Tag Archives: writing

Words are magic

This is a blog I wrote very early in my blogging but it’s also one of my favorites.   I hope those of you who haven’t read it before will enjoy it.  And, to you who read this long ago, I hope you’ll enjoy the rerun.

Words have always fascinated me.  From childhood,  I’ve’ve read 200px-Anne_Frankvoraciously.  I’ve taken courses on linguistics, and, in the classes I teach, I bore my students endlessly by showing them the history of words and how words are formed.

Words!  They are amazing.  The words I’m typing now have never before been put together in this way.  Even more amazing:  when you read these words at sometime in the future, you’ll know exactly what I was thinking at this moment.

It’s magic.

The most exciting example of the power of words I’ve been part of was from 1985-87, when I taught English in a school for pregnant teenagers.  The majority of the students were African-American, most lived in poverty and many had struggled in school.  But, with the coming of a baby, each courageous young woman came to this program to complete her education and give her child a better life.

In tenth-grade English, I taught The Diary of Anne Frank.  We’d read Shakespeare, Mark Twain and F. Scott Fitzgerald, whom they enjoyed, but they really loved this play.  Even those who couldn’t read—and there were several–listened, spellbound.  The story of a Jewish girl who lived in the 1940’s and who hid from the Nazis in a tiny attic room spoke to my students like nothing else we’d read.

Through her words, Anne Frank, isolated in her ghetto created by prejudice, reached out over forty-five years, fromAmsterdamto these minority students shut up in a ghetto inLouisville,Kentucky.  My students understood Anne Frank and were astonished to discover that another young woman had suffered from the prejudice that surrounded them.  Anne Frank became one of them and they joined her in that attic.

This is what storytelling is:  reaching out over the years and through the differences and divisions between people to touch emotions and open the reader to new ideas.

And we are the storytellers, the ones who transmit the heritage, who transport our readers beyond the barriers of time and place, who deal with the truths of our experiences, who share and interpret the struggles we all face.

As writers, we are magicians.  We create worlds that have never existed before and populate them with characters that  spring from our imaginations.  We fiddle with our creation’s lives.  They get sick, suffer, fall in love–all with a few keystrokes on our computers.

The words we write make people we’ve never met laugh and cry and think and sometimes get angry.  What tremendous power words have.  What an amazing, awesome craft this is.  To be magicians.  To work miracles.

Rudy Galindo, for example

Last week, I asked the question, “How is writing a novel like figure skating?”   In that blog, I stated there was one more similarity—and difference—to come.  For those of you who’ve been anxiously and breathlessly awaiting that, here it is!

Anyone remember Rudy Galindo?   In 1996, he seemed to leap from nowhere in an astounding singles figure skating  performance at the US Championships in San Jose.  I watched the program on television and could feel the energy of the performance and the energy from the crowd.  We were all enthralled at the beauty and perfection and energy of that performance.   And we all thought, “Where did this guy come from?”

There are writers like that.  Suddenly, with a first book, they become best sellers, shooting onto best seller lists while readers wait for the next book.   I know writers like that and I hate  envy admire them greatly, but most of us don’t appear like that.

My second point is this:   Rudy Galindo wasn’t suddenly hatched.  He didn’t show up at the competition and launch himself into spins and twirls.   He’d been working at this for a long time.  He was pairs partner with Kristi Yamaguchi until she decided to concentrate on her career in singles.   They’d won the US championship in 1989 and 1990.   He dropped out for a while but decided to return.  After a year of hard work, he burst–again–to the top of the figure skating world.

Even writers who appear suddenly have worked on their craft.  Jane Austen wrote her first books for the enjoyment of her family.   I have a friend who had the first book she wrote published and twenty more since.  She also has a PhD in creative writing.  Others have been journalists or have a number of completed and unfinished manuscripts under the bed that will never be published or took creative writing classes and submitted and entered contests and worked with critique partners.   Oh, I’m sure there must be someone who just wrote a great book with no background but, like figure skaters, most writers have spent years practising their leaps and foot work and tracing words onto paper until it finally comes out right.

How is writing a novel like figure skating?

Today I’m beginning a new once-in-a-while blog topic which will begin with “How is writing a novel different from . . . . . .whatever. . . .?   My last two series–Craft Tuesday and Twenty-five (more or less) Things I’ve Learned which have recently fallen by the wayside but may yet appear when I think of something to say.

But today, I’m going to concentrate on one oft asked question:   how IS writing a novel like figure skating?  

