Thursday, March 31, 2011

A Bit of PEP to Get Over Writer's Block

Today's PEP Rally post is brought to you by our very special guest blogger, Sam Spellman. Sam is currently an undergraduate at Beloit College and hopes to obtain a degree in Creative Writing, with a possible double major in Psychology. When not tackling school, Sam spends time with her friends and Kappa Delta sisters or re-mastering old school Mario Video games. She works in the technical services department of Beloit’s library.

For those of you who never experienced the Monday doldrums, consider yourself lucky. Those of you who know exactly what I’m talking about can attest that if you don’t get something done on that first day to set the tone, the entire week will be ruined. That’s where a PEP Rally comes in. PEP stands for Productivity, Ego, and Procrastination, the three most important things to a writer after their computer or favorite pen. Even though the Rally was created to start a week off right, it can help combat the dreaded writers block any day of the week. These tips and activities will get you moving towards that word count in no time. Well, maybe not the last one, but who said you have to be all work?

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Book Review: The Writer's Block

There's no doubt writer's block is real, even if it is elusive and difficult to talk about, even if it stems from a deeply psychological place, as most of the books I've found about the treatment of writer's block suggest.   Since writer's block has been on my mind this week, I've been looking for books that might prove helpful in overcoming the affliction. I've mostly found, as I just mentioned, psychology books, but I did come across this book called The Writer's Block which is actually a little block, a possibly handy 3x3x3 inch cube of thoughts and prompts for someone who feels stuck.  Here's a sampling of some of the prompts the author, an editor by the name of Jason Rekulak, thinks will be helpful for you.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Another Author's "Big Mistake"

Last week in a post about self-doubt, I mentioned The Author's Big Mistake. In case you missed it, The Author's Big Mistake is basically responding to a review. In a situation where an author shows up at a review blog to defend him/herself or the book, the readers never, ever walk away with a good impression of the author. Authors never sound like fully rational human being when they discuss their own work, because...well, they're not fully rational human beings. It's especially difficult to remember that reviewers can only review the book they read, not the book you wrote.

Writers Block 101: Three Ways to Get Over It

Okay, maybe that's false advertising and this isn't the one and only cure. There are as many reasons for writer's block as there are genres. But out of everything I've ever tried, this seems to be the key.


Or as Don Draper once told Peggy Olsen: Just think about it. Deeply. Then forget it. And an idea will jump up in your face.

Often what we call writer's block isn't anything of the sort. Your brain needs a chance to process what it knows, to build a network of connections, to consider problems from multiple angles. Sometimes that means that everything stalls, and you can't think of the next word. Or you don't have an "in" for an analysis you need to write. Or you've got a story on the tips of your fingers, waiting to pour out of you, but you don't quite have the beginning.

Thinking about what you need to write, what you plan to commit to paper, and where you want to start is a good thing. Stressing, obsessing, dreading, and finally working yourself into a frenzy of anxiety and disappointment is a bad thing.

So think about it. And then do something else for awhile--an hour, a day, maybe a week. All of the procrastination tactics you love so much, as every writer does? Now is the perfect chance to indulge.

Don't Stop Writing

Don't break your writing routine. If you write for an hour every night, still use that hour, even if you have to trash everything you produce. One day the writer's block will be gone, and when it finally lifts, you want to be there and ready to work. Write something outside of your typical genre or purpose. This past month, I couldn't find a story anywhere. I couldn't hear my characters, I couldn't think of a plot. I focused on writing non-fiction and blogging, so every day I could tell myself "It's fine, you're still writing. Don't worry about the other stuff."

Introduce Something New to Your Life

In the past two days, I found my voice and my characters again, and I already have 7000 words on a new project. In the past three days, I've introduced new music into my life, using Pandora and to find artists I either didn't know or didn't know well enough. Now I've acquired albums by Radiohead, Florence and the Machine, Interpol, and Arcade Fire. I know, I know, hardly new acts, but theses albums are new to me. This isn't a coincidence. Finding new books, new music, and new movies always helps me. Sometimes just varying my shopping routine or introducing new food into my diet will help push me out of a rut.

