Tag Archives: Sherwood Anderson

The Weakness Many Writers Don’t Know They Have: Ideas and Models for Describing Places in Your Writing

Many writers have a weakness, but are not aware of it. They fall short when they describe places. Their places don’t seem real and are not vivid Small wooden farm buildings behind a wooden fence on the side of a road with grass and autumn treesor accurate. They are not interesting. Because of an inadequate handling of places, a work that may be superb in every other respect is without convincingly-described locations, scenes, and settings. Descriptions of places are not window dressing that a writer need pay little attention to, but a feature of writing fiction, nonfiction, and drama that is indispensable. Poorly written descriptions of places detract from the quality of the written piece.

When you read a description of place by someone such as Joseph Conrad, Charles Dickens, Virginia Woolf, or Ernest Hemingway, who has elevated that skill to the level of art, you are impressed. You read the description more than once. You think, “This person can really write.” You realize that giving attention to skillfully composing your book’s or story’s places will enhance the works that you are striving so hard to make readable, enjoyable, salable.

Rust-colored field in front of rust-colored barn and silo with blue sky and pinkish cloudsAward-winning short story specialist Eudora Welty did more than anyone else to point out how central to effective fiction place is. She said that the story’s place affects “all currents” of the work, all of its emotions, beliefs, and moral convictions that “charge out from the story” as the author unfolds it. She said the places should always be identified, and adds that they should be described in a particular way that requires significant writing skills.

They should be described concretely.

They should be described exactly.

To describe places concretely and exactly requires the writer to be patient and take time writing about the places and not dismiss them with a few vague words. It is worthwhile to pay attention to places in works you read so you might learn from them. Don’t hurry through them. Study them. See how they are so skillfully put together.

Look at the places in writing you are working on, especially the work you are submitting to publishers or intend to publish yourself, and make sure places are both concrete and exact.

Some Writers, Poets, and Artists Are Known for Their Places

View of Chicago skyscrapers behind a bridge over the Chicago RiverPlace has been particularly important to some noted authors. You cannot imagine the story’s characters without the place where the author has put them:  Dublin  to James Joyce, small town and rural Mississippi to Eudora Welty and William Faulkner, Paris,  Spain, and Africa to Ernest Hemingway, Camden, Ohio to Sherwood Anderson, southern United States to Truman Capote, James Agee, Reynolds Price, Pat Conroy, and many other “Southern writers,“ the plains of Nebraska to Willa Cather, Chicago to Saul Bellow, the Mississippi River to Mark Twain, the English moors to Charlotte Bronte and sister Emily,  eighteenth century London to Charles Dickens, Mexico and the state of Texas to Katherine Anne Porter,  Los Angeles to mystery writer Raymond Chandler, and so on.

Places are very important to poets too: America is Walt Whitman’s subject, and Patterson, New Jersey is special to William Carlos Williams. And a place may be a favorite subject of painters: his gardens to Claude Monet, the hill visible from his window to Paul Cezanne.

Models

Below are places from my life I have described in stories I’ve written:

A Chicago Alley Late On a Rainy Night When I Was Five

Bungalows on a neighbborhood street with lawns and a sidewalk(My father was an air raid warden during World War II, and once he took me with him during an air raid practice when the lights of the city were turned off and the skies were filled with search lights) “My father and I turned and came up behind the church where a delivery truck was parked. We walked down the alley, keeping our eyes trained on the apartment buildings’ windows, past the empty lot overgrown with weeds and covered with tin cans and newspapers, and past the bent-in-half, arthritic and reclusive witch’s bleak house. Her ferociously unfriendly German shepherds were oddly quiet. We passed the drowsy homes and apartment buildings of neighbors, only some of whose names we knew. Behind the walls of those buildings were people not unlike us, simple people, all with the stories of their lives never to be written.  All shades were drawn, and so the night was perfect, with no more reminders necessary.

