Thursday, 27 December 2007

Powerful Words

I've been given this handsome award from two generous fellow bloggers, Angelique, aka The Quoibler, and Danette, aka Summer Friend. Since both of them passed this on to me within a few days of each other, I consider myself well and truly awarded, though I had to go back to see what I wrote that was so powerful, and damned if I could find it. Still, this makes up for the fact that I've had a streaming cold for the past week, a couple of rejections, a not particularly wonderful Christmas, and a dodgy porch roof that has developed new, worryingly extensive and productive leaks. I'm almost pathetically grateful for the honor, and happy to supply the requisite three writing tips for making writing good and powerful.

1) Have a fire of indignation kindling within. This is one of my favorite expressions and one which I borrowed from Thomas Clarkson, one of the men who was instrumental in helping to abolish the slave trade in the U.K. Largely indifferent to the issue of slavery himself, Clarkson entered a Latin essay competition on the subject of the slave trade purely for the honor he hoped to receive, but after winning first prize he found that he was his own first convert. The cruelty and injustice of slavery had come to obsess him and he realized that he had to write about it in English and that the more eloquently and compellingly he expressed himself, the more converts he might win to the cause. Having a point to make fires you up and makes the process of writing feel almost effortless. What you choose to write about doesn't have to be political or controversial; as long as it is something you truly want to say, it will carry you along with it.

2) Steel yourself to look at your work rationally and objectively and kill it dead, if necessary. I'm impatient and impulsive, and this is my own personal Waterloo. Whenever I've finished writing something, I am always so thrilled with what I've accomplished that I'm tempted to send it off right away instead of coming back to the manuscript after the recommended cooling-off period, going over it with a jeweler's eye and cutting out all the redundancies along with grammatical and lexical infelicities and misspellings. I won a literary review in a writing competition a while back, and one of the best pieces of advice my reviewer gave me was the following: Aim to comb through every line of your prose with a view to cutting anything that doesn't make the grade. She then gave me a few examples of where I had overwritten passages, and when I subsequently trimmed these down I was stunned by how much more effective they read. When I finally finished the novel I was working on, I was desperate to send it off, but remembering my past failures, put it away. Two weeks later, I looked at it again and could hardly believe all the problems I found even though I had already combed it over ad nauseam. Good, honest beta readers have since given me some shrewd advice on this manuscript, and no doubt I will make quite a few more alterations before I am finally ready to call it finished and send it off to do whatever it will do. I am convinced that if I had done this to begin with, I would be published by now.

3) See your rejections as useful scar tissue that are helping you build muscle. It really helps if you're able to do this at least some of the time. If you claim you're able to do it all the time, you're making me nervous -- and skeptical. Come talk to me and I'll give you a little of my pessimism and negativity in exchange for your boundless optimism and worryingly sunny attitude. I can afford to talk like this: right now, I'm the would-be writer equivalent of the Governator of California.

I now have to pass the award on to five more bloggers, and this is the difficult part. How do I pick only five? I took the easy way out: I chose randomly, putting all the names of deserving fellow writer-bloggers onto little pieces of paper turned upside down, then weeding out anyone who already had this award. Here are the people I came up with and my reasons for choosing them:

1) Merry Jelinek at Mom and More

Merry is another writer-mother whose blog is filled with interesting tips and resources for her fellow writers. I love the fact that her blog is also interactive; she always comes back to comment on what others have written, and her comments are always useful and pertinent, too. Merry's the sister everyone wishes they had or could have been themselves: fun, kind, with a great store of interesting anecdotes. She also once unwittingly drove a car that had a tree protruding from the roof. Top that.

2) Charlie Callahan at Hounded

You can see from Charlie's blog address that he has a sense of humor and a good ear (if the word testicles doesn't sound like it comes straight from the Old Testament, then I really don't know what does) and you can take it from me that he's a fine writer. Charlie doesn't post as much as I wish he would due to ill health, but fortunately he has written a memoir that I've been lucky enough to sample. His writing is a wonderful mixture of humor and nostalgia, and his words are truly powerful if even a cheapskate like me can't wait to buy his book.

3) Kanani Fong at Easy Writer

Kanani does more to promote the work of others writers than almost any other blogger I can think of. I first came across her on a literary agent's blog, when something she wrote made me laugh out loud. A fellow native-Californian, appreciater of cats, inspired cook, and writer- mother, Kanani also writes an interactive blog filled with writing tips, exercises and ideas. She also gave me an award: The Quality Time Wasting Prolific Blogging Award. I am very proud of this: sure I'll waste your time, but my time-wasting is quality wasting and don't you forget it.

