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Raw Literature: Possibilities

Raw Literature Possibilities @Charli_MillsFor the purpose of this series, we’ve been exploring what it is to write first works. We’ve considered What Lies Beneath the ongoing process of a memoirist who digs deep. We’ve interviewed a writer newly elected as State Representative of Missouri’s 91st District. We’ve contemplated writing that is Natural or Explicit, as well as recognizing when Raw is Ready. We’ve considered Jewels on the Page, Safe Spaces and what feeds Grit Lit.

Clearly there’s much thought to share about the process.

If you seek prompts, like the Weekly Flash Fiction Challenge at Carrot Ranch, you probably understand the benefits of writing quick raw responses. It can be like practicing scales, or warming up before a sport. After a year or two, you can amass suitcases of raw stories. What to do with them, might be on your mind. This week, Raw Literature is going to unpack some possibilities.

Suitcase #1: Craft

When I studied creative writing in college, I was taught to master the short-form before tackling the long-form. Master is a relative term, as I think writers continue to master their craft throughout their lives. That’s something raw literature reveals to us — our writing evolves. As craft, however, we can work on elements, such as characterization, tone, structure and language. What you practice, explore or learn in short-form you can apply to longer works.

Flash fiction is often spontaneous and can be fun for the surprises it might bring to both the writer and reader. Yet, the writer can also be deliberate in craft. I’ve watched regular writers play with twists (which work well in short form and also becomes a linchpin to ending book chapters). I’ve marveled at others who employ BOTS (based on a true story) as a way to use the challenge to explore inroads to memoir. Poets tackle the challenge with further constraints of form. Some flash focuses on imagery, others are character-driven. The brevity each week can offer ample possibilities to try different craft styles.

Another craft technique flash fiction can offer is what I’ve come to think of as non-committal application (point of view, character traits, tone). Raw literature employs discovery, but if I’m uncertain about a character, I don’t necessarily want to discover something essential half-way through the first draft of a novel. Flash fiction allows me to play with characters. One week a character might be the villain; the next week I might write him as the hero. When practicing craft, I don’t have to commit during exploration.

Something else I’ve seen other writers accomplish are serials. Through the weekly challenge, characters and their plots are born and progressed. Through the course of hosting flash fiction challenges, I’ve seen continuing stories of brow-beaten werewolves, a family with more twists and turns than an epic novel, a school girl explore her life between various ages, a western tale unfold and conclude, and characters start their own blogs. Many WIPS begin as a serial idea energized by weekly additions.

The possibilities for developing craft and raw material are endless.

Suitcase #2: Platform

A writer’s platform is both a billboard (for the writer) and a launching pad (for the writing of a writer). Raw literature can inform the platform’s elements of branding, credibility, community and target audience.

Voice is unique to each writer. Some writers might use the craft aspect of a writing challenge to discover or hone that voice, and more seasoned writers use it to further broadcast identity. That identity — a dark, lyrical writer of YA who is fond of hedgehogs and armadillos — becomes part of the brand. The writing that accumulates gives visual credibility that this is a writer who writes. If a writer intends to break into a specific genre, writing shorts in that genre is also a way to develop brand and credibility.

Writing among other writers is an experience in community. This is one of the most rewarding aspects of a platform. It’s interaction that can lead to friendships, tribes, networks or an assortment of each. Community can be supportive and encourage your aspirations, or you can reach out to community to learn from different experiences. Diversity is another rewarding aspect of community and can lead to greater insights through writing raw literature collectively.

You can use your raw creations to find or test your target audience. Often this is a confounding aspect of platform building because your readers are not always easy to encounter. However, you can use your raw creations to polish a few pieces you think represent your writing and longer-term goals and submit to short-form contests or literary magazines. This is a way to find readers and continue to build your brand and credibility.

Think of raw literature as possibilities for expanding your platform.

Suitcase #3: Marketing

If you are a writer, your writing is something marketable. First, let’s simplify what marketing is: it’s the continuous cycle of research, action and measurement. You can get into it more deeply than that, but at least recognize that marketing is more than promotion (action) and that promotion is one of many actionable tactics.

You can use your raw literature, your excerpts from WIPS or your flash fiction stories to gauge response. You can ask your community what they thought of a particular twist or for their impression of a character. You might produce a flash that others want to know more of the story. Exploration is a part of research when you are attentive to it. It might give you the idea to tackle a different genre. I don’t think I would have taken on a full-blown historical novel without the original feedback I got from flash fiction.

Action items can take many forms. You can use raw literature to build e-newsletters or e-books of short stories. You can quote from your own raw works and make memes on Pinterest or quotes on Twitter or Facebook. You can make postcards or bookmarks for promotion. What better way to promote your own writing than with your own words. You can take excerpts from your published (or soon to be) book and reverse-engineer it into a raw response to showcase the work it comes from. You can use your raw literature on your blog to drive traffic. You can be a guest writer and intersperse your raw literature between lines of an article or essay.

Measurement is about knowing if your actionable items were effective. While you don’t really use raw literature to measure, you can measure the impact it might have had on your action goals.

Final thoughts: keep writing raw, be mindful of your process and the possibilities of what you produce.

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Raw Literature is an ongoing conversation about those first works we create as writers, as literary artists. Guest Authors share personal insights on their craft, its process, the experience of creating raw literature and what they do with it. Carrot Ranch is a dynamic literary community that creates raw literature weekly in the form of flash fiction (99 word stories). If you have an essay idea, pitch to Charli Mills, Lead Buckaroo, at wordsforpeople@gmail.com.

Times Past: 4-Wheeling the West

Times Past at Carrot Ranch by @Charli_MillsGen X, rural California, USA

Granny-gear is as expected: slow, slow enough a toddler can drive. If that sounds surprising, you’ve not grown up on cattle ranches in the American west. Every buckaroo has stood behind the wheel (yes, stood because to sit is to lose sight over the dusty dash).