My father stopped to look straight up through the drizzle again and then so did I. Between the sweeping beams of the search lights, white stars Wet road with starry-looking street lamps at nightand a full moon dangled in the sky. On the back porches in neat array, like miniature glass sentinels, stood the empty bottles left out for the milk man.  Branches of trees laden with rain bent low over back fences like old women on canes. When the wind blew, the leaves showered the two of us with water, and we laughed. On the ground lay deep puddles that we had no choice but to step through, which was fine with me because I was wearing boots. My father’s shoes made squishing sounds and he said,” Another pair down the drain” and we laughed at that, and I splashed through, heavy-footed.”

Chicago on a Summer Night

“It was a typical August night in the city, a moonlit night that if you lived in that part of the country you knew intuitively would witness a drop in temperature that would turn a blistering hot day cold almost precisely one minute after the stroke of twelve. In the air circulating on a breeze were fish smells from the beaches of Lake Michigan that were coming into view as we walked through a park that had a merry-go-round and Park bench between two trees and sunsetswings. The night had taken on an indefinable splendor and given me a feeling of exquisite peace that I hadn’t felt since childhood. I saw a white yacht that was illuminated by deck lights out on the lake.  Small waves rocked a rowboat that was not very far from me. With a whoosh, waves tumbled over themselves onto a beach.  A bell chimed somewhere on the water. There was a splash and then another. The vivacious woman I was with took off her shirt and bra and swung them over her head like a lasso. She said, “Guess what I do for a living.” I said, “I’ll bet you four million dollars that you are an actress.”

A Bar in a Town in Montana, United States

After we graduated from high school my good friend Nick and I–he eighteen, I seventeen–decided to ride freight trains for a while.  A train heading west came along and we hopped it.

“Down the wide main street and prominently visible from our freight train that had just pulled in, the alluring green neon sign of the Welcome Inn burned brightly. It was a small, squat, one-story square log building that night and day hummed and trembled with pulsing music and in which who knew what went on. But we were curious to find out. We entered that tumult of sweat and whiskey, amidst the glow of the red bar lights and clouds of floating cigarette smoke, and stood at the bar next to a tattooed woman snapping a bull whip and wearing a black satin cape with shining red lining, and saw a man with a chin scar and an eye-patch get angry and pull a pistol on another man. The second man took the gun away from the first and slugged him over the head. He turned to us disgusted with his friend, who lay dazed and prone on the floor, people stepping over him, and said, not in any way angry, “He’s always doing that,” and that was the end of that.

Pale blue and brown old cars lined up on grassOld cars with dented fenders and gaudy garters dangling on their rear-view mirrors and pick-up trucks with rifle racks cradling ominous shotguns and carbines were parked four deep in the lot. When the door of the Inn swung open, muscular men, their shirt sleeves rolled up above the bicep, sauntered out arrogantly, their arms tight around the waists of conspicuously made-up women, their heads thrown back in exaltation and abandon, and the chime of laughter spilled into the night like flowing wine.”

The College Town Where I Lived

“… a small drowsy college set in a little town of narrow, winding cobblestone streets crowded with lovely old gnarled oaks, maples, and sycamores and wild, untrimmed hedges. Pinnacles, domes, and spires of church towers, like the great cathedrals of Europe, rose gradually and wonderfully and were visible everywhere. In the yards, along crumbling stone fences sprouting moss, lichens, and ferns, were an abundance of rose gardens that were sadly withered at that time of year. The town was surrounded on all sides by tractors and threshers left overnight by farmers in wheat fields, and the campus was split in two by a river with an Indian name.”

 

A street with shopsExcellent writers should be able to describe places that they have experienced or have heard or read about and can clearly envision as they compose. They should be able to create vivid descriptions that enliven the text and appeal to the reader’s senses.

 

© 2022 David J. Rogers

For my interview from the international teleconference with Ben Dean about Fighting to Win, click the following link:

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Filed under Descriptive Writing, Developing Talent, Human Potential and Achievement, Place, Writing, Writing improvement, Writing models

Writing Efficiently

APPLY THIS PROGRAM FOR WRITING REGULARLY IF YOU DON’T HAVE A LOT OF TIME

 

“Great things are not done by impulse, but by a series of small things brought together’” (George Eliot).

When a young William Faulkner met the famous short story writer Sherwood Anderson and learned that Anderson worked only a few hours and had the rest of the day to do what he pleased, Faulkner thought that was a pretty good deal and decided the writer’s life was for him. But you are probably not a person of leisure and must work on writing during the limited time available to you, which may not be much.

