Tag Archives: blogs on writing

Detours, U-Turns,Wrong Turns

Standard

 Subtitle:  I Can’t Read the Map Without My Specs and I Don’t Know How to Program  the   SAT-NAV

2nd Subtitle:  I Think I Need a Co-Pilot

However it might appear from the titles, this is not a motoring post.  Believe it or not, it is a post about writing.  Let me s’plain:

Late last week, in a panic (typical) because I had procrastinated on completing an entrance application for a writing program and didn’t know which story to submit (also typical), I emailed the first 15 pages of The Novel to a very wise and trustworthy writing sister.  Although her schedule is packed, she very kindly read it at 5 a.m. the morning after I sent it to her.

The news wasn’t all bad.

Now, when I say I trust this woman, I say that wholeheartedly.  If The Novel was shit, she would’ve (gently) told me so and she didn’t, so I’m heartened about that.  However, she did go over the first 15 with a fine-tooth comb (amazing for the hour she was reading but she is a professor).

I’ve met her exactly twice.  She and I took an online writing class together and we’ve been online sisters ever since.  We live in opposite ends of the city; our lives do not intersect.  However, just from reading her writing and seeing how thoughtfully she critiqued other’s work, I knew she had a good eye, a good ear, and she was honest without being brutal.  Her critiques have always been unfailingly helpful.

My poor tired eyes have reviewed these same 15 pages so often that they (the eyes) have become essentially useless.  That is why I missed, overlooked, and ignored so many obvious flaws.  Which is why it is absolutely, positively, unequivocably essential that writers borrow, hire or kidnap additional pairs of peepers to review their work.

So, back to the detours, U-turns, and wrong turns…I’ve never written anything near the scope of The Novel before.  This story has been careening around in my brain for nearly a decade.  There have been plenty of false starts.  Of those false starts, I’ve been able to salvage maybe a paragraph or two over the years.

Somehow, I’ve always been able to build the story back up around those two paragraphs. So with great gusto, I built it up to about 270 pages before sending the first 15 off to my “editor.”  Time to get the pruning shears back out.

Or is it?

Right off the bat she had problems with the main character, Emma.  Well, shit.  If we’ve got problems with her, how much hope is there for anything else?  (This is me in “self-pity, moaning” mode)

Stand back, writer, and look at the comments and the story objectively.  Nobody said this was easy.  So, the main character needs more…everything.  Or, do the first 15 pages just need more tweaking?  It’s hard to say after only 15 pages and that’s why my online sister is going to be given a few more sets of 15.  Right now, her toes are barely in the water.  She needs to get in up to her knees (ok, maybe mid-calf) before she starts yelling for help.

Nonetheless, while she’s paddling around in my story, I’m going to do a little learnin’, perhaps on character development. In my heart of hearts, I think Emma is a good character.  She has potential so all is not lost. In a quick online search, I found a blog by Holly Lisle that looks really interesting.  I will investigate what she (and others)have to say thoroughly. Everyone has been here before, not just me.

Editors look for a few basic things, I’m thinking.  Well developed characters might very well be one of them.  I need my characters to stand out, be memorable, have heart, make the reader care.  Even if you hate a character, you still care.  The Wicked Stepmother was a vain, selfish bitch but we cared enough to want her to bite into the poisoned apple, not Snow White.

Have you ever driven, hell for leather, down a road only to have this nagging feeling you might be going in totally the wrong direction?  Hmmm…I get this too, sometimes.  But I’m a worrier.  Even if the SAT-NAV, the map, and my husband tell me I’m going the right way, doubt still holds me in its clutches. It’s not that I ride the brake but sometimes I do put the pedal down with my eyes closed…drives my passengers slightly crazy.

I am also getting more adept at U-turns.  And, it’s never too late to ask for directions.

Advertisements

Chasing Threads of Light

Standard

Invariably, my best words and phrases come to me in those fuzzy early morning minutes right before my alarm clock goes off.  My mind produces really good stuff then.  When I’m showered, dressed, and fully caffeinated I produce things like “she turned over in the large bed, gazed out through the dirty window glass and wondered if today would be the day she solved the mystery of her existence…”

Yawn.

I know there must be a machine out there – I think I’ve actually read about it – where you hook yourself up and the machine records (in writing?) every thought that pops into your brain.  This would be exceedingly useful to us writers whose best work is done before our bodies are fully able to sit up and write the gems down.  So many people proselytize about keeping notebooks by the bed but honestly, even if I did, I don’t think I could write fast enough.  It would be like taking dictation from Robin Williams…on speed. I lie there amazed every morning at the speed at which my mind spits out ideas, sentences, and sometimes entire paragraphs.  Some of it is quite good. These gifts are long gone by the time I fully wake up.  Sometimes I try.  I scurry, I rush.  I sit panting over a notebook, clutching a pen, eyes scrunched closed; at best, I capture a word or two.  Never a whole thread of light.

So I would gladly hook myself up with electrodes and multi-coloured wiring every night to employ such a device.  Does that make me lazy?  Am I trying to spare myself the routine of rolling up my sleeves and digging deep every day?  I don’t think so – not entirely.

If these elusive threads were just a word here or a word there, it wouldn’t be so frustrating but sometimes entire paragraphs float by on an invisible breeze.  I had one just yesterday but because I was in a hurry and had to get out the door, I couldn’t even attempt.  I remember it was deep, kind of sad – bittersweet? Nope, it’s long gone.

