Tuesday, February 28, 2006

20 Questions

So everytime I move forward a tiny bit in my story, I come up against another 20 questions. Some are about my characters, surprising me with new information or sides of themselves. Most are about the world in which they live. This is my first attempt at writing something longer than a short story that takes place in another world. At the same time that it is intense, it is also fascinating to think about how a world's traditions and standards have come about in the first place. It can be daunting yet also rewarding when I actually figure out something. One of the key things I try to remember is, even though I might have to know it, it doesn't necessarily need to be in the story. This kind of information builds like an iceberg really ... the tip showing above water is only what needs to be known by the reader, but then there is a whole unseen mountain of ice below that surface holding it up, and that is the hard work of brainstorming and problem-solving. (Also for me right now, I've realized I have to pencil a brief timeline of the land's history and also a map so I can better understand where I am.)

Do you constantly run into new questions as you write? If so, what do you do with them? Make notes for later, go back and weave them in immediately?

I'm curious.

C

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Artiste


I never knew I was an artist. I used to hate having to do anything creative in school. I used to like to have my cut-and-dry assignments. This way I could get them done and then go play, be outside. Creative assignments had required thought and preparation, involvement and commitment. I had no idea how to do this. I had no idea how or from where to draw, well, ideas. It all seemed so random and elusive. Not to mention I did not have any big-picture sense of the world. I was pretty much running through it at breakneck speed, trying to cross some unseen finish line, even at a young age.

Then I started to read romance at age 16 and fell in love with it. Then at about age 19 came the eventual thought: hey, I can do this. Why I had this thought, I cannot tell you. I wish upon wish that I knew. Perhaps it was more about feeling a true passion for something for the first time and not realizing it. Perhaps it was more, I want to do this. So I toyed around for a few years with writing. A little here, a little there. No big thought about it. Just little thoughts and attractions that kept drawing me back from time to time.

The one constant in my life: I had always LOVED to read. But it never ocurred to me that this had to do with anything.

Somehow this little attraction to writing grew. I bought Natalie Goldberg's Writing Down the Bones and Wild Mind. I wish I could remember who recommended Bones (I've recommended it to anyone who would listen ever since), because it opened up a whole new world for me. Writing was not only about big projects and scholarly efforts. It could be as easy as sitting and jotting down something you saw or something you heard or felt. You just had to look, listen. I had never stopped long enough before to look or listen. Everything had always been a blur, trying to get somewhere without even knowing where. I started to learn how to take one step at a time. (By the way, I am still to this day, Queen of the 10-Minute Write.)

In 1993, I attended a writers conference at Mohonk Mountain House in New Paltz, New York. I forget most of it because that's what I do, but I do remember the exercise about being specific. Natalie was not there but she had said the same thing in her book. It's not a car; it's a Cadillac. It's not a flower; it's a daisy. I started to see the world less in broad, generic terms but more in specifics. I started to see colors and know the names of things. I started to notice things, to pause and sometimes even to stop. (gasp)

It is many years later. I am 35 and still learning what it means to be an artist, which to me, seems to mean someone who pays a deeper attention to something and helps others to see it as well. Slowing down enough is not always easy, but I have learned the beauty and secret of a meaningful journey, which means living fully each tiny step along the way. So if I ever feel overwhelmed, I remind myself that I only have to take one small step at a time. That's it. One after the other. No more, no less. I can't swallow the whole apple or the whole world in one bite. Nor do I want to as I would miss the taste, the experience, that will add up to the whole. I have to continually remind myself of these things that I have learned, and I know that I will never stop learning. I can only keep paying attention and molding my life accordingly. As we grow, some of our old ways won't work anymore. Sometimes it takes time to shift our everyday to catch up with our hearts and minds and souls as they leap and soar ahead of us. I'm trying to be patient. My artist self has really started to make her presence known. As though she is dusting off all of the dirt in which she has been buried and saying, finally. Took you long enough.

