Supporting Other Bloggers

A photo that has nothing to do with this post

Fellow WordPress blogger, Obinna Anyaibe of “Shards Of Bards” wrote an encouraging piece on some of the joys of blogging.

Here is an excerpt:

“When it comes to blogging, reciprocity is fundamental and greatly encouraged. Simply put, if you wish for your blog to be read, then you must read other blogs. Similarly, if you want other bloggers to engage with your content, then you must engage with the content that they create.”

And here is the whole blog post: Supporting Other Bloggers

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Empty Spaces

The Mall in a small town in British Columbia, Canada

“What shall we use
To fill the empty spaces
Where we used to talk?
How shall I fill
The final places?
How should I complete the wall?”

Oh! I know! How about social media! Yes, we can fill those empty spaces with Facebook. We won’t need to talk anymore. That will complete the wall I build around myself.

I can put writing on my wall, and post pictures of me and my friends and my family and all the fun things we seem to be doing all the time…

But it won’t really be me.

Or how about we don’t do any of that?

How about we find some empty spaces into which we can put ourselves?

How about we go out into the wilderness and fill the space between a handful of trees for a moment, touch their greens and browns, and drink in the sounds of their moving parts as their trunks shield us from the wind?

Or how about we walk in a field and make our silhouette become part of the landscape?

Or how about we walk down the paved sidewalks of town and look up at the sky, however much sky can be seen between the structures of what was once trees but now is wooden framing, what was once rock but is now part of the concrete, and what was once ore underfoot but is now steel? Weave through the structures of flesh and spirit that move past you. Touch them with your eyes and your smile.

(I couldn’t just put “Empty Spaces” on as a link. I needed to include “Young Lust”, for to leave it out would be an OCD faux pas.)

 

That lonely, needy feeling

It doesn’t seem to be socially acceptable to shout out, “Hey, I’m feeling lonely and needy. Can someone please talk to me?”

But sometimes talking to someone is all it takes to not feel that way anymore. It doesn’t have to be a conversation about feeling lonely or needy. The connection itself, the interchange of words and thoughts, even listening to someone else talk about things that have nothing to do with your own problems, can be healing.

The opposite effect can result from reaching out and not connecting, though.

So, more often than not, I don’t even try. The risk isn’t worth it to me.

 

 

 

Write as if no one will read it

I write these blog entries with the assumption that nobody will read them.

I hear it in my mind in Kathy Mattea’s voice when she sang, “You got to sing like you don’t need the money… Love like you’ll never get hurt… You’ve got to dance, dance, dance, like nobody’s watching… It’s gotta come from the heart if you want it to work.”

You got to write, write, write, like nobody’s reading…

And then when you learn that somebody read it, if you did it well, you might find that the feeling is that of comfort.

Several years ago, when I was new to blogging, a niece, who was in her early teens at the time, said, “I like it when you write from the heart. You should write more of that.”

I think that’s good advice.

I’ve always felt best about writing from the heart, that is, writing without worrying how it will be taken. I do sometimes have to carefully choose my words so they don’t get misundertsood by certain people who have proven a tendency to twist my meaning, but more often than not, I just let it flow.

I know there is a risk that someone will read my words.You are reading them right now. And there is a list of people who purposely follow my blog, although that doesn’t necessarily mean they will read each entry.

But people stumble across my writing in other ways, too.

When I was 18, I was at the family home of the guy who ended up becoming my first husband. A friend of his grabbed my purse and opened it, saying, “Whatcha got in here?”

He took out my journal and I gave a mild protest, like, “Oh, no… don’t read that.”

But I didn’t really want him to not read it. He read it out loud, at first as though he was mocking me, but he kept reading long after a few sentences. And I was glad. I just sat there and smiled smugly, like, “Ha. Go ahead and read. I have nothing to hide, and I’m glad you’re enjoying the ride.”

Somebody once told me, “Don’t write anything that you wouldn’t want to be seen by the whole world if it fell into the wrong hands.”

I’ve written things I didn’t want anyone else to see, and they did fall into the wrong hands, but that was before I learned that advice.

Sometimes people surprise me and say something to the effect of having read what I wrote in my blog entries or elsewhere on the internet. It’s a comfortable feeling of having unknowingly invited someone into my pointless little world, and finding that something I said stuck in their mind.

How about you? Can you relate to any of this? I’d love to hear how you feel about the production of your own writing. Leave a comment below, if you can find the elusive comment box, or otherwise connect with me.

(Kathy Mattea’s video: “Come From The Heart”)

Are there no good writers anymore?

