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January, 2008

Coyote Morning

Writing That Connects
Feel your way through to achieve excellent writing
By  Lisa Lenard-Cook
Collecting all of the details and using your senses creates magnificent writing.
eing a writer is about far more than just the writing.

It’s also about watching, listening, waiting, sensing and knowing. That’s because the best writing is in the details, and collecting — and then showing — those details is what separates memorable writing from the merely pedestrian.

Chances are you’ve been collecting those details since you became aware there was a world beyond yourself. Perhaps you remember a picture that hung on the wall opposite your crib (I do), or the particular feel of the blanket of your childhood bed.

You may recall the soft touch against your nose of your favorite thumb-sucking aid, or the sound of your mother’s laughter across an expanse of lawn on a warm and lingering summer evening.

It’s in the translation to writing that so many of these singular details lose their particularity. We read and hear cliché tens of times each day, and so it’s remarkably simple to fall back on them ourselves when the time comes to describe something in our writing.

Your first reaction to a sunset will likely be an adjective like “spectacular,” so your inclination is to write it the same way. Cliché is convenient shorthand that everyone understands, but, precisely because it is shorthand, it lacks the particularity of writing that really connects.

In fact, it’s a cliché that something is universal when it’s familiar. Rather, the more individual a description, the more universal the connection. You, the writer, make that description individual and unique by using those details (that sunset, that blanket, that laugh) you collected.

Still, the question remains: How do you move these details into your writing?

The answer is to use your senses. What, for instance, was it about that “spectacular” sunset that made it memorable?

Here’s an example that moves a particular sunset beyond cliché:

“Slashes of garish gold at the horizon yielded to outrageous orange, then red, purple, blue, azure and turquoise as the sky is swallowed by the darkness.” In this case, I’ve relied on just one sense, sight, but you don’t have to limit yourself in that way at all — even it it’s a sunset you’re describing.

Note, though, that the picture of this sunset contains, as well, movement. The gold comes on stabbing at the sky, and the darkness moves in and snuffs it out. Rather than just calling it spectacular, I've also qualifed and quantifed, provided images that explain why.

Rather than rely on that same, old, tired adjective, I’ve named colours and the way they interweave to fashion a particular sunset that moves beyond ordinary, generic description.

The next time you find a cliché in your writing, replace it with a phrase that uses as many of the senses as you can. Chances are, your final product won’t use all of them, but using the senses forces you beyond cliché. Describe what you’re writing about by answering the following question:

What does it look/sound/smell/taste/feel like? Simple. Now write it.

In The Catcher In The Rye, J. D. Salinger describes a room this way: “The…lobby… smelled like fifty million dead cigars.” This description, using a single mage and just one of the senses, provides a distinct, timeless and compelling picture of that particular lobby.

Try for the same in your own writing. The results will both surprise you and please you.

Read Lisa Lenard-Cook's excerpt from Dissonance.

Lisa Lenard-Cook’s novel Dissonance (University of New Mexico Press, 2003), which won the Jim Sagel Prize for the Novel in manuscript, has gone on (despite the copy editor’s review) to be short-listed for the PEN Southwest Book Award. In addition, it is a selection of NPR Performance Today’s Summer Reading Series and was the 2004 countywide reading choice for Durango-La Plata Reads. Her second novel, Coyote Morning (UNM  Press, 2004), was, like, Dissonance, a Southwest Book of the Year. Her website is

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IN This Issue
Easy Readers
Write Angle
Writing Piffle
Remember The Reader
Making It Real
Out Of Order
Reality Suspension
Devilish Details

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Bald Ego
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Writer’s Block
The path to inspiration starts
Upon the trails we’ve known;
Each writer’s block is not a rock,
But just a stepping stone.

Poetry Is Not
Penned to the page
Waiting for us to admire.
It is only a lonely thought
Caught by tears on fire.

Silent Echoes
A quiet rhyme upon a page
Is what a poet gives;
Some gentle words whispered in trust
To see if memory lives.

Bard From Deadlines
What makes a poem finally work
Is not the time it takes;
It’s how the poet used the muse
To prophet from mistakes.

Be Mused
The art and craft of poetry
Are not so far apart;
The craft comes from the cunning,
The rest comes from the heart.

Fine Vintage
Don’t plant your poem on the page
As though you’re hanging drapes;
It’s shape and flow should come and grow
Like wild summer grapes.

Getting It Write
Writers write what they know best,
Their passions, fears, and dreams;
Writers rarely write about
What other call their “themes.”

Double Vision
A writer’s life is paradox,
It’s more than what it seems;
We write of our reality,
The one inside our dreams.

The echo of a promise,
The thunder of a sigh,
The music of a memory,
A child asking why.

Letter Perfect
Twenty six symbols arranged on a page
Can send a soul to heaven or torment it with rage,
Can free a fragile world or hold it in its net--
The power and the magic of the mighty alphabet.

The Write of Passage
The jump from writing just for fun
To getting paid for it
Begins when you first realize
You know you’ll never quit.

It is not the magic of his wings
That sets us free from our bond.
It is the muse within ourselves
That lets our words lift us beyond.

Photo Poet
Consider your mind the darkroom,
Consider your life the lens,
Consider your eye the camera
On whose focus the poem depends.

Rising Moon
A poem is a rising moon
Shining on the sea,
An afterglow of all we know,
Of all we hope to be.

Star Light
Writing a poem,
Reaching a star,
In making good art
We find who we are.

Spider Web
A poem is a spider web
Spun with words of wonder,
Woven lace held in place
By whispers made of thunder.

The final draft upon the screen,
At last my poem’s through;
A verse of only four short lines--
I rewrote twenty-two!

Read All Of Charles Ghigna's Poetry at

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