I have a black-and-white photograph of Georgia O'Keefe, and it resonates with me. An older woman, hair pulled back, loose blouse, out in the sun, canvas stretched, doing what she loves, because there is nothing else in this world for her to do. It's as natural as breathing, as natural as the snow on the mountains behind her. Her sharp, squinty eyes see things only she can see. But then she gets it down on paper as best she can so that she can live it and we can live it too. She's lived a lifetime of blazing her own trail. You almost imagine it will be the same when she dies.

I want that to be me. I want to be an artist. I am an artist.

(See those sick eyes above? I painted those during a painting phase I had a few years ago, which I always hope to get back to. Or maybe I shouldn't.)

When did you first know you were an artist?

C

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Rejected!

I came home to find the ominous 9x12 envelope decorated in my own handwriting waiting on the kitchen table. Crazyhorse (College of Charleston) rejected my 6500-word short story, Gunman's Goodbye. Form letter, or rather, very professional printed card. Darn, I was really hoping for a word or two about the editor's thoughts. From other rejections in the past, I know that sometimes it can be more frustrating to receive no personal word about the work than the actual rejection. You're left with no real clue as to why it didn't make the cut. Did it just not fit the type of story they were looking for at the time or did they think something about it was weak? I understand that there is not enough time in the day for editors to write to everyone. Still, it is such a let down when you open the envelope, and it feels as distant as when you submitted the manuscript.

So, what next? Well, the manuscript is in great condition so I can turn around and send it right back out again. I will refer to the short list of publications that I had created when I first decided to send it out. Maybe I'll even read it again now that I have had some more distance. Maybe something that I couldn't see before will jump out at me. Maybe not. Maybe I'll fall in love with it all over again and rekindle the excitement I felt after writing it.

I am new to short-story submissions so it's still an educational process for me to learn the market too. I do not know automatically know where to send something of this length (as opposed to flash fiction, with which I've done a little more work). Either way, it's one road taken and now I can try another. Who knows what awaits!

What do you do (or used to do) when that instantly-recognizable envelope is waiting on your table?

(By the way, I went running and blared my tunes and made great time! (2.5 miles in 24 minutes ... pretty good for my mid-winter maintenance.) I feel refreshed now and ready to eat the refrigerator :-)

Hugs, C

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Where We Are

As you might have read in a previous post, I am at the beginning of my novel. I have been involved in a flurry of note-taking and writing my scenes out of order and simply mining what I saw in my mind's eye for more information. Capturing images and dialogue before they disappeared, whether or not they make sense to me in the overall picture. These were the clues I had to go on.

Now, my instincts have told me that I need to finish cutting and streamlining the first scene. Actually, as I write this, I am just about done doing this. The collection of thoughts and dialogue needed to be honed with all of the ideas I've had swirling around, so that I can move on to the next scene, which is also partially written. I need to start feeling forward motion and continuity. I need new excitement to build as even newer things are discovered.

I am also ignoring any notion of this scene being perfect. It's enough now that it leads me to the next scene. I know that so many things will change; it's useless to wallow in details right now. As long as the scene serves its purpose to move along the characters and story, that will be enough.

This is where I am. Listening and scribbling and needing to move forward. I want to cross that First Threshold. I want the rollercoaster cars to crest and start the plunge down the first hill! Here's to wind in the hair!

Where are you in your story?

Hugs, C

Monday, February 20, 2006

Pirate at the Diner

In keeping with the creative mood, I thought I would share with you the below little story. It was published in The Writers' E-Zine in 2003. Sitting here on a Monday night, I know I needed this reminder: writing is fun!

Pirate at the Diner
by Cynthia Valero

I watched him at the dinner counter. Slurping soup from a spoon, dripping, sloshing, splattering everywhere. A string of pasta dangled from his lip as a round of carrot dropped to the floor and rolled near my boot. When the waitress swung by with the coffeepot, he growled at her and she jumped away, spilling hot brew on her chest. He acted like he had rabies.

