Writing Tip: Reduce to Revise

Revising an essay? Try this:

Underline the most significant sentence in each paragraph, one that evokes that section’s central meaning.

Or pick the sentence that is the most striking (in terms of imagery or ideas; you decide).

In a separate document, write the chosen sentences in order, creating paragraphs as (or if) needed.

This new piece is stark, with all the frills stripped away.

Now that you have the essence of your narrative, you can re-introduce passages that are absolutely necessary. Or, maybe this version is exactly what you were getting at all along!

In a five-minute freewrite, reflect on what emerged for you as you chose the sentences or read the stripped-down version of your original piece.

This exercise can be helpful when revising fiction or poetry, as well. 

Keep writing!

Writing With Others

Writing requires a certain amount of solitude, to conceptualize, dream, draft, and revise. And it is not accomplished solely in the vacuum of an author’s imagination and focused scribbling.

A few months ago, I decided to join a writing group. Over the years, I’ve been a member of many such groups, some more supportive and interesting than others. After the first few sessions, I remembered what I value about these gatherings:

Talking about writing offers numerous opportunities to explore what moves, challenges, bores, or puzzles me, as a reader. This provides insights when I am drafting and revising my own work.

Sharing my writing reveals what readers see in my work. What do they like, wonder about, or find funny or dull? Am I conveying what I think I am? When group members make suggestions or express confusion, I can determine how – or if – their feedback will be incorporated in subsequent revisions.

Experiencing different genres heightens my creativity: For years, I had given up writing poetry (that’s a story for another time). While my primary genre is nonfiction, recently I’ve begun writing poems again. With a few exceptions, each of us writes in multiple genres. Listening to such variety helps to tune my ear. What makes that poetry and that prose? When does repetition shift from creating an emotionally moving tone to becoming stultifying? How much detail is too much? Is the dialogue believable for that character?

The tone of the group is supportive: Group members focus as much on what works as they do on what doesn’t. As a writer, I learn from both perspectives.

Each session, we spend a few minutes writing together, using various prompts, such as words chosen from a box or random lines from a book. We leave each session with a prompt. It’s fun listening to the different ways each writer uses the same words. Most recently, I wrote a piece that incorporates the names of paint colors found on paint sample cards.

Though each of us is at a different stage in our writing career – some of us have several publications, others a few or none – all are equal at the table.

Belonging to a writing group has been inspiring: I look forward to sharing my work and listening to others’ words. The prompts are a fun way to use my imagination. And writing with a group alleviates isolation.

If you are considering joining a writing group, think about the attributes that would be most helpful for you. Give the group a trial run, so that you can observe how members interact. For example: Do they talk about the strengths in a piece as well as offer relevant suggestions? Does each writer get equal time (or do one or two dominate the discussion)? Do they have fun with writing; for example, writing together using random and, maybe, ridiculous prompts?

Keep writing, alone and with others!

11 problems a writer has while reading (in no particular order)

  1. You can’t help thinking, “I wrote that story 10 years ago. Why didn’t I try to publish it?”
  2. You wouldn’t have made the killer the best friend. It’s been done to death; pun intended.
  3. You can anticipate the next three words in nearly every line of dialogue.
  4. You wonder if the author intended to use that cliché. And that one. And that one.
  5. Because the protagonist’s name is Lindsay with an “a,” you find it difficult to take her seriously.
  6. You are bored by chapter 3, but continue to read: You are analyzing the mechanisms the author uses to maintain the reader’s attention.
  7. You anticipate that the book will end at page 245. It goes on for a hundred more pages.
  8. You are still bored at chapter 65 when the book, mercifully, ends.
  9. You are upset that you read every predictable word and you realize those hours are lost forever.
  10. You give props to the writer and publisher who had the gall – I mean courage – to bring the book to the reading public.
  11. You think, “I wrote that story 10 years ago. I could have gotten it published!

Ready for a writing coach to help you finally write that story? Contact me, Ruth Farmer: rfarmer@gmavt.net; 802-377-3001

Go Play!

When I was a little girl, I used to draw in the blank pages of my mother’s books (I’m sure there is a name for those pages, but I don’t know what that is). She was an avid reader, so there were many blank canvases for my stick figures. This was a time when hardcovers were fairly inexpensive and practically given away through book clubs – 5 for $1, for example, if you signed up to receive one book a month.

Needless to say, my mother did not see this as art. I was defacing her books.

I was not a burgeoning artist. This was not a precursor to an artistic talent that grew into a career. I just liked to draw. I didn’t care if the art was beautiful by others’ standards. I just went for it.

At what point did perfection become my constant (and difficult) companion? It is likely that in school, drawing moved from a youthful pastime to an activity that was graded. I did not become an Artist.

