Tuesday, March 30, 2021



What's in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet

From Romeo & Juliet by Shakespeare


        What’s in a name?

        Actually, a lot. (Sorry, Juliet)


Depending on the type of story, character names can be allegorical, (rife with meaning alluding to their function, such as in biblical narratives) a play on class and setting, (think of just about any romance story) or a tickle to the funny bone.


There is overlap in these naming categories. I think Dickens played on the humorous as well as class distinctions. J. K. Rowling does the same with some of her characters. But no matter the intention, the effect is for a name to be evocative.


There are times where a story doesn’t call for strong and piercing name choices. But I would never waste the storyteller’s opportunity to make a tale come alive with banal choices like Dick and Jane, which, come to think of it, may have been chosen specifically for a banal effect. They are “every girl and every boy,” I suppose. Not characters in the sense writers aspire to create.


Some choices are personal, as in a grandma writing a story using her grandkids' names. As such, they are fine for self-publishing home consumption. I’ve written short stories using the names of my nearest and dearest, which have meaning to me only. But from some years’ distance, I can see that for general audiences I have wasted the opportunity to layer every word by not choosing in a writerly way.


So back to Juliet: Love who you love, my sweet, and let your names not keep you apart. But for certain know that William Shakespeare chose your names with care.

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Must Writers Feel Emotions Strongly?


One may ask the same question in the title^ about actors or fine artists. Where in the artistic process and being does emotionality fit?


Seems to me that the subject is not how much the creative person feels, but how much empathy they have for others' feelings. Unless the writing is entirely about self, the power to put oneself in another’s overalls is key.


In addition to enhanced empathy, there’s something called mirror-touch synesthesia, where others’ physical sensations are literally felt in one’s own body. Some quantified version of this is operative in good writing.


There is a price to pay for being an empath. Just take a look at artists. The talented ones cultivate ways to express what they sense, thus producing books, painting, and theater performances. But this comes after the first principal: feel another's joy but also devastation.


Ah, the joys of being human.

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

What Are Common Traps for Aspiring Writers?


The question is evident in plenty of interviews, posed to published authors. It’s a variation on “what would you tell your younger/pre-published self,” or “what advice would you give young’uns,” period.


I posit that the question itself is wrong. An “aspiring” writer is one who never writes but has a yearning to be a writer. Don’t’. Be. That.

We are what we do, truly. 

 If you write in a semi-regular way, you are not aspiring; you already are a writer. What the questioner means is “aspiring to be published.”


“Be published” in the passive tense, means someone else is publishing your writing. Self-publishing is not an aspiration, because it’s also something that is entirely in the writer’s hands and requires a credit card. Either you do it or you don’t. Don’t aspire; just do, if that’s the way for you.


Back to the title. My not humble enough view is that the most common trap for one who wishes (i.e. aspires) to write is they don’t do it.


Down with aspiration. Onwards with perspiration.

Tuesday, March 9, 2021

Talking to Younger Self


You’ve heard the question, no doubt. If you could tell your younger self anything, what would it be?

Process isn't just the thing. It’s everything.

I find it more relevant to tell my young’uns (the ones who are in my life and occasionally want to know what I think) that they are already living “the life.” This is it. Destination is the illusion. You never get there, unless by “there” you mean death, which we all get to.

It sounds grim but it isn’t. Goals are just a way to go, not a destination. This means there is no reality to the elation of reaching or deflation not achieving a goal, because we live on the road.

I know this feels counter intuitive to many who are raised to think of concrete goals.

Put another way, using the metaphor of a marathon for any goal— if I dream of becoming a marathon runner, the very act of training is the experience, the real thing. I will eventually run a marathon or not. Then the act of running is the thing. If I complete the marathon, that is the thing. If I don’t, I’m having that experience of something not completed, and it is the thing. In the rare event that I win the marathon, I’m experiencing that, and it’s the thing.

No matter what, I’m living the life. Younger self: this is it. The thing.

Tuesday, March 2, 2021

Does Writing Energize or Exhaust You?


A good friend who is a prolific reader but doesn’t write asked me a variation of the this post's title question.

Hers was more along the lines of “do you love to write?” or maybe “do you need to write to be happy?”

I thought of an answer one of my favorite authors gave to the question. Polly Horvath is a master whose prolific output would suggest she lives to write. When asked if she loves to write she said, “I love to have written.

That about sums it for me as well. Before any first-drafting day, no matter if it’s a novel or a picture book, I feel anxious in a vague way. I recognize this feeling as a sort of fear. Fear that I can’t, fear that I don’t have it in me, fear that if I don’t I never will again.

Then I sit down and write. After the day’s self-assigned output, I have a feeling of calm that I now recognize as a sort of peace. I might even liken it to a calm version of bliss.

So there it is: I love to have written.

It also answers the question in this post’s title. I am drained but also filled. I am exhausted and energized at once.

Anyone who confronts fear and comes out the other end knows this feeling.