Sometimes, there are no words.  Sometimes I wake up (or part of me does) and I smell something.  The other day the scent of cedar wafted around me. Nothing in our house is made of cedar, there are no cedar closets, and no cedar trees nearby.  I lay in bed and wondered idly if I was having a stroke but then remembered that warning smell is burnt toast.  This was definitely cedar.

I love the smell of cedar.  It reminds me of an island I visited off the coast of Cannes when I was a teenager.  Cedar trees lined the shoreline where the boats from the mainland docked.  The whole island smelled of cedar and lavender; to this day, those are two of my favourite scents.  Cedar also reminds me of a scary cedar forest I drove through once above Fernie, British Columbia.  The whole place was like a Brothers Grimm fairy tale where things go badly for those who venture into the forest.

I’m fairly sure there were thoughts attached to the smell of cedar the other morning but they were either buried too deep or flew through too fast.  Wouldn’t it be fun to capture the threads of light before they dissolved back into the dark recesses of my scattered little brain?

Inspiration, All Around

Standard

It has been said many times that inspiration crops up in unexpected places; however, it also springs from places where one hopes it might, a place not unexpected but a place often taken for granted – like not seeing the forest for the trees.

I often read other blogs – either here on WordPress or when I’m trolling around on other sites – mostly about writing and the writing life.  On WordPress, Freshly Pressed gives me an opportunity to “window shop” – with titles and/or photos that intrigue, I often find gems worth reading.  When other bloggers take the time to read my posts and press the “like” button, I always try to return the favour.

Yesterday a fellow blogger , Lesley Carter liked one of my posts – by the way, thank you Lesley for reading and liking – so I promptly checked out her blog too.  What a bonanza!  I want to BE Lesley Carter when I grow up.  She made me want to hop on the next plane for anywhere and she inspired me to make improvements to blogs about my own travels.  Her blog is a treasure trove for anyone who loves travel and for those who just like to read about it.  Her enthusiasm shines on every word. 

When I read excellent posts from other bloggers – either like Lesley’s or my friend in France, who is sharing his expat adventures as a “trailing spouse” – I am inspired to write more and inspired to try to write better.  I don’t write just to exercise my fingers – I want people to read my posts, chuckle, cry, agree, disagree, think.  And keep reading.  Having said that, it’s also great fun to live vicariously through other bloggers.

You never know where inspiration will pop up but chances are it is all around you.

Creativity Takes a Holiday

Standard

In the heat of summer, when the temperature inside is the same as the sunny backyard, formulating any thoughts, let alone creative ones, has been a challenge.  Based on the 30 pages of dreck I’ve added to The Novel, I’d have to say creativity spent the summer elsewhere.

I’ve tried not to beat myself up over my sloth.  I’ve been on holiday too –  I’ve slept in.  I’ve happily written in this blog.  I’ve gardened (if you call staring at my tomato plants in abject frustration “gardening”).  Lately though, perhaps as I’ve felt autumn creeping into the night air, lazy days are at their end.  It might be time to get serious and kick myself off the sofa.

Over a tall glass of iced coffee the other afternoon, I thumbed through the latest issue of Poets & Writers.  I read it cover to cover.  Putting the magazine down, I drummed my fingers on the table.  What had I done lately?  What had I written (besides this blog)?  In typical paranoid fashion, I worried:  what if creativity never comes home from its holiday?  For the briefest of seconds, I envisioned Creativity sitting in a sunny cafe somewhere with a fresh stamp on her passport.

Or, Creativity could be right here in this disaster of a house, under piles of laundry that have accumulated; perhaps under the stack of papers and bills that I’ve shoved into my desk drawer since summer began.  Creativity, perhaps miffed by  my addiction to this blog, has hidden itself away in a huff.  Now that I realize I’ve missed it, the ability to invent on the spur of the moment is nowhere to be found.  Sure, there’s The Novel but I fear it’s 178 pages of Poo in Progress.

Then, something happened.  I can’t say how – God knows I’m the last person on earth to be able to explain how my mind works – but in a split second…no, a nanosecond, my mind flashed back to dinner a few nights ago.  We played a game: invent your perfect world.  My daughter invented a world with unicorns, lawns made entirely of glitter, and Skittles.  It was a deliriously happy world, all the time.  Annoying, I thought.  Being a perverse little banshee, I wondered how such a glittery, rainbow world would deal with a murder and teenage rebellion.  I wrote a paragraph down quickly, before it slipped away.  A start.

That little paragraph didn’t bring Creativity home.  Creativity is like a cat, it’ll come home when it damn well wants to but that idea left the door open just a crack.   No forcing – forcing leads to dreck (see words on novel above).  I had to let it be.  Sometimes naps help and yesterday, I took a  big nap.

When I awoke, the sun was low in the sky; my house was dark and quiet.  For a few minutes, I had no idea where I was, what time it was, or what day it was.  On auto-pilot, I headed for my computer.  I stared at the screen.  Outside, ciccadas buzzed.  As if in a trance,  I opened Word and started typing.  Words flowed.  I closed my eyes and saw clearly the scene and two characters.  I could smell the air (cedar and lemons).  I’m not even sure I was awake.

Creativity, it seemed, was home from summer holiday.  Welcome back.