It saddens me to have to circle writing errors in books.

I’ve been a bookworm all my life. Well, since I could read when I was four years old, thanks to my mom and Sesame Street.

My dad, whose first and main language was Serbian, was so proud of me being able to read his sixth or seventh language – and my ONLY language. I remember him grabbing the Vancouver Sun newspaper one day when a friend of his was visiting. I must have been four years old.

“C’desten!” my dad would say, which is how “Christine” sounded in his accent.

“C’mere. Read this.”

I shyly read out loud the headline at which he was pointing, followed by the first paragraph, and then I went to hide under the kitchen table, where my sister and I usually hung out when our parents had friends over, still hearing my dad bragging in the living room. The two men laughed and continued on in their regular communication.

My dad’s English writing was bad. He had little reason to write words when he came to Canada, diving straight into carpentry, which kept his hands busy with tools and numbers. When he had to spell something in English, he wrote it the way it would be spelled in anglicized Serbian, and by that I mean English letters with Serbian sounds and accent marks, not full-on Cyrillic characters.

By the way, I usually hear people pronounce “Cyrillic” as “ser-RILL-ik”. My parents and their Serbian friends always pronounced it “CHEER-litz”.

A favorite example is how my dad wrote the word “church” in his address book. I can still see his right-slanting all-caps that said “črč”.

Maybe I have, perhaps at least in part, become such a stickler for good English writing because of the struggles my dad had with it. He used to say he had stories from the old country that would make a bestseller, if only he could write it all out. I wish he would have.

Here I sit today in my favorite little cafe, waiting for the air conditioning to get fixed on my truck at the shop up the road. I was reading a book and after three circles of my red pen I decided to put the book down and write this here in my WordPress blog.

It is a book written by a former school teacher in my area, no less. But, teacher or not, we all make mistakes in our writing. I know I do, even in these little blog entries. I correct them when I find them, usually after I publish them.

If ever you find an error in my writing, would you please be so kind as to let me know so I can fix it?

(Funny… at the table across from me, I spy one of my neighbours, another former teacher. I bet she knows the author. I will ask her later and edit this to update.

UPDATE: I greeted her and asked if she knew the author. Indeed she did. That made me smile. I love my little town.)

I won’t say who the author is, out of respect and to protect her reputation. My point, though, is: don’t people care anymore about good writing? Rare is the book I read that allows my poor red pen to have a complete rest.

Discouraged or something

“Have I laboured all for nothing.
Trying to make it on my own.
Fear to reach out to the hand
Of one who understands me
Say ‘I’d rather be here all alone.’

It’s all my fault

I sit and wallow in seclusion.
As if I had no hope at all,
I guess truth becomes you
I have seen it all in motion
That pride comes before the fall.”

-From Jennifer Knapp’s “Whole Again”

Those words of a beloved song came to mind as I thought about how good it would be to reach out and be understood.

“Cheer up. Look on the bright side. Here’s what you need to feel better.”

Best intentions aren’t always a solution.

Sometimes a solution is not the answer.

Maybe there is a reason for the feelings. I believe I will know someday, and all these pains won’t even be worth comparing to the joy that is coming.

Until then, though, I ponder.

Why is understanding in such short supply? Or do I just not know where to find it or how to hunt for it?

So much in this life seems so complicated and only results in what feels like futility.

Maybe someone will think about me. Maybe someone will pray for me.

I think I need to go out for a walk.

Maybe I will think about eternity. Maybe I will think about the sunshine breaking through the clouds. Maybe I will think about mud.

Maybe I will think about this song:

(Jennifer Knapp’s “Whole Again” performed live, acoustic version)

 

Discouraged

“Have I laboured all for nothing.
Trying to make it on my own.
Fear to reach out to the hand
Of one who understands me
Say ‘I’d rather be here all alone.’

It’s all my fault

I sit and wallow in seclusion.
As if I had no hope at all,
I guess truth becomes you
I have seen it all in motion
That pride comes before the fall.”

-From Jennifer Knapp’s “Whole Again”

Those words of a beloved song came to mind as I thought about how good it would be to reach out and be understood.

“Cheer up. Look on the bright side. Here’s what you need to feel better.”

Best intentions aren’t always a solution.

Sometimes a solution is not the answer.

Maybe there is a reason for the feelings. I believe I will know someday, and all these pains won’t even be worth comparing to the joy that is coming.

Until then, though, I ponder.

Why is understanding in such short supply? Or do I just not know where to find it or how to hunt for it?

So much in this life seems so complicated and only results in what feels like futility.