Images thanks to lukey dargons, tonyhall, and Man Alive! on

Monday, March 28, 2011

Monday Inspiration

In case it's as gray and dreary where you are as it is in Utah today, I'm posting three quotes and three photos to help you get inspired for the week. And if you write something based on one of the prompts or the pictures, I'd love to see it!

Around the Writer's Block

It's probably appropriate that I don't know what to write, given that our theme this week is the dreaded writer's block. I know I've seen this said before, though I don't remember the source--the only thing worse than writing is not writing. Truer words have never been spoken (by whoever I stole it from), and I think writer's block is particularly vexing because it hits the core of every writer's fear. What if you can't do it a second time? What if you can't do it a tenth time? What if you forget how to write? What if you're right and the world is on to you, and soon everybody will know you have no business writing at all? Where's the story you should tell?

Writers, being at times temperamental creatures, may be particularly prone to frustration, which doesn't help the situation. I'm also very good at avoiding things I find uncomfortable, frustrating, or maddening, and my procrastination skills are honed to a sharp edge. But I think that might be a requirement for authors. Either way, the longer you practice avoidance and the more non-writing work you do to fill your time, the worse the block will get.

I'm just emerging from my own bout of writer's block. I'd say I've been suffering for a month, but deep down inside, I know it's longer than that. Because writer's block isn't just about the inability to put words on paper. There's nothing stopping anybody from writing at any time, and "I have writer's block" is a weak excuse for not getting work done. Writer's block is a deeper sense of dread, a brush with an alternative life where you're no writer, and it's usually self-imposed. It's not something that happens to you, it's an obstacle you've built yourself, consciously or unconsciously.

We plan to have some good discussions about and suggestions for overcoming writer's block this week, and hopefully it'll be enough to get some people inspired.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Sunday Housekeeping

As you can see, we've moved to new digs. We realized that while weebly was wonderful for a website, its blogging option sucked. None of the widgets we wanted to use work properly, and there were other little annoying things that added up until we decided we needed to find a new home. Fortunately, that happened after only 3 weeks, so it was a relatively simple matter of moving all the posts (weebly doesn't support importing/exporting, apparently). So here we are and some of our exciting blogging plans can move forward.

I'm devoting most of my time to building up College Writing Resources. It now has several helpful articles, an essay guide, and a research guide.

I think we found one of our writing interns, but we're still looking for one more.

This week we'll be discussing Writer's Block. We'd love to hear about some of your experiences with writer's block, or some of your tricks to combat it. What do you do when the words just aren't coming?

Friday, March 25, 2011

Friday Five: Kick Ass Women Guaranteed To Make You Smile

I only just sat down with my laptop though I've been up since 5:30. Our minion had her tonsils out this morning, and she's quite miserable right now. I got her the wrong popcicles, nobody can find the bottle of Ibuprofen, she's hungry but she can't eat, so that shortens her already short temper. All we can do is what we did when she was just a grumpy baby--give her mac & cheese and park her in front of the television. So in honor of Lindy and all the television she'll be watching, I've made a list of 5 Kick Ass Women Guaranteed To Make You Smile.

Babs Bunny
Well, she's sort of a woman, and she definitely fulfills the most important criteria of this list, namely kicking ass. She's funny without being obnoxious, mischievous without a cruel streak (except once and she learned her lesson), always sticks by her friends and stands up for herself. She still makes me laugh, and very few things I loved when I was ten still has that effect.

Memorable Quote [lost in New York]
They'll make a TV movie out of this starring Eve Plumb! 'Babs: Portrait of a Teenage Toon'!


We actually haven't seen too many episodes of Maude, but it doesn't matter, because every episode we've seen is packed full of gems. The series itself is pretty boring, though Rue McLanahan is great, of course. But even if the episode is slow, Bea Arthur's performance and timing is always perfect. The other day we caught an episode on TV, and she casually mentions calling somebody she met when she was "running for the state Senate." You never hear women on television casually mention the time they campaigned to be a senator.

Memorable Quote
Maude: When he says wife, he means possesion.
Walter: So what, Maude? You told me a hundred times you wanted to be possessed.
Maude: Walter Findlay, I never said that standing up and you know it!