“Hold it straight, follow the rows,” were the instructions I remember.

Where are the adults, you might wonder. On the back of the truck, flaking hay.

Back when I was a toddling buckaroo on one of the oldest land grant ranchos in northern California, my task was to steer the truck straight so the adults could cut the wires on rectangular bales of hay (each weighing about 125 pounds) and peel away portions. The hay was dry and it came off in chunks called flakes. The herd of 300 black ballies (a nickname for the cross-breed of Black Angus and Red Hereford for which some calves were born black with white faces) trailed behind to get their winter hay.

Winter in this part of California was the wet and rainy season. It turned the blond hills green for a brief time. While the hills had time to grow grass beneath massive oak trees, the cattle roamed the barren hay fields and ate nubs and dry flakes. Feeding was a daily ritual and everyone worked, even the toddlers. Though I don’t recall thinking of my driving chore as work.

Just like with horses, I never had a fear of driving. Probably because I was exposed too young to have the common sense to fear large beasts and steel cages on wheels. By the time I was 13, I no longer lived in buckaroo country. My parents moved to the Sierra Nevada mountains where my mom ran a general store and my dad logged.

I worked in the summer logging camps, leaving for the job in a logging truck at 4 a.m. I had to be back by 3 p.m. to saddle my horse and ride out to check the cattle for a local ranch. My task was to keep the cattle from coming off the high summer pastures. Any I encountered, I’d have to push back to the mountain springs among quaking aspen.

Granny-gear took on new meaning this phase of life — it’s the lowest gear used to slow a logging truck on a mountain pass or a exit the rough-cut switchback known as a logging road. Hardly a road! Heading off the hill, as the phrase goes, requires low-gear and high prayers. I used to enjoy listening to C. W. McCall’s Wolf Creek Pass, an 8-track tape my dad had:

We’d gear down for our own Sierra Wolf Creek pass (the song is about a hairy switchback in Colorado) and at one corner I could see the wreck of a Cadillac from the ’60s. I remember the belch of the jake-brake as we approached and geared down to granny. We never lost a load, or a truck, either.

At the logging camp we had an old Willys Jeep, the kind the US used in WWII. The thing about a Willys is that in granny-gear it could go up, down, over and across anything. After lunch, I was allowed to take the Jeep for a drive, and I found pioner trails and even old mining camps in this ride. And many old roads required granny-gear and 4-wheel drive.

4-wheeling is a distinct western heritage and why so many people in the US West drive trucks. It’s what replaced the Conestoga wagon and horse. For me, a truck is a work vehicle. We have the Mills farm truck and have hauled our own firewood and had many adventures in it. But I still dream of one day having my own Willeys.

And you bet I’d take that Jeep 4-wheeling the back-roads of the west in granny-gear.

***

Join me and others in a look at wheels from Times Past with Irene Waters.

Raw Literature: Writing Grit

c-jai-ferryEssay by C. Jai Ferry, a member of the Congress of Rough Writers.

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Several years ago, scandal erupted in a small rural town, population 1,000. A female junior in high school contacted the school administration to say that one of her teachers had requested naked photos of her in exchange for a better course grade.

The townspeople were outraged. How dare this girl make up outlandish lies about such an upstanding teacher—a man who had been voted teacher of the year three times already in his relatively short tenure, who had won state-level accolades and was clearly a rising star? This girl was just looking for attention and needed to be put in her place.

And then a second girl, one who had already graduated, stepped forward with a similar experience.

Again the townspeople were outraged. How dare these girls conspire together to harm this innocent man. Didn’t they know what kind of harm they were causing to the school, the community, and the man’s family? The authorities needed to be called and the girls charged for their maliciousness.

So the authorities came for an investigation, and they charged the teacher, who pleaded guilty, after they found evidence on his computer that he had been requesting nude photos throughout his entire tenure at the school.

Once again the townspeople were outraged, this time reaching a fervor not often seen in such sleepy communities. How dare these girls not just keep their mouths shut? Clearly they had misunderstood the teacher’s propositions, reading something in his emails that simply was not there. Now his career was ruined because these girls had taken it upon themselves to send the teacher naked photos of themselves. Worse, the community was making headlines throughout the region—not for its economic revitalization efforts or its pristine parks and nature trails. The girls should be ashamed of themselves! Clearly they had no sense of community.

The teacher has already completed his three-year prison sentence, but many in the town still blame the girls, saying that they must have worn skimpy clothes that enticed the teacher, that they had to have intentionally manipulated him to say things that could be misrepresented to the authorities, and that they undoubtedly sent him unsolicited photos to get him into trouble.

The teacher pleaded guilty and went to jail. The numerous victims were publicly and viciously shamed. Those who could left the town, losing their families and their homes. Ask the townspeople about this situation today and many will respond that it was such a shame that the teacher had to give up such a promising career.

Yeah, too bad for that sexual predator.

Most readers are probably thinking that “normal” people wouldn’t react the way these townspeople did. But these were “normal” people. They went to church every Sunday, paid their bills on time, and were quick to step up when their neighbors were in trouble…except when their neighbors were female and the situation involved sex in any capacity.

The reality is that humans simply don’t come with pristine white cowboy hats or intense black cowboy hats. We wear shades of gray.

Search the internet for the world’s greatest predator and you will find websites boasting the ferocity of sabre-tooth cats, megalodon sharks, and dinosaurs that make the T-rex look like a baby kitten. In truth, the world’s greatest predator is humankind. We have the unique capabilities of free will, logic, and empathy, yet we routinely and repetitively harm and even destroy our own kind simply because we can. Tearing people down is commonplace in our world (although it is not a new development—not by a long shot), and it seems that hurting someone is easier for many people than standing up for that individual.

