Sorrow and Art

Originally posted December 22 at joannehuspek.com. Please follow me there.

I’ve been Facebook chatting with several people who are experiencing difficulties in their lives right now.

Suicides, break-ups, aging parents, adult children with mega-problems.

In my previous post, I mentioned that I have difficulty speaking. It’s not that I can’t maintain a conversation, it’s just that I’m not as coherent as I wish I could be. I rarely say witty things on the fly. Writing is a much better outlet, because if the words aren’t just right, you can erase them, make them better, add some zing and pizazz.

There are some things in your life you don’t want the whole world to know, but there’s a desire in all of us to hash things out, try to analyze and puzzle through to a solution. That’s why I don’t post my sordid business on social media, whether because I’m ashamed or embarrassed or afraid of what people will think of me. I realize that the private chat is more intimate, like having coffee with a friend. My friend with his break-up, I could palpably feel how upset and hurt and depressed he was. (His lady friend, I’m not so sure.) I felt the same with my suicide survivor. My friend whose daughter suffered domestic abuse, yes, I’ve been there with my own children.

What can you do? These are situations that YOU can’t fix. All you can do is listen.

The experts say that if you’re depressed, you should work out, fire up those endorphins. I did that for thirty days straight, and would only feel blah while on the treadmill. The rest of the time, I could have burst into tears at some sappy commercial, or if I couldn’t get a damned weed out of my garden. (Yes, it’s that bad.)

If you’re artistic like I am, you try to channel some of that angst and sorrow into something creative. My best poetry was written right after breaking up with a boyfriend. However, getting creative after an emotional upheaval is sometimes easier said than done. I found it so much easier to force myself to run 6 miles than I could to sit at my computer and actually write.

But I have to.

Because that’s what I do.

So I have pledged to get through this damned edit of Virtually Yours Forever by Christmas. I’m going to sit here for as many minutes, hours, and days as it will take and conquer this, to the exclusion of all other things. I love my characters, I love the plot and where it’s going, but like all writers, I have a fear of not being able to accomplish my goals.

But it’s the final trimester, and it’s time to push this baby out. And I’ve done that before.

Wish me luck.

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Global Search and Destroy: A Writer’s Big Gun

You can say many things about Microsoft Word, some of which are kind, others disparaging, but the one GOOD thing is the capability to search your document for certain words or phrases.

Why is this so important?

If you write like I do (right off the top of my head, and like I speak), many troublesome redundancies may appear in your writing that will cause the reader to cringe, become bored, or out-right begin to hate you and your story. I also tend to write as fast as I can, one, to get it all down before I forget – as I am pre-Alzheimery, and two, because my writing time is severely limited.

My speaking voice loves descriptors, or adverbs and adjectives. I’m afraid this was the result of my upbringing. My father tends to lean the same way. He once used the word ‘evidently’ so much, I began using it too. I was once so flowery in small claims court, that the judge admonished me to shut up. (I won, but not before putting a muzzle on my mouth.)

Some writers are completely anti-adverb and anti-adjective. The ‘-ly’ words are devils! Too many petals on your prose makes it purple! While on the subject of punctuation, too many ‘!’ are a no-n0, and italics are to be used sparingly.

For those of you who have met me in the flesh or know me because they are unfortunately related to me, I am a passionate person. When I’m angered, I can go on a tirade that withers most steely men to the consistency of wilted spinach. My peeps, I speak in exclamation points. I dream the thesaurus. I observe the world in super-Technicolor. My spoken voice is littered with italics. When I began to write, I peppered my prose with lots of ‘-ly’ words – thanks to Roget’s – and plenty of exclamation points.

Too many.

The first thing my friend and nag, the Little Fluffy Cat, did when she read my first chapter of my first novel was to tell me to get rid of the prologue. And the adverbs. And the exclamation points. And the dead words, like ‘well,’ ‘huh,’ ‘no.’ And the ‘-ing’ words. Why? If you need to get your point across, show don’t tell. Adverbs are unfortunately telling words. Writers must show. Dead words don’t add to the conversation. Many readers’ eyes won’t register the words at all. Why have them if they’re useless? Prose is stronger without them. ‘-Ing’ words are passive. You want your writing to zing. Take all of this garbage away and you are left with a meaner, cleaner piece of work.

LFC taught me to use the ‘Find’ (and ‘Replace’)  feature of Word. With just one click of a button, I can locate where a word is used, and Word also counts the number of times I’ve used it. (I’m so dumb; there is a ‘Find/Replace’ feature?) With that, I eliminated all of my ‘-ly’ words, which deflated the 170K manuscript by about 8K words.

But this was only the beginning.

I personally don’t like seeing the same descriptor in the same paragraph or on the same page. I don’t know why; it just bothers me. As a reader, it’s irritating. As a writer, I think I can do better.

Novel #1 is now down to a reasonable 113K, but in writing, re-writing, and editing, I found the same (annoying/blah/overused) words keep popping up. While in a momentary lull last week, I searched out a few of them. I found 92 instances of ‘family’ were about 72 times too many. I eliminated more ‘well’s’ and ‘mmm’s’ from my dialogue.

So if you, as a writer, are suffering from writer’s block, pull out your manuscript and try the ‘Find’ feature. (Under ‘Editing’ – ‘Find’) Play around with it a little. See if you can eliminate your garbage/fluffy words to make your writing stronger.