Dear Diary... Today I wrote the longest Our Sunday Best ever. I am going to be revising and editing this thing for the next ten years.
When writers explain the writing process, they categorize writing as both art and craft. The words themselves are the art medium used to create worlds. The shape and structure of those words on a page are the result of craft.
All professional writers learn the same process of putting words to paper, then learning that there are better ways to put words to paper, and finally, realizing that words to paper are the beginning of a long road of crafting and refining draft after draft into a final result.
Whether that result is a poem, a story, an essay, or a novel depends on the temperament of the writer and her/his chosen mode of communication. These disciplines have one thing in common— they seek to communicate the mysteries of experience.
Here are a grouping of glorious websites to help you consider both the art and the craft of the writing process (Plus one extra for fun!) :
I know six words and a joke about a kangaroo. Wanna hear 'em?
Wordnik is a new website on the scene that approaches words, and language, in a revolutionary way. Unlike a dictionary, Wordnik does not merely define a word, it gives you a full experience of the word. The search engine button, to give you an example, says “I always feel lucky.”
I looked up “book” and was given every definition that could be culled from five different dictionaries.
On the right-hand side were examples of “book” used in context grabbed fresh from the internet.
Below that, Wordnik listed a basic etymology (history) of “book” in a single sentence with a pronunciation key.
Beneath all of these pleasures, the page explodes with lists of synonyms, hypernyms, hyponyms, and more. At the bottom of the page there are pictures and sounds and comments and lists, all somehow related to the idea “book.”
Even though it is a primarily English-focused site, Wordnik treats all languages as a potential buffet. I tested out my terrible Spanish and my horrid French, which produced some interesting results. The Husband threw out a Russian noun, and this also provided a listing.
Oh, you are going to have so much fun with Wordnik!
CHARACTER AND PLOT (THOSE BIG WHATNOTS)
Basically, all stories come down to one sentence:
Ohhh, no. Plot's gonna run you extra. That don't come with the standard package, Lady.
Somebody or Somebodies
do something/have something done to them/want to do something
… and stuff happens that complicates
what s/he/they do/
how s/he/they react(s) to what is done to them/
or impede(s) s/he/them from doing something.
Okay, so that’s an oversimplification of a more complicated subject.
It’s really easy to get tangled up in knots over plot and character. Plot and character are craft-driven devices.
So, TV Tropes devised a list of character and plot issues called Books on Trope to help your sort out the major ideas about what, and how, those devices work.
TV Tropes is one of my favorite websites because it takes all the tropes (common themes, clichés, and character archetypes) you find in all forms of narrative, and plays with them.
That’s right! On this same website, you can look up any TV show, comic strip, musical style, and so on, and examine it.
And, if you have something to add, you can join their group, which is similar to a Wiki, and have tons of smart and silly narrative fun!
For a visual examination of how a standard plot arc works, you may want to check out this gem from Derek Silvers (whom I just discovered— he’s an interesting fella!). The link is called “Kurt Vonnegut explains drama.”
Vonnegut is one of the most interesting writers of the 20th century, and no one played more freely and beautifully with the conventions of plot and character, while still remaining thoughtful and entertaining. (Vonnegut was an expert at slipping in big ideas in sweet packages.)
I think, in fact I’m pretty sure, that I heard the exact same Vonnegut lecture. I did not take notes. I sat there with my mouth open the entire time the great man was speaking.
Thank goodness Derek Silvers managed to take fantastic notes, which he decided to share with us.
REVISION (DO IT TO IT!)
Are you still with me? Our Sunday Best is turning into Our Sunday Longest today.
For my sixth revision, I'm only going to work on rhythm. You tell that guy I'm gonna be here for a month, maybe two.
If allowed, I will hammer on and on about revision. I can’t say enough on this subject. The rule is: All writing is rewriting. Rewriting means “to see again.”
When you rewrite anything, you first go through in large swoops looking at the pattern of your piece of writing. (This is after you’ve set it aside for a few days to a month.)
Then you hone in to examine the plot and character development to see that those things are working (They usually aren’t doing exactly what you want them to do.) You basically throw the first draft aside, pick out the chunks that are functional, and go at it again.
