Is it self-discipline or self-love a writer needs?

Is it self-discipline or self-love a writer needs?

Everyone needs self-discipline, and most of us learn it from an early age. Daily schedules must be met even by infants. At my age, one would think self-discipline would no longer be an issue.

I’m in awe of writers who also have full-time jobs. They have to be intentional in finding time to write. When I hear a writer say she gets up two hours earlier than is otherwise necessary every morning in order to write, I’m blown away. I’m not a morning person and the thoughts of getting up two hours earlier than necessary send shivers down my spine. Plus, there’s no way I could write a complete sentence in the early morning hours. My hat’s off to each and every writer who has to do this.

Being retired, I have “all the time in the world.” For that, I am the envy of every working person. If I only had “all the energy in the world” or the energy of an average child or teen, I’d be living in a perfect bubble.

Deadlines

Photo by Tim Gouw on Unsplash

I’ve always been motivated by deadlines. I finished term papers the night before they were due. I tend to finish (or not finish!) reading library books the night before they’re due. Self-imposed deadlines don’t usually work for me.

Every time I’ve tried to work out a writing schedule on paper, I’ve had limited success. I tend to over-schedule my days. Now that I have the freedom to do as I please, I want to do it all. I can’t do it all, and that’s a lesson I’m trying to learn. Everything takes longer than I think it will take.

Is writing my job?

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Everything I’ve read about writing and self-discipline says a writer must have it. Without self-discipline, the writing won’t get done. I’ve read that I must treat my writing like it’s my job. I’ve taken these adages as truth, but I’m here today to rock the boat.

I never had a job I truly enjoyed, so the word “job” carries negative connotations for me. I love to write and I enjoy doing the research historical fiction calls for. When my writing or research becomes a job, I’ll probably lose interest and move on to something else. The problem with that is:  I can’t imagine not writing.

Self-discipline tips

I’m probably the last person who needs to give others self-discipline tips or advice; however, I can’t be the only person out there with the same or similar roadblocks. Illness happens, and age slows most of us down.

Trouble with self-discipline and things I’m feeling pressured to work on:

1.  Writing Time

2.  Building My Writer’s/Author’s Platform

3.  Sleep  

4.  Reading Time

5.  Weight

All five things I listed above require self-discipline. What I’m seeking is a balance of self-discipline and self-love. I must love myself and like myself before I can find productive self-discipline. What part does motivation play? If I’m happy with myself, I’ll be more productive.

Making time to write

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Instead of scheduling writing time each day, I think I’ll write better quality prose if I give myself the freedom to write when the mental and physical energy come together. That might not happen every day. Criticizing myself on the days those don’t come together is not productive. Most days I’m in a brain fog, and there’s no point forcing creativity.

Making time to build a writer’s platform

I’m taking an online course about building a writer’s platform. I’ve learned that I’m doing some things right, but there are many things I need to start doing. It seems overwhelming, but I’m learning a lot about what an author needs to include in his or her website and blog.

Photo by Jamie Street on Unsplash

I have a couple more weeks to complete the course. It will take longer than that to implement all the things I’ve learned. What I’m trying to learn is to not be too hard on myself about the things I don’t get done. Again, that’s not productive. I need to concentrate on what I do accomplish.

If you want to know more about the course I’m taking, here’s a link: https://www.wow-womenonwriting.com/. Click on “Classes” and then scroll down. The course I’m taking is Karen Cioffi’s “Build Your Author/Writer Platform.” It’s offered again in September and November.

Sleep

I have a medical condition that mess up my circadian rhythm. After 32 years of wrecked sleep, I’m going to a sleep coach. She’s helping me get on a regular sleep schedule.

Photo by Alexandra Gorn on Unsplash

The process involves getting a certain amount of full-spectrum sunlight for at least 30 minutes in the morning and in the evening, eating meals and carbohydrate snacks at prescribed intervals, dimming the lights and not sitting near the TV for three hours before bedtime, not looking at an electronic screen for two hours before going to bed, getting up and going to bed at the same time every day, and turning the lights out at an appointed time to make my bedroom so dark I literally can’t see my hand in front of my face.