Most readers would probably argue that humans are, for the most part, good. I would agree with this. Yet every day we see more and more headlines about how a ten-year-old pushed his best friend into moving traffic, a college athlete raped an unconscious woman, and an aunt sold her teenage nieces to men in hotel rooms. Society goes to great lengths to find a way—any way—to set these individuals apart, underscoring that they are not the norm. They had difficult childhoods. They are mentally unstable. They recently changed their meds. They are too young to understand the consequences of their actions.

In our desperation to prove that we are not like these “evil” individuals, when none of our excuses work, we shift to victim blaming: the best friend had a history of bullying the ten-year-old, the unconscious woman was drunk so she should have known what would happen, the nieces could have just gone to the police for help, but they didn’t….

I think most people would agree that, in certain situations, humans will do the wrong thing if they feel pressured to choose the lesser of two evils. We have that capacity. But we console ourselves with the idea that these situations are the extreme; they would require us to choose between the survival of our loved ones and the harm or death of a stranger. In my writing, I explore just how easily humans make the wrong choice in everyday contexts. The worlds of my short stories focus on the guy next door, an elderly man missing his dead wife, a woman with inappropriate thoughts about her best friend’s husband. My characters deal with break-ups, infertility, cancer, rape, anger, frustration, abuse, and revenge—usually between cups of coffee or during a commercial break. Often my characters are simultaneously protagonists and antagonists; no one is categorically good or bad.

My stories will never be made into after-school specials. They are gritty and raw, tackling difficult issues that we all facecjaiferry_profile-picture-jpg at some point in our lives. I categorize my writing as “grit lit,” which is a type of gritty, raw literature (think Cormac McCarthy). Patrick Ledford describes grit lit characters as “desolate and volatile common folk who will do what they have to do to get the job done. Grit Lit is an uncensored, ‘balls to the wall,’ literary throwdown.”

For me, writing is inspired by characters who have made really, really bad choices in life or who find themselves in horrible situations. I take them back to a point in time when they would be perceived by society as “normal” and then let the story unfold from there. Sometimes I create a “normal” context for them and then, through the story, reveal that their normal is a far cry from the reader’s normal.

My biggest fear in my writing is that readers might accuse me of normalizing such unacceptable behaviors. For example, lately I have been focusing on trafficking contexts in my writing. I am working on a novel in which, in the near future, human trafficking has become the norm due to a biological threat to the human population. To understand the intricacies and relationships between trafficker and victim, I have been studying recent historical situations, like comfort women in Asia, as well as current trafficking situations in the West (and am shocked at how little progress we have made in stopping trafficking). I use my short stories to work out my own struggles to understand how societies accept such occurrences.

But if I write a story where the reader ultimately empathizes with a character who turns out to be more evil than good, am I normalizing the behavior of that character?

Normalization is not my goal. Rather, I try to draw attention to how seemingly everyday activities are actually laying the foundation for a society much darker, much more heinous. The kid sitting next to you at the doctor’s office could be tomorrow’s headline. The girl with her mother ahead of you in line at the grocery store could be a victim of trafficking. Your child’s favorite teacher could be a sexual predator. If we can’t identify and recognize the everyday behaviors that set the stage for the evil world lurking in the shadows, we will never be able to stop it from becoming a reality.

Humans are amazing creatures, and not just because of the atrocities we commit in the name of…well, whatever suits our fancy. We have this fascinating ability of self-realization. We can learn from our past mistakes. We can educate ourselves. We can work through the logic and see where our behaviors and actions today might lead us tomorrow. It’s not always an easy process, and it almost always requires us to confront ideas that make us squirm in our seats, but as long as we are willing to work through the uncomfortable, we have hope.

This is why I write grit lit.

***

skeleton-dance-generic unraveled-generic C. Jai Ferry grew up in a small rural town in one of those middle states between New York and Los Angeles. She put together her first book of poetry, complete with a lime green cover, for a class assignment in fifth grade. Today, she focuses on short stories with narrators who are often described as brutally honest and who likely need some form of professional help.

Her most recent cuntitled-designollection of microfiction, “Unraveled,” earned a 5-star review from Readers’ Favorites, and her award-winning short story “Skeleton Dance” was made into a short noir film that was chosen by the Prairie Lights Film Festival for its Nebraska Noir anthology project. To learn more about her publications, get a free collection of short stories by signing up for her newsletter, and read her (more or less) weekly musings and stories, visit www.cjaiferry.com.

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Raw Literature is an ongoing conversation about those first works we create as writers, as literary artists. Guest Authors share personal insights on their craft, its process, the experience of creating raw literature and what they do with it. Carrot Ranch is a dynamic literary community that creates raw literature weekly in the form of flash fiction (99 word stories). If you have an essay idea, pitch to Charli Mills, Lead Buckaroo, at wordsforpeople@gmail.com.

Raw Literature: Jewels on the Page

jules-paigeEssay by Jules Paige, a member of the Congress of Rough Writers.

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“How complex in its simplicity or how simple in its complexity; is writing. Much to think about that is for certain,” and so she thought…

How do I describe how I write. I put a pen in hand or place fingers on a keyboard. Do I need prompts? When I started writing about fifty years ago; while sitting at a table at a Teen Arts Festival, I asked those who stopped by for a subject – I then wrote a poem. Simple as that.

While some years I wrote less, other years I wrote more than one piece a day. For the last several years, I write a small daily piece, maybe adding a longer verse and or a fiction piece as well. Prompts sites on the web reintroduced me into writing fiction and memoir. Some have a limited word count. But generally I try to limit myself to one ‘typed’ page. Though I also have done/do series. Some evolving into chapters which could possibly make it into booklet form.

