Screw the Fear and Write On

“Screw the fear.” — Jo Leigh

Be it anxiety over acceptance, concerns about misrepresentation, or indecisiveness on whether to delete or send out your latest labor of love and pain, fear has a nasty way of creeping into the writing process, and if you can use it to your advantage by allowing it to heighten your awareness and commit to the page the precise thoughts and ideas that need to be expressed, so much the better. It’s when fear snaps shut like a bear trap on your mind and prohibits you from pushing the pen on paper that’s the problem.

I would tell you to forget the fear, but we both know sometimes that just isn’t an actionable solution. The best I can manage is to share with you what works for me: I simply acknowledge it. I tip my hat to fear, slog through the uncertainty and self-doubt that it carries in abundance, and I write. To myself. For myself. I write without thought of sharing it with anyone, without the intention of submitting it for publication. Since the act I engage in is so personal and integral to my understanding the world around me, I refuse to let fear have any say in what or how I write. I write what I feel must be written. No one else has to agree. Because if I don’t write my mind, my view of the world perishes when I no longer exist.

It’s my marker. My proof I was here.

But, should you choose not to heed me advice, perhaps you’ll listen to those talented few, listed below, who are graced with a turn of phrase that far surpasses my own.

Sally forth and be fear ignoringly writeful.

— Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

1. “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” ― Maya Angelou

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2. “Lock up your libraries if you like; but there is no gate, no lock, no bolt that you can set upon the freedom of my mind.” ― Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own

3. “You never have to change anything you got up in the middle of the night to write.” ― Saul Bellow

4. “Tomorrow may be hell, but today was a good writing day, and on the good writing days nothing else matters.” ― Neil Gaiman

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5. “A word after a word after a word is power.” — Margaret Atwood

6. “Start writing, no matter what. The water does not flow until the faucet is turned on.” ― Louis L’Amour

7. “Let me live, love and say it well in good sentences.” — Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar

8. “One of the few things I know about writing is this: Spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it, all, right away, every time. Do not hoard what seems good for a later place in the book, or for another book, give it, give it all, give it now.” — Annie Dillard

9. “The role of a writer is not to say what we can all say, but what we are unable to say.” — Anaïs Nin

10. “The scariest moment is always just before you start. After that, things can only get better.” — Stephen King, On Writing

The Immortality of a Storyteller

“I am a storyteller.

In the course of my life, I will write something — SOMETHING, that will grow in the mind of a person who reads it. It will shape them. Perhaps while I live, perhaps a hundred years from now. SOMETHING I do will alter the course of their life. Perhaps it will be a tiny stone in a river, or perhaps it will be like a boulder. I will encourage them to love a bit more, or to stand against the darkness that haunts them.

Because of me.

Because I was a little brave one day. Because some morning a sunrise opened my heart, or my beloved kissed me as she never had before. I will, in some small way, shape the future. Shape the world.

This is my immortality.”

~ J.M. Guillen

We Live and Breathe the Power of Words

I watched the trailer for the documentary “Salinger” on YouTube without meaning to. It was one of those ad-thingies that pop up before the content you actually want to watch. Normally I click SKIP AD, but this time I’m glad I didn’t. The doc professes to be “An unprecedented look inside the private world of J.D. Salinger, the reclusive author of The Catcher in the Rye.” and while I’m not the hugest fan of documentaries (a good deal of them are padded waaay too much to meet feature length requirements, in my opinion) I’ll probably give this one a go when it hits a theater near me.

But I digress…

The reason I brought this trailer up was because it spoke to me on the power words have to manipulate our emotions, provide the motivation to become better people and do great things, and sadly, sometimes to take us by the hand and lead us down darker paths.

You can never truly predict how someone will interpret your work, as words offer unique triggers in each of your readers’ minds. Ideas, concepts, situations, memories, actions, circumstances, feelings and thoughts vary as they flow from the subconscious mind to the corresponding emotional responses of the subject at hand.