Not looking at my computer or my tablet for two hours before bedtime and getting up at the same time every morning have been the most difficult facets for me.

As of last week, I’m supposed to drastically curtail my “to do” list and allow myself more time to accomplish each task. You see, each thing I’m feeling pressured about relates to getting my sleep regulated. Getting my sleep regulated will give me the opportunity to have a better quality of life and will make it easier for me to do the things I want to do.

Making time to read

Photo by Glen Noble on Unsplash

In order to be a good writer, I need to be an avid reader. For a couple of months now, I can’t seem to set aside enough time to read what I want to read, or I fall asleep with the book or e-reader in my hands. (Those “dim lighting for three hours before bedtime” and “no electronics for two hours before bedtime” rules aren’t helping!)

Since I report on my blog the books I’ve read, my reading is in some ways becoming a job. I don’t want to feel that way about reading, so I might lighten up on my TBR (To Be Read) list. If the books on my TBR were gathered together instead of just being a list, they would probably look something like the above photo!

Weight

Photo by i yunmai on Unsplash

I need to lose weight. I’m trying to limit myself to 1,200 calories each day. Most days I’ve succeeded, but I’ve only just begun. Counting calories is a time-consuming endeavor, but I need to do this before things get out-of-control.

Until my next blog post

The Spies of Shilling Lane, by Jennifer Ryan

I hope you have a good book to read or listen to. I’m listening to The Spies of Shilling Lane, by Jennifer Ryan.

If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you might recall that I first mentioned Jennifer Ryan and her debut novel, The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir, in my March 10, 2017 blog post (https://janetswritingblog.com/2017/03/10/11-things-ive-learned-about-social-media-since-february-21-2017/) and again in my April 1, 2017 blog post (https://janetswritingblog.com/2017/04/01/the-authors-i-read-in-march/) when I reviewed that book.

If you’re a writer, I hope you have the self-love, self-motivation, and self-discipline to finish your current WIP (Work in Progress.)

Thank you for reading my blog. You could have spent the last few minutes doing something else, but you chose to read my blog.

Let’s continue the conversation

Photo by Jessica Lewis on Unsplash

Do you schedule reading and/or writing time? If so, how is that working for you? What works for you?

Janet

#FixYourNovel #2: Scene Outline

From the beginning in June of 2010, this blog has generally been about my journey as a writer. It hasn’t been a smooth ride so far, and some days the destination doesn’t appear any closer than when I began.

This reminds me of an experience my sister and I had on a trip to the western part of the United States a few years ago. We saw our first butte. It didn’t look more than a mile or two away, so we turned off onto a dirt road that looked like it would take us to the butte. We don’t have buttes in North Carolina, so we wanted to see one up close.

Photo by Greg Rakozy on Unsplash

After driving on this straight, flat road for a half hour or so, the butte didn’t look any closer than it had when we turned off the main highway. We gave up on reaching the butte and turned around.

As for the manuscript for my Doubloon novel, I haven’t given up and I haven’t turned around. I don’t think I could, even if I wanted to. I’m still learning about the work that has to be done after the rough draft is finished.

Scene Outlines

In my mind I thought I could evaluate every scene in my novel manuscript of more than 90,000 words by mid-July and be ready to send a detailed scene outline to a professional editor for a critique. In the meantime, I discovered a scene outline template on C.S. Lakin’s website.

(Ms. Lakin’s February 1, 2016 blog post, “Using a Scene Template to Craft Perfect Scenes” can be found at https://www.livewritethrive.com/2016/02/01/using-a-scene-template-to-craft-perfect-scenes/#more-7387, in case you’re interested in looking at her template. Click on “Resources” and scroll down to the clickable list of free writing resources she offers.)

I wrote an outline before writing the rough draft of the The Doubloon. After finishing the rough draft, I modified my outline into a scene outline for reference purposes. Then, I found Ms. Lakin’s template. It includes details and questions I hadn’t thought about being part of a scene outline.