I scribbled something in my notebook. Something to remember later about the gritty squint of his eye, the thin white lines splayed out from the corner, and the black beret pulled low over his forehead. Dark stubble harvested in short, spiky stalks across a ruddy -- no -- a tight, browned cheek. He looked as though he'd sailed the wind-whipped decks of an old schooner all the way across the Atlantic.

I wrote something else. The scratch of my pencil made me smile. The sound of work, creation, satisfaction. I imagined he wore a striped tunic and red kerchief beneath his black coat. I wanted him to be a sailor from a ghost ship, come in from the fog of lost time, stumbling through the docks to the diner, where he grunted and looked mean, and the waitress simply brought him something to keep him from lunging at her.

He stopped chewing and turned. His one good eye like silver ice as he caught me staring. His other eye ... gone! I swallowed at the hooked scar from lip to eye. I'd only seen the one side of his face. He grinned a greasy, gapped smile and my heart pounded. His knobby fingers tapped the scabbard inside his long coat.

He rose and his bones creaked as he settled on ratty, knee-high boots. I gulped. Writing, scribbling. He was alive! The string of pasta swung from his lip as he hitched over to where I sat, with nothing to defend myself but pen, notebook, and a grilled cheese sandwich.

He drew his sword and I shrunk back into the booth. I looked about in panic, my blood pumping, but no one seemed to notice. He pricked the point of his gleaming rapier against my throat and squinted at me with his one eye. Then he threw back his head and laughed, the scratchy sound echoing off the ceiling. He spat to his side and withdrew. His heavy boots crushed the carrot as he returned to the stool at the counter.

Breathing heavily, I looked down at my notebook. I looked back to the counter. The man in the long black coat and bad mood threw some change next to his splattered plate. He stumbled out without a single glance in my direction.

I'd brought a pirate to life in the diner! What wonders of writing! Excited and exhausted, I finished my grilled cheese, leaving the accosted waitress a big tip.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Bringing Notes to Life

In the past, I have rarely gone back and read ideas or things I jotted down on index cards. The important thing was the practice, that the idea net was out and the idea was captured. I didn't have to fear losing it if I ever wanted it or stress myself subliminally by trying to hold onto it in my mind (never works anyway). But then I always moved on to the next thing, working on whatever struck me in the moment. I have drawers full of scribbled dialogue and characters and story starters.

One night last spring, I found one of these index cards in The Moon Maid and Other Fantastic Adventures that I picked up after leaving it sit unfinished for about a year (I stopped at the last story; I think I didn't want it to end! R. Garcia Y Robertson has quite an imagination). This was about the time I wanted to write and finish a short story--not my usual flash fiction--but something longer. On the minty-green index card it said, Gunman's Goodbye. A title that had floated through my head a year before and was long gone. Until it found its way back to me. Below that it said, "Imagine having only one thing. Not so many things like now that you can't keep track. But only one thing to treasure and care for. How valuable that thing would be to you."

The next morning first thing, I sat with my notebook and pencil and wrote this story over the next three to five days (not including the rewrite, which took about a month). I also found a wonderful short story workshop, and I was thrilled to actually have something longer to review and edit with others. I really wanted to come to understand the short story. I had attended short story classes in the past--including at The Writers Studio and Zoetrope in NYC. All were building blocks to bring me closer to where I was, but I still needed something to push me through to overall understanding. This story and this class did that.

What I am trying to say is, if I had not written those little scraps of thought on the index card, I would not have written Gunman's Goodbye or had the enlightening experience of the short story workshop. I would not be as excited today about writing more short stories. Will I ever use all of those scribbles in my draw? Probably not, but I did go back and read them once and some of them made me smile. Maybe next time, one of them will spark something. Or perhaps it is simply a good habit to keep so that we do not miss that one great idea that might make a difference in our lives. It keeps us alert, attuned, our antennae is up ... and that's what matters most.

