We are going to be sad. So we do sad things. We sit in the dark and listen to sad music. We write sad things in notebooks and blogs decorated in dark colours. We do this; and we feel sad. We do these things and we feel this way. Because when we are sad. We just want to be sad.
And it is okay. It’s okay to be sad. It’s okay to do all those things. It’s okay to WANT to be sad. As long as you know that you’re not going to be sad forever. Sure. Bad things happen and that can be shitty. And shitty as it may be. We cannot let ourselves fall into this pattern or routine of sadness. Because suddenly, you’re twenty-three years old and all you have felt is recurring sadness and you have dwelled upon it for so long that you can’t remember what it is like to feel something less heavy on your shoulders. But it’s okay. It’s always been okay. You’ve had those moments; those sad songs, those sad notes, those sad pictures and words and you have felt better in between them. In between the dark and cold nights. You have felt the warmth of the sun. You have heard the comfort in music and witnessed the beauty of the human soul.
It is because you have felt these things that you are allowed to want to be sad.
You’re going to be fine.
What word was used before “selfie” was a thing
Self portrait. That could be the term you’re searching for.
The pain you have felt has hurt for so long that it no longer feels like pain. Instead, you’re left with this numbness that can only be cured by more numbness. You need to feel more to feel less.
You used to fear death, the thought of killing yourself scared you like the dark corner of the house when no one is home; you know there’s nothing there - but you want to know for sure. These thoughts were dangerous…
You would sleep with music on all night because it filled your head with voices other than your own. If you couldn’t hear yourself think, then you couldn’t have those thoughts. Those thoughts that told you that you weren’t good enough - that waking up wasn’t worth the effort it took. You would give anything to feel nothing.
You soon learned that your misery was not something that could be cut out of you, you could not extract it from your arm like a tumor. You could not unravel sadness like sutures gently threaded through patchwork skin.
Your sadness was not poetic and death was not a warm fire to come home to. It was a constant hand on your shoulder reminding you of the dark corner of the house. But the sun is rising soon. The light is coming.
She was my night’s sky in the winter, the cold wrapped it’s fingers around my throat and dragged the warmth out from my lungs. The city lights ate away at the galaxies dancing above us. It was never truly dark.
Spring would come and the days would eat away at the night. The flowers would bloom and the fingers around my throat would lose their grasp. But she was still my night’s sky. There was just less of her.
By summer, the cold was a distant memory and I no longer missed the night’s sky. I was poisoned by the sun on my skin and the wind in my hair. I slept through the night with the curtains drawn.
The leaves fell like ashes and the sun set fire to the horizon as it fell. The night grew cold and I could feel the icy fingers luring me home. The stars struggled and faded into black above the burning city.
She was my night’s sky, she was beautiful. But she was empty.
In six seconds, you’ll hate me.
But in six months, you’ll be a better writer.
From this point forward—at least for the next half year—you may not use “thought” verbs. These include: Thinks, Knows, Understands, Realizes, Believes, Wants, Remembers, Imagines, Desires, and a hundred others you love to use.
The list should also include: Loves and Hates.
And it should include: Is and Has, but we’ll get to those later.
Until some time around Christmas, you can’t write: Kenny wondered if Monica didn’t like him going out at night…”
Instead, you’ll have to Un-pack that to something like: “The
mornings after Kenny had stayed out, beyond the last bus, until he’d had to bum a ride or pay for a cab and got home to find Monica faking sleep, faking because she never slept that quiet, those mornings, she’d only put her own cup of coffee in the microwave. Never his.”
Instead of characters knowing anything, you must now present the details that allow the reader to know them. Instead of a character wanting something, you must now describe the thing so that the reader wants it.
Instead of saying: “Adam knew Gwen liked him.” You’ll have to say: “Between classes, Gwen had always leaned on his locker when he’d go to open it. She’s roll her eyes and shove off with one foot, leaving a black-heel mark on the painted metal, but she also left the smell of her perfume. The combination lock would still be warm from her butt. And the next break, Gwen would be leaned there, again.”
In short, no more short-cuts. Only specific sensory detail: action, smell, taste, sound, and feeling.
Typically, writers use these “thought” verbs at the beginning of a paragraph (In this form, you can call them “Thesis Statements” and I’ll rail against those, later). In a way, they state the intention of the paragraph. And what follows, illustrates them.
“Brenda knew she’d never make the deadline. was backed up from the bridge, past the first eight or nine exits. Her cell phone battery was dead. At home, the dogs would need to go out, or there would be a mess to clean up. Plus, she’d promised to water the plants for her neighbor…”
Do you see how the opening “thesis statement” steals the thunder of what follows? Don’t do it.
If nothing else, cut the opening sentence and place it after all the others. Better yet, transplant it and change it to: Brenda would never make the deadline.
Thinking is abstract. Knowing and believing are intangible. Your story will always be stronger if you just show the physical actions and details of your characters and allow your reader to do the thinking and knowing. And loving and hating.
Don’t tell your reader: “Lisa hated Tom.”
Instead, make your case like a lawyer in court, detail by detail.
