The Art of Letter Writing

mark twain

Emails have revolutionized communication much like the telephone changed the art of letter writing. But, as for me, I cannot say it was an improvement. The availability of all the various instant communications is efficient and fast but it may in fact rob us of some very essential things.

I grew up in a family that did not communicate well or often. And having a military father, he was least inclined to discuss anything and more inclined to just lay down the law. But there was a rare moment that came only once a year when I was allowed to see into a far deeper and much more wonderful part of my father: Christmas.

My dad had a tradition with all of us. He would, once a year for Christmas day, write each of us a letter. In that letter he would talk about the year, his new years resolutions but what he did the most was share feelings, share his heart and talk about loving each of us in ways he never once showed us in the year leading up to Christmas.

I imprinted on these letters as my life raft of relationship with my dad. But what I took away from 18 letters that began the day I was born was that a letter is power. It is life changing, transformative, revealing and deeply personal. A letter allows us to craft our feelings, to create imagery that remains in the heart of the reader. A letter is spacious and forgiving. I cannot say any of that about an email or a text.

So when I married at 18 years old, the letters stopped as my father thought they should. But every letter was kept by my mother in a shortbread cookie tin and handed to me when I was nearly 50.

I remember being in a U-Haul in a blizzard between Maine and somewhere in Ohio when the roads were a whiteout and my knuckles were betraying how terrified I was. My husband was driving and listening to AM radio and televangelist’s had nearly driven us mad. So, I had the tin of letters in my backpack and pulled them out and started reading them to my husband.

We crawled along with no way to see where the road started and stopped and prayed for a place to stop for the night. I kept reading letter after letter, and then I noticed that even in the midst of tension and peril my husband and I were crying. We were crying at the beauty of these small gifts that my dad had left as his legacy. We could have ended in the ditch but instead we were mesmerized by the power of a letter.

For me a letter is a gift of the soul. The time, the effort, the care and making someone a priority is an art form we are losing. It is essential that we keep this form of writing alive and well.

paper has more patience

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Don’t Call an Exorcist

Exorzistlogo

For the writer, my suggestion is to never call an exorcist if you feel that you have lost control of your story and someone else, who came uninvited, is writing your story for you. Don’t call Father Damien to make a late night house call. Just get a cup of tea or a scotch and sit down and take a deep breath. Then from somewhere inside, you might hear a voice that says, “Fear not, I am your muse”. Then relax.

We all have myths and concepts about what a muse really is. I won’t go into Greek mythology but for most writers, we say we know when the “muse” is upon us and we know equally well, when the muse has disappeared. I want to put a new lens on the subject of being possessed my the muse.

Short and sweet: We are not only crafting our story, we are a channel that allows the story to come through us. Whether you want to write the self-help book of the century or write a true crime about a real life serial killer and feel you need to get all your facts correct, in the end, you are simply the messenger. When you allow this to be the case and detach from your story [which translates as stopping holding your story in a vice grip], then magic is possible.

I interviewed a possible client with a story that he had defined his life by. He had been working on his story for ten years. I asked him how many drafts he had and the answer was: 152 drafts. I didn’t take him as a client since I knew in an instant that the process was far more important to him than the outcome. And I knew that his muse had gone on permanent vacation or was a sadomasochism .

Our muse is an energetic voice that as you write, steers your story in unexpected directions. The more you try to bring the story back on whatever track you think it needs to be on, the more you labor, you flush an entire draft down the toilet and stare at the page. The muse knows the destination of your characters, knows the plot line even before you do and you simply surrender into the arms of the muse and be a faithful scribe.

“Where did he come up with that stuff?” I have said more than once about one of my favorite writers, Stephen King. He has a serious long-term muse relationship. My passion for writing is not only about the beauty of words that when stuck together with another word forms and even more glorious experience on the page, but my deepest passion is for the mystery of not knowing and being taken on a ride every time I sit to create a scene, dialogue or inspiration. This is what makes a writer prolific, insatiable and powerful: Listening to the directions of the muse and faithfully following the breadcrumbs into the forest of story.

I am working with an author to co-write of all things a story about Reality TV. Not a genre I have ever written about before but I have experienced the shark tank of reality network TV, so I thought “what fun”. The author of the idea sent me an amazing outline. After talking at length one of the things I remember him saying was that “the storyline just poured out effortlessly”. So, armed with a fabulous outline of an idea I dove in thinking I knew the direction and had pretty good idea of how to write the characters. But I was wrong. This story grabbed me in the middle of the night and made me start writing in a very different direction. The main character wanted new clothes, firearms and loved super heroes. The villains had their two cents about how they wanted to be portrayed and now I am nine chapters in and have not one single clue how the story might morph. It is an exhilarating way to write.

