Monday, February 7, 2011

Straight Furrows



“A sentence should read as if its author, had he held a plough instead of a pen, could have drawn a furrow deep and straight to the end.” Henry David Thoreau

What's your take on this? What efforts do you make along these lines? Do you wrestle with first drafts, working to perfect everything? Does your writing meander through a draft, and then straighten out in the final version?

I've been discussing this meandering thing with my teen essay class students. I encourage them to ditch the aimless sentences in their essays, and to opt for purposeful ones instead. Sharp, clean, crisp prose, now that's the stuff I like to see them writing in this arena.

This discussion, though, has got me thinking. When, while writing, is meandering appropriate? Often? Sometimes? Never?

With so many genres respresented in my followers, I'm looking forward to seeing what you think. So go ahead, help me start a good conversation! I'm awaiting your thoughts. :)

Are your writing furrows "deep and straight to the end"?


Happy writing,
Karen


Photo credit: Icefront http://www.sxc.hu/photo/556555

41 comments :

  1. Karen,
    One thing that helped me most as a beginning writer was not so much writing it down, but cutting it out. A little meandering isn't a bad thing; it keeps the momentum going. Write tight is my mantra. I am now at a point where I edit as I go, then once again when I reread. Think of your writing as a flowering bush that requires pruning. When you prune some of the redundancy it shapes your story better.
    http://lindaoconnell.blogspot.com/

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  3. Hello Karen...For me, as a writer, I always do what the title of my blog says, namely, write from the heart. Of course, I must be cognizant of passive tenses, broken phrases, etc. If any of those slip in, they can be removed and revised in the final draft. However, first and foremost, is looking deep within the heart and letting the thoughts and words flow from there. Hope you have a good and peaceful day. Susan

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  4. I think both have there place. In writing it is an emotion, a place, a person, etc... we wish to paint. Sometimes short, sometimes to the point, just depends on the emotion.

    But hey, I'm a long winded KY girl :)
    Jules @ Trying To Get Over The Rainbow

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  5. Linda,
    Sounds like you work a lot like I do. That's a good analogy, thanks!

    Susan,
    Yes, writing from the heart, as your blog says, is one of the keys. You have a wonderful day too!

    Jules,
    Hey, I can be pretty long winded and I hail from the east coast! Perhaps we all have some of that in there. :)

    Blessings,
    Karen

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  6. I take it that it implies smoothness, that the story flows without effort.

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  7. I know meandering is important when I first write my thoughts for a new idea to expose creativity and 'realism.' I like crisp, clear, to the point, but notice my writing then becomes stiff if I don't add a 'meandering' phrase (grammatically correct though)!

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  8. Beautiful picture drawn in my mind. I like straight and to the point. Paragraphs with a lot of fluff, I tend to glaze over. :O)

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  9. I agree with Diane. The best thing for an author to do would be to cut out the fluff and to write with purpose. That way everything is relative. :)

    xoxo, The BooKrushers.

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  10. Alex,
    Good point. And that we can actually see the point, whether fiction or non fiction.

    Lynn,
    You're right here too. We can't be stiff and wooden either. I think it's such a process, you know?

    Diane,
    Me too! Not that I don't like a good descriptive tale, but I need to see where it's going.

    Kimberly,
    I think we're better off without the useless fluff, too. Not that there's not some meandering along the way to the purpose. :)

    Blessings all,
    Karen

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  11. I am no authority, except to add that in the beginning I tried each and everything any author was willing to share. As I matured and gained confidence I learned what worked best for me. I see so many new writers worrying over that exact thing. If it works for me it must work for them. Sadly, it often takes writing to figure it out. Look at the answers here. Each author had to compose first to name what process worked best for them.

    I'm currently working on my 5th and 6th WIP and wouldn't you know it... I'm using the same approach I used in the first 4. I finish the draft, then begin revising from the beginning. Once I've completely the second draft, then I do an outline, then struggle through the third, fourth, fifth and sixth drafts. Each morning when I return to my work, I begin reading out loud the current scene I'm working on. I've yet to be able to start off on the next sentence from where I left off. I can't seem to get the momentum unless I start at the beginning of the scene.

