Thoughts About Thoughts

It has been ages since I last posted. Please forgive my negligence. I am smack in the middle of what may be my toughest year of school yet. I will return in the spring, once I have regained control of
my thoughts.

For now, please enjoy my favorite bits of advise, from some really smart people, about the relationship between thoughts and writing.

Exact Thought = Precise Sentence:

“When once a thing conceived is in the wit,
The words present themselves to utter it.” -Horace

“It is not my words I polish, but my ideas.” -Joubert

“When things once are in the mind, the words offer themselves readily.” -Seneca

“Until you can put you theme in one sentence, you haven’t it in hand well enough to write
a novel.” -John Steinbeck

“Most men think indistinctly, and therefore speak without exactness.” -Samuel Johnson

“To improve one’s writing is to improve one’s thoughts–nothing else!” -Nietsche

“The great thing is we can always work on our writing, because we can work on our thoughts all the time, even when we’re not actually writing.” -John Schwiebert (my professor)

“Close your eyes and you will see.” -Joubert

“[There's a way in which our senses can actually close us off to a deeper reality.] There is nothing more evident than that which cannot be seen by the eyes, and nothing more palpable than that which cannot be perceived by the senses. Wherefore the moral man watches diligently over his secret thoughts.” -Tseze (Chinese philosopher)

Ad for the Commonplace Book

Attention: All writers.
Announcing a “must-have” item now available to stimulate thoughts and generate the flow of ideas. It’s been available for centuries, but I was only recently introduced to this fabulous item. And frankly, I can’t believe I’ve lived so long without it! Now that I’m paying attention, I find that a substantial majority of well-respected writers I’ve encountered in the last few months—modern, classical, or ancient and from all economical situations—keep/kept this item or it’s equivalent with them at all times.


Commonplace Book
The “must-have” for any writer or conscious thinker is the commonplace book—a pocket-sized (or purse-sized) notebook carried with you at all times in order to record what is uppermost on your mind at any given moment.

See if this sounds familiar: you’re driving down the road, or in the dentist’s chair, or suddenly awakened in the night with a brilliant, or at least interesting, idea, but you’ve no place to jot it down! By the time you get your hands on paper and pen, the thought has long since faded into the far recesses of your mind. Lost forever.

Don’t ya hate that?!

The commonplace book defeats the above scenario. That never has to happen again! The moment a thought hits, you whip it out, and write it down. Voile! The thought is saved from certain death. (Although, if you’re driving, I recommend taking the time to pull off the road before recording your thought.)

How To
A few things to keep in mind while getting used to your commonplace book:

  • The thought itself is important and should not be prejudged for quality.
  • The trigger and the idea it promotes don’t necessarily have to reflect one another.
  • Trust your instincts. Editing as you write may destroy the beauty of the original thought. So write it first, that way it’s safely preserved, and then hack it to pieces.

Also, among your jotted thoughts, please include thoughts from the following categories:

  • Dumb
  • Stupid
  • Obvious
  • Irrelevant

Any thoughts from the above may be, or lead to, your best ideas. In particular, obvious thoughts actually hold a fair amount of value, because they usually resonate well with the masses.

Give it a try. If you’re not in the habit already, pick up an inexpensive, small notebook the next time you’re at the store, and see if this works for you. I’d love to hear how it goes.

Write Back: Defense for Information Overload

I used to consider writing a proactive activity requiring time and motivation. But my current lit professor has effectively broadened my view. Writing is also a defensive tool meant to help us sift through and respond to the information onslaught of our sometimes chaotic world.

Information Overload
Not too long ago, people were starved for information and would go to great lengths to gather it. Self-education on any given topic was not easy. Informal research used to be a somewhat painful process filled with digging and dead-ends. But that is no longer the norm.

We used to chase information, but now information chases us. A few keystrokes bring up gazillions of pages filled with opinions and facts on every topic imaginable. Television, radio, magazines, newspapers, email, blogs, automated phone messages. Billboards and other signs along the roadways demand attention with flashing lights and even sirens. Fliers in the mail, and on my car, and inside my screen door; they’re totally inescapable! Community leaders, politicians, protesters, and even that poor sap dressed up like the statue of liberty, dancing around on the busiest street corner in your neighborhood is trying to shove some tidbit down your throat about pizza or taxes or whatever.

Don’t get me wrong, I am grateful to have information so readily available. However, it’s safe to say that the amount of information swirling around can be overwhelming. And if we’re not careful, it’s easy to drown in the current. I’ve been there a few times, and I’m sure you’ll concur. So what are we to do?

Write back.


Defensive Writing

When my professor first suggested this, I was quite flabbergasted. With all the time it takes to work through the information presented on any given day, I couldn’t believe he was suggesting that we take even more time to create more information. I was concerned that he was only adding to the stress of my life.