Allow the voice of the muse to derail you, to take you down a blind alley, to have your trash one of your best scenes in order to replace it with something entirely different. This brave choice, for a writer, is a courageous act that takes confidence and patience. But in my book, it is what makes great writing.

Stephen King Muse

Poetry Not for Wimps

poet is the amen

She said in no uncertain terms, “I hate poetry, it simply bores me and is for wimps”.

Then she wrote a poem since she had an ocean of words to tell her story, and it felt overwhelming, so she thought to try her hand at telling the truth, stripped down and naked through a poem.

She wrote another poem and sent it for me to read. She published that poem. Then she wrote a third poem and read it out loud to a group of writers. Everyone sat stunned.

Not a wimp in that room.

Most people feel like poetry is a breed unto itself, a woman’s preference, a form that does not demand as much as a novel or a memoir from the craftsman. Think again.

Poetry doesn’t have to conform to limits or formats. Poems can be as long as a book, such as Paradise Lost, or simply two lines long, like Ezra Pound’s In a Station of the Metro. It can be 300 pages long as in the revolutionary Dante’s Inferno. Poems don’t have to rhyme or follow any kind of structure or they can be rigidly formatted. Poetry is limitless in its possibilities. For many, poetry is probably the most flexible literary genre.

Introduction to Poetry—Billy Collins

 I ask them to take a poem and hold it up to the light like a color slide                                                  or press an ear against its hive.                                                                                                                     I say drop a mouse into a poem and watch him probe his way out, or walk inside the poem’s room and feel the walls for a light switch.                                                                                                   I want them to waterski across the surface of a poem waving at the author’s name on the shore.                                                                                                                                                               But all they want to do is tie the poem to a chair with rope and torture a confession out of it.       They begin beating it with a hose to find out what it really means.

billy collins

For those writing 250 pages of something they may get lost in, or have dropped the thread and are trying to stitch the chapters together, stop. Open a new Word Document and try a poem that captures the heart of the book you are writing. It will rearrange the furniture of your thinking so that when you go back to your novel or memoir, or your non-fiction piece of brilliance, you have new crisp eyes to see with. Or maybe like our woman who hates poetry, you will discover the power of your own words in a new way.

And then again, just listen to a bit of poetry that sends your body into a visceral convulsion that rearranges your very cellular nature.   When you hear this poem read by its author, Dominique Christina, winner of the Women of the World Poetry Award, I assure you, you may think differently about a poem from this moment on. This poem is NOT for wimps.

Stories are Alive

Tell stories quote

“Stories make us more alive, more human, more courageous, more loving.”

― Madeleine L’Engle

 Stories carry energy. Even songs you hear over and over are stories, especially country western sagas of lost love, lost dogs and no truck. Ballads stick with us because they are stories we see in the musical composition. And stories used to be passed down as powerful sources of information and truth from one tribe to another.

But things have changed drastically in the age of the nuclear family. We have lost our tribe and we have lost our storytellers.

So, when I go on and on about the power of story, I am being literal. There is energy in every story: Energy that the storyteller infuses into the telling, energy of the person hearing, and depending on the message inherent in the story, the story itself is alive with meaning and with a vibrational signature all of its own. Story is a powerful change agent.

When we are “burning to say something” it is because we are keeping the story and its energy just cycling in our bodies. The stories lay dormant and when un-birthed or untold they can become part of an illness, a malaise, or some sort of disturbance in the force of who we are. Stories need to do their work and then be passed along so that they can affect more people who need to hear that very thing you are burning to say.

Story is one of the most ancient ways of communication, like music, like poetry and art they are essential to the survival of our culture. And now there are no tribes to pass along the wisdom that comes from living, so each and every one of us are keepers of pieces of the puzzle of life and carriers of truths that our one life has given us. We must all plant the seeds of our experience, our angst, our joy and our wisdom so the next generation has somewhere to hang their hat.

“Stories come alive in the telling. Without a human voice to read them aloud, or a pair of wide eyes following them by flashlight beneath a blanket, they had no existence in our world. They were like seeds in the beak of a bird, waiting to fall to earth. Or the notes of a song laid out on a sheet, yearning for an instrument to bring their music into being. They lay dormant, hoping for the chance to emerge. Once someone started to read them, they could begin to change. They could take root in the imagination and transform the reader. Stories wanted to be read. They needed it. It was the reason they forced themselves from their world into ours. They wanted us to give them life.”
― John ConnollyThe Book of Lost Things

 

The Silent Killer

editing

I know.  You are thinking that I am about to say a few more words on writing true crime but no.  This time I am addressing the one thing we as writers feel compelled to do but this impulse can kill the creativity of a book in a heartbeat.  The silent killer?  Over editing.

