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Writerly Roundup – February 2017

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Our Writerly Roundup blog series features a curated collection of articles on the craft of writing and the creative life that we don't want you to miss.

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Photo by Jena Schwartz

Truth and Delight: Resisting the Seduction of Surfaces, Peter Selgin (@Peter Selgin), Brevity

This will be a tough read for some of us because we’re going to see ourselves in the essay. And in this case, it’s a good thing even if it feels quite the opposite. Here, Peter Selgin recalls his students’ (and indeed his own) tendency to choose the sound of words over their meaning, to go for what feels impressive.

I fell in love with words not for their meanings, but for their sounds. Like most healthy young people, I was a sensualist, a glutton for whatever tickled and otherwise amused or delighted my senses, for things sharp, bold, bright, piquant, dazzling, smooth, saucy, bitter, sour, sweet—for colors and smells and textures. I cared little about what lay hidden and invisible under those surfaces, for their precise meanings and implications.

Now, Selgin is the teacher, and he wants his students to write what they mean, not what they think good writing should sound like. He cautions against using language that doesn’t fit our scene, our character, our voice. Dig for the truth, for meaning, he urges.

In ways, writing is like falling in love. When we’re young, superficial qualities—hair, eyes, skin—mean everything. Only as we grow older do most of us recognize that what’s inside matters at least as much, if not more.

It’s easy to fall into the trap of wanting to sound good. We all want to sound good to the reader’s ear. But if our words aren’t expressing what we mean, it’s time to find words that do, no matter how shiny or dull they seem on the page.

The First Rule of Novel-Writing is Don't Write a Novel, Elizabeth Percer, LitHub

Have you sat down to finally write your novel and found yourself thwarted at every turn? Are you stuck, stymied, and going in circles? Elizabeth Percer knows what you’re going through, and in this piece she talks about the writing process and how the realities of writing are quite different from the way we picture the hard work in our heads.

Creative writing doesn’t want to be worked at, just as cakes don’t want you opening the oven door on them all the time, or animals don’t want you harassing them into submission, or children don’t want you to force feed them the rules for growth. You can bake a cake or tame an animal or raise a child under these circumstances, but it will emerge tragically deflated, a poor approximation of what it might have been.

She shares with readers the rules of her own writing process, and these include getting to know your demons, tossing out your strict publishing timelines, and taking care of yourself as you wander the path of the artist. Percer also warns us that we may need to reframe how we see the pages we’ve just written:

If you can approach each day’s work with the simple goal in mind of growing your work—and by work, I don’t mean product, I mean practice—you will get further than you ever imagined. You may write 79,000 words and realize in the last 1,000 that the novel is not what you want to put out there, but those 80,000 words will inform your next work immeasurably.

How to Give Your Character an Authentic Dialect, Tom Chiarella (@Chiareality), Writer's Digest

I found this interesting piece when I was trying to write with a Pittsburgh accent. It turns out that, in my case, the task involves far more than just throwing in a yinz here and there and changing the word wash to warsh. Dialects can be quite a challenge to master, and there are several fine authors to read when you’re working up to it.

Plenty of writers have been noted for crafting excellent dialect-Amy Tan, Sherman Alexie, Toni Morrison, Gus Lee, Earl Lovelace, Alice Walker-but William Faulkner is a champion of the ages. What works beautifully in Faulkner’s dialect is that it is so heavily modulated with the narrative that it becomes true music. The sound of the characters’ language tears through the narrative consciousness of the work. It is a part of the sound of the whole experience of Faulkner’s world.

In effective dialogue, the words must flow. It’s a mistake to spell out every unusual word, and overuse of apostrophes will overwhelm the reader. The pieces gives us some excellent examples of good dialect and bad dialect, and it dissects why the bad dialect is so difficult to read.

There is no quicker way to fail, no quicker way to sell yourself short than to write unconvincing dialect. Your best intentions become mawkish charades. Readers are challenged not to live in your story, to get at the heart of what you have to say, but to “check” the loose strands of accent and spelling.

This is a tricky place for a writer, but the article really helped me understand that writing dialect is less about spelling and more about tone.

The 21 Best News Roundups for Self-Publishing Authors, Reedsy (@ReedsyHQ)

Lastly, we're going to toot our own horns. Here’s a helpful list of roundups from Reedsy. In addition to Literary Mama’s Writerly Roundup (which made number 14!), you’ll find categories like general publishing roundups, self-publishing roundups, genre-based roundups, and craft roundups.

The sheer amount of information that comes flowing from the internet every week can be overwhelming — especially when you’re living in the ever-evolving world of self-publishing. To help streamline your learning (and cut back on hours of aimless browsing), we’ve put together a list of our favorite writing and self-publishing roundups.

The Reedsy people and I are becoming fast friends. Still, I choose to believe they’ve included our monthly Writerly Roundup on their website because it’s so darn helpful to writers, as are all of the roundups on this list. Go ahead and click through a few of them.

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Have you read a compelling article about craft or the creative life that you think should appear in the next Writerly Roundup? Please send links to lmblogcontact (at) literarymama (dot) com—we'd love to hear your input!


Laura Jackson Roberts is a freelance writer living with her husband and their young sons in West Virginia. She holds an MFA from Chatham University and writes humor. Her work has recently appeared on Matador Network, in Brain, Child MagazineVandaleer, Animal: A Beast of  Literary Magazine, DefenestrationThe Higgs Weldon, and the Erma Bombeck humor site. She also writes a regular nature column, Valley Views & Varmints.


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