But I dutifully began to record my thoughts as they came. And surprisingly, I found that it did not add information overload, it helped decrease information overload. Responding to information and recording our responses allows us to sift and process information, then set it aside until we need it again. It frees up space in our brain for the next onslaught. It’s like constantly emptying our “in-box.”

This concept makes me think of… laundry. No, seriously! Pretend it’s washday and the dryer has finished a batch. If we attempt to just hold in our arms all the clean, dry laundry as it comes out, we will soon be dropping things, which will lead to the loss and destruction of our clean, dry laundry. Plus we will be ill prepared to handle the next batch and soon completely overwhelmed. But if we fold those clothes and put them away—or process them—our arms will be empty and ready for the next batch.


Using Information

Information by itself is useless. Information merely gathered is only helpful to the gather-er. But when we respond to information, we create a dialogue that benefits all within earshot, especially ourselves. Information is usually intended to be helpful, but that can only happen if it is sifted, processed, and responded to.

So now that you’ve been curious enough to read my information, give it a try. Leave me a comment, or open up a new word file and jot down your response.

The Distinction

Today’s guest post is from Ian over at Writing Fantasy who never fails to turn the wheels in my head every time he speaks. Someday I will ask him about what it must be like to live life with a 45lb. brain on your shoulders.

I prefer to write Fantasy, but I enjoy Sci Fi as well. Now Sci Fi is not the same thing as Fantasy. The distinction is small, and in some stories it’s blurred, but it’s there.

The best and most succinct explanation of the difference that I’ve ever heard is this:

“Sci Fi is what could be but isn’t.
Fantasy is what can’t be but is.”

I believe it was Orson Scott Card who said this but I can’t prove it. If anyone knows if it was indeed Mr. Card, or if you know who did say it, please let me know. If I happen to be lucky enough to have made it up without realizing it then I claim it as mine, but I doubt I did.

The difference is Sci Fi uses science to explain its impossibilities and Fantasy uses magic. The two genres have more in common then then not. And yet I’ve heard of infighting amongst the geeks and nerd ranks. Contention rages about the validity of Sci Fi over Fantasy or vice versa. Arguments that one is better than the other abound.

Brothers and sisters (assuming there are any girl geeks out there, I’ve yet to find any) please put this bad blood which runs between our two great genres aside. They are both capable of greatness and culpable of … ungreatness. But there are those who would deride us all of our place in the world. Those who view both genres as dross. The enemy is out there, let us not do their work for them. Besides if Sci Fi and Fantasy really were to clash one with the other I think we all know who would win.

Huh… I didn’t expect that. Although it may look bad now, this knight is totally gonna kick this space ranger’s butt. Trust me, because in Fantasy we got magic.

for more of Ian, be sure to stop by Writing Fantasy.

Tips and Tricks Tuesday: It’s All About Quantity

Today’s nugget was gleaned from a literature class I am currently taking. My teacher presented the following quote from Jules Renard in class. My response is below.

“Talent is a question of quantity. Talent does not write one page: it writes three hundred. No novel exists which an ordinary intelligence could not conceive; there is no sentence, no matter how lovely, that a beginner could not construct. What remains is to puck up the pen, to rule the paper, patiently to fill it up. The strong do not hesitate. They settle down, they seat, they go on to the end. They exhaust the ink, they use of the paper…In literature, there are only oxen.”

There is a lot of hope in this statement. It puts our fates back in our hands and gives us the ability to proceed. We don’t have to depend on something innate, beyond our control, to determine whether we can or cannot write. It’s so obvious that I’ve never thought about it before, but it is true: anyone can compose any sentence. No magical power is required to do so.

In this statement Renard claims the key to producing great work is to produce tons of work, and then, I presume, to pick out what is best. Hopefully, if there is enough work to choose from, then some of it will be very good. And it goes without saying—but I will say it anyway—that all of that work will be great practice to improve the work as the writer goes along.

It makes me think of J.K Rowling who managed to write a story that has resonated through this decade and touched all varieties of people like no other in my lifetime. But she patiently plodded along, like an ox, and wrote for years before she ever produced the first book. She wrote thousands and thousands of words that never went into her books, carefully laying foundations, getting to know her characters, and honing her craft until she could choose the very best bits of text to go into her books.

This advice from an expert novelist and playwright has caused me to renew my dedication and keep moving forward. And hopefully some day I too, will offer the same advice to those who want to know how I did it.

Don’t Just Ban Comic Sans, Replace It

There is a war raging. One side is fighting to obliterate a beloved champion of the people. The typography world has long been disgusted and outraged by the general popularity and overuse of the typeface Comic Sans. Their aim is to “eradicate this font from the face of the earth.”