There is so much said about wanting to edit your work as you go and I for one want to say:  The kiss of death lies in editing too soon and too much. So, as I launched into writing about this controversial subject for all writers, I stumbled on an article that doesn’t need me to reinvent the wheel to improve upon and I am passing it on to you.  This is sage advise for all writers.

Danger: Over-editing

martin-LR-1Award winning author Gail Gaymer Martin talks about the dangers of over-editing.

One of the plights of a novelist or writer is wanting to perfect your work so completely that you can‘t move forward. I’ve known numerous authors who’ve never completed a novel because they continue to rework the first three chapters until they literally take the life from it.

There can be too much of a good thing. Editing is necessary to create a story that moves forward with every page and every paragraph, but over-editing can be a killer, like over-eating or over-dieting. Weight control is a balance of healthy food and realistic portions. Editing is the same.

The author must balance adding more flourishes to create a rich scene that is often skimmed by the reader or pages of dialogue that becomes too much chitchat, or the opposite, cutting so much out of the novel that it becomes bare bones and loses reality, emotion, and depth. So what can you do? This is the question I was asked by a reader who follows my Writing Fiction blog.

The question:
Sometimes I feel so overwhelmed! I’ve written my beginning over and over again. I have even gotten to 15,000 words but keep getting frustrated. How do you move on without going back and constantly editing? I am a perfectionist, but that seems to be hindering me in my writing. Any tips?

My response:
Over-editing can hinder a writer’s progress and allow someone with talent to never finish a book. It’s a kind of discipline that you have to learn. A novelist’s voice is important. Readers know the tone and rhythm of your writing, and they connect with it. When you strip it to the bones or pile on unnecessary fat, you’ve changed your style and voice and can disconnect with readers.

Editing is to make the book the best it can be, but, sometimes you will reach a point where you lose judgment and do more damage than good to a novel. When you spend all your time tweaking the novel, you are not moving forward. You’ve become stagnant, and when standing still, you get nowhere.

Remember that all books need an editor, traditional or self-published. Think of your work as a first draft and know that if the book is to be published, an editor will help you polish your work with fresh eyes. Self-publishing means hiring an editor to work with your book, and traditional publishing means numerous editors—your senior, copy, and line editors—will go over your book with you at no cost.

Over-editing not only takes the life from the book, but it also steals energy and creativity from the novelist. The book becomes boring and loses its spark. Don’t let that happen. Learn ways to help you move forward.

Techniques to help you avoid over-editing

  • Set a Deadline:

Traditional writers sell a novel and then are given a deadline which is part of the contract so authors make sure they meet their deadline. Even if the book isn’t sold, make a decision when you want the book to be written or when you want the proposal to be ready for the submission to a publisher. Deadlines help you move along. Assign yourself so many words a day. If you spend the time editing, you will have to continue to add  words. Give yourself a penalty if you don’t meet the deadline. No chocolate the next day. No TV in the evening. When you lose something you enjoy for not making the deadline, you will think twice about over-editing.

  • Read  Work Aloud:

Aloud is the key. Listen to your novel either by reading aloud or by using a text to voice program. I use Natural Reader and find it very helpful in not only catching typos or the wrong word (meet instead of met, slide instead of slid) but also spotting overworked words, awkward sentences and redundancies. I highlight the area I want to look at when I finish listening or make note of the page and then look at only those sections later.

  • Use a Critique Group:

While the group is only as good as its members, hearing other’s opinions of your novel can help you discover areas what needs clarifying, cutting or reworking in some way. What’s clear in your mind can be confusing in someone else’s. Ask them to view the action and dialogue with your character’s personality, values and beliefs in mind. Is it realistic and consistent. People change but only in time. Input on your work is important, but not from mothers, siblings or good friends. They aren’t always honest so as not to hurt your feelings. . .or their opinion is skewed because they love you. Critique groups are best when they are fellow authors. When those readers don’t find an error or problem in some of the scenes, don’t change them.

  • Make a List of Common Problems:

When you’re working on a list of specific problems, you will not get stuck in a rut. As you discover areas of weakness, focus on those and once changed, let it be. Too much backstory, lack of description, overuse of dialogue tags, not enough white space on the page, or redundancy. For example, keep a list of words you overuse. As you listen to the novel or skim the pages, notice words that jump out at you because you’ve used them over and over. Use a thesaurus and find alternatives for the same idea and use them. Cut as many adverbs as possible. Adverbs are a weak way to make your character come alive. Avoid adverbs in dialogues tags. Make the sentences come alive with the words you select rather than telling the reader if the character is excited, suspicious or angry and don’t use too many adjectives in your descriptions, but don’t cut them bare-bones.