Round orange clock with sign saying 30 MinIn Publish and Flourish, Tara Gray advocates a writing program of a short 15-30 minutes rather than waiting for large blocks of time longer than three hours. Her interest was mainly academic writing and her little book was aimed at academics writing scholarly articles. But the research findings she cites and her prescriptions are pertinent to any writers who don’t have the luxury of lots of available time.

Gray refers to a survey of a college faculty engaged in research who estimated they worked almost 60 hours per week, including half of that time on research. The subjects were asked to keep records of their work weeks by jotting down every fifteen minutes whether or not they were working.  Although writing was supposedly to be the main emphasis, only a small fraction of their time was actually devoted to writing—30 minutes per week. The subjects agreed that they weren’t as busy as they thought and had free periods or periods of time spent on low-priority activities, time that could be used for writing.

To avoid irregular writing, program the activity–write on a regular basis. Writing every day even for a quarter or half hour will greatly improve your production. In one study people who wrote for a quarter hour to a half hour wrote twice as many total hours and produced ten times as many published articles as people who wrote for more than three hours, but sporadically.

Two women having coffee togetherForm a pact with a buddy. You’re more likely to achieve your writing goals—or any kind of goals–if you make clear to another person or persons what you’re trying to accomplish and share your results with them. And ask them to support and help monitor your efforts. In one study writers who wrote daily and kept records AND also made themselves accountable to another person for writing daily, outperformed the writers who wrote in blocks and didn’t keep records 9:1.

A group of writers were studied over two years. In the first year, they wrote occasionally in big blocks of time. In the second year, they wrote 15-30 minutes daily, kept records, and held themselves accountable to others. The percentage of participants who finished manuscripts rose from 10% in the first year to 100% in the second year.” (C.R. Boice “Strategies for Enhancing Scholarly Productivity.”)

Tara Gray suggests that the buddy should have certain characteristics:

  1. Should understand the absolute importance of writing daily.
  2. Should hold you responsible for your daily writing without shaming or blaming.
  3. Needn’t be a writer.Two gray tabby cats

One writer said, “Just having to tell someone the silly excuses I have for not working on my research helped me quit allowing it to happen.”

  1. Get the most benefit from your time no matter how little of it you have. French chancellor Henri Francois D’Aguesseau noticed that his wife came down for dinner ten minutes or so late every evening. Over a period of a little over a year he completed a book of three volumes while waiting for her, and the book became a bestseller in 1688.
  2. Don’t stop writing. “Once at the desk…you will find your subconscious drawing on various reserves to persuade you to stop: fear, boredom, and the impulse to track down that trivial point by adjourning to the library… Don’t.”( Deirdre N. McCloskey, Economical Writing).
  3. Write first thing in the morning. What you do first every day without exceptions gets done. Almost all writers are successful when they write in the morning. Many people who write at other times experiment and find that morning is best.
  4. Keep daily records and weekly summaries. Writers who keep daily record of time spent writing outperform writers who don’t keep daily records 4:1. A format to use: Jot down the exact minute you start actual writing, not your warm-up, not your review of yesterday’s writing. Doing that will be a message to yourself: “Now I’m focusing on writing.” Note the time you stop for a break and when you resume. And the time when you quit for the day. Write from the first day of the writing project.  Note every day the amount of time you spent writing.
  5. Treat yourself to something pleasant as a reward for staying with the program.
    Sun   Mo   Tue   Wed   Thu   Fri Sat   Total for week Shared with partner
Writing time

 

 

Minutes Writing

 

 

 

 

Old fashioned drawing of a woman at a writing tableIf you need to do research, keep your research minutes to the barest reasonable minimum and your writing minutes to a maximum.  You needn’t write for long periods to be more highly productive than you might expect.

 

 

 

© 2020 David J. Rogers

For my interview from the international teleconference with Ben Dean about Fighting to Win, click the following link:

Interview with David J. Rogers

 

Order Fighting to Win: Samurai Techniques for Your Work and Life eBook by David J. Rogers

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Order Waging Business Warfare: Lessons From the Military Masters in Achieving Competitive Superiority

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