Friday, October 10, 2008

Write Lofty and Carry a Big Chisel

Like other construction workers, we creators of word worlds own toolboxes filled with necessary implements. We have hooks to hook the reader, glue to glue their attention, a feather or two to tickle their funny bones.

We find nails to nail our points and hammers to hammer them home. We find nuts and bolts to connect our story elements and trowels with which to lay a concrete foundation. And we find pliers for getting the attention of agents and editors, because we all know that task is as difficult and painful as pulling out our own teeth. (Word of caution: Do not use pliers on said agents/editors. They might take offense and refuse to look at your work.)

We need awls and augers (maybe even augurs) to poke holes in our inflated prose, and we need saws to cut away the deadwood. And we definitely need screwdrivers to screw up our courage and we need screwdrivers to drown our sorrows when agents/editors/critics shoot us down again. (A bulletproof vest would also come in handy, but they are too bulky to fit in the box, and besides, they make our clothes fit funny.)

But the most important and versatile tool of all is the chisel. We can use it to knock the chip off our shoulders. Perhaps you're right and agents/editors are idiots who can't recognize good prose. But perhaps they are idiots who can recognize good prose, and you're not writing it yet. (Notice I say you? I, of course, write excellent prose. Agents/editors just don't recognize my good prose when they see it.)

Chisels will help keep criticism and compliments at more than arm's length. Too much criticism can kill creativity; too many compliments may keep us from improving. And we can all improve. A chisel will help pare away verbiage, those superfluous words and elements that blunt the clear lines of our prose. For example, I chiseled away excess from the phrase excess verbiage, since it's redundant. Verbiage by definition is excess.

And a chisel will help us shape our story into a world so vital and inviting readers won't be able to tear themselves away.

So, let's open our toolboxes and get to work

You first.


When the traditional publishers stopped publishing Pat Bertram's favorite type of book -- character and story driven novels that can't easily be slotted into a genre -- she decided to write her own. Bertram's first two novels, More Deaths Than One and A Spark of Heavenly Fire, will be published later this year by Second Wind Publishing. Bertram's Blog includes posts on all aspects of the literary life from inspiration to editing, from rejection to reward. In addition to Bertram's own essays, this blog regularly welcomes guest contributors to share the stories of their craft.

Bertram's Blog --;
Bertram's Website --


Marta Stephens said...

Welcome, Pat!! Yes the chisel. Well said. So often we writers fall in love with our words or a particular phrase and ruin the scene because we can't see it doesn't add to the plot.

I never completely delete my discarded work though. I save it because what doesn't work in this chapter or book, might in another.

Thanks so much for stopping by.

Aaron Paul Lazar said...

Pat, I loved this piece so much when you posted it on Bertram's Blog that I had to have it for the Murder by 4 collection! Thanks so much for your generosity and for being our guest today. ;o)

Jodi Lee (Morrighan) said...

Excellent, excellent post, Pat. I've added a chisel to my Christmas list. ;)

Kim Smith said...

Great way to look at things, Pat. I couldn't agree more!

Pat Bertram said...

Thank you for having me as a guest on your blog. I am honored. And thrilled -- it's my first public appearance as an author!

Deborah J Ledford said...

Great article, Pat. Your advice is so important to writers. To be objective (and brave) enough to chisel away all unnecessary elements results in sharp, tight prose. I look forward to your releases with Second Wind. Congratulations!

Anonymous said...

Very, very good piece, written by someone who is dedicated to their craft and not blinded by self-regard. I wish there were more posts like this: practical and forged by hard-won experience.

Write on...

Anonymous said...

This is the best post I read all day! I'd spend more time reading blogs if they were all as articulate.

Anonymous said...

I see Jane added her kudos. I generally agree with everything she says, and OMG this is no exception!