Dorothy Zbornak

It's a Bea Arthur twofer. I can't help it. Bea Arthur is my hero. I hope to be her when I grow up. If that's not possible, I'll settle for her timing and trademark growl. I've admired Dorothy my entire life (that might explain a lot actually). The Golden Girls is one of the funniest sitcoms ever--I've done the research--and Dorothy had all the best lines. She didn't suffer fools, she was confident but still had her insecurities, she loved her mother and her friends, and she could deliver a line as dry as the Sahara.

Memorable Quote
Rose: Can I ask a dumb question?
Dorothy: Better than anyone I know.

Dana Scully
There are many, many, many, many reasons to love Gillian Anderson and her character, as we all know, so I'll leave it at that. But my favorite thing about Scully was her understated but undeniable sense of humor. The teasing comments accompanied with a wry twist of her lips, the small smiles Mulder coaxed from her, and of course, the casual way she ate a cockroach. She makes me laugh every time I watch Bad Blood, the Rashomon-style episode about vampires.

Memorable Quote
Last time you were so engrossed, it turned out you were reading "Adult Video News."

Buffy Summers
Of course she had to be on the list, because she's the best. Smart, strong, funny, and can literally take on anything and kick its ass. The only thing more legendary than her skill are her quips, and quotes from BtVS have infiltrated my daily language like cliches and Biblical metaphors. I don't think there's a better cure for what ails you than curling up under a blanket and watching twelve solid hours of episodes like Band Candy, Lover's Walk, or Superstar.

Memorable Quote
The Master: You're dead.
Buffy: I may be dead, but I'm still pretty. Which is more than I can say for you.
The Master: You were destined to die! It was written!
Buffy: What can I say? I flunked the written.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Self-Doubt: The Root of All Evil

Authors love feedback. And once a work is published, reviews are the main source of feedback. This would be fine, except for two facts. Fact 1, authors should never read reviews. Fact 2, it's not a a two-way street, and no matter what the reviewer says or doesn't say, responding is never, ever a good idea. It's called The Author's Big Mistake and it carries that name for a reason.

I never break the second rule, unless it's to thank somebody for taking the time to read and write a review. But I never remember the first rule. I knew an author who claimed he never read reviews because if you believe the good things, you have to believe the bad. I don't disagree with the logic. The problem is, as a writer, I'm often plagued with doubt.

Sometimes I'm plagued with so much doubt that by the time a book is published, I can barely stand to think about it. Usually once a book goes on sale, I never revisit it, never re-read it, never remember the good times I had writing it. I know deep down inside it sucks, nobody's going to buy it, and if they do, they'll hate it. I should have worked harder on the prose, I should have tightened the plot, maybe it needed another round of edits.

I've never received a review as harsh as the ones I give myself for every single book, and I find it very difficult to talk about my work, much less claim it under my own name. Because then everybody will know I've successfully published one hundred titles under two pseudonyms, and every single one is "terrible".

4 Steps to Choosing the Perfect Essay Topic

What do you do when a professor says that you can write about anything you want? This can be a really scary, or at least annoying, experience for students who have never written an essay without some kind of prompt. 

As a PhD student I've grown used to this fact of life, and yet coming up with paper topics is still one of the most harrowing experiences of my term.  I just wish a professor would tell me exactly where I should be looking and what I should be looking for.  And yet, they just throw me to the wolves.  Fair enough.  I am supposed to have my own research interests after all, and I should also be competent enough at research to know where to start, but it still remains daunting.

Today I must decide on a paper topic for a seminar on Sophocles' Antigone, so I've been thinking a lot about process of deciding on a paper topic.  I don't want to be reductive, but it amazes me how this harrowing decision can turn into a rather simple one if you follow a few steps.  These steps are not always easily discernable, and they may be different for everybody, but this is how this process has worked for me for the last eight years, and hopefully it can help you out the next time a professor utters those words "You can write about anything you want."