Expanding my outline based on Ms. Lakin’s template has been a beneficial process because it makes me state how each scene drives the plot forward, what background details are revealed, and how the point-of-view character grows or changes. It might even tell me that one or more scenes aren’t necessary.

Novel readers won’t stand for boredom.

With today’s blog post topic in mind, I wanted to see what other writing experts had to say. My basic takeaway from K.M. Weiland’s June 17, 2019 blog post, https://www.helpingwritersbecomeauthors.com/how-to-write-interesting-scenes/ was that every scene needs to hold the reader’s attention.

Ms. Weiland goes on to list five things every scene should contain. She wrote, “Basically, the art of writing interesting scenes is the art of preventing reader boredom.”

Douglas W. T. Smith is an Australian fantasy author. In his blog post on May 29, 2019, “How To Bring Life And Fluency to Each Scene In Your Novel” (https://dwtsmith.wordpress.com/2019/05/29/how-to-bring-life-and-fluency-to-each-scene-in-your-novel/)  he gave four important tips for writing scenes.

My favorite takeaway from Mr. Smith’s blog post was “Each scene should stand alone, make it dazzling enough to inform your reader of the necessary plot information, exciting enough to create interest and interesting enough to cause the reader to keep going.”

I will continue to work on my scene outline. As a hope-to-be debut novelist with my The Doubloon manuscript, I think it’s a good idea for me to hire a professional editor to evaluate my scene outline. I’ll let you know when that happens.

In case you missed #FixYourNovel #1:  Read it Aloud

Here’s the link to my May 24, 2019 blog post:  https://janetswritingblog.com/2019/05/27/fixyournovel-1-read-it-aloud/.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I’m still pulled between several books and not able to finish any of them.

If you’re a writer, I hope you have productive writing time.

Thank you for reading my blog. You could have spent the last few minutes doing something else, but you chose to read my blog.

Let’s continue the conversation

What are the “buttes” in your life – those things you want to accomplish that seem to always be out of reach?

Janet

Ride of a Lifetime!

One of my regular blog readers suggested months ago that I should put a sample of my writing on my blog. I couldn’t decide what to use. The short stories I’ve written are too long, unless I turn one of them into a series. That’s still a possibility.

That reader’s suggestion wouldn’t let me go. I finally ran out of excuses, so today I’m sharing a story I wrote a few years ago. It’s not fiction. It really happened. It was one of the most harrowing experiences of my life.

Photo courtesy of Alessio Lin on Unsplash.com.

“Ride of a Lifetime!” by Janet Morrison

                My morning did not get off to a good start. I had an 8:30 appointment to get my car oil changed, although I am not a morning person. It was one of the coldest mornings of the winter. I reached for my cell phone, only to discover the battery was dead. I plugged it into the charger and went out to start my car. It was going to be a typical Monday, or so I thought.

                I cranked up the engine so it could warm up while I scraped the heavy frost off the car windows. Vrooooom! The engine roared as if it would leap out from under the hood. The tachometer momentarily shot up to peak range, indicating the cold engine was racing at 5,000 revolutions per minute. But, as suddenly as the engine erupted at top speed, with a quick tap of my foot on the gas pedal, it dropped down to a normal idle.

                While I cleared the frost from the windows, the engine purred. I could not have anticipated the wild ride that lay ahead of me. I buckled my seatbelt, and eased out the gravel driveway. There was very little traffic that time of the morning on the country road. School traffic had long since passed, as had everyone needing to get to work in Charlotte by 8:30 or even 9:00 a.m.

                My car only reached 25 miles per hour before I got to the stop sign less than a quarter mile up the road.  I made a right turn.

                Suddenly, the car accelerated beyond my intentions. The gas pedal depressed and pulled away from my foot. The 45 mile per hour speed limit sign blurred as I sped by it going 60. I pumped the brake and slowed the car just enough to round a ninety degree curve. As soon as I let up on the brake, the speedometer again shot up to 60 miles per hour.