Maybe someone will think about me. Maybe someone will pray for me.

I think I need to go out for a walk.

Maybe I will think about eternity. Maybe I will think about the sunshine breaking through the clouds. Maybe I will think about mud.

Maybe I will think about this song:

 

 

Reblog: Balance showing and telling

Show, don’t tell

I HATE this advice. I know myself well enough to know that probably means I need to pay attention when people say it about my writing. If you ask me about it, I’ll probably say something like “I’m skeptical; it’s a newfangled notion and I’ve read plenty of books that have stood the test of time while telling mercilessly.”

Honestly, though? I hate this advice because I don’t understand it well enough to heed it.

This blog post is my attempt to come to grips with this confusing notion.

It’s in the prose

Show, don’t tell, isn’t an aspect of the storytelling side of writing. You can have a terrific plot, compelling characters, and a meaningful theme, and still struggle with telling. Show, don’t tell happens in the prose you use to tell the story.

Do you see what I did there? Storytelling. Prose that tells the story. This is probably a big reason I find this concept so vague: it’s a catchy phrase that doesn’t convey enough meaning to be helpful.

Dramatization versus exposition

The fabulously informative K.M. Weiland explains the phrase as code for mastering great narrative and allowing readers to fully inhabit the story. In the old novels I sink into when I have a bad day, I’m observing a character who’s watching something happen; the “show versus tell” goal is for me to watch something happen myself.

Weiland recommends examining every paragraph of your novel for the proper balance of showing, using a list of checkpoints.

  1. “Telling” verbs

These are verbs that put a layer of distance between the reader and the story. Weiland’s list includes ask, begin, feel, hear, look, see, smell, sound, taste, think, touch, and wonder. These words distance the reader because instead of engaging the reader’s own senses, you’re telling them what the narrator is sensing. It’s the difference between “Sally heard a lark singing” and something that describes the plaintive, desperate cry of a lark looking for a mate.

My impression of lark song from a hundred literary references was completely off base. There are no larks where I live, so I looked it up on YouTube to help me write that sentence. From reading all those old “telling” narratives, I imagined a beautiful melody, like the mockingbird outside my house sings. Now I know it’s more of a call, not very musical at all. If the way a lark sounds was important to a plot, I’d never have gotten the point.

2. Dramatize, don’t summarize

You can think of showing as dramatizing, and telling as summarizing. It’s the knife plunging into the victim’s heart versus the assassin killing the victim. Joe Bunting calls this being specific, and he says it’s the secret to showing, not telling. He recommends interrogating your story to reveal the hidden depths, and compares a summary to a closed accordion. The music happens when you pull it open and show the folds.

3. Balance

Don’t try to eliminate all the telling in your novel. You can use it to summarize tedious or extraneous events, remind readers of what they already know, and transition between scenes, times, and settings. Most of your writing should be showing, but there’s a place for telling. As a reader, I’m fine with a summary that says the second week in the new job was just like the first. Writer’s Digest says be brief, and make sure whatever you’re summarizing is really necessary for advancing the plot by developing backstory, establishing mood, or describing the setting. The flip side of adding specificity is that you’re adding length. Don’t bore the reader.

4. Show the one right detail

Find the one thing that will bring the scene to life, and let the reader’s imagination fill in the rest. Brandon Sanderson talks about this in his BYU lesson on world building: he says if you go deep on one little thing about your fantasy or science fiction world, it creates the illusion of the iceberg beneath the surface. Weiland says that trying to dramatize everything, so the reader sees exactly what you see in your imagination, doesn’t usually work, and adds unnecessary clutter. Along the same lines, Tom Leveen reminds us that everyone knows what bacon smells like, so you don’t need to waste a paragraph describing it. He says make that one right detail concrete: it’s not the length of the description but the specificity. You can choose to leave other things ambiguous.

The camera trick

The Writer’s Digest recommends Jeff Gerke’s idea from his book The First 50 Pages, to help you identify whether your prose is telling, not showing. Ask yourself, can the camera see it? “It was a peaceful land and the people lived in harmony” is telling because the camera can’t see peace and harmony.

You’ll have to imagine a camera that picks up things from the other senses. Also, interior monologue isn’t telling, even though the camera wouldn’t see it.

Showing better by stirring emotions

Another way to think about it is to say that showing is the ability to stir readers’ emotions, says Abigail Perry on the DIY MFA website. Using the courtroom verdict scene from To Kill a Mockingbird, you can see how three techniques heighten the reader’s connection to the character’s emotions:

  1. Metaphor and simile

Using vivid images and precise words pulls the reader in better than vague adverbs and adjectives. In Mockingbird, Scout says “I saw the jury return, moving like underwater swimmers.” She could have said “the jury returned, moving slowly” but that wouldn’t have conveyed the agonizing pace. The metaphor also helps to show how Scout is perceiving the moment, in a dreamlike, time-stretched, somber way.