1. Follow your gut, and then write a list

It's helpful to keep note of the things that have sparked even the slightest interests during class or while reading and researching.  Make a list of 3 of those thoughts, 3 things that made you think "hmm".  They don't have to be formulated topics or ideas, but just get them out of your head and on paper.  It might be good to talk about those ideas with a friend or other classmate.  Often verbalizing ideas help you know how strong they are or how much potential they have.

This is one of my favorite parts of the process because I love how odd the connections I make have become over the years.  Even the craziest idea could turn into a compelling paper.  For instance, in my recent course on coldness and culture, when my professor was talking about ice palaces and ice hotels I immediately thought of Kubrick's The Shining and as silly as it may have sounded to everyone else, I held on to that connection and ended up writing one of my favorite papers. 

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Opening the Door: Stephen King On Writing and Feedback

Wednesday is book review day at Triumphal Writing, and I was slated to review Stephen King's seminal On Writing, but I can't.  First off I haven't finished it yet, and secondly I can't review it once and then put it away.  There's too much in it to talk about, and I couldn't really "review" it anyway.  Am I to assign a mark and a stamp of approval for such a book, Haley's writing Bible?

No, I won't review it, but I will draw on some wisdom from it as we continue to address the issue of feedback and constructive criticism this week.  Yesterday Haley listed five suggestions on giving and receiving feedback, something writers are (or should be) always engaged in.  Do you want to hear what Stephen King says on the matter?  Well, ok, I'll tell you.   Then, afterwards, you should go to the library or bookstore or amazon or however you acquire books, and read the whole thing for yourself.  Or come back here where we'll surely talk about it again. 

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Pitching and Catching: The Five Rules of Constructive Criticism

If you're immersed in a community of writers--whether they're students, bloggers, or novelists--you will provably ask for feedback. And chances are good, you'll be asked to provide feedback on somebody else's work. Students participate in workshops, creative writers not only participate in workshops, but may also seek feedback from friends and colleagues or a network of trusted "beta readers." No man is an island, and very few people write in a vacuum where outside opinions are never sought or requested. But giving and receiving feedback can also be hugely stressful for both parties involved. So here are five suggestions to make the experience less frightening all around.

1. Be Specific

Picture"Your introduction is nice."
"I like the ending."
"The story is interesting, yeah."
"Good job!"
"Interesting argument."
"The ending was a little weak but overall everything else was okay."

I've seen vague comments like that more times than I can count. At times they were directed at me and my work, at times at my students' work, and sadly, I've even been responsible for vague feedback once or twice. If you don't know what to say or you're worried about hurting somebody's feelings, simple comments with vaguely reassuring words like nice and interesting seem like the safest route. And that might be the case, but it isn't the most helpful route. 

Nice is an empty word, more or less meaningless. Nobody wants to be called nice. That's no better than saying "I know nothing else about you but I'm expected to say something here." You should offer concrete feedback, referring often to the work itself in order to explain your reaction and thoughts. The introduction shouldn't be nice, it should be witty, engaging, intriguing, exciting, confusing, fun, anything but nice. If the introduction fails on some level, it'll never improve if you don't explain where it falls short.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Embracing Feedback and Criticism: What's the Use?

As a writer, a teacher, a student, and an editor I've had to deal with both giving and receiving feedback and criticism, and it has never been fun, easy, or always helpful. This is a shame, because feedback and criticism are some of the most important weights writers need to help build their writing muscle. This week Triumphal Writing will be looking at the feedback process, how to make the most of poor feedback, how to give good feedback and how to deal with criticism in general. I'm reading On Writing by Stephen King now, and one thing that has struck me so far (among many things. I'll probably mention this book in every post I write for the next year) was what he learned about feedback when he worked as a teenager writing sports articles for the local paper: "Write with the door closed, rewrite with it open." Think about that minute.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Sunday Housekeeping