Present each piece of evidence. For example: “During roll call, in the breath after the teacher said Tom’s name, in that moment before he could answer, right then, Lisa would whisper-shout ‘Butt Wipe,’ just as Tom was saying, ‘Here’.”
One of the most-common mistakes that beginning writers make is leaving their characters alone. Writing, you may be alone. Reading, your audience may be alone. But your character should spend very, very little time alone. Because a solitary character starts thinking or worrying or wondering.
For example: Waiting for the bus, Mark started to worry about how long the trip would take…”
A better break-down might be: “The schedule said the bus would come by at noon, but Mark’s watch said it was already 11:57. You could see all the way down the road, as far as the Mall, and not see a bus. No doubt, the driver was parked at the turn-around, the far end of the line, taking a nap. The driver was kicked back, asleep, and Mark was going to be late. Or worse, the driver was drinking, and he’d pull up drunk and charge Mark seventy-five cents for death in a fiery traffic accident…”
A character alone must lapse into fantasy or memory, but even then you can’t use “thought” verbs or any of their abstract relatives.
Oh, and you can just forget about using the verbs forget and remember.
No more transitions such as: “Wanda remembered how Nelson used to brush her hair.”
Instead: “Back in their sophomore year, Nelson used to brush her hair with smooth, long strokes of his hand.”
Again, Un-pack. Don’t take short-cuts.
Better yet, get your character with another character, fast.
Get them together and get the action started. Let their actions and words show their thoughts. You—stay out of their heads.
And while you’re avoiding “thought” verbs, be very wary about using the bland verbs “is” and “have.”
“Ann’s eyes are blue.”
“Ann has blue eyes.”
“Ann coughed and waved one hand past her face, clearing the cigarette smoke from her eyes, blue eyes, before she smiled…”
Instead of bland “is” and “has” statements, try burying your details of what a character has or is, in actions or gestures. At its most basic, this is showing your story instead of telling it.
And forever after, once you’ve learned to Un-pack your characters, you’ll hate the lazy writer who settles for: “Jim sat beside the telephone, wondering why Amanda didn’t call.”
Please. For now, hate me all you want, but don’t use thought verbs. After Christmas, go crazy, but I’d bet money you won’t.
For this month’s homework, pick through your writing and circle every “thought” verb. Then, find some way to eliminate it. Kill it by Un-packing it.
Then, pick through some published fiction and do the same thing. Be ruthless.
“Marty imagined fish, jumping in the moonlight…”
“Nancy recalled the way the wine tasted…”
“Larry knew he was a dead man…”
Find them. After that, find a way to re-write them. Make them stronger.
I need to go back to school.
My learning is ofwficially insignificant. My writing minor and all those classes do not make me as qualified as reading this has.
…It’s something to try. If the technique works for you, use it. If it doesn’t, toss it over your shoulder and try something else. All the writing advice out there is like a huge virtual hardware store, and all of us who’re concerned about leaning to do what we do better are wandering up and down the aisles together, looking for the tools that will work for us. There are a thousand thousand ways to write well, no two of them exactly alike, and neither are the tools used in the work. So pull techniques off the racks, try them out, see if they perform as advertised. Then get to work…
When you are 13 years old,
the heat will be turned up too high
and the stars will not be in your favor.
You will hide behind a bookcase
with your family and everything left behind.
You will pour an ocean into a diary.
When they find you, you will be nothing
but a spark above a burning bush,
still, tell them
Despite everything, I really believe people are good at heart.
When you are 14,
a voice will call you to greatness.
When the doubters call you crazy, do not listen.
They don’t know the sound
of their own God’s whisper. Use your armor,
use your sword, use your two good hands.
Do not let their doubting
drown out the sound of your own heartbeat.
You are the Maid of Untamed Patriotism.
Born to lead armies into victory and unite a nation
like a broken heart.
When you are 15, you will be punished
for learning too proudly. A man
will climb onto your school bus and insist
your sisters name you enemy.
When you do not hide,
he will point his gun at your temple
and fire three times. Three years later,
in an ocean of words, with no apologies,
you will stand before the leaders of the world
and tell them your country is burning.
When you are 16 years old,
you will invent science fiction.
The story of a man named Frankenstein
and his creation. Soon after you will learn
that little girls with big ideas are more terrifying
than monsters, but don’t worry.
You will be remembered long after
they have put down their torches.
When you are 17 years old,
you will strike out Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig
one right after the other.
Men will be afraid of the lightening
in your fingertips. A few days later
you will be fired from the major leagues
because “Girls are too delicate to play baseball”
You will turn 18 with a baby on your back
leading Lewis and Clark
across North America.
You will turn 18
and become queen of the Nile.
You will turn 18
and bring justice to journalism.
You are now 18, standing on the precipice,
trembling before your own greatness.
This is your call to leap.
There will always being those
who say you are too young and delicate
to make anything happen for yourself.
They don’t see the part of you that smolders.
Don’t let their doubting drown out the sound
of your own heartbeat.
You are the first drop of a hurricane.
Your bravery builds beyond you. You are needed
by all the little girls still living in secret,
writing oceans made of monsters and
throwing like lightening.
You don’t need to grow up to find greatness.
You are stronger than the world has ever believed you to be.
The world laid out before you to set on fire.
All you have to do