This just arrived and I CANNOT BE MORE EXCITED. Won’t be getting much more done this week!
I’ve never known how to say this without sounding like a snob. This post sums up my thoughts so well.
Originally posted on 101 Books:
I’ve heard a sentiment over the last few years that goes something like this: “Everyone’s a writer. We all just need to tap into our ‘inner writer’ to become one.”
That’s probably a simplistic representation, but the sentiment is along those lines.
It sounds nice. It might make you feel a little warm and fuzzy inside.
But it’s not true.
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It’s almost September. The end of the summer is always a weird time, even after you’re out of school. And is it just me or do the summers go by faster and faster the older you get?
This is also my favorite time of year for camping. Going into the woods or on an island in the middle of a lake for a couple days or a week, sleeping outside, cooking over a fire, peeing behind a tree, jumping off rocks into the water. I love it. I love the naturalness of it. Another reason why I probably shouldn’t be living in Brooklyn.
My favorite place to camp is Lake George. I used to go every year with a group of guy friends, usually six to ten of us. This was before everyone reached thirty and became preoccupied with significant others, children, etc. We’d go the week after Labor Day, which is the best time to go, because the prices are slashed, all the families have headed back to school, the water is warm and the nights are cool. We’d rent out campsites on Vicar’s Island and nearly always had the island entirely to ourselves. It’s real camping–no bathrooms, no showers, you’re not even allowed to bring soap as it might get in the pristine lake. There’s a few picnic tables and a spot for building your fire. That’s it. It’s wonderful.
We spent our days paddle boarding, jumping off the ten-foot rock into the water (often fully-clothed–we referred to it as showering and doing laundry), drinking our weight in cheap beer, eating s’mores and pocket stew (canned vegetables, tomato sauce, garlic powder, salt and pepper wrapped in tin foil and set in the fire–oh and the carnivores added meat) and feeding the fire. There’s no cell phone service, no electricity–we woke with the sun and slept with the dark. The stars there are some of the finest I’ve ever seen–you can see the entire sweep of the Milky Way from that island.
If you ever have the chance, go there. I miss this place.
“There’s an old writing rule that says ‘Don’t have two character names start with the same letter’, but I knew at the beginning that I was going to have more than 26 characters, so I was in trouble there. Ultimately it comes down to what sounds right. And I struggle with that, finding the right name for a character. If I can’t find the right name I don’t know who the character is and I can’t proceed.”
– George R.R. Martin
Don’t major in French, they said. It’s useless, they said.
What “they” failed to take into account was that someday, a relative could win a trip to stay in a French chateau for free. And that this relative may need a translator. And then, as the sole French-speaking niece in the family, you will be invited to spend two weeks at said chateau. For FREE.
I have an obsession with chateaus. This place was straight-up my dream house. A stone chateau originally constructed in the 1500s, it was purchased and restored by an American couple in the mid ’00s. It had three stories, eight bedrooms, a library, a turret, a wine cellar, unicorn tapestries on the walls. A pool. A trampoline. And wifi!
It was in the absolute middle of nowhere, of course. About an hour’s drive from Toulouse. The nearest town was Mirepoix. Grocery shopping required a half hour car ride to the nearest LeClerc. But it did come with abundant wildflowers, some cats, and a cute little old lady neighbors who brought over eggs from her own hens.
My sister and I stayed in the tower bedroom, like princesses. We consumed nothing but wine and bread and cheese the whole time we were there. We wandered around the area a bit, but really we just basked in the beauty of this place that had been there for centuries.
If that place ever goes up for sale, and if my plan to become a millionaire is ever realized, you’d better believe I’m putting in the first offer. Until then, I can only dream (and write my little heart out).
A few more images, keeping in mind this was taken with my ’05 point-and-shoot:
As a writer, it’s a mantra you hear over and over: “Show, don’t tell.”
There’s a reason it’s repeated endlessly: it’s one of the main things that separates good writing from bad writing.
But there’s something else I don’t always hear, and it’s something I see relatively often in beginner writing (especially my own). It’s something I see in published writing too, and it drives me nuts. I call it the “Show and Tell.”
It’s when a writer shows us what’s going on–and then, just in case we didn’t get it, tells us as well. I find this annoying. It’s like the writer’s saying, okay, I’ve shown you what’s going on, but in case you’re a little slow, I’ll make it a bit more clear for you. As a reader, I hate being pandered to that way.
Here are some real-life examples from a novel I recently read. (This is why I like to read bad books–they’re such good teachers.)
1. “His face reddened in shame.”
“His face reddened” is enough. You should have already shown us enough in the scene for us to know his face reddening was a result of shame.
2. “He stared at it. He blinked. Then he put his hands out to run his fingers across the words, as if he didn’t believe his eyes.”
The second part of the last sentence is implied. You’ve shown him staring. You’ve shown him blinking. You’ve shown his hands running across the words. You don’t also need to tell us he didn’t believe his eyes; we understand that by now.
3. “They maintained eye contact with each other for longer than necessary, as if trying to communicate some secret message.”
Really?!?! Is that why people maintain prolonged eye contact? So happy to have that obscure human tendency explained to me. Argh.
Finally, this one:
4. “He frowned. Clearly, he was upset.”
Thank you for explaining what “frowning” means. And a helpful hint: anytime you use the word “clearly”, you don’t need whatever comes after it. If it’s clear, don’t say it.
Examples like the above (especially the last two) drive me nuts. I’m not immune to them as a writer, by the way; when going through my writing to edit, I’ll always find one or two “show and tells” and I’ll mentally berate myself for being so obnoxious to my readers. But that’s what editing is for; to catch these things before anyone else does.
Good writing is about a lot of things; not the least among them is tight prose. It can take some time to learn how to make your prose as tight as possible, but I think the mantra “show, don’t tell”, along with the mantra “don’t show AND tell” is definitely a step in the right direction.
I’m having one of those days (weeks, actually) where all I want to do is crawl inside a book and live there. Or just go to some remote, beautiful location and read good books and drink cocktails all day.
The above book is one of my frequent rereads. I can’t recall ever reading an epistolary novel before, and to be honest a novel written in letters didn’t exactly appeal to me at first. But The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society is just so beautifully done. If you haven’t read it, do so. Now.
I’m experimenting with the epistolary form by writing my current work-in-progress in journal entries. I reread Guernsey, as well as The Perks of Being a Wallflower (more on that beautiful book later) for inspiration, and they both helped quite a bit. I’m not sure how this current one is going to end up. I’ll let you know in a few months!