Friday, February 19, 2010

Finding Voice

I was born with more writing sense than oral expression. When it comes to speaking, my lack of eloquence constantly goads me, often rendering me spineless. I sometimes wonder if this underdeveloped talent is the reason for my lack of published works. You know, sort of a self-fulfilling prophesy: if I publish, I might have to speak to people, so I give less effort, and thus I never get published.

I talked to my friend about this the other night. She suggested I take less threatening opportunities to learn how to express myself right now, while I get my novel on paper. I nodded, and told her that is good advice, all the while knowing that forcing myself to talk in intimate settings, impromptu, would cause me to stutter and go blank inside my head, never to get to the point of the multitude of words roiling around inside me. Why can’t I ask questions in a lecture or during a lesson at church? Why do I remain silent most of the time? It’s like lacking a tongue.

I’m told my problem is a self-esteem issue, although, if you get me behind a pulpit after I prepare a speech or lesson, I can present an air of articulateness. It’s the springing of an unrehearsed speaking engagement upon me that is another matter.

So what options do I and others with this stigma have to increase our abilities? I researched the topic and came up with these helpful pointers:

Decide to Confront, Face, and Defeat the Obstacle - Unless we are committed to doing the things that will help us improve, we probably never will. We must remind ourselves that a little discomfort now, will help us defeat the problem in the future.

Practice - According to authorities on the subject of shyness, my friend was right. Searching for opportunities to challenge ourselves will help us improve. Practice relaxation and breathing techniques. Think calm thoughts. Talk about the things we’re passionate about and use personal experiences to help our conversations along.

Focus Elsewhere - Having low self-esteem tends to make us think about our fear. If we can turn the conversation to the other person, be genuinely interested in what they have to say, it may help us push fear to the back of our thought processes.

Be Mentally Prepared - We should start rehearsing in our minds what we might say in different situations. Obviously we can’t think of all that will occur, but analyzing our feelings ahead of time may help us over the hurdles when forced into difficult situations.

Start a Success Diary - No matter how small we think our successes are, we can write them down and remind ourselves how we managed each victory.

Becoming more assertive may take time to accomplish, but if we desire to improve, practicing the above techniques may help us find our voices again.

Friday, February 12, 2010

The Pen: Responsible Use of Our Weapon of Choice

Whether we want to admit it or not, writers have a great responsibility to their readers. Those who write and publish without understanding or caring about this, might as well drive drunk and let the bodies fly where they may.

Nathaniel Hawthorne once said, “Words - so innocent and powerless as they are, as standing in a dictionary, how potent for good and evil they become in the hands of one who knows how to combine them.”

Edward Bulwer-Lytton drove his point into our hearts when he wrote,

“The pen is mightier than the sword. Behold
The arch-enchanters wand! — itself a nothing! —
But taking sorcery from the master-hand
To paralyse the C├Žsars, and to strike
The loud earth breathless!”

Have you analyzed your writing motives lately? Maybe you have no goal but to irk your readership as Thomas Hardy expressed, “'If you can't annoy somebody with what you write, I think there's little point in writing.” Or maybe you desire what Cicero said was to get at “the very heart and core of ages past, the reason why men worked and died, the essence and quintessence of their lives.” Then perhaps your combination of words is meant to strengthen the “hands which hang down, and the feeble knees.”

I ask you: doesn’t a writer’s work reflect the character of that artist? I believe it does. I have seen the fallout from the explosion of an artist’s words both build and destroy, shock and please, even inspire and nullify.

The consequences of a writer’s musings may successfully strike the loud earth breathless, and he might sit back in his chair and put his feet up on the desk and smile at his cleverness. Whether he believes in a higher power or not, if his intent is to see how much damage he can inflict, I am certain whatever missile he launches will eventually turn around to seek out his heat, maybe explode in his face. Then when it’s too late, when he emerges from the rubble, maybe, just maybe, he’ll wish he had traded in his pen for a weapon less dangerous.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Sucked Away by Research

I love research. If I had to live my life over, I might have considered some form of investigative exploration as a career. I love to scan the Internet or sit down with a good book on a topic about which I am writing and glean interesting facts to put into my novels.

Yesterday I attended an eleven hour lecture on a Book of Mormon topic I’m currently pursuing in one of my works in progress. Never mind eating (they didn’t break for dinner), never mind housework, never mind preparing my Primary lesson, and never mind WRITING, I was hooked and couldn’t leave the mini-conference until I helped put away the last chair.

The grueling hours of sitting with backside to seat, eyes fixed and dilated, was well worth my time. I came away with two new books, validated the research I’ve already done, and realized more than ever the importance of my novel’s subject matter. Even viewing the very artifacts I write about in my novel still has my head buzzing a day later.

Now some of you might think eleven hours is overkill. They did repeat one of the afternoon topics in the evening (I HAD TO hear the information again). But it was an event that filled my well to overflowing—invigorated my mind so now all I want to do is get my thoughts down on paper. What more can a writer want than the desire to write.

All writers understand there is a time when we have to put the research aside and put fingers to the keyboard. I agree 100%, well, maybe 98%. The amount of research, and the consideration of what we gain from it, is dependent on the type of writing we do and our purpose within that market. If your book explores the Nicene Creed and Egyptian Coptic Christians who came to this country before Christ, your research time will obviously require more attention than if you were writing about your dog, Charlie.

There will come a time when I collect sufficient information about the Michigan relics and the Hopewell culture of the Great Lakes area that I can stop attending eleven hour lectures. However, I won’t stop willingly; I can already envision myself holding on to the door frame by my fingertips as obligation sucks my feet off the ground and pulls me toward home. But right now, lengthy lectures and hours of studying my notes will help me write the novel my heart yearns to create. I’m not going to lash myself into submission or feel guilty for taking the time away from the essential part of my craft. Research, for my project, is essential. And, if you need the extra book time for your projects, I say, “Go for it! Get carried away! You’ll feel better when you relieve your suffering.”