Sunday, December 30, 2007

The Ripple Effect

Every writer wonders, I suspect, if his or her words create any ripples... and if those ripples ever reach the hearts of readers.

Over the past year, I know, there were days--more days than I care to admit--when I felt like my words made no sound whatsoever. As I tossed them into the pond, they simply sank to the bottom without creating so much as a ripple.

On the most difficult of days, I stared out the window and told myself that the true joy of writing came only when I wrote for myself... for my own inner reader.

And you know what happened?

The moment I stopped worrying about other readers, I began to savor the pure motion of tossing pebbles and found that I could take delight in the sudden splash on the surface of the water.

I could listen for the pleasing sound of kerplunk confirming that my words had some substance, some weight, even if no one else ever heard the sound the words made.

I could taste the words in my mouth again and feel the shape of sentences form on the tip of my tongue.

When I stopped worrying about the results of my work and focused instead on the process, I could experience the ecstasy of discovery and the joy of uncovering mysteries about myself and about my life, as well as about the lives of the characters who inhabit my stories.

And yet, as I struggled through these stretches of silence, a tiny, tiny part of me still wanted to hear an echo, longed for a sign that the ripples caused by my words had managed to touch others.

That was why it came as such a delight a few weeks ago to learn that Barbara W. Klaser over at Mystery of A Shrinking Violet had bestowed a Shameless Lion Award on Wordswimmer.

The award, which was created by Seamus Kearney, a New Zealand journalist living in France, aims to celebrate "good and powerful writing" in the blogosphere.

Kearney lists three criteria which he deems necessary for good and powerful writing:
1)Innovation: I love writing that doesn't rely on tired, easy phrases. I love a unique look at things, an attack on clich├ęs and turns of phrase that have lost any punch. I need to see good grammar, but I love a writer who challenges me, who takes me on a journey into the fresh unknown!

2) Truth: I need to sense that there is some truth in what is being written. This doesn't necessarily mean I have to agree with what's being written, or that things have to be proven as true; but I do need to get the feeling that the words were absolutely true for the writer. I need to feel the conviction and passion that motivated the writer to choose those particular words.

3) Humanism: I need to feel that the writer has an idea about human nature, that as the author of work intended for human consumption, the writer has a grip on the mechanisms, sensitivities that strike a universal chord in all of us. The work that stays with me is often something that has enhanced my understanding - or triggered my curiosity - on the question of who we are.
To Kearney's list, Klaser has added:

1) Love of learning. I’m not talking about the letters after your name. Love of learning (call it natural curiosity if you will) makes the writer a sponge for details from which to draw just the right ones. Love of learning makes us thorough researchers, who sometimes need a 12-step program to get us to stop researching and write. It keeps us open to new ways of telling a story and to experimentation and practice. One never finishes learning.

2) Awareness, including empathy. Awareness of the world around us helps a writer catch those fleeting details that make a story come to life. There’s a whole world inside a story, and the writer’s awareness of her outer world helps her select just the right details to make the world of the story seem real. A great writer also understands people and their feelings, and can stand in another’s shoes and experience their perspective. Of course we never do this perfectly, as each person’s experience is unique; but a powerful writer comes oh so close.

3) Courage. A powerful writer must be willing to take risks, to face conflict head on, to take up subjects others may be afraid to tackle. Sometimes the risk is writing about an issue personal to the writer, a past trauma, or something the people in her life may not be happy that she writes. Sometimes it’s a matter of getting a character to a conflict instead of writing circles around it. Sometimes it’s an artistic risk, writing in a style or form that’s new and untested, or on a topic that’s unpopular or politically charged.
One of the innovative aspects of this award is that recipients are asked to pass on the award to five more blogs in order to "send a roar through the blogosphere," as Kearney puts it, to help others find good and powerful writing.

So, in the spirit of the award, here are five blogs that I've come to admire and which I'd like to award the Shameless Lion Award... not simply to let these bloggers know that the ripple of their words have spread farther than they might have realized over the past year... but to bring their blogs to the attention of other writers.

Each of the bloggers listed below has struggled with the writing process and has been kind enough to share in their blogs a small part of that struggle in ways that have helped me (and other writers) better understand our own writing process:

1) Bartography (http://www.chrisbarton.info/blog/blog.html)
2) Green Knight's Chapel (http://greenknightschapel.blogspot.com/)
3) Telling the True (http://www.janeyolen.com/journal.html)
4) Through the Tollbooth (http://community.livejournal.com/thru_the_booth/)
5) Writers Unboxed (http://writerunboxed.com/)

As the year comes to an end, I'd like to thank the countless bloggers who I've never met in person but whose ripples have reached me here on the west coast of Florida over the last year.

And special thanks to Barbara W. Klaser for her faith and ongoing support, and for her courage in sharing the details of her own struggle with words and stories.

If you'd like to read her thoughts on the award, you can visit her at Mysteries of a Shrinking Violet: http://barbarawklaser.mysterynovelist.com/2007/11/30/a-roar-for-powerful-words/

And for more information about the Shameless Lion Awards, visit Sean Kearney's Shameless Words: http://shamelesswords.blogspot.com/2007/11/roar-for-powerful-words.html

PS - I was planning on placing Barbara O'Connor's Greetings From Nowhere (http://greetings-from-nowhere.blogspot.com/) at the top of my list, but Sarah Miller (http://sarahmillerbooks.blogspot.com/) beat me into the water and bestowed the award first.

PPS - A happy, healthy, and storyful 2008 to Wordswimmer's readers.

5 comments:

Barbara O'Connor said...

A wonderful post, Bruce - and a great reminder to us all to love the process and stop worrying about the reactions of others.

I'm honored to be mentioned on your terrific blog.
Barbara O'Connor

gaelwriter said...

Congratulations on receiving the award. The attributions considered for it by Kearney and Klaser do a good job of describing the author of Wordswimmer. Have a prosperous New Year.

HipWriterMama said...

Congratulations! Happy New Year!

Anonymous said...

Thanks so much, Bruce. We're honored you chose Writer Unboxed as one of your Lions!

Kathleen Bolton
(who lost her blogger password and can't remember it :-( )

Chris Barton said...

Thank you, Bruce -- you made my New Year's Eve Eve!