Thursday, November 21, 2019

Getting Fit in a Writerly Fashion

My husband regularly runs, swims, and lifts weights. He loves to mix the disciplines, claiming they use different sets of muscles. Apparently, using the same muscles over and over is not efficient in gaining strength and stamina. Something about disrupting muscle memory and causing each muscle to work harder. He tells me he feels so alive after a good run or a workout.

My idea of exercise is a long walk or a Pilates class. No sweating allowed. I’ve been trying out yoga. Sort of. Isn’t my enthusiasm overwhelming?

Now, ask me about mind fitness. I can spend an entire day reading a good book. Time has no meaning when I’m working strategy on board games or filling out crossword puzzles. The satisfaction of finishing the puzzle with not one cross-out (if I can’t use a pen, where’s the challenge?), of winning the game, or of  closing the book with a sweet sigh of, “ahhh,” spells success. The only thing my husband would get out of those exercises is a headache.

Since writing is closely aligned with reading, I’m willing to invest hours of effort to improve in the craft. The hours have added up to years.

At first, I wasn’t too enthusiastic about writing exercises. Author friends made gentle suggestions of books I could read in order to put depth in my stories, but with  my gung-ho attitude in writing full-length fiction I didn’t listen. Friends were likely to hear something along the lines of, “Leave me alone. I’m trying to write a novel here.” My time was limited. I had to get to it. 

If my husband had maintained such an attitude, his first attempt to run a 5K marathon straight out of his armchair would have resulted in a week-long limp, if not a hospital stay!

It took me about a year, but I got tired. Novel-writing was a lot harder than that first glorious Nanowrimo. To restart my engine, I joined ACFW, and thanks to the main loop, I discovered a treasure of blogs and books to study. 

With the encouragement of Brilliant Cut Editing (thank you, Deirdre), I found out writing flash fiction is fun. It’s kind of like those puzzles I love. How can I make a complete story fit into the parameters of a thousand words or seven hundred or one hundred? Like a puppy with a new chew toy, I’ll play with those words until someone insists I leave it alone for a while.

I also joined a local writers group. Wary of criticism, I started small and tried my hand at a short story. The group was encouraging! I tried another short story.

When I returned to my novel, I could see how my skills had improved, so I've continued to practice at home and away. Workshops, conferences, retreats, contests. Flash fiction, short stories, and novel-length fiction, and I seek feedback wherever possible.

I’ve contributed to blogs and have a blog/author website of my own. Penning nonfiction is a refreshing break from fiction, and creating short stories uses a different set of writing muscles from novel structures.

What had my husband told me? A variety of exercises using different muscle groups builds strength and endurance more efficiently. He’s right. And it works for writing, too. As I participate in short story exercises, sensory detail drills, emotional depth practice, even poetry, the end of a good workout leaves me feeling alive and energized.
If you haven’t yet begun a regimen of writing workouts in a variety of disciplines, I promise: you won’t be sorry!

Linda Sammaritan writes realistic fiction, mostly for kids ages ten to fourteen. She is currently working on a middle grade trilogy, World Without Sound, based on her own experiences growing up with a deaf sister.
Linda had always figured she’d teach middle-graders until school authorities presented her with a retirement wheelchair at the overripe age of eighty-five. However, God changed those plans when He gave her a growing passion for writing fiction. In May of 2016, she blew goodbye kisses to her students and dedicated her work hours to learning the craft.
A wife, mother of three, grandmother to seven, Linda regales the youngest grandchildren with “Nona Stories,” tales of her childhood. Maybe one day those stories will be in picture books!
Where Linda can be found on the web:

Saturday, November 2, 2019

"He Entered His Novel"

In a masterful article on Notre Dame Cathedral, Ken Follett shares an account from Victor Hugo’s wife about how that French poet began work on an epic novel about the cathedral in 1830. “He bought himself a bottle of ink and a huge gray knitted shawl, which covered him from head to foot,” Mme. Hugo recalled. Then he “locked away his formal clothes, so that he would not be tempted to go out, and entered his novel as if it were a prison.”

Hugo finished his 180,000-word masterwork four and a half months later. Publishers of the English edition gave it the title we know today: The Huchback of Notre Dame.

I’m struck by her statement that Hugo “entered his novel as if it were a prison.” I believe she saw something more than an obsessive work habit, though he certainly had that. (Let’s see, if he wrote 180,000 words in 20 weeks, that was 9,000 per week or about 1,400 per day. Every day. Seven days a week. Without a computer or even a typewriter. We might call that the “hard labor” typical of prison.)

But I sense something more in her comment. By cutting himself off from social engagements, Hugo immersed himself in the book he was writing. He took up residence in its world and would not leave until its story was fully told. Such single-minded devotion produces great literature. It also produces the best Christian fiction, regardless of its genre or length.

How about it? Have you entered your novel as if it were a prison?