March 13, 2018

Why do so many people sneer at writers? We seem to be fair game.

Posted in Creativity, Fiction Writing, music and writing, publication, Stages, Success tagged , , , at 9:30 am by Rebecca Hein

Long ago I learned not to tell most people that I liked to write. I loved it so much that I would probably have majored in creative writing, had the cello not grabbed me first. I became a dedicated hobby writer, and gradually certain projects took shape in my head until I knew I had to reserve at least some spare time for them.

Two episodes of jeering stand out in my memory from the time when I began to realize I was a serious writer, ambitious to get published and connect with readers.

The first revealed an ingrained, culturally sanctioned contempt for “unsuccessful” writers—those who work at their craft, want to be published, have a book manuscript or other large project to sell, and haven’t yet found a publisher. The second incident, much more shocking, showed that even another creative artist—a fellow musician—felt free to snipe and poke fun at what he imagined to be my foolish dreams.


March 6, 2018

A successful story; a flaw in the plot

Posted in Creativity, Fiction Writing, Flow, flow in writing, Harmony, Momentum in writing, music and writing, performance tagged , , , , , , , at 6:05 pm by Rebecca Hein

As we have seen, creative momentum can sweep the reader along, sometimes with such power that he or she doesn’t notice small faults in our plot or narrative. Since nobody can craft a story perfect in every technical detail, we need to generate this excitement to help our mission—to communicate the message that won’t leave us alone until we’ve at least tried to express it.

Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment is a good example of a story with a powerful message, embedded in a plot with at least one rather large flaw. How can the story succeed when the author obviously painted himself into a corner and, to escape it, has stretched the actions of one minor character beyond what’s plausible?

This contradiction—a compelling story with a significant flaw that doesn’t diminish the power of the narrative—has sent me back to the book several times, trying to figure out how the author did it.

In my own writing, I want the state of mind that can fire a brilliant story. As with my cello playing, I know that if I achieve total absorption for myself and my audience, they will be more likely to forget my small errors.

March 1, 2018

The passion behind your writing can compensate for small errors

Posted in Creativity, Depth, Fiction Writing, Flow, flow in writing, Momentum in writing, music and writing, Tone tagged , , , , , , , at 5:17 pm by Rebecca Hein

Experienced musicians know that if they enthrall the audience, small imperfections can’t ruin their performance. An absorbed listener doesn’t notice an occasional out-of-tune note, or forgets it in the excitement of the music.

It’s the same in literature; while writing, if we build enough creative momentum, occasional omissions or small holes in our plot may not matter.

This is not an argument for sloppiness. We can only achieve excellence if we work at it with all our energy. However, we can’t let that high standard box us into scrutinizing every detail of our narrative at the same time we could be searching for the deep place within ourselves where we accomplish our best work.

I’m convinced that Dostoyevsky discovered that profound well of creativity while writing Crime and Punishment.

February 22, 2018

Your state of mind while writing is crucial

Posted in Creativity, Fiction Writing, flow in writing, Literary Commentary, Momentum in writing, Tone tagged , , , , at 9:31 am by Rebecca Hein

What’s driving your state of mind while writing? This element of your work process can make or break your short story, novel, or nonfiction narrative. Both War and Peace and Crime and Punishment are excellent illustrations of this phenomenon.

It’s not too hard to guess what Tolstoy was thinking when he wrote War and Peace: “I want to make people think in a new way about history and the nature of power.” His vehicle, an epic historical novel, might have better fulfilled his mission if he’d kept to one genre throughout the story.

However, periodically he jumps out of the plot to deliver an essay on what power really is versus what we think it is, and how historical events prove his point. Thus, we find we’re reading two books in one: a novel about Napoleon’s invasions of Russia, and a string of nonfiction essays.

The novel is okay, though not the best ever written, despite the scope of the story. The essays are fine too, except they belong in a separate book. Possibly they would have more impact if presented in a collection of philosophical essays.

It’s obvious that Tolstoy had to express his convictions, and that the novel, as a literary form, couldn’t contain them. His failure to separate the two genres diluted them both.

Dostoyevsky also had strong convictions. But why would you want to slog through Crime and Punishment to discover the overriding conviction that clearly powered the book? Because the force of that one idea gives the story irresistible forward motion and absolute credibility.

February 14, 2018

War and Peace: Worth the Slog?

Posted in Fiction Writing, Literary Commentary tagged , , at 2:55 pm by Rebecca Hein

In a pithy commentary on perhaps the most long-winded composer in history, Italian composer Gioacchino Rossini (reputedly) said, “[Richard] Wagner has beautiful moments but terrible quarters of an hour.”

Perhaps other artists also inflict the same problem on their audiences, hence, the listener, viewer, or reader may not stay around, and shouldn’t be expected to.

When I recently re-read Tolstoy’s War and Peace, I wasn’t thinking about Wagner, although the book is long. Rather, I was curious: The blurb on the back cover claimed it is “the greatest novel ever written.” That felt like a red flag: I had to know if it was really that good—and why the story elicited a rave.

I remember from my first reading, 38 years ago, that by the end of the story, I felt like the characters had become members of my family. In addition, during my more recent second reading, I encountered an event so suspenseful that I couldn’t put the book down until the episode was resolved. How did Tolstoy render his character so real that I cared so much what happened to her?

It was a compelling moment—a little masterpiece. But to get there, I had to trudge through some confusion and a whole bunch of characters and their circumstances that sometimes seemed not quite connected to each other. What else did I discover was wrong, and right, about this epic historical novel?

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