Yet, so many years later, I still sketch and I have taken up collage. My artistic expressions have also included modern dance. After many years of comparing myself to The Real Artists, I now accept that sometimes expressing oneself is something to be done because it feels good, because not doing so makes your life feel empty. So these days, I am not concerned if the work is good. I just care that I take time to do it. As when I was a child, art emerges from my urge to create.

That urge carries over into my writing as well. The difference is that, while I never considered myself an artist or dancer or collagist, I do consider myself a writer. Naming myself this has often led to feeling that I have to measure up to standards established by someone other than me.

Don’t get me wrong, I believe in conventions and quality, and creating something that can be seen as beautiful by someone other than myself. However, if I keep those external standards uppermost in my mind, as I am creating, I will never find that center, that well of imagination, that allows me to bring forth art that is Mine.

Perhaps, like me, you have always felt the urge to create. Maybe you didn’t have the materials or the support but you had the impulse. And though your creative impulses were discouraged – maybe even stamped down – by loved ones who just wanted you to Get Real, you still wrote, or painted, or danced or …

Today, you might feel that you don’t have enough education or support or money to take yourself seriously. If you did, you would ___(fill in the blank). I thought that for a long time and my creative impulses kept calling to me until I could no longer ignore them.

Maybe that is happening for you as well. Maybe you hear a sound in the distance. Like a bird or a flute or the whisper of the wind. It is your creative spirit saying, “Come out and play.”

So…

Go play.

***

Ready to work with a coach or editor to finally finish that book? Contact me at 802-377-3001 or rfarmer@gmavt.net.

Keep writing!

Ruth

 

White Hot Truth: Review

Danielle LaPorte is the anti-guru guru and her latest book, White Hot Truth, fosters her primary philosophy: Go with your gut. LaPorte refutes the “Do This and Everything Will Be GREAT!” attitude that pervades the motivation industry. Instead, she exhorts us to do our homework, be discerning, trust ourselves, and create and honor our own light and wisdom, as we journey toward transformation and fulfillment.

She writes, “You think you need an architect, but you are already a temple.” We’ve heard this philosophy before from many teachers of seekers. White Hot Truth serves as a reminder, while sharing stories of the author’s shortcomings and successes. The author assumes that, on the road to finding our True Selves, most of us wonder:

What is wrong with me?
What can I do to fix me?
Which teacher or belief system will provide The Answer to my questions about life in general and my life in particular?

These questions are problematic, according to LaPorte, “Because here’s the sacred paradox: transformation begins with the radical acceptance of what is.”

In fact throughout the book, LaPorte critiques the motivation industry, urging readers to beware of poseurs, imposters, misguided teachers, and out and out dangerous folks telling people how to fix their lives (and charging lots of money to do so). She tells numerous stories about the good and the bad encountered on her truth-seeking missions. She pokes at herself as a seeker and as a motivational writer and speaker:

I’m in the make-your-life-better industry. And it is an industry. My business engine is fuelled by my many “lists” of subscribers and online followers. My social media feeds are a steady stream of #Truthbombs and how-tos. And every once in awhile, I tell ya, I get so sick of hearing myself telling everyone else what to do.

Has your coach, consultant, therapist, teacher, or guru ever said anything like that to you? What would you do if they did?

She encourages spiritual people to stop ignoring the dark. After all, how do you know there is light if there isn’t darkness? I am reminded of Ursula LeGuin’s wonderful story “Darkness Box,” in which a king traps darkness because he cannot handle what its presence will cause to happen. Ignoring or fearing the dark doesn’t make it go away. Facing what frightens (angers, frustrates, …) us can teach us what we are made of, and what skills we need to develop, and it can bring us into the company of others who will journey with us.

There is darkness and negativity that needs to be faced and dealt with from the micro to the macro levels of society. And I want an army of warrior angels to have my back and to be prepared to slay. I want to see depravity where it is, keep an eye on it, and then deliberately choose to work for the Light with every single thought and deed. Every day.

I could quote passages from every chapter that are wonderful, irritating, or wise and they would all come down to this: Don’t bow down to Danielle LaPorte’s – or anyone’s – ideas. Wrestle with and learn from multiple concepts, and incorporate them into your own developing wisdom.

I wanted to hear more from LaPorte about the class dynamics in the motivational movement. Paying tens of thousands of dollars to a coach or traveling to another country for a spiritual retreat isn’t possible for everyone. A weekly yoga class will help someone gain physical and emotional strength only if they have the money to partake of what’s on offer. LaPorte asks “How can we turn these blessings into the basics for everyone?” Because she explored other topics in great depth, I expected a more profound analysis of the motivational / spirituality movement. Instead, she skimmed the surface.