So, should I feel overwhelmed that I have more pages of notes than pages of manuscript for my current story? I don't think so ... Though I am one to be intimidated by lots of paperwork. But I am learning that to transfer ideas from my head to paper allows new ideas to come in. I've looked back at my older notes and learned that they have served two purposes beyond making room for more: (1) they've allowed me to work through my characters and plot outside of the manuscript so that I wasn't writing in circles in the manuscript (2) that most of my notes for this part of the story have worked their way into the manuscript in one form or another without sitting and studying them when actually writing. Writing them down and paying attention had put them into subconscious to be tested and stretched and tried on for size. But the ideas were taken seriously by me and treated with care and respect. Like anything in nature, the ideas respond to that.

I don't know that every story I will write will require such detailed attention, notes, and sketching. I honestly didn't know I had so many thoughts until I started to make these notes! (I've even started to use a voice recorder while driving or watching a movie.) But I can say that this story does require my catching my every thought, my working through them by sketching on side paper, at least for now, and so that is what I am doing. I am trying not to be intimidated by the minutiae, so I am telling myself that instead of staring at blank paper, I have my notes to help bring my story to life.

Once you start really listening, you will be amazed at how many ideas float through your mind in one day. If you haven't done so already, put up those butterfly nets in your mind and start catching those whispers and images! But don't only catch them, also write them down, give them the treatment that they deserve so that they keep coming!

Do you work with notes of any kind? If so, what do you do?

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Too Early to Start Dreaming?

I remember before Beth and I were published. She created and printed out from her computer two fictitious book covers with the names of our books on them. One of them was even before we were writing it. I had always heard of creative visualization, and Beth handed me two concrete samples of it.

If you imagine it and believe in it, it will come.

So, I'm on page 25 of my new book. Is it too early to start dreaming about what agent I would love to have? Does it seem ridiculous when I haven't yet crossed The First Threshold of the story? With the way I'm feeling right now--excited, breathless, anticipatory--I'm saying no. Because I am imagining submitting a finished, fresh manuscript of which I am proud. Seeing it in this form in my mind begins to make my dream more concrete. More real. More reality.

So, because I wrote earlier today and I am tired, I decided to browse agent sites. Because I wanted to dream and to visualize. To imagine what the next step in my journey might be once I wrap up my story. Like letting my characters and new world simmer within me, the very important choice of where to send my work can simmer too. So that when I get there, I might have some idea of where I want it to go first.

It also makes me strive to make my work even better, thinking about who might read it at the other end. Not in a paralyzing way, which is easy to let happen (I know), but in an inspiring way. A way that communicates with every part of me--conscious, subconscious, heart, mind, soul--that I am serious and that this dream is worth committing to. It is worth pursuing and working for. My subconscious and logical mind can begin to work together and commit to the journey, the same goal, and each knows what it has to do, and what it should look like in the end. I'm learning that, if I believe it in enough, I can make something happen. Then someone else might believe in it too.

Mostly, I want to live up to my dreams.

Is it ever too early to start dreaming beyond your story? What do you do?

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

In the Trenches

Most of you know that Beth Ciotta is one of my critique partners. These past few days I had the pleasure of reading from start to finish the first book, Operation Love Boat, in her upcoming HQN series, The Chameleon Chronicles. Mary Stella and I have been reading along the way, but it's always the ultimate thrill to see how the book ends and how it came together as a whole. This story is a winner. Beth knows how to write an original, compelling story with imperfect, endearing characters and non-stop action.

Beth thanks her critique partners for their help, but she makes our job easy. I want to thank Beth for entrusting me with her work and for allowing me to learn from her. There is nothing that gets a brain thinking and motivation surging like being in the trenches with another writer who is writing.

Watching what they do, how they do it, how they go back, how they keep going. Watching the process unfold, stop, start, and finally wind up. Working through the knots and riding the exhiliration that follows. It is like a mirror for my own process, reminding me that sometimes it flows and sometimes it does not. It reminds me that sometimes I need an eye that is not so close to the story. Someone who can see what I can't. Mostly it reminds me about perseverance and faith. Because writing a story from start to finish is a sheer act of perseverance and faith.

