Perfecting Language on Paper

Writing isn’t just telling a story. It isn’t just creating a character, a plot, a resolution. It’s about the pursuit of perfect language.

The best lesson I ever learned was that to be a writer you must first love language. Not what you piece together and say is beautiful, but rather I’ll quote Samuel Coleridge on his definition of poetry, “the perfect words in the prefect order.”

This should be the pursuit of every writer. And though the quote is defining poetry, I believe it still should be our goal in fiction or even nonfiction.

My philosophy on writing has changed a lot over the years, from believing that my writing was for myself and you just didn’t get my point to pursuing language and the beauty thereof not for myself but for the relationship between the art, the artist, and the audience.

Several Short Sentences About Writing by Verlyn Klinkenborg is hands down the best best book on writing I’ve come across. And I love so much of his philosophy on writing that I wish I could quote the whole book.

Here are a few quotes that I hope will inspire you to pick up the book yourself.

“These assumptions and prohibitions and obligations are the imprint of your education and the culture you live in. Distrust them.”

“But long sentences often tend to collapse or break down or become opaque or trip over their awkwardness…Strong, lengthy sentences are really just strong, short sentence joined together in various ways.”

“Most of the sentences you make will need to be killed.”

“Do you remember feeling, when you were writing a paper for school, that your vocabulary was steadily shrinking?…That’s a symptom of boredom…you were repeatedly asked to persuade or demonstrate or argue, to reiterate or prove or recite or exemplify, to go through the motions of writing. You were almost never asked to notice or observe, witness or testify.”

“Paying attention to the decisions embedded in each sentence.”

“Volunteer sentences occur because you’re not considering the actual sentences you’re making. You’re looking past it toward your meaning somewhere down the road.”

Behind The Hymn – Amazing Grace

John Newton was the captain of a slave ship before converting to Christianity and penning one of the most well known, well loved hymns. His conversion is said to have happened during a violent storm out at sea.

Which bring me to the second stanza,
“‘Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
And grace my fears relieved.
How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believed.”
Specifically, the last two lines. Grace is a universal Christian concept, but when you put the lyrics in context, they become even more interesting. Here he was, in the midst of a raging storm, finally acknowledging God, of whom he was taught at a young age. It feels almost like it was a surprise he survived, but in those moments of clarity during the storm he saw that he could die, but by the grace of God, he survived.

Next I want to talk about this line in the fifth stanza,
“I shall possess within the veil”
Because it’s not contingent on knowing anything of the author, but of Christianity. There’s beauty in the language of Christianity that is so poetic that I believe you don’t have to be a Christian to appreciate it.

“The veil,” is in reference to the veil that was an ornate object inside of the tabernacle. It hung between God, who dwelled above the mercy seat, and sinful man. When John Newton wrote, “I shall posses within the veil,” he referred to a place with God that will come after physical death.

Amazing Grace-

Amazing grace, How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost, but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.

‘Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
And grace my fears relieved.
How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believed.

Through many dangers, toils and snares
I have already come;
‘Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far
And grace will lead me home.

The Lord has promised good to me
His word my hope secures;
He will my shield and portion be,
As long as life endures.

Yea, when this flesh and heart shall fail,
and mortal life shall cease,
I shall possess within the veil
A life of joy and peace.

When we’ve been there ten thousand years
Bright shining as the sun,
We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise
Than when we’ve first begun.

Our Readers Instinct

Not the people who read what we write, but the instinct we ourselves have while reading.

We’re taught not to trust it. Why? I don’t know, but we have to change it. (And accept when we’re wrong.)

In workshops over the years when giving my opinion I found myself saying things like, “I don’t know, I could be crazy,” or “I’m probably wrong, but…” a lot. In English classes many of my peers would finish their sentences with, “I’m not sure though.”