After you rewrite everything (twice or forty-six times), you move on to line editing, when you pick apart your writing word-by-word. (Hemingway was a master artist at line edits.)
Finally, you copy-edit (check for basic mistakes) and copy-edit again (you’ll find more mistakes), and you do a page edit (check your page numbers, margins, et. al.). (You are gonna keep finding mistakes and then someone else will check it over, hopefully a friend or editor or both, and they’re gonna find some weird ones.)
I’m skipping a few steps if you’re writing non-fiction. Between rewriting and copy-editing, you will fact check any item that can be verified. Always cross-reference your sources.
A bad source is a rookie mistake, and everybody makes them early on, but if you keep making them, you’ve tinted yourself as an untrustworthy narrator.
Still, it can happen. Easily.
Once, early in my writing career, I accidentally changed a man’s first name in a feature piece. He called me. He was locally famous. And he wasn’t happy that I had renamed him. I apologized and went to my editor nearly in tears.
I was 22! It was my third story. I thought, okay, that’s it! They’re gonna take me right out of the building.
To her credit, this editor laughed.
While features writing and all non-fiction require muscular fact checking, with poetry you are going to be doing additional rewrites that look at the shape of the thing. If you’re doing it right, it make take you a year to finish one poem.
That’s why you work on about 50 of those things at the same time. All will be in different stages of revision. Mark each one and staple it to the last one. That’s the best advice I can give you about poetry.
Oh! And never force a rhyme unless you’re going for a cheap laugh.
Okay. I’ve driven you crazy. I get that. Or you already know all of this stuff. I respect that too. You’re gonna love me for these three links, though.
For listening to me ramble on about revision, I give you the gift of Chuck Wendig: He’s a self-proclaimed freelance penmonkey. (I want to steal that, by the way.)
Wending wrote a piece called “25 Things Writers Should Stop Doing Right F***ing Now” and a follow-up piece entitled “25 Things Writers Should Start Doing.”
My friend K—— introduced me to the pleasures of El Wendig in December.
For four weeks now, I have not been able to stop shouting, “To the Resentmentmobie!” (You’ll see….)
He knows of which he speaks when it comes to writing. I really think you’ll love him, as long as you’re not allergic to profanity. Lots of profanity. Gorgeously written profanity. (He even joked on his twitter feed that he’s “starting to think my trademark should be ‘Beware the profanity.”)
I love his writing about writing. I’m looking forward to reading one of his novels in the next few months. And I adore the way he uses profanity. It’s funny and lyrical and intelligent.
If that’s really, really not your style, or you’re already reading Wendig, I give you this equally mouth-watering link to the fabulous site This Recording. Among other subjects, This Recording does killer, beautiful-to-look-at, lovely-to-read pieces on writers, both famous and specialized.
(And special props to This Recording for their feature story “100 Greatest Writers.” Yumtastic!)
DIGESTIF (YES, WE’RE DONE!)
Here we are.
Dear Ms. Bluebird: Please go suck an egg for your crummy advice. Yours sincerely, Ida Lemon.
You read this week’s Our Sunday Best and did not skip out on me. Thank you for that.
Everything I gave you today, my friend, I use. Everything I said today, I believe. And if you’re reading this, know that writers are made, not born.
The more you write, the more you develop both the muscle and the flexibility to write anything. The more you revise, the more you become a consistent artist and craftsperson. And the more you learn, the freer you are.
When you finish writing for the day, please, just once, play this game?
It’s called either Yeti Sports or Pingu Throw. The Husband found it back in 2004, and we’ve been competing at this thing ever since. (You may know it, and may have forgotten about it.)
It’s not bloody.
It’s very silly.
It’s free. (Though the creator, Yeti Sports, has gone on to make some cool looking games that cost a little bit!)
And I found the one site that doesn’t seem to be full of (too many) junky ads where you can play it after spending a day monkeying with words.
I love monkeying with words.
I spent all day today monkeying with words. So….
Let’s play Pingu Throw!
Cecil? Basil? Roberto? Put on your helmets. We're gonna win this, uh, us toss, this time. Weeeee!