It is inspiring, and, as always, Beth inspires me. As does my other critique partner, Jennifer Elbaum, who has propped me up on my other side for well over a year now. If not for these two talented and supportive writers, I would not be where I am now. The best place in the world. A writer writing in the trenches with other writers.

Who inspires you?

Monday, February 13, 2006

What Do I Know?

Write What You Know

I remember hearing this writing proverb for the first time 11 years ago at a writer's conference. It struck terror. What do I know? My brain raced through what I knew like a deck of cards flipping. Uh, not too much about anything? I was 24 years old. I was a secretary. I knew how to type and do shorthand. I knew how to watch the clock. Did that mean I could only write from the point of a view of a secretary? I didn't care about writing from the point of view of a secretary. Secretary's make the world go around, but I didn't like being in an office. That was boring to me! I was already in an office. I did not want to write office stories! (To this day, I still have not written an office story.)

There are many aspects to this Write What We Know topic, so let me start with one angle here. Lest we think we do not know much about anything, here is some of what I didn't know I knew 11 years ago:

- What it felt like to be a child of divorce
- What it felt like to be bullied at a new school
- What it felt like to take karate and no longer be afraid
- What it felt like to buy my first car, with my own money
- What it felt like to be in a car accident or two
- What it felt like to adore anything with cheese
- What it felt like to drive through a hurricane in an old VW Bug
- What it felt like to lose my childhood dog
- What it felt like to hear someone I loved had cancer
- What it felt like to attend a wake and a funeral for the first time
- What it felt like to learn how to swim in the local manmade lake
- What it felt like to ride my bike in my hometown in the summer
- What it felt like to lose my mind the day the carnival came to town

You get my drift. I could go on for days, and this was only at the age of 24. Do we even have to write about these things? No. But chances are these experiences will creep into our writing--consciously or subconsciously--because they are a part of us. We know about these things because we have lived. Flannery O'Connor said that anyone who has survived childhood has enough material to write for the rest of his life. But we are also still living after childhood, and this list of what we know keeps growing and goes on forever.

In a past post, I said that I knew nothing about writing a fantasy. Yes, perhaps the mechanics, the market, etc. But I do know human nature and have been involved in more human-relations scenarios than I could ever fathom. So have you. I choose to imagine my hero with the same human nature as our world. Maybe different histories but the same natures and emotions as us, the same things that drive them and paralyze them. Humans I know (as much as I can anyway; there will always be surprises). Also, when my hero arrives in this world, I know what it means to live on Earth, to live in the United States. As a matter of fact, I may realize just how much I do know when I start writing this part of my story.

Another angle of this, and with respect to the past days' posts, is writing what I know is also writing what I see first. What has revealed itself to me and come alive in my head. If something is there, I go with that first. It's like pulling a thread, and I have to pull this little thread to get the tapestry. I cannot question it. If I start to question the validity before I pull the thread or avoid it altogether, it may kill whatever my subconscious was trying to offer to me. In almost all instances, I'm missing something essential. Something that will lead me to the things I do not know. I've learned this from experience. So, in this instance, for me, writing what I know is also going with the information I have at the moment. And letting it inform me of what I don't know.

Of course, not everyone is like me when it comes to having no interest in their day work. You all know Beth Ciotta is writing what she knows, literally and wonderfully ... about being a performer. She writes many of her stories in the place she knows, Atlantic City. It comes naturally to her, and you can feel its authenticity, its authority. She KNOWS the behind the scenes of these worlds. We feel in the know. It's a special peek, and the difference here is that Beth has a passion for what does/did for a living. It's saturated her life, her heart, her blood. How could she not write about it? We feel her love and excitement for it so we love it and get excited.