I disagreed with much that she said in the chapter on suffering, particularly the piece about Soul: “I believe that, from the Soul level, we choose our pain.” She eventually acknowledges that it is unreasonable to think that people bring on some of the terrible things that happen to them. However, she highlights exceptional individuals as examples of how folks grew through their suffering: Elie Wiesel and Nelson Mandela are two. I found that section particularly troubling and wrote this note to myself:

And yet, Danielle, it seems awfully “coincidental” that those who are in these extreme situations seem to always fall into particular categories: groups ostracized and killed because of their race or ethnicity or gender. On this planet during this time, these horrors far too often happen to the dark-skinned, the poor, to women and children. So have these folks made a group soul contract, to suffer?

LaPorte does critique the abundance manifestation mentality, noting that a person’s lack is not necessarily because they don’t want something badly enough; it’s because there are some who have far too much: “There is enough pie for everybody on the planet, but there are a lot of pigs eating too much pie.”

If you are looking for The Answer, White Hot Truth is probably not your kind of book. Danielle LaPorte is not your guru; you are. There are a lot of questions in this book, as there are in life, and they are integral to the journey toward transformation and acceptance. If, however, you want to read a loving missive from one seeker to another, pick up White Hot Truth.

Listen

Taking into consideration Trump’s cabinet and advisers and understanding the direction in which our country is going, you might think that this is a time in which people of color, poor people, women, just about anyone except rich white males, have been silenced. And let’s face it, while there are many people protesting through demonstrations, letters, phone calls, blogs, etc., there are people who are afraid enough to be silent, and for good reason.

Consider this: Folks don’t try to shut you up, or shut you down, unless they are afraid of the power of your words.

No matter what your particular stance on the current situations, it is unlikely that you are neutral. These days, anger, frustration, fear, and even despair frequently permeate dialogues, blogs, poetry, fiction, essays, music and other forms of expressions. Whatever your viewpoint and whatever your artistic form, remember that your words have power.

Speak your truth. Know that others are speaking theirs. Listen.

Keep writing!

Ruth

***

Register for my upcoming course, Joyful Inquiry, at this link.

Ready to work with a coach or editor to finally finish that book? Contact me at 802-377-3001 or rfarmer@gmavt.net.

Five things to do when you don’t want to write

We’ve all had those moments when we don’t want to sit down and write. I don’t mean those times when we can’t, when the words don’t flow or seem gone to the big beyond. I mean when we just don’t want to sit there and write, not one more word.

Well, I give you permission to rise and walk away from the journal, or computer and do something else. Here are some things I do instead of writing, in no particular order.

Exercise: This need not be strenuous. Any movement shakes up the brain, warms the limbs, gets other parts of the body excited – or at least feeling like you love them. Walking, yoga, dancing. Something simple that does not require equipment is the best, although a pair of dumbbells might add a bit of spice. Move long enough to allow your thoughts to slip away from writing to whatever comes into your body.

Eat: something that nourishes. Or not.

Read: the most important thing is to not choose anything remotely related to what you are writing. That could send you into a spiral of unworthiness, guilt, and shame at the author’s ability to do what you at the moment are not doing.

Domestic chores: This is my second favorite, exercising being the first. Mind you, I am not a domestic goddess. Cleaning, dusting, or straightening things out usually make me feel anxious. But these activities yield tangible results – a sparkling sink, an organized sock drawer, and books off the floor and onto shelves – unlike the squiggles on a computer screen that lead to the big nowhere.

Netflix: see warning under “Read.”

Just as I was revising this piece, the alarm on my phone went off. It is a lovely tune that got me dancing from one room to the next*. My brain is clearer already. And having hit snooze, I anticipate another opportunity to stop writing.

Happy writing or not writing!

*In case you are interested, click on this link to the ringtone, “One Step Forward”

Embracing the snow

The snow is hip deep around my house. It started falling at eight o’clock on Tuesday and didn’t stop until Wednesday evening. On Tuesday I shoveled my deck and around my doors twice. The driveway was plowed twice. Within a few hours, the snow had barricaded the doors again. The deck looked as smooth and white as if I’d done nothing. The driveway was almost completely filled in.

I moved from wonder to frustration to despair to irritation when I woke up on Wednesday morning and witnessed even bigger flakes falling, saw the smooth undisturbed landscape. The snow had gently resisted human attempts to combat its quiet relentless power.

I adjusted my Wednesday morning ritual:
Meditated on flakes falling.
Gave thanks that I didn’t have to leave my house.
Sent prayers out to those who had to venture out.
Snowshoed around my house and on my deck, while shoveling here and there (no hope of really clearing anything).

The relentless snow reminded that there are things beyond my control. Embracing its presence, I finally felt a sense of peace.