Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Poetry Friday!

Welcome back for another Poetry Friday!

"The Flight of the Stallions"
(c) 2013 A.L.S. Vossler
Blackened hearts, pounding rain
Strength of flesh and tail and mane
Stallions ride across the plain
To their doom.

How they get there, they don’t know
They battle wind and fire and snow
They know not to where they go
Roads are hard.

Fairy dust and magic lights
Take away the death and frights
A land of hope is in their sights
There they ride.

On they canter, with their hope
O'er foreboding plains they lope
O'er mountain and valley slope
Ride on, stallions. 

I will find you in my dreams
Where childhood's last light still gleams
How far away and dim it seems

Thoughts and constructive criticism are welcome in the comments. 

Saturday, October 26, 2013

The Adventures of Sir Writesalot, Part I

Even in the best of circumstances, the novel writer faces what seems like an insurmountable list of challenges.  

For example, suppose that a writer is able to consistently write 2,000 words per day, never gets writer’s block, and always knows exactly what he or she wants to write.  That writer is, of course, fictitious, and by even creating such a hypothetical person I have already demonstrated that I am a writer of fantasy.   I have also demonstrated my own personal fantasy, and what is likely to be the fantasy of many aspiring writers.  For me, the hypothetical writer described above sounds like a superhero on the level of Captain America; perhaps he or she would wear some kind of jumpsuit and cape with a quill and inkwell emblazoned on it.  

Now, I am aware that there may be writers out there who have a prolific word output and incredible personal discipline, but even they probably do not live up to their own expectations.  For them, the superhero Sir Writesalot might have different qualities than he does for me.  Nevertheless, the average writer does very well to produce 1,000 words per day and only have writer’s block on a semi-annual basis.  

Let us return to the example of my hypothetical writer, who shall hereinafter be referred to as “Sir Writesalot.”  His supernatural abilities are seldom found in the real world, and unless you happen to be Jack Kerouac in a Benzedrine-induced craze, you will not likely be able write your manuscript more quickly than the Cloaked Wizard of Wordcraft. 

That’s what the narrators call him, by the way—the Cloaked Wizard of Wordcraft.   

Sir Writesalot is the writer in the best of circumstances, and like any superhero, he still has his nemeses.  That’s right, you guessed it.  They are all on that seemingly insurmountable list of challenges, the very list of enemies that haunt Sir Writesalot’s nightmares and cause his hypothetical girlfriend to worry incessantly about him.  Who are these dastardly supervillians, you ask?
First, there is the Editor, a villain so powerful that not even Kerouac himself could escape it.  The Editor isn’t even a person, which is part of what makes it so terrible.  It is a virus that takes over the writer’s mind and forces him to…
Improve his writing.
[A woman screams in the background.]

The Editor is the villain that our noble Sir Writesalot must face off against in his first major motion picture.  One might think that a person with supernatural writing abilities would not need to edit, but the truth is that while writing and editing are intrinsically linked, they are not the same.  No matter how great a writer one is, the writing can always be improved.  This causes tremendous self-doubt for Sir Writesalot, and his girlfriend doesn’t understand why he has to do this.  However, by the end of the film he has managed to edit his manuscript and it is now so good that even the Editor virus cannot force him to change it again and so the virus dies. 

This is also an example of fantasy.  In reality, a writer editing his or her own work will never be satisfied.  At some point, however, the average writer will find a stopping point.  Even Kerouac found a stopping point after picking apart his manuscript for On the Road for a very long time. 

The Cloaked Wizard of Wordcraft, of course, is actually able to be satisfied with his writing.  Because, you know, he’s a superhero.  However, as the movie ends, the audience learns that the virus is not dead, but dormant.  Dramatic music plays to indicate the imminent disaster—and then the movie ends, set up for a multi-million dollar blockbuster sequel. 

In all seriousness, editing is the first and most challenging obstacle for the writer. It is one challenge that never really gets crossed off the list.  The reason for this is clear.  Pick up any writing and style guide and you will see what seems like an endless list of things to correct, and you realize that you have committed nearly every one of the egregious mistakes.  These mistakes seem like the hydra (Captain America reference noted), since for every one you notice and correct you manage to find two more. 

Because of the many and various ways one can err when writing, editing is an exhaustive and painstaking process.  It involves so much more than fixing punctuation, syntax, and spelling errors.  It is, in a way, interrogating the work.  Are there expository clumps?  Do the characters behave in believable ways?  Does the dialogue sound real? Are there too many adjectives and adverbs?  Is the plot sufficiently unified?  Is there extraneous information that bogs down the whole work and must be removed?  On and on the questions go, and if you happen to read writing advice on a regular basis, your list of necessary corrections continues to multiply. 

You might think that actually writing the novel, short story, or whatever, is the hardest part of being a writer.  I certainly acknowledge that a completed draft is a huge feat, and it is worthy of celebration.  However, in terms of difficulty, writing feels more like spending money, whereas editing is more like budgeting and investing.  A cautious spender, like a good writer, puts a lot of thought and effort into what they purchase.  Budgeting and investing, on the other hand, are far more challenging and stressful than the actual spending of money.  I have never met a person who truly had trouble being able to spend money, but I have met several who struggled to budget and invest it properly. 

Writing might be the first hurdle in your adventure, but it is akin to the beginning of the superhero movie wherein the protagonist acquires his powers and flexes them for the first time.  The real challenge is yet to come.  It will never truly be defeated, sort of like Superman’s kryptonite, and it will arise to thwart the hero as he faces the other challenges on the list.  

Orson Scott Card says that “Writing is a solitary art” (1).  This is true of the superhero as well.  He or she, in the end, must defeat the enemy alone.  But along the way, there is support—a mentor, a friend, a main squeeze, etc.  To overcome your own personal case of the editing virus and to weather the rest of the challenges on the list of obstacles, you will need community.  It can be done.  

And at the end of the process, when you finally feel like you can stop picking at your writing, you will feel like a superhero. 

What will happen to our brave hero next?  Join us next time for more adventures—same bat time, same bat channel!

Work Cited:
Card, Orson Scott. Characters and Viewpoint. Cincinnati, Ohio: Writer’s Digest Books, 2010.

Feel free to share your thoughts on the writing and editing process in the comments.  

Friday, October 25, 2013

Poetry Friday

Today is the first in what I hope will be a series: Poetry Friday!  Other days of the week I will be publishing my thoughts and commentary on writing and literature, but on Fridays, this blog will feature a poem that I have written.

(c) 2013 A.L.S. Vossler

Dance.  Dance,
if I will, if I can, if I must. 
I will dance since the lights
in the forest glimmer wildly,
now and again—
so beautiful now,
whirling and flying, now still. 

Still, whispering like death;
a dance of darkness,
doom and despair. 
The Arcane are calling;
with chill they are calling,
calling, wailing, pleading,
leave your world
in waking dream-whispers. 
I am not secure,
they will drag me over the cliff
that marks the dire boundary
between what’s ours and
They weep not for what
is left behind.

Dancing, dancing,
the line draws nearer,
the precipice dangling. 
Leave, leave, come with us, leave. 
Trance-like I follow, resisting,
now screaming, their icy cold fingers
like death take their hold. 
Wildly thrashing, I try to escape,
but closer, now closer, now closer—
I am mere feet from the edge. 
Who will save me? 
Who will love me once I fall? 
Will their feather-soft voices
cushion the blow? 
Lacerations of fear
make my soul seep
deep drops of sorrow,
weeping, crying, dancing. 
They dance in joy.
Their joy is my fall.

Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments.  Constructive criticism is welcome.