                Fortunately, I was familiar with every twist, turn, and pothole in the route that lay ahead. The road in front of me played in my head like a movie. Where could I safely get off the road? All the while, I pumped the brake in hopes the problem would correct itself. What in the world was wrong with my car? I wondered if I would live to tell the story.

                Just then I came up on a side road that met my way at a T-intersection. I guess the unsuspecting driver of the car that approached on the side road assumed I was traveling at the posted speed limit and was in control of my car. He pulled out in front of me.

                “If you only knew!” I screamed, still riding the brake to keep the car under 60 miles per hour.

                My luck held, as the other driver disregarded the posted speed limit and was soon a safe distance ahead of me. But, being familiar with the road, I knew my joy ride would end soon, one way or another. Five driveways and two subdivision entrances lay ahead before a hill and a traffic light at a four-lane highway.

                “Lord, please get me out of this predicament,” I prayed aloud, hands white-knuckled from gripping the steering wheel. My right foot continued to pump the brake. I visualized the wide but short shoulder on my side of the road at the coming intersection. Meanwhile, the engine continued to roar and the tachometer needle was all over the dial.

                I had both feet on the brake pedal and was practically standing up in the car as I crested the hill. The drivers of the cars in my path were blissfully unaware of the impending danger. The shoulder of the road was still narrow. A deep ditch dropped off beyond. The speedometer held in the mid-20s, but hitting the ditch at that speed would mean certain death in my compact car.

                “Please, Lord, help me get this car stopped!”

                The red traffic light came up fast. The line of cars sat motionless. Then, just when I had to turn the wheel and take my car off the road to avoid causing a six-car pile-up, I came to the wide section of road shoulder. Unable to get the car slowed below 25 miles per hour, I slammed the gear stick into “park.” The car made an awful noise before it stopped a few feet short of a utility pole.

                My ride lasted no more than three minutes and covered two and half miles, but it seemed to last an eternity with me not knowing what the final outcome would be. I was safe, though, and no one or their property had been injured.

                Another motorist let me use his cell phone to call the automobile club. In a few minutes my car was towed to the garage where they expected me for an oil change.

                I nervously waited for the mechanic to check out my car and tell me I had done major damage by stopping it the way I did. My car was old and I had visions of the repair estimate exceeding the value of the car. I braced myself for the bad news.

                It turned out that my transmission and engine suffered no damage and the cause of my runaway engine was an inexpensive and easy problem to fix. A squirrel had chewed a hole through my air filter and stored several cups of acorns on the engine. One of the acorns had fallen into the throttle and lodged there. The throttle was wide open and could not close. A squirrel and a tiny acorn could have cost me my life!

                A number of well-meaning people have asked me why I did not just turn off the ignition to stop the car in the road. Their insinuation is that doing so would have been the logical thing to do; however, my mechanic said I did the right thing. If I had turned off the ignition, I would have lost my power steering. My mechanic also said it is easy for others to speculate about what they would have done in my situation but, until you are hurtling down a country road with no way to stop your car, you do not know what you would do.

                For many months, I thought about that incident every time I got in my car. Would it happen again? Actually, it did, on a six-lane highway in Charlotte. But that’s a whole other story.

                For a long time, every time I saw a squirrel in the yards I wondered, Are you the one? I think the culprit moved on to bigger and better things, though. I could have sworn I saw him in a car insurance commercial. You know the one – two squirrels jump out in the road and force a car to wreck. There is something very familiar about one of those squirrels!

Janet

What I Read in June 2019

My reading was sporadic again in June. Perhaps it’s the nice summer weather that’s pulling me outside and into other activities. I listened to one complete book, finished reading a book I’d started reading in May, and I read a short story by Ron Rash. I started several other books, but you’ll have to wait and hear about them in August (if I finish reading them in July.)

Here are my impressions of what I did read.

