Clean reads are books without profanity and gratuitous sex. Here’s why that’s what I write.
First, I believe in not dishonoring God by using his name or his son’s name inappropriately.
But what about other curse words? Often, I think people use them for several reasons—the pain they are in, anger, bad habit, an attempt to prove something, for shock value, or laziness. I should probably add ignorance that swearing is displeasing to God.
This summer at the LA SCBWI conference Kwame Alexander read a piece of one of his poems and his interviewer asked him why he hadn’t used swear words in a certain line. First, he told us his mom was going to read the book. Secondly, he taught poetry for 9 years and taught his students not to use profanity. Third, who his publisher is. But because he couldn’t use the convenient short cut of a curse he had to be more creative. He wrote something no one had heard before. How cool is that?
I also don’t enjoy reading a lot of foul language, so why would I write it? And the more I don’t hear it, read it, see it, the less likely I’m tempted to use it myself. Does anyone really need to be exposed to it?
Note: It’s actually more shocking when someone who doesn’t use profanity uses it than when someone who habitually uses it swears.
Sex is a wonderful thing between a husband and wife. And that’s where I believe it belongs—between them. Not on the pages of any book I write.
Also, when I write an “adult” book, I want it to be safe for a younger audience. I so remember reading Mary Stewart’s Airs Above the Ground as a young teen. There’s a scene after a visual break where the husband is putting his socks back on. It meant nothing to me. Later I reread the book as an adult and the light dawned—oh, they made love. My daughter talks about having the same discovery as an adult. It was so subtle our teen selves missed it. But our adult selves enjoyed the inside knowledge of the small hint.
Our imagination is wonderful at filling in the blanks. I like leaving some room for the reader’s imagination.
An honestly, I think a long-awaited kiss can be very romantic. One of my favorite scenes in Pride and Prejudice (the movie with Kiera Knightley and Matthew McFadden) is the closing scene—the first time they actually kiss.
If you also write clean, I’d love to hear your reasons why.
An artist friend of mine is trying new things. She’s taking classes that show how to make freeform backgrounds by pouring water over charcoal, paint, etc. The results were much looser than what my friend usually paints or draws. It looked fun and interesting. And it stretched her.
It reminded me how writers need to try something new now and then. Only write fiction? Try a nonfiction piece. Only write personal experience? Try writing a short story. You get the idea.
In any case, you’ll need to learn some basics for the new area of writing. Maybe it’ll be taking a class, or reading a “how to” piece or book, or studying some examples. Whatever prep method you use, writing in a new area can stretch you.
Let’s talk poetry for a bit. You’ve probably heard of odes, limericks, and haikus. But do you know what a cinquain, sestina, or ghazal is? Here’s a site that explains 55 types of poetry forms! Take a form or two for a spin. You might like one, or the change might refresh what you normally work on.
From poetrysoup here’s an example of how to write a bio poem:
A poem written about one self's life, personality traits, and ambitions.
Line 1: First name
Line 2: Four traits that describe you
Line 3: Brother/ Sister of ... (may substitute son/daughter of)
Line 4: Lover of ... (Give names of three people or ideas)
Line 5: Who feels ... (Give three feelings)
Line 6: Who fears ... (Give three items)
Line 7: Who would like to see ... (Give three items)
Line 8: Resident of ... (Give city and state)
Line 9: Last name only
So, let’s see what I get when I try.
Friendly, at times still shy, honest, and sincere.
Daughter of Charles and Violette,
both residing in heaven.
Lover of leaves, kids, and books.
Who feels comfort from
the embrace of family,
the caring of friends,
and a purring cat.
Who fears heights, deep water, and the hatred of so many.
Who would like to see
more people getting along,
more successful marriages,
and more of the world.
Resident of the Pacific Northwest
What did I learn as I did this? That I like rules, but can’t resist writing my poem a bit more free form. I didn’t like when my lines got too long and found myself breaking them up and indenting when they did so. Part of it is probably a result of working on a novel in verse where I used breaks and indents for emphasis. Part of rule breaking for me is information I’m willing to share or not share. I don’t like agonizing about introspection either so maybe don’t go as deep as I could. Some of my rule breaking was just going where the words took me.
