A Writer’s Path: Ruth Sidransky Remembers First Meeting the Pen, 80 Years Ago

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By Ruth Sidransky

Life is tumultuous, sometimes sumptuous. Life has intervened, interfered with my writing throughout the years. I have written in snatches, on backs of envelopes, on notepads I generally carry with me, and in full concentration in the journals I have kept and continue to keep.

When I was 12 years old my friend Julia and I bought diaries with locks. Mine had a green leather cover with faux gold lettering. Amusing, now. One of the first entries I made was of a kiss. It was my first kiss under the stairwell in the boy’s apartment building on Grant Avenue in the Bronx. He had flaming orange hair and his name was Jack. And that’s what I remember. Was it wet, was it delicate, was it embarrassing? I don’t know. It’s not important. The importance lies in the memory. Perhaps we are made of more than our DNA, perhaps it is the memory of time past and the promise of time tomorrow, and the promise of life at the moment that gives our lives substance, a legacy to be passed on to the next generation and the next, and the next.

And so into my ninth decade of life, I stop, I pause and begin reading my old journals to ask why I wanted to write, to record, to remember. As I read I discover not only my comments on writing, but the life I lived as I wrote. It is as though writing was sandwiched in with the events of my life: graduations, marriages, births, successes, illnesses, divorce, death and all the ephemera that built my life in time gone by. A lesson in me. Startling, revelatory, sad, funny, amusing, spiritual, brave, prayerful, fearful, angry, pages filled with pleasure and contentment…and if I can think of anymore human attributes and failings I shall find them in the thousands of hand written pages, and perhaps include them. If I remember. The writing, however, was me and all me. It was the time I reserved to myself, to think, to tell a story. How my deaf father loved stories. He’d wait until I lifted my hands in sign/speech.

I would create stories for him, and he would ask, with a grin on his mustached face, his hands rising into the air, “Are you telling me the truth?

In mock seriousness I would both sign the word “Yes.” And nod my head.

In return, he signed, “You lie to me. Tell me another story.”

It was a time of deep pleasure, my father and I cavorting with language and the telling of the tales I spun with my hands.

I begin to search out reasons for the gift of storytelling, the gift of witnessing an event, the gift of watching yellow tulips fold for the night and open for the day. There is gift after gift. The primary gift is the gift of language. The gift of pen to paper, the gift of hands to the keyboard and I have been so gifted. The process is mysterious. I do not have the words to describe the muse that enters my soul and the need, the absolute need to write it down, write it out. Whatever that ‘it’ is at the moment.

And so I now make an attempt at writing yet another book on writing. It may be moot, yet, like all writers, composers, painters and artists of every stripe; the process is the same, the process is different. An oxymoron, not so. It is so. I speak to my young grandson, and ask, “How do you compose?” He says, “It just comes through my fingers.” He composes at the piano, as I write, through my fingers, either on a computer keyboard or in longhand.

I prefer writing with pen and ink on a blank white page. The computer offers legibility, speed, and immediate editing, either by deletion or a rewrite, sometimes, a word, here or there. On occasion, I have regretted deleting a paragraph or a sentence; sometimes it might have served a better purpose, if I had saved all the cross-outs. The deletions may have contained a thought-germ, or a phrase I might have used.

There are no deletions of the mind. Every thought is packed somewhere in our brain cells, even those struck out. The mind is the fount of work. Some call work creativity. I shy away from that word. We are all workers who create: music, books, plays, poems, songs, homes, cars, trains, buildings, an apple pie and the list is forever. Working is the touching of another, most of the time. The farmer tills his soil and creates nourishment for our bodies. The mother creates food for her infant. The father (usually) creates income for his family. Doctors create health. Artists create entertainment, sometimes instruction for all of us.

Entertainment for the mind, for the soul, is essential, to understanding who we are, where we come from. And storytelling is my path, my journey, my musings, and this is an invitation to my writing process, to my story as a writer.

Come; join me.

To read more of this extraordinary writer, try Reparations: A Tale of War and Rebirth (click on the title to order) or the charming Woman’s Primer, a perfect gift for the graduating young woman. (Again, just click on title to buy ebook or paperback.)

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10 Suggestions for the Care and Feeding of Editors

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/Beth Wareham

Editors like to find errors and inconsistencies. They like to be right; all incredibly annoying traits in human beings.

I should know, I am one. I’m also a writer and a publisher. When I am writing or publishing, I take on the annoying traits of those functions as well.

But odds are, you are a writer. And, if you are a beginning writer, you will have your first interaction with an editor. If you play your cards right, this editor will make your work at least 10% better AND prepare the manuscript for both publication and PROMOTION.

