Write Something You Love

December 8, 2016

Write Something You Love

I’m Joanne Miller Waldron, and Write Something You Love is my blog. Its purpose is to discuss writing, but I may share other tidbits from time to time. I owe special thanks to Elsa Schneider, “artiste du dimanche” (translation: spare time painter), for the picture of the Ampersand Cafe and Bookstore in Sydney that she has graciously allowed me to use here.

I want to share how I came up with the name Write Something You Love for this blog. My son was lucky enough to study with Klara Berkovich, an iconic violin teacher from Russia, who had the highest standards imaginable. She always used to say, “Do something you love.” When my son had finished performing a piece that he’d prepared for a lesson, she’d ask, “Did you love it?” In this manner, she taught him to analyze his own playing. The idea was to continue working on a piece of music until he could say that he loved it. My son took the principles he learned from his violin teacher and applied them to many other disciplines. I believe these principles can be applied to writing, as well. Just as great musicians must be able to evaluate their own playing, writers must also be able to evaluate their writing objectively. So, when I speak of writing something that you love, I don’t mean writing about gardening if you enjoy plants. My goal is to work on a piece of writing until I can say honestly that I love it. If a passage I’ve written doesn’t feel quite right, I’ll put it away until I have an idea about how to fix it. I know a piece of writing is finished when I feel happy about it.

I invite you to grab a cup of hot tea or other favorite beverage, and join me on my writing journey. I’ll begin with a favorite quote from the Gilmore Girls series:

“I live in two worlds. One is a world of books. I’ve been a resident of Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha County, hunted the white whale aboard the Pequod, fought alongside Napoleon, sailed a raft with Huck and Jim, committed absurdities with Ignatius J. Reilly, rode a sad train with Anna Karenina, and strolled down Swann’s Way.”

— Rory Gilmore, The Gilmore Girls

I’ve discovered that the best writers are avid readers. I believe one of the best ways to become a better writer is to read as many examples of great writing as possible. According to Australian writer Patrick Lenton, there were 339 books referenced on the Gilmore Girls series. Even if you didn’t watch the series, take a look at Rory Gilmore’s reading list challenge. How many of these books have you read? Share in the comments below. Have any of the books referenced influenced your writing? Comments are moderated in order to keep the blog respectable and spam-free. Thanks for your patience.

Until next time,

Write something you love! — Joanne

WriteSomethingYouLove.com

Readers AskQUESTION: What’s the problem with opening a novel with dialogue?

Answer: I prefer not to open with dialogue, but there are writers who do it successfully. Most people are familiar with Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White (you know, the White who coauthored The Elements of Style, Fourth Edition with Strunk). The first line of White’s famous book is etched in my memory:

“Where’s Papa going with that axe?” said Fern.

In the case of Charlotte’s Web, the opening draws the reader into the story, right into the middle of some exciting conflict. However, it’s risky to open with dialogue when the reader has no context for what is taking place. Similarly, it’s chancy to open with a character’s thoughts (interior monologue).

If an opening makes a reader feel disoriented, (s)he might not continue reading. Although some authors get away with opening a novel with dialogue, it’s better to introduce the characters and setting first. If a character speaks before a reader knows anything about the character, the reader may form an image that is different than the author’s. Then, as more details about the character come to light, it could be quite jarring to the reader if he is forced to change his mental image of that character. Some readers even create voices in their heads when they read dialogue. Imagine a reader’s frustration if he has to recreate a character’s voice.

There’s nothing like a real-life example. Suppose for a moment that you’re a single woman at a party. Some guy you’ve never met walks up to you and says, “Let’s get out of here.” That line will certainly get your attention but maybe not in a good way. Now consider the same scenario, except that a friend introduces that guy as the Chief of Neurosurgery at a well-known hospital before he tries to whisk you away. Maybe you still wouldn’t want to leave with him, but you might decide to steer him to the punch bowl. Dialogue means nothing without proper context.

Until next time,

Write something you love! — Joanne

WriteSomethingYouLove.com

THATMany writers wonder when the word that should be used and when it should be omitted. Because the word that can function in so many ways, the answer isn’t simple.  When in doubt, opt for clarity. Here are some of the ways the word that may be used:

  • As an adverb. (Sam didn’t understand how she could be that disagreeable.)
  • As a demonstrative pronoun. (That is our sailboat.)
  • As a complementizer. (I heard that he was a philanderer.) A complementizer is a conjunction which marks a complement clause.
  • As a relative pronoun. (The casserole that she brought was delicious.)