Years ago at a writer’s retreat the instructor had the members of the group think of some secret they had never told anyone. Once we had that in mind, she had us stand face to face with another person and think about telling that person the secret. It was uncomfortable. It stirred up emotions in us. Then she had us take a scenario and write it using the emotions swirling in our minds and hearts. I don’t remember what I wrote, but I sure remember how the experience felt.
And isn’t that what art is about anyway? To make us think or feel? Even if the feeling is one of temporarily escaping the problems in our lives when I read purely for enjoyment.
Writing this bio poem made me smile. Remembering the challenge from that writer’s retreat reminded me of a tool I can use in my own writing. So, if you’re feeling stuck or dry or frustrated with your writing, try something new. Who knows what you’ll get.
I’ve been hearing writers talk about not being able to finish what they start. I think there are a number of reasons why this might be.
Not knowing where the story is going. I understand not outlining—I’m a pantser myself—but I do have a goal in mind with each story. The stories I have in my files that aren’t finished usually either had too vague a goal or started more as a character sketch with no specific problem for that character to solve. The goal is specific to the character and the plot of the story. I usually have in mind how the story might end. Sometimes that changes along the way. How I think my character might win/grow/change might not happen, but he or she does win/grow/change in some way. But I knew where I was headed to begin with.
Not caring enough about the characters and story to continue. Sometimes, I think we start something and then find we don’t care enough about the idea. In other words, the story isn’t inspired by any passion. That passion can be the character himself, the theme of the story, the plot or solution—something that is important to the writer. In these cases, look first for things you are passionate about and build your next story about one or more of those things.
Liking the idea of having written more than writing. Writing is hard. Getting to the end is hard. But if you enjoy the process of writing, writing is worth doing. I like putting words together. The act of writing makes me happy. Sure, I like it when I’m totally done with a piece. But first I have to be pleased to have finished a first draft. Then I like rewriting it to make it better. I take feedback and use it to make the story even better. It’s a process and writers need to be willing to participate in the process.
Writing without having learned the basics. Do you know what is meant by showing versus telling? Character point of view? Third person versus first person? Past and present tense? I’ve spent time learning about these writing basics from classes, books, workshops, and critiques. This gave me the skills so I know how to do the craft.
Writing something you’d never read. If you don’t like reading a particular type of writing, why would you try to write it? It means you aren’t familiar with the basic rules of the genre that any reader knows. Remember, the writer is the first reader of anything she’s written. If the writer can’t please herself, how can she please anyone else?
Fear it won’t be good enough. Of course, it won’t be good enough. Nothing quite matches up to our expectations. But that’s what revision and rewriting are for—to make our writing better, closer to what we want it to be. I love when I go back and read something I’ve written and am surprised by it. In a positive way. Many writers don’t read their published books because they can’t change them anymore.
Talking about the story too much. I love this Chinese proverb, “Talk doesn’t cook rice.” You’ve got to do the writing, not talk about it. For me, if I talk about a story too much before I write it, then the impetus to write it is gone. This isn’t the case for some writers. But consider what would happen if writers spent more time writing the stories than talking about them.
Not committing the time. It takes time to finish a story. It means writing has to be a priority. What will you give up so you can write? TV, Facebook, surfing the net, shopping? It doesn’t mean you can never do these things again, but if there’s no scheduled time for writing, it probably won’t happen.
Starting too big. If you’re having trouble finishing a book, have you tried writing a short story or article? The sense of accomplishment from finishing something smaller is a real encouragement. I learned a lot from writing short stories. And the encouragement of sales helped me keep going with my longer pieces, too.
Unrealistic expectations. Most of us don’t write a book and sell it. We write a number of manuscripts. We learn from the act of doing. We get lots of rejections. We grow in our writing abilities. Ira Glass says, “It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions.”
Some might wonder why I haven’t brought up “writer’s block.” I think writer’s block is caused by many of the reason above. But perhaps it deserves a discussion of its own.
So, if you’re having trouble finishing your writing, do any of these reasons apply to you? Or do you think there are other causes? Comments are welcome.
SM Ford writes inspirational fiction for adults, although teens may find the stories of interest, too. She also loves assisting other writers on their journeys.