A lightening

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Image © R L Raymond

Droplets of condensation down
the cheap tin
of the cheap can
residual handprint bleeding water

The vacant chair
threadbare from years of lounging
a scratchy radio in the background
ancient songs
antique sounds

She still nags, chicken-pecking in the kitchen, about this, that, the other thing, almost drowning out the broken music.  What she doesn’t realize is that

He’s gone

After all these years
up and left
beer still cold
chair still warm
no longer there to listen
no longer there to care
or
not
care

He walks down the driveway
smoking a Camel
his other hand flicking the straw
that broke the camel’s back

R L Raymond

From Weakdays

Of Sycophants & Haters

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The beauty of online communities, networks, publications, is the abundance of information available. We can learn anything, from anyone, at any time. However wonderful this is, there are too many traps to fall into.

Learn from the Teachers

A lot of advice — a lot — comes from novices, learners, students. This may seem fantastic, a fresh pool of opinions to draw from. It is, however, important to remember that Teachers and Masters have learned from experience. They show what they’ve done, more than expound on what they think should be done. The best example is a college/university course. Would you rather sit in a room with an experienced professor, or with a fourth year student lecturing? Ask yourself what is the difference?

The same holds true for writers. Trust those who have been published, those who have been rejected, those who have proven themselves over time. Sure the new kid on the block may throw his or her ideas out there, but often those are conceptual instead of experiential. Also, those new insights are often ‘borrowed’ or ‘reworded.’ It takes time and living the life to really have the ability to pass along wisdom.

Ignore the Sycophants

However good it feels to have someone like you and/or your writing, there is seldom much value in the sycophant’s comments. Great writing! I love what you did here. Perfect as always! This ego-stroking, heart-clicking, thumb-upping advice does little to challenge, advance, spark  an internal discussion. These comments are akin to a parent telling their child how gifted, or special, or wonderful he or she is. Feels good, doesn’t do much in the long run.

Beware the folks that fawn over your stuff. Maybe there are ulterior motives (reciprocation, follows/likes by association), but certainly there are few constructive motives.

Don’t Ignore the Haters

Unless a reader is castigating just to castigate, or baiting, or trolling, there may be some useful nuggets of wisdom in the vitriol. Man, could you drone on any longer! Wow, haven’t seen this a thousand times. None of this really connects. Somewhere, inside that dark cloud that weighs on the writer, there is a silver lining. Maybe a short sentence would work here and there. Maybe that was a weak piece.

Those readers who take the time to criticize, hopefully politely, will give you pause. Are they on to something? Is the challenge worthy? Could this be improved?

Now, take the compliments when deserved. Ignore the insults when unwarranted. But, if you are truly searching for lessons, for improvement, place more weight in those that have done it before, for real, in the real world, and that have something to say that may actually make you uncomfortable.

fishbones

5 Reasons to Write Slowly RIGHT NOW

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There are different opinions on handwriting (longhand) vs typing. The arguments boil down to either personal preferences about speed and efficiency or theories about retention and immediacy. I’ve used longhand for decades, and I’ve used laptops, tablets, phones for years. The analog and the digital both have their advantages and disadvantages, but for me, personally, based on my experience, the old pen/pencil and paper wins every time when it comes to drafts, notes, ramblings.

Here are 5 reasons why I think everyone should use longhand (or cursive, or print, or whatever works, as long as it’s pen(cil) on paper).

1. Emotional Link

Emotions and immediate reactions to the act of writing can be captured, and later felt anew, through strokes, line thickness, pressure. When something is physically underlined, maybe twice or thrice, with a flourish, it’s easy to see its importance. It is NOT an italicized or underlined typed word — it’s more, and the line(s) from that very moment in time are immortalized.

Strikethroughs are essential to capturing the instant meaning of the writing. The mistakes, retries, frustrated attempts are all captured, frozen, ready to be revived whenever you read your notes. None of this exists in the digital, erase-as-you-go world.