Iron House, by John Hart

Iron House, by John Hart

In my June 17, 2019 blog post, https://janetswritingblog.com/2019/06/17/delving-deeper-into-dialects-and-accents-in-fiction/, I wrote about listening to Iron House, by John Hart and being distracted by the exaggerated Southern accent used by the professional reader on the audio edition of the novel. Since then, I looked at a print edition of the book to see how the dialogue was written. As I expected, it was written properly – not like it was portrayed on the audio. I should have read the book and skipped the audio edition.

I reread much of the book in printed form and got a lot more out of it than I did when trying to listen to it. The story is set in North Carolina. Iron House is the name of a reformatory school for boys. The story is primarily about the lives of two boys who were sent to Iron House.

Enough background is included for the reader to get a feel for the dreadful place, but then follows the one who got away, how his years at Iron House damaged him and turned him into a killer. He wants to turn his life around, but he soon finds out how difficult it will be to rid himself of the lowlifes he has associated with.

It is not a pleasant read. So far, it is my least favorite of John Hart’s novels. I will continue to give everything he writes a try, though. This hasn’t turned me against his writing. I just won’t listen to any of his future books.

The First Conspiracy:  The Secret Plot to Kill George Washington, by Brad Meltzer and Josh Mensch

The First Conspiracy: The Secret Plot to Kill George Washington, by Brad Meltzer and Josh Mensch

I read 70% of this nonfiction book in May, then had to get on the waitlist at the public library in order to finish reading it in June. I have a habit of trying to read too many books, so this happens more often than I’d like.

If you missed my comments about this book in my June 3, 2019 blog post, ­­­­https://janetswritingblog.com/2019/06/03/4-or-5-books-i-read-in-may-2019/ , I invite you to click on this link and read it if this true story interests you. I really liked this book. It filled in some gaps in my American history education.

Until I read this book, I had no idea there was a conspiracy within the ranks of the Continental Army to kill General Washington in the early summer of 1776! To tell you how far that conspiracy reached within the ranks of the army would give too much away. You’ll have to read it for yourself.

 “My Father Like a River,” a short story by Ron Rash

This short story by Ron Rash grabbed my attention from the opening line and held it to the end. In this story, Mr. Rash recalls a frightful day of fishing in the New River in Watauga County, North Carolina in 1962 with his father and brother.

Ron’s brother got caught up in the river’s currents. It is the story of how his father reacted and the example his father gave to his family in this horrifying event and throughout his life as he lost a good-paying management job and rebuilt a life for his family on a much lower income.

Since my last blog

I submitted two true stories for possible publication in future Chicken Soup for the Soul books. Writing fiction and writing real life are quite different. The writing I did last week proved to me that I prefer writing fiction. It will be months before I know if either of my submissions will be published, but you know I will announce the verdicts in my blog.

Until my next blog

I hope you have a good book to read. In addition to other books, I’m still reading ­­­­­­­­­­­­ Montauk, by Nicola Harrison.

If you’re a writer, I hope you have quality writing time.

Thank you for reading my blog. You could have spent the last few minutes doing something else, but you chose to read my blog.

Let’s continue the conversation

What are you reading? Would you recommend it?

While I still have your attention, please tell one other person about my blog either in person or via social media. Thank you!

Janet

Change of Scenery Does the Heart Good

I got away this weekend to the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. It always does my heart good to drive on the Blue Ridge Parkway and be surrounded by forests and views across miles and miles of mountains.

A change in scenery and a change in altitude can clear the head and breathe new life into a person. A change in altitude can create a change in attitude. That’s what this weekend’s trip to Asheville did for me.

The bride’s bouquet

A special cousin of mine who lives in California got married in Asheville on Saturday. It was my first opportunity to meet her husband, and I feel very good about this match. The wedding was beautiful and the associated festivities were wonderful. It was an honor and privilege to witness Melissa and Marty’s exchanging of vows and their happiness and respect for one another.

Asheville is an eclectic city, rich in history and natural beauty. The change in scenery and altitude, along with the blessing of attending the wedding of two such special people, was just what I needed. Driving south on the Blue Ridge Parkway, and then taking US-276 by Looking Glass Falls was a perfect way to end the weekend.

