Labrador Butts & Other Things

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3 weeks in a nutshell — Netflix, reading, baking, cooking

“It’s been 20 days since your post ‘Sky’ was published”.

Holy moly! I feel really, really guilty about this. Since this blog is about cultivating some discipline as a writer, the fact that I haven’t written a post for nearly 3 weeks is a personal failure. My goal is to blog at least twice a week, so 20 days is bad. Real bad.

I don’t have a good reason for my neglect. One episode of Gilmore Girls led to another, one episode of Downton Abbey led to another, and before I could blink September was almost over. Curse you, yellow labrador butt!

Besides watching a ton of Netflix (New Girl, The Office — again! —, Jane the Virgin, Chef’s Table…the list, to my shame, goes on and on), I’ve also been caught up in Terry Pratchett and Steven Baxter’s The Long Earth series. I discovered the books in the Free Library of Philadelphia, which is just 700m away from home. If you’re a resident of Philly, membership is free and you get to borrow up to fifty books at a time, for 3 weeks at a time, and you can extend your loan period up to ten times. Yep. Fifty. This is fantastic!

The Long Earth was part of my haul, and I’m really happy I borrowed them. The books are about the discovery that there are an infinite set of Earths that humans can Step to. These Earths aren’t alternate realities, they’re distinct Earths that have experienced different cosmological events, which have affected the evolution of their life forms. Recently, humans have developed the technology to Step to these other Earths, and we follow a few characters as they explore these different iterations of our planet.


Writer’s Rant

One of the more useful things I’ve been up to instead of blogging is working on my punctuation with Eats, Shoots & Leaves.  English is my first language (no kidding, banana!), so I breezed through English at school without having to really study punctuation and grammar. I get really frustrated when I’m reviewing some one else’s work and I know the grammar is wrong but I don’t have the vocabulary chops to explain why.

It’s also pretty horrifying to discover I’ve been doing some things wrong my whole life, like using hyphens instead of em dashes and single quotation marks instead of double quotations marks. To this day, I’m still not clear on the use of “who” vs “whom”, “than me” vs “than I” (e.g. you know more than me/I). Recently, my professor pointed out that the “duchess’ daughters” in a recent story I wrote really should have been the “duchess’s daughters”. I won’t go into specifics, but an illustration of why this particular use of the apostrophe is not simple is the fact that “Jesus’ disciples”and “Achiles’s heel” are both correct, but “Jesus’s disciples” and “Achiles’ heel” are…less correct.

This kind of thing makes me wonder if I can ever purge all the errors I must have accumulated over the years from my writing.

While I’m on the subject, a friend made a comment that really stuck in my craw. When this friend heard I was going to do a masters in creative writing, he/she responded with an incredulous “Do you really need to study to become a writer? Don’t you just need a great idea?” I was speechless. So much more goes into the writing of a great book than a great idea.

In his seminal work, The Art of Fiction, John Gardner writes, “No one can hope to write well if he has not mastered — absolutely mastered — the rudiments: grammar and syntax, punctuation, diction, sentence variety, paragraph structure, and so forth.” From where I’m standing, this seems a substantial task,  and it’s only the first step towards becoming a good writer.

You need to build an extensive vocabulary in order to write scenes that are vivid and believable. You need to study and master the use of plot arcs and narrative voice, character development and themes, suspense and poetic rhythm.

Consider, for example, the way these sentences (from The Art of Fiction) have a different rhythm and emphasis when you read them aloud:

  1. Tammy was a damn fool
  2. Tammy shot a damn fool
  3. Bill Jones shot a damn fool
  4. Bill Jones shot two damn fools

Great writers work painstakingly not only to get the big things right (the “great idea”) but the little things right as well, working over every syllable until their masterpiece sounds just right.

My friend’s question left me speechless because it implied that writing is easy; it’s anything but! Especially if you want to write something even half-decent.

The more I learn, the more I realise how much work lies ahead of me. Maybe I’ll never write anything even remotely as good as The Wind in the Willows, but a girl’s gotta dream.


Coming Soon

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In pursuit of that dream (and a result of my blog-neglect guilt), I’m planning to kick off a project this week. I have short story due on Sunday (Oct 2), and I thought I’d work on it every day this week, on my blog. The exercise will hopefully make me a more consistent writer, since my previous three short stories were the results of last-minute all-nighters.

Once that’s done, I’m going to aim even higher and kick off Fiction Friday, which is a challenge to myself to blog a thousand words of fiction a week.

Wish me luck!

Jenna

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