GREETINGS DEAR SCRIBE, THIS IS CLIO CALLING:
HAVE YOU MET YOUR MUSE?
Writing is an art form no less than painting, sculpting, drawing, composing melodies, lyrics, or poetry.
Theresa W. Bennett-Wilkes
My newsletter was intended, no, it was suggested to me as a vehicle for sharing techniques, tips, and tools for writers. For a time I endeavored to stick to this theme. As I became more comfortable with writing, and producing my own organ of communication, I shared whatever was on my heart. During 2017, I had numerous conversations with aspiring writers. I received emails and text messages in which the authors of these discussions expanded on their yearnings. Consequently, I chose to go back to the original intent of this publication and expound on the art form I so dearly love, writing. During the first two weeks of this month, we will all be exposed to a myriad of recommendations on living into our New Year’s resolutions, if we have any. Don’t despair if you don’t, after all, they’re nothing more than an expression of desire. For the aspiring writers I’ve encountered, may I offer a strategy for transforming the visions in your head and heart into the narratives you want to create?
Writing is easy, right? Except, your manuscript is languishing on a flash drive, buried among the documents on your computer, lost in the cloud, or you’ve carefully stashed it away… out of sight, so as not to be reminded…of your hopes, and dreams, for crafting the Great American Novel, your memoir, the experience everyone says you should put in book form, or the family history you genuinely want to share… because you can’t quite get your act together and figure out how to get from point A to B.
Are you nurturing a tale – or tales – in your head and heart? Are you overwhelmed, haunted, or besieged by ideas and portrayals which won’t go away? Are figments of your imagination intruding on you at unexpected intervals? Can you visualize the setting, or see a narrative unfolding? Have you begun to write, only to find yourself unsure of what to do next? Do you start, stop, and start again, as if caught in a vicious cycle, rewriting, editing, unable to move forward, or reach a satisfying conclusion? Have you hit a wall, fallen out of love with your belles lettres, or given up in frustration? Have you crafted content, come up with an arresting title, or at least it seems so to you, yet the basic chronicle lies dormant, untouched, half-baked, disjointed, or seemingly unmanageable? Are you afraid of it? Do you wonder if you can write your narrative? Are you a novice, an aspiring belletrist, a wannabe scribe, an infatuated inditer, or someone who fervently wishes to realize coinage of the brain demanding of you the right to be seen and heard? Regardless of where you are in the creative process, organization is the key to fulfilling your dream. The most practical starting point isn’t buried in your MS, it’s in your head. Have you met your muse?
Greek and Roman mythology gave the world nine women, known as the Muses, who managed the arts in a world conjured up to demystify the unknown dominated by powerful, vengeful, innovative, and beautiful deities. Calliope oversaw epic poetry; Clio, history; Euterpe, playing the flute and lyric poetry; Terpsichore, choral dancing and music; Erato, playing the lyre, and lyric poetry; Melpomene, tragedy; Thalia, comedy, and light verse; Polyhymnia, hymns and mime; and Urania, astronomy. Ah, yes… have you acknowledged, and become acquainted with the inspiration flooding your consciousness? Doing so will unlock the doors to an adventure you can own and embrace, or hold at arm’s length. So, you want to be a writer. Start by taking inventory. Is your desire: an avocation, dream, passion, vocation, yearning, an avid pursuit, or something else? Choose one category and substantively elaborate on it. Think of this effort as an exercise in confronting fears, doubts, hesitation, and desideratum. Hopefully you’ll come away with a degree of clarity. More to the point, you should be able to say, with conviction, ‘Yes, I do, or no, I don’t want to be a raconteur.’
If you said yes, the next step is to clear your plate! Writing is a solitary exercise. If you think otherwise, try: writing and eating; writing and watching television; or, writing and multitasking. Complete your current commitments; finish the projects you’re working on; fulfill long-term obligations, and learn to say no without feeling guilty. You don’t need to offer an explanation, if your no really means no. I’ve been writing for nearly twenty years and I’ve learned it doesn’t mix well with any other activity. You’ll have to learn to balance the necessary aspects of your everyday routine with the demands of your muse, period. Freeing yourself up takes time, and an unequivocal determination to remain focused. Making the effort to open up space in your life to pursue a dream aids in further defining the depths of desire. It’s not a well-traveled path but it is an intimate, and personal move to reorder your existence. Clearing your plate is a game changer, I spent two years identifying involvements and following through. As I became more in tune with my decision, I found the process less intimidating, and the prospect of directing my energies toward what I truly love more appealing. Releasing everything else to concentrate on writing endues the author with a profound sense of purpose. An attitude of gratitude, and positivity, helps strengthen resolve, for the art of writing is a purposeful endeavor.