I see prompts, quotes, images and the light bulb in my brain goes off. And to challenge myself further I combine prompts as few as two as many as five or six. I make associations to memory, news articles and anything else and everything else that crosses my path.

I write for amusement. Perhaps guided by a muse. Though some may argue that muses do not exist. Maybe my muse is my own intuition, which often unconsciously picks up even the most subtle of cues. I write for myself as well as everyone who believes they can see themselves in something I have written. I can not explain how my brain works. I just like to, I just have to, write. For me writing is like breathing. A necessity of my life.

I write as JulesPaige (or as evolution has occurred; just ‘Jules’) because words are like ‘jewels on a page’. Not all are gems. But a good lot of them strung together are fair enough.

Daughter, sister, friend, poet, wife, mother, and grandmother. More introvert than extrovert, inspired by nature and pretty much anything.

About (me, sort of):

I’m just an old leather boot

not army boots, though I once thought about joining

however early rises and following someone else’s rules –

you know that a rebellious artistic spirit just wouldn’t work there

trying to walk on a catwalk

or eggshells, being the ‘monkey in the middle’

Jane of all trades, master of none, little bits of knowledge

tucked between aging marbles and greying locks – still young at heart

and nobody cares because

Oh maybe there are a few, but I’m not in the spotlight

and frankly that’s OK too – If you are looking for frilly lace

and a made up face – you’ve come to the wrong place – I’m not a rock and…

I’m not a plastic mock animal high heel shoe.

###

I was a teacher for young students and worked in various retail positions full and part-time until I became voluntarily employed to watch my grandchildren for a few years before semi-retiring to travel with my husband (who does so for his job). I’ve also had an active volunteer life when my own children were younger. I also enjoyed singing in choirs, though I only sing now to my favorite oldies station (though I enjoy other music too), because I’m a misfit of the 1960’s.

Always young at heart, humor is a big part of my life. While I’ll celebrate turning sixty this year, I still like to tell the story of how while vacationing with family that not once but twice I was mistaken for my oldest son’s wife. But I can be very serious, and have had bouts with depression after the loss of my maternal mother at a young age, and having to move many times as a young child. Even in my very healthy marriage I’ve had several homes with my loving husband whom I often write about, like in this renga:

Love 1

On’t Truth

(a renga)

she found a book by

an author he liked, and placed

it by his pillow…

he found it and asked her where

she found it… ‘charity shop’

so that night they read

when politics aired instead

of a favored show

©JP/dh

“We love being in love, that’s the truth on’t.”

William Makepeace Thackeray (1811-1863)

English Novelist

The Book Of Hearts: Visions of Love in Word and Image

Running Press  * Philadelphia / London

© 1994

Through the internet I’ve learned many different short forms of poetry and experiments with combining them, even creating a new form called a Shadorma Summation. Where a haibun is prose that has haiku (within and or) ending the piece, a Shadorma Summation does the same with the six line syllable counted verse like this (first attempt in September of 2015):

Mooning Mayhem

(free verse/ shadorma haibun? Shadorma Summation)

Definitely and defiantly a horse of a different color.

She never did have one of those pink princess ponies.

Now she was getting on to be an old grey mare.

That reflection in the mirror could just have well been

in the smooth reflection in an aged fine wine.

Doppelgangers are not twins.

Are most of us really triplets; me, myself and I?

Grammar notwithstanding or sitting either, I suppose.

It all has to do with one’s id, ego and superego –

Are all horses of the same color, Thoroughbred?

The person I am becoming…ever evolving…

empathetic humane human, valuable, priceless?

Trying consistently constantly to remember the worth of

my being – self awareness, self forgiveness,

self indulgent; enough to give myself some hugs

Looking up what the human body is worth

can be deceiving; dead or alive – pieces and parts –

from about $3.50 to about $9 million

which doesn’t take into account what one

person’s actual artistic or intellectual value might be.

Definitely and defiantly wake up each day

Rule it with passion, exploration, devotion – It’s all better

than being lead astray through some unknown dark alley

where you might not know which way is up,

especially if you forgot to pack your compass rose.

as she was

a fish in a bowl

out of her

natural

element

it was all she could do to

step back, look and breathe

©JP/dh

I would like to be a published author, but I know that poets are hard pressed to get agents. I’d have to hire a secretary, and I’m not terribly fond editors who seem to like to change the tone and value of even short pieces. Having also almost been taken by some vanity publishers, I’m wary of the whole process and don’t feel skilled enough self publish via the web. Though I have put together several booklets and have just given them away.

***

Jules Paige, a Rough Writer  for Carrot Ranch, writes every week for about a year and a half since she found the ranch through another blog friend. You might think so, but she is not a professional writer or at least hasn’t been paid any money…yet. She’s been published in school and college journals, congregational services, a narrowly themed chapbook and a local newspaper. She also entered and got an honorable mention in a haiku book contest. She has been ‘published’ on her friends blogs for haiku and Elfje and for prompts in flash fiction, non fiction and memoir. Jules also has a few pieces published in a book overseas that is raising money for charity. A self proclaimed opinionated rebel, born in the south, but northerner by life, Jules is thankful for all of the friends she has made throughout the world via the net. And is most grateful for the opportunity to write for Carrot Ranch and be one of the Buckaroos.

Jules attempts to stay organized by keeping her short verse here. Her longer verse here, and fiction or non, here.

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Raw Literature is an ongoing conversation about those first works we create as writers, as literary artists. Guest Authors share personal insights on their craft, its process, the experience of creating raw literature and what they do with it. Carrot Ranch is a dynamic literary community that creates raw literature weekly in the form of flash fiction (99 word stories). If you have an essay idea, pitch to Charli Mills, Lead Buckaroo, at wordsforpeople@gmail.com.

Raw Literature: From Raw to Ready

anne-goodwin

Essay by Anne Goodwin, a member of the Congress of Rough Writers.

