Tag: how to write

What Works For My Writing

I read a post on 80,000 Words called “What Works For My Writing” that I enjoyed a lot because Christine Lee Zilka discusses in loose list form what things get in the way of her writing and what things help it along.  This is the kind of stuff I always want to know about other writers.  I have an infinite curiosity for it.  All writers have their own processes and it’s fascinating to me to know what they are.  Christine’s post about what works for her writing was inspired by a post on “distraction no. 99”  about the same subject.  I just read that post and now I want to write my own.  For any other writer I know –  I would love it if you would do the same so I can know more about the things that work for you.

What Works For My Writing:

Music –

If other people are in the house I listen to music on headphones.  I have always written to music.  There is a soundtrack to every single thing I write but the longer the work the more difficult it is to find the soundtrack.  Music sets the tone in my head and I often find a song that reflects and can sustain this tone and then listen to it obsessively until the piece is done or until my ears hurt with it.  I estimate that most chapters in my novel are 100 – 150 song lengths.  I can’t change the song until I’m done with it.  I don’t pay attention to the music while I write, it doesn’t obtrude, it simply holds me in the proper space.  Change of chapter, change of scene, or change of post almost always requires a new song.  Sometimes I know what kind of mood I need for what I’m going to work on but can’t find the right song.  It once took me three days to find the right song and so I didn’t write for three days.

I once wrote a whole chapter to the Moonlight Sonata and it came out all wrong.  The writing was too quiet and slow but I couldn’t figure out why.  I sat down to re-write it and started off with the same song but it wasn’t right – I found a song with more urgency and anger and the chapter, though not all that changed in content, was completely changed in feeling and it was so much better.

Solitude –

I know it’s a cliche but I write best when no one is home, when no one is around.  I love writing at 5am because most people on the west coast and certainly in my town are asleep.  The world is a lot more quiet when it’s sleeping.  I can hear the churning of the earth and the buzz of collective humans and find it hard to shut out.  I don’t get to be completely alone very often so writing while my whole house and whole town sleep is a good match.  I hate the feeling of writing at 5am if I got there by staying awake all night.  By the time I’ve dragged myself through 3 and 4am I feel like a drug addict coming down from a high and losing my teeth right there on the spot.  I only do that when I feel like all the words will be lost if I don’t stay up.  I hate  being awake between 2am and 4am.  I’ve spent a lot of time in my life up at that hour because of insomnia.  I rarely do it on purpose.  But waking up at 5am to write is awesome when I can manage to do it.

Beverages –

I love that Christine mentioned this too.  Unlike her, I can eat while I write.  I can eat through most things, unfortunately.  Beverages are necessary.  I can’t imagine writing without a drink near my left hand.  It goes like this: wake-up to 11am is coffee or black tea time, 11am to 5pm is water time, 5pm until bed is beer time.  Except that I don’t always get to drink beer so when I’m not drinking alcohol I’m drinking either tonic and lime, water with lemon, ginger ale, tea (herbal or decaf black), lemon Italian soda, or mineral water with a little unsweetened cranberry juice.  I don’t prefer writing between 11am and 5pm and I think this is because I don’t find water very creatively inspiring though I do drink a lot of it.

Facebook –

The majority of the time I wrote Cricket and Grey I used Facebook as a breather.  Giving status updates on word counts and favorite words and bits of the research for the book gave me a chance to breath between stretches of writing.  In many ways it was part of the rhythm.  Friends commenting on those writing statuses gave me all the connection with other humans I needed so that I still felt like I belonged in the world instead of outside of it.  A couple of people responding to Nova’s post mentioned Twitter providing a similar function for them – I was glad to know I wasn’t the only one.

Outlines –

I wrote The Winter Room without one.  I just wrote and wrote and wrote with no plan and thought it was going really well until I got to 108,000 words and suddenly realized that I had no idea where to go from there.  I couldn’t finish it, I couldn’t see in my head where it was supposed to lead and pretty soon I discovered such huge plot problems I had to set it aside.  I’m still trying to figure out how to pick it up again.  When I wrote Cricket and Grey I used a fresh outline for each draft because with each edit I had made so many changes I needed a fresh outline that accounted for them.  The outlines really helped move me along and seeing my chapter plans on paper helped me SEE plot holes.  So I’ve discovered I write best with one.  I find them really hard to write.  But once written they are a great tool for me.

