Great Stuff on the Writers’ Blogs, July 26, 2012

Going to do something different today and start with the fun stuff.

  • Would you believe a red British double-decker bus that does push-ups? Michael Swanwick found it, and it’s One Buff Bus.
  • Michelle Gagnon (@MichelleGagnon) invites everyone to play Tag Line Haiku on The Kill Zone. “Tag line haiku?” Yup. Use tag lines from books or movies to create haiku poems.
  • Maybe this isn’t “fun,” exactly, but it is interesting. Robert Bruce (@robertbruce76) announces on 101 Books that The Folio Society is about to produce The Sound and The Fury…In Color! Now, if you’ve read Faulkner’s masterpiece, you know it’s no easy read, especially the first chapter, Benji’s. Faulkner himself was aware of how confusing that chapter was (he should have been!) and told his publisher he wished sections could be printed in different colors so readers could better keep track of what was happening when. It couldn’t be done then, but it can now, and it’s about to happen.
  • OK, back to fun. John Vorhaus @TrueFactBarFact) advises us on Writer Unboxed to not be shy about Taking the Win, that is, enjoying that moment when we finish something, be it a scene, a day’s tough work, or a draft, especially the first draft. As someone who’s just days away from declaring draft #6 of my WIP done and good enough to be sent to an editor, this is advice I’m ready and willing to take!

But we can’t be all fun today, can we? Well, we could, but there are some good craft-related posts to tell you about, too.

  • Becca Puglisi (@BeccaPuglisi) of The Bookshelf Muse scores two guest posts on the same day on the topics of tension and conflict.
    • The first one, Becca Puglisi on Conflict vs. Tension on A Writer’s Journey discusses the difference between these two closely-related subjects, how a scene can have conflict without tension, and what to do if that happens.
    • Then, on Writing, Reading, and Life, she examines Tension-Building Tips, Rowling Style, using Jo Rowling’s techniques from book 5 of the Harry Potter series. If you haven’t read the book (what? you haven’t?), the story references will be a bit of a mystery, but hang with it and all will become clear.
  • Finally, Erin Reel (@TheLitCoach) guest posts on Rachelle Gardner’s blog about one writer’s journey From Blog to Book: Building an Online Platform. Now, at first blush, this post might not seem relevant to you: it’s about a woman who wanted to publish a book on the first year of raising twins. While Erin’s tips are focused on non-fiction, where established author expertise is a requirement, at least some of her suggestions can apply to fiction writers, too.

Great Stuff on the Writers’ Blogs, July 4, 2012

Today is July 4th in America. Well, it’s July 4th everywhere that uses the western calendar, so that’s nothing unusual. But July 4th in America is our Independence Day, the day we celebrate our decision to break away from the British Empire and strike out on our own. Just as we writers wish to do–quit the tyranny of our day jobs and strive, unfettered, for a great ideal.

America’s founding fathers framed their decision to declare independence on some tremendously high ideals: the “inalienable rights” of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. They codified these ideals in the Constitution, then went even further with the first 10 Amendments to the Constitution–the Bill of Rights–including the First Amendment, which guarantees we writers the ability to write whatever we want without fear of persecution or prosecution by the government, with certain very limited exceptions since defined by the Supreme Court.

With high ideals come high risks, though, and a very high risk, indeed a near certainty, of failure to achieve those ideals.

And we have certainly failed, something our critics, internal and external, never fail to point out. Pointing out others’ failures is hardly a difficult thing to do or a high standard to meet. President Theodore Roosevelt said, “It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better.” So true.

We fiction writers understand something about failure that those critics of America do not: that failure is necessary on the way to success. Look at what we do.

  • We make our characters try and fail, try again and fail again, and again, and again, until they succeed in the end. Or not.
  • We, ourselves, try and fail, try again and fail again, and again, and again, as we work to improve our skills at our craft and seek markets for our work. Eventually we succeed to some degree. Or not.

“To some degree”: that’s an important phrase. America’s critics take an all-or-nothing approach. If America hasn’t totally succeeded at reaching her ideals, they consider her a total failure. Any intermediate progress she, and we Americans generally, might have made toward those ideals is useless and irrelevant because the ideals weren’t achieved.

What rubbish.

If progress along the path toward greater achievement has no value, why begin the journey in the first place? Why even try?

We know why.  We know that the journey’s important, as well as the destination. We know that success comes from trying and failing. And trying again and, as Samuel Beckett advised, failing better. Making progress. Moving forward, one halting step at a time. Even taking steps backward at times. Perhaps taking steps backward is necessary in order to have room to make a running start at the next attempt.

That’s America’s greatest secret strength–that we keep trying. Our goals and ideals are lofty, maybe unreachable in the end. But we continue to seek, in Thomas Jefferson’s words, that “more perfect union,” all the while knowing that perfection is beyond human reach. It’s a shame America’s critics don’t seem to understand that fact, or won’t accept it, or won’t do their part of the work to help the nation get closer to her ideals.

If you live in America, I hope you’ll take the day to celebrate not only the nation’s ideals but also the progress we’ve made toward them, even while being fully aware of how much farther we have to go. No matter where you live, as a writer, take this day to celebrate your own ideals and goals and your progress toward them, no matter how much farther you, too, have to go.

Happy Independence Day!

“We now return you to your regularly scheduled blog…”

Three items for you today.

  • The first comes from Donald Maass (@DonMaass). It’s the fourth in his series on Writer Unboxed called The Good Seed, in which he discusses story beginnings. This time he writes about the “inciting incident” and how to make it so powerful that not only does the character to whom it happens have to act on it, but the reader has to keep reading because they has no idea how they would react if it happened to them.
  • And finally, Sharon A. Lavy (@sharonalavy) asks, Will Reading Fiction Turn Men Into Sissies? Her answer, in case you’re wondering (spoiler alert!), is “No, it’ll actually make them better men.” I’d like to think she’s right but I admit to being amused by her piece’s motherly “Do this, it’s good for you” tone. Thanks, Ma. 😉

So what’s great in your world today?