Sunday, February 25, 2007

Thoughts on Writing

Lately, I have been thinking about what it means to be a writer. In my online writing community, I come across numerous writers who are published and/or work in the publishing industry. I also come across some excellent writers who have never been published, or who have one or two random pieces in magazines. My question- does being published make one a writer?

I think not.

To be a writer, one needs to put some type of energy into writing something that is publishable. The truth is that some published material is substandard and some unpublished works are excellent. I believe part of getting published is a mixture of luck, persistence and knowing where to submit their work. Talent may be part of the bigger picture, but hard work is the bigger ingredient

As for myself, my goal is to work, research markets, work, work and submit my writing, and then work some more!! But, published or not, I am a writer.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Beauty in Nature

Imagine yourself driving long, winding roads flanked by towering redwoods, the pouring down rain beating your windshield. For miles, as day moved into dusk, few cars traveled this road. While Don navigated the twists and turns, and we shared random conversation, I found myself drifting into daydreams, snippets of what could be my next story.

After a few hours of driving, we found ourselves at our destination- Mendocino, California. If you’ve never been to Mendocino, this tiny quaint community sits on cliffs overlooking the ocean. The buildings are colorful, historic, and well cared for. The town reminds me of a fictional town in a movie, or story, a small village set on the East Coast, where a good mystery unfolds or a romance blossoms.

Our main purpose in Mendocino was to attend the screening of a movie. Don’s band, the Hot Frittatas, contributed some of their recorded words for numerous scenes in the movie. They were invited to the screening as guests, as well as entertainment before the screening. Needless to say, they were a hit both live and in the movie!!

As people mingled before the movie, I was taken in by the strong community atmosphere where most people seemed to know one another. At first, I felt a bit like an outsider. Then, strangers began coming up to me, introducing themselves, drawing me into conversation. By the end of the evening, I learned that at least half of the people in the room were somehow involved in the movie. The other attendees were community support for the filmmaker, either family or friends, or support for someone who had contributed to the movie.

When we visited Rockport, Massachusetts last summer, I fell in love with the English style town lining the Atlantic. The dreamer in me yearned to stay, to pretend I could just fall into life on the East Coast, but the realistic part of me knew I had a life to go back to in Santa Rosa. This last weekend, I felt that same yearning, but the realization was different- I'm free to visit Mendocino anytime I want.

One of the best parts of this trip was staying at the quaint motel on the beach in Fort Bragg, a neighboring town. Late at night before sleep, as I listened to the rain, I wondered what secret lived within the history of those walls. For many years, people had come and gone, went on with their lives. What kinds of situations had transpired in that room? Of course, he writer in me imagined a good mystery, leading me right into dreamland….

© 2007 Susan Littlefield

Sunday, February 4, 2007

Baking a Story

Today, as Don played his guitar and I wrote on my story, I shared a bit about what I’m working on.

“I’m nearly finished,” I said. “But, I don’t think I’ve got it quite right yet.”

“Well, that’s okay,” he said. “You just rearrange all the parts until you get it right. It’s not like a soufflĂ© where it has to come out of the oven perfect the first time.”

How true, I thought. But, how often I want to just sit down and write my story and have it come out perfect in the first draft. After all, isn’t that the way it happens for the famous writers? They take an hour and write a saleable short story, or they write a bestselling novel in 30 days? Why can’t I do that!

When writing stories, my greatest dilemma is following through on plot without leaving behind loose ends. For example, my current short story involves a woman who is unhappy and wants a different life. She receives a telephone call intended for someone else that has her name. She goes on a quest to find out all she can about this other person, and eventually tries to take over this other woman’s life. My first draft contained many loose ends that really had nothing to do with the plot. In writing my second draft, I concentrate on cleaning up the loose ends by either reworking them as part of the plot or getting rid of them entirely. I’m certain I’ll go through several drafts before being satisfied with the final work.

Once I have completed a draft I am satisfied with, or even a portion of a draft, I’ll take it to my writing peers for critique. A common pitfall for all writers is seeing the errors in their work. Fresh eyes can see problems that I, the writer, am unable to see. Something may seem like it fits into my story, but the reader may think it makes no sense. In the end, I decide what to keep and what goes, but other writer’s opinions are extremely important. I have never received a critique that I thought was harsh, but I’ve often wondered if someone has given me a sketchy critique because they don’t want to hurt my feelings.

Now, as I go back to work on my story, I know I don’t have to get it perfect the first time or at all. But, my final product needs to be my best work, something that I can be proud of and that editors don’t have to throw into a slush pile because it was poorly written.

If a story I write end up back in my mailbox, at least I know it’s not because I haven’t put my best product out there.

© Susan Littlefield

To Go Oxford....or Not

Do you use the Oxford comma or do you omit it? Some grammar sages say to either keep it or omit it, unless omitting the Oxford comma will...