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Every other Sunday, I don my red fleece jacket and drive to an office in a Derbyshire village, where I pick up a radio and, after a cup of tea and a chat, set out on patrol. I’m part of a team of volunteer rangers supporting the day-to-day running of the National Park, each bringing our individual skills, interests and quirks to the collective task. Although the English countryside remains predominantly white and, thanks to funding cuts, the organisation has been subject to re-organisation throughout the almost ten years and I’ve been associated with it, there’s a commitment to diversity and peer and management support. While it’s not always fun traversing the moors in sleet or driving rain, or confronting a cyclist or dog owner who thinks the bylaws don’t apply to them, it’s something I believe in and generally enjoy.

I feel something similar when I ride up to the Carrot Ranch every week with my response to the weekly flash fiction challenge. There’s a sense of belongingness and supportive leadership, balanced with the flexibility and freedom to respond, within the constraints, in our own way. Even when it’s a struggle to find those 99 words, it always feels worthwhile. Sometimes, as with my regular walks that start and finish in the same place but may take me places I’ve never previously encountered, I’m surprised by what I find both in my own stories and in those of the other contributors.

I’ve dipped in and out of other writing communities over the decade and a half I’ve been writing seriously. I’ve also attended courses and purchased feedback from more experienced writers and tutors on my work. Generally, I’ve found that the type of support available differs according to the stage of writing and/or the writer’s experience: for beginning writers and for the production of first drafts (or raw literature) we’re encouraged to play, but when we come to honing it for publication and dissemination to a wider readership we’re handed the rule book.

Of course, you might be thinking, if you want people to read your stuff, it’s got to be right! I’m not disputing this at all. Publication implies a certain standard; what’s not clear is how to set about achieving it, or even what that standard might look like.

The survival of the creative writing industry depends, to a large extent, on the myth that we know what it means to write well. There’s a plethora of advice available, and a lot of it’s extremely useful to the novice – I laugh about it now, but I still recall that lightbulb moment of discovering show, don’t tell. But there’s a gap. If you’re an intuitive writer, someone whose work grows organically in unpredictable ways, who perceives writing as an adventure, you’re faced with a choice: either be the leopard that changed its spots and succumb to rigorous soul-destroying planning, or face a lonely hit-and-miss journey through the mist.

Planning is useful, but right at the start? That might work for some, especially those who wake up one morning and decide I’m going to be a writer never having written a creative word since schooldays. (Do these individuals exist?) But many, like me, have been scribbling away since childhood. We can produce raw literature in our sleep – in fact, that’s where many writing projects originate – but we need guidance in how to make it palatable to others. Unsure what that how to should look like – even after going through the process of publishing a novel people seem to like – I scour other parts of me for a useful analogy.

Just as I was a raw writer before I was a published author, I was a raw walker (although I’d never have called it that) before qualifying as a volunteer ranger. (Note to those more familiar with the raw national parks of most countries, in Britain this role doesn’t imply an intrepid explorer with a gun in her backpack.) To get to the stage of being trusted to escort the public on guided walks, I was trained in navigation, first aid and knowledge of the countryside. These skills might have parallels in the writer’s toolbox, such as my treasured show, don’t tell, but it’s in my development in the role since getting my badge and tramping the moors alone where I might look for clues as to what’s needed to progress from raw to ready-to-read.

I was very nervous when I first set out on patrol alone and perhaps overzealous in my need to get it right. What enabled me to grow in confidence – and, hopefully, skill – has been the supportive framework in which I can do it my own way, forging my own path – both literally in finding my favourite routes and symbolically in pursuing my own interests – and making my own mistakes. Instead of bemoaning my poor knowledge of geology, wildlife and plants, I’ve developed a niche in reading the literary landscape through its links to the novel, Jane Eyre, something that never occurred to me when I first applied to volunteer.

While useful as a metaphor, there are two crucial differences from my writing journey. Firstly, my freedom and flexibility within the role of volunteer ranger is limited by accountability to the national park authority whereas, as a novelist, can choose to please myself until signing a contract. Secondly, while it can be both scary and embarrassing to get lost out on patrol, I’m much more vulnerable when I mine the emotional depths for my writing. I wonder if psychotherapy, which I’ve experienced from both sides, might get me closer to what I’m struggling to articulate.

There are multiple models of therapy but, for the purpose of this post, let’s divide them into two types. One trains and supports clients to adopt the type of attitudes, thoughts and behaviours believed, based on research and theory, to promote well-being among people in general (for example, CBT); the other uses a “containing” relationship in which clients develop an idiosyncratic story of how they can be the best version of themselves within the limits of their own lives and circumstances (for example, psychoanalytic psychotherapy). The former might have its parallel in the literary sphere in planning; the latter in pantsing. Perhaps you can guess what type of therapy I sought for myself!

If that analogy holds, can we identify some elements of exploratory psychotherapy that might apply to a model of the journey from raw literature to ready-to-read? Here are my raw ideas on the issue; I’d be most interested in yours.

  1. The process is difficult to describe.
  2. It takes time, and a lot of it.
  3. It’s different for each individual patient/client/writer.
  4. Change occurs within the context of a relationship.
  5. No-one can tell you how to go about it, because no-one can get right inside your head and see how your mind works.
  6. It’s a process of trial and error.
  7. It’s a journey without a clear destination.
  8. It can be subversive.
  9. It’s a journey of both the intellect and emotions.
  10. It takes us to unexpected places.

***

Anne Goodwin

Anne Goodwin

Anne Goodwin’s debut novel, Sugar and Snails, about a woman who has kept her past identity a secret for thirty years, was published in July 2015 by Inspired Quill and shortlisted for the 2016 Polari First Book Prize. Her second novel, Underneath, about a man who keeps a woman captive in his cellar, is scheduled for publication in May 2017. Anne is also a book blogger and author of 70 published short stories. Catch up on her website: annethology or on Twitter @Annecdotist.

