Saturday, 9 April 2011

H is for Hanging on to Hope

You look at the stuff on the bookshelves and you think:

That’s bad. I could do better than that. But that never really explains how something that bad got picked up in the first place.

That’s good. That’s exactly the kind of thing I should be doing. But that certainty gets forgotten somewhere along the way.

That’s really good. Too good. So good it depresses you. How can you compete with THAT?

And then there’s the sublime. So good it gives you hope. Not just in writing or whatever your chosen field is, just hope in general. That there are some intelligent, insightful people in the world, not just the screaming jackasses (jackasses scream, right?) that represent us on the television.


I still have that hope, I find things here and there that touch me without huge marketing campaigns and celebrities insisting I’m going to love it, really love it. I guess it must have been fun in the old days to not have people telling you what was cool all the time and discovering things for yourself.


Here’s something I stumbled across today that made me feel like, Yes, that’s right. It’s just a simple piece of writing advice but beautifully illustrated. I made a similar point in my postGo With the Flow’ but that was clumsy and longwinded compared to this.

This sentence has five words. Here are five more words. Five-word sentences are fine. But several together become monotonous. Listen to what is happening. The writing is getting boring. The sound of it drones. It’s like a stuck record. The ear demands some variety. Now listen. I vary the sentence length, and I create music. Music. The writing sings. It has a pleasant rhythm, a lilt, a harmony. I use short sentences. And I use sentences of medium length. And sometimes, when I am certain the reader is rested, I will engage him with a sentence of considerable length, a sentence that burns with energy and builds with all the impetus of a crescendo, the roll of the drums, the crash of the cymbals–sounds that say listen to this, it is important.
—Gary Provost

Gary Provost was an unremarkable writer who wrote genre fiction and how-to books, most of which were pretty run of the mill. He died in 1995. But the way he captured the point he was making so perfectly in this piece, and demonstrated it with such elegance, is as pleasing to me as Hemingway’s famed six word story.

Good advice is hard to find. And when you do find it, it tends to be easier to pass it along to others than to remember to follow it yourself. Which is a long, drawn-out way of saying I really need to stop dicking around and get back to writing.

40 comments:

Melissa Sarno said...

I love that excerpt you posted. That's pretty genius. It's hard not to get discouraged when you see both great or bad books in the bookstore. But I do love when I come across an incredible book regain all faith in the publishing indusry.

Alexis Bass Writes said...

Great post. So very true about all the mixed feelings involved when browsing a book store. Thanks for passing on the advice!

Monica said...

I love this post!! Found you from the A-Z Challenge, so far it’s been a lot of fun, with maybe with a little bit of stress thrown in!! I’m now following you on GFC and I hope you have a chance to check out my blog!
Monica
http://oldermommystillyummy.blogspot.com/

Tiyana, aka "Yoyo" said...

What a great quote!

I think that's so true, how there's a kind of music to writing. You can use staccato (one. note. fragments); legato (long, slurred sentences); accelerando and decelerando (maybe like frantic run-on sentences versus progressions of sentences or clauses that get shorter and shorter, and shorter)... The list goes on!

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

That was a clever quote. And yeah, I see stuff on the shelf that makes me wonder - and a lot of stuff that makes me want to return to obscurity.

Girl Friday said...

I love that quote. When I write I can really 'hear' the cadence and flow of the sentences, to such an extent that I'll add words to a sentence just because I can tell it needs to be longer, etc.

KarenG said...

I'm like you. The bad stuff, the mediocre, the good and the sublime-- it all inspires me in some strange way. Or sometimes depresses me, depending on the mood of the day.

Libby said...

Great post. Hope is something every writer has in abundance, or has to have to continue on until they are published.

Catherine Denton said...

My heart resonated with this post! Thank you.
My Blog

Beverly said...

I love reading stuff like this. It's so motivational. I myself an not a writer but I read things like your post I think I can be. We all need something to aspire too.

Found your blog via the A-Z challenge. Following You! Come on over and say "hi".
Blue Velvet Vincent

Donna Hole said...

I enjoyed this post. Thank you. It summs up my moods on writing sometimes.

.......dhole

Jeigh said...

I go through all those feelings when I read, too. It's nice to know I'm not alone. And I love that quote. You're right, it illustrates his point perfectly.

Terresa said...

Ha, yes, I think about that all the time, being a librarian, I see all kinds of stuff published & on the shelves. And yes, we can all write better than many books already in existence!!

PS: Thanks for visiting my blog, stop by anytime for a waffle & some words!

Ocean Girl said...

Hi. I am not a writer but understand your points.

alberta ross said...

very good and splendid example of the flow and music of words. too many short and anxiety can be the result as well as boredom. It's a continuing problem like repeated words -easy to miss but essential to find - thanks for great posting

Jan Morrison said...

wonderful post! I'm afraid that I don't think enough about the care of a single sentence - I have a good article on it somewhere in this mess of an office and I don't consider it enough. Thanks for the reminder.

MISH said...

And it makes you wonder , how on earth did some of those really bad ones , make it onto the shelves ? And then it gives you renewed hope because you think , mine isn't THAT bad ? Is it ?