But what about things we really don't know about? Like being a private investigator or an oil-rig worker or a divorcee if we were never divorced or even married? First, we must truly be curious about what we don't know. We must be interested in what we are writing about--even unexpectedly and even if it's something that makes us uncomfortable, because isn't it in the end all about helping ourselves to understand who we are as a people and why? It returns again to the passion. Because if you really want to know, you absorb it and make it yours. We must immerse ourselves in what we want to write about--whether in person, or through books or interviews, whatever--so that it feels as though we are authorities. We have to spend a lot of time with it. We have to care about it. Even spend time with it in our minds at first. Imagination, as we know, fills in many of these gaps because we understand some of the basic laws of life. With a little concrete information, we can imagine what it might be like to be these people, to be in these places.

If we don't care about it, however, it will show … and who wants to spend time with anything that doesn't interest us? Who cares if it's the hot thing in the market? We have enough things of little interest to us in regular life, in my opinion.

One last angle to discover today, which could turn my above notion on its ear. I could write a cozy mystery series or an urban fantasy that involves a secretary … but I don't like being a secretary, and the reader would feel that. But if I chose, I could start a story with a secretary and then let her adventure move into something that does interest me. Something exciting to me. I could vicariously live through my character. This would be writing what a know in a sense that it allows me to turn my disinterest into an engaging dream.

We know more than we think we do, and writing shows this to us. It helps us to discover just what we know about something--when we didn't know we knew--and what we think about it. Mostly, I think, it comes as a beautiful surprise.

Hugs, C

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Bookkeeping

I'm in a 12-week bookkeeping class. My husband and I own our own business, and I do the books. Scary. Not quite the books I'd always imagined myself doing. :-) Anyway, I have learned something completely invaluable that I want to share with you. Yes, something from accounting applies to our kind of books and the writing of our stories.

Our instructor told us one of the best things to remember in accounting is ... drum roll ... Do what you know first. Then the other side of the equation will fall into place.

Is that not what we've been discussing here for a few days? Does it not apply to writing? Write what you know first. Then what we don't know will fall into place. Maybe not as we imagined, but something we did not know will be revealed. Because we wrote what we did know, and got deep enough that something we didn't know floated up and perhaps surprised us.

It's so simple. Write what we know first. That's why those little things floating through our imaginations may not make sense, but they are there for a reason. They are there to lead us, like something magical, to take us to the heart of the wood but only if we commit to the journey.

Has any one simple thing you saw or heard made you have a great realization about writing?

Stacie, a delightful young lady who has visited this blog, posted a comment about these wonderful song lyrics by Natasha Bedingfield. Does this writer hit it on the head or what? Thanks, Stacie.

I am unwritten, can't read my mind, I'm undefined
I'm just beginning, the pen's in my hand, ending unplanned
Staring at the blank page before you, open up the dirty window
Let the sun illuminate the words that you could not find
Reaching for something in the distance
So close you can almost taste it
Release your inhibitions
Feel the rain on your skin
No one else can feel it for you
Only you can let it in
No one else, no one else
Can speak the words on your lips
Drench yourself in words unspoken
Live your life with arms wide open
Today is where your book begins
The rest is still unwritten

Hugs, C

Friday, February 10, 2006

Paint by Numbers

I still have to upload the day's scribbles and bits from my Alphasmart, which I love, love, love. The Alphasmart is as small and light as a dinner plate. There are no distractions with bells and whistles. It's straight text and only text. At least with the NEO version I chose.

Anyway, it's starting to feel as though I am writing only clips of scenes. Not just out of order, but the most minimal scrap of scene. Like, here are scenes from next week's show ... clip, clip, clip. They are all important little pieces, though, that leap-frog me from my protag's opening to the moment he leaves his world. It's like figuring out how to draw the paint-by-numbers picture before I can color it.

I've never written like this. I've written bare dialogue as the first draft of a scene, but not in extremely short clips and not leaving these scenes behind, unfleshed, for another scene. Maybe it's because I've had this story on my mind for so long. Maybe it's because there are many layers in the set up. Maybe it's something smarter than me--blind instinct--saying, don't bother filling in these scenes until you know how they're pieced together. Here's the heart. It's enough. Sketch it first. Flesh it out later.

Whatever it is, it is working. The story is moving forward, I am making progress.

