Sunday, August 20, 2017

Saving yesterdays

I haven't been a steady journal-keeper; I've tended to write more at stressful times in my life, or during events that I suspected would be historic, or when traveling. Consequently, I have many notebooks and pieces of notebooks and stray pages from various times. One of my part-time projects--on which I spend an hour here, an hour there--is consolidating those journals into one coherent whole. 

As I go, I discover records of events I'd forgotten but can recall when prompted by the journals, as well as events I've wholly forgotten. There are a few people referred to by first name only whom I can no longer identify.

There are so many days we live through and then utterly forget. A journal can save a few of them for us. Some of these days, honestly, I am happy to let go of; others I'm happy to retrieve. Maybe it's good to forget so much. Everything is impermanent; carpe diem; live for today. I'm not sure how much yesterday matters. I'm saving some yesterdays just in case.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Listening

I haven't posted as frequently lately, and it's because I'm in a listening/reading phase. I go through times like this, when I am writing less and absorbing more. Reading a lot, thinking, preferring silence to speech. Feeling as if my ideas are half-formed, not ready for expression. I can feel them taking shape, but they're still lumps of raw dough rather than cookies. 

(I do love cooking/food metaphors for writing!)

August has always struck me as a meditative month, a good time to be in this frame of mind. The weather is warm and mellow, the days are still long, and the cicadas and crickets issue their endless waves of music.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Creative stretch

I used to do all sorts of creative-stretch projects, dipping my toe into forms and genres I wasn't trying to master just for the experience, for the fun of it, to try something new. At writers' conferences, I would take workshops that directly related to my immediate career goals, but I would also typically squeeze in a session on something farther afield : op-eds, poetry, screenplays. My second published novel grew out of an attempt at writing a verse novel. It was a form I knew I would be unlikely to excel at (and indeed, the book quickly morphed into prose), but just trying it may have freed up some extra wellsprings of creativity.

For the past year and a half, I've been keeping a journal as such an exercise. It's been working, mostly because I only ask 100 words of myself per day, and because I don't strive to write for anyone else's approval. This enabled me to play a bit with writing, in a way that I haven't in a long while.

Freedom, play, experimentation are key components of creative stretches. And I think it may be time for another stretch. For me at least, it's important to keep the creative fires stoked, to feed my long-term growth as a writer in addition to making progress on short-term practical goals. I'm kicking around some ideas.

Do you ever need a creative detour?

Saturday, July 29, 2017

In the spirit of community

The other day, Victoria Marie Lees at the "Adventures in Writing: One Woman’s Journey" blog kindly recognized my blog and ten others. I so appreciate her nice words. Victoria blogs about the challenges of the writing life, especially those of writing a memoir.

Although I don’t generally participate in blog awards circuit, in the spirit of community I wanted to take this opportunity to answer a couple of the questions Victoria posed—the ones to which I thought I could give answers that might be of interest—and to recommend a few other blogs.

Q: What is the hardest part of writing for you? Why?

A: I think that for most people, the answer to this question changes over time--it certainly does for me. For a while it might be getting started. Then it might be revision. Then it might be dealing with feedback. For me right now, it’s simply finding ideas that I feel are worth committing to. I’ve written some of the books that I had carried around in my head for years; they’re out there in the world. I’ve said what I wanted to say on those topics. The ideas that are on my mind now—will anyone care? And is writing them more important than other ways I could spend my time?

Q: How do you push forward when the inner critic won’t shut up?

A: This can take a variety of strategies. One is to visualize the inner critic lying down and going to sleep, or walking out the door, or whatever is necessary to quiet that voice. Another is to thwart self-consciousness by saying, “I only have to write this now. It doesn’t have to be perfect. Nobody else may ever see it. I just have to get it down—I’ll worry later about how to edit it, or whether anyone else should see it, or what they might think.” The worries about quality and what other people think can be put off until later. Procrastination pays off for once!

Q: How do you keep the wolves…ahem…I mean convince your children or other people to leave you alone to write? Does it work? Provide tips—please!