    My favourite part is revising.

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  12. I wish there were some hard and fast rule. But I think how much a writer meanders has a lot to do with style. Virginia Woolf, for instance, has a beautiful style, but I wouldn't call it "straight."

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  13. I do editing as I write. Every time I start a new day of writing I go back and re-read what I wrote the day before and usually will end up chopping a lot or tightening sentences. A little meandering is ok, but for me as a reader I like writers to keep a straight pithy path. :)

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  14. My usual method is to edit as I go. I look for passive words and exchange for active, cut whatever can be. As Linda said: Write tight. That said, participating in NaNo taught me the benefit of letting the story and characters flow without my editing to stop them. I was amazed by the twists and turns that developed when I didn't get it my own way. Eventual editing is critical, of course, but to begin with a flow of words is not a bad thing. Anne Lamott in "Bird by Bird" encourages this. Her belief is that it might take six pages of that meandering to find where the heart of your story really begins. You may discard all six pages and retain only one small gem, but sometimes that gem is all you need.

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  15. Joylene,
    Wow, interesting stuff, and you with all those books under your belt! I'm thinking I agree, it is an individual thing and we find it as we grow.

    Angela,
    This is true too. Hadn't thought about it quite like that. I think some writers meander more purposefully and effectively. Not sure where I fit yet with that!

    Jennifer,
    It's interesting to hear how you write as I observe your journey from your blog. You and I sound similar, except you have fiction books published! :)

    Lisa,
    Me too! Although sometimes I shut the editor off till I get some things down. My inner editor is rather fickle sometimes too.

    Blessings,
    Karen

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  16. When I start out on a project I try and make it as clear and polished as I can. Of course I always straighten it out in the end. The path always tends to veer for me when I’m right in the middle of a book and so I have to return to the beginning.

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  17. Hi Karen -

    I'm a Seat-of-the-pants writer, so meandering is second nature to me. If I get to far off track, I clean it up in the editing stage.

    Right now, I'm trying on different beginnings for my next WIP.

    Blessings,
    Susan :)

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  18. I like "tight" writing so not much meandering although when the flow stops it is a good way to find a path through the unknown. Meander some then prune it up.

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  19. I love that line! It gives me so much to think about!

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  20. I'm a meanderer at the beginning of a project--the goal at that point is just to break through the block and get something down on paper. Someone once said you have to freewrite at least three pages before you realize what you want to say. At that point the furrow begins to straighten and the hard work begins...! Good question :-)

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  21. Lindsey,
    You know, I think knowing how we work is part of how we bring it back where we want it. Thanks for the input!

    Susan R.,
    Oh yeah, I forgot about the SOTP thing! And yes, you are! So what is this next WIP...? :)

    Sally,
    I like that! Great way to put it; you're a genius!

    Kristen,
    I know, it drew me when I first saw it. It says so much and leaves much to interpretation too!

    Kenda,
    Aha, now there's another good way to put it. I need to do more freewriting, actually. Always telling my students to do it, so I should too!

    Blessings all,
    Karen

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  22. I used to be more meandering but I'm trying to be more of a goal-directed plower in my sentences. Great post!

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  23. Hi Karen .. I'm not sure I can answer this - not being an author as such .. I know I hit the sweet spot quite often & honestly don't know how - probably just coming from the feelings within. I wrote a two page article on my uncle's funeral and parting .. which everyone commented on, and I guess my letters pre- the blog were similar - heartfelt with the involvement I had with my mother's situation.

    I should edit more .. but I'll learn as I go & should I ever write a book .. then I'll have a true story to follow, which possibly is easier than creating and crafting ..

    I loved the quote - a little license with words is necessary to encompass more than the furrow - the picture says it .. I can see straight as a furrow, but there's so much more the green fields, the rise and fall of the hills, the azure blue sky, the summer clouds and the swathes of green ..

    Cheers Hilary

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  24. I tend to meander a lot, but during the edits I try to return back to the tracks.