~MICHELLE~
http://writer-in-transit.co.za/category/other/rambles-rants-and-raves/

Fiona Faith Maddock said...

Your posts are always valuable. I have been through the same emotions you have described when I browse the bookshops. How DOES the bad stuff get through? Today, by contrast, researching the shelves to clarify my genre, I saw not one or two but dozens of examples of the sublime, writing which is captivating and irresistible. I cheered myself up by remembering that some of mine is that good, not all of it, but some. Thanks for another useful insight.

the writing pad said...

Hi
I am so much enjoying your posts - and this one is another gem. That example is excellent, and I also identify with your thoughts on the essential quality of Hope. Oh yes, and on a prior generation who weren't 'sold to' all day and every day; free to make up their own minds based purely on merit ...
Thanks
All best
Karla

K.C. Woolf said...

Great post, and a fantastic excerpt. Thanks for that! I'm glad I found your blog and I'll be back for more.

Laoch of Chicago said...

Fortunately there is always another excuse, thus the preferred state of sloth can be safely maintained.

damyantiwrites said...

Excellent advice for all unpublished writers...and even a lot of published ones. Thankyou.

E.J. Wesley said...

It's so tough, because there's always something out there to compare ourselves to. I think the best thing to do is to NOT do it. You can't be something you're not.

Loved this post!

EJ

Kelly M. Olsen said...

You hit the nail on the head with that post. I think your views represent what the majority of us writer's tell ourselves. Love your blog. Thanks for following me. I returned the gesture.

Steph said...

OMG! I have a total inferority complex! I want to venture out and write more but I can't help but compare! Sometimes I read something written really unique, and it inspires me to the same, to just be myself. My blog is my start at writing things for others to read, and I hope it helps me overcome those fears a bit!

Josh Hoyt said...

It's so true how different things affect us. Great post and I'm excited to follow you and see more of your posts.

Charmaine Clancy said...

Yes, which is why we need to read and write more. I very often find the 'depressingly good' books on the shelves :)

Wagging Tales - Blog for Writers

Frankie said...

I don't compare myself much these days. Most of the "crap" I can see the merit in, I know the people those books appeal to. It's easy to sneer at them, say, by god, I can write better than that.

And maybe I can. But those books, they weren't written for me.

The people they were written for, they probably won't love me. They might even say I write crap.

I'm okay with that.

Like you say, there's no point in self-comparison with the Writer-Gods.

I used to want to write like... don't laugh... Raymond Chandler. He still makes me weak in the knees and wet between the thighs sometimes.

But I don't want to write like Raymond Chandler anymore. Now I just want to write like me.

Whatever that means.

The books that serve as inspiration, the ones that give me hope, these days they aren't coming from NYT bestseller lists or big box end-caps. A lot of them are small press books, or self published. They give me hope because they are beautiful and amazing and (at least) as good as any of those bestseller books, those end-cap books, those Oprah books. And they were written by people who aren't so different from me.

Austin James said...

I like this advice. It really hit's you when you read it.

Shannon Lawrence said...

Great quote and advice! It's easy to let outside influences affect one's confidence, and harder to take the positive from it, at least for me.

Ellie said...

Your post sums up my feelings exactly. Well put!

Ellie Garratt

Paula Martin said...

I don't think we should 'compare' ourselves with any other writer. Yes, we can read others' book to learn from them, either what works well or what doesn't. But I think Frankie was right in saying 'I want to write like me.' We all have our own 'voice' which is a combination of cadence, sentence structure and flow, and it's that which makes every writer unique.

Joyce Lansky said...

I sometimes look at the stuff on shelves and wonder why they are published, and I'm not. I get especially frustrated with these lousy celebrity authors.

Reading Frankie's comment, I've got to say my friend Ruta Sepetys has her first book out, "Between Shades of Gray." It is number 8 on the NYT bestseller list and wonderful! That book will inspire.

Thanks for following me.
Joyce
http://joycelansky.blogspot.com

mooderino said...

Thanks for all the comments, it's really great to know people are reading (and sometimes even enjoying) my posts. Cheers.

Pk Hrezo said...

Man, I totally agree. Sometimes I think, "This made it to publishing and I can't find an agent??" lol and other times I think, "What do I think I'm doing??"
This path is so full of self-doubt, but it boils down to doing what we love. And how can that be wrong?

Michelle Julian said...

I think this with every book I read, and find myself placing the book into one of the categories you've outlined. Nice post and great quote, thanks for sharing it.

Carol Ervin said...

I was happy to see the Gary Provost quote. I attended one of his week-long workshops (a few years after his death) carried on by wife and former students. The workshop was very instructive, stimulating, and lots of fun. I still refer occasionally to workshop materials.

I'm following your travels through the alphabet. You're making an impact. Congratulations!

Carol Ervin said...

P.S. In regard to feeling failure, Gary had a term for it: POS syndrome. "This [my writing] is a piece of shit." Everybody suffers from the syndrome at some point.

Lauri said...

This is really good advice. Thank you! And wow, you are doing great with the A to Z thing!

Suze said...

I very much like Provost's words, here. And I also like, 'Breathe, stupid!'

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