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Posts Tagged ‘Sting’

Admiration for attention to detail: From Elvis to Sting

This is my fourth of 35 posts in the 5-Week Author Blog Challenge, all of them on the topic of writing, publishing, and book marketing. I went back and skimmed what I wrote in answer to a similar prompt for the 2012 Author Blog Challenge. As I imagined, my thoughts are in a different place today. I hope you’ll stick around through all 35 posts. And if you want to take part, come on in – the water is great! You can register here.

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Day 4 writing prompt:

Who are your writing role models? Whose writing has most influenced you? Who are your writing mentors?

One of my earliest assignments for a fiction class in college involved writing description. A fraternity guy named Hunter received a low grade for handing in his third paper about surfing. Blonde, tan, and good-looking in that frat guy/surfer way, all he could do was shake his head because he just couldn’t understand why the TA wanted him to stretch and write about something – anything – else. Another guy wrote in detail about a one-night stand. I still recall his depiction of noticing the girl’s underarm stubble as she slept the next morning. Interestingly, I don’t remember what I wrote about.

travelin' elvis

The paper I remember most, however, was by another coed, about my age. She wrote the most glorious description I had read to that point by anyone other than a seasoned author of classics about … the traveling Elvis museum. She detailed the steps up into the RV-cum-museum. She wove word pictures about the glass cases and the trinkets and memorabilia they contained. She described the kitschy gift shop with its gaudy gadgets and t-shirts and velvet paintings. And most memorable of all, she captured snapshots of the visitors – people of every age, ethnicity, and economic background. It seemed no one was immune to the draw of all things The King. I don’t have a clue what this gal’s name was, or what’s happened to her since. Only that she was 19 or 20, and I was 19 or 20, and in a million years, I don’t think I could ever master her gift for description.

Perhaps because my strength has always lain in nonfiction writing, the writers I admire most are those who write wonderful fiction. Sue Miller’s first book, The Good Mother, is still a favorite, as is Ken Follett’s Pillars of the Earth. Both of these authors are masters of details that bring fictional characters to life. Miller describes a harried woman cutting her leg shaving one rushed morning, while Follett notes how the townfolk crane their necks until they hurt, looking up at the stone masons at work on a grand cathedral. In Gold Coast, Nelson DeMille captures perfectly the slow shifts in his main character, John Sutter, a Wall Street attorney who finds himself defending a mafia don. And one image from the classics I will never forget is the turtle on its back, legs waving wildly in the air in Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath.

Fantastic writing is not solely the domain of fiction authors, however. Besides being an amazing lyricist, it turns out that Sting can also write quite beautiful prose. His memoir, Broken bubblesMusic, is one of the most gorgeously inspired books I’ve ever encountered. Another nonfiction book I’ve recommended often is From Beginning to End: The Rituals of Our Lives, by Robert Fulghum. This one challenges you to question conformity on all levels and may – at least subconsciously – have played a role in why I chose to wear a green gown for my St. Patrick’s Day wedding. Of course, there’s also the grab-you-by-the-throat-and-throw-you-against-a-wall motivation to be found in Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art. If procrastination, or its first cousin perfectionism, is hounding you, this book will help you turn the corner and leave it in the dust.

Lastly, in terms of inspiring authors, is a fellow I “met” during the 2012 Author Blog Challenge, Robert “Chazz” Chute. This guy is a writer! And an author! He’s prolific, talented, and so willing to share his knowledge. If you like mysteries and thrillers, read his books. If you want to learn how to write, design, market, and create a fan base, read his blog.

Well, this post kind of overlaps with tomorrow’s prompt … about what we both love and hate to read … but it also conveys my heartfelt gratitude and colossal admiration for the really great descriptive writers who can also challenge the hell out of me. Tune in tomorrow. I promise it will be at least mildly interesting…

And for the record, I’d love your feedback on my Author Blog Challenge posts! And, of course, would really love to have you support all of the bloggers in the Challenge. Find their links here.

Here’s to continuing to hone and improve your writing skills!

Laura

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Release the perfectionism and find your own voice as a writer

 

Of all the books I’ve ever read, the one that stands out as the most beautifully lyrical is Sting’s autobiography, Broken Music. Perhaps that can be explained by his years as lead singer and chief lyricist for The Police. I tend to think the British flavor of his writing is also a significant factor. However it came about, I was just so delightfully surprised by the book that certain details of his story still remain fixed in my mind, though I read it only once seven years ago.

Another wonderfully gifted writer is Ed Montini, columnist for the Arizona Republic, my hometown newspaper. His attention to detail and deft use of language enable him to spin word pictures like Rumpelstiltskin spun gold. That we still get to read him twice a week is a rare gift in a world of disappearing newspapers.

My writing, on the other hand — well, you can see it for yourself — tends to be proficient, but it’s no frills. “Just the facts, ma’am,” as Joe Friday would say. Back in 2004, I made my first foray into the 3-Day Novel Contest. Though I did not win, I received what could only be considered an exceptional rejection letter, a handwritten note at the top of the form letter that said, “Laura, Stan (my title character) made it pretty far into the process. Good dialogue. Good flow. Good job.”

Heartened by the feedback, I set out to enhance and expand my original 109 pages (pretty typical for a 3-Day Novel submission) into something that more resembled an actual book. After two years, I think I might have bulked Stan up to a hefty 150 pages. Convinced I needed help, I asked my friend, Carol Hogan — an amazing poet in her own right — to have a look at it. Her feedback, while truthful, was telling of my skill (to that point, at least) as a fiction writer: “It’s a really good outline.”

I still believe Stan has a lot of promise and plan to finish his story one day, perhaps weaving in some of Carol’s fanciful and creative suggestions. The thing is, I know I’m not a bad writer. But I make a significant portion of my living editing other people’s words, which usually means paring back, NOT adding to the original text. So the gorgeous descriptions that make delicious fiction so vibrant are notably absent from mine, if only because my creative process just doesn’t seem to work that way. I would venture that the same is true for most of my writing.

That said, I do recognize and appreciate luminous writing when I see it. Two blogs I’ve recently begun reading come to mind. The first I mentioned last week: the anonymous gal who writes Stopping the Wind, in which she elegantly chronicles her commitment to personal change.

The other is Sonja Haller’s Soulful Writing. In a recent post, Sonja wrote about ditching the pursuit of perfection to begin creating. I liked it immediately because it reminded me of a post I did a few months back about my mantra for procrastinators: Done Is Better than Perfect. However, while Sonja writes soulfully of her own experience, I target the reader with an in-your-face bit of advice.

From Sonja’s post:

And almost weekly I struggle when doing a bit of creative writing because I’m waiting for some version of perfect to appear. I’m waiting for the kitchen to be all clean. I’m waiting to feel fully awake and alert. I’m waiting for some inspirational or ethereal nudge.

From my post:

And next time you are tempted to rewrite your blog message before posting it, change your social media profile picture one more time, re-read and edit your e-mail blast for the dozenth time, spend another hour editing a video, or any other aspect of what can only be called busywork, catch yourself in the act and recite your new mantra: DONE IS BETTER THAN PERFECT.

The thing is that neither is right or wrong. We simply have different writing styles. Just because I have a deep appreciation for melodious writing does not mean that everyone appreciates that type of prose. Some people are probably naturally attracted to a more straightforward, unembellished writing style. I think the biggest thing to take away from this discussion is the importance of finding YOUR voice. What about your writing makes it unique to you?

May you find a way to relinquish perfectionism and discover your voice!

Laura

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