Shaping our Creations, or Creating our Shapes

I am four months pregnant with my first child, and lately I’ve been thinking about keeping some kind of written record of this strange experience of being pregnant—a place to catalogue all the physical and mental challenges and joys I face each day. In thinking through this project, I’ve been particularly concerned about the shape this kind of writing would/could/should take. Should it follow an epistolary structure, and be addressed to my child? Should I address it to myself? To my husband?

I’ve thought, too, about following in the structural footsteps of Anne Lamott in her acerbic and wickedly honest memoir: Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son’s First Year. Lamott structures this memoir chronologically and sections are divided by date. Would this approach fit the type of writing I want to do? Perhaps dividing by month or trimester?

Or perhaps I might take my cue from a novel I’m currently immersed in: The Wives of Los Alamos by TaraShea Nesbit, who divides her tale by topic (Husbands, Winter, Letters, etc.).

All of these approaches are feasible and seem appropriate for my topic, but how to bite the bullet and choose just one?

Aside from content, tone, point of view, figurative language, and everything else writers have to make decisions about, structure/shape is perhaps one of the trickiest and, for me anyway, the most nerve-wracking. Whether writing fiction, nonfiction, or poetry, there are so many options available!

As writers, we are bound by no real rules anymore—punctuation, grammar, spelling, structure and more are all up for grabs. Creative license allows us the freedom to break rules, dabble in new modalities, ignore quotation marks around dialogue, and so on. This is liberating, as much as it is potentially unnerving. We are faced with a wide, open, beckoning field of options, and all of them are calling to us.

So, I’m curious: When do you make structural decisions about your work? At the beginning, middle, or end of the writing process? Throughout? Are there certain writers whose attention to and awareness of structure inspire you?

Or perhaps there are those of you for whom a shape emerges for your work organically, without thought or coaxing, as if no other shape would even make sense.

Does your structure emerge after long hours and laborious consideration, or appear in one easy push? (Bring on the pregnancy metaphors!)

And how do you know when the shape is the right one?

 

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The Writers Circle: Finding Your Voice

TWC
One of our goals here at Today’s Author is to help all of the writers among us to do what we love to do: write. One of the best ways to accomplish this is by talking to each other and learning from each other.  Our Writers Circle series is designed to do just that – provide a chance for us to discuss writing, editing and publishing questions.

This week’s topic is:

Each of us has a unique style in our writing, a personal method of telling our story. Often, we may find that readers as, “why don’t you write more like…” (insert a famous author’s name here) or “you write to similarly to…” (insert author’s name).  With the real or implied pressure to write like others but not too much like them, how have you been able to make your writing familiar enough that people can draw comparisons, but unique enough to be completely you?

Discuss this topic here in the comments or head on over to the forums to start or engage in a more thorough discussion.

The mechanics of effective writing

Much debate surrounds what effective writing is. Whilst I may side on the more free flowing functional style of writing, where words spill over one another in an attempt to convey a feeling, I nod with respect to those whose controlled sentence structure prance the grammatical lines with perfection. Irrespective of which side of the fence your writing may lean, being accurate with your vocabulary, spelling and punctuation is just as important as utilising the correct style and linking methods for a piece of writing.The intangible qualities of flair and creativity float uncertainly around the robotic mechanics of effective writing, but are as integral to it as the basic requirement of utilising a capital letter to begin the sentence.

Correct usage of grammar is important for both speaking and writing and something that native speakers of a language think little about. Its an easy trap for many emerging writers to write as they speak. Unfortunately, and perhaps a topic for future discussion, most people speak using simplistic grammar and incorrect sentence structure. When writing this down, every error stands out, which is why it’s essential to be familiar with the rules.

Vocabulary

The key for your message to be conveyed and understood by your audience is through the mindful choices of vocabulary. Overuse of niche acronyms, buzz words and slang may marginalise the appeal your writing has with a wider audience, but also may make it more appealing to specific groups.

Spelling

The English language has a number of strange spelling rules where the connection between how a word is spelled and how it is pronounced is less clear-cut than in many other languages. Whilst autocorrect can take care of many goofs, the dictionary, and its evil companion the Thesaurus aught to be desk-side pals in your writing arena.

Punctuation 

The correct usage of punctation marks helps the reader understand the intonation and meaning of the text. With so many amusing memes on the internet, I thought it more appropriate to  leave stressing the importance of punctuation to a pair of well-regarded writers.

“We have a language that is full of ambiguities; we have a way of expressing ourselves that is often complex and elusive, poetic and modulated; all our thoughts can be rendered with absolute clarity if we bother to put the right dots and squiggles between the words in the right places. Proper punctuation is both the sign and the cause of clear thinking. If it goes, the degree of intellectual impoverishment we face is unimaginable.” 

― Lynne Truss, Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation

“When speaking aloud, you punctuate constantly — with body language. Your listener hears commas, dashes, question marks, exclamation points, quotation marks as you shout, whisper, pause, wave your arms, roll your eyes, wrinkle your brow.

 In writing, punctuation plays the role of body language. It helps readers hear the way you want to be heard.” 

― Russell Baker

Linking 

Simply explained, linking is the glue which adheres all of your ideas into a cohesive text. Poorly formed paragraphing can distance and confuse the reader. Linking information across sentences and paragraphs develops an idea into a strong topic or argument.

Style 

There are a few guiding principals for written style and language used. The more formal the text or dialogue is, the more formal the language will be, the more likely it is to use passive structures and inanimate nouns as the subject of a sentence.  Conversely, the more informal or free flowing a piece of text is, the more likely it is to use verbal structures, active structures and humans as the subject of sentences.

The mechanics of writing covers the established conventions in which words are gathered together to convey meanings. Strong skills in the mechanics and grammar allows writers to get their message across in a clear and understandable way , but can still sound robotic. There is a fine line between being sentence perfect and losing the flair of spontaneous images.

When a reader encounters what they believe are mistakes, they will find more fault with your wiring, primarily through misinterpretation of your message, but in some cases, through frustration of being exposed to bad spelling, clumsy structure and poor grammar. It is important to remember that these mechanics are simply tools to mould words under our command. These tools help a writer beat and hammer out an idea and nail down a topic. It takes an artist to bring all the elements together to create something memorable, beautiful with words that touch the soul.