  • Walk Away:

Give yourself a break from the novel. Put it aside for a few days and allow yourself to un-attach from the story. When you go back, you can look at it with new eyes. What looked bad might be fine. What seemed amazing might be so overworked making it lose its spark.

  • My Editing Method:

I write without editing until I’m done for the day. When I return to the novel, I go back to what I’d written and reread, making a few changes or highlighting a section I’m not sure about or one that needs some research. Then I continue to write, adding more to the story. When I stop, I go back and fix the things I highlighted early that needs work, or I wait and edit the next day. But each day I only edit what I’d written the day before. Once I have five or six chapters written, I edit again, and then move forward with the novel. I always leave a note to myself where I will start when I finish writing for the day or if I’m taking a break. Writers must learn to turn their internal editor on and off as needed. Sadly, too many writers work so hard perfecting the first chapter they never get anywhere, and what they’ve written becomes overworked and loses it’s spark. Part of creativity is spontaneity.

What techniques do you use to avoid over-editing? Let us know in the comments below.f

© Gail Gaymer Martin 2014

TreasuresofherHeart VLDMulti-award-winning novelist, Gail Gaymer Martin is the author of contemporary romance, romantic suspense, and women’s fiction with 55 published novels and nearly 4 million books in print. Her novel’s have received many national awards, such as: the ACFW Carol Award, Booksellers Best and RT Reviewer’s Choice Award. CBS local news listed Gail as one of the four best writers in the Detroit area. She is a cofounder of American Christian Fiction Writers and serves on their Executive Board. Gail is a member of Advanced Speakers and Writers as well as Christian Authors Network and is a keynote speaker at women’s organization events as well as a workshop presenter at conferences across the US. Gail lives in Michigan with her husband.

Visit her website at:www.gailgaymermartin.com where you can read about her latest release, Treasures of Her Heart, available as a trade and eBook.

Your Magic Bullet: Beethoven

beethoven gary oldman

This unusual post is going to share with you a tool that will help you as a writer to deal with blocks, fears, doubt and procrastination. It will become your favorite tool in you writer’s toolbox. All of the familiar roadblocks as a writer come from thoughts that lower your vibrational frequency. When you are in this “state” you stall out and can’t move forward with your writing let alone live a fulfilling life.

So what’s a writer to do? Something quite out of the box, is my answer.

Music raises our vibrational frequency. But, not every kind of music. The lower we vibrate the more anxious, paralyzed, angry or unconscious we become. There are studies done of certain kinds of music like Metallica, which have whipped people into a state of being able to do violence. That is one extreme. Feelings that reflect low states of vibrational frequency are reactive anger, unrelenting sorrow, regret, hate, blame, self-judgment, constant worry; well you get the picture. The feelings, the experiences and energy that raise your vibrational frequency is being in love, loving, being loved. That about covers that. But, more specifically being in your heart, your passion, feeling joy and gratitude are the elixirs that will change our world and your inner world.  Then it will change your writing exponentially. But the issue is we cannot simply be loving and in a loving state on demand.  We need to be in the right energetic place to both feel and receive love.  The right vibrational field.  Change your field change your experience.

These feelings and states of being each carry a vibrational signature.   And who else but Beethoven knew this and created music that carried the vibrational frequencies that would be a mathematical equation to create harmony, forgiveness and letting go. Beethoven’s Seventh, Movement 2, and just the first three min, is a magical, mystical combination of perfectly crafted vibrational frequencies that when you are in a state of meditation and listen to it, you will shift your state of being and be able to manifest:

A high vibrational state

Better Health

Forgiveness

Letting go of:

Regret

Doubt

Fear

These emotions cannot foster in a high vibrational field. We then are open to ill-health, inertia, unhappiness. But what is the outcome of this shift in how we vibrate? You will be able then to manifest everything you need. Or more precisely you will be a magnet for the experiences that resonate or match the frequency you are vibration at. Click.  Did your lightbulb just go off?  This is really the key to the entire concept of the law of attraction: Change how you vibrate. Get what you want and what matches where you are.

So here is the magic bullet. I would recommend the link below which is a 30 min loop of the first few min of Beethoven’s 7th movement 2.

Every time you sit down to write start here, put the headphones on, pull up the link on YouTube, close your eyes and let it wash over you. Clear your mind the best you can, sit where you want to do your writing, turn off your cell phone and while you do this thirty minute meditation and are listening to Beethoven, allow yourself to feel, the word is feel, the passion for the story you are telling, the joy you will have writing it, the joy people will feel when they read what you have written, the utter success of your book, the happiness that comes with success and the gratitude you have for the privilege of being able to be a writer. Writing is a privilege.

