Monday, April 22, 2013

Guest post: “Translating the Essence” by Anna Scott Graham

Sometime ago, I wrote about why I chose to walk this often-times difficult path as a writer.  Those were my reasons, but, like every human endeavor, one person’s reasons for doing something isn’t necessarily another’s—we are, after all, individuals. I thought it would be interesting to invite other writers to talk about why they chose to become scribblers and Anna Scott Graham was kind (or foolish) enough to answer my call. Thank you, Anna, for agreeing to be my guinea pig in this—with luck, yours will be only the first of many.

I’ve read some of Anna’s work. She’s very good and I am proud to invite her to this blog.
She describes herself as “[a] California native, [who] lived in Yorkshire, England for eleven years, where a love of writing took root, as well as an appreciation for hot tea. After her first novel was published by a small press in 2009, she independently published The War On Emily Dickinson in 2011. A poet, music lover, gardener, baseball fan, and chocolate connoisseur, she is married and a mother to several.”

Translating the Essence

by Anna Scott Graham

Since I started writing with more than half an idea of what I was doing, I was fully aware of being led to the story and subsequent words by a muse; sometimes it’s music, sometimes it’s a current event. Sometimes it’s no more than a glance from a beloved, poking at something within my heart that comes alive, via a writer’s mind. I can’t help that, I was born with it. It’s like a musician or painter driven to sketch a sky or play a melody. It’s the way I breathe, through language, expressing emotion and plot via paragraphs and scenes and chapters.

Now, anyone can write words in correct order to make some sort of sense. Writing fiction is feeling a story within my veins, as a sculptor might ache to display a body or item through clay. It’s explaining what stirs my heart and soul, and takes up a considerable amount of gray matter; translating the essence, I coin it. But it’s not just revealing that story, it’s accepting that for as perfect as I want the tale to be told, I’m just a human being, imperfect, flawed. If I waited to release what is pounding within my arteries, I wouldn’t spin a single yarn.

Several drafts exist between crafting an initial idea and publishing a finished piece, be it an epic novel or short story. Yet with each round of revisions, the truer product emerges, as if being chiseled from stone. But a fine line wafts through the creative process, as if too much simmering spoils the broth. I am not a writer who labors intensely over every single word; I trust the muse, regardless of its form, to guide me correctly, and to protect me during every stage of the process.
Artists are special folk; we are susceptible to lags in spark, to criticism, to misunderstanding. The true artist longs to speak their mind, hoping to catch a few appreciative ears, but acknowledging not all will be open to our vision. And that vision has to remain fluid, for it changes, sometimes within the first draft, sometimes later on.
Sometimes that initial speck of story mutates into a completely altered tale, and that’s all right; it was meant to be something other than what was initially envisioned. The essence might be hidden under many layers of time, experiences, and skill. Stories I wrote years ago might have no other purpose except to enhance further tales, which could be simply to bolster my talent so X amount of years later I’m sitting once again, typing moods and settings and dialogue.

I’ve been at this long enough, with several drafts under my belt, to know not every story is meant for public consumption. But that doesn’t undermine its purpose; a writer’s essence is explored with every sentence completed. That takes bravery, to write for perhaps no discernible reason other than to write. An authentic writer knows that sense of needing to spill words onto paper, virtual or made from trees. Something aches to be said, a topic requires attention, or just a fleeting sense of this is who I am, right now.
Translating the essence can be as personal as a haiku. Or it can be as lengthy as a five-novel series. But it can be done in either, what should never be forgotten. Ideas should never be discounted, for upon one blooms another, spreading to further notions, which bleed into a plethora of thoughts, feelings, truths.

Even if they are rooted in fiction.
My biggest writing truth is that I am but the hands of a greater goal. What pours from my sometimes weary fingers isn’t to be silenced. It should be read over, scrutinized, altered. But to halt writing for fear of ridicule would be criminal, for I have something to say, explore, understand.

What I write today might only lie as the foundation of some other plot. But the human condition requires compassion, which in this somewhat civilized world carries a greater need than ever before. Art tempers the bubbling rage, explains the tragedies.