    Loved the quote, its something we should all strive for.

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  25. Boy, Karen, you got me thinking. Good thing I'm on the second vat of coffee or we'd have problems.

    Anyway, sometimes I feel like the Family Circus cartoon. You know, when one of the children is on an errand and it shows their tracks going all over and round about the town? I often say, "I just live with funny people and tell what they do," so if I menader sometimes, that's the deal. :)

    Hugging your neck

    Rhonda

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  26. Lydia,
    Me too sometimes..thanks a bunch!

    Hilary,
    You may not be an author but you ARE a writer, and one who has a lovely blog! Think we're all learning as we go. :)

    Rachna,
    I wonder if there aren't valuable lessons through all of it, meandering included!

    Rhonda,
    LOL! Love those cartoons, and can relate as well. Glad you are in the coffee thinking mode!

    Blessings,
    Karen

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  27. Thoreau had a way with words. He could really paint a picture for the reader. I am getting better and am learning something new every day.

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  28. Good question! I think long sentences can have an impact, especially if they are conveying the muddled thoughts of the character. Sentence structure can add to the tension.

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  29. I like this visual. I'm thinking you mean that every word should count, and have a direct point. I'm really trying to do that without the fillers.

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  30. Stephen,
    This is true, always so much to learn!

    Jill,
    Another good point! This is true too.

    Terri,
    That's my take on it too. Always refining my writing as I go.

    Blessings,
    Karen

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  31. Ooh, Karen, that's a nice quote. And I get it, but I don't know if I entirely agree. Some things are best when subtle. Hmm.

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  32. What a great questions. I think if a writer is still figuring out what to say, it's good to meander with some prewriting. Or if that's how you approach a first draft, then the first draft. I figure all that stuff out before the first draft. So when I sit down to write, I writer for a purpose for that scene and the story. But there is definitely a time and place for meandering.

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  33. Janna,
    I know what you mean. I wonder if these things are more purposeful than the reader might think. The things we need to do to get our point across!

    Laura,
    Yes, I really think it's a matter of the big picture, as no matter what we write, we want it to make a point and give the reader a satisfying experience.

    Blessings,
    Karen

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  34. So gorgeous! Oh I want to be deep and straight to the end!! Lovely post- thank you.

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  35. Karen, sometimes a little meandering is good. It can take a story in a direction that the writer never realized. A better direction. But a lot of meandering can kill a writer. Because they never find their focus. And their book is all mumbo jumbo. If it ever gets finished.

    Love your questions, you thoughtful, awesome, very cool amigo you. :)

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  36. I wasn't sure if you did awards or anything like them but I see you do. Please visit my post today and pick yourself up some blog love :)
    Jules @ Trying To Get Over The Rainbow

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  37. Jennie,
    Thank you! I loved the photo and thought it went nicely with the quote. :)

    Robyn,
    Back at ya girl. I mean cool amigo chick! ;)

    Jules,
    Thanks, you're a peach! Will check it out!

    Blessings,
    Karen

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  38. Furrows - what an interesting visual! As a devotional writer, I use examples from my daily life that allow me to spice up my writing with lots of adjectives. I love painting word pictures. Maybe not as direct and to the point as I could be, but more interesting reading from my viewpoint.

    I DO have a take-away to communicate with each devotion, so in that respect, my furrow are straight!

    Have a blessed week, Karen!

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  39. I typically like terse sentences interwoven with meandering ones. I enjoy meandering when I'm writing sentences related to thought processes or any circumstance when stream of conciousness style seems to fit. I good writing should have some of both to keep the readers on their toes.

    Lee
    Tossing It Out

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  40. Ooooo; powerful quote! It immediately makes me think of how worthy is intentionality & focus. Getting people to track alongside a thought is best - in my opinion - when there's little zigging & zagging.

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  41. Karen:
    An interesting quote. I find myself doing the straight-get to the point- approach and then other times meandering here there and yon. Some times my mind goes likewise.

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Thanks for stopping by! I appreciate your input. Have a blessed day!