Creative Writing

What Is Fiction For?

A work of fiction is capable of not only entertaining, but also conveying truths about the human condition, often with greater impact than is attainable through nonfiction. Mark Twain’s novel Huckleberry Finn was commercially successful with lots of action, humor, and plot twists, but is classified today as classic literature because of its deep probing into the heart’s enduring problems.

A defining quality of great writing is purpose, what the work is trying to do. Does it point to universal truths about life while inviting the reader to participate in discovering them? The primary purpose of fiction is to entertain, but enduring fiction has a broader scope. In struggling with underlying ideas and themes, serious writers wrestle, wrangle, and prod language toward a higher purpose, which necessarily requires sophisticated technical skills that are often just beyond reach.

I try to achieve these basic goals: employ crisp, character-driven prose that evokes place and textures the fictional dream; write honestly about humans, not stock figures; and follow Hemingway’s advice to “. . . write one true sentence.” Once that goal is attained, other true sentences follow. Another guiding maxim comes from Chekhov, who maintained that the artist is not required to solve the problem but to correctly formulate it. I hope my stories produce anxiety as well as pleasure as the reader struggles to derive answers from correctly formulated problems.

Great fiction is born of pleasure and pain. Producing it is a daunting challenge that when successfully met will echo inside the reader. William Faulkner explained the struggle this way in his Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech:

        Our tragedy today is a general and universal physical fear, so long sustained by now  that we can even bear it. There are no longer problems of the spirit. There is only one question: When will I be blown up? Because of this, the young man, young woman writing today has forgotten the problems of the human heart in conflict with itself which alone can make good writing because only that is worth writing about, worth the agony and the sweat.

Welcome to the struggle! You can read all of Faulkner’s speech here:


The Creative Process

Where Do Ideas Come From?

You know I can’t answer that, right? The title is just a teaser, like the ubiquitous click-bait headlines: “Doctors Say Don’t Eat This or You Will Die!” or “Insanely Easy Way to Pay Off Your Mortgage!” Most of us want to avoid death and reduce debt, so we click. Then we wish we hadn’t. This post isn’t like that. I promise. While a simple, definitive answer to the above question may not be available, we can explore the topic.

Ideas are everywhere, free for the taking. There exists a cosmic repository where they reside. We all have access once we learn a few simple, brain-cleansing tricks. Oops, this is starting to sound like click-bait again. I’m not so sure about the cosmic repository, but I do believe in keeping our antennae up.

Ideas reside within the hum of life: bits of overheard conversation, a fluttering leaf, the swirling water when we flush, a gliding hawk, wafting fragrances of food vendors, the colors of springtime, or the desolation of winter’s bare branches. We are constantly processing information, sensory as well as explicatory. We try to make sense of random occurrences, and we try to solve the problems of life. This conscious effort expended toward solving problems and coming up with ideas often blocks our ability to receive insight and solutions from the vibrations that surround us.

So the process does take on a “cosmic” or metaphysical quality, but we don’t have to escape reality to become more creative. What we need to escape from are the thought processes that block our ability to receive inspiration. Have you ever birthed a good idea from trying to come up with one? Do they plop out of the idea canal, wet and squirmy, as a result of our determined pushing? Maybe. Sometimes. But I think more often than not our best brainchildren come when we least expect them, fully formed (or at least at the toddler stage), via immaculate conception of the mind.

Immaculate means extremely clean, neat, tidy; unstained, pure. Unfortunately, these adjectives don’t describe the average mind. If you’re like me, and I’m sure you are, it’s a damn mess up there. Sensory overload, compounded by worries and the stress of daily life, is the problem. We’re sifting through clutter looking for what’s not there. The ideas we need can’t get in when there’s no clear entrance. Thinking about your appointments, getting the kids to their recitals and practices, your upcoming presentation, and worrying over all the things that could go wrong effectively adds junk to that already overloaded attic space.

So just stop thinking, at least once a day. This can be accomplished through a variety of ways: meditation, performing some mindless task such as sweeping the floor or mowing the lawn, listening to music, or simply sitting and observing—my personal favorite. This is when you forget Bloom’s Taxonomy. Don’t analyze, evaluate, compare, contrast, synthesize, or predict. Just let your senses do what they were designed to do. When you provide five clear channels—instead of hundreds filled with gibberish—who knows what might get through.

