greater and the writer grows in depth and profundity. This growth can be observed in the writing of the great authors, poets, playwrights, and lyricists

On the other hand self-indulgence confuses because belief that one has arrived and is good enough are the convictions of the tolerant and the non-judgmental. Self-examination requires judgment and decision while self-indulgence relies on lenience and indecision. The self-indulgent do not place restrictions and limits on themselves, but accept mediocrity as adequate.

Self-examination fosters excellence; self-indulgence promotes mediocrity.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Self-Examinatiion vs Self-Indulgence

Self-examination is brutally honest. Self-indulgence is brutally maudlin.

Writing requires the author to be harshly candid about motive, intent, and goal, which, of course, mean self-examination. On the other hand, a lack of sincerity becomes self-indulgence, which is self-pitying.

Writers must know why they are writing, their motive. Is it for money, acclaim, or self-satisfaction? Is it to inform, entertain, or convince the reader? Is it to fulfill a desire to titillate, deceive, or subvert the reader? The author must be sincere when he or she considers the desire.

Generally speaking, writers have more than one goal as they compose. In today's world where non-fiction makes up the greatest percentage of writing, the motive is to inform or convince with the secondary motive being financial. Most authors want to be published to acquire financial assets or to become wealthy, but the first consideration is to have something to say that is relevant to the intended readership.

Fiction writers often write for a need to express themselves and to entertain while poets put forth their passion to amuse, to beguile, to foment, to excite, and to purge. All writers, therefore, must establish their motive and be conscientious.

Thus writers have three goals--to inform, to entertain, and to convince. In this world of information overload, the writer has an important role because dissemination of information is, for the most part, achieved through the written word, even in television. Before the pictures, comes the text and writers generate this although they often work behind the scenes.

Entertainment is accomplished through the eyes, the ears, and other senses, but, again, before this happens, the writer is the primary source of the ideas that become articles, books, movies, or television programs.

Last but not least, is the motive to convince, and again the writer is responsible for this. Advertising, political campaigning, religion--all want to persuade the reader, audience, spectators, and listeners that it to their advantage to accept what is offered. Behind the scene, again, is the writer.

Thus, the writer must submit to self-examination with candor and intensity to be sure that motives are fulfilling, not just self-gratifying. If it is self-indulgence then it is effusively sentimental, lacking in substance and fidelity—the dedicated writer's anathema.

Friday, December 08, 2006

The Self-Indulgent Writer

A writer can never be self indulgent whether writing fiction, non-fiction, or poetry. If one writes only to please one’s self, the likelihood of publication becomes remote. Editors and agents will become aware of such an author quickly and dismiss such writing with a brief rejection slip. Although self-gratification is always a part of one’s writing, it should not be the most significant motive for writing. The reader, and not the writer, is and should be the most important reason for publication.

For writing to be significant it must be honest and thoughtful. If the author is frank and pensive, it is sure to connect with the reader because it has the reader in mind at all times. This is true of novels, short stories, essays, articles, as well as poetry. Poets seem to acquire this empathy with their readers more than do other writers although some poets write only for self-gratification and catharsis and not for publication, but if such is the case then that writing is an avocation and not a vocation. All forms of writing must connect with the reader if one is to seek publication.

Of course, writing as a career is the main premise of this article. If one writes only to satisfy his or her urge to express ideas or to clarify ones thinking with no thought of publication, then the only reader will be the author, or a most chosen individual with whom to share. The career writer cannot and should not think only of his or her reason for writing; the reader must then be the major consideration.

If the professional author writes for the sake of self-gratification or catharsis and not for the respect and dignity of the reader, the work will be vacuous and inane. That thoughtlessness and self-centeredness will disillusion the reader and dismissal will soon follow. Unlike the poet, other writers must be logical, clear, and helpful in some way—emotional, entertaining, informational, or educational—and in a style that the reader can easily understand.

Once a writer becomes self-indulgent, he becomes a prisoner of the mundane and the tiresome. If a writer writes only to please him or her self, the reader will soon realize that and will reject that author’s work for someone who is more relevant to his or her condition and state. Because the writing is ordinary and mind numbing, it sentences the author to rejection and rebuff.

Although self-indulgence is possible, it is not desirable.

Any writer, to be successful, must refrain from self-satisfaction and view the work with objectivity and ruthlessness, editing and rewriting with the reader solely in mind. This is the mark of a professional writer.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Important Points of Fiction

The theme or premise of a novel is important because it sets the stage for the characters, the setting, the plot, the conflict, and the climax. Is it a story of love, jealousy, ambition, adventure, of triumph or failure? These themes, as well as many others must be considered and decided upon by the fiction writer.

