Craft Quote #7 – Why Perfectionism Killed Your Story

If I waited for perfection, I would never write a word. – Margaret Atwood

The first draft of anything is shit. – Ernest Hemingway

These quotes come at a time when I’m making several revisions to a short story from four or five months ago. Last week I was eager to edit. I got the story out of my desk, edited the first paragraph thirty-odd times, then stuffed the papers back in the drawer deciding my time would be best spent job hunting – I’d worked five months and produced excrement, and worst of all, at one point I’d actually thought it was good. I was suffering from two things all writers go through at one point or another; a disconnect from my work because so much time had passed since the last edit, and feeling stagnated because I was editing my story with the aim of perfecting it.

As writers, we’re all guilty of trying to make our stories perfect because we have a particular message we want to convey, but what is perfection anyway? When does refining become a vice?

Writing is art; personal and an expression of self, so is constantly evolving and is impossible to perfect, so why are so many of us aiming for the impossible? The idea of what makes a flawless story changes as often as our minds do. Constantly judging your writing in pursuit of perfection ends in frustration and chasing your creativity down a hole to writer’s block.

Perfectionism puts a wrench in your writing mojo so, why do we spend so many weeks, months, and years editing and re-editing, in pursuit of it? I think the greatest reason is fear. Writing is incredibly personal, even when you’re not writing about something personal. You write, edit, pour hours into a story and wonder what people will say when they read your work. What will my friends/family think? Will my editor like it? What if no one gets what I’m trying to do? All of these questions rise up and choke the life out of creativity.

Aiming to write a well though-out, clear, soul-filled story is a good thing, but writing for perfection is a hindrance on creativity and productivity, because you’ll be editing with no end in sight.

Some ways I deal with my occasionally overcritical eye are to

  • Try not judging work while in the middle of writing it. Save judgement for later drafts, the first one is just a place to get your ideas onto paper (or screen). Think of creating your story like painting; start with broader strokes and then go back to refine, not perfect.
  • Write first and foremost for you, not any potential readers you think may be out there.
  • Set realistic deadlines to complete work. If you like to keep track of projects in stages; set a deadline to complete your outline, then a first draft, and so on. Having a set time to finish leaves no space for endless edits.

Chasing perfection hurts the creative process, but is something all writers (even the ones you admire and can do no wrong) struggle with. Next time you find you’ve micro-edited a paragraph for the umpteenth time, take a break then come back to the work with a mindset of writing without judgement, and free of the worry that someone is looking over your shoulder.

Do you find yourself struggling for perfection, or leaning on any other vices that stop you from writing? How are some ways you combat the need to aim for perfect writing? How long do you work on a project before deciding enough is enough? Let me know in the comments!

Organizational Tips for Writers; How To Prioritize Like a Boss

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Photo: Josh Ginter

When I realized I had a solid date and plan of action for becoming vegan, but no deadlines or real plan for how I would achieve my writing goals, I took a long look at myself in the mirror, wiped the pizza grease off my mouth and said, Minelli, your priorities are fucked. It’s easy to claim the title as a writer, but what happens next? How do you land that writing job or actually finish that collection of poems you’ve been harping on about for so long? I’m a naturally disorganized person, but when I took my “temporary” hiatus from college it wasn’t long before I found that I could not carry on this way and expect to get anywhere in writing, professional or otherwise.

I’ve had more on my plate writing-wise with trying to post more frequently and taking on a few projects. I’m working with two illustrator friends and my husband (who’s a 3D modeler) to create a small videogame, and I am writing the content and story. I am also finally (finally) editing Melancholia in Molasses for my creative writing class that recommences at the end of the month. It’s been so long since I’ve touched my 5500+ word count story and there’s still so much that needs to be done. Outside of those more elective activities, I have been working on my professional writing; refining my resume, applying for freelance writing jobs, writing proposals and cover letters left right and center. It’s impossible to get through anything without some pre-planning.

Staying organized saves time so you’re more productive and able to stay on top of different projects. Fiction writers have to organize outlines and find writing time outside of their day jobs; while freelance writers have to be on top of their schedules, clients, research, and due dates. Here is a list of organizational tips (and helpful links) to prioritize your writing life like the boss you’re trying to be.

