Okay, so many of you may have heard the famous quote/speech of George R.R. Martin about the differences between writers. The common view is that there are two types of writers. Neither is wrong, but both are different. First is the architect. They sit down and have every detail carefully planned out ready to roll before they even begin to type on a keyboard. They put all pieces of the coffin together just so and the instant they punch a key they start to hammer in the nails. Now there’s nothing wrong with this, but I personally am not an architect. I’m more of a gardener, that is a writer who doesn’t really plan things too far in advance. A gardener plants the seed of a story’s concept and grows it from the ground up. Sure they plan a few small things, they know what they’re growing for example, but as for how the finished product will look, they’ve no idea. And that’s okay too. Mr. Martin goes on to say that in the end, no one is solely one or the other, which I agree with whole heartedly.
But you may ask yourself “what are the pro’s and con’s of those writing types” to which I can honestly say this: A story that is organized down to the last fly buzzing around in the background can get boring. It has no soul or spirit to it, and if you’re not careful it begins to get as monotonous as “Beuler…Beuler…Beuler…”. For those of you younger folks, that is to say it gets dull and bland. But the inverse has cons too. A story that is completely vomited on to the screen without rhyme or reason hurts too. Chaos without discipline can really become harsh for readers. People don’t like having questions unanswered and even less having questions with the wrong answers.
But if there’s one key thing to know about your writing style it’s this: it’s YOUR writing style, and no one elses. It’s nice receiving feedback from fans and other writers, but it’s also important to please the one person who knows your work even more than them. You. Have confidence in yourself, be either architect or gardener. Don’t let other people try to tell you that your way of writing is wrong and that theirs is the only right way, because just like in any other form of art, there is always more than one way to tell a story. Many paths, one mountain. Be proud of yourself and what you write. I hope this has helped some of you and I wish you the best of luck in life and literature. -Kiba Elunal
Throwing commas at a page, Pollock
would smirk around cheroot smoke
and smile on his pipe handle.
Power is not in the take away but
my give is a thousand bamboo forests
in typhoon’s miracle, death has no grasp.
Yes, I tickle the dragons tail in the spirit
of expansion, flickering blue light fate
that waits in Colorado skies.
My experiments escape from my test tubes, indiscriminate.
Glory is illusion illusive, idiosyncratic to my fashion,
a hawk disguised with robins and larks,
a take down in microcosms resplendent grace.
Passion is my conflagration unleashed on pages
a music of gods imparted a bit more than
lightly, for touch is definite, as am I.
Another way, passion is my glory, nebulous are accolades.
Voice is strength, and I protect mine in fire holly
and breathed upon by blue sapphires, my makes
are inviolate in their power, glory and passion…
And gratitude for this life creative never wanes.
Chris Whitenack © 2014
The problem of being a writer
Is that you coin phrases that have already been coined,
You capitalize on ideas that have already been made proven points.
You create in extremes that have already been molded.
The problem with a cliche
Is not that its already been told a million times,
But that it has been retold in so many different evolutions that it Its impossible to redefine.
I dont hate cliches.
I love them,
They give a writer ample opportunity
To work hard to create,
Because building a universe shouldn’t be easy.
It shouldn’t come from one line,
One thread of thought floating at the top of your head.
Be a writer,
What has been defined.
Break the mold.
Be the next cliche.
Something’s been happening to me lately, writing-wise. I’m just chalking it up to growing pains, or a phase. Because I’m hoping it’s temporary.
I’ve been craving really spare prose, so I write and then I edit. I want simple, I want succinct. So I pare down, and trim, and keep cutting. Is that word essential? Do I really need that phrase? Do I really need this description? How about this paragraph? And I keep cutting, and then I start questioning whether I need the whole damn chapter. And so on.
Somehow in my quest for streamlined text, I’ve lost any sense of what I want to keep. If you look at anything long enough, it starts looking superfluous. Like it’s just taking up space. If I didn’t find the perfect words, they’ve got to go. It’s a powerful rush to realize you can cut things you don’t like, but you can easily let this mentality take over. It’s like driving a lawnmower that’s way too powerful. I think the lawn in my current chapter is looking pretty bald.
Makes me wonder whether this is just my old writer’s block creeping up on me in a different way, pushing me toward a zero word count at the end of the day.
they call this relief— writing.
it can come in dribs and drabs
sometimes, like a leaky pipe
other times leaving you to squeeze it out
until it gets flowing that is.
and sometimes it’s unstoppable
it gushes forth
getting all over everything
leaving marks and stains, these constant reminders
of emotions, churned and regurgitated
over and over.
sometimes, I admit— it ain’t so pretty.
When I was twelve, while visiting my grandmother, I found a book of card tricks in a used bookstore. I couldn’t have been more excited. I’d always wanted to learn how to do magic, but it’s almost impossible to find a magic book that has anything but the most basic tricks. This one was three hundred pages of almost all text, a serious, no nonsense tome, as close as I’d ever found to a textbook.
