Tag: writing group

The "Tag, You’re Small" blog award

YA Writer Ruth Lauren Steven has given me the Liebster Award.  I’m not sure who started it (maybe someone German, based on the name??), but basically it’s a way to acknowledge blogs you like that have a following of less than 200 or so.  According to the word-of-mouth rules, you’re supposed to pass it on to five small blogs you like, then list five things about yourself.

The rest of the small blogs I follow are of friends’ kids, so I’ll just leave this at three because my friends probably wouldn’t appreciate the writing world being all up in their children’s business.

But on the plus side, per Ruth’s example, I only have to tell three things about myself:

  • I love to travel, especially on pointless roadtrips.  I just spent a week driving around the country, singing along poorly and loudly to the stereo, looking for my muse (who remains an unresponsive jerkface).  I hit twelve states, caught up with some friends, spent a day lying on the beach, and got some great pictures. Which brings me to #2-
  • I love to take pictures.  I’m mostly interested in landscapes and nature, not people.  I took some beautiful shots of Gulf Coast beaches.  And a dead sea turtle.
He’d eat your toes, if he weren’t dead.
  • I have a lot of strong, irrational aversions: mailing something at the post office; going in water where I can’t see the bottom, due to sea monsters (dead turtle is proof); broccoli; the word ginormous; wearing pajama pants or sweats in public; neck tattoos….

A big thanks to Ruth for the award!  And if you’re grossed out by the turtle picture, you can blame it on her.

Why I Write (pt 2)

Tonight was parent-teacher conferences night.  The sad thing about these at the high school level is that the parents who need to attend the most, don’t.  I had my typical turnout of one parent, and then I put on my surrogate-parent hat and went around to a bunch of my students’ teachers to see how they’re doing (I’ll be giving up my planning periods to tutor someone in geography, two other kids in Earth Materials, and a third in Guided Writing). I still had an hour left, so I turned to my homework.

My online writing group is making a conscious effort to expand our understanding of the craft.  This week’s assignment:  Read (and discuss!) the linked essay by George Orwell and write a 500-word piece of flash which responds to it, or which features some of Orwell’s four reasons for writing in mixed amounts.

I’ve already written about why I write, but this time around I’ll focus on Orwell’s essay.

Why I Write

In his essay, Orwell gives four reasons for writing:  sheer egoism, aesthetic enthusiasm, historical impulse, and political purpose.  I can maybe buy that.

First is egoism.  There’s a definite thrill when I receive an acceptance for a submission and then again when I see my name in print, knowing that the message I’ve thrown into my work may reach its intended audience.  Knowing that my work will have an impact on someone, somewhere.  However, I hide behind a pen name and most people don’t know that I write, or if they do know they don’t bother to read any of it, so obviously egoism isn’t a main reason for why I do this.

Next on the list is aesthetic enthusiasm.  My language tends towards simplistic words and phrases, usually devoid of the dreaded purple prose, of elaborate descriptions and miles of narrative just because I can.  But aesthetics, Orwell tells us, isn’t just minute details; equally important is the general flow, the overall impact my words create with pacing, dialogue, character development, and plot. And it’s those that fuel my “desire to share an experience which one feels is valuable and ought not to be missed.”

And that leads to his next reason, historical impulse.  In The Things They Carried, Tim O’Brien wrote, “A thing may happen and be a total lie; another thing may not happen and be truer than the truth.”I couldn’t agree more.  For myself and I think many writers as well, how things are and how we see them overlap equally with the truth.  We interpret what happened; whether it happened or not is irrelevant.

This shouldn’t be confused with political purpose. If I can understand your reality and articulate it when you can’t, does it matter whether it happened as I wrote it or as you experienced it, if both versions arrive at the same truth?

That’s not to say I don’t put a spin on what I write – Orwell’s political purpose.  I color my stories with how I see the world or want to see it, and, more importantly, how I want the reader to see it.

All these reasons for writing blur together.  I write because I enjoy when other people (egotism) react to my words (aesthetics) and see the world (historical impulse) as I see it (political).

But more importantly, I write because I want to.  Because I need to. As Orwell says in his essay, “One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.”

It’s not egotism; I’d write even without an audience, and I have tons of stories I’ve written that I don’t plan to share with anyone.  It’s more than how well a series of paragraphs come together, or an agenda I push on people.

I write, quite simply, because I have ideas in my head that I want to express.

Everything else is just excuses.

Queen of the internet

About a year and a half ago, I started getting serious about writing.  I looked at quite a few writing sites, but finally settled primarily at the one I consider to be the best writing site out there, Scribophile.  And now, after 15 months, I’ve cracked the top 10 for reputation points, which are earned by writing critiques, posting new works, commenting in the forums, etc.

It’s a completely meaningless accomplishment, but that doesn’t mean I’m not proud of it.

Writing encouragement

As I get closer to querying my novel, I’m of course getting cold feet, which I voiced to a writing group.  This was a response:

In her most recent message, ED wrote about being hesitant to send out a novel because “it’s not as good as it could be.” She quotes a character in a story of L M [Montgomery]’s as saying to a would-be writer, “‘You’ll never write anything that really satisfies you though it may satisfy other people.'”

This reminds me of comments made to me by David Foster, then head of the Fine Arts Department at the University of Oregon. He said that when an artist works, the work is for the artist first, and for anyone else second. He said that Art is a process of discovery conducted by the artist, and that any discoveries made in the course of producing one piece only lead to the need for further exploration in the next. No artist is ever satisfied with his or her work, because that work is only one step on a road that will never end — the road to understanding. So artists churn out works, and as each one is produced it teaches the artist something; as the lesson is absorbed, the work that provided it loses value — it has been exhausted. If these works can help others — readers, viewers, listeners — to improve their understanding, then the works have continued value for them, but the artist is on to new explorations.

Foster went on to say that trying to make any work of art “perfect” is a mistake, because it simply distracts the artist from the true course of his or her explorations. It’s like Crick and Watson refusing to divulge their findings on DNA until they’d figured out how to do gene splicing and cloning. An art work is not a final product. It is an experiment, and it may be more or less successful in the artist’s estimation. Whether the artist regards it as a success or as a failure, it may or may not be of value to others. Everybody’s exploratory path is different. For the artist to try to make something perfect is simply to expend further effort on an experiment that has already served its primary purpose….

So, ED, don’t worry about getting it absolutely right. Don’t go after those diminishing returns. Don’t be overly concerned with which piece of parsley to use as the garnish. You’ve cooked the meal, it smells wonderful, the flavors complement each other deliciously, and your guests will agree with you that it is wonderfully nourishing. Your guests that aren’t lactose intolerant, that is. Or gluten-aversive. Or vegan. But there are other cooks cooking for them.

I know it’s time to throw the baby from the nest.  I know changing a couple words here and there won’t change anything overall.  But damn is it still daunting.

Back with my own kind

At the end of June I’m moving back to my hometown so that my kid can grow up near his grandparents.  In addition to wonderful food not available in North Dakota (Hungry Hobo sandwiches, Harr& is-style pizza, Chik-Fil-A and Panera and Noodles & Co. and Red Robin and Outback and Sonic and Steak-n-Shake, for example – yes, I love food), I’ve also found a writing community – the Midwest Writing Center.

And this isn’t just a small group that meets every month to critique members’ works.  Lots of critiquing groups, and people offering workshops on various writing topics, and book discussions….  Everything that a developing writer needs.

Unfortunately their annual writing conference is happening the weekend that I’ll be moving, but there’s always next year.

I’m really looking forward to joining and getting involved when I get settled!

The Musings of E.D. Martin © 2011-2020 Privacy Policy Frontier Theme