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Raw Literature is an ongoing conversation about those first works we create as writers, as literary artists. Guest Authors share personal insights on their craft, its process, the experience of creating raw literature and what they do with it. Carrot Ranch is a dynamic literary community that creates raw literature weekly in the form of flash fiction (99 word stories). If you have an essay idea, pitch to Charli Mills, Lead Buckaroo, at wordsforpeople@gmail.com.

Raw Literature: Natural or Explicit

geoff-le-pardEssay by Geoff Le Pard, a member of the Congress of Rough Writers.

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When I was asked by Charli to consider what raw literature meant to me, I did what all lawyers do (and sometimes I can’t not give best to that training, however hard I try); I gravitate to a definition, in this case of ‘raw’.

One settles neatly alongside Charli’s opening where she posits ‘raw’ literature is:

…first-works. It’s the original material a writer produces in response to an idea, challenge or aspiration. It’s the novelist’s first draft; the poet’s scribbling of a sonnet; a screenwriter’s initial storyboard. It’s a memoirist’s recognition of a relevant story to share. It’s that ah-ha moment when the imagination outpaces the fingers across a keyboard or a tongue giving diction. It’s the writer’s eye on the blank page like a sculptor’s gaze through a block of marble

My definition states ‘raw’ is:

being in a natural condition; not processed; not having been subjected to adjustment, treatment or analysis.

But it also gave me this:

exposed (as in a wound); explicit, in realistic detail

Let’s just note here there are other definitions and that may lead to other debates, by other writers.

Looking at definition no 1, we begin to see why the birth analogy is made. Often it is said we ‘give birth’ or ‘life’ to our work. I think that’s what Charli means by ‘raw’ literature.

But that started me thinking; if raw literature is birth, what about conception? What’s that? In the writerly process? And why is it so many people rubbish raw literature, that first draft, in ways you wouldn’t rubbish a new born?

I think, probably stating the obvious here, that the spark Charli references is in fact conception. That initial idea, that’s the act of conception. After there’s a gestation period, usually hidden away from public view, the idea growing inside us, changing, taking on some sort of shape that warrants it being put onto the page or typed into a machine. That period may not be long but there is a period, even for the speediest of flash pieces.

We may share our condition with others but they may not recognise it in the early stages as we blather our way round the idea. But eventually we give birth to something, we have created some sort of first draft, something tangible. It is more than the mere act of scribbling an idea down, a treatment, a few headings. It has to have some sort of independent existence, it must be recognisable by others as a work, a whole, even if not yet particularly coherent. It still needs a lot of support, guidance, nurturing; it’s by no means the finished product.

It is, indeed, raw. But in saying that, let us grasp the most important point from this analogy. A first draft, like a new born, isn’t shite, rubbish, not worth the paper, etc., etc. It’s a perfectly formed yet undeveloped thing that needs care, love and attention, guidance and support. Much like a new born.

You don’t diss a baby for being a baby, do you? You don’t expect it to be what it’s not any more than you tell it it’s rubbish until it grows up. That sort of parenting went out with the golf ball typewriter and spats.  Sure, the first draft is ugly; so are all babies whatever we say of our own, but so? They’ll grow and, with help – editing if you like – they can become splendid.

Raw literature is that. It’s not the idea, the germ, not even the first note or scribble. But it is the first attempt at a coherent whole and worthy of everyone’s support and understanding. When I start anything, any writing I know it will need work. I may not have much time: a flash prompt may give me 24 hours, a blog post may be programmed to go inside a day or two but it will always benefit from finding some space to spend on it.

That is so, even if that editing changes it so fundamentally that none of the original words are used. It would be an unusual piece, after all, that contains nothing of that original idea. The fact that the words used are different or in a different order doesn’t mean the original had no merit. Individually the words are meaningless concepts – it is only when brought together that they take shape as a work – much like cells. But you cannot reach that final shape without the original unrefined lump of prose.

Imagine an opening: He walked slowly past the shops.

Over time you might change that to: The man strolled along the High Street.

Apart from one ‘the’ all the words have changed but the opening stays conceptually the same.

Writing a book is a journey. We’ve all heard that cliché? As with any journey, the beginning isn’t rubbish; it’s just a part of the process. As Charli suggests, starting on creating a novel is like the commencement of a sculpture. Does that make the first few blows rubbish, redundant? Course not.

But if it’s so important, if that raw lump is in fact a crucial part of the process, how careful should you be in its creation, in that first attempt? Not very, would be my judgement. Of course a pregnant mother takes care of herself to take care of the baby, but mostly the body does the job, come what may. So, with that first draft; let it happen. Do not be frightened by what you’re giving birth to. In the way of new births, your power really to influence only comes after birth. So, get it out there. Kick the inhibitions into touch. Let it all hang and just write.

Which neatly brings us to that second definition: exposing yourself, being open, vulnerable. Is it any wonder we have inhibitions if creating something raw opens us to hurt?

When you start a piece of writing, when you let it flow, you must resist the urge to restraint or you might never reach the birthing point from which the whole process can really flow.  If you give in, you’ll slow the process and risk gumming it up before you have something coherent from which to work.

For any work, if we truly want to get that rawness, newness, freshness, we should be prepared for some hurt and not be scared to expose our vulnerabilities. You know it is said you need to be brave if you are going to be true to your ideas. But how brave, how raw, how vulnerable will we really allow ourselves to be? Isn’t there always something that stops up being completely raw? Aren’t there some inhibitions that you simply can’t avoid?