Saying yes to the all-important question of commitment is the real deal. May I be the first to offer heartfelt congratulations? Let’s get started! Before you write the first word, or the next one, depending on where you are, it’s time to set up your sacred writing space. This area is a critical aspect of preparing yourself to be an inditer. Think about it for a moment… where do you sit to read your mail, write your lists, or complete forms? Where do you go to take care of business you don’t handle on one of your electronic devices? Well, dear writer, you need a space dedicated to accessing the inspiration for your undertaking. ‘Greetings Dear Scribe, this is Clio calling: have you met your muse?’
Locate a site, at home, or elsewhere in which you feel at ease, peaceful, and in touch with the Universe. Your sacred space should be welcoming, and accessible. Design it with the amenities which will aid your creativity: music, plants, artwork, modern technology, white noise, Feng Shui, whatever will help establish the ambient environment most conducive to productivity. Set your own mood, you’re the means through which these stories will come to life. Open yourself to the Universe.
I recommend a six-foot table, and a chair ergonomically suited to little ole you. If possible, place it near a window to receive the gift of streaming daylight. The view may be as inspiring as what’s in the room. If you write at night, or during early morning, make sure the lighting is bright. Please don’t use your computer desk for writing; it wasn’t designed to accommodate your divine calling. Once your table is in place, assemble your writer’s tools:
- A hardcover dictionary containing a guide to usage or an explanation on use.
- A hardcover thesaurus featuring either a synopsis of categories or a thematic index.
- William Strunk Jr.’s The Elements of Style.
- A hardcover edition of Roget’s International Thesaurus, Fourth Edition.
- Writing tablets or recycled paper.
- Colored pens.
- White out.
- A pencil sharpener.
- A ruler.
- A large jar of rubber cement.
- Ceramic mugs to hold your writing utensils.
Paperback and combination dictionaries and thesauruses are inadequate resources for the serious writer. The guide to usage located in the front of a hardcover dictionary offers detailed information on, examples of, explanations for, and insights into a plethora of items contained in its pages. Dictionaries aren’t merely repositories of words and their definitions, something an enterprising scribe should understand. Familiarize yourself with your dictionary and over time, acquire various editions.
Literary writing should be compelling, stylish, inspiring, fluid, graceful, impassioned, spellbinding, scintillating, thought-provoking, and memorable. Endowing your writing with the foregoing characteristics demands an expansive, and continuously growing, vocabulary. Roget’s International Thesaurus, Seventh Edition, Revised and Updated, incorporates current trends in linguistic expression including slang and popular phrases. Unforgettable prose stands out due to the writer’s artful use of the English language. Roget’s International Thesaurus, Fourth Edition, is a gem. It contains abstruse, arcane, and esoteric words, and phrases. It isn’t bound by commonplace restrictions imposed by fads evident in ubiquitous popular parlance. Dear inditer, immerse yourself in this volume and treat it as a secret weapon. Use it advantageously and gain literary credibility rarely displayed in the banal, often redundant Pablum littering the landscape, regardless of genre.
Aspiring writers are encouraged to invest in a slim volume entitled, The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. This brief but incisive work outlines:
- The elementary rules of usage.
- The elementary principles of composition.
- Matters of form.
- Words and expressions commonly misused.
- Words often misspelled.
Strunk wrote Elements in 1918 for in-house use at Cornell University where he taught. He subsequently self-published the book in 1919. The late Elwyn Brooks, aka E.B. White, a former student of Professor Strunk, and himself a writer, and author of children’s books, including Charlotte’s Web and Stuart Little, revised Elements in 1959 following Strunk’s passing. From then on it became known as Strunk and White’s Elements of Style.
Professor Strunk advised scribes to have the right, or proper, mindset. He stressed the importance of writing to please oneself, and aim for one moment of felicity, a clever, yet profound phrase he attributed to Robert Louis Stevenson. Professor Strunk wrote, and I quote: “…Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all his sentences short, or that he avoid all detail and treat his subjects only in outline, but that every word tell…” (Excerpted from Elementary Principles of Composition, The Elements of Style.)