I can't believe it's already time for the Sunday Housekeeping, not only for the blog but for my poor neglected house. I haven't been doing my chores this week because I've been so caught up in putting Arch Editing together. It's still growing so fast, and this week we've had several knew ideas we intend to implement over the summer. If you'd like to help us with all of this exciting work, just fill out this simple form and dazzle us with your charm and brilliance. Jasie started a new tumblr, and I immediately announced it would be for funny macros and inappropriate jokes. Because quite frankly, most of my life is devoted to funny macros and inappropriate jokes. I'll probably have another post about this later this week, but we're looking for authors of poetry, short stories, or narrative nonfiction to review. We'd love to feature chapbooks, self-published or independently published collections. My degrees might be in literature, but I feel a strong kinship with my MFA and creative writing brethren. Contact me at haley(at) and tell me about your work. We've also been busy updating the Arch Editing website, including our About Us page. And finally, we're still trying to build up our Facebook page. If you've read anything around here that you found worthwhile, please like us on Facebook. We'd very much appreciate the support.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Saturday Blog Roll

I have a bit of a secret obsession with The Peevish Penman that they don't yet know about, but it is my full intention in the coming weeks to let them know how awesome I think they are. First off, they remind me a bit of Arch Editing: they are two sisters with a passion for writing and a desire to help other writers figure out what the hell writing is all about. They've built up a fantastic looking website, just using blogspot, and they have really helpful content, including a small press list for those of you who are considering moving towards publication. This week they posted a fantastic blog post entitled: 15 Reasons to Write Today, which I then posted on Reddit and has probably got more hits and more likes than anything we've yet posted from Arch Editing. I'm fiercely jealous, and I really hope I can convince them to guest blog for us at some point. So, because of the sheer awesomeness of The Peevish Penman, we're placing them on our very distinguished Blog Roll. Go check them out. You'll probably become a little bit obsessed with them, too.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Paradise Lost

Lindy and I are getting caught up on Supernatural since she's sick and home with me all day. She'll be getting her tonsils out in a week, and has spent the past week with a serious infection in her throat. So it seemed like a good time to get caught up on shows we've always meant to watch but never got around to. Today we watched the episode in S5 when they died and took a magical mystery tour through heaven. Naturally we asked the obvious question and swapped answers, concluding it would have to involve The Ranch and summertime. Where else would I want to be? What else would I want to experience? The memories of this place are growing foggier and foggier. They used to be vivid, within my grasp at any time. Playing, fighting, every day, the long summer nights, the brittle winter mornings. And now there are glimpses. No more than that, and there will never be anything that can ever bring it back.

What is The Ranch? Well, for starters, it wasn't a "ranch" by any stretch of the imagination. We weren't ranchers, we didn't have livestock (well no cows at any rate), we didn't work the land, or have a big ranch house. It was just a spread of 40 acres (eventually whittled down to 14) high in the Uinta Mountains, on the bench of a tiny valley about 20 miles east of Park City. It butted up against "the north hills" so we overlooked the entire valley. From our front porch, I saw the hints of every home and road, every field of alfalfa. In the summer, the sound from the local rodeo grounds carried up to our door, and on those still nights we listened to the running commentary. The Ranch didn't have a name, though I suppose it should have. And we lived on a road that didn't have a name. We referred to things like "the ditch" and "the draw" and shared a common language without proper titles.

No, that's not true.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Looking For a Few Good Writers: Interns Wanted!

I've been slowly but surely collecting a staff for the past week, and soon our About Us page will reflect that fact. Our youngest sister, Lindy, is now officially my PA. She'll basically help as she always has, but now she'll have a title besides minion. I've also hired a Marketing Director for our books and services, who has already assembled his own street team of talented and amazing people. Finally, we have a digital intern to help with digital things. I'll write more about each of these lovely and talented people over the next few weeks. There's more work to do every day, and things are advancing so quickly I can barely keep up with it all! So we're looking for two more interns to join our team. Do you have what it takes to write amazing content? Are you a young writer who'd like the opportunity to build your portfolio and gain exposure? Then read on!

What We Want

Arch Editing is still in its very early days and we have a lot of plans for down the road. We'll need content for the resources section, supplemental materials, podcasts, and other projects and future websites. Our interests are varied, our ideas are limitless, and we believe strongly that hard work will pay off in great dividends. In other words, we're stretching ourselves too thin and there's always more to do. We need somebody who is self-motivated, self-directed, and eager to help us build Arch Editing into an empire of confident students and published writers. All of our interns are unpaid right now, but as we move forward we hope to change that. However, you will receive credit for everything you write, a link back to your personal webpage, and an invitation to submit posts for the blog. We require a minimum of three articles per week, as well as a certain amount of flexibility when it comes to deadlines. Things move fast in the digital world, and we may have work that needs to be done within twenty-four hours.