That’s right: Your editor should understand promotion and press breaks and help build them into your book along with good grammar, proper word choice and a narrative velocity that keeps your reader on the page, then the next page, then the page after that.

That’s a great deal for one human to hold in their head over 300 or more pages, so respect the editor. Good ones are as rare as honest politicians.

Enter into the editorial relationship with an open heart and really open eyes. It’s still your book and the ultimate choices are yours, but the right editor can really make a work sing.

Here are some thoughts on the care and feeding of editors:

1. If you say “I don’t need an editor,” you are going against the smart thinking of everyone from Tolstoy to Hemmingway to Stephen King. EVERYONE needs an editor. If you don’t think you do, I hear egotism and not a love of writing.

2. Get clarity. Remember, editors are just as rushed as everyone else and some talk in a kind of short hand. If any editorial comment does not make sense, press your editor so you can get it right.

3. Don’t get defensive. Never forget, this person’s job is to make you better. That means they must point out where your work is weaker. You need this. It makes your book a stronger read.

4. Get other reads. Ask anyone you respect to read your manuscript. Discuss their comments with the editor to see if they brought up valid points. It takes a village.

5. Do not fear cutting. Some editors do not cut, just suggest it. I take a red pencil and make long horizontal lines. Books are ALWAYS made better by cutting and tightening. Or almost always.

6. Give your editor time with your manuscript. Many authors want instant feedback. The only instant feedback you should get is that your editor has received your manuscript. Let them read it through and think about ways to make it better.

7. Don’t bug your editor: They are not here to manage your anxiety. If you are a big enough person to write a book, you are a big enough person to give your editor space to do his or her work. Discuss your fears with your shrink. Work with your editor.

8. Insist on communication. Talking to your editor daily is not something you should expect to do. But you should expect your calls returned – WITHIN REASON – and your queries – yes, you’ll query your editor’s queries sometimes – are explained.

9. Talk to your editor about how to build press breaks in the book. If it’s non-fiction, finding stories to pitch is easier. Exploit what you have that the press, reviewers or bloggers may be able to really hang on to and write a story.

10. Send short emails and expect short answers. Again, reading manuscripts and editing is akin to needle work; quiet and time consuming. Don’t burn any time with issues that don’t matter.

Okay, that’s my editorial advice for the day. I have to get back to writing. It’s more fun anyway.

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10 SIMPLE WRITING TIPS YOU CAN’T HEAR ENOUGH

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/Beth Wareham

I’ve have been editing a lot lately (like non-stop) and I’ve been reminded of a few easy moves that make every writer better. Simple hints that even the best forget or rely on a person like me to prune from prose for them.

Why not do it yourself. It’s simple. It makes you a much more effective communicator in all writing and speaking, doesn’t make you fat, and reinforces good basic discipline in a world run amok.

Tip #1 “And” No
Don’t start a sentence with the word “and.” It’s done but it’s a bit, well, lazy.

Tip #2 Verb Consistency
Write in the simple past tense. It’s easiest.

Tip #3 A Helper
Chronology is your friend. Only the most advanced should time travel in writing.

Tip #4 Band Camp
Don’t start every sentence of describing action with “and then”….”and then…”

Tip #5 Variety is the spice of writing.
Start a paragraph with a short sentence then the next sentience, go long. Short sentences speed the read and longer sentences slow the reading down to a more contemplative state. Think about speed.

Tip #6 No telling
Only showing, describing. Few enjoy their fiction to be a screed though certain writers do kiss the soapbox a bit more than is pleasure to me. Just tell me what happens. I’ll get it.

Tip #7 Short is always better.
Do not overwrite. Understand your subject and stay on it. Use discipline as you would in any other endeavor from the gym to painting the house.

Tip #8 Write for Yourself.
As soon as you assume a personality that is not yours – say a writer who dislikes children but wants to cash in on the YA phenomena – well, people pick up on it. Be true to who you are.

Tip #9 No One is Watching You
Get it out of our head that someone is watching what you write. My friend, this is a moment between you and your creator and if you don’t understand that, well, you’ve missed a lot of the joy. Write like you stole something. Write crazy daring words. Write dirty, write fast. Go back and change it later.

Tip #10 Choose the Right Word
Don’t reuse the same word over and over. Select the right word with the right meaning. A “fight” is different from a “brawl is different from a “riot,” etc.

There, I blurted out 10 quickies and must now go back to work. if you need me, you’ll find me here
on twitter @shadowteams or @skinnysmoothies