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Other People’s Words

ImageI just read The Fault in our Stars by John Green.

Now this isn’t a book review—as I haven’t quite decided whether I want to do any of those on this blog—but there was something about the book that got me thinking.

In the book Mr. Green uses many poems and quotes from many different authors of all stripes and there is some stunning poetry sprinkled throughout the story that often made me take pause.  But after the pause of awe at the words in these poems by other people I felt kind of cheated.  These were not the author’s words.

It’s been done before of course, people often reference history and past literature in their works of fiction.  And although I can understand doing it a little bit, once in awhile, in The Fault in our Stars I felt I was saturated with other people’s words to the point of distraction.

In retrospect I have seen this happen before, where people try to inject a certain level of gravitas into their work by throwing in a little Shakespeare or quoting someone else’s poem.  But overall I’m not sure I love it.  I’ve done it before myself of course—little bits and pieces, a line here or there—but I think I would feel like I was cheating if I started throwing in whole stanzas of another writer’s poetry or prose.  It just wouldn’t feel right to me as a writer, just as it didn’t feel right to me as a reader.

As a writer I feel it both a privilege and an obligation to arrange words in new combinations on the page and so I think we should try to do that as much as possible.

This isn’t to say that the poems and quotes in Mr. Green’s book weren’t well chosen and placed—they were.  They evoked exactly the right feeling at the right time.  It’s just that in the end I felt cheated out of the full experience of the author’s words.  I understand that the characters are smart and exceedingly literate teenagers, I understand that they reference works of poetry and literature because it’s only natural given their personalities.  But those particular arrangements of words were the stuff of another voice, so in essence I got less of Mr. Green and more of other people’s words.

I am fully willing to admit that my position here isn’t rock solid and that I am reacting out of more of a feeling than a logically formed thought, so I would love to hear other people’s ideas on the subject.
What are your thoughts on using other people’s words in a work of fiction?

Do you do it yourself?

Do you like it when you see other people doing it?

You can also check out this cleverly titled response to my post written by my friend Elmowrites!

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Write as you love

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Today’s blog post was supposed to be about rules.  Am I for them or against them?  So, to illustrate the only relevant point I have regarding rules, I am going to write about something completely different: writing what you love.

I am an emerging writer, an aspiring to be published writer.  I have faith I’ll get there one day, but in the meantime I’m learning to write what I love.  This is by far the most important thing anyone can possibly learn to do.  Why?  Because writing what you love is like falling in love, it’s dizzying, dazzling and beautiful.  It makes you excited about putting fingers to keyboard, pen to paper.

Now, by writing what you love, I don’t just mean mystery novels or epic poetry, it goes well beyond genre or format.  Writing what you love is about the base elements of the art, the magic of the craft.  It’s about the words and the concepts and the soul (if there is such a thing).

So what do I love?  I’ve been working on the answer to this question and I think I’ve narrowed it down.  I love abstraction, absurdism, lists, feelings, rituals, elemental magic and the suggestion of something deeper.  I love quantum writing, ideas that feel as though they could have a million meanings but only take shape when you read them, in the exact form you choose to perceive them.  I love rhymes and interjections of poetry, I love metaphor and good, quirky similes.

I find the best way to access the writing I love is to allow my mind to wander.  I like to reach out into my memories and the fringes of what I know to gather ideas and bring them back.  In order to do that though I have to be brave and let go of my fears and preconceptions.  Stilted writing comes when I’m thinking too much, worrying too much about this word or that sentence.

So how to write what you love?  Write as you love, with wild abandon, an open heart and a slightly reckless spirit.  Read books and pick out the words you love and remember them.  Study turns of phrase you admire and allow yourself to be free.  Listen to songs and watch TV and movies and pay attention to the words.  Some of my favorite writers are musicians.

Rules be damned, sometimes it’s just time to write what you love and worry about the details later!

What do you love to write?

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This is a post for www.writesofluid.com’s blog writing challenge.  One blog post a day for all of June!  Check it out at the website or on twitter: @sofluid or #wpad!

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How I got into writing

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This is the first post for www.writesofluid.com’s blog writing challenge.  One blog post a day for all of June!  Check it out at the website or on twitter: @sofluid or #wpad!

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When I was younger I used to write a lot.  Journals mostly, whining about boys (and later girls too), unrequited love, rituals (during my witchy phase) and other teenage stuff that I was sure was insanely important.  I’ve looked back over old journals before, but I find the process of ploughing through years of bad poetry kind of painful.

Next I got into writing plays.  I still have one sitting around about a girl who discovered she was gay and made out with her best friend.  Ah the ponderings of a seventh grade bi-girl.  Then there were stories.  I even wrote a story about a girl on a journey to enlightenment for philosophy class in high school and scored myself an A+ (I went to an alternative school of course).

Then it was world travels.  Long nights were spent scribbling in notebooks on buses, traveling through the desert in Egypt or up and down crazy mountains in Peru, in dirty old hotel rooms or tucked away in sleeping bags on the beach watching the stunning Italian sunset and hoping I wouldn’t wake up after high tide.

I wrote a lot.  But still, through all of that, I didn’t call myself a writer.

I wrote little articles about my adventures with my friends, replacing us with anthropomorphized animals and calling it: The Starry Web Press.  I wrote stories and poems as gifts.  I sent out poems as solstice greetings to friends and family.  Still, I refused to call myself a writer.

No no, I was a traveler, a server, a bartender, a go-go dancer, a shaman, a tarot card reader, an event planner, a video producer, but never…NEVER a writer.

The real turning point came maybe a year ago, after I finished my first novel.  A honking, slow moving, boring laborious thing (150,000 words).  I finished it, looked at Ben and said:

“I think I’m a writer.”

Since then I’ve been on fire, I’ve written multiple short stories, another novel, made a giant list of agents, magazines and contests to submit my work to, started this blog, gathered almost 250 followers on twitter, joined two writing groups (and quit one), and I’ve even been hired to write professionally from video scripts to event proposals to websites.

So although it took me 29 years to admit it, I’m a writer dammit, and just like everything else I’ve been before, I’ve thrown myself into it, heart and soul.

Now it’s your turn…how did you get into writing?