Cleanliness is next to productiveness

Did you know productive writers are God’s favorite children? Clean that desk or dining table (or the bed you use as a table) so you have a de-cluttered space to write and you will be highly favored. Oh, you don’t have a designated place to write? It’s better to be a Starbucks cliche than have no place to write at all.

Your Messy Desk is Hurting Your Writing Career. Here’s How to Declutter

Set a large goal, then establish small steps to achieve it

You can’t become a novelist and freelance writer extraordinaire without a (realistic) plan to get there. Set smaller goals to achieve larger ones so you can measure progress and stay motivated.

Writing a long story? Establish daily word count goals and log how many you complete.

Looking for writing jobs? Establish a weekly goal of how many you will apply to, then send out proposals/resumes daily to break application time into manageable sessions. No one likes spending hours searching jobs and emailing resumes (unless you’re a resume writer, bless your soul if you are).

Goal-Setting For Freelance Writers: A Crash Course

Get all of you work in one place

Organize as much of your work as you can electronically and take advantage of apps like Evernote or Google Drive. These apps are great for planning stories and articles, taking notes, planning your schedule, saving images, and everything is automatically synced to your electronic devices. This means you will never have to wait until you get to your home or office to find out information for a client, or the details of a story you’re writing. I personally prefer Google but know many people like Evernote’s interface and ability to save articles and images with their original links and references.

How To Use Evernote for Fiction Writing

Set a schedule (AND stick with it)

Life does not need to look like a planner and mine often doesn’t, but when you’re a freelance writer it’s good if your life resembles some of the rigidity of pre-scheduled days. I’m hardly a fan of them, but if you expect to get a job writing you might as well start acting as if you’re doing it already (my ideal workplace is cat friendly and pant-free, so that is the work environment I perpetuate at home). For creative writers, use your schedule to plan writing around your work schedule.

Do more creative/time consuming projects first

Unless you have something that needs to be done right away or a meeting that has to be attended, start off with the more creative tasks. Our brains are the most alert in the morning so it’s a good opportunity to tap into those creative juices before they’re all drained from other activities. If you don’t work with creative writing, do the harder and more time consuming tasks first rather than leaving them for last – you have to do it regardless, why let it weigh you down at the end of a long day?

Don’t take on every project

You will be tempted to, but if you do you’ll likely take on too much, get burned out, and leave a terrible impression on any clients you’re working with. How productive is it to start a fourth short story when you’ve barely pieced together the second and haven’t revised the first? I know; you’re a writer, you’re broke and motivated, but that practice is not productive. It’s easy to get excited once you get the ball rolling on a story or when the job interviews start rolling in, but the more you do the less time you can spend doing one thing very well.

Take care of yourself, too

I mentioned acting as if writing is your job (if that’s where you’re trying to take it), but remember it’s not just any job-it’s the job you want. Have you had enough sleep, food, and water? If not you’ll be fatigued and won’t make it past noon without several cups of coffee to help you keep up the work. Remember to take breaks, fifteen minutes to every hour, rather than working like a Hebrew slave for hours in a row. Most of us have day jobs; I work 7am-7pm three days out of the week so do not write (or even think about writing) on those days. I’m off four days in the week and spend three of those days writing from 9-4ish. Work on a write-work-life balance that doesn’t burn your out, hopefully these organizational tips will help along the way.

 

Here’s to productive work and no burn out! Do you have any tips for getting organized? Let me know in the comments!

Craft Quote #6 – Using Plot as a Device

While scrolling through my wordpress reader I came across Longreads Top 5 Longreads of the Week. Longreads is a blog that regularly posts excellent content for writers and this week they linked to a compilation of articles focused on how to plot a novel, in it is a fun article that provides an encyclopedia of every kind of literary plot (ever) including examples of books that use that specific device effectively and plot devices that used to work before the technological age took over. It offers plenty of useful links and is well worth the read if you’re interested in playing around with any of these plots for your own stories.

Here are a few author’s responses to whether they believe plot should be a center device in novels:

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Photo: Vulture.com

There are commandments that the storytelling community generally agree on; thou shalt write daily, thou shalt not plagiarize, thou shalt not use adverbs in vain, but there are many parts of the writing process that go disputed between it’s disciples. The decision of whether to use plot as a main story driver (rather than characters or the writing itself) depends on the individual, what they are writing, and who they are writing for.

