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The Writer's Mailbag: Installment #301

Updated on March 23, 2020

The New Reality

Welcome back to The Writer’s Mailbag. Strange times are upon us, for sure, times which desperately call for writers, poets, and artists to step up and provide a distraction from the daily bombardment of negativity found online and in the media.

We are all counting on you!

I am counting on you!

These are times when storytellers serve such a wonderful purpose. These are times when poets can lighten a dark heart. These are times when artists can create beautiful worlds on canvas.

The world needs us! That is not hyperbole. It is a truth!

I hope you all take it to heart.

Now let’s do this Mailbag thing we have all come to love.

The Mail Room
The Mail Room

More on Filler

From Bill: “On the first question, my issue has always been to hold back on 'filler' and description. Let the reader fill that it in their own way. Perhaps this comes from an academic writing background, where every word had to be justified in order to be included. But, actually, is that not exactly what you suggested... description should move the story forward... Thanks, again, for everything you do!! ;-)”

Bill, I hear this often from writers who have an academic background. It is very hard to break that habit, a habit best summarized on the old television show Dragnet: “Just the facts, ma’am!”

We walk a tightrope with regards to filler and descriptions and dialogue. We need just enough to properly paint a picture and, as you mentioned, to move the story forward; any more than that and we risk bogging the story down in a quagmire of inessentials.

What is too much with regards to filler and description? That’s something we learn with time and practice. Awareness is a good starting point. It will grow from there.

Celebrating Milestones

From Mary: “Congratulations on completing your 300th mailbag. Wow! You're right, it's as much about the community as it is about writing. Do you celebrate your milestones or accomplishments in a special way?”

I don’t, Mary, and that is part of my upbringing. My parents were big on not drawing attention to themselves and never, ever bragging about their accomplishments or good fortune. I’ve remembered that lesson throughout my life.

Besides, my expectations and goals are pretty lofty, so in my mind I never really do anything worth celebrating. I know, I know, lighten up, Bill!

I’m working on it, Mary!

Show Vs Telling

From Tyler: “I’ve heard you say before that a creative writers mush show instead of tell. I think I get it, but could you explain that in a little more detail?”

You bet I can, Tyler, and thanks for asking this question. This is a fundamental of good creative writing, one which most writers need work on. It is also one reason why I despise adverbs so much.

Let me show you by example. First, an excerpt which illustrates telling:

What’s that?” Jake asked curiously.

Nothing,” Kate said, acting suspicious.

It has to be something!” Jake was getting frustrated.

And now the same “scene,” showing rather than telling:

What’s that?” Jake asked, leaning sideways to peek behind her back.

Kate twisted her body, hiding the package behind it, and took a step back. “Nothing,” she said.

It has to be something!” He stomped his foot and crossed his arms across his chest.

Does that make sense to you? To put it another way, summary is telling while scenes are showing.

I recently wrote my memoir, “And the Blind Shall See.” I had to constantly remind myself that a strict recitation of my life would be boring. It would be nothing more than a summary. What that memoir needed was to show the readers my life. I had to bring the past to life and not just recite it.

One more example to drive home this point:


Grandma baked a pie.


The cinnamon apple pie cooled on the kitchen window sill, the golden crust glistened, and the sweet smell surrounded Grandma’s house as we ran through the front door.

I hope that helps!

Next question?

To a writer, this is more than a woman looking at a vista.
To a writer, this is more than a woman looking at a vista.

Teaching Creativity

From Martha: “Is it possible to teach creativity in writing? I thought creative people are just born creative?

Martha, I firmly believe you can teach creativity.

I’m reminded of a friend of mine, Audrey Hunt, who teaches singing. She is known worldwide for her teaching prowess and has had some rather famous students. Audrey says that anyone can be taught to sing, that they simply need the proper instruction. I believe her, and I also believe anyone can be taught to write creatively.

There are many ways to do it. I want to expand the student’s view of the world. If a student of mine says “the red car passed by quickly,” I point out that there are many shades of red, and there are many ways of describing red, as in “blood red,” or “ruby red,” or “flaming geyser red.” And that word “quickly” drives me crazy. What does quickly mean? The car blew by so fast my hair stood up, or the car took my breath away as it passed by, easily creating a vacuum in its wake. These are things we can all think of. It just takes practice and a desire to become a better writer.

You can practice in your spare time. Take a simple, declarative sentence, and write it creatively:

The robin landed suddenly on the windowsill.

What can you do with that?

Write a creative description of this picture for practice
Write a creative description of this picture for practice

Almost Famous

From Joel: “HubPages has been around quite awhile, right? Over ten years I think. I wonder why HP has never produced a nationally-acclaimed author? Do you have any thoughts on that? Is HP broken as a medium?”

Wow! What an interesting question, Joel. You have my head spinning with this one.

No, I don’t think HP is broken. For what it is I think they do a pretty good job. They’ve outlasted the competition in a very competitive field, so they must be doing something right.

As for developing famous writers, I think that is more a referendum on the writing industry than it is on HP. It is infinitely more difficult today to become a famous, best-selling author than it was ten years ago. That’s just the real of it. The market has shifted, and it was a seismic shift for those of us who write novels.

I say this without an ounce of ego: I believe I would have been picked up by an agent and a major publisher if this was the year 1990 rather than 2020. I just started writing too late, and the landscape has changed. I can’t blame HP for a shift in the marketplace. I can’t blame them if I don’t do a marvelous job of marketing myself. And I can’t blame them if my talents are substandard. They have done what they promised to do: publish my works, for free!

I’ve got no complaints at all with HP.

Be Safe, All of You

Be smart out there in our new reality. I wish, for all of you, perfect health and smoother roads ahead. We will get through this. I’m confident of that, and I’m not blowing .smoke when I say that.

During times like these we see the absolute best of our species, and we see the absolute worst. I’m betting on the best to prevail.

2020 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)

“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”.


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