I’d like to take a moment of your precious time and acknowledge the labors of wordsmiths by having them share their opinions on the power written words have over us all:

“Sometimes, you read a book and it fills you with this weird evangelical zeal, and you become convinced that the shattered world will never be put back together unless and until all living humans read the book.” ― John Green, The Fault in Our Stars

“We live and breathe words. It was books that made me feel that perhaps I was not completely alone. They could be honest with me, and I with them. Reading your words, what you wrote, how you were lonely sometimes and afraid, but always brave; the way you saw the world, its colors and textures and sounds, I felt–I felt the way you thought, hoped, felt, dreamt. I felt I was dreaming and thinking and feeling with you. I dreamed what you dreamed, wanted what you wanted–and then I realized that truly I just wanted you.” ― Cassandra Clare, Clockwork Prince

“I spent my life folded between the pages of books. In the absence of human relationships I formed bonds with paper characters. I lived love and loss through stories threaded in history; I experienced adolescence by association. My world is one interwoven web of words, stringing limb to limb, bone to sinew, thoughts and images all together. I am a being comprised of letters, a character created by sentences, a figment of imagination formed through fiction.” ― Tahereh Mafi, Shatter Me

“There is something about words. In expert hands, manipulated deftly, they take you prisoner. Wind themselves around your limbs like spider silk, and when you are so enthralled you cannot move, they pierce your skin, enter your blood, numb your thoughts. Inside you they work their magic.” ― Diane Setterfield, The Thirteenth Tale

“If I read a book and it makes my whole body so cold no fire can warm me, I know that is poetry. If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry. These are the only ways I know it. Is there any other way?” ― Emily Dickinson, Selected Letters

“But if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought.” ― George Orwell, 1984

“We seldom realize, for example that our most private thoughts and emotions are not actually our own. For we think in terms of languages and images which we did not invent, but which were given to us by our society.” ― Alan Wilson Watts

“There exists, for everyone, a sentence – a series of words – that has the power to destroy you. Another sentence exists, another series of words, that could heal you. If you’re lucky you will get the second, but you can be certain of getting the first.” ― Philip K. Dick, VALIS

“Words… They’re innocent, neutral, precise, standing for this, describing that, meaning the other, so if you look after them you can build bridges across incomprehension and chaos. But when they get their corners knocked off, they’re no good any more… I don’t think writers are sacred, but words are. They deserve respect. If you get the right ones in the right order, you can nudge the world a little or make a poem which children will speak for you when you’re dead.” ― Tom Stoppard, The Real Thing: A Play

“It doesn’t matter if you and everyone else in the room are thinking it. You don’t say the words. Words are weapons. They blast big bloody holes in the world. And words are bricks. Say something out loud and it starts turning solid. Say it loud enough and it becomes a wall you can’t get through.” ― Richard Kadrey, Kill the Dead

“To see evil and call it good, mocks God. Worse, it makes goodness meaningless. A word without meaning is an abomination, for when the word passes beyond understanding the very thing the word stands for passes out of the world and cannot be recalled.” ― Stephen R. Lawhead, Arthur

Sally forth and be writeful.

— Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

Swing Away, Merrill… Even If Every Editor Rejects Your Best Work

“Perseverance is the hard work you do after you get tired of doing the hard work you already did.” —– Newt Gingrich

Just yesterday I was chatting with a fellow writer who was in dire need of some commiseration. She had slaved over a story for nearly two years, rewriting draft after draft following feedback from writer friends, and polishing and refining it until she was not only happy with it but considered it her best work to date. And she wasn’t wrong. It’s a pretty damn solid story.

When it was old enough, she released the story from the nest and let it fly to her targeted list of the publishing houses a story of this type was properly suited for. It wasn’t her first time at the rodeo, so she knew precisely what she was doing.

Skip ahead past the anxiety filled months of the story crossing the desks of slush readers and editors to the point of contact, only to discover that her baby, the bestest story she’d ever produced, had been rejected by everyone on her list. Majors and minors alike. Which, of course, raised the question:

What does a writer do when they’ve put their all into a story and no one wants it?

The answer is obvious, and I’m sure you’re already thinking it before you’ve read it here:

You put your bestest, unwanted story away for later use, and you start writing again. Instead of moping and getting down on yourself and allowing them pesky writing demons to take up valuable real estate in your head, start your next project. And it doesn’t have to be some laboriously over-complicated piece. If you’ve got something easy-breezy on the back burner, something you can bang out relatively quickly, why not give it a go? A sort of cleansing of the palate before your next magnum opus–and there will be another magnum opus, trust me on this.

My old man was a fountain of homespun wisdom and one of his favorites was, “nothing beats failure like a try.” And he was right. Perseverance trumps rejection. That’s the advice I gave my friend and that’s the advice I’m giving you. Since she’s a diehard Mets fan—-a trait she shares with my mother—-I tried delivering it with my best baseball analogy:

When you submit your work, you’re like a hitter crowding the plate in order to have a better swing at pitches on the outside half of the plate. Rejection slips are the brushback pitches, fastballs coming at you high and inside, designed to intimidate and force you away from the plate. If they make you quit the game, you didn’t really come to the stadium to play ball. And sometimes opportunity also comes at you high and tight, so, swing away, Merrill. Merrill, swing away.