When I wrote my first published work, I set it in 1976, in a rural setting. The characters included a family of displaced Ugandans with Indian ancestry. One of the main characters, the mother finds herself having to give a home to the Ugandans and is unwilling and unpleasant to the visitors. By today’s mores she is clearly racist; at that time her behaviour wouldn’t have received anything like such approbation (that’s not an excuse, just the explanation).

I was advised modern audiences would take against her because of those views, common as I knew them to be back then. I challenged that notion but, being my first book, felt I was losing the battle to moderate the character as more than one beta reader expressed their confusion over how they felt about her. My original writing was raw, uncensored and, in fact honest but so what? I felt then I needed to listen to the critics and accept their advice; if that was the market, I didn’t want to jar with it.

However, had I not written it, initially, as I thought right I wouldn’t have been able to clarify my own thinking and make appropriate calls on what I wanted to achieve with the book, how it might reach its audience.  To me that early draft needed to have the language, ideas and concepts of the time, even if some reading them would be angered, annoyed and shocked. That’s a sort of raw writing.

Now, four published books into my writing life, I might approach the criticism differently.  But equally I am well aware that I don’t really write raw fiction. Not completely. You see, it is not just the attitudes of characters that’s the issue. It is the language they use, too.

These days I populate my novels, as I see appropriate, with the ‘f’ and ‘c’ words. I don’t care and even if beta readers think my characters potty-mouthed (some do, some even count the number of times I use the ‘f’ word), I know that to be real that’s how they would speak and think and I shrug and think it’s the beta reader who needs to get real.

But would I use the ‘n’ word? The ‘p’ word? Me a white male, a child of a former Empire-controlling nation whose dirty boots are all over the globe?  Nope, I can’t imagine I’d have that courage, ever. I might have a white supremacist character, or just a cowardly bigot who pretends to be open minded but isn’t really; even so I’d censor them for my own peace of mind. That is, I think, on one level a shame. I doubt, even for a first draft would I use those words. Sure, it may mean I avoid offending people but really I’m not doing it because it improves my literature but because I don’t want to offend. Or more likely I don’t want to be thought of as offensive. Cowardice, then. So raw literature isn’t always something to be applauded or indeed created.

So given I can change things, as I did with my first book, in the editing process, why don’t I let it out, in all its gory glory with ideas, words, and characters I find offensive? Even at the outset, when the first words hit the page, why not be truly honest, open, raw?

Because I just can’t. Not completely. And I wonder how many of us are capable of that degree of uninhibited writing? Don’t we all have taboos?  Aren’t we all a product of the societies we live in, the cultures we adopt and so we never really let go fully? And maybe, because we have to rub along that’s not a bad thing. But, as I say, I think it is actually quite sad.

There are some who might say I lack ‘honesty’. But those are the self-same people who will tell a hurtful truth, rather than dissemble because they can’t help but be ‘honest’. Rubbish. Since when has undiluted honesty, much like undiluted alcohol, benefited anyone?

So what about you? Do you agree with the birthing/conception analogy? Or is that overdone? Do you think first drafts are indeed rubbish or merely staging posts in the life of a written work? And can you write truly raw, un-self-censored fiction, or memoir, or whatever else it is you write? Is anyone that brave, or foolish, or maybe just crass?

***

Geoff Le Pard started writing to entertain in 2006. He hasn’t left his keyboard since. When he’s not churning out novels he writes some maudlin self-indulgent poetry and blogs at geofflepard.com. He walks the dog for mutual inspiration and most of his best ideas come out of these strolls. He also cooks with passion if not precision.

My Father and Other Liars is a thriller set in the near future and takes its heroes, Maurice and Lori-Ann on a helter-skelter chase across continents.

Amazon.co.uk

Amazon.com

 

Dead Flies and Sherry Trifle is a coming of age story. Set in 1976 the hero Harry Spittle is home from university for the holidays. He has three goals: to keep away from his family, earn money and hopefully have sex. Inevitably his summer turns out to be very different to that anticipated.

Amazon.co.uk

Amazon.com

life-in-a-grain-of-sand-by-g-le-pardThis 30 story anthology covers many genres: fantasy, romance, humour, thriller, espionage, conspiracy theories, MG and indeed something for everyone. All the stories were written during Nano 2015.

Amazon.co.uk

Amazon.com

salisbury-square-by-g-le-pardSalisbury Square is a dark thriller set in present day London where a homeless woman and a Polish man, escaping the police at home, form an unlikely alliance to save themselves.

Amazon.co.uk

Amazon.com

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Raw Literature is an ongoing conversation about those first works we create as writers, as literary artists. Guest Authors share personal insights on their craft, its process, the experience of creating raw literature and what they do with it. Carrot Ranch is a dynamic literary community that creates raw literature weekly in the form of flash fiction (99 word stories). If you have an essay idea, pitch to Charli Mills, Lead Buckaroo, at wordsforpeople@gmail.com.

Safe Space for Our Voices

lizadonovan-hearourvoice-1At noon today, January 20, 2017, a new administration takes over leadership in the US. Inauguration, balls, protests and marches will magnify every moment in Washington, DC this weekend. The first 100 days of the new administration will reveal just how much change is going to unfold and judge its benefits or detriments. To say the entire world is watching is not hyperbole. And writers cannot escape this gaze.

The US Press Corps has issued its stand in an open letter to Trump: “We believe there is an objective truth, and we will hold you to that.” Media has derailed in its quest for objective truth the moment advertising dollars oozed past the boundaries of editorial in an act of survival when print faded in the light of the rising digital sun. Media has long toyed with sensationalism to grab attention, often obscuring the truth to get readers. But now we live in an age of reality-TV masquerading as real and fake news making fools of all. We are now struggling with a post-truth era.

Let objective truth become your safe phrase.

