Hooptedoodle and You

You know the thing about writing styles, right? How they’re like our beloveds’ beauty in the beholderfaces. Beauty in the eye of the beholder and all that other pomp and parade. The skinny guy loves the fat chick, but no one knows why, except them. And that’s all that matters. The same goes for writing styles. Some styles click for readers and others repulse them.

And while styles range from aristocratic splendor to colloquialisms at the john, I’ve learned that the only authentic way to find out who I am as a writer was to first discover who I wasn’t.

Consider the following nugget of prose:

“The sun rose like a uniformed officer in full salute, beckoning me to face the day with equal vigor.”

Yes, many authors are entitled to write like this, and do a splendid job at it. I commend them. It’s not me, though. I tried to make it me, but failed. I’d probably write it like this: “Ah, cripes. The sun’s up. Shoot it or me. You decide.”

Not to mention that if one of my characters was privy to someone regaling in the sun in the same manner as in the first scenario, they’d push said regaler to the ground and rob them of loose change to buy a pumpkin spice latte. Not looking back at the sun, no, not even once. walkingawayfromthesun

My style, of course, doesn’t resonate with everyone, and for that, hoorah. Because if it did, then there’d be a whole lot more people doing a whole lot more shoving and robbing for pocket change. And, that’s just bad business for us as a society, don’t you think?

(I kid. Reserve the hate mail for when I talk politics or let my kids run wild at the mall.)

It’s important to dip your toes into the styles of others. Not to emulate, per se, but to see what hits home with you and what simply slaps you ugly.

You never know, the constant searching might help you find your anthem, as I’ve found mine. You see, when people criticize me for having too minimalistic of a style, I can now tell them to take their hooptedoodle out for a nice steak dinner and smooch it.

That’s right. Hooptedoodle. Courtesy of the one and only Steinbeck.

“Sometimes I want a book to break loose with a bunch of hooptedoodle. The guy’s writing it, give him a chance to do a little hooptedoodle. Spin up some pretty words maybe, or sing a little song with language. That’s nice. But I wish it was set aside so I don’t have to read it. I don’t want hooptedoodle to get mixed up in the story. So if the guy that’s writing it wants hooptedoodle, he ought to put it right at first. Then I can skip it if I want to, or maybe go back to it after I know how the story come out.”

Sweet Thursday by John Steinbeck  sweet thursday

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When Good Writers Go Bad

Recently I listened to a thought provoking sermon about how to tell when good leaders have gone bad. The lesson was universally applicable because we all have leadership opportunities at some point in our lives. Whether it is leading a major corporation, mentoring a student or babysitting, we are providing guidance. As writers, we have an incredible opportunity to lead others. Here is my spin on that lesson, exploring several traits that indicate a writer may have gone to the Dark Side:

A Big Ego

Being an author means creating a platform, and selling yourself and your product. At some point, you may begin to believe your own press. The praise feels great and after a while, you get used to it. Then, when it does not come readily, we wonder why. Although some of the most acclaimed writers of all time had healthy egos (Steinbeck, anyone?), focusing on how the writing might benefit others is much more inspiring to readers. Someone asked me this week, “Do you write to feel powerful and  make the characters do whatever you want?” I told her my writing stems from a desire to entertain. She looked baffled and said she would probably become addicted to the control over the story and other readers. It’s easy to see how authors could get wrapped up in the ‘power’ aspect of writing, if they were so inclined–but that’s not what inspires people.

Isolation

Alone time is a necessity for many writers who can’t focus with others anywhere in their vicinity. However, the more time we spend alone, the more we rely on our own judgement. The feedback from trusted advisors is invaluable, but if one is operating in a silo, that may not seem necessary. Excessive isolation can be dangerous, it keeps writers from being in touch with their audience, as well as with other writers with whom they might partner. Actor Jonah Hill has commented on how much easier it is to write with other comedians. Woody Allen has expressed that people are willing to help a writer in the creative process, as long as the author has put in the time to get a project close to being fully baked. Although there is nothing wrong with self-reliance, no person is an island. If you have it available to you, why not seek wise counsel?

Us/Them Mentality

When fellow authors enjoy success, we can either be happy for them or turn pea green with envy. We may console ourselves with the sentiments that so-and-so is only popular because they write scandalous material, or because they are friends with ‘the guy behind the guy’ at Google. Writing is a tough business to break into, and it’s understandable to feel jealous of our successful colleagues–but why not leverage them instead, and even adopt their principles for success? Author communities (i.e. WordServe Water Cooler) are committed to the prosperity of all. In this and similar organizations, writers help each other with social media support, comments on postings and general assistance in spreading the word around. It’s a huge relief when others help take up our causes. Disinterest in helping others only results in hurting oneself.

If you see yourself in any of these traits, don’t despair.  We’ve all been there at one point or another to some extent. The idea is to identify our symptoms and course correct to ensure we are keeping ourselves honest. As writers, we need to lead our followers somewhere worthwhile.

Have you ever experienced any of the above? How do you think the writing journey might change an author over time?