Category Archives: Writing

Writing Process Blog Tour

I appreciate this opportunity to participate in the Writing Process Blog Tour.  I’d especially like to thank Tibby Plants for including me.  Tibby is a successful children’s author whose latest book is Meena Mouse’s Perfect Raspberry.  She is also President of the South Carolina Writer’s Workshop, and a computer geek par excellence. 

As it happens, this Blog Tour asks questions that I address here on an ongoing basis.  The home page for my website, Minds on Shelves, describes this blog as about “words and books and readers and writers.  And writing–especially about writing.”  Since I started it last September, 75 percent of the posts are responsive, at least in part, to the Blog Tour queries.  When you have a chance, check out my previous posts. Continue reading

The Writer’s Tools

We recently returned from a wedding in Lexington, KY (the daughter of a law school classmate).  As usual, I carried the last few pages of the current manuscript (Titan’s Brood, 1st draft now at 48,900 words), a pad of paper and a pen, having no laptop or other device with which to work while we were away.  I managed to crank out a few scribbled pages which were quickly transferred to the PC when we got home, and the cumbersome process caused me to reflect on how much had changed. Continue reading

The Perils of Prolixity

“The covers of this book are too far apart.”–Ambrose Bierce

“Men of few words are the best men.”–William Shakespeare

Or, as the Bard also said in a different context, “Brevity is the soul of wit.”  When it comes to fiction, some critics take these admonitions literally.  The shorter, more stripped down the story, the better it must be they believe.  Such people are usually those who care only about plot as story.  They are impatient with characters and settings, elements of fiction that are critical to a good story, as I’ve mentioned in these pages before.  But when critics like Bierce or Shakespeare complain about too many words, they’re not talking about story at all. Continue reading

A (Soon to Be) Lost Art

A few days ago, I read a piece in the Wall Street Journal that really grabbed my attention.  The author, a junior in high school, related that the hardest part of the Preliminary Scholastic Aptitude Test was copying and signing a pledge not to cheat on the test.  The reason:  She didn’t know how to write.  The discussion centered on her inability to write in cursive, but she noted that most of her classmates couldn’t print either–all they can do is type.  She closed by saying (perhaps with tongue-in-cheek, but who knows?) that she was incapable of signing her name.  I had seen various academic pronouncements to the effect that writing–the physical act of forming letters and words on a piece of paper with pencil or pen–would no longer be taught in the schools because of the ubiquity of computers, and assumed it was just more of the nonsense we’ve come to expect from our education establishment.  It seems they were serious after all. Continue reading

The Writer’s Confessional

“A book, a true book, is the writer’s confessional.  For, whether he would have it or not, he is betrayed . . . by his characters into presenting publicly his innermost feelings.”–Nelson Algren

“A book must be the ax for the frozen sea within us.”–Franz Kafka

IT’S NO revelation that a writer reveals himself when he writes, but Algren is saying that if he doesn’t, he’s not really a writer.  “[A] true book”  is one where the writer actually says what he feels and thinks–the others are mere bagatelles.  That definition would seem to exclude many of the books that show up on “best seller” lists today, the formulaic genre fiction aimed at an ever more discrete slice of the readership pie.  It’s also true that it’s those same books–mysteries, thrillers, “chick lit”–that dominate the marketplace, Anyone who participates in the book industry is eventually told that genre fiction is the only way to fame and fortune, thus the assembly-line “books” we have today. Continue reading

The Thesaurus: Use or Shun?

“Any word you have to hunt for in a thesaurus is the wrong word.  There are no exceptions to this rule.”–Stephen King

“The difference between the almost-right word and the right word is really a large matter–it’s the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.”–Mark Twain

It’s not clear that these quotes from two fine American authors are antithetical.  I believe that Mr. King would agree with Mr. Twain that the right word is preferable to the almost-right word.  At the same time, he condemns the use of a thesaurus to divine that word.  Presumably that means that he carries all the right words in his head or, if a word is not in his head, it can’t be right.  Mr. Twain says nothing about a thesaurus, but he is emphatic about finding the right word, leading one to conclude that a writer should consult whatever source is necessary to find it. Continue reading