While plot is necessary for certain types of genres like detective mysteries, other genres have more freedom when it comes to letting prose, character and emotion drive the story alongside minimal plot. I agree with Grace Paley (poet and short story writer) in that all stories have a plot that sets us in a time, place, and situation, but plot is best utilized when playing a small role in a story rather than a central part in it. I also agree with Bret Easton Ellis (author of American Psycho) when he says that without plot there still must be a banal entity “to keep it [the story] moving forward”. As a reader I enjoy stories that leave me in expectation, which can come from the right words, descriptions of place, and emotions. An example of a writer who does this very well is Cormac McCarthy. His stories are rarely more than a hero’s (or anti-hero’s) journey pushed to new levels because of descriptive writing that draws in readers. In the end you don’t care too much about what’s happening because you’re in it for everything else.

Do you lean towards plots or prose (or anything else) as a center of a story? Do you know of any authors who write this way that you enjoy or don’t enjoy reading?

A Sleight 21st Century Love Poem: A Short Story

Is this a poem or flash fiction? I don’t even know. I hope you enjoy this fun exercise in bad language and other steamy things. And remember, any writing is good compared to no writing at all, right…? Thanks for stopping by. 🙂


Beneath the gallantry and fuckery,

as fun as she

(and she hopes he)

finds it,

it seems there should have been something else by now.

A slow dig in search of something palpable and wonderful,

electrical and whatever other adjective to describe the build up she feels when he

touches, kisses, works her legs open.

Boundless and burning, but oh is she misty!

So the tune of fuck you, what the fuck are we doing, and are we still fucking other people?

is overridden by the steady skipping track of a whisper to a dancing ear,

fuck me,

until neither have anymore fucks to give. They’re spent and everyone knows it.

And where were we?

The dig, that grueling chore of getting beneath the Earth’s crust, not nearly as attractive in the day time.

The slight unfurled mouth is now a gaping canal that sucks him in but the sun is up again and he wants out of this unholy rebirthing.

The sun is up and the beast run off.

But wait, what happened to the gallantry and fuckery?

What of those steamy windows of his old mustang where the girl’s head appears, disappears, then reappears like some magic trick that would get an illusionist fired?

His best trick is making the audience believe what he tells them,

that there is wonder and electricity and more beneath the fuckery.

But, what a thing it is to find the Earth is hollow.

Physics: A Short Story

The security guard hears the car long before he sees it. It’s low silhouette spits towards the parking lot and is the first to arrive, beating the sun that is barely risen above the hills, an arc of light in the blue-black sky visible then hidden again by fibrous rain clouds. The guard’s box is illuminated as the old two-tone Subaru pulls forward. He gets up and pokes his wide torso out of the warm box, the cold and wet coming in. His hands visor his eyes and motion for the car to go through. He squints to see the driver through the rain, the windshield wipers move too slow to clear the stream of water that casts a shimmer on the driver’s face, the wide set eyes constantly wavering. The woman smiles hard but the rain makes it look like she’s been crying, or maybe she has been crying. Her hand reaches from the car with a cardboard box and the officer takes it and smiles back, says his wife will literally kill him if he has another donut, that’s if his sugar doesn’t do it first, and waves the woman into the empty lot where she parks in a spot furthest from the entrance.

Adannaya turns the engine off and lays her head back, closes her eyes. The temporary black is the closest thing to sleep and the faint drumroll on the roof will do for a lullaby. The urge to cry rises again, from her stomach into her throat, but she takes another hit instead and fills the car with a smoke that makes the world look like it’s been covered with ground glass. She inhales until her lungs are at full capacity, holds even longer, then exhales smooth letting the smoke and everything else go. The car is warm and fragrant and smells like her home, seaside scented candles and peach flavored rolling papers in an overflowing ashtray. Helium-filled balloons bob about the car in a kaleidoscopic fog. She turns and retrieves a bouquet of sunburnt and bell shaped lilies, a stapled brown baggie of her mother’s prescriptions, the balloons nod their encouragements. The walk to the hospital is long and quiet save for slow footfalls across the graveled lot. Adannaya jumps once, but there’s not enough helium or hope to go anywhere.

