Our Writerly Roundup blog series features a curated collection of articles on the craft of writing and the creative life that we don’t want you to miss.
On Taking the Plunge into Writing Again After Having Children, Anjali Enjeti (@anjalienjeti), Brevity
How do you dive into writing again after spending so many years in the middle of motherhood? In those early years of child rearing, mothers are trying to raise kids and keep some room for their creative time. Enjeti explains:
Sleep deprivation and interminable household chores sapped my creative energy, stalled my writing career, whittled down my ability to concentrate on anything except the short, rhyming passages of Goodnight Moon. I’d been writing in earnest, daily, through three pregnancies (and three more ending in miscarriage), years of nursing and diapering, countless hours of consoling and rocking and placating in every way imaginable.
Enjeti planned a retreat to infuse some life into her writing practice and headed to Chattahoochee National Forest for solitude and a place to seek refuge.
I rolled out of bed one bright summer morning, pulled on sweatpants, and hopped in our family minivan, an enormous, echoing cavern without my toddler, Kindergartner and second grader in tow
A thick canopy of braided branches shaded the ground. Fat maple leaves covered the path like a carpet. Frogs leapt from stream bank to stream bank. Butterflies sawed the air with their mosaic wings.
Within minutes, a sense of equilibrium eased the tension in my shoulders, neck, and back. Even my jaw, with its stubborn, years-long clench, released.
The epiphany Enjeti learns on her retreat will likely resonate with other mother-writers too.
Before taking this trip, I assumed that if I worked hard enough at my craft — on drafting and revising and polishing and submitting — I’d be the kind of writer I’d always dreamed of. But writing is an act, creativity a state of mind, and a writer’s devotion to the exercise of getting words down on the page must be rivaled by the commitment to nurture the emotional self.
I had failed to protect and preserve the psychic space I needed to thrive creatively while parenting. Meeting my daily word count goal failed to resolve the main issue plaguing my work — uninspired, lackluster prose.
Writing isn’t a singular process. It involves not only the writing, but taking care of yourself, whether that means exercising, sitting in solitude, meditating, or doing what helps you to be in a better place to put pen to paper.
The Invisible Forces That Make Writing Work, Roger Rosenblatt, New York Times
When you experience a good writing day, do you often wonder where those words comes from? Roger Rosenblatt talks about those invisible forces.
The same is true of writing. You come up with an image, phrase or sentence. Your head snaps back, and you say to yourself, Where did that come from?! I’m not talking about automatic writing, though that may be part of it. I mean the entire range of invisible forces that produce and affect the work. There are things the writer sees that the reader does not; things the reader sees that the writer does not; and things neither of us ever sees.
Good writers lull the reader into thinking the essay or novel is an effortless endeavor. The reader is never privy to the behind-the-scenes process or countless drafts.
The reader does not recognize the work (what writers call “work”) that goes into the choices we fiddle with and blunder into before landing on the right ones. That’s as it should be.
The inverse is also true. The reader has a perspective that is only visible to him or her. When a writer releases work into the world, the reader feels the impact of this reading experience. The author will likely not know the inner ramifications for a reader.
What does the reader see that’s invisible to the writer? Mainly, his or her own life. You write a book and send it into space. Go, little book. You have no idea where it lands — what effects it will have on a reader, who is invisible to you. There is that lovely moment for a writer when someone will say, Your book changed my life.
The relationship between the writer and reader is one that is filled with intangibles and unexpected (and not always visible) threads at work.
Tips for Aspiring Op-Ed Writers, Bret Stephens (@BretStephensNYT), New York Times
Op-eds are a powerful way to express a point of view. Bret Stephens emphasizes that readers have a choice to abandon a piece and as a result the writer has a small window to get his or her audience’s attention.
A wise editor once observed that the easiest decision a reader can make is to stop reading. This means that every sentence has to count in grabbing the reader’s attention, starting with the first. Get to the point: Why does your topic matter? Why should it matter today? And why should the reader care what you, of all people, have to say about it?
An op-ed cannot straddle two sides. It has to advocate a position. Stephens encourages writers to commit to a particular stance.
The purpose of an op-ed is to offer an opinion. It is not a news analysis or a weighing up of alternative views. It requires a clear thesis, backed by rigorously marshaled evidence, in the service of a persuasive argument. Harry Truman once quipped that he wished he could hire only one-handed economists — just to get away from their “on the one hand, on the other” advice. Op-ed pages are for one-handed writers.
Essential advice for writing an op-ed resides in inhabiting an active voice, but still remaining humble.
Avoid the passive voice. Write declarative sentences. Delete useless or weasel words such as “apparently,” “understandable” or “indeed.” Project a tone of confidence, which is the middle course between diffidence and bombast.
Belaboring a particular word, a sentence or paragraph is a prime way to tackle an op-ed piece and Stephens recommends fixating on details.
Sweat the small stuff. Read over each sentence — read it aloud — and ask yourself: Is this true? Can I defend every single word of it? Did I get the facts, quotes, dates and spellings exactly right? Yes, sometimes those spellings are hard: the president of Turkmenistan is Gurbanguly Malikguliyevich Berdymukhammedov. But, believe me, nothing’s worse than having to run a correction.
For those wanting to try an op-ed for the first time or established writers who need a refresher course, the advice in this piece is practical and helpful.
What is the Theme of Your Story? A Guide for Authors, Reedsy (@ReedsyHQ)
When your talking about your novel or short story, a common question arises: What is your book or piece about? Reedsy has helpful advice on tackling theme and a handy infographic to dissect how plot, story and character drive the main impetus for the work.
The way you answer the question of “what is your book about” quickly reveals your perception of your book’s themes. After all, your story needs to be about something and by identifying its themes, you can equip yourself with a compass that shows you what’s important in your story. It will guide you towards creating moments that resonate with readers, making your entire book that much more compelling.
Sometimes writers spend countless months trying to reinvent or push for a unique perspective, but a theme doesn’t necessarily need to be original.
Just as there are countless books that deal with love and death, there are as many ways to flip these concepts over on their sides. You could write about love for decades and never run out of unique perspectives: Is love a transformative power? Can a person really love more than one person? Is our concept of love determined by our specific culture? And so on…
When approaching theme, the writer has a choice to begin writing with an idea in mind, writing a draft and seeing what emerges, or ignore themes altogether. Whatever the writer chooses to do, a theme is meant to enhance a novel or short story.
You shouldn’t be losing sleep over the theme of a book you’re writing. Despite any pressure to ensure your book has a thematic thread, being able to articulate what your book is about will guide your rewrites.
Embrace freedom in your writing – your work may or may not have an identifiable theme. It is your choice.
What We’re Reading This Summer, The Atlantic
I love book lists and as summer winds down I am wondering if any of these suggestions are in your reading pile. I liked the variety in this list – everything from The Book of Joan by Lidia Yuknavitch to The Rules Do Not Apply by Ariel Levy. Did any of these books make your list and what one book would you recommend? Please leave your suggestions in the comments.
Have you read a compelling article about craft or the creative life that you think should appear in the next Writerly Roundup? Please send links to lmblogcontact (at) literarymama (dot) com—we’d love to hear your input!