Word Counts –

I know this kills creativity for some authors, freezing them up.  Not me.  I think my philosophy about lists keeps word counts from being oppressive to me.  A list is a way to organize my thoughts and once I write a list I may refer to it to remind myself of my goals but I never use it to measure my personal successes or failures.  I have never been one to scratch everything off of lists.  By the time I get halfway through it either becomes apparent that I’m not going to get anything else done or I simply forget because my day has evolved however it needed to.  No guilt.  A list is a suggestion.  A list is a thought organizer.  A list is not an appropriate measurement of your worth in any way.  This is how I feel about word counts.  To reach my larger writing goals I would figure out how many words I needed to write every weekend or every day to get there.  I figured out the approximate number of words per chapter and sometimes simply told myself that I would finish one chapter per weekend or sometimes when completely charged – per day.  I often met my goals.  It kept my momentum going.  I can get caught up in infinite details and not paint a whole picture.  Word counts kept me moving forward instead of stagnating.  For me it was a positive pressure rather than a negative one.  I knew I could walk away if I had to and I wouldn’t feel I’d failed in any way if I didn’t meet my goal for that day.  I would just start over the next day.  Fresh conscience.  Fresh mind.

Big writing goals –

Much like word counts, I found these very useful for me.  I know that a book is going to ultimately take as long as it’s going to take to be written.  You can’t always control that.  However, deciding how long I wanted to give myself to complete each draft was very helpful in pushing through the tougher weeks.  I suppose it helps that I’m 42 years old and I don’t feel like I have all the time in the world to finish my novels if I want to get published.  I’ve got a fire under my ass and a lot of ground to cover to become the writer I want to be (published AND making a living at it).  So specific goals helped me move steadily.  Again, I didn’t thrash myself for not meeting those goals but I did work better when I set them.

Talking about the novel with people I trust –

discussing issues I’m having with plot or character development with Philip or close friends was necessary for me to get it out of my head where it these things tend to gnaw at me.  Most useful of all was discussing these things with writer friends.  Talking with other writers was incredibly sustaining to me.  Talking with people is often helpful in this way: their opinions often make me more clear about my own, especially when I disagree with them.  As Philip likes to say, I’ll do the opposite of whatever you think I should do.  I admit that hearing other people tell me what I should do gives me this clarity: they don’t know how to write this book and hearing their misbegotten opinions has shed light on how strongly I feel about points I didn’t realize I felt so strongly about.  Opposition flushes out the important things.

Word Files: Toddler Words

Many things get under my skin but one of the most insidious is the feeling I get when an adult seems to relate to all-things-child more than they relate to other adults (who aren’t kid-centric).  This whole trend (and it IS a trend) seems to be mostly my generation, probably getting revenge on what they see as a lost childhood due to latchkey lives and the great grown up love-fest that was the sixties and seventies.

Words have a lot of power in all of our lives.  What words we choose to use says a lot about how we’re feeling at the moment, what our social background is (or what we wish it was), and what kind of people we are.  Our use of words is personal, except when it isn’t.  I have often wondered how many people realize how they sound to others just based on the words they use?  I also wonder if people understand how their use of language may prevent opportunities from coming their way or prevent others from giving them the attention in life that they deserve.

Being an avid blog reader I couldn’t fail to notice the incredible trend for writing “mommy blogs”.   There are thousands of mothers writing blogs about their day to day experiences raising children and the majority of them call themselves “mommy bloggers”.

Mommy is an infantile word.  It’s what children often call their mothers.  It’s something they stop saying when they mature because to continue to call your mom “mommy” is baby talk.  I know adults who still call their moms “mommy” and it really creeps me out.  It says that a person hasn’t developed a more mature relationship with their parent, that they have never really grown up.

For a blogger who is only blogging for fun and to meet like-minded people, who cares?  You can refer to yourself as “mommy” all day long and you’ll be in good company.

The problem I see is that a lot of the  “mommy bloggers” consider themselves writers, they express a desire to make money from their blogs, and hope to write books eventually.  If you want to be taken seriously as an expert in parenting or as a writer with something interesting to say to a broader spectrum of people, you are going to have to drop the toddler talk.