Craft Quote #5 – Why Do We Write?

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Photo: Goodreads.com

Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.
—George Orwell

George Orwell authored dystopian masterpieces Animal Farm and 1984, which are now required reading in many high-school English classes around the world, and still considered the process of novel writing to be a dire one.

So why did he do it? Why does any writer, famous, infamous, or aspiring, do it? Short stories and novellas are also a struggle to complete (in some aspects, even more so than a novel). Clearly there is some unknown entity that chases most of us writers. I, for one, have no idea why the strong urge to write has followed me through childhood and well into my twenties, even when I stifled art in pursuit of other careers it was only a temporary distraction and attempt at not being my mother’s worst nightmare. I may not understand what initially sparked my desire to write, write, write, but I have some idea of why I am doing it now; I love the empathetic perspective writing requires; there are endless cultures and lifestyles waiting to be explored and recreated; the rhythm and clarity of a well structured sentence is something truly wonderful; I’m a nerd for the emotions words create, and a sympathetic person that I also hate; there’s a story in me that needs to be written.

Why do you write? Do you remember the first time you picked up a book and thought I could do this!? Do you also remember how wrong you were about how easy it would be?

Craft Quote #4 – Good Writers Read [All] Books

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Photo: jennyhallart.com

Read, read, read. Read everything – trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read! You’ll absorb it. Then write. If it’s good you’ll find out. If it’s not, throw it out of the window.

– William Faulkner

Almost every writer can be quoted as saying something similar, but it does not quite hit home until a Nobel Prize winning novelist, short story author, and most influential American writer of the twentieth century marks it as good advice (especially for us aspiring writers). Read often, read outside of your comfort zone, read the unexpected.

What are you reading? What are the most influential books you’ve read? Who are some of your go-to authors for inspiration or just a good old lit fix?

Discovering the Path to a Writing Career

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Photo: theloadstar.co.uk

Depending on how long you’ve been reading Drunk Off Rhetoric you may know I started this blog to improve my writing and broaden the genres of books I read. I had decided to take a long (permanent) hiatus from college and was trying to figure out what I could do to change my writing hobby into a career. It has been just over a year of good books, a few short stories, and spotty blogging. Overall, I can say reading and meeting other aspiring and accomplished writers, attending workshops, and reading a lot of blogs on the subject has made potential paths to writing professionally much clearer.

But at times, pursuing a writing career can feel like hunting an endangered species; seldom seen and just out of reach, you’re sure writing for money (real money that pays big bills) is an elaborate joke at your expense. Writing professionally is not like the typical career with clear paths to success. There is no bachelors in freelance writing and completing an MFA in creative writing won’t guarantee a book deal. Even if you do get some sort of writing degree, who’s to say you can find a writing job to pay for it? So, what is a writer to do? What about one without an English or creative writing degree? As daunting as these questions were when I had no idea what I wanted to pursue, my answer was to experiment with as many paths as possible; learn from numerous outside sources, workshops, literature classes, professors, author readings, and blogs. Now that I feel I’ve progressed as far as I can with those resources I’ve enrolled in UCLA’s Writer’s Program – a structure and choice of classes I think will help carry my writing to a new level and allow me to reach my goal of completing a short story collection and starting a freelance writing career. The program lasts two years and you have the option to submit one hundred pages of a manuscript for review by an adviser, at the end of the course.

Some things that drew me to the program was the flexibility, instructors, and large variety of classes; some that interested me ranged from learning to build real characters to the ins and outs of the publishing side of the industry. The most valuable parts of the program for me are that I will work consistently in a classroom of other writers, and would complete my collection and get valuable feedback for a large chunk of it.

One other bonus is that my resume won’t look so half done, the portion under the Education section won’t be so empty. There is absolutely no need to go through a formal education to become a good writer, but without one you may be lost finding practical, paying work. Experience is the more important  of the two, but since the program is a great opportunity to learn and grow, I thought it would illuminate another path of the elusive writing career and make the next step more than a stumble in the dark.

What are some choices you’ve made in pursuit of improving your writing, professionally or otherwise?  Have you gone the route of getting an English, creative writing degree, or something equivalent? Did you think it was worth it in the end? Did you struggle to get your first paid writing job?