  • Pursuing Liberal Arts education
  • Completed at least two years of college
  • A can-do attitude
  • Enthusiasm for the written word
  • Three writing samples
  • A basic understanding of SEO and social networking
  • A good sense of humor
  • An appreciation for the finer things in life, like Star Trek, Joy Division, and cats (just kidding. Though it wouldn't hurt).
If that sounds like you then we'd love to learn more about your writing, education, and love of Star Trek. Please complete and submit this form with all the required information, and you'll hear back from us soon.

Know Your Audience: How to Score With Your TA

If you are a university student, it's likely that most of your papers are read and marked by other students. These people are called TAs (Teaching or Teacher Assistants) or graders, and it is their job to read the papers that your professor doesn't have the time or wherewithal to read. It's true that TAs are fellow students, but they are also supposedly the best and brightest, those who received the highest grades in the classes you are now taking. Even still, they are students, and they are learning as they go. It is important therefore to write your papers with this audience in mind. I've drawn on my own experience working for five years as a TA and talked to other seasoned teaching assistants to compile this list of tips for when you write your college essay. Please feel free to add any other advise or tips in the comments!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Book Review: The Virginia Woolf Writers' Workshop

The blurb on the back of The Virginia Woolf Writers' Workshop: Seven Lessons to Inspire Great Writing reads, "Imagine what it might be like if Virginia Woolf were teaching a writers' workshop. What would she say? What elements of her own experience would writers today find valuable?"

I couldn't help but feel a little turned off by the concept of this book, especially when I thumbed through it and saw that it is exactly how the author imagined the answer to those questions: Virginia Woolf is teaching a writing workshop. The scholar in me cringed slightly. I'm a little bit obsessed with Woolf these days. I live next to and go to school in the building she lived in on Gordon Square in London, I like to take walks where she took walks, and any spare moment I find is usually devoted to her novels, her essays, her letters. I honestly was hoping this book would be a well researched, well documented scholarly collection of things Woolf said about writing, much like Virginia Woolf On Women and Writing: Her Essays, Assessments, and Arguments, a book I am currently reading. But no, Danell Jones imagines Virginia herself, in front of a classroom, answering questions and giving writing tips.

As these things go, I was too quick to judge the book by its cover and blurb. In a sense the book is certainly not scholarly, but my worries over its content and research quality were unwarranted. Jones is not making light of Woolf and her accomplishments or her genius, but instead offering a helpful way to engage with Woolf and her writings on writing. As Jones states in the introduction, the purpose of the book is to present in "a playful way" some of Woolf's "ideas about writing, and at the same time, convey something of her life and her personality." Jones is also careful to use direct quotations from Virginia Woolf's diaries, letters and essay, while maintaining a narrative flow in the imagined conversation. She also provides clear bibliographical information in the notes section, where each quote is reprinted alongside its original source.

Jones also makes apt use of the reminiscences left by Virginia Woolf's family and friends in order to develop her as a living character. She also recognizes her limitations of placing Woolf in the position of leading a writers' workshop. Ok fine, the scholar in me is satisfied. But is what Jones presents helpful to an aspiring writer?

I'm going to have to say yes. Jones pulls out the best from Virginia Woolf's life and writings. She breaks the short book into seven lessons, seven elements of writing that Woolf indeed found important, and what is in fact relevant to all writers: practicing, working, creating, walking, reading, publishing and doubting.

In "Practicing" we learn we must make time for our writing and write every day. Woolf was jealous of her writing time and organized her day so that her mornings were left uninterrupted. We must stick religiously to a writing schedule, even if it means making difficult sacrifices. We must keep a diary, a private place for our private thoughts and experiments, a place to complain and to have a laugh.