A: I don’t have young children at home, and my husband respects my writing time. (My cat, on the other hand, has been known to meow incessantly, claw at my chair, and walk across my keyboard.) But even if live distractions can’t be minimized, one can log off email, turn off alerts. Turn off the phone or designate one person in the house to answer any phone calls and only interrupt the writing if there’s an actual emergency.

And here, as promised, are some other writers’ blogs you may enjoy, all of which feature thoughtful posts on the writing (and reading) life (a small sample of the blogs I follow):

Jody Casella's "On the Verge" 
Beth Kephart Books 
Laurel Garver's "Laurel's Leaves"
Kelly Ramsdell Fineman's "Writing and Ruminating"
Cynthia's "Read is the New Black" 
Natalie Whipple's "Between Fact and Fiction"

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Flawed futures

One thing that bothers me (or makes me laugh, depending on mood) is when all the technology in a futuristic story works perfectly. Our past technology didn't work perfectly; our present technology doesn't work perfectly; surely our future technology won't!

One reason I don't rush to completely computerize my life is the plethora of error messages, freezes, crashes, power failures, etc., that have been a regular feature of digital life. We've probably all found ourselves hollering at imperfect voice-recognition bots on the phone, trying to make them understand what we want, giving up and hitting zero in the hope of getting a live human being. I've been thwarted by voice-mail menus that told me which number to press for which problem--and found that my problem didn't fit into any of their categories.

Cars break down. Batteries die. Repair people fail to show up. Heck, even our older inventions let us down: zippers jam, radio stations get staticky, shoe heels snap.

These problems can not only lend authenticity to our stories, but they can become plot elements. I always liked the way the electric fence in The Hunger Games was usually turned off, and had a hole in it. That situation was realistic, and it gave room for the government to tighten the reins in the future. 

The world is a flawed place; even our dystopias will probably be flawed.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Rethinking The Secret Year

The political situation the past year or two has me thinking about my first novel in a new light.

I wrote The Secret Year during the mid-to-late 2000s; it sold in 2008 but didn't appear on shelves until 2010. At the time I wrote it, I thought of the events in the story as occurring at any time from 1996 to 2006. It was just before the internet and smartphones became ubiquitous, when a family landline was not as endangered a thing as it has become today. Were I to rewrite it for a 2017 setting, I would probably tweak the technology a bit.

But if I were to write it today, I think I would probably have to address politics, even if only briefly. The fictional town where my characters lived was based on real towns I saw in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, New York, and other states. It was a town where blue-collar work had once brought in a good enough living for people to buy their own houses, but where the old industries had since collapsed. Where the American dream had come true, but then vanished. I wrote of the abandoned houses, the unemployment, the money squeezes. And I wrote of the wealthier people who had moved into the town and built their fancy houses on the highest ground with the best views. I wrote of the clash between these two groups of residents.

I didn't imagine the kinds of clashes that would play out in national elections. And I find myself thinking back on that book now, asking myself who my characters' parents would vote for, and why, and what new divisions might appear in the community. Sometimes I wish I could rewrite the book now to explore some of those questions, and sometimes I'm glad my story appeared before it could be viewed through the lens of current politics. 


Friday, July 14, 2017

On stubbornness and faith

"At its best, my business is the business of failure. You fail every single day. I don't know of another business that grinds your nose into the dirt quite so often. You have to be stubborn. You have to have faith in yourself. You have to be egocentric, and stupid about hanging in there." 
--Janis Ian, Society's Child: My Autobiography

She's speaking of "the entertainment business," largely of the music business, though her words  certainly cover most artistic endeavors. It's not a new idea that artistic fields are full of rejection, and projects that don't work out, and goals that aren't reached. The advice to persevere is not new, either. But I've never heard it expressed in quite these terms: failure as a daily occurrence, and "egocentric" and "stupid" as virtues. It's wry, of course; I laughed. But it's partly the laugh of recognition.