2. Flexibility

Writing on paper gives you the ability to add drawings, flow charts, arrows, bullets, palimpsest-like notes over notes. You can circle, reorganize non-destructively, reformat without losing the original intent as it came from head to hand. A list of points, say 5 reasons to slow down and write, can be written in the original order produced by the brain. Then, with a few lines, arrows, scribbles, the order can be changed, however, the original intent is saved. Maybe it was better the first time. If reorganized on a digital platform, the genesis has long vanished. Tablets and styli come closer to giving the writer the ability to mimic pen(cil) and paper, but the urge to cut and paste neatly may be too hard to resist. Also, see point 3…

3. No Distractions

Your notepad will never beep, run out of batteries, notify you that your friend posted/ate/procrastinated something/somewhere/sometime. No email will pop up, no text message will ding, no weather alert will take your eyes from the task at hand. Also, you will not accidentally hit a wrong key, drag another app from the edge, swear at the screen when your devices freezes up even for a second. Apps have tried to push “focus” modes and “clean writing” interfaces, but, it is almost guaranteed something will pop up and mess with your train of thought.

4. The Retention of Flow

Error and juxtaposition can subconsciously contribute to a final piece. If those connections, be they side notes, eraser-ghosts (you won’t catch me erasing), aren’t preserved, a big part of the reason for a piece of writing can be lost. I have caught myself wondering what the hell did I mean here? More than once. When everything is retained in a longhand draft, the answer may be right there. Forget about answering the question if all that’s left is a clear, focused, clean version on your device. The list order, the birth of that original idea, the bastardization thereof, the tangent that became more important than the first premise, all of if contributes to the flow and eventual feel of the final work. Give yourself the chance to capture all of it.

5. Longevity & Legacy

Notebooks will never need updates. Notebooks will never disappear when a company decides to pull its cloud services. Notebooks will never be obsolete, replaced by new compression or encryption methods. With sufficient care against rot or fire, the paper, the ink, the graphite, all should survive, legible and complete.

On a more sentimental level, the notebook is a legacy. It is a genuine, physical artifact that tells a story. The best example would be gramp’s notes about the war, or grandma’s cookbook, passed from generation to generation. The mistakes, scribbles, drawings, they are all as important as the entries or recipes. They are a snapshot of a place, at a specific time. The same wouldn’t hold true for gramp’s Evernote login or grandma’s OneNote account.

The real story is in that notebook with the dirty spine, the one that ate pencils and drank inkwells dry. There is a life in there.

fishbones

Circles, Silos, Niches

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Creative writing for the likeminded — and ONLY the likeminded…

It appears that the entire intent of ‘literature’ and ‘poetry’ is to create and define niches. Because the world — read: virtual world — is so vast, everyone is trying to cut a little piece of the landscape and call it ‘home.’ But, there are only certain guests that can and will be invited into these ‘homes.’

  • Open call for writers from ___ with experience in ___ and a ___ background.

The creative writing world is laser-focusing on the micro-niche. Only certain writers and certain readers will interact in shared, manufactured spaces. People will read what they write and write what they read, creating a tight, closed, exclusive little circle.

  • Poetry contest. Submit to our ___ theme. Only $25 and every entry gets a “free” one-year subscription.

The likeminded buy their way into likeminded publications that create a reader-base on a specific call. I understand the need for reading fees and the likes in a world where funding is dwindling; this said, the original need becomes a foundation for niche-building. Each publication becomes a silo that contains only the “type” of writing seeded in calls, inflating circulation numbers to readers who bought a subscription. That year wasn’t free.

  • Exclusive content only $___ per month.

$3 here, $5 there, $15 hither, $25 yon… all to buy into a place that feels like ‘home.’ But all the people there, the likeminded, they also bought in, for the same reasons, sparked by the same call, the same ‘experience,’ the same ‘background.’ The home is peopled with writers that sound the same, think the same, read the same…

…creating a tight, closed, exclusive little circle.

I miss the days of pulp mags, of mags that published a variety of conflicted, conflicting, interesting stuff. Now many — and I should note that it’s not ALL— journals or mags or publications just put out pages of I’ve-seen-this-beforeand I-can-pretty-much-guess-what’s-coming-next.

Take a long hard look at writing groups where the same thing happens over and over again. Sameness breeds sameness. Exclusivity breeds boredom.

I want to read a mag with heady, flowery verse, cut by a Film Noir piece, a poem about dogs, a story about post-apocalyptic cats, images of pineapples, 17th century kings and queens, graffiti, people loving each other, people yelling at each other. I want it all, in one fun place, that covers the entirety of the world, not a small, bland slice of land.

