Monthly Archives: September 2012

An Unnatural Act

Poet Mary Ruefle recently said the following:

Writing is a very, very unnatural act. Most people are out living—their bodies are, they’re walking and they’re talking and they’re working and playing and they’re interacting. Writing’s very unnatural because you are not living when you write. But at the same time, what a great paradox—because you’re all writers so you all know. You’re all going, Oh but no, no, I’m most alive when I write. So you are more living or less, we can’t use “more” or “less,” it’s just different. And this is the crux of any writer’s life. It is the essential paradox and question and torment and joy. Are you writing or living and what’s the difference and where’s the line and how do we divide those activities? …

I’ve spent my whole life thinking, Is this unnatural? Shouldn’t someone be parading outside my apartment with a cardboard placard saying, “Insanity’s taking place on the inside”? They really should, there’d be a point to it. And then, in other moods, I go, No, no, no, the insanity’s taking place out there. And I waffle back and forth. And this waffling back and forth, when you yourself experience it, it’s called life. And you are going to experience this waffling back and forth for the rest of your life. And whenever you do, don’t think you’re unnatural or broken or different. It’s life, and we’re living it, and that tension is life.

—Mary Ruefle, in conversation with Alice Quinn at the NYU Lillian Vernon Creative Writers House, September 6, 2012. (Podcast)

How do you handle that “unnatural” tension in your own life?

I know that almost daily I find myself in conversation with family or friends or my children, and my mind drifts to the characters living in my mind and the journeys that they are taking and that often feels more real to me than the conversation happening right in front of me. Sometimes I fight this tendency, other times I give in. I haven’t figured out how to manage this balance between my inner and outer lives. At times I’m not even sure if I need to find balance, or if I can just keep on going as I am without guilt or shame. What helps the most is knowing that there are communities of other people out there who feel the same way I do and live in this same strange writer-realm that I inhabit. Because there is nothing unnatural about community. In fact, it might be the most natural thing of all.

Share your own thoughts on the subject in the comments.

By Jocelyn Nash Carlin


One of my posts, titled Becoming, had a handful of cliches in it.  I chose to keep them because they get the point across, but they were still cliches.

In writing a cliche is generally considered any construction that has been overused until people roll their eyes and move on.  I’m sure you’ve all seen the movie or TV show where the young lady gasps and cowers while her rescuer fights for her?  It can be done well, but it’s still a cliche.

You can almost hear someone I won’t name.  “Get behind me, little lady.”

In the old movies the hero always wore white and the villian black (except for Tarzan, who wore a clean diaper), perhaps under the assumption that the audience was too stupid to figure out which was which without a visual clue.  It took time for this to change, as the audience became more sophisticated.  In a sense.  Cliches come much more subtle than that.  More subtle than the blue-eyed blond hero.

We all write using cliches–it’s unavoidable.  Do we use them knowingly, recognize them, or are they just stuck in there without a thought?

In essence, that’s what a cliche is.  A thoughtless expression that everyone uses, in many cases something we don’t even recognize as a problem.  An I’ll-change-it-later filler.  Readers are not stupid–they’ll recognize thoughtless prose just as easily as they recognize the hero in the white suit.  (Although it might be interesting to do a parody on this, where the hero is in a straightjacket).

There are a number of different types that we have to be looking for.  Gesture, conversation, action, description, and so on.  A word could be cliche used in one sense, and fine used in another.

Were you able to identify the cliches above?  I’ll give you one, you give me the rest.  “People roll their eyes.”  Rolling eyes is an example of a gesture cliche.  It’s been used so often and in such a variety of ways that almost any way you use it has already been done multiple times.

That’s not saying that you should avoid all cliches, but use them sparingly and only when they will advance your narrative.  Be aware that you’re using them, as with everything else.

Can you see anything in the following paragraph that isn’t a cliche?

The doughty warrior’s blue eyes flashed as he raised his sentient sword toward the sun’s merciless gaze.  “You will never defeat me,” he shouted as the world collapsed around him.

(His enemy giggled and wrote him out of the story.  She kept the sword though.)

Meet Author Robison Wells

Rob Wells

Get to know our special guest, Robison Wells, author of Variant, a YA dystopian novel.
Learn how he got the idea for his first novel, wrote the book, and acquired an agent and a publisher in less than a year! He also explains how he outlines using chapter to chapter summaries with goals for each chapter and his brother Dan Well’s seven point plot structure system (

variant cover

He’ll be doing some book signings for Feedback, the sequel to Variant starting Oct. 2nd,.
Check his website at for details. And as always, leave a comment if you want the chance to win a signed copy of Variant. A winner will be chosen after we post our second interview with Rob.

Download here (right click and select “save link as” to download”)

The Seven Edits of Highly Effective Authors

Written By Ava

I found an interesting post the other day. While blog hopping—an activity I don’t usually enjoy—I came upon a blog that I have since become quite familiar with.

Chas Hathaway appears at regular intervals on WritingSnippets, either as a commenter, or as an unusually lucky winner of give-aways.

This particular post was called, “The Seven Edits of Highly Effective Authors”.

The Edits were as follows:

  1. Fill the holes: All the things that you know are missing from the story or need to be tied together are done in this edit. Extra scenes, little drops of information that will help your reader better understand the story.
  1. Shot-gun edit: This is when you check your “big-picture” things. The plot arc, timeline, pacing, etc.
  1. Character revisions: Check your character arcs, voices, mannerisms. Are too many people characterized by “taking a deep breath” or “tossing her head”? You can do away with all “tossing of heads”. Cliché, ‘nuff said. Would character A really say to character B, “Daughter, it is impossible for me to communicate with you in this state. I will take my leave and speak to you no further on this matter…” …Yipe, what a mouthful…
  1. Research: Check your facts. When I was writing my current WIP, I had some doubts about the word, “Neanderthal”. Character A says to character B, “…for that one reason, you assume I am a Neanderthal…” The character was speaking in the year 1820, but the word ‘Neanderthal’ didn’t exist until 1856, when humanoid fossils were identified in the Neander Valley gorge near Düsseldorf, Switzerland.
  1. Structure: Order of scenes. Does Calvin find out that Suzie is a secret agent before or after the school cafeteria blows up? It might make a difference.
  1. Line edit: Spelling, grammar, punctuation, etc. My temptation is to skip everything else and go right to the line edit. I can see if I’ve spelled ‘puncuation’ wrong, but I can’t see the gaping hole in my plot that characters, publishers, and any readers brave enough to turn to the second page are going to fall into. But if you do line edits first, then you have to write in scenes and change dialogue and reorder plot or character arcs, then you have to go back and do the line edit all over again. Refrain!!! Do the line edit at the end, not the beginning!
  1. Visual balance: This one never occurred to me. *Sigh*. One more thing on my list of things to learn about writing…QUICK! Chas says, look for huge blocks of text with no breaks for the reader to stop and breathe, or conversations that go on for pages and pages.

I’m learning about all these things as I go, as I think most of you probably are as well. Good luck with all edits everywhere, and go check out The Seven Edits of Highly Effective Authors at