Writing is Personal? Since when? (Writing Tip No. 7)

“Curiouser and curiouser.”

Writing is Personal? Since when? (Writing Tip No. 7)

The Writing Part

Any writer throughout history will tell you this (yes, I’ve met and asked them all): writing is you and your soul on paper. Once you release your words, they are for public fare. Can you live with what you’ve written with no “take backsies” or rewrites? If you answered yes, then maybe your manuscript is ready to get out there. Maybe that is the key to knowing when you are finished with anything. When you can see your words there, as they stand; they represent you in many meaningful ways. No matter if you’re writing an autobiography or a brilliant fantasy of a world where ordinary people never have to choose between being Team Edward or Team Jacob—if you are writing that book, please let me be your story’s first eyes!—the quest is always the same. Love your words and your words will love you back. It’s a symbiotic relationship we often take for granted. But then again… they are only words.

But you own them! Make them go! Get your crazy eyes on and write how you feel and how it matters. Then throw out that scorned teen’s diary nonsense and start over. Extreme? I’m just guessing. Cuz that’s where I go at some beginnings. But your own bad or cliche* writing can give you perspective and help you move forward with your craft. Take a step back and ask, “What’s wrong with this picture?” Overall and in pieces. If it’s yours and perfect and you approve, set it free.

Or just keep a stack of thought and story-filled notebooks under your mattress and enjoy them all for you only. May whatever goal you seek for your work come true. And while we’re askin’ for stuff… may God bless ponies and bunny rabbits.

The Reading Part

I am reading Watership Down as an audible.com book. And please don’t tell me that listening to a book can not be claimed as reading a book. I won’t have that argument because it is silly. I’m still getting the story. At any rate, please, no spoilers either. I have never read it and so far as I can see early on, it is quite magnificent. If you are familiar, I am so rooting for Fiver. I mean, why wouldn’t you be? Wait, don’t answer that. We’ll talk again in a few weeks. But the main plot of the story is that a group of bunnies leave the comfort of their home in the meadow because of an unfounded prediction that the entire herd <?what’s a giant group of bunnies that live together called? a common probably.> common would perish. That’s abouts alls I knows and I don’ts know no mores. I said there’d be unecessary plurals at some point earlier today.

But I do need to pick up my kindle again. I tried a few books recently but they all sort of petered my interest quickly out. In fact, the last good novel I read was (semi-ironically) The Reader. It’s a brutally honest look into the heart and mind of a former female Nazi guard and her torrent love affair with a 15 year old. Unbelievable that I had never heard of this book before but it was an excellent read to say least and it would be a wonder if it is not banned. Though I do believe there is a large gap between banning a book and quietly accepting one. I have a feeling that the educational community does the latter and doesn’t really draw attention to the book by teaching it. Though if a student found it on his own, he’d probably be encouraged by the school system. I would hope, anyway. Clearly these are only speculations on a much broader subject. It’s also one I didn’t mean to stumble into. So, with that…

The Part That Talks More About The Picture

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The Part Where It Ends For Now

Today, a friend of mine sent me a literary quote and it speaks for itself:

In three words I can sum up everything I’ve learned about life. It goes on. — Robert Frost

Fiction involves brain science. Brain science is not fiction. Repeat.

In a recent post, I was talking about the importance of nonfiction when it comes to balanced literacy programs vs. core knowledge. And if that means anything to you at all, you may also have heard about the piece that was in the Times on Saturday about how brain science is alive and well when it comes to reading. All hail brain science!

To begin, how many solid arguments do you suppose there are for advocating fiction in the classroom? Yeah. Hi. Only about a billion!

From NYT:

Researchers have long known that the “classical” language regions, like Broca’s area and Wernicke’s area, are involved in how the brain interprets written words. What scientists have come to realize in the last few years is that narratives activate many other parts of our brains as well, suggesting why the experience of reading can feel so alive. Words like “lavender,” “cinnamon” and “soap,” for example, elicit a response not only from the language-processing areas of our brains, but also those devoted to dealing with smells.

Did you know this? It’s fascinating that a certain part of our brain can detect what cinnamon smells like just by reading the word. How often do you suppose that word comes up in essays or nonfiction? OK, maybe the answer is a lot. Or if it is not found often outside of recipes, then there are bound to be tens of thousands of other descriptive words that any essayist may have in his arsenal. I think the general idea is that, in nonfiction, you can’t use a word like lavender in the same way that you can in a fictional tale. It would not be quite as magical and would stir up only connotations of its color (or smell, depending on context). And yes, soap is soap is soap. Do our brains really register that much of a difference if it’s real or imagined?

The novel, of course, is an unequaled medium for the exploration of human social and emotional life. And there is evidence that just as the brain responds to depictions of smells and textures and movements as if they were the real thing, so it treats the interactions among fictional characters as something like real-life social encounters.

Fall into the story. I’ve tried to understand what that means my whole life. Is there any equivalent to reading a novel? What it does to you or how it makes you feel; how it forms in you (at an early age) so many different ways in which you can view your own world. How you relate to others based on characters you once knew in books. How much of an influence stories were in our lives! If we are read the right ones, I suppose. Whichever those may be.