I came home with my batteries recharged, ready to plunge back into my writing and playing the dulcimer.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I’m reading Montauk, by Nicola Harrison.

If you’re a writer, I hope you have productive writing time and your projects are moving right along.

Thank you for reading my blog. You could have spent the last few minutes doing something else, but you chose to read my blog.

Let’s continue the conversation

What recharges your batteries and refreshes you for the task ahead?

Janet

Delving Deeper into Dialects and Accents in Fiction

My blog post last week, https://janetswritingblog.com/2019/06/10/a-wake-up-call-from-dr-henry-louis-gates-jr/, was about how reading Stony the Road:  Reconstruction, White Supremacy, and the Rise of Jim Crow, by Henry Louis Gates, Jr. tipped the scales for me in writing dialect and accents in fiction. One thing led to another, and that post became too long. Today’s blog post includes what I deleted from last Monday’s post.

Stony the Road: Reconstruction, White Supremacy, and The Rise of Jim Crow, by Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

If this is a topic you’re struggling with, I hope these two blog posts will trigger some questions in your mind and lead you to try to come to terms with this aspect of fiction writing.

If you are a reader but don’t aspire to write fiction, I hope my thoughts on the subject will spark a new awareness in you. It’s not just about literature, it’s about how we view our fellow citizens.

My wake-up call

The awakening Dr. Gates’ book prompted in me helped me realize that, except for using an occasional “ye” or “’Tis” for an Irish character’s speech, I wasn’t using any sort of dialect in the white characters’ dialogue. So why in the world was I using dialect in the dialogue of the slaves in the novel I’m writing, The Doubloon?

A device in writing is the use of attributing certain words or phrases to a particular character. This is done to help the reader distinguish one character from another. There is a way to do this without using “Plantation Dialect.”

Thank you, Dr. Gates, for turning that light bulb on in my head.

Another resource for writing vs. not writing accents in dialogue

Images from Louise Harnby’s “Writing Natural Dialogue & Thoughts” blog post from May 20, 2019.

I looked for additional professional advice on the topic of writing accents in dialogue and found the following blog post by fiction editor and proofreader Louise Harnby:  https://www.louiseharnbyproofreader.com/blog/writing-dialogue-and-thoughts-8-problems-and-how-to-fix-them.

She stated, “Bear in mind that dialogue tells us what words have been spoken, not how they’re spelled. Phonetic spelling can turn dialogue into pastiche, and offensive pastiche at that. It’s also difficult to absorb and distracts readers from your story.”

That led me to edit the dialogue I had written for a Frenchman in my novel manuscript. There is so much to learn. Times are changing. What was acceptable in fiction years ago or even last year, might not be acceptable now. Some people call this political correctness. That term has taken on negative backlash connotations, so I prefer to say, “When you know better, you do better.” Maya Angelou is credited with saying, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”

A piece of advice I took from Ms. Harnby’s blog post is this: “Use location rather than pronunciation to enrich characterization – how where they’re from affects the story, their perception of the conflict or their approach to solving it.” I think this is harder than writing phonetically, but nobody said writing a novel set in the 18th century American South would be easy.

Reinforced by listening to Iron House, by John Hart

My awareness of this matter was reinforced a couple of weeks ago as I listened to Iron House, by John Hart. Listening to the novel drove home the question about the use of accent in fiction. I did not finish listening to Iron House because I became completely distracted by the over-the-top Southern accent used by the professional reader.

Iron House, by John Hart

The way in which the professional reader exaggerated the speech of at least two characters in Iron House reminded me of the extreme Southern accents used by the actors in the old television series “In the Heat of the Night.” Since the series was set in Mississippi, the actors used such slow and pronounced “Southern” accents that it was irritating to my North Carolina ears. It came across as Hollywood making fun of the way I talk.