Of course she laughed at this because she knows I don’t know squat about baseball and my analogy stunk, but it lifted her spirit so despite looking like an idiot, job well done, I’d say.

Well, it’s half past wrap up time, but you know me, as long as there are famous authors to quote, I never travel alone. They’ll take the mic in a second and talk to you a bit about rejection—sans the baseball references, i promise. Until next time…

Sally forth and be writeful.

— Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

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“If you’re going to try, go all the way. Otherwise, don’t even start. This could mean losing girlfriends, wives, relatives and maybe even your mind. It could mean not eating for three or four days. It could mean freezing on a park bench. It could mean jail. It could mean derision. It could mean mockery–isolation. Isolation is the gift. All the others are a test of your endurance, of how much you really want to do it. And, you’ll do it, despite rejection and the worst odds. And it will be better than anything else you can imagine. If you’re going to try, go all the way. There is no other feeling like that. You will be alone with the gods, and the nights will flame with fire. You will ride life straight to perfect laughter. It’s the only good fight there is.” — Charles Bukowski, Factotum

“Was I bitter? Absolutely. Hurt? You bet your sweet ass I was hurt. Who doesn’t feel a part of their heart break at rejection. You ask yourself every question you can think of, what, why, how come, and then your sadness turns to anger. That’s my favorite part. It drives me, feeds me, and makes one hell of a story.” — Jennifer Salaiz

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“Over the years, I have come to realize that the greatest trap in our life is not success, popularity, or power, but self-rejection. Success, popularity, and power can indeed present a great temptation, but their seductive quality often comes from the way they are part of the much larger temptation to self-rejection. When we have come to believe in the voices that call us worthless and unlovable, then success, popularity, and power are easily perceived as attractive solutions. The real trap, however, is self-rejection. As soon as someone accuses me or criticizes me, as soon as I am rejected, left alone, or abandoned, I find myself thinking, “Well, that proves once again that I am a nobody.” … [My dark side says,] I am no good… I deserve to be pushed aside, forgotten, rejected, and abandoned. Self-rejection is the greatest enemy of the spiritual life because it contradicts the sacred voice that calls us the “Beloved.” Being the Beloved constitutes the core truth of our existence.” — Henri J.M. Nouwen

“I love my rejection slips. They show me I try.” — Sylvia Plath

“You have to know how to accept rejection and reject acceptance.” — Ray Bradbury

Related articles:

Taking It On The Chin: The Graceful Art Of Accepting Rejection
Wanna Succeed as a Writer? Buddy Up to Failure, it’s the Best Friendship You’ll Ever Make
Fending Off Them Pesky Writing Demons

Writing Style Is the Dress of Thoughts

Parsing prose. Syntactical structure. Conceptual framework. Your writing style is the voice you use to speak to your audience and is more than just diction and the words you choose, as it offers a glimpse at your true personality. It takes the literal and transforms it into a subjective expression that evokes an emotional response from the reader.

As to how you develop a writing style… you write. Write what comes natural to you. Write without worrying about acceptance or being published. Write without concentrating on influences. But you’ve heard me bang on about this already, so I invited a few friends to help get you into the proper frame of mind:

1. “A good style must, first of all, be clear. It must not be mean or above the dignity of the subject. It must be appropriate.” — Aristotle

2. “Don’t say you were a bit confused and sort of tired and a little depressed and somewhat annoyed. Be tired. Be confused. Be depressed. Be annoyed. Don’t hedge your prose with little timidities. Good writing is lean and confident.” — William Zinsser

3. “Carefully examined, a good–an interesting–style will be found to consist in a constant succession of tiny, unobservable surprises.” — Ford Maddox Ford

4. “A good style should show no sign of effort. What is written should seem a happy accident.” — W. Somerset Maugham

5. “A strict and succinct style is that, where you can take away nothing with­out loss, and that loss to be manifest.” — Ben Jonson

6. “The hardest thing about writing, in a sense, is not writing. I mean, the sentence is not intended to show you off, you know. It is not supposed to be “look at me!” “Look, no hands!” It’s supposed to be a pipeline between the reader and you. Once condition of the sentence is to write so well that no one notices that you’re writing.” — James Baldwin

7. “The greatest possible mint of style is to make the words absolutely disappear into the thought.” — Nathaniel Hawthorne

8. “When you say something, make sure you have said it. The chances of your having said it are only fair.” — E.B. White