We cannot hide from the events unfolding. To be an informed writer — even a novelist or poet or memoirist or creator of educational materials or creator of flash fiction — we must be informed readers. When it does not feel safe to read or listen to the news, often it is because of biases and worry over propaganda or fake news. Focus on objective truth. Read critically. Read deep. It might be tempting to scan the sound bites or let well-intentioned friends inform you in a Facebook post about those “six things you need to know about _______,” but seek the deeper reporting. Here’s my list of news sources:

  1. The New York Times (I pay for a monthly subscription)
  2. ProPublica
  3. Associated Press
  4. PBS NewsHour
  5. Audible (I pay for a monthly subscription and follow Channels like Scientific America and Masters of Fiction)
  6. Pocast Republic
  7. NPROne

Be a critical reader. Even the best of journalists can express bias. At times, I’ve caught a tone of exasperation missed by an editor or perhaps added by one. Recognize tone and intent. Be on guard for bias. Occasionally read a source you know to be bias (liberal or alt-right) to compare the reporting on the same story. Know the difference between opinion and fact. Look for sources. Look up sources. Do some sleuthing on your own, don’t become reliant upon outlets like Snopes because then you are letting someone else think for you. Don’t “like” biased news, call out fake news or lies when correction is needed, and don’t copy and paste incomplete information from your BFF. Seek objective truth.

One of the challenges writers have when filling the mind-well is wanting to write about it, of course. Be aware that this is not a safe environment for writers. Journalists have called for solidarity. Many groups, such as #LinkYourLife offer private safe space on Facebook with member rules to protect the space and moderators to encourage participation. Carrot Ranch is an open literary community. Most writers participate in multiple social media platforms and write blog posts, articles or literary submissions. We express our thoughts and our thoughts are informed by what we experience and read or observe.

Yet, doing so makes writers vulnerable. What was intimate in our hearts and minds becomes words on a page. When we share those words publicly, we can’t control the reaction of others. Something as simple as an encouraging quote or an expressed opinion can receive negative feedback. Recently I posted a quote from Langston Hughes and endured a vitriolic debate from someone on Facebook who inappropriately associated the quote to an offensive art exhibit. And yet, I defended artists having the freedom of expression. It felt ironic because I didn’t feel so free in expressing myself. Another writer posted a political meme and was trolled on her Facebook page. Another writer wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post that created a media storm complete with public shaming from Bill O’Reilly and death threats.

So how do writers stay safe yet continue to write?

Know your boundaries. Find safe groups where you feel welcome and comfortable. Have a crisis plan. If you are new to blogging and are journaling personal thoughts and feelings, you can keep your blog private until you feel ready to share. Use your comfort to share as your cue. Sometimes, in order to grow, we have to expand beyond our safety zones, and being scared does not mean you are helpless. Set your boundaries on your social media and craft rules of what you will tolerate (you can block and report). I tolerated the vitriol on my FB because I want my posts to be public (part of my writer’s platform) and I knew the offender (my Hub’s opinionated cousin). The writer who was trolled on Facebook thought she could learn from opposing opinions, but it became clear it was an organized attack (by people she didn’t  know) and she blocked them. The Washington Post writer rode out the storm with the help of her publicist.

Before negative remarks send you into a crisis, have a plan: don’t engage with anyone who makes you feel unsafe; know how to block and report offenders; reach out to moderators; adjust your level of sharing.

As someone who leads a literary community, safe space means a place where our writing is not critiqued in the normal academic way of tearing down. Trolls would never be an issue here and that is why I have tight security on my comment feed. It can be annoying when comments or pingbacks delay or even get lost but it’s worth keeping the space here safe from undue criticism. We also have some basic rules at Carrot Ranch which are always linked. In the three years we’ve been flashing as a community, only once did I have to send an email to an inappropriate commentor, and the writers never saw the comment. Of course, we are not the Washington Post or The New Yorker, but it’s important for writers to know that having a safe zone to practice creative writing — raw literature — is a priority at Carrot Ranch.

Each week we focus on writing flash fiction as play, the way musicians get together and jam. Writers often comment and the focus is on what is engaging in the flash, or craft techniques that worked well. A safe place for literary art practices appreciative inquiry to build upon a writer’s strengths. A safe place expresses adult ideas in content, and we keep them to the level of: would you share this with your boss. If not, give a content warning, post it on your own blog and link to it in the comments. It’s never been a problem to date, but worth explaining that there is a process for sharing extreme content.

Ultimately Carrot Ranch is a safe place for writers from diverse backgrounds to share across genres, topics and national origin. Literary art is the common ground for diversity.

Even fiction explores objective truth. In fact, fiction is most powerful when it clearly expresses truth. Just because we live in uncertain times does not mean we have to be uncertain about what we write. Perhaps we are called to be more mindful of what we write, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Safety is a reasonable concern. It’s my greatest hope you come here to write because you feel safe in expressing yourself in raw literature among this literary community. We learn from different perspectives and we grow when we dare to be brave.

It’s a new era, today. Hone your voice and write on.

***

A Note about the artwork: Hear Our Voice is by artist, Liz Donovan and is a free download from the Women’s March on Washington. The purpose is to amplify the messages women bring to the march. I’ll be marching on Saturday in a Sister March, holding a sign made from this artwork. My body guard and faithful dog march with me.

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I’m a member and co-moderator of the Link Your Life group on Facebook which is a safe place to share writing links. The LYL Mod Squad has joined forces today to reflect upn what safe space does and doesn’t mean. Here’s the complete list:

Heavy Lifting: Accountability, ego and a safe team environment, By Shawna Ayoub Ainslie

What Is a Safe Space? by Drew Sheldon

What an Online safe space is and isn’t by Stacia Fleegal

Why this one life hack will change your life forever, by Raymond Baxter

The importance of safe spaces and how to understand them better – Link Your Life, by Charlotte Farhan

Harmony, by Rachel A. Hanson

How bringing others in improves healing and progress, by Thomas Ives