Iron House is set in North Carolina. I’ve lived my entire life in that state, and I’ve never heard anyone talk with the extreme drawl of Caravel and Abigail in the audio edition of that novel. It piqued my curiosity, so I checked out the printed version from the public library just to see how Mr. Hart wrote the words. Sure enough, he did not write the book phonetically to convey over-the-top pronunciation in any words of dialogue Caravel or Abigail had. So why did the publisher think it was acceptable for the reader of the audio edition of the novel to use a fake accent?

In all fairness, Iron House was published eight years ago. Perhaps an audio edition recorded in 2019 would be done differently.

This has all been quite an eye-opener for me on my journey as a writer. Sometimes I’ve wished I’d started my writing career as a young adult, but now I realize I would have been a very different writer at 26 than I am at 66. I think the 66-year-old me would be embarrassed by the fiction written by the 26-year-old me.

Thinking about my reading experience

If I’m reading the dialogue of a character from Boston, my brain knows what a Boston accent sounds like. I’ve known people from Boston, so I know they pronounce some things differently than I do but not like the over-the-top Boston accents we sometimes encounter on TV or in movies. The writer doesn’t have to spell a Bostonian’s dialogue phonetically for me to catch on.

Outsiders tend to paint everyone from New Jersey with the same phonetic brush, too. I know people from New Jersey, and they don’t sound anything like Vinny in the 1992 comedy movie “My Cousin, Vinny.”

But somehow, there is a difference between an actor conveying a regional accent and an actor portraying what Dr. Henry Louis Gates, Jr. refers to as “Plantation Dialect.” Although, I don’t appreciate an actor giving exaggerated pronunciations to a Southern character, it’s not the same as an actor giving exaggerated pronunciations to a black character. I think regional accents should be celebrated, but there is no place for “Plantation Dialect” in fiction in 2019.

I don’t have a problem with a Southern character saying “y’all” in the printed dialogue in a novel. I say it naturally. It rolls right off my tongue like butter. But I do have a problem with printed dialogue in a present-day novel having a black character saying “Nome” instead of “No, ma’am.” “Gwine” used to appear in the dialogue of black slaves in literature. I never did understand how “I’m going to” or even “I’m gonna” got translated into “gwine.”

Literature evolves as society evolves. When you know better, you should do better. I still have a lot to learn.

It will interesting to see how the dialogue in my novel is accepted or rejected by literary agents, editors, and publishers. When that time comes, I’ll let you know.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I’m reading The Prayer Box, by Lisa Wingate and Mr. Churchill’s Secretary, by Susan Elia MacNeal.

If you’re a writer, I hope you have quality writing time.

Thank you for reading my blog. You could have spent the last few minutes doing something else, but you chose to read my blog.

Let’s continue the conversation

Do you like reading fiction in which dialect is expressed through the spelling of words in dialect, or are you turned off by this practice? Do you think it’s time for us in 2019 to reassess how dialect is used in fiction? Should writers give readers enough credit to assume they can imagine how a character from a certain region would pronounce certain words?

Those of you who live in countries other than the United States are urged to chime in on this topic. Is this something authors in other countries are faced with as they write about regionalisms or even a past history in which certain groups of people were enslaved?

If today’s blog didn’t interest you, please come back next Monday for a different topic.

Janet

A Wake-Up Call from Dr. Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

“Find Your Roots” with Henry Louis Gates, Jr. on PBS

I’ve enjoyed the various television series Dr. Henry Louis Gates, Jr. has done on PBS (the Public Broadcasting System in the United States.) With my interest in genealogy, I’ve especially enjoyed his “Finding Your Roots” series where he (and his assistants) do a thorough genealogical search for well-known Americans. Many times, the findings are surprising.

In my blog post last Monday, https://janetswritingblog.com/2019/06/03/4-or-5-books-i-read-in-may-2019/ , I wrote about the books I read in May. I mentioned reading the first two chapters of Henry Louis Gates, Jr.’s new book, Stony the Road:   Reconstruction, White Supremacy, and the Rise of Jim Crow.