Coming from the design of the tale are the characters and their development. Protagonists and antagonists live because they produce the conflict that gives tension and stress, for without these elements no story exists. Important is a fully rounded character with vices as well as virtues. Protagonists must have qualities that we relate to, but antagonists must also have traits that are decent yet not exceeding their failings.

The conflict between the hero and villain product the storyline or plot—the events that bring to two into discord. This dissension can be physical, mental, social, desire, goal, aspiration, or any feature that they view differently. Some stories are plot driven while others are character driven although all stories have some of each.

Setting is determined by the characters, which may be past, present, or future. Historical novels are situated in the past of a specific locale; contemporary novels deal with the present in time and location; futuristic novels—science fiction and fantasy-deal with the future or locales out of this world.

Now we come to dialogue that must suit the character as well as the setting if it is to be realistic and relate to tie and place. If of the past, it must copy the style, the syntax, and the idiom of the time. Dialogue must always further the story, develop the character, or suit the locale; never can it be to fill in space.

The write must also choose carefully the tense and point of view. Some stories are better told from the present tense while others from the past tense. Using the pluperfect past tense sacrifices immediacy and slows down the rhythm of the language. Another important consideration is the point of view: Sometimes the first person singular is the most appropriate while at other times the third person omniscient is proper. Chose prudently because it can make or break the story.

Another consideration, although a lesser one, is how compelling the piece will be in the marketplace. Since publishers are always concerned about the bottom line, they look to see how the buyers who are the readers will receive it. Perhaps from a publishing point of view, this is the most important criterion for the acceptance or rejection of a manuscript.

To make a manuscript acceptable it must follow the rules of good grammar, be free of spelling and typo errors, written in the language that is acceptable to the target audience. The fiction writer had much to consider with every work undertaken, yet believe in the importance and worth of his or her endeavors.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

A Writer's Secrets

Every person has secrets that only he or she knows, secrets that are not shared with anyone, not even the most intimate friends, partners, even soul mates. These secrets may be righteous or sinister, yet for reasons, often unknown, they are never revealed to any other person. These, the writer should explore in his or her writing.

These secrets can be an important part of any writer’s self-examination and can be revealing, even therapeutic, because they can be used in poetry to add depth and passion to verse composition; they can be used in novels to develop memorable characters; they can be used in articles to add life and interest to the topic; they can be used in any writing to make it unique and engaging, without endangering the writer’s privacy.

Make secrets part of characters in short stories and novels; give fantasies a role in the characters created, and they will come to life with an energy and nuance never believed possible. Thus, they will become unforgettable and intriguing to readers.

So, what are these secrets? They are the writer’s deepest desires, fears, pleasures, and joys. They become the roots of poetry or prose. They enrich writing and fill it with fascination. Use them!

Monday, December 04, 2006


Good writing requires self-examination. Why is one writing? What part of the writer will be shared with readers? Will it be only information or will it include the essence of the writer? This, then determines what will be written: poetry, essays, articles, short stories, novels, or any other genre of writing.

A writer’s work must share part of his or her being, or it is merely reporting. And when the soul or spirit of the writer is included, it requires a depth of self-examination; it requires searching the psyche for what is important and even relevant to the writer and thus, to the reader. This is egoism, not egotism; the first is self-assurance, the second is vainglory.

Athough writing for financial gain is important, it should never be the sole reason for writing, as that will not bring out the best in the writer. Passion of expression, a need to communicate, a desire to share a part of the person—ideas, feelings, passions—and love are the bases for exemplary and ageless writing.

Writing must fulfill a heartfelt need for self-expression, ego fulfillment, or a therapeutic necessity, and last, but not least, financial reward and fame.

If writing does not foster this self-examination, it is nothing more than a skill to use words, to use language, and to use writing to manipulate and not to satisfy the reader.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Trying Too Hard

If you dread the thought of writing, if you fear your desk, and if you hate your computer, then you are trying too hard.

If the thought of writing makes you feel guilty, makes your heartbeat quicker, and makes you sweat, then you are trying too hard. Your writing has become a burden that inhibits your creativity, your thinking, and your production. This, of course, leads to writer’s block, the scourge of all writers.

If you avoid your desk—or table, or any other place that you write—you are building up your torture rather and ameliorating it, which is another indication that you are trying too hard.

If you hate your computer or your typewriter (if you are still using one), it becomes and evil entity that overpowers you and renders you useless as a writer. You are trying too hard.

You are trying too hard when you become obsessed with your inability to produce. When the current project becomes an ordeal, you are trying too hard. Then it is time to set that undertaking aside and start another.

No, it is not time to take a rest, to procrastinate, and to stop writing; it is time to read, to plan a new undertaking—a new poem, a new story, a new article, etc.—to give your mind a rest from the overwhelming present piece, to enjoy a new perspective, and to relax your stifled creativity, but do not quit writing.