Friday, July 17, 2015

Self-Forgetfulness and Delight--Keys to Writing Well (and most everything else in life)

INKBLOTS, resuming our men's writing group, four of we old-dog regulars and joined by David one of my former students. I led off with a brief thought from Alan Jacobs, author of The Narnian, who said this: “Lewis's mind was above all characterized by a willingness to be enchanted, and it was this openness to enchantment that held together the various strands of his life, his delight in laughter, his willingness to accept a world made by a good and loving God, and (in some ways above all) his willingness to submit to the charms of a wonderful story.” Jacobs in his biography of C. S. Lewis reflected that "those who will never be fooled can never be delighted, because without self-forgetfulness there can be no delight." Which makes me recall Jesus' words about how essential it is that we be child-like to enter the Kingdom of heaven.

We talked about typesetting using Word rather than InDesign, the later requiring us to learn a new program... us old dogs. Not going to happen. David, author of Beyond Tweeting (read my interview with David) led off with reading an excerpt from the forward, and then chapter
one. I like how David makes this for the reader not the author. John asked David to explain what tweeting actual is, and things like hashtags. Track a topic or theme. Though you cannot own the hashtag so you could end up with your tag meaning something and connecting with some big distortion of your collection point. Bob brought up the question of whether Twitter monitors and censors tags or tweets. "How can we use twitter to sell books?" asked John. David pointed out how important it is to provide value for those following on twitter, not just about blasting the cyber world with your promotional plans. Use to search for domain names so your searching doesn't get picked up by those who buy up domain names then sell them. Search engine optimization (SEO) is the way to maximize your position on the searches. David is helping us big time here. 

This morphed into a discussion of old dogs and new tricks. This has been fun. David, thank you for all your helpful insights into marketing and social media. I thought it would be good to segue to our usual creative writing readings. Dougie Mac leading off with an episode from his Monte Casino yarn set in WW II. As he summarized the historical context of this conflict, I can see it in my mind's eye, having been there with my family just a few weeks ago. Modern technology fails us. His computer just died. 

Bob took up the baton with one of his Bible study guides, this one on the Psalms. Bob read his rough draft introduction, a sweeping summary of David and his writing of various Psalms, and how they are relevant to the reader today and in every generation. That led to a discussion of greed, how exactly, I am not sure. Which led me to recalling Tolstoy's short story, How Much Land Does a Man Need, a well-crafted yarn that shows the destructive nature of greed, show casing a protagonist who is killed by his own avarice. 

John reads from his Russian yarn, after working on his protagonist's character who needed to be a bit more realistically flawed at the beginning so she has somewhere to go from there. Dougie Mac didn't feel like she was significantly flawed. Don't overuse 'beautiful' or 'exciting.' Have her catch herself for making the simile about heaven. You told instead of showing us her reaction to her own reference to heaven. There is a good deal of description of elegant clothing, but I didn't feel like I could actually see it. How about using more comparative image, figurative language, imaginative comparisons? You used beautiful a dozen times or more. Mouth watering is too cliche and needs another image. Could you give us more metaphor of what the dancers and their fine clothes looked and felt like to her? I like how she flashes back to dancing with her father; give us more of this kind of imagining on your protagonist's perspective. You drew me in with the shooting that she does not understand. The rag doll image is probably overused. I think you could play up her thinking it was all a play, just an act, when it was murder. As she thinks back on pricking her finger on the thorn of a rose, have her begin to acknowledge that it was real and her recollection was a desperate effort at escaping it all. This is getting better and better. 

Which made me recall a Lewis-ism. "Don't use adjectives which merely tell us how you want us to feel about the thing you are describing. I mean, instead of telling us a thing was
'terrible,' describe it so that we'll be terrified. Don't say it was 'delightful'; make us say 'delightful' when we've read the description. You see, all those words (horrifying, wonderful, hideous, exquisite) are only like saying to your readers 'Please will you do my job for me.'"

David recalled a short story he wrote for a British Lit class in college, from the point of view of Helen, clever, imaginative perspective, employing a modern-world slangy syntax. Melodrama, which actually works pretty well with Greek tragedy, which has probably inspired more soap operas and country western songs than most classics professors want to admit. Having written this fiction piece for a class a couple of years ago, David cringed at some of his own writing in it, though it clearly shows the promise that is beginning to be fulfilled with his writing and his teaching/consulting for Microsoft.

Though I haven't worked on it for over a month (what a month it's been), I read from a chapter in War in the Wasteland. Once I can see my way more clearly and get some logistics planned out for future history tours and for the Oxford Creative Writing Master Class I'm planning out right now, then I can get back to writing. There are jolts that enervate creative writing, and ones that stimulate it. Still trying to figure out which kind this one is. A fine evening with 'Blots. Thank you gentlemen for your friendship, support, encouragement, and for just being a big 'Blot in my life. 

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