Stony the Road:   Reconstruction, White Supremacy, and the Rise of Jim Crow, by Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

Stony the Road: Reconstruction, White Supremacy, and The Rise of Jim Crow, by Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

The events and facts Dr. Gates included in his book were not in the history textbooks of my youth. This period in our nation’s history was omitted from our textbooks, as were the dark decades which followed in which “Jim Crow” laws were enacted and strictly enforced. All this was swept under the rug and not talked about. The precious little I was taught about the Reconstruction Era could be summed up as, “After the Civil War the ‘carpetbaggers’ from “up North” came down here to tell us what to do.” This always had negative connotations. I grew up in North Carolina.

As a lover of history, even at a young age, I lamented the fact that every year in school we’d study the years up to the end of the American Civil War, the school year would end, and the same thing would happen the next year. It always came across as a lack of time to study anything that happened after that war but, with the perspective I’ve gained in the last several years, I now wonder if this was part of a grand design by the State of North Carolina. Perhaps it was by intention that we never studied the Reconstruction Era.

A snapshot of my school years

So you’ll know the background from which I speak, here are the highlights of my school years as far as race goes: I attended an all-white public school through the sixth grade; racial desegregation was optional in 1965 when I was in the seventh grade (meaning there were three children from a black family who desegregated our school of grades 1-12 with around 1,000 students); the historic black public schools in our county were closed at the end of my seventh grade year, so the schools were completely racially-integrated thereafter.

Can you imagine being one of just three students of color in a school of 1,000 white students? I cannot imagine how Carolyn Morris and her two siblings felt. I also cannot imagine how all the black students in our county felt the following year when their schools were closed and they had no choice but to attend the schools that had preciously been all-white. It was a blessing that five of the six county high schools were consolidated in 1967 into two new high schools, so Central Cabarrus High School and Northwest Cabarrus High School were never racially-segregated.

Back to Dr. Gates’ book

From Dr. Gates’ book I learned in greater detail than I had before that great strides were made for racial integration during Reconstruction; however, “Jim Crow” laws started popping up all over the country (yes, even in The North) to squelch that progress. One fact that epitomizes the century after the American Civil War is that the University of South Carolina was racially-integrated after the War, but then laws were instituted to prohibit black students. The university wasn’t desegregated again until 1963.

The most important thing I learned as a writer

Stony the Road: Reconstruction, White Supremacy, and The Rise of Jim Crow, by Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

The most important thing I learned as a writer from reading Dr. Gates’ book is about the use of “Plantation Dialect” in fiction. It is something I have wrestled with in the years I’ve written and re-written my manuscript for The Spanish Coin/The Doubloon. With every revision I’ve deleted words of dialect. I had it down to just a couple of words (nawsuh for No, sir; Yessum for Yes, ma’am) by the time I read Dr. Gates’ book. Now I realize how that use of dialect, no doubt, comes across to an African-American reader.

As a white Southerner, I don’t like it when someone mocks my accent. I’m proud of my accent, but to see it overdone in spoken or written word is demeaning.

I’m fascinated by the regional accents in the United States. It’s a subject I’d like to study. I think these regional accents are a beautiful warp and weft in the fabric of our nation. If we all spoke just alike, life would be boring.

In next Monday’s blog post, I plan to delve more deeply into this subject as Dr. Gates’ book prompted me to do additional research about the use of dialect and accents in fiction. Learning to write fiction is a journey.

Since my last blog post

For a variety of reasons, I’ve made only scant progress on my manuscript for The Doubloon; however, what I’ve learned about the use of accent and dialect in fiction is far more important than my novel’s word count.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I’m reading The Things We Cannot Say, by Kelly Rimmer and The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek, by Kim Michele Richardson.

If you’re a writer, I hope you have productive writing time.

Thank you for reading my blog. You could have spent the last few minutes doing something else, but you chose to read my blog.

Let’s continue the conversation

What is your experience in writing or reading fiction in which dialect and accent were overdone? Have you noticed an evolution in how dialect and accent are handled in novels?

Janet