4) Paul Curd at Paul's Writing Blog

Paul and I were two of ninety-nine runners up who won a literary critique in the
A&C Black Writers and Artists Yearbook Novel Competition this year. His blog has a lot of useful links, such as the regularly updated Deal Writers' list of writing competitions, and although Paul doesn't post as much as I wish he would, I suspect that is because, as a published author, he is far too busy with the actual business of writing. An example for us all: a writer who spends most of his time writing. Paul is also a committed runner, so my envy of him is complete.

5) Eryl Shields at The Kitchen Bitch Ponders

Despite Eryl's interesting blog title, I have met her and must report that she is not a bitch unless she's very good at keeping it under wraps. Her name is Eryl ( pronounced as 'Beryl' but without the B) and she is, in fact, a philosopher with a tidy kitchen. Imagine someone who is both articulate and sensitive, and with a fine eye for detail and character. Imagine that you are sitting in her kitchen, drinking a cup of tea and chatting. That is what reading one of Eryl's blog posts is like.

Those are my five recommendations, but I could easily come up with ten more. There really are far too many talented writers out there, don't you agree? Wouldn't this writing lark be a lot easier if 99.9% of the other writers were a lot of uninspired, shallow idiots who were only into it for the money and the glory? S i g h.

Wishing everyone out there a lot of powerful words in 2008!


Kara said...


We bloggers are each other's best agents. If the support one finds in the land of blogging could spread to other areas of life...the world would be a better place.

Look at me getting mushy. Disgusting.

Charlie said...

I cannot imagine the amount of writing you've done in one year; it bloggers my mind. You surely deserve this award, and any others that are out there. How about a "I could have beat the dickens out of Dickens writing a monthly serial" award?

I'm just kidding. I meant "cereal." Nope, just kidding again. I really did mean "serial."
Did I ever tell you how he lost a whole plot line in Little Dorrit?

All this blather is just stalling around because I'm shocked to receive the Roar Award from you. It's the first award I've won since 1952 (The Finally Potty-Trained Award), and I'm sitting hear shedding tears.

No I'm not, but I feel honored by the honor. Thank you.

Merry Jelinek said...

Thank you, Mary! And congrats on your well deserved Roar! Your advice is sound, too - especially putting it away to gain some perspective... we know we have to do this, but it's easier said than done sometimes... especially on the long pieces what have been living in your head forever and a day...

Thank you again. I'll post mine as soon as I'm able... and as soon as I figure out five bloggers for to pass it on.

Kanani said...

Well Thank you! Yes, this is the first award I've ever gotten, after having found making up ones just so much easier! :0)

I think you came over to my blog after reading me smart off to someone on the agenting blog --can't remember the name. You brought over some of the best bloggers I've ever seens --the whole UK and Scotland group. Very cool, very literate, very fun people!

Ello said...

VEry nice list! And I love your blog and you really deserve this award!

Happy new Year!

Mary Witzl said...

Kara -- Don't feel bad that you get mushy about this: I do too. I am dismayed and depressed by how well everyone else writes, but I have to admit that there are plenty of people even more deserving than myself of praise and awards. And for all that a lot of writer/bloggers would happily stab each other in the back, I have found that most of us have kind words and good advice to offer other would-be published writers, and that is very mush-making. Very.

And don't think I haven't felt very glum over your talent, either.

Charlie -- Logorrhea, that's what they call it, though fortunately I don't have the really worrying type where you keep repeating certain phrases (unless you count 'Clean your room this minute' and 'Come and get this goddamn hair out of the shower stall NOW'). The only treatment in my case is hair of the dog. My mother used to sit me down with a pencil and paper and let me work it out that way, and it's hardly ever failed me. And these blog entries are nothing: you should see all the other stuff I've churned out. No, come to think of it, no one should see that, but you get the idea.

Anyway, quality trumps quantity: I've read your writing and I'm fully satisfied that your words are good and powerful.

Merry -- Finding five bloggers to pass this on to isn't as hard as NOT giving it to everyone you think deserves it.

Just now I am finding it hard to tell when a manuscript is as finished as it can possibly be. I worry that NOTHING I ever do will ever feel entirely finished, and that is not a good thing. Starting a piece is like falling off a log, but knowing when to finally walk away from it really takes some skill. I tell myself that is probably better than always jumping the gun.

Kanani -- You are very welcome. I feel a little strange thinking of myself as a writer in Scotland, and yet that is exactly what I am, isn't it? Kim, Eryl and I all live in Scotland but are not exactly Scottish. Oddly, the only honest-to-God Scottish blogger I exchange posts with now is Sam, Problem Child Bride, currently living in California. Is that strange or what?

Ello -- You were one of the ones who got picked first, but I took you out of the running because you already had this award! So we are fellow lions, and we shall go roaring into 2008 with our manuscripts. And I haven't forgotten: I owe you some cranes! The bag they are in got put away when we tidied up for Christmas, but you will definitely have them before too long!

Danette Haworth said...