My act was about fifteen minutes. The part that I was most proud of happened in the middle. Someone in the audience drew a card and replaced it randomly in the deck. I shuffled, and then flipped over the top card and asked if it was theirs. It wasn’t. I flipped over the next card and asked if that one was theirs. It wasn’t. I faked being upset, and went through the entire deck, picking cards at random. The reveal was that their card wasn’t in the deck, and was actually in my pocket.
I’ve always wanted to not just succeed, but to do it spectacularily. To look like I’m going to make it and then pull it together at the last minute. If I throw a dinner party, I tend to plan a menu three or four days in advance, then, the day of, add three or four dishes, so that I end up scrambling in the kitchen when guests arrive. A lot of the time, I end up failing. It doesn’t matter. I won’t ever be able to give up wowing a crowd which, at the very least, exists in my head.
Two things set me down the path of being a writer. The first was in second grade. On mother’s day, we were given an assignment to write about why we loved our mothers. If we wrote five sentences or more, we got a licorice stick.
I had no problem writing five sentences, but I wanted to be clever. I wrote one, funny sentence. I can’t remember what. It’s not important. What is important is that it made Mr. Thornberry laugh, and even though I hadn’t done the assignment, he gave me a licorice stick. I’d broken the rules, flirted with losing, and still won.
I can’t imagine a more pure representation of what it is to be a writer. Your spouse, your friends, everyone you know goes off to their work and writes their five sentences. Meanwhile you, the writer, stay home, or go to a coffee shop, or something else that’s, frankly, awesome, and try to be clever. If you’re clever enough, someone gives you money, and you buy some candy.
The second thing which made me a writer was maybe a less tangible trick, but one just as important. When I was twenty one, I was in the throes of untreated ulcerative colitis, and I was shitting myself once or twice a week. It was a terrifying time of my life, when I was afraid of being more than a minute away from a bathroom. At my job, and in school, and hanging out, was consummate anxiety, as if I was always playing a game I knew I would lose. While my friends were getting acquainted with bars, I was staying home Friday and Saturday nights, browsing the internet, wasting time.
I might have kept just browsing the internet if my friend, Celia, hadn’t died. It was Halloween. I’d already canceled plans, because my stomach was bad that day. I was alone my friend Derek called me and asked me if it was true that Celia had died. It was.
How she died isn’t important. What is important was that I didn’t want to let her go. The idea of forgetting about her, of one day losing the burden of mourning for her, terrified me. So instead of just browsing the internet on the night I stayed home, I started writing. Short stories about a woman dying of cancer and a friend that wanted to save her, or non fiction about meeting Celia, going on walks with her, hearing about her diagnoses. I wrote enough to know that I didn’t know what I was doing, so I signed up for a writing class. People in the class liked my writing. That was more than enough to keep me going.
Every moment, every color and smell and memory and thing, is destined to die. The greatest writing is when an author takes what they think and feel and makes a reader think and feel the same thing. When they stamp onto history, this is me, and these are my friends, the people I love, and what I fear. In a way, it’s the greatest magic trick of all. To take that which is long gone, to bring it forward by force of will, to make it live again in everyone who reads your words. It’s almost impossible. If I can do it, it will be just barely, at the last minute, against all odds. But it’s what I need to do for my friend. It’s what I need to do for me.
I keep seeing and talking to people who fret over how to write PoC characters because they feel like they can’t win either way. They don’t want to make them the villain because of the unfortunate implications but they also feel trapped into making them perfect with no character flaws.
Guys. There’s an easy way out of this.
Have more than one person of color. The reason you keep having trouble with this is because your cast of a dozen important characters has exactly one character who isn’t white. That’s why it makes it seem like they are representing or speaking for their entire race.
Have a more diverse cast and treat them like three-dimensional people.
And for the love of all things good, keep intersectionality in mind. A White gay man and a Black gay man likely have very different experiences within the gay community because of their race. And a Black gay man and another Black gay man are likely to have extremely different life experiences as well.
Having an all-white cast is a choice. It’s no less of a choice, no less contrived than having a more diverse cast. People like to say that they feel like trying to have more diversity in their cast takes away from the storyline because they have to try to intentionally insert different races into their casts. But picking “Black” or “Middle Eastern” or “Asian” or “Latino” is no more contrived than picking “White”. One of them is just constantly fed to us as “normal”.
Seriously. All of your fretting can end if you just stop having tokens.
Write tons of POC with a variety of backgrounds and write all kinds of queer people and disabled people and people of all different kinds of genders and financial situations and countries of origin and families of origin and types of personalities and mental health statuses and experiences and fears and drives and strengths and weaknesses and etc etc etc just do it, okay??
I want to write
And it will be
like all histories,
not totally true,
not at all
or even objective
but I promise
this to you,
I will be
is more than
I’ve given you
can I write
when it’s still
Just write. Just write for fun. Wherever you are, whatever you’re doing. Let it become a source of joy for you.
Take apart the works of your favorite poets, short story writers, essayists, and novelists. Tinker with them. See how they work. Create something with their parts.
Don’t be afraid to finish things. Don’t let yourself amass only beginnings of things. You learn the most from endings and endings get you whole works.
Take great amounts of time and effort to connect with your favorite writers. Make the writers your friends. But still steal from the writing. The writing should mean more to you than the writer.