Why the colored pens, pencils, erasers, scissors, ruler, and a large jar of rubber cement? All writing should be initiated by hand! There’s an organic connection between the brain and the hands during the act of writing. It’s a stimulating, richly rewarding exercise, connecting the head, heart, and mind with the soul force from which inspiration and fantasy emanate. Colored pens stimulate, and add an element of excitement to writing. What colors do you like? Which ones are most meaningful? Use them to originate your drafts. Employing a range of hues fuels our fantasies and heightens imaginations. Use the ruler to insert left margins on every blank sheet of paper. White out is a life-saver… it allows you to write over words and phrases when you change your mind. Scissors and rubber cement facilitate the manual cut and paste action. Didn’t think you would? Guess again! ‘Greetings dear scribe, this is Clio calling: have you met your muse?’
One additional tool is a style manual. They are the bibles on research and documentation. Every academic discipline has its own publications addressing requirements for correctly formatting everything from numbers, foreign phrases, titles, degrees, and data to dates, verbatim entries, arcane and archival minutiae. Following is a partial listing:
- The Chicago Style Manual, which is used for history and the humanities.
- The Associated Press Stylebook and Briefing on Media Law, for journalism.
- The American Psychological Association Style Manual for psychology and other social sciences.
- The Modern Language Association Style Manual for English, humanities, and literary writing.
Your writer’s tools have been identified, your sacred space established, you’re ready to move on. Narratives revolve around plots. They are the essence of the chronicle, be it factual or fictive. The characters, setting, situations, everything related to the tale, derive from the mythos. The American Heritage Dictionary, Third Edition, defines the theme as “…The pattern of events or main story in a narrative or drama…” All fabulist elements should have a beginning, middle, and an ending based on, or connected to, a common theme. The seeds for the sagas we write spring forth from ideas and depictions who spin tantalizing snippets which become firmly planted in our consciousness begging to see the light of day.
Evolution of the peripeteia begins with a basic premise. These ideas can, and do, materialize from anywhere. A single word, a name, phrase, date, memory, an experience, or even a full-blown subconscious snapshot may be the genesis of your narrative. And you, the belletrist, envision:
- The setting.
- The personalities.
- The theme.
- The opening sentence.
- An ending.
Once your idea becomes real, take time to write down what you saw, felt, or imagined, but do not attempt to refine, revise, or edit it. What you’ve just drafted is known as a synopsis. Grant it the dignity of emerging in its own right, and not as you wish it to be. You, honorable inditer, are the vessel through whom this yarn will come to life, and, whether autobiographical, biographical, historical, academic, self-help, or fabricated, it must be allowed to manifest as the Universe intends. ‘Hello, this is Clio calling: have you met your muse?’
What then, is this thing known as a synopsis? It’s a summary of the content you’re going to create. It’s your first written account of what the final draft will become. It is by no means a strong indicator of the end product. Simply stated, it’s your starting point. It is the initial statement of the idea as it currently appears, and includes whatever aspects of the events, actions, and portrayals available to you at the time. Limit this foray into crafting your masterpiece to two paragraphs, date the document, and keep it handy. Do not write the story.
The second step in plot development is the formulation of a working outline. Scribes, use your synopsis to organize this tool and treat it as a working document. The outline serves as a framework for structuring the substance of the synopsis. Common elements include, but are not limited to:
- A chronology of the summary as originally conceived.
- The characters.
- The setting(s).
- The action, or themes, on which the narrative is predicated.
- A listing of events as they unfold from the beginning.
- The ending.
The outline is a guide for developing a chronicle. It can assume whatever format works best for the chronicler. It consists of detailed information not contained in the synopsis. Belletrists, do revise, refine, and update your outline. Unlike the synopsis, it is a dynamic document. It’s your personal roadmap to the finish line. As shifts, changes, and areas of emphasis assert, and reassert, themselves in your head, heart, and imagination, your outline is the place to record this activity.
Aspiring writers, do your writing at a designated time every day: not every other day, not when the mood hits, you feel like it, or when the stars are aligned in your favor! You are a writer and you must write every day. The more you do, the more in tune you will become. This means taking advantage of opportunities to compose, construct, develop, or draft whatever you can. Write:
- Personal letters and notes.
- Blog posts.
- Articles for newsletters published by organizations with which you are affiliated.
- Business letters.
- Letters to the editor.
- Jingles, taglines, mottoes.
- Letters to elected officials.
Use this New Year to move from talk to action! ‘Greetings Dear Scribe, this is Clio calling: have you met your muse?’
Copyright November 2017 by Theresa W. Bennett-Wilkes, all rights reserved.