Comic Sans is bubbly, silly, and wasn’t even well thought-out, apparently. According to Wikipedia, Microsoft designer, Vincent Connare was working on program with cartoon characters that spoke in Times New Roman and recognized the need for a more informal typeface.

After combing the Word typeface catalog, he found nothing appropriate, and quickly designed his version of comic book lettering. Comic Sans shot off like a rocket among Microsoft users. (Ironically Connare now sympathizes with the haters.)

Frankly, it’s hard to believe that typeface designers haven’t already jumped on this. I believe most word-processing software now include Comic Sans in their typeface catalogues. They pay Microsoft royalties in order to do so. There’s obvious market interest on this point.

So why do the haters object so violently? After perusing BanComicSans.com (which was truly an entertaining way to burn an afternoon, by the way. I definitely recommend it.) I gather they object on several points. First, fonts are supposed to convey meaning, and Comic Sans projects nothing but lightheartedness.

What can I say? Duh. Hence the value.

Second, Comic Sans holds no respect for tradition. It was created without regard to rules and guidelines that have long since been “established standards of this craft.”

I’m all for preserving and respecting the traditions set by the stone-carvers and typesetters that worked so hard at their craft. They deserve it. And that history is still relevant to the work that goes into a typeface design today. However, in the marketplace, value should be somewhat dictated by the consumer. Surely someone in the typography profession is smart enough to address and merge these two points.

BanComicSans.com also points to the constant inappropriate use of the font. Warning signs, angry letters, hospital department ads have all been given a naïve spin, because their designers should have made better decisions.

I once heard the use of Comic Sans compared to wearing a clown suit to a black-tie affair, and I agree, there are tons of situations where Comic Sans is wildly inappropriate. But what about my three-year-old’s birthday party? I’d much rather show up in a clown suit than an evening gown. Likewise I’d feel just as silly displaying party banners printed in Bookman Oldstyle or some such.

It is also true that Comic Sans is used to death these days. I even avoid its use, because mainstream popularity has pushed it to the point of cliché. But I continually search unsatisfactorily for a replacement.

So, attention typography world: there is a need to fill here! If you don’t like Comic Sans, fine. Get rid of it. But please provide us the product we are asking for. Give us something appropriate already!

Your turn beloved reader. Where do you weigh in?

Snippets from Kathryn Stockett

Several months ago Kathryn Stockett—who wrote the Help; see previous post for my review—paused her book tour at the King’s English long enough to share some pearls. So clutching my s.r.o. ticket in my hands, and doing my best to control my fan-girlie giggle, I joined fellow-bloggers, Sharla of Winter Write, Melissa of One Librarian’s Book Reviews, and Suey of It’s All About Books for a delightful evening with a genuine southern belle.


Sharla and I were lucky to find a seats with a great view—on the stairs!

Here are my favorite snippets from the Q&A session:

  • She ruffled lots of feathers to write this book. People tended to close-lip when she started asking questions. Some members of her family don’t even speak to her anymore! (Which absolutely validates this book in my opinion)
  • But, she wrote it thinking no one would read it, so she didn’t care if she crossed taboo lines.
  • After 5 years and 60+ rejection letters, she finally stopped telling people she was writing a book.
  • But, she appreciates all those rejection letters, because they gave her the “thick skin” required to deal with the strongreactions people have to her book
  • The first cover for the Help, the one she fell in love with, was of a black woman’s hand holding a white child’s hand. The publishers vetoed it quickly though, and after 25 more possibilities, Stockett no longer cared what the cover looked like. However, she often wonders what the current cover has to do with anything.
  • She was too afraid to write in Hilly’s voice (Hilly represents the traditional, often hypocritical façade of the time) because it “freaked [her] out” to “go there.”
  • The Help receives mixed reactions from both races. Some say the book holds true to their experience, others are uncomfortable or upset.
  • Vernon Jordan, adviser to Bill Clinton, once told Stockett that while he was a chauffeur for the mayor of Atlanta, he had some similar experiences to those mentioned in the book.
  • One woman from Mobile said she hadn’t remembered seeing separate bathrooms for help and asked Stockett if that was exclusive to the Jackson area. Stocket claimed she read many accounts about separate bathrooms in Mobile and all over. She said she even sees them in older New York apartments occasionally.
  • Stockett’s own experience growing up in the south took place as recently as the mid ‘70’s, but she set the story in the early ‘60’s to coincide with the Civil Rights movement.
  • Stockett’s own maid who raised her from birth was Dimeteri, a second cook, handed down to her grandma. During Stockett’s awkward years, Dimeteri would whisper to Stocket that she was beautiful and important and talented. Stockett credits Dimeteri with establishing her self-confidence.
  • Now that Stockett understands the sacrifices that Dimeteri made in order to raise her, she is overwhelmed and thankful for Dimeteri’s gift.
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.