We aren’t sure of our opinion. Granted, we might very well be wrong, but we’re so scared to actually be wrong we sit in the middle. That way if we are right, then good for us, but if we’re not- we figured we were wrong already. We don’t want to be disappointed in ourself, so we don’t even believe what we say- or our critique on other people’s work.

We should stop. I’m not saying believe everything that you say one hundred precent and never give up on the thought. No, but if we have an opinion we should be confident in the fact that it’s an opinion and be okay if our opinion isn’t shared…or is just wrong.

If we say, “I’m probably wrong, but F. Scott Fitzgerald did his best work with Tender is the Night, then why would someone take the time to even see if you’re right because you already doubt yourself.

We should trust our readers instinct- trust our opinions; our critiques. If they’re proved wrong, or you’ve changed you mind with more information then accept it. That’s it. We learn, we grow, but we don’t need to doubt everything we think.

Poetry – The Expanse

The Expanse
By Zarah Parker

What is a universe
which sits above
the glimmer of my eyes,
resting without peace.
What is a galaxy
in which we can see
beyond our years,
but is only worth
the seconds it takes to breathe.
What is a great light
which nourishes the expanse
and balances the
very life that is
resting.


A current work in progress.
Constructive criticism?

Behind The Hymn – Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing

What I find beautiful about this hymn is the language. Specifically, the language that would be called archaic by our professors, while they suggest we use more modern words.

The poetry of hymns I find have a far stronger effect on the Christian heart- if you know what they mean. We have the obvious in hymns, no doubt, but I want to talk about one word that occurs in the second stanza of this one,

Here I’ll raise my Ebenezer;
Hither by Thy help I’m come;

Ebenezer.

Pulled from 1 Samuel 7.

It was during a time of Israel’s repentance- they destroyed their idols and sought to follow the Lord once more. The Philistines attacked and through divine help, Israel claimed the victory as well as land that was theirs that had been occupied by the Philistines. To commemorate, “Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen. He named it Ebenezer, saying, ‘Thus far the LORD has helped us’” (v12). The word Ebenezer means, “stone of help.” The Israelites saw the stone as a reminder of the Lord’s power and protection.

In the hymn it’s an acknowledgement of God’s blessings and help. We are basically singing, “Here I’ll raise my stone of help,” because all that I have is because of you. But in a starkly more beautiful way.

I find that in modern times we’d never be able to use the word Ebenezer and get away with it, which is why I’ll stay old fashioned and always prefer the language of the hymns.

What I find just as fascinating- Robert Robinson was only twenty-two when he penned the lyrics.

Come, Thou Fount of every blessing:

Come, Thou Fount of every blessing,
Tune my heart to sing Thy grace;
Streams of mercy, never ceasing,
Call for songs of loudest praise.
Teach me some melodious sonnet,
Sung by flaming tongues above;
Praise the mount! I’m fixed upon it,
Mount of Thy redeeming love.

Here I’ll raise my Ebenezer;
Hither by Thy help I’m come;
And I hope, by Thy good pleasure,
Safely to arrive at home.
Jesus sought me when a stranger,
Wand’ring from the fold of God;
He, to rescue me from danger,
Interposed His precious blood.

Oh, to grace how great a debtor
Daily I’m constrained to be!
Let Thy goodness, like a fetter,
Bind my feeble heart to Thee.
“Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,”
Long I cried to be made pure;
“Here’s my heart, O take and seal it,
Work in me Thy double cure.”

Hallelujah! I have found it,
The full cleansing I had craved,
And to all the world I’ll sound it:
They too may be wholly saved.
I am sealed by Thy sweet Spirit,
Prone no longer now to roam;
And Thy voice, I’ll humbly hear it,
For Thy presence is my home.

Memoirs Are Worth Reading

Because reading true life events is just as important as fiction- and often memoirs are even more gut wrenchingly honest.

Here’s one coming out November 1st:

Sometimes fiction doesn’t cut it, and when that happens we get to read a writer’s point of view of their own life. They pour their life story into their work. And it’s amazingly real.