9. “I am well aware that an addiction to silk underwear does not necessarily imply that one’s feet are dirty. Nonetheless, style, like sheer silk, too often hides eczema.” — Albert Camus

10. “It was from Handel that I learned that style consists in force of assertion. If you can say a thing with one stroke, unanswerably you have style; if not, you are at best a marchande de plaisir, a decorative litterateur, or a musical confectioner, or a painter of fans with cupids and coquettes. Handel had power.” — George Bernard Shaw

11. “Who cares what a man’s style is, so it is intelligible, as intelligible as his thought. Literally and really, the style is no more than the stylus, the pen he writes with; and it is not worth scraping and polishing, and gilding, unless it will write his thoughts the better for it. It is something for use, and not to look at.” — Henry David Thoreau

12. “People think that I can teach them style. What stuff it all is! Have something to say, and say it as clearly as you can. That is the only secret of style.” — Matthew Arnold

13. “Style is the dress of thoughts; and let them be ever so just, if your style is homely, coarse, and vulgar, they will appear to as much disadvantage.” — Philip Dormer Stanhope, Earl of Chesterfield

14. “A man’s style should be like his dress. It should be as unobtrusive and should attract as little attention as possible.” — C. E. M. Joad

15. “The style is the man himself.” — George-Louis Leclerc de Buffon

16. “The old saying of Buffon’s that style is the man himself is as near the truth as we can get–but then most men mistake grammar for style, as they mistake correct spelling for words or schooling for education.” — Samuel Butler

17. “When we see a natural style, we are astonished and delighted; for we expected to see an author, and we find a man.” — Blaise Pascal

18. “Style is the hallmark of a temperament stamped upon the material at hand.” — Andre Maurois

19. “The essence of a sound style is that it cannot be reduced to rules–that it is a living and breathing thing with something of the devilish in it–that it fits its proprietor tightly yet ever so loosely, as his skin fits him. It is, in fact, quite as seriously an integral part of him as that skin is. . . . In brief, a style is always the outward and visible symbol of a man, and cannot be anything else.” — H.L. Mencken

20. “You do not create a style. You work, and develop yourself; your style is an emanation from your own being.” — Katherine Anne Porter

21. “Style is the perfection of a point of view.” — Richard Eberhart

22. “Where there is no style, there is in effect no point of view. There is, essentially, no anger, no conviction, no self. Style is opinion, hung washing, the caliber of a bullet, teething beads.” — Alexander Theroux

23. “Style is that which indicates how the writer takes himself and what he is saying. It is the mind skating circles around itself as it moves forward.” — Robert Frost

24. “What’s important is the way we say it. Art is all about craftsmanship. Others can interpret craftsmanship as style if they wish. Style is what unites memory or recollection, ideology, sentiment, nostalgia, presentiment, to the way we express all that. It’s not what we say but how we say it that matters.” — Federico Fellini

25. “Proper words in proper places, make the true definition of style.” — Jonathan Swift

26. “The web, then, or the pattern, a web at once sensuous and logical, an elegant and pregnant texture: that is style.” — Robert Louis Stevenson

27. “The most durable thing in writing is style, and style is the most valuable investment a writer can make with his time. It pays off slowly, your agent will sneer at it, your publisher will misunderstand it, and it will take people you have never heard of to convince them by slow degrees that the writer who puts his individual mark on the way he writes will always pay off.” — Raymond Chandler

28. “The style of an author should be the image of his mind, but the choice and command of language is the fruit of exercise.” — Edward Gibbon

29. “One arrives at style only with atrocious effort, with fanatical and devoted stubbornness.” — Gustave Flaubert

30. “To me style is just the outside of content, and content the inside of style, like the outside and the inside of the human body. Both go together, they can’t be separated.” — Jean-Luc Godard

31. “Thought and speech are inseparable from each other. Matter and expression are parts of one; style is a thinking out into language.” — Cardinal John Henry Newman

32. “In matters of grave importance, style, not sincerity, is the vital thing.” — Oscar Wilde

33. “Style, in its finest sense, is the last acquirement of the educated mind; it is also the most useful. It pervades the whole being.” — Alfred North Whitehead

34. “Style is not something applied. It is something that permeates. It is of the nature of that in which it is found, whether the poem, the manner of a god, the bearing of a man. It is not a dress.” — Wallace Stevens

35. “All my stories are webs of style and none seems at first blush to contain much kinetic matter. . . . For me ‘style’ is matter.” — Vladimir Nabokov

And if I may tack on a few extras pieces of advice: don’t forget to take risks, give voice to that quirkiness of thought that you possess, avoid clichés, if at all possible, be concise and precise, and develop a keen sense of word choice.