I love your blog! Every post is a short story. You're very good at creating atmosphere and transporting the reader. I think my favorite post is the one where you and your sister decided that maybe not all boys were bad.

Kim Ayres said...


Charlie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Eryl Shields said...

Great advice Mary. I recently came across a definition of art as 'something created by talented individuals with a point of view.' (can't remember where or who).

Thank you for the award, it might take me a while to think of any advice of my own but I will try.

Carolie said...

Congratulations upon receiving such a well-deserved award...and thanks for awarding five more blogger/authors, whose blogs I must immediately check out!

The Anti-Wife said...

Congratulations and very well deserved! Happy New Year!

Ello said...

So excited about the cranes! But don't worry - take your time. I'm still happy to get them from you!

Church Lady said...

Congratulations and Happy Holidays!!

I soooo agree with number one. And what a nice story to accompany it. I have to look him up now...


Mary Witzl said...

Danette -- Thank you. That story about boys was 100% true, and I often wish I knew why that particular boy gave us the candy. My sisters and I speculated later that perhaps he stole the mints and decided that by giving them to us he was lessening his crime. Who knows? In some respects, it is probably better to imagine that he was motivated by nothing more than generosity.

Kim -- You deserved the award too, but I don't think you'll have to wait long to get it. You also deserve an award for walking me through how to set up a blog, kindly and patiently answering half a dozen stupid questions, then showing me how to record a story using Audacity.

Eryl -- I hope you'll do what I did and get all long-winded in doling out advice. I love to be asked what my opinion is, and then be able to hold forth for as long as possible. I'll be back to your site to check that you've indulged in this too...

Carolie -- You absolutely deserve this award, given the quality of your writing and how interesting your stories are. But I think it is only a matter of time before you get it, too.

Anti-wife -- Thank you, and a Happy New Year to you, too!

Ello -- The reason I managed to accumulate the cranes was that I was trying to do one thousand of them -- God knows why. I got to over a hundred, then ran out of steam but kept churning them out as we had tons or origami to use up. You are good to take them off my hands!

Church Lady -- The story of how the slave trade was ended in the U.K. is one of the most incredible tales I can imagine. Even Hollywood could not improve it, and it is absolutely true. By all means read about Thomas Clarkson and his part in this. I love his quotation 'A fire of indignation kindling within.' Having a passion that will not let you go is how great things get started; the amazing thing is that so many people followed this through so bravely and so persistently. It took decades, but it paid off in the end. And yet today, too few people know their story.

Phil said...

Always a pleasure to read Mary. Even though I'm not into this blogging thing, your comments about other bloggers does tempt me to go and have a look. However, I already spend far too long online and fear divorce proceedings if my interests spread wider still.

Have a good New Year.

All the best,


The Quoibler said...


You are more than deserving of this award!

I loved your thoughts on writing, especially about willing to commit murder (word-a-cide?) when necessary.

Congrats! :) And happy almost new year!


debra said...

Congratulations on this honor, Mary. Well deserved, I say. And a happy, healthy, peaceful New Year to all.

Kim Ayres said...

All these awards - they'll soon be going to your head, no doubt. Just to prove it, I've given you one too - pop over to my site to collect it :)

Sam, Problemchildbride said...

Well done! You thoroughly deserve it - your writing is compelling and beautiful.

It's been great getting to know you this year. Wishing you all the very best for 2008.

Slainte mhor!!

TIV: the individual voice said...

Love fire of indignation and kill it dead. Will have to check out the other winners. More good reading to come!

Mary Witzl said...

Phil -- Thank you for your comment, and Happy New Year to you!

I fully understand your position! One of the reasons I quit GW and haven't opened a Face Book account is because I believe my family would have a fit if I spent any more time at the computer. As it is, I'm so pressed for time that I allow myself one diversion from real writing, and my blog is it. What I really need is real job, but fat chance I'll be getting one of those soon.

Angelique -- Happy New Year to you!

As for killing words, I really have to start doing more of this. I tend to horde words that ought to be weeded out, fearing that I am becoming too terse and sparse with them. As if I ever could.

Debra -- Happy New Year to you, and happy potting, too. I loved your little blue Santa Claus.

Kim -- As I've said, if ever I let these various accolades go to my head, I've got a handy collection of rejection letters to help me get back on track. I'll be collecting my award soon, and thank you for it!

Sam -- It is nice thinking that I've got a counterpart there in California, being an expatriate Scot in the Land of Plenty of Sun to my expatriate Yank in the Land of Plenty of Moisture. Your blog is great and your writing is fine indeed -- and that is not just an exchange of compliments. Happy New Year to you, and Slainte mhor! (Sorry if that's redundant...)

Individual Voice -- Happy New Year to you, and I hope to make it over to your blog more. I am still giggling at the memory of those smiling 50s ladies ever so happy to be taking their roasts out of the oven and waltzing about their gleaming kitchens.