Saturday, October 20, 2012

on writing - janet yolen

Janet Yolen has an advice for writers section on her blog covering a range of
topics from revisions to Muse to joy and rejection. Many encouraging pieces
of wisdom to be had, so here are some highlights:

On characters: I generally do not think out plots or characters ahead of time.
I let things roll along.  I do it because I am a reader before I am a writer. I want
my own writing to surprise me, the way someone else’s book does.

On writing a novel: The first chapters are a slog, circling and re-circling again,
trying to find the right voice, the strength of the main character, the central
metaphor. Often the middle sags as I rethink, re-vision, try to re-adjust everything.
But by the time I round the next-to-final curve in the road, when I can almost see
the tape at the end of the run, I fling my virtual arms in the air and race to the
finish. If I ever write the perfect book, I’ll stop writing.

By Jessica Brilli

On the infamous Muse: Sometimes when you are writing, and are so
concentrated on what you are doing that you pay her little heed, she comes into
the room, looks over your shoulder, and breathes softly in your ear. It is a tickle,
like baby’s breath, and could be mistaken for a shift in the internal wind in the
room. And you won’t know she’s been there, not until minutes or days or weeks
or months or years later. You will think that what you put down was ordinary but
it turns out to be extraordinary. And that’s when you understand the Muse had
visited you.

On writer vs. author: Now, I am one of those people who makes a distinction
between being a writer and being an author. A writer puts words on a page. An
author lives in story. A writer is conversant with the keyboard, the author with
character.  We are talking here about the difference between desire and obsession;
between hobby and life.

On revisions: Letting go of your golden words, your little gifts, your special
children, may be the hardest thing in the world. We all want to be perfect on our
first or fourth or twenty-seventh try. To revise something is to admit that you
made a mistake—alright, you made many mistakes—in your work. No one likes
to believe that. In fact, we worry that if we change something, we will only make
it worse. After all, when we begin a piece, we do it with a rush of energy, power,
joy. Revision can be thus seen as an act of deliberate destruction, cruelty
personified, amputation...

Take a story or chapter and break it up into breath spaces as if it’s a poem. Write it
down that way. You will very quickly see where you have overwritten a piece,
where your repetition is not helpful but just a mistake. When you see a cliché on a
single line, it leaps out, grabs you by the throat, threatening to silence you.

A writer has many successes:
Each new word captured.
Each completed sentence.
Each rounded paragraph leading into the next.
Each idea that sustains and then develops.
Each character who, like a wayward adolescent, leaves home and finds a life.
Each new metaphor that, like the exact error it is, some how works.
Each new book that ends–and so begins.
Selling the piece is only an exclamation point, a spot of punctuation.

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