The chapter, "Working" doesn't provide as many clear tips, but does describe the various forms of work Woolf did in her lifetime, and the importance of having your own quiet space to work. In "Creating" our imaginary Virginia Woolf encourages us to break from conventions and constraints, to recognize that there is not one formula for writing good fiction. However, she reminds us, it is important to be aware of those conventions and to be well read in order to learn from other writers, to "improve your craft by learning from great writers, both living and dead."

The chapter "Walking" emphasizes the need for both regular exercise and interaction and observation of the world, while "Reading" pushes the truth that a good writer must also be a good reader. "Publishing" gives profound advise about what to do and how to look at your work after it is finished, after you have sent it to others. "Publish nothing before you are thirty" Woolf has said, because "you will write for others when you ought only to write for yourself." The final lesson "Doubting" explains that we must be committed as writers, whether or not we are certain of our words or where they will take us, but that we must also always be working to improve our words and style.

At the end of each lesson is a list of five or six suggestions for warm ups, writing exercises and tips, and at the end of the book Jones provides suggested further reading as well as fiction, nonfiction and poetry writing "sparks", writing exercises based on Woolf's own words about writing.

Overall The Virginia Woolf Writer's Workshop is worth looking at, especially if you admire Woolf and you're looking for some extra help and motivation to start writing your own masterpieces. I would hope, however, that instead of being the end of your experience with Virginia Woolf, that it will be a spring board into Woolf's essays, such as "A Room of One's Own," "Street Haunting," and "Three Guineas." I would even go so far as to suggest the book I mentioned above, Virginia Woolf On Women and Writing, which is full of excerpts from essays, letters and personal writings. As useful as it is to have this fictionalized account of Woolf teaching a writers' workshop, it is no replacement for the power, beauty and wit of Virginia's own words.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Editing 101: Make Your Darling Bleed

Writers of all sorts often find it necessary to "kill their darlings" by removing well-written passages that don't contribute to the plot, trimming sentences, cutting entire chapters, or scrapping the whole thing and starting over again. I've heard the "kill your darlings" advice countless times in the past decade, and I'm only now beginning to fully grasp it. As a writer, a part of you must remain objective and focused. Objectively, does everything in the work contribute to the purpose of the work? Are you focused on your assertion, your structure, and your goal? Your love for something you created is irrelevant. If it's not working, your love alone will not save it. Sometimes, as they say, you have to be cruel to be kind. I'm finalizing Put the Body on the Slab: The Anatomy of College Writing this week. We're pushing up the release date, and I've been working hard to make sure it's presentable. After the second draft, I was pleased with the content, but not happy with the work. Despite Jasie's reassurances, I didn't feel like it was the best it could be or the best I was capable of. I set it aside for a little while and focused on other projects, but a few nights ago I knew it was time to return. I wasn't going to kill my darling, but I knew I would have to make it bleed red.

I chose these two pages at random. It could have been any two pages because no sentence was spared my wrath. If the sentence was passive, I made it active. If a sentence contained my favorite filler words, especially just, I deleted them. If it began with And, But, or Because, I rewrote it. Honestly, it wasn't a hardship. I love revising sentences and dealing with other level two issues. How you say it is as important as what you say. Ninety percent of the sentences I revised were grammatically correct and contained necessary information (the other ten percent was just crap). I didn't change the content, I didn't cut any content, and I didn't focus on structure. Yet, I trimmed approximately one thousand words, and the book is better for it. The prose is tight and it flows well.
It's not easy or quick. As a process, it takes time, patience, and attention to detail. The manuscript is only 15,000 words, but I spent an entire night working on it. At least seven solid hours without a break or distraction. Not everybody has seven solid hours to spend on this sort of project--but I do and that's why I'm happy to spend the time on your work as well. I consider myself to be a good writer. I make a living as a writer, I enjoy writing, I teach writing, and it's my number one passion, my only true hobby. But I'll never be so good that I can just churn out a single draft and declare it satisfactory. Very few writers are that brilliant. Even grammatically correct sentences may need more work. Editing isn't about fixing mistakes, catching typos, or destroying the work you love. It's not about "killing darlings" at all, as a matter of fact. It's about elevating your work to the highest standard.