Introduction to Vital Writer Services and Elizabeth Herman

Elizabeth Herman has been helping and supporting writers of various backgrounds and ages and in all stages of the writing process since 1998. She completed her doctorate in Rhetoric and Composition in December of 2008. Vital Writer Services is her new business offering coaching, tutoring, editing and proofreading to writers in various genres and with a variety of possible issues. Five percent of each fee will be  donated to non-profit educational service projects around the world, which are described on the ‘supporting others‘ page of this blog. Contact her at 618-559-1641 (cell phone) or hermanbetsy@yahoo.com for more information.

Publishing as a Way of Claiming Your Writing

When you publish a piece of writing, you claim that writing as worthwhile. You own it because your byline has your name in it. You stand by, behind and in it as an author who relates to a readership.

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Natalie Goldberg states in her essay, “Claim Your Writing,” from Writing Down the Bones, “In the process of claiming our own good writing, we are chipping away at the blind gap between our own true nature and our conscious ability to see it. We learn to embrace ourselves as the fine creative human beings we are in the present.”

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You have a great writer inside you. The perseverance that it takes to continue to revise and polish your craft would not exist without some inner belief in your own greatness.

Every time your work gets accepted constitutes another piece of evidence that you can claim as your own magnificence.

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In order to continue to get better as a writer, it is important to consider your true nature, the unlimited potential you have for doing wonderful work that will last for generations to come. Estimate your infinite self with peace, confidence and the dynamism of shining forth with a new, bright light on the horizon.

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Who knows, like Jack Canfield and so many others, you may save someone’s life by reaching out with your talent for expressing infinite truth in words.

Places, places, places: Bring your reader into your world.

Extraordinary details occur not only in events but also most generously in places.

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How many places have you visited in your life? Have you stopped to count them? What sense of place do you bring into your writing?

Place constitutes a crucial element of setting, which makes for vital and energetic prose when developed with vivid detail. This applies just as well to fiction, poetry and non-fiction alike.

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As a reader, I find that worlds open up when an author brings me into a specific, particular place.

Recently I moved from Illinois to North Carolina. Living in a different landscape, the details of my life have changed in extraordinary ways. Someday, I hope to have time to bring this experience alive on the page. For now, I only wish to encourage you to write about the places you see, feel, smell and love.

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Northwestern North Carolina is full of mountains. The land in Illinois is largely flat. You can imagine how textures and contours of land shape the way we spend our time.

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Natalie Goldberg says it this way: “We think of detail as small, not the realm of the cosmic mind or these big hills of New Mexico. That isn’t true. No matter how large a thing is, how fantastic, it is also ordinary. We think of details as daily and mundane. Even miracles are mundane happenings that an awakened mind can see in a fantastic way.”

I love this as it pertains to a writer’s life. These big hills of Appalachia that I now call home hold extraordinary, mystical power for me, even though I see them every day now and realize how ordinary the physical elements of particular places are when they live with us.

Extraordinary Details: Is it New to Your Reader?

Only the reader of a detail can answer questions about the ordinary or extraordinary qualities of that detail. Your readers have experienced plenty of opportunities to become familiar with the human form. Writing leaves the challenge of making human appearances new and amazing up to you!

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Only your innovative description of the details involved in any topic or subject can make your writing extraordinary.

You may conceive of a detail as something very small and specific. Yet, the smallness and specificity of details can make a picture of anything larger.

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If I tell you about a whale, and only speak in vague generalities, describing the whale as a big fish, how much of the whale will capture your imagination? You probably will not see much in my picture of that whale. But if I go into more detail, and tell you about the colors and shapes on the whale’s skin, and the attributes and functions of each of its body parts, you will have a bigger picture.

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A detail can seem ordinary or extraordinary, depending on the uniqueness of the description to the audiences who read such word pictures. If I have never imagined what a whale looks like up close, the patterns on a humpback’s tail fin may appear extraordinary to me.

A scientist who studies whales, however, may find a tail fin pattern description quite routine, and ordinary, in the sense that he has seen so many varieties of such patterns already.

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Natalie Goldberg offers another example, saying how watching a snake dance seemed to her as an audience member both “unfathomable and fantastic because it was new and foreign,” as well as “ordinary and had been done for hundreds of years.”