Metaphors and similes make scenes easier to imagine. Watch out for clichés, though – I know the first simile that comes to my mind is usually something that was overused a hundred years ago.

2.  Verbs to trigger the senses

Scout notices that Jem’s hands are “white from gripping the rails.” From this image, we know Jem is upset, and we can feel the tension in his body. Atticus “pushes” his papers and “snaps” his briefcase. Using verbs instead of adjectives and adverbs is a stronger, more direct way to describe what and how the character sees, smells, hears, and feels. Tom Leveen says we can use more than 5 senses in our writing. The senses of temperature, pain, balance and acceleration, and where our limbs are in relation to ourselves can all help deepen the reader’s connection to our work.

3.  Interweaving dialogue

Dialogue is another way to show a character’s feelings and emotions. There’s not much dialogue in the Mockingbird  scene but what little there is pulls us in deeper. Not exactly dialogue, but description of dialogue – “Judge Taylor’s voice came from far away and was tiny” – conveys that same slow-motion unreality as the “underwater swimmers” jury motion. At the end of the scene, as Scout is watching from the balcony as Atticus exits the courtroom, Reverend Sykes says “Miss Jean Louise, stand up. Your father’s passin’…” The short statement conveys the respect the community has for Atticus, and supports the visuals.

How to show in four easy steps

The Daily Writing Tips blog summarizes the concept briefly:

  1. Use dialogue
  2. Use sensory language
  3. Be descriptive (but don’t go so far as to write a “police blotter” description)
  4. Be specific, not vague

The great lie of writing workshops?

Joshua Henkin has a different perspective on the “show don’t tell” advice. He says there is a kernel of truth in it – fiction is a dramatic art. However, a novel is not a movie. Movies are better at certain things, but they aren’t as good at others as novels are, like conveying what’s going on in the general sense that doesn’t fit into a specific scene, or more importantly, describing internal psychological states. A movie can suggest emotion by dialogue and gesture, or borrow from the novel with a voice-over; a novel can straight-out tell you what the person is feeling.

Henkin says “show don’t tell” can be a lazy way to say something isn’t working in a story, when the teacher and the student need to dig deeper to figure out what the problem is and how to fix it. It’s easier to fiddle with the description so the reader can see the torn vinyl couch than it is to describe internal emotional states without using cheesy clichés. “Show don’t tell” can provide cover for writers who don’t want to do the hardest but most crucial work.

Mostly show but sometimes tell

Hannah Collins neatly straddles both sides of the question with this less catchy but more accurate phrase. She compares writing to music, where composers include silence to give the listener a rest from all the sounds. If you do nothing but show, your writing will be long and exhausting, and some things are better conveyed by simple telling.

Because telling comes naturally to writers, we need to learn to show, which is why the “show don’t tell” advice is so prevalent. Collins recommends practicing by writing a scene in simple “telling” style and then rewriting it to show, sprinkling in more details and context than the straightforward telling conveyed.

Ultimately, knowing when to show and when to tell comes from experience, practice, instinct, and feedback.

Blog Commenting

I am always amazed when I read someone’s blog entry and see comments and discussion following it.

I read a blog post yesterday wherein the writer was saying they aren’t a fan of reading their notifications.

Me, I don’t worry about notifications, for at best there are a handful of likes, and rare is it that comments happen.

When someone has something to say to me, I am happy to respond. Unless, of course, it is rudeness. That is best ignored.

I’ve been blogging since 2011, having started on another site and then opening up this one on WordPress a year later, and on both blogs, very little interaction has resulted.

How do people get so many comments?

What am I doing wrong?

Or maybe it’s a blessing in disguise.

Blog Comments

I am always amazed when I read someone’s blog entry and see comments and discussion following it.

I read a blog post yesterday wherein the writer was saying they aren’t a fan of reading their notifications.

Me, I don’t worry about notifications, for at best there are a handful of likes, and rare is it that comments happen.

When someone has something to say to me, I am happy to respond. Unless, of course, it is rudeness. That is best ignored.

I’ve been blogging since 2011, having started on another site and then opening up this one on WordPress a year later, and on both blogs, very little interaction has resulted.

How do people get so many comments?

What am I doing wrong?

Or maybe it’s a blessing in disguise.