I love nearly all sports and watch figure skating competitions, the real ones, not the ones made so the professionals can earn extra money.  I’ve noticed several similarities as well as differences.   The one that got my attention came while I watch this years US championships.   When one skater fell, I realized that  when a figure skaters falls, everyone sees it and gasps.   But the great part about writing is that when we make mistakes, we are in isolation.  We can fix the error.  When we err, Dick Button doesn’t  say, “Oh, dear.  That’s a costly mistake.”  When a skater substitutes a single Salchow for  the planned triple, the error is bemoaned by judges and commentators in front of the entire world.   However, if I switch point of view in the middle of a paragraph, I  can edit and no one know with the exception of my editor or critique group who are usually really nice and don’t take off points.–or low–score.  People don’t leap to their feet and applaud or throw teddy bears to me.

No, while I sit at the computer, I don’t know if what I write works.  Is this funny? I ask myself.  It was when I wrote it–I’d thought.  But after reading it four or five times, it no longer is.    I’d really like a score and a few teddy bears before I go on

Second,  both may follow esoteric designs.  I remember back when the short and long programs were preceded by a competition during which the skater had to trace a number of figures on the ice.  they were then graded and ranked by how closely they followed the figures.   They looked like this.

In writing, we also may have charts in which experts tell us how to construct a novel.   Compare the charts on the left and right and you’ll understand that.  In writing, they are often confusing and no two are alike.   And, in my opinion, if we follow what someone tells us to do, probably we aren’t writing the best novel we can.  In writing, those charts are suggestions.  In figure skating, they must be exactly followed.   Same and different.

NEXT:  on Friday I’ll add one more way in which writing and figure skaiting are alike, featuring my favorite skater Rude Galindo.



I hate using sports as a metaphor for life:  it’s too easy and too cliched.  On the other hand, I love sports, watch every minute of the Olympics I can find, buy packages for our cable service for college basketball, watch live events on my computer.   Many years ago, before we could get University of Louisville basketball games on cable, my husband and I drove around Big Spring, Texas, searching for the clear channel coverage from nearly two-thousand miles away.

So, I rationalize.  I do NOT use sports as metaphors for life.  I use sports as EXAMPLES of just about anything.

For example:   Last year, when American gymnast Sam Mikulak dismounted from a  routine, he hit the mat so hard he broke both ankles. This year, he competed for and made the US Olympic team.  That is  PASSION! He must love gymnastics and competition to return to the sport which caused him such pain and months of rehab.   On top of that, his ankles never had time to completely recover so there’s always pain, always the chance his ankle will go out.

Is there anything you love that much? Not me. Two broken ankles and I’m pretty much over that.  Actually, a sprain would discourage me.

Well, that’s not completely true.   I love to write.  Because of scoliosis, sitting at a desk can be painful.   I prop myself up on a pillow in a comfortable chair and have a jerry rigged foot rest–a pillow on  top of a box–to lift my feet.    Recently we purchased a wonderfully comfortable and supporting  reclining chair with ottoman where I edit.  Due to carpal tunnel, I have an ergonomic keyboard, a mouse pad with a soft  cushion for my wrist, and a couple of wrist braces.  And still I hurt but I have to write!  I tell people I write so I don’t have to clean the oven and that’s partly true.  I have no passion for wiping down counters or vacuuming but I do for writing.  

What is your passion?  What do you love to do more than anything else? 

Blood, sweat, and ink

Because I know not all readers of this blog are writers–most of you aren’t quite crazy enough to put yourself through such torture–I haven’t talked about the “HOW” of writing.   Starting the first Tuesday of every month, I’ll add information on various topics having to do with craft.  I’ll start with “How to Write a Perfect Query Letter” and will stick with that for a few months or until I’m finished.   After that, I’m open to suggestions.  Do you have an writing questions/problems/frustrations you’d like me to address? 

I will call this–not surprisingly–CRAFT TUESDAY.

The first section of writing a perfect query letter will be June 5.  Hope you’ll drop by, learn something, and leave a comment or question.  

Who do you call?

The marvelously talented Alicia Rasley and I’ve been friends since before she and Lynn Kerstan won the RITA.  When I went to RWA conferences, I always attended her workshops because they were so much fun and I learned an incredible amount.

Then I discovered “On-line Alicia.”   She has the most wonderful web site of articles to help writers and answers questions.  Really, when I was stuck, I’d head over there for inspiration and help.   I don’t know if this is still available, but she had a worksheet which helped outline an entire novel in thirty minutes  I used that over and over when I got lost and had no idea what happened next.   I don’t know if I would have published without all the information and help and answers I received from Alicia, but I know her tips really helped and smoothed the path.  She’s taught writing and been an editor.  She really knows what she’s talking about.

NOW her wonderful Regencies are available as ebooks.

I cannot tell you how excited I am both that she’ll be blogging at Notes from Butternut Creek and that her wonderful books will be available again.  Please stop by tomorrow for her blog Five Bad Habits of Good Writers

You can find Alicia at  http://www.aliciarasley.com/ and http://edittorrent.blogspot.com/