Then start writing.

vbrational quote

Erotica Revisited

 anais nin

“I with a deeper instinct, choose a man who compels my strength, who makes enormous demands on me, who does not doubt my courage or my toughness, who does not believe me innocent or naïve, who has the courage to treat me like a woman.” Anais Nin 1903-1977

To gaze or leer may be a question in the field of erotica that I could write about for pages. But I am here to mention erotica because, basically, I hated 50 Shades of Grey, when most of America loved it. Or at least most of American women did.  50 Shades of Grey, for me, felt a little like taking a spectacular tricked out Harley, stripping it down, removing all the curves of the chrome and calling it a motorcycle. But that’s just me. Since I grew up with Anais Nin, who by 1925 was busting down all the sexual doors as a writer and redefining erotica, I imprinted on a level of sensuality and eroticism that seems, well, either too hard for writers to capture on the page or just not the “quickie” that so much romantic and erotic storytelling seems to focus on.

The world of erotic writing crossed over into the pornographic realms long ago. Sex became the central focus of much erotica, and most of it pretty badly written along the way. I mean how many ways can you describe a penis, or fucking or body parts? E.L James worked overtime to find as many ways not to repeat herself when describing sex, but in the end ripped the heartbeat out of her story. But who cares, if the object of a sex scene is to arouse the reader? If the reader is satisfied, then it worked. But working and inspiring are two vastly different objectives in eroticism.

Erotica used to be considered art, and fine art, like painters who used the human figure as a subject to create a rich and beautiful sexual landscape. Erotica a while back did too. So sexual writing isn’t necessarily the same as erotica. Gazing can be just a big a turn on as someone leering or lusting after their object of desire, if it is written well. But, it is simply harder to write, and requires a depth of emotion that current erotica seems to have abandoned.

anais nin 2

Anais Nin changed literature with a handful of others as she took herself into the world of erotic exploration and at the height of our provincial 20th century decided to break down the barriers receiving great criticism along the way.

Anais wrote journals which spanned more than 60 years, beginning when she was 11 years old and ending shortly before her death in 1977: novels, critical studies, essaysshort stories, and erotica. A great deal of her work, including Delta of Venus and Little Birds, was published posthumously because she was a bit of an infamous woman for her time. But Anais Nin tore through the world of erotica and changed writing for and by women forever. Her passionate love affair with the notorious bohemian writer, Henry Miller fueled much of her writing. Here is a letter she wrote in Delta of Venus, in defense of a kind of erotica we do not see much any more. I will let my case rest with her searing words.

“Dear Collector: We hate you. Sex loses all its power and magic when it becomes explicit, mechanical, overdone, when it becomes a mechanistic obsession. It becomes a bore. You have taught us more than anyone I know how wrong it is not to mix it with emotion, hunger, desire, lust, whims, caprices, personal ties, deeper relationships that change its color, flavor, rhythms, intensities.

“You do not know what you are missing by your microscopic examination of sexual activity to the exclusion of aspects which are the fuel that ignites it: Intellectual, imaginative, romantic, emotional. This is what gives sex its surprising textures, its subtle transformations, its aphrodisiac elements. You are shrinking your world of sensations. You are withering it, starving it, draining its blood.

If you nourished your sexual life with all the excitements and adventures which love injects into sensuality, you would be the most potent man in the world. The source of sexual power is curiosity and passion. You are watching its little flame die of asphyxiation. Sex does not thrive on monotony. Without feeling, inventions, moods, no surprises in bed. Sex must be mixed with tears, laughter, words, promises, scenes, jealousy, envy, all the spices of fear, foreign travel, new faces, novels, stories, dreams, fantasies, music, dancing, opium, wine. How much do you lose by this periscope at the tip of your sex, when you could enjoy a harem of distinct and never-repeated wonders? No two hairs alike, but you will not let us waste words on a description of hair; no two odors, but if we expand on this you cry Cut the poetry.

No two skins have the same texture, and never the same light, temperature, shadows, never the same gesture; for a lover, when he is aroused by true love, can run the gamut of centuries of love lore. What a range, what changes of age, what variations of maturity and innocence, perversity and art . . . We have sat around for hours and wondered how you look. If you have closed your senses upon silk, light, color, odor, character, temperament, you must be by now completely shriveled up. There are so many minor senses, all running like tributaries into the mainstream of sex, nourishing it. Only the united beat of sex and heart together can create ecstasy.”

― Anais Nin, Delta of Venus.