The essence asks only for my compliance. The results are far beyond my talents. I write, then trust. Then move on to the next fascinating topic that captures my attention.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Why I *don't* read your ebooks

I love to read. I’ve been doing so, to paraphrase my Drill Sergeant from Basic Training, “since Custer was a corporal.” Well, maybe not that long, but ever since I was a small boy. I consider myself an expert in the field and have read most genres.

Most of the ebooks I download are so poorly written that I can survive only a few pages before my eyes start bleeding and my brain threatens to severely hurt me if I don’t stop. In short, I just wind up tossing the thing into the recycle bin unread.

And that’s really too bad because some of them have a great deal of promise. Their failing is that they are too convoluted or the grammar and spelling and punctuation are simply repulsive. Either way, I toss ‘em.

With that said, understand that I can, and do, tolerate minor gaffes (we all suffer the plague of the occasional typo, even the masters). Minor mistakes escape even the most eagle-eyed proofreader. The problem is when those minor errors become too numerous or too egregious.
Life is just far too short to waste any of it trying to figure out what some uncaring or ignorant semiliterate is trying to say. There are just too many well-written books to be discovered and reveled in.

This leads me to ask a question: why do you write? What do you want to achieve with all that arduous and sometimes agonizing work? I’m not looking for the common reasons such as “to make money” (yeah, as if indie authors are all rich snobs) or “to become famous” (same rationale), but why, at the core of it, do you write?

I do so for a number of reasons. I write because putting words on paper fulfills something within me. I write to explore emotions or human existence or simply to entertain. Most of us do. But even that’s not the underlying purpose. We write to communicate something to others. That’s the crux, the foundation for putting all that ink onto paper. Minus that, we wouldn't bother.
And readers read because they want to see our message, whatever it is. That’s the way of it. Whether that something is an exposé of the latest political shenanigans or how to succeed in whatever or simply to be entertained by the antics of the latest crop of zombies, vampires, and other beasties that go bump in the night, people read our work to “hear” our message.

We have an obligation, then, to our readers to present our case to them in such a way that they can understand us. That means we must—we absolutely must—adhere to the established norms of grammar, punctuation, and spelling (actual or contextual). If we don’t do that rigorously, if we simply rely on spell-check (that and grammar-check are surely the work of the devil and the very worst things ever foisted off on us), if we don’t bother re-reading and checking our writing for ourselves (or at least hiring a competent editor to do it for us), then we have failed in our goal to communicate. Just that.

We have failed ourselves as communicators and we have failed our readers who really do want to see what we have to say—they did just buy our book, after all. Readers will remember that and will simply not bother spending their money on us. Gods know there are plenty other authors out there to sample.

If we write fiction, poorly written books also fail our characters. They have stories to tell and if people won’t read those stories, then those characters might as well have never bothered telling them in the first place.

Now, if you’re writing in dialect (such as my recent book Tales of the Painted Door II: Wallace), that’s different, but even dialect has rules and if those rules are violated, then we have again failed miserably.

If you don’t know the proper use of a word or when to put a comma, that’s what competent editors are for. Even more important, you can learn these things. There are any number of texts and resource materials covering all aspects of spelling, grammar, and punctuation, some of them even online. All you need to do is take the time and find the gumption to get them, read them, and learn them. It’s not that difficult.

I’m sure there are those who will call me a grammar-nazi. First, that is a silly term, coined by those who have absolutely no idea what a real Nazi was. Second, if my demanding that writers follow simple rules so as to make their message clear (regardless of the message they deliver), then I will gladly ‘fess up to being one. It saddens me to see so many who apparently don’t care enough about their readers—some of these people even brag about never using punctuation because “it’s boring”—and they foist their illiterate garbage off onto us and expect us to actually pay money for the privilege.

So, if you are thinking I am angry, you're right. I am angry…and disappointed that so many otherwise compelling and worthy stories wind up in the trash just because the writer didn't take the time to learn the how of writing before publishing.