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For writers, it helps to be aware of what your readers have already seen. You can guess when your descriptions will come across as ordinary or extraordinary, based on what you know about your readers’ histories with your subject matter.

Surrender as an Assumption not an Act

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I recently heard a wisdom quote about how surrender works. The wise teacher stated that surrender is not an act, but an assumption. Once you assume that you are loved fully by the divine, surrender simply happens.

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Many years ago in college, I participated in an open mic poetry reading where I read an essay by Richard Hugo about assumptions. The essay consisted mostly of a list of possible assumptions that a writer could make about a particular place in which a story might take place.

I enjoy reading this essay because it points to particular jumping off places that could fire one’s imagination in infinite directions. The first assumption about the town in Hugo’s essay is “The name of the town is significant and must appear in the title.”

What is it about names that imply meanings about the person, thing or place in question? Is the implication about the object’s history? What does that history say about the present moment in regards to that object? What does the town’s name say about the characters in the story?

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Many of the assumptions also have a subject within them, in other words a person referred to by the first person pronoun, “I.” Assumptions about a town have a bearing on the attitude or position of the first person narrator, who might easily become a third person main character.

In other words, a relationship must exist between the objects in the assumption and the characters who either hold the assumption or feel its impact. If the divine fully loves you, it sets the stage for your ability to surrender without having to do anything.

And if I spelled out the particulars of a story of surrender, what would it look like? Where would it take place, and what is the name of that place and the meaning of that name? Questions about assumptions in a writer’s mind, and the relationships between the assumptions and the characters, can help to generate valuable material for the development of a written work.

The Specific and the Big: Natalie Goldberg’s “Big Concentration”

In a later essay in “Writing Down the Bones,” Natalie Goldberg discusses a process of combining specificity in your writing with a sense of a broader perspective.

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This essay, called “Big Concentration,” asks writers to remember “that the universe moves with us,” when at the same time using the principle of vivid, specific imagery, also known as “show, don’t tell.”

This “tricky balance,” as she calls it, involves the realization that each baby step may seem to stand on its own but really does not exist in isolation.

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So if you write a poem about a rose, for example, there might be a place for images of the garden in which that rose thrives, and the sky, trees, and landscape beyond that garden.

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The rose cannot simply be there without a point of view that encompasses a larger train of thought. As writers, we benefit from processes that allow us to progress in stages, and at the same time we add a greater dimension to our expression by incorporating those stages into a bigger world.

Becoming Big Enough for Collaboration

As you begin to accept the collaborative process in your writing projects, questions may arise about how to interrelate with other writers.

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Natalie Goldberg’s essay, “Writing is a Communal Act,” from her book “Writing Down the Bones” advises people to “be a tribal writer, writing for all people and reflecting many voices.”

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In order to do so, she warns writers to stop making other writers separate from one’s self, to eliminate dichotomies between writers, to avoid secret jealousy, and to accept that “if someone writes something great, it’s just more clarity in the world for all of us.”

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In my research, I’ve found so many scholars and theorists who verify the unity between subject and object, self and other. Not only does “embracing contraries,” as Peter Elbow describes, help with collaboration, but it also helps with predicting how readers will respond to what you say.

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This unity, or belongingness, makes our consciousness bigger and allows us to take on bigger challenges and address themes and narratives of interest to wider audiences.

Collabaration and Reading: The Influence of Other Writers

According to Natalie Goldberg’s book of essays on writing, “Writing Down the Bones,” writers learn to write by falling “in love with other writers.”

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She defines being a lover as “stepping out of yourself, stepping into someone else’s skin.”

Not only do we step into the skins of other writers whom we love, we step into the skins of the fictional characters and real human beings who we create and evoke on the page.

Whether you do journalistic articles or short stories, the others within your content must come alive by merging with your consciousness, since you will breathe life into them with your visual language.

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I love Natalie Goldberg’s descriptions of how she and her students write, and how their composing processes take place within their actual human lives, in relation to their spiritual and physical growth processes as well.

In her words, “Great lovers realize that they are what they are in love with.”

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The lines between the self and the other start to blur until your writing becomes your own regardless of how much you may have imitated your inspiration at the beginning.

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Imitation is not to be feared. If you love Hurston, don’t be afraid to write like Hurston. If you love Steinbeck, don’t be afraid to write like him.

If you love what you read, it is more likely that you will love what you write.

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