Sometimes in the latter two cases, the word that can be omitted. However, clarity always trumps reducing word count.

Use That With Thinking Verbs

When using “thinking” verbs (believe, consider, decide, imagine, know, realize, recognize, wonder, etc.), the word that is often retained for clarity. Consider the following sentence:

She believed her professor, who was older than her father, was trying to seduce her.

The sentence above is confusing as written, because at first glance, the reader assumes the professor is a good guy. When the reader gets to the end of the sentence, he realizes this isn’t the case. Use this version of the sentence for clarity:

She believed that her professor, who was older than her father, was trying to seduce her.

Use That to Retain Parallelism

It’s important to keep the use of that consistent within a sentence. Consider this sentence:

He insists the allegations are false and that he’s planning on calling his attorney.

In order to retain parallelism, it’s better to write the sentence above like this:

He insists that the allegations are false and that he’s planning on calling his attorney.

Clarity and brevity are both necessary qualities of fine writing; however, clarity is king. Never sacrifice clarity for brevity.  Savvy writers won’t remove that if it makes a sentence flow better, either. Writers must use good judgement.

QUIZ

In each example, determine whether that is needed. (Answers follow.)

  1. Susan said (that) she was sleepy.
  2. The teacher announced (that) her new homework policy would be in place soon.
  3. The store manager announced December 1 (that) the store would be closing.
  4.  She believed (that) her husband, who was always late getting home, was having an affair.
  5.  She insists (that) there is a squirrel in her attic and that she’s calling an exterminator.

 

Answers:

  1. It’s fine to omit that for brevity here.
  2. Keep that here. Without it, the reader might think (momentarily) that the new homework policy has already been put forth.
  3. Keep that here.  Without it, the reader wouldn’t know whether the announcement was made on December 1 or if the store would be closing on December 1.
  4. Keep that here. Readers shouldn’t think for a second that she believed her husband.
  5. Keep that here to keep the sentence parallel.

 

Until next time,

Write something you love! — Joanne

WriteSomethingYouLove.com

Readers AskQUESTION: Popular writer, Mr. [Name Removed], insists that fiction writers should never use semicolons. What’s wrong with using semicolons?

ANSWER: Semicolons in fiction aren’t taboo. The idea of banning a punctuation mark in fiction is patently ridiculous. Ask popular fiction writer Jojo Moyes. The first line of her book Still Me contains a semicolon (and lots of other punctuation marks):

It was the mustache that reminded me I was no longer in England: a solid, grey millipede firmly obscuring the man’s upper lip; a Village People mustache, a cowboy mustache, the miniature head of a broom that meant business.

Jojo Moyes isn’t the only great writer to use semicolons, and no competent writer should eliminate them. To tell a writer not to use a semicolon would be  like telling a painter not to use the color blue. Semicolons are an integral part of a writer’s toolbox. While some writing teachers advise beginning writers not to use semicolons, this advice does not apply to seasoned writers. A wise mother would not give a toddler a serrated knife, but that doesn’t mean she would carve a steak with a table knife. Semicolons should never be used randomly; however, there are times when only a semicolon will do.

Just as great musicians realize that people have eyes as well as ears and often choreograph their performances, great writers know that writing is more than printed words on a page. Because I have a musical background, I like to think about the way words sound when I read them aloud. So much meaning can be conveyed with punctuation. In music, a composer has to have a way to tell the musician how quickly a particular passage should be played, from Larghissimo (very, very slow) to Prestissimo (200 bpm and over). There are also ways for a composer to tell musicians to hold a certain note a little longer. Likewise, writers have different ways of punctuating sentences to control the flow.

In Keys to Great Writing: Mastering the Elements of Composition and Revision, Stephen Wilbers writes:

It [the semicolon] creates a pause shorter than the period, slightly shorter than the colon, and longer than the comma. To eliminate it entirely from your repertoire is to limit your range as a writer.

A semicolon is used to join to phrases in a way that suggests a connection. For example, consider the following:

Owning a violin is one thing; playing it is another.

“You teach yourselves the law, but I train your minds. You come in here with a skull full of mush; you leave thinking like a lawyer.” — Charles W. Kingsfield Jr., The Paper Chase

“Every person in this house almost flunked out of law school in their first year. It’s not hard to see why; they had broads on the brain.” — William Moss, Tutor, The Paper Chase

In each of the examples above, the independent clause immediately following each semicolon is related to the independent clause preceding the semicolon. The semicolon separates, but it still implies a link.

