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The Art-Committed Life

A Newsletter by Author Patrick Ross

The latest tips and trends on sparking your muse as a creative writer and artist

image of beach at sunset
Kudos to Novelist Sion Dayson

Congratulations to Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA graduate Sion Dayson on having her debut novel As a River shortlisted for the 8th annual Crook’s Corner Book Prize! The award is given annually to debut novels set in the South. Here’s their description of the novel: “Written in spare and lyrical prose and set in Georgia, As a River moves back and forth across decades, evoking the mysterious play of memory as it touches upon shame and redemption, despair, and connection. At its heart it’s a novel about our struggles to understand each other, and the stories we tell ourselves in order to survive.” Note the novel is also a nominee for the 2020 Hurston/Wright Legacy Award in the Debut Fiction category.

I read As a River shortly after it was published, and devoured it quickly. It’s beautifully written, with compelling characters and a moving story. The novel has become more timely in some respects since publication, however. A central tension in the story involves characters impacted by growing up in a region dominated by systemic racism. As someone who has become more aware of the insidious nature of this problem in recent months, Sion’s characters have come back to me. I anticipate reading it again to examine her exploration of that topic more clearly.

Good luck to Sion in both of these contests!

September 1

Embracing the Five Senses

Show, don’t tell. It’s a fundamental tenet of creative writing. Okay, we may say, I get it. You want scene rather than description. I can do that. Good. You also need to focus on what you put in that scene.

“Specific, definite, concrete, particular details—these are the life of fiction. Details (as every good liar knows) are the stuff of persuasiveness.” So writes Janet Burroway in Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft. I find myself thinking of a prominent politician who likes to start his lies by saying that someone referred to him as “Sir.” We don’t want in our fiction (or creative nonfiction) to fall back on such easy tells. We can, however, make use of all five senses.

I find in my first drafts that everything I describe is visual. The reader doesn’t hear anything, taste anything, or feel anything. They definitely never smell anything, because I have almost no sense of smell. So I make a point when doing revisions to proactively insert senses other than sight in my prose. (Sometimes I have to ask my wife for help with adding scents.) With my current creative work I’ve even been flagging every use of senses other than sight so I can see if there are long stretches without any.

Burroway doesn’t just want you to add sensory details, however. “A detail can also matter if it suggests a change in character or a development in the plot.” That is yet another level of complexity. I suspect, however, that the great writers who pull that off do not do so in their first drafts. So let’s hear it for revision!

What I'm Up To Creatively

Are you finding time to be creative while dealing with stress caused by a global pandemic and increasingly depressing news reports? I’m doing my best.

I’m now on the 11th (!) draft of my urban fantasy novel-in-progress, tentatively titled The Unmoving Stars. I spent the summer doing a major overhaul after feedback I received in a virtual novel retreat hosted by the Vermont College of Fine Arts.

  • The number of point-of-view characters dropped from four to two.
  • I made significant alterations to the plot lines and character motivations of those two POV characters.
  • I clarified which was truly the protagonist.
  • I also made significant cuts, particularly early in the book, dropping the word count from 90,000 to 65,000.

That was the 9th draft. My 10th draft revision focused on smoothing out character and plot reveals due to the massive restructuring. Now I’m doing further revisions focused on prose, namely the use of senses and language tightening.

I hope to share the manuscript with some beta readers by the end of the year, with a simple request that they read as much of the novel as they have time for and give me feedback as a reader. No heavy lifting, no line edits or detailed rewrite notes. Let me know if you’d be interested in being a beta reader; I’d be forever grateful.

I hope you’re staying physically safe, monitoring your mental health, and finding ways to embrace your creative muse. Until next time!

Thanks for Reading!

Once again, I appreciate you taking the time to peruse my latest newsletter. Feel free to pass it along to others who might be interested. 

In addition, if you're a U.S. citizen (I have some international readers), please vote in this year's election. Vote for empathy. Vote for compassion. Vote as if the future of our democracy is at stake, because it is. Thank you.

Patrick Ross, Author


Carlsbad, CA

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