Copyright 2013 Pacific Northwest Writers Association. All Rights Reserved
The Best Mess:
Unearthing our Intrinsic Habits for Success
To find a form that accommodates the mess, that is the task of the artist.
~ Samuel Beckett
When I was a little kid, my friend Wendy and I discovered the first floor of her family’s carriage house – an outbuilding behind their main house. The upper floor had been renovated and was being rented. But the ground level room had become a dumping ground. The space was crowded and filthy – filled with old furniture, a refrigerator, pieces of wood, and all kinds of odds and ends. In one corner was an unplumbed toilet around which stood the framing for a small loo – an abandoned project. The whole place had been abandoned, but we’d found it; and we were sure we’d found something valuable. We eagerly planned to start our work at 8 o’clock the next morning, even though it was summer – usually our time for riding bikes, going swimming, lying around, eating ice cream, and playing pretend games.
I mainly remember the heavy dust and dirt under my bare feet, the occasional rusty nail, and how hard we worked. Because the aborted bathroom was unusable and resistant to disguise, Wendy and I piled all unwanted items over there. A lot of time was spent hauling; though we filled garbage bags, mostly we were stacking things on the sidelines in order to clear a space. We swept and cleaned and took cans of leftover paint and used those questionable, bold colors to coat the walls. We painted until the paint ran out, starting wherever we chose, ending when we had to – large, awkward areas left bare. There were some kitschy cardboard prints we hung as well. more...
Tackling Writing Stagnation with Experimentation
There comes a moment in some writer’s lives where they feel that they hit a limit on their skill. It’s not that they believe they know everything about writing, but that there is an internal skill cap which they have bumped against. They report they have reached the end of their skill set, and from now on, there’s no more room for improvement.
This can be a very worrying sensation, especially if you believe that you have some way to go until you can achieve writing goals that you may have. You may feel that dreams of being published may be unobtainable, given that your general skill set has hit a plateau.
If you’re currently feeling this, don’t fret. Be aware that you still have a lot of room for improvement; the very fact that you are aware of this within yourself means that you won’t stagnate. As long as you know that there is still room to grow, you won’t fall into the trap of never improving.
But what can you do about your problem? When I am in a writing rut, I feel that I am producing the same level of content for weeks or months in a row, without improving whatsoever. It usually means I’ve closed the doors to some aspects of my writing. Because it’s hard to see where I’ve begun to restrict myself, I’ve decided to create a special area of my writing where I am free to experiment to my heart’s content.
Why is experimentation important? When done correctly, it allows a writer to try out new ways of writing fiction without fear of commitment. This fear is the same one that tends to lock us up into familiar patterns or routines, and keeps us afraid of trying something new. Changing how we write our fiction can be a worrying and somewhat daunting activity. What if it all goes wrong? What if people dislike it? What if it goes against the genre I have chosen, and people call me out for it? When this fear is removed – when writers write in an environment where none of the questions above matter – it opens up new avenues in their writing they never knew existed. more...
by Cherie Tucker
Almost everyone knows the “rule” that says you must never end a sentence with a preposition. They irony is that most people who know this rule don’t know what a preposition is. And they don’t know that there are exceptions.
A preposition is the part of speech that shows the relationship of noun or pronoun to another word in a sentence. For example, you could be in the house. The word in tells the reader (or listener) where you are in relation to the house. You are in it. Or beside it. Or under it.
As to that ending-a-sentence-with-a-preposition business, it is sometimes fine to end with one. For example, you would never say: For what is this? In everyday conversation we just say, What’s this for? The informal style allows for the preposition at the sentence’s end.
In formal writing, however, you must follow the rule.
Informal: They couldn’t determine the make of the car he was riding in.
Formal: They couldn’t determine the make of the car in which he was riding.
Informal: The person they gave the money to was surprised. more...
The Continuity of Practice
Several years ago, while living in South Africa, I was writing one night – a rare spurt at the time – and when finished, I stood up and said out loud, alone in my flat, “There is nothing that makes me feel more tender toward myself than this.”
Still, I failed to officially start the book that would include this content (and in doing, commit to writing on it daily) for three more years. It is perhaps the oldest, most basic question for writers, and I think particularly for new ones: we know we’re wired to put pen to paper, we know how we suffer when we avoid it, so why is it still so hard to sit down and write?
It’s not just us.
In her essay “The Getaway Car,” nationally renowned author Ann Patchett writes: “Every time I have to set out to translate the book (or story, or hopelessly long essay) that exists in such brilliant detail on the big screen of my limbic system onto a piece of paper . . . I grieve for my own lack of talent and intelligence. Every. Single. Time . . . I believe, more than anything, that this grief of constantly having to face down our own inadequacies is what keeps people from being writers.”
Reading this essay a year ago as I was finally starting the memoir that I hope will become my first book, I was at once seized with recognition at the sentiment and also felt I wasn’t entitled to resonate. I wouldn’t know about the challenge of writing a long piece, after all – envisioning the whole, masterful product in my head – as I hadn’t managed to do it yet. I had forever written bits, in bursts, à la Natalie Goldberg’s timed writing practice, especially while living in Africa for three and a half years during my twenties. I had drawers of notes but didn’t know how to tie them into something cohesive, so didn’t. more...