 … novels go beyond simulating reality to give readers an experience unavailable off the page: the opportunity to enter fully into other people’s thoughts and feelings. … A 2010 study by Dr. Mar found a similar result in preschool-age children: the more stories they had read to them, the keener their theory of mind ( [the] capacity of the brain to construct a map of other people’s intentions )

It is true that when reading a straight narrative of who, what, where, why, and when, you aren’t often given the emotions behind the facts. And that’s probably how it should be. Students should learn from informative texts as EQUALLY as they do from their stories and their fantasies. Again, heh, I am respectfully (and I guess politically) on both sides of this. Why should one side outread the other? Can’t there be a fair and equal balance? I imagine the problem would come then between grades. If a student has different teachers as he/she progresses through K-12, who’s to say which texts are right for each level? Who is to say? Maybe there doesn’t have to be such a fuss about it after all. Maybe these are only idiosyncrasies in an otherwise scattered and non-centralized educational system. Can any one answer be right?

Reading great literature, it has long been averred, enlarges and improves us as human beings. Brain science shows this claim is truer than we imagined.

Word to that.

-LW

*Interesting note: When you type the word “fiction” into Google Images, the first that pops up is Alice and her croquet racket (above).

Why blog?

Why blog? It’s late and I’m tired from driving all day and I’m full from a less than delectable dinner at a sub-par chain steakhouse. So why blog?

Why blog when you owe yourself and your new novel 6,000 words (tomorrow it will be 8) according to your own set deadlines. Why blog when your laptop’s battery is nearing the dreaded red zone and its plug is so far away you could never reach it without moving. Why blog when you don’t know where your blog is going and you don’t know who is reading it or why. Why blog when you have nothing new to say or, what’s worse, no new way to say it? Here’s why: because anything that gets your fingers moving is a start. Any way to nudge open the doors of your creativity is a good one. Any blog, regardless if it seems promising only to fall short mid-sentence will… be… um… good?

Here’s how your blog should read:

Once upon a time a moo cow lulled soundly. The boy in the back of the classroom overheard it from the open window and sighed because he’d read that story once before in a book by a man who had a lot to say and an unprecedented way in painting his particular word pictures. The boy was very well-read for his age and he dreamed of one day traveling to all the far away places he’d always daydreamed. Was he daydreaming right now? Was he on his own trip? Was his flight overbooked? Not even he knew. But he was going to find out. As soon as he could remove his glumpy fist from under his chin. Just as quick as he could stop cloud gazing out the open window. The very moment the cow in the field stopped mooing! The boy would escape and flee and fly and run and swim and laugh and be gay throughout history and future forever to come until some unknown species of farm animal comes home.

If you have any energy left in you, you will realize that the shite before you is good for this: it is practice, it is good tempo, and it very well could be a start. Of course, it could also be pure rubbish. But if that is the case then at least it is pure.

Write a word.

Write another.

Write now. Think later. Re-write. Go.

<You are now running on battery reserve power. Edit tomorrow? nah.>

 

Charles Dickens in our past, present, and future

In my line of work, it is good to know birth dates of literary celebrities and superstars.

William Shakespeare — April 23, 1564.
Edgar Allan Poe — January 19, 1809.
Charles Dickens — Today, son!

In the big scheme of things, what is 200 years? It is nothing. A blip. A speck. An infinitesimal amount of time. But look at how far we have progressed as a society since Dickens’s birth! It is astounding! I’ve been re-reading A Tale of Two Cities this month and it makes my head spin to think of the sheer ruthlessness and lack of respect for human life that was alive and well back then. Granted, the French Revolution predates our birthday boy a bit, but not by much. Put that aside and just look at our conditions and technologies today compared to then. How have we come so far so fast? And where will we be going in the next 200? These sorts of questions boggle my mind from time to time—obviously not because of Dickens, but today is his day and when I think of him writing there at his desk with parchment and quill as I look down at my laptop’s screen shining his visage up at me from Google Images… I can’t help but gasp and take pause at the immense progress of it all.

Gasp

Pause

When Poe turned 200 just three years ago, I spearheaded an unprecedented, digital extravaganza in celebration of his life and work. It was a huge undertaking that took well over a year to bring to completion. When it was released on the master of macabre’s bicentennial, I felt such an overwhelming feeling of satisfaction that little of my professional works to date have come close to matching it. Many other literary projects and tributes have come and gone since then, but the Poe Toast was surely special. … Fast forward to today.

Dear Mr. Dickens,

I do humbly apologize sir, for not giving you the same treatment I have with other literary giants of the past. There is little excuse for my oversight. I could sit here and rattle off a list of grievances I, myself have concerning budgetary needs but, in the end, I am truly the one to blame. I’m afraid sir that my particular station’s ennui has gotten the best of me. If I could go back in time a year, I would certainly damn the circumstances and produce, for you, a hullabaloo worthy of your fame. Today’s birthday extravaganza would be so great that you would feel it in your very bones in whatever celestial palace your bones may current reside. In summation, I am guilty, sir. You deserve more than a paltry blog post. You deserve more than a mention in a magazine. Perhaps, someday, I will be so lucky to make some big explosion of your words and share your work with others in a special way. But it won’t be today. And for that, I am humbled.

At any rate, sir. Happy birthday to you. Put all humbugs aside for hurrahs! May I be one of the first to welcome you into the third century of your greatness.

Cheers,
LW (for now)