Give yourself assignments. If you’re going to read books on writing, actually do the exercises. This is how you can create your own creative writing class: one student and one teacher, and only the best reading and writing assignments.
Learn to work hardest when you don’t want to work at all. Think continuously about what makes you want to write. Never let that passion go, even when you feel consumed by self-hate and self-doubt. Write as a way to connect with yourself, with others, with the whole universe. Do it today. Just write.
We live entirely, especially if we are writers, by the imposition of a narrative line upon disparate images, by the “ideas” with which we have learned to freeze the shifting phantasmagoria which is our actual experience.
Or at least we do for a while.”
Joan Didion, The White Album
I just reread this essay, and I think it’s an important one for writers to read—not to be better writers, I think, but to be better humans outside of our writing. I definitely fall victim to the need to narrativize things that happen in my life, to want to say x happened because of y because of z. And yes, life is a series of chains reactions, of “fate” or whatever you want to call it splitting off like branches on a tree because of the decisions we make. But it doesn’t all have to make sense; it doesn’t have to tie up neatly. If there’s a gun on the mantle in the proverbial first act of my life, it doesn’t have to go off in the third.
I’m having a hard time believing this right now, granted how certain negative past actions of mine are resurfacing in what seems like a karmic rage, but we need to remember that life is fucking random. Dwelling on the past events that lead to our current situation is, a lot of the time, useless. I know it sounds trite at this point, but if life is a non-narrative, there’s only moving forward.
Teach me a foreign
that I may articulate
these feelings into words
the weight of my thoughts
For these stanzas appear
so pallid upon the page;
stagnant script that
fails to speak the
burning in my fingertips
The music resounding
in the marrow of my bones
stains this stage so silently;
regardless of style and
Am I bound by endless
Poets paint their passions
their wounds bleed beauty
..Mine is a repertoire
of recyled renditions—
I cannot weave these
into works of art
I cannot write of you
the way I wish I could..
Page one hundred and sixty-three out of two hundred and four.
Computer pages, single-spaced in twelve point Times New Roman.
Fifteen years in the newspaper business and I recognize things like that now, my days spent with Cheltham Bold, Franklin Gothic, headlines and deadlines. I’ve written for the paper and laid out its pages, grown to love the place. It taught me a trade after all. Worked in it still drunk from the night before and raised glasses with co-workers on New Year’s Eve and when Obama was elected.
Most of my life has had to do with the written word in one way or another.
The novel is in its fifth edit in four, maybe five years. It now feels like a book. The stack of pages on my right is now larger than the one on my left.
There is an agent waiting to read it, though she does not represent me yet, she’s done well my a couple friends of mine.
When I’ve finished going through the line-by-line I’ll go back and add two crucial scenes. I can see the sign posts and the world of it around me. As long as I listen to the bird in my chest I think I’ll be alright. He has a better view of the land after all, wings have their advantages.
I think it’s intoxicating when somebody is so unapologetically who they are - Don Cheadle
This quote above is very fitting for the wonderful woman I’m about to write about. I had the pleasure of meeting Queen Sheba back in August 2013 at the Marquis Slam in Fayetteville, NC. She was a feature at that slam. She’s a firecracker and she keeps it real. And that reflects in her work.
Long Story Short: from foster care to fame is a book of poetry and short stories that she defines as too big for the stage. She covers a variety to topics - family, friends, relationships, God, roaches (I’m serious about the last one. Did you watch the link I shared about her yesterday?). She has her own way with words. She paints really interesting pictures. I think her work pushes you to open your mind and think broadly. I found myself sitting and thinking after a few of her poems and stories. What does it really mean to her? Because I’ll never really know and what does it mean to me? I think we all can appreciate work that makes us stop and think.
Her line breaks are more suited for speaking (reading out loud or performing), but it’s not too distracting for reading. A lot of the poems in here are free verse, but she has some haikus that serve as section dividers. Those are good and interesting as well. Some of my favorite pieces are off-beat-i-tis, a short story about the awkwardness and struggle of dancing off beat; cardinal, a poem; civil rights comes to pizza hut, one of the moments she’s encountered racism being a person of color adopted into a white family; the woods, a poem about taking a trip with her family; roach motel on central drive, about roaches and the company you keep; espn: extra special poets network, this poem is a really interesting dissection of spoken word artists; haiku for all wing clippers, and dear God, it’s me sheba, a letter to God. I realized I liked a lot more poems and stories, but I wanted to keep the list short.
It’s a really good book. It’s eclectic. I like the idea of short stories and poems going together. That definitely inspires me to maybe put a book with a mix of those two things since I write both. Please go buy it! It’s $17 in her etsy shop. She also has some spoken word CDs and some other books for sell there.
Follow her on Twitter and on Facebook. She’s really cool. Oh, she probably thought I was weird because at one point, I was kind of staring at her, but it’s because I was trying to figure out if she was the same poet that was featured on Verses and Flow and she was. She’s also gorgeous and has neat tattoos so I couldn’t help myself lol. Check her out! Buy her stuff! You won’t be disappointed.