Writing instruction

Make It Easy on Yourself

Hey reader, I woke up thinking about you, about how we’ve been apart for too long. It’s not you; it’s me.

You see, I thought I had to have the perfect topic, the perfect, most thought out post, if I were going to write to you.

Let me back up.

My goal is to work out every day. I enjoy working out, and that’s the problem. Choices. I didn’t decide last night, so this morning (while I was thinking about writing this post — or not) I had to decide: the gym, outdoors, YouTube, Beachbody, video, or free form?

Beachbody. Because I have a subscription.

Fine. Hook computer to TV or do it in the dining room?

Dining room?

Okay, but move the laundry you did yesterday, move the chairs, start computer, restart router.

I was looking forward to it, because an exercise session boosts me for the next 3-4 hours.

But I could have made it easier on myself.

On my way to the back porch to find my workout shoes, I paused in the kitchen, ended up unloading and reloading the dishwasher, totally forgetting about my shoes.

Same goes with writing. Make it easy on yourself! Preplan that shit. Here are questions to ask yourself:

  1. When will you write?

  2. What will you work on?

  3. Where will you write?

  4. What do you need to successfully write?

  5. For how long will you write?

  6. When will you know you are finished for the day?

These are all important questions, ya’ll. Had I planned my exercise last night, down to laying out my workout clothes, I could have been finished at least half an hour earlier.

I’ve got to admit, I’m pretty good about organizing my writing. I wasn’t today. Ha, and you thought I was only slacking on the exercise prep front.

Here’s why I was hesitating: because I printed a draft of my novel last week and went through it, I had to decide whether to go back through the draft with another color ink (because I hate unnecessarily printing drafts: I’m a tree lover and it gets expensive). I still didn’t know which to do this morning.

I also have a couple of book reviews due, and wanted to start on an essay. But I knew the book review I most needed to work on would intimidate me. It did.

So what to do?

I decided to work on the book review for an hour. Then I wrote a list of essay topics. Lastly, I had to decide whether to type in my book corrections or not. I did corrections.

While I only finished half (so far) of the pages I’d hoped to type revisions in on, I got that much finished.

Next time, though, I will be more prepared. I will make those tough decisions, and make them early. I will plan so I don’t get bogged down in indecision or fear.

P.S. I do apologize for being gone so long, and I pledge to make you a priority from now on. It’s taken some time to learn what you want and need, and what I want to write up.

Do you have a writing schedule? Let’s hear about it!

How Two Writers Sharpen Their Spidey Writing Senses by Watching Movies (and how you can, too).

 “Hey, they can't do that. They didn’t set it up.” Or, “That dialogue...” We try not to be, but Barry and I are those people, the ones whispering in their theater seats.

With the recent tide of superhero movies and such, the Drudge household has been happily trekking to the theater fairly regularly.  

Thing is, the viewing experience is likely different for writers than for others. 

While there are film-specific elements that grab my attention as well, such as my ire when the camera cheats POV or the score tries to bully me into feeling an emotion, I’ve learned a lot about writing from watching movies.

Films can remind you to write all of the senses. Rich with visual details, deeply pearled with audio enhancements, including a ready-to-purchase soundtrack, movies envelope us.

Novels let us see the worlds authors build for ourselves. Yet we can experience movies at the same time with our loved ones. 

 

 

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Sometimes it’s more work than pleasure to watch movies as a writer, because you’re listening to the dialogue and critiquing the plot. Even when it is fun, it’s still work because you’re either admiring or criticizing the writerly components.

And sometimes it inspires you to stop by a comic shop, though you haven’t been to one in years.  

 

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Barry checks out the bins at Books, Comics, and Things.

And Drema sees a swoop and wonders if it’s a bird or a plane, but of course it’s... 

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Then there are those fun Facebook movie poster apps you use late at night and you only wish you looked like this: 

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But mostly movies are lunch fodder for the Drudges. We tend to spend the time while we wait for our food discussing the plausibility of the story (you’d be surprised at the gaping holes), critiquing the logic.

Drema’s big on insisting that a plot should be solid enough that you could jump on it repeatedly without falling through the foundation.

And NO convenient coincidences. Yes, there’s a literary convention that says you may have one coincidence and be forgiven and/or believed, but in general, that’s just lazy writing.

Anyway, if you want to be able to write off your movie tickets (kidding!), take a look at movies the way we do. Then, if you’re extra brave, try writing a scene. 

How do you watch movies? Does the writer you get in the way of your enjoyment sometimes?

Please comment below to let us know your movie-viewing-to-writing habits and scroll to the bottom and subscribe if you haven’t already.  

See, we wrote this without any spoilers. Do we get bonus points for that? 