First of all, you should refer to yourself as a parenting blogger.  This signals that you are into children, you’re raising them, but you aren’t wishing you were one of them.

Then you should clean out all the words your toddler says or that you say to your toddler when you’re speaking or writing to non-toddlers.

Here’s a good list of infantile words to consider replacing in your writing:

mommy (why not refer to one’s self as “mom”, or “mother”, or “a parent”)

yeppers (makes me think of the loud chirping bark of a chihuahua)

yuppers (because “yeppers” wasn’t enough)

oogly (I’ve seen it appear on an embarrassing number of times on parenting blogs)

lil (this one is also a southern affectation I find creepy)

yummers (this is fine for talking to your three year old, but other adults?  No!)

nom nom (you must check out this link: 10 truly awful words because he took the words right out of my mouth!)

nummy (“nummy for my tummy” comes to mind,  I never even talked to my toddler like that!)

yummy (a word many people use and I even caught myself saying it out loud the other day- totally insidious!  Fine for kids but adults can do better, myself included.)

tummy (okay for use with kids, but stomach is better when talking to adults.

golly (stupid word people think they’re using “ironically” in place of swear words.  It’s just stupid.  Even when The Beave said it.)

giggle (This is a hideous word when adults use it.  When adults say they “giggled” it makes me sick to my stomach.  The word is for children only- no-  not even for kids.)

om nom nom (worse and worse!  Will the food eating noises never stop?  Want to actually hear me chew my food?  NOT YUMMY.)

googly (Sometimes paired with “oogly”.)

scrummy (supposed to be yet another variation on “yummy”)

poop (I may be a mother but I’ll be damned if I need to hear “poop” talk anywhere)

poopy (it’s surprising how many women use this word in their parenting blogs)

snarfle (how a Snuffleupagus eats, the muppet comparison in the 10 truly awful words list is irresistible)

fluffers (like rainbows and clouds and fat men scarfing down cotton candy)

snoogly (I just made that one up because that’s the way these awful words are created)

I think that makes the point adequately.

Here’s the truly disturbing thing: I’ve seen many of these words used on food blogs where the writer is really working hard to be taken seriously.  How can I take any cook seriously who calls a dish “scrummy”?  Aside from it’s resemblance to the word “crummy”, it also sounds like a silly childish version of “scrumptious” which also happens to be a horrible word used mostly to describe the fat cheeks of babies.

I realize that many people use these words to revisit a time of “innocence” along with their children, to enjoy the fleeting wonderful journey of parenting, and that it is meant to reflect their connection to youth and joy in all things sweet and unthreatening.  If that’s really who you are and that truly reflects where you’re at and you use those words intentionally – then who cares?  Use them!

But if you want to be taken seriously in a professional capacity of any kind, these words are not going to earn you any respect.  They are not the words of an adult.  They aren’t going to convince me you’re the expert of anything, not even parenting.  If you want to write a book for other adults then you need to talk like one.

Words are powerful and when used intentionally will help you get where you want to go (wherever that is), but used without thought or understanding may be holding you back from things you want to achieve and opportunities you hope will come your way.

I would like everyone to think more about their use of words and what they say about you.   We have a rich language at our disposal, it’s a shame to let so much of it go to waste on un-words like “om nom nom”.

Update: Another article on this subject has been written on one of my favorite food writing blogs Will Write For Food by Dianne Jacob, The Worst Food Writing Words

So, if you didn’t listen to Rich at Them Apples, and you didn’t listen to me, then surely you will listen to a writer/editor who’s worked in both print and online with food writing and writers for years?  She has links to another article about the same subject and I’m going to put it right here for you:  Top 10 Foodie Words We Hate, by the LA Times The only reason I didn’t do a post specifically about food words I hate is because everyone keeps doing it for me.  So if you’re not a serious writer, who cares what any of us have to say?!  But if you’re a serious writer, especially a food writer, then you should be taking notes and pulling out your dictionary and thesaurus to find better words than

An extra thought: If I want to write a character for a story who is a woman completely wrapped up in her children to the point where she herself is childish, little girly, and unsophisticated, as well as immature- I would use many of those words in the above list in her dialog because it would signal to readers exactly that kind of character.  We all sound like characters to someone else.  What character are you?