Patience in Writing

Patience in Writing

I recently hauled out a box in which I’ve been stowing thoughts, ideas, inspiration and research for a book I have been wanting to write. It was packed with journals, scrapbooks, scribbles and diagrams in several folders which I will need to make sense of to turn it into something remotely readable. Some of the notes date back to 2012. Most of the writing is unkempt, has no idea where it is going or what it is doing or what it might be ‘for.’

Until recently, I thought perhaps I would jettison this book idea and move on. But sifting through these treasures I felt slightly excited again. New possibilities murmured to me. I felt drawn again into the chaos and possibility of the world my subconscious is trying to organize. I was up at 3am last night writing and even missed my 6am spin class as a result.

When I teach that a book must be ‘richly conceived,’ what I mean is that deep thoughts worth sharing often need time like wine or aged cheese to learn what shape they need to take and how they make sense together. What I’m saying is that I’ve done nothing for five years except collect, make notes, catch thoughts with the slight posterior awareness of ‘someday, perhaps.’

I share this with you, if you are an aspiring author, in the hope that it fastens you to patience – a train I have never caught on purpose but for which life has bought me a couple of tickets. Creativity ebbs and then it rushes in. And when it does, we must be ready to lean in and do the best work of our lives.

Most of what we write won’t make it into the final draft, just like most baby turtles don’t make it across the sand to the water’s edge.

But nothing we ever write is wasted – even if it never makes its way into our book. Every word we put down – even the ones we jettison, edit, cut away in the final draft – is imperceptibly sensed, a silent history, an accumulation of effort, a deepening that the reader feels, the way one line spoken by a wise person reflects a lifetime of experience and patience.

Joanne Fedler

Joanne Fedler

Author, writing mentor, retreat leader. I’m an internationally bestselling author of nine books, inspirational speaker and writing mentor. I’ve had books published in just about every genre- fiction, non-fiction, self-help, memoir – by some of the top publishing houses in the world. My books have sold over 650 000 copies and have been translated in a range of languages. Two of my books have been #1 Amazon bestsellers, and at one point the German edition of Secret Mothers’ Business outsold Harry Potter- crazy, right?

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What Is My ‘Voice’ and How Do I Find It?

When we start writing, we’re told we have to find our ‘voice.’

Naturally, we begin looking for it.

It’s not under the pile of unopened mail. And we didn’t leave it like an umbrella in a restaurant. It’s in us. In our words, somewhere. In the mess of our thoughts and feelings as they tumble out onto the page.

Here’s how I think of ‘voice’:

Finding our voice is the combination of our willingness and capacity to feel the things that have happened to us as deeply as we can; with our ability to use the craft of writing to evoke the emotional experience in such a way that others can feel what we felt; with the ability to find a bridge from the utterly personal into the universal (to find a way for our experience to have meaning and significance to a reader).

We know it when we flow onto the page. We are not copying anyone else. We are not lapsing into cliché or sentimentality.

Julia Cameron says, ‘Finding our voice has to do with finding our safety.’ And safety comes from trust. Trusting that what we say has value; that we are not trying to belong to an experience dishonestly.

Your voice will sparkle with your personality – your humour, your insights, your felt experience.

As Mark Nepo, the poet, writes, ‘If I had experienced different things, I would have different things to say.’

Or as Dr Seuss wrote, ‘Today you are you, that is truer than true, there is no-one alive who is youer than you.’

Trust yourself. Goethe reminds us, ‘when you trust yourself, you will know how to live,’ How to write too.

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Don’t Tell Me the Moon is Shining: A Golden Rule of Writing for Aspiring Authors

Don’t Tell Me the Moon is Shining: A Golden Rule of Writing for Aspiring Authors

Anton Chekhov wrote, ‘Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.’

One of the trickier ‘golden rules of great writing’ that can be difficult to understand and execute is the ‘show don’t tell’ rule.

What does it mean?

It’s the technique of painting a picture for the reader rather than spelling out what a character is sensing or feeling.

When should we use it?

Generally, when we’re writing about emotions and senses, showing works well. However, we need a balance of showing and telling in a text. Telling is more effective when we’re summarizing backstory or describing action.

Why should we use it?

When we show, we paint an image for the reader (like in movies) so the reader gets to interpret and feel his or her own emotional response. This is how we create rich, vivid text that is open to interpretation. It makes writing inviting, not didactic.

E.g. She was grief struck (telling) versus ‘Something cold flickered inside her, memories of her mother moved like minnows beneath a dark surface.’(showing)

When we ‘show’ we leave spaces for the reader to fill in with his or her imagination.

Joanne Fedler

Joanne Fedler

Author, writing mentor, retreat leader. I’m an internationally bestselling author of nine books, inspirational speaker and writing mentor. I’ve had books published in just about every genre- fiction, non-fiction, self-help, memoir – by some of the top publishing houses in the world. My books have sold over 650 000 copies and have been translated in a range of languages. Two of my books have been #1 Amazon bestsellers, and at one point the German edition of Secret Mothers’ Business outsold Harry Potter- crazy, right?

The movie director, David Mamet talks about ‘telling the story in cuts…through a juxtaposition of images that are basically uninflected…a shot of a teacup. A shot of a spoon. A shot of a fork. A shot of a door. Let the cut tell the story. Because otherwise you have not got dramatic action, you have narration. If you slip into narration, you are saying, ‘you’ll never guess why what I just told you is important to the story.’ It’s unimportant that the audience should guess why it’s important to the story. It’s important simply to tell the story. Let the audience be surprised.’

Telling robs the reader of his or her own emotional take on the situation. It flattens instead of expands the text.

‘She is lonely’ versus ‘She looks for a kind face but never sees one.’

When we ‘show’ we’re letting the reader in, we’re writing for the reader. Showing opens rather than closes the text.

‘He felt hot’ versus ‘Large half moons of sweat grew at his armpits.’

The writer Adam Robinson’s exercise for showing not telling is: drop an adjective into a sentence like this ‘He was so….. that he once.’ Or ‘the day was so cold that…’ Then delete the first half of the sentence.

Have fun experimenting.

Keep writing – the sentences you don’t write keep you where you are. The ones you do, take you places.

PS: Check out my Instagram video on how to ‘show don’t tell’ in your writing.

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I was never a pretty girl. Not for want of trying or wishing. But there it was. I longed to be someone other people refer to as ‘adorable’ but there was always too much of me for it not to sound ironic. My father put it straight very early on. ‘You will never be a model, my darling,’ he said as if it truly did not matter.

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There is, however, a fine line between an acceptance of these jobs as ‘natural’ and the slippery slope into boorish gender stereotypes in which I am invariably left unshod with a frilly apron at the kitchen sink. Whilst I can do anything if I wish to, I do believe there are certain tasks I, as a woman, am simply and without further explanation excused from. I don’t want to get into a conversation about it and I don’t want to fight about it.

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