 

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(Sentence) Length Matters

When it comes to news and most internet content, short sentences are preferred. White space is queen. When you read both today’s writers of literary fiction and authors of yore (did I just write yore?), however, you’ll find they’re not afraid to command your attention for longer swaths of time. And they do it well. A great writer mesmerizes us repeatedly, word by word. That's seldom accomplished with itty bitty sentences, although writers know when we need a breath and throw in a short one just when we need it most. Like this. 

Does that mean you should attempt labyrinthian sentences, forests of words? Not without a reason. Not without a skillful hand and a mean revising eye. Which probably means you’ll end up with more compact sentences than not. That’s okay.

But for those occasions when you have the luxury of creating leisurely sentences, when you’re finished, allow your eye to follow the path of a sentence and retrace it, paying attention to its flow and how it accomplishes (without flab) what it does. If you can write them, patient, sensuous readers will adore you.

We’ve all heard tales of writers who earned by the word, or writers who wrote serials where readers would have felt cheated to have had fewer words. Especially in pre-TV days. That is often given as the reason for longer sentences in older books. There is some truth to that, though not as much as you may think. (I once wrote a news column that paid by the word and yes, I did pad as much as I could get by with. Hey, I was in college and those packages of ramen didn't pay for themselves.) 

The best writers have an internal metronome. I once had an S.O.B. of a professor who taught me about sentence patterns; that one valuable lesson alone kept me from loathing him at the time, but not by much. (We've reconciled since or I wouldn’t mention it.) I won’t cover sentence patterns today, because they’re a whole thing, but sentence rhythm comes in part from them. And sentence rhythm is irrevocably tied to sentence length.

What do I mean by sentence rhythm? Let’s study these lush sentences from Chapter Two of Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre

Daylight began to forsake the red-room; it was past four o’clock, and the beclouded afternoon was tending to drear twilight. I heard the rain still beating continuously on the staircase window, and the wind howling in the grove behind the hall; I grew by degrees cold as a stone, and then my courage sank. 

Not only are the sentences eerie and descriptive, but their rhythm beats out the tempo of honest, insightful Jane’s personality. We hear her as she processes her situation locked in the room by paying attention to what’s happening outside.

Note the combination of trance-inducing, background creating languid sentences interspersed with shorter, catch-your-breath moments? Read the paragraph aloud. A good paragraph has an innate musicality. When you're writing, pay attention to the flow.

How is that flow accomplished? The syllables in the words themselves, of course are part of the magic. Short words speed things up. Multisyllabic words slow the pace due to how long they take to read.

Then there are those longer units of meaning, such as phrases. How does Bronte control those? With punctuation!

She starts us off with a semicolon. Know about semicolons. Use them. Well. She follows that with a comma, and ends the sentence with a period, of course. Did she think “and now I’ll use a semicolon”? Doubtful. But her ear, accustomed to writing sentences, knew when the time had come. (Punctuation is its own beast. We’ll cover that in an in-depth way too, eventually.)

The length of the sentence is affected, finally, obviously, by the amount of words she allows herself. A longer sentence asks us to commit to the thought for more time. A short sentence indicates movement, perhaps a transition to another thought.

Of course, if we’re discussing brevity and sentence length, we must cover Hemmingway, or at least a story (flash fiction?) attributed to him. When you want to paint quick images, when you want to tell the tale as fast as you can, consider writing telegraph style:

For sale. Baby shoes. Never worn.

Not only do short sentences speed us along, when well placed they give us a break when we most need it. They're great for speeding plot along; they're the friend of genre fiction in particular. They're the enemy of unhurried literary fiction which relies on longer sentences for developing a sense of place or character. For the inherent beauty that potentially resides in longer sentences in a way that doesn't seem as possible with short, louder sentences.  

While you seldom hear mention of medium length sentences (because who’s measuring, anyway?) what might their function be?

They’re the unremarkable members of the sentence family. Long ones come to our attention because we’re wondering when we can breathe. Short ones because wow, that was fast. (Unless we’re caught up in the story, and then let’s hope we don’t notice. But if we do…)

Medium length sentences are the workaday ones that hook the other two together! They do the same job but act more as a link than as an engine, to mix metaphors hopelessly. (I suppose the classification is based on opinion – who is to say if sentences are short, medium, and long? I don’t think I’ll try to make that determination here, though I am now imagining someone sorting them on a factory line…anyone want to draw a graphic of that and share below?)

Notice sentence length when you read and ask yourself what it accomplishes.  Then give varying sentence lengths a try and share them in the comments. 😊

Want more information on sentence length with detailed instructions and exercises on how to create your own? What a coincidence – we have more to say AND we’re creating a downloadable for our store. I’ll add a link when it’s finished. 

What’s your favorite sentence length to work with when writing? Have you ever paid attention to sentence length? Thoughts on sentence length?

Writing All the Things,

Drema