We might be reading about someone else’s life, but we often find ourselves learning lessons we wouldn’t have otherwise.

The cover was revealed for this specific one today and I have to say that it has made me excited to read a memoir again.

Why You Should Skip Nanowrimo

Why waste your time and energy?

One month, one story, 50,000 words.

The thing is, on December first you’re not magically a better writer, you’re a writer who just wrote 50,000 words. That’s it.

Writing faster does not mean writing better, in fact I would argue the opposite. You spend a month so focused on a numbered goal that you’re just trying to get the sentences out, not make them the best they can be.

But revision comes after, right? Well, you could have wrote at a normal pace and edited as you went, crafting each sentence, each paragraph with love for the language. You have to revise so much afterward that it’s a waste of time to get the 50,000 out just to only keep 1,000 of them. And that’s only a maybe.

With nanowrimo you’re not paying attention – with writing you need to pay attention. You need to know what each sentence conveys.

The alternative: Focus on one part of writing you really want to be better at. For me, that’s dialogue. Instead of blindly crafting a novel, take the month to work on one aspect of writing. Dialogue, character, scene. Whatever.

Like I said before, doing nanowrimo doesn’t make you a better writer. It more than likely stunts your growth as a writer, because once you have those 50,000 words down, it’s hard to go through them with a truly critical eye. Because you finally finished it. Taking your time, practicing one thing at a time will strengthen your writing, which should be every writers goal.

If you’re doing the challenge just because you believe it’ll get you writing, then I’d ask, what are you going to do when it’s over?

So skip nanowrimo, because it’s not for the writer who wants to grow in skill, it’s for the writer who just wants to say they wrote 50,000 words in a month.

Ordinary People

Short Fiction –

Her bedroom faced the street. Through the thin walls she could hear tittering coming from the bus stop, like a flock of birds greeting their good morning. The rumble of the school bus came to a screeching halt. The door pulled open and the tittering faded away.

She rolled over and flipped the covers over her head. Sunlight that managed to slip through the blinds disappeared. Heaviness pulled her eyelids closed and within seconds her mind retreated back to imaginary worlds.

A consistent buzz lifted her head from the beneath the blankets. She couldn’t tell if it’d been minutes or hours or if there was a buzzing to begin with. While her face melted back into the pillows she stretched her arm out to grab her phone.

Without her glasses she only vaguely saw the name of her sister, Victoria.

Setting the phone back down, she ignored the missed call and let the heaviness drag her back down. When the buzzing became consistent again, she grabbed her phone. Squinting at the name, she hesitated.

An awkward pang filled her stomach. Victoria was letting her live with her until she could find a job. The least she could do was answer the phone.

She cleared her throat. She said ‘hello’ to herself to hear if she sounded like she was still cocooned in bed.

“Hello?” she answered.

“Anna, I hate to ask, but could you pick the kids up from school? I’m working late again,” Victoria said. “Also, if you don’t mind pre-heating the oven to, I think it’s 400, for the lasagna.”

“Sure,” Anna said

“Really? Thank you.”

“It’s no problem.”

When the call ended Anna squinted at the time. Two hours until she’d need to leave to be at the school on time. She tossed her phone back on the stand. She flipped over and sighed against softness of her mattress.

The sunlight streamed in brightly.

She closed her eyes and counted to three before tossing her legs over the side of the bed. Her legs trembled as she stood from being relaxed so long. She tore the first page off her notepad and transferred yesterdays to-do list.

Clothes were strewn on the floor and books piled in lines against the wall, while a few toys were left behind by her niece and nephew. She’d meant to organize the room yesterday. For now, she needed to shower.


 

I’ve been working on certain aspects of a ‘story,’ and this is a focus on character, specifically character flaws. I’m a bit more hesitant to post fiction over poetry, which is odd because poetry is so complex that it drives me insane sometimes.

Can anyone guess her flaw? To me it’s a bit obvious, what do you think?