Writing Workshop Lesson 3 & Assignment 3
If you're just joining us, scroll down to Lessons 1 & 2 to catch up. Work at your own pace and post your answers and short assignments in the "Comments" areas of the appropriate posts. Everything automatically forwards to my in-box, so I read everything no matter when it's added.
I had a ball this week reading all of the Chandleresque (Raymond, not Bing) similes and the overheard bits of dialogue. Many laugh-out-loud moments in both.
Personal faves among the similes:
"Nervous as a mohel with hiccups" from "the procrastinator," who didn't live up to his/her name by being the first to post with the homework.
"Her eyes were as green as her teeth" -- a hot one from "cold potato."
"Nervous as a border collie on methamphetamines" -- elizabeth.
"She held me like she was holding a grudge" -- julesbgood.
"...as bold as a seersucker suit at a job interview" -- anonymous.
"Her eyes were as empty as her pockets" -- shorty1kanobi.
"The house was decorated in early DeMille" -- chittavrtti.
"Her eyes were as sad as a faded velvet Elvis" -- mnturtle.
"...as hot as a 32-year-old virgin in a Harlequin romance" -- sarah the great and wise.
Well, I could go on and on. Excellent work, everyone.
Why are we doing these little exercises, you ask? So far, in just two weeks, you've worked on lead sentences, lively figures of speech and realistic snatches of dialogue. See where we're going?
Details, details. Good writing is the sum of its parts. The better the parts, the more specific the details ... yadda, yadda, yadda...readers love you.
Speaking of which, you know the first sentence I posted last week from Nice Girls Finish First by Alesia Holliday? What arrives in my email but a nice note from the author herself:
A reader pointed out your very funny and interesting blog to me...So of course I had to scan my own books and my shelf of other people's books and read first sentences for an hour. (Of course I'm procrastinating; I'm on deadline!) I think it's interesting how often the quality of the first sentence mirrored what I perceived to be the quality of a book, and yet I'd never considered it in that light before.It did, indeed, Alesia! And I look forward to that thriller.
It is true, however, that I always work to make my opener a 'grabber' - to pique the reader's interest. The first line of the legal thriller I have coming out next spring is "Nobody ever tried to stab me when I did corporate work."
Thanks for mentioning me and thanks for the intriguing line of thought. I hope Nice Girls lived up to its first sentence for you.
Interesting that Alesia mentions procrastination. That brings us to this week's topic.
My old professor, Paul Baker, called it "resistance to work." It's all the stuff we do instead of what we should be doing. For us, it's what we do to keep from writing, especially if we're on deadline. It's the grouting and pouting and scouting for bargains when we should be at the keyboard getting 'er done.
This weekend I had double deadlines for columns. So here's what I did: steam-cleaned the carpets where the dog sleeps, combed the knots out of said dog's tail, dug out an old box of beading supplies and made three necklaces, hung out at the pool finishing Nice Girls Finish First and staring across the water at the cute (but slightly hairy) neighbor guy who suns himself like a lizard on a rock every day from noon to 2 p.m., went vitamin shopping, substitute-taught a water aerobics class at the health club, tried on skirts from the back of the closet, looked up bead stores online and went to two new ones in my neighborhood, went gay-watching with a gay actor friend at a new gelato place on Cedar Springs, paid bills, ran across Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star on cable and watched it start to finish (not as bad as I anticipated...actually, David Spade's pretty funny in it), cleaned the cobwebs off the lampshades and listened to three hours of Britcoms on BBC radio via the internet while playing endless games of computer solitaire.
The writing happened very late Sunday night and under the extreme stress of deadline pressure and so many Diet Cokes my kidneys thought it was a stick-up.
So it goes, right? We don't and don't, until we absolutely have to.
This week I hope you will begin to notice the pattern of your "resistance to work." Mr. Baker used to make us journal all the things we did to keep from working. It's eye-opening to realize when and why we take the off-ramp from creativity onto the truck stop of busywork. Sometimes it's part of the creative ritual -- mostly it's just postponing the inevitable. (And obviously, though I'm aware of my patterns, I still fall into them. OK, I'm working on it.)
If you have any epiphanies about this -- advice, tips, odd things you found yourself doing (keep it clean!) to keep from writing -- post them in comments here. ("Procrastinator," I'm counting on you!) The exercise is simply to make you aware of your resistant motions. Once aware, maybe you can skip past them to get to the writing.
As for that, this is the week to start to work on something you've been wanting to write for a while. Poem, story, song, play, article, novel -- whatever is lurking in your creative "to do" pile. Don't try to finish it this week. Heaven forfend! There's so much knitting to do! And the barbecue grill needs a good scrubbing! How about training the cats to walk a tightrope!
Seriously, just get something down. Work on a good first sentence. Liven up the similes and metaphors. Craft and polish the dialogue. If you spend just one hour this week reading, editing and rewriting a little of that thing, you're ahead of where you were with it last week.
And if you have some time for reading (Who doesn't? We're on deadline!), check out one of the first major pieces of the "New Journalism." This is the famous Gay Talese profile of Ol' Blue Eyes (Esquire, April 1966) titled "Frank Sinatra Has a Cold." It's one of the first -- maybe the first -- magazine piece that was about getting the interview. It put the author into the story in a way other journalists hadn't been before. And it was one of the first bits of mega-celeb journalism that wasn't all puffery. You really get to know both Talese and Sinatra as you read the piece. The details of Sinatra's world and his many hangers-on (dig the toupee valet) are fascinating. It is a long story. Four huge sections. Chapters almost. The link gets you to the first section and you can click through via that site to the rest. Some of Talese's writing seems a bit old-fashioned now -- he was awfully addicted to alliteration. But it's still a good read.
See you Thursday, if not before!