Thursday, February 19, 2009

When they say "just write it!" do what they say!

How many times have I been told or read, "Just write it"? My professor told me to just write the novel down. Start at the beginning and write to the end. Don't think about it, just do it. The fun part, she said, is when the first draft is done and the author gets to play with the words.

It's not as easy as it sounds! But, I started at the beginning and I'm making progress. There are places that I have not finished yet. There are places that I have written but not revised. There are places where the words are VERY sketchy but I think I caught enough of the essence to be able to make sense of it when I get there again.

Do you remember reading what Stephen King said about writing? Writers don't just write. They read, too. And he carries a book with him everywhere he goes. Well, that's what he said. He also said he writes every day of the year including Christmas and admitted later that it was just a lie because the reporter asked the question and he had to answer it somehow. So, I started to carry a book with me everywhere I go. I also read the books I carry with me. They have impact on me, particularly the ones that are under the genre I am pursuing at this point: Appalachian writers.

Let me get you started on your Appalachian reading. This is by no means a complete list! But it is an introduction.

Recommended Appalachian literature:

The Dollmaker by Harriette Arnow
Storming Heaven by Denise Giardina
The Unquiet Earth by Denise Giardina
Oral History by Lee Smith
Eclipse by Jeanne Bryner
The Coal Tattoo by Silas House
Kettle Bottom by Diane Gilliam Fisher

Now, remember how "they" said to study the masters and develop your own style? When I'm reading these other outstanding authors, they inspire me. Memories and thoughts that I'd forgotten long ago suddenly reappear, photographs the mind took back then, but they are as vibrant at the moment they pop back up as they were the day they happened. I can see the reflection of my father and me in the storefront window that long ago day with the sun shining down on us and a smile on both of our faces as he carried me with him. I recall the summer I slept at my grandmother's house because she was so sure George had come back to haunt her...well, the clock that had been on the wall for years suddenly kept jumping off the wall! There are the events surrounding my growing up years...Dad breaking his hip and having trouble with it forever after. Mom being deaf but a miracle came through a fantastic doctor who was able to perform surgery and give her back her hearing. The boy bully in high school who just wouldn't leave me alone. Mom was sure it was because he liked me. I was sure I hated him right to his rotten guts! Oh, excuse me. That doesn't sound very good coming from a mature adult woman, does it? Well, at the time...:) There were the early 1970s when life was good, and the horrors of ripple effect that we learned first hand during the Economic Malaise of the 1980s after the steel mills closed in the Ohio Valley.

The more things change, the more they stay the same. Coal was a boom. Then it was a bust. Steel was a boom that went bust. Now the auto industry, once a boom, is a bust. And I wonder, what will be next?

The more I read, the more I remember from my life. The impacts of disasters and good and bad events that affected the nation of my birth. I live in the heart of that nation. The first state and county cut from the Louisana Purchase in the late 1790s, the second town to be founded (Marietta claims it was first by virtue of the ease of landing from the river.) Lisbon, Columbiana County, Ohio, founded 1803. A major player in American History. And my goal, my interests, my gold ring will be the successful writing about my home place because I am an Appalachian Writer!

So, read about your genre. Read about the authors who write your genre. Read the history behind it. Write everything you remember. Find the words to express those things as accurately as you can. If a word doesn't seem quite right, look for the right one because it will matter. Write from your heart.

I was growing discouraged with my manuscript for my thesis. I finally emailed it to my director and said I was ready to abandon it. Well, she emailed me today and said--her exact words-- "This is a wonderful piece of work." Wow. OK. I'm back on my feet again. And I will finish this novel in time for my reader and committee to read it. I will orally defend it. I will finalize it and submit it. And it will be published, if I have anything to say about it.

What are you writing? What's in your heart that is dying to get out on paper. Go ahead. Spill that ink across the page in chicken scratchings that you can play with on your journey to perfect your own writing style.

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