The best part? That idea you needed slipped in without your realizing it. Later—maybe when you’re in the shower or on your morning jog or in deep repose or coming home from work—she’ll present herself, smiling and ready for a hug.

Where do ideas come from? Everywhere and anywhere. We just need to clear a path and receive them with open arms. They become ours even though the universe provides them. For these gifts we should be thankful.

Creative Writing

Ron’s Guide: Dealing with interrupting elements

Ron_s Guide

Grammar rules aren’t set in stone, especially for the creative writer. But anyone who writes to be read should devote time and energy to learning the rules before they abuse them. If you’re writing a story, poem, or personal essay, consider rules as conventions and let the standard practices guide your decisions. Also pay attention to how writers you admire conduct the physical business of getting words down so that they convey the intended meaning. I’ve provided a few suggestions (conventions) regarding those pesky elements that interrupt the core meaning of a sentence. Are they essential or nonessential? Do I need commas, dashes, or parentheses? When is the ellipsis appropriate and how many dots do I use? Go ahead, put an end to the torment. Click the link.

Creative Writing

Thankful yet somewhat bewildered

I find myself different from the young Ron Yates in outward manifestations, but the roots are the same. Is it true that our personalities are fully formed by age seven? Maybe. I feel like I’m changing constantly, but it’s probably a sense of dumb wonder that makes the experiences of each day seem new and different, even the lessons that I know I’ve learned before.

I started writing at an early age and always enjoyed my English classes. I majored in English in college and earned a bachelor’s degree and a master’s from the University of West Georgia. I taught high school English and journalism for many years in the west Georgia area.

I ran an automotive repair shop for five years and made forays into the business world on several occasions. These ventures were not very successful. I always felt I should be writing.

After waiting too long to begin, I finally earned an MFA in creative writing from Queens University of Charlotte. The experience of working with other dedicated writers and the amazing faculty at Queens was life changing. It’s possible to achieve success as a writer without earning a formal degree in the field, but for me doing so was a giant step up and served to validate my dream as well as hone my skills. These studies made it painfully obvious that I had much to learn.

I’ve gone on to publish work in various venues and journals including Hemingway Shorts; KYSO Flash; Serving House Journal; Shark Reef; The Writing Disorder; The Oddville Press; Still: The Journal; Bartleby Snopes; Rose & Thorn Journal; and Prime Number Magazine.

I’m very pleased to announce that I’ve signed a contract with The Ardent Writer Press of Huntsville, Alabama to publish a book of my stories. The working title is Make It Right and Other Stories. The collection features eight short stories, along with its eponymous novella. The selections fall, more or less, into the Southern Gothic genre.

The aesthetic components that drive my work are as follows: a desire to create crisp, character-driven prose and to evoke place in a way that furnishes and textures the fictional dream. I strive to write honestly about humans, not stock figures, and to follow Hemingway’s advice to “. . . write one true sentence.” Once that goal is attained, other true sentences follow. Another guiding maxim comes from Chekhov, who maintained that the artist is not required to solve the problem but to correctly formulate it. I hope my work produces a pleasurable anxiety in the reader as she struggles to derive answers from the human problems I have correctly formulated.

I’ll keep you posted on the publishing progress of the forthcoming Make It Right and Other Stories and other writing ventures. Stop in often. I plan to blog about writing, the creative process, and other topics that you may find helpful.

Creative Writing

Write, teach, fix. Learn. Repeat.

Thanks for dropping in!

The mantra above doesn’t apply exclusively to me. Everyone performs the first three actions on a daily basis in one form or another. We may write novels, we may write tweets, or we may compose romantic messages to our sweethearts. We may teach college students, our own kids, or our co-workers. We may fix websites, Ford engines, or supper. Hopefully we learn from our various WTF processes. We are privileged in that we get to repeat the sequence until we’re called away. I suspect we’ll continue even then.

If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.” —Henry David Thoreau