Invest your time, and your money wisely, in diverse, exciting, clashing, incongruous magazines, sites, groups. Without these, our world will continue to erect silos of similarity on grey fields of meh…

  • Break the circle
  • Write outside the silo
  • Make the world your niche

fishbones

Never Erase

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We have always been told to learn from our mistakes. It’s a simple enough concept: don’t repeat things that don’t work or things that are bad for you. Wear shoes when you walk on gravel. Don’t stick your tongue to the pole in the schoolyard in winter. Simple.

When it comes to writing, the concept is a little more confusing. Picture the stereotypical frustrated writer, sitting alone in a room, staring at a blank page. Then inspiration strikes! Frantic writing… then, a page is torn, crumpled, tossed across the room in disgust. Zoom in on the pencil. This time, the author is on to something… a sentence, and then, SCRATCH SCRATCH SCRATCH, SCRIBBLE SCRIBBLE SCRIBBLE… blacked out in disgust, as illegible as a classified document. Maybe another ball of paper, thrown away. Zoom out. Scribbles. Balls of paper. Frustration. Fade to black.

For writers it is almost second nature to destroy what we don’t like about what we just put to paper. Why? Maybe we worry that someone will read these unacceptable lines (and care). Maybe we think that the bad stuff will corrupt everything around it, like an algae bloom in the crystal clear pool of our genius. Nonsense.

  • Never erase
  • Never throw away
  • Reread your drafts
  • Reread your journals

If you’ve thrown away a draft, or erased parts of it in one way or another, you can never learn from it. And don’t pretend to yourself that you’ll remember why it was ‘terrible;’ most times you can’t remember, a few hours later, that good stuff that comes to you as you fall asleep. If it’s gone, it’ll be repeated.

There is also another great reason to make your mistakes visible. When you reread your draft, your notes, your journal, you’ll see the worlds (wow, an example right here! I meant ‘words’ but typed ‘worlds’ so I’m going to leave it) under the strikethrough. Those were your original thoughts, your original gut instincts. Once you’ve removed yourself from the critical, “this sucks,” heat-of-the-moment hatred of your words, maybe you’ll see there was something salvageable.

Maybe it’s even better than just salvaging a little bit of writing. Maybe you’ll see an error, juxtaposed beside another word, another concept, and it will spark something totally new and fresh and different and inspiring. I remember writing feverishly, writing and striking out (because I actually take my own advice and never erase), and coming up dry. A page of, well, nothing. But, under one pencil line, I read the word ‘ghost’ which had been either a written-typo (whatever those are called) or a weird mental connection I’d lost as soon as I’d written it. Whatever the case, in the nonsensical context, the ‘ghost’ idea become a fun little poem, using bits and pieces of the unrelated stuff that happened around the error. The original had NOTHING to do with what I eventually wrote. And the word ‘ghost’ didn’t even appear in the final piece.

If I had thrown out the page, or blacked out the ghost, I would never have found those fun little interplays that made the mistake worthwhile.

Keep the paper smooth, in your journal, notepad, binder, and cherish your strikethroughs, for there may be nuggets of inspiration in those words you originally thought garbage.

fishbones

Voice over everything

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The most important aspect of writing is voice: that feel, sound, or signature thing that makes a piece identifiable as a particular writer’s work. Inevitably a writer just starting out will copy a mentor’s voice — subconsciously or not — to start understanding what makes it interesting. Then, through craft, experience, more reading, more experimenting with different mimicry, the writer begins to sculpt his or her own signature vibe. Because it can only develop through careful, calculated practice, true voice may take years to articulate.

Read some of your own juvenilia; does it sound different? odd? bad? not like you? Most likely, that old writing was not crafted with your current voice. Note that your writing will change slightly, as does the way you speak: maturity, lifestyle, location, all will somehow creep in. But this is honing of your voice. This application of life differs from the first stages of development. Early Hemingway (or King, Munro, Yeats, Garcia Marquez, McCarthy…) has a different feel than later Hemingway, but the voice is there, loud, clear, identifiable.

  • Read. Read again. Read something different. Read something you dislike.
  • Write. Write some more. Write in a style you aren’t used to. Write in a style you detest.

Although the intangibility of voice can be frustrating, the importance of voice is paramount. When writing, ask yourself: what makes the story yours; outside of physical detail, could someone identify it as yours; what could you add, change, delete, to make it more yours? Eventually all these mechanics, these nuances will start to flow naturally, giving life to your own inner rhythms, rhymes, metres, in the form of voice.

fishbones

 

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