Oh, and be patient. Style is a thing that can’t be rushed and it might take a while for yours to become evident, but you’ll know when it finally arrives. Words will flow easier, you’ll feel more comfortable with the act of writing, and you’ll be able to recognize that identifiable cadence that belongs to only one person in the world… you.

Sally forth and be writeful… in style.

— Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

Writers Are Defined by the Words They Use

“In the most basic way, writers are defined not by the stories they tell, or their politics, or their gender, or their race, but by the words they use. Writing begins with language, and it is in that initial choosing, as one sifts through the wayward lushness of our wonderful mongrel English, that choice of vocabulary and grammar and tone, the selection on the palette, that determines who’s sitting at that desk. Language creates the writer’s attitude toward the particular story he’s decided to tell.” — Donald E. Westlake

Annie Proulx Suggests You Live Before You Write

Spend some time living before you start writing. What I find to be very bad advice is the snappy little sentence, “Write what you know.” It is the most tiresome and stupid advice that could possibly be given. If we write simply about what we know we never grow. We don’t develop any facility for languages, or an interest in others, or a desire to travel and explore and face experience head-on. We just coil tighter and tighter into our boring little selves. What one should write about is what interests one.

Frank Conroy: “The Author Makes A Tacit Deal with the Reader”

The author makes a tacit deal with the reader. You hand them a backpack. You ask them to place certain things in it—to remember, to keep in mind — as they make their way up the hill. If you hand them a yellow Volkswagen and they have to haul this to the top of the mountain—to the end of the story—and they find that this Volkswagen has nothing whatsoever to do with your story, you’re going to have a very irritated reader on your hands.

John Fowles on the Psyche-Consuming Business of Writing

  1. There are only two races on this planet – the intelligent and the stupid.
  2. There comes a time in each life like a point of fulcrum. At that time you must accept yourself. It is not any more what you will become. It is what you are and always will be.
  3. The most important questions in life can never be answered by anyone except oneself.
  4. We all write poems; it is simply that poets are the ones who write in words.
  5. You may think novelists always have fixed plans to which they work, so that the future predicted by Chapter One is always inexorably the actuality of Chapter Thirteen. But novelists write for countless different reasons: for money, for fame, for reviewers, for parents, for friends, for loved ones; for vanity, for pride, for curiosity, for amusement: as skilled furniture makers enjoy making furniture, as drunkards like drinking, as judges like judging, as Sicilians like emptying a shotgun into an enemy’s back. I could fill a book with reasons, and they would all be true, though not true of all. Only one same reason is shared by all of us: we wish to create worlds as real as, but other than the world that is. Or was. This is why we cannot plan. We know a world is an organism, not a machine.
  6. There are many reasons why novelists write, but they all have one thing in common – a need to create an alternative world.
  7. That was the tragedy. Not that one man had the courage to be evil. But that millions had not the courage to be good.
  8. Wealth is a monster. It takes a month to learn to control it financially. And many years to learn to control it psychologically.
  9. I think all the arts draw on a nostalgia or longing for a better world—at root a better metaphysical condition—than the one that is. Self-destructive, I don’t know, but certainly we are all victims of some form of manic depression. That is the price of being what we are. I would never choose—even if I could!—to be a more “normal” human being; I would never choose something without that emotional cost, severe though it can become.
  10. Writing novels is a time-consuming, psyche-consuming business. I mean I don’t think a good teacher actually would be likely to write good novels.
  11. What interests me about novelists as a species is the obsessiveness of the activity, the fact that novelists have to go on writing. I think that probably must come from a sense of the irrecoverable. In every novelist’s life there is some more acute sense of loss than with other people, and I suppose I must have felt that. I didn’t realize it, I suppose, till the last ten or fifteen years. In fact you have to write novels to begin to understand this. There’s a kind of backwardness in the novel…an attempt to get back to a lost world.
  12. If a novelist isn’t in exile I suspect he’d be in trouble.

Have No Unreasonable Fear of Repetition

Have no unreasonable fear of repetition. True, the repetition of a particular word several times in the same paragraph can strike a jarring note, but ordinarily the problem arises differently. The story is told of a feature writer who was doing a piece on the United Fruit Company. He spoke of bananas once; he spoke of bananas twice; he spoke of bananas yet a third time, and now he was desperate. “The world’s leading shippers of the elongated yellow fruit,” he wrote. A fourth banana would have been better. — James J. Kilpatrick