Look again at the first example:

Owning a violin is one thing; playing it is another.

Now look at some other ways to punctuate the same example:

Owning a violin is one thing, but playing it is another.

Owning a violin is one thing. Playing it is another.

Owning a violin is one thing—playing it is another.

Punctuation allows experienced writers to control the cadence and flow of their writing. Eliminating semicolons would prevent writers from having a full artistic range of expression. Remember the snippet of dialogue from the movie Amadeus:

Emperor Joseph II: My dear young man, don’t take it too hard. Your work is ingenious. It’s quality work. And there are simply too many notes, that’s all. Just cut a few and it will be perfect.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Which few did you have in mind, Majesty?

The thought of removing notes from Mozart’s compositions would make any musician cringe—just as I’d cringe if Jojo Moyes removed the semicolon from the opening line of her book Still Me.

There are no absolutes in writing. As Annie Proulx, who once won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, said:

You should write because you love the shape of stories and sentences and the creation of different words on a page. Writing comes from reading, and reading is the finest teacher of how to write.

Until next time,

Write something you love! — Joanne

WriteSomethingYouLove.com

Ponderings

January 3, 2018 — Leave a comment

WWJD

Now that a new year is upon us, it’s time for reflection. I was cleaning out one of my dresser drawers today and found a poem that I’d written many years ago in response to something that happened in a church that I’d attended since early childhood. I’ve moved on, and many of the folks that prompted me to write this poem are probably no longer on this earth. In short, a group of stodgy church members decided that it would be a great idea to remove all children from the church during the worship service and provide free babysitting, all because every now and then, a small child or a baby made a little peep. Of course, most of the time, the parents would address the situation immediately. As a Sunday School teacher/superintendent and the mother of a well-behaved child, I was troubled. I had no problem with parents who wanted to use a church babysitting service doing so; however, I didn’t think all children should be routinely ushered out of the church. Anyway, as Edward Bulwer-Lytton (dark-and-stormy-night guy) wrote in his play Richelieu; Or the Conspiracy:

Beneath the rule of men entirely great
The pen is mightier than the sword.

So, as I often did (and still do), I fought the battle with my pen and wrote a little poem. Since this happened such a long time ago, I feel comfortable sharing it now. I hold no grudges toward anyone with differing views. Feel free to let me know in the comment section if you’ve ever used your pen to fight injustice. Comments are moderated. Be nice. And Happy New Year!

Ponderings

As I sit in this stone-cold pew
And ponder over what to do,
I look around me and I see
A fading Christianity.

Though the Gospel still is heard,
And we teach only the Word,
Our ears are closed to what we teach,
And we don’t practice what we preach.

Begrudgingly we give “our share,”
Offer the sick a hurried prayer,
And we can always find a way
So taxes we don’t have to pay.

Unashamed the laws we break,
Because it’s done for Jesus’ sake.
No matter what we do or say,
He will take our sins away.

We sit in church and fret and pout,
And try to throw the children out,
Because their wiggling and commotion
Might interrupt sincere devotion.

We don’t want them here at all,
But chained behind a soundproof wall.
Then we can pray and we can sing
To our Savior, Lord, and King.

As I sit in this stone-cold pew
Silently mulling what to do,
I see the altar and the cross,
But no more children—what a loss!

I see our church so cold and bare,
With hardly any people there.
For if we drive the young away,
What is left for those who stay—

A quiet church in which to hear
That with Christ we have no fear?
But now that the young have gone away,
What makes us think that Christ will stay?

— Joanne Waldron

Until next time,

Write something you love! — Joanne

WriteSomethingYouLove.com

After Christmas

December 30, 2017 — Leave a comment

afterchristmas

Although Christmas 2017 is over, I’d like to extend holiday wishes to everyone and share a holiday poem. For those who don’t celebrate Christmas, please accept my best wishes for a peaceful winter season.

After Christmas

The angel song still trembles
In Bethle’em’s holy air;
The little hills lie sleeping,
The bright stars still shine fair.

Gone is the rustle of the wings
Heard in the watch serene;
The Golden Hour of God is past,
His Glory has been seen.

But, oh, the hearts that since have waked
The souls that have found rest
Because small Bethlehem one Day
Took heaven to its breast!

— Consuelo Valencia, 1918—

Until next time,

Write something you love! — Joanne

WriteSomethingYouLove.com