I'll be interested to see if this process continues once my protag leaves his world. I have the suspicion that this might only be happening for the story set up. Once the first threshold is crossed, that's where this story becomes a complete mystery to me. Between that first threshold and the black moment, I have only a few visions of what might be ahead and high/low points. Less jockeying and more discovering. I really can't wait to see what comes up.

Perhaps different parts of a book have different processes. That will definitely be interesting to see.

Have you noticed you work differently in different parts of your stories?

Hugs, C

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Out of Order

I've been getting frustrated in the last week that I would never get passed the first few pages of my book. There were a couple of things that I still, despite all of my brainstorming, did not understand. But it was stuff I had to understand in order to move on.

See, the opening of my story takes place in a different world. And the events that happen here in the beginning drive the whole book. And there is a lot of backstory ... which I am not starting with but need to understand for the fever-pitch moment in the beginning to work. My characters in their personalities were ready. They were there emotionally. But I couldn't seem to bridge from my opening scene to the few scenes that I saw driving to the inciting incident.

Was I starting in the wrong place? At that point, I decided to not worry about writing in chronological order. I saw snippets of scenes from the past in my head, from before the start of the story, and I figured I should stop forcing time. These scenes were here, ready ... I should go for it. Maybe they had something to tell me. I could get to know my characters a little better as younger people and maybe move beyond some stuff that was tripping me up. I knew these were scenes that would probably never make it to the book, but what did it matter? I would be able to write the later scenes with authority and it would show. Lo and behold, these quick 10-minute writes opened up some great stuff for me. Things that I know my characters will think back to in the story. Yippee!

But then another day past, yesterday, and I felt stalled again. I wondered again if I wasn't starting in the right place. I LOVED my opening, but I knew I would have to "kill my darling" if need be. But I didn't want to be hasty ... stopping and starting again. We know I cannot continue to do that. And I had some luck with writing the past scenes, but I did not want to forever write in circles (so dramatic ... it wasn't quite forever). A very dear writing friend of mine, Jennifer Elbaum, knows how much elbow grease I've put into creating this world. I wrote her in a whine (and hoping she would tell me otherwise), "maybe I should just forget the other world and figure out how to make it all happen in this world." She wrote me back: Stick with the other world thing a bit longer. It's still new to you so it makes sense that you're struggling with it.

Thank goodness for our writer friends. This moring in the cafe I sat and stared for a few minutes. Wrote a sentence. Stared, and then saw it. The bridge to the next scene, which was so obvious I was almost embarassed. I wrote a scene in the morning, and another scene at lunch. It's raw bone, but the foundation was there. It flowed. I nearly floated all day.

Still, despite all this great stuff, the ONE BIG thing was still eluding me. But I took the pressure off myself because I had done good. Maybe that was the trick. Driving home, it suddenly hit me. Like a thunderbolt, and it all fell into place. My instincts all along were telling me it had to do with something else than what I was trying to drive at, but I didn't know how to make it work. Then all of a sudden, it was like a knot coming undone.

So, two things that helped me in the last few days. (1) writing out of order. Writing whatever snippets were in my head, not worrying about where they would fall into place. Diving into them instead of continuing to throw up barriers against these seemingly useless pools of information. Taking what I was offered. (2) I whined to someone who could see things more clearly than I could in my chaos. There is always great advice waiting there.

Thanks, Jen, for making me hang on the one more day. I think you knew, didn't you?

Does anyone else write scenes they know might not take place to learn things? Or do you sometimes write scenes out of order?

Hugs, C

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Plot Plot Fizz Fizz

So if you've read my previous posts, you've got the idea that I've written nearly 3 manuscripts that went nowhere for me. However, this was not in vain. The first manuscript--60 pages of it--told me I was not yet ready to dive into a book. I could feel that I was not ready to commit to the work. I needed more time to rest and read and refill the creative well.

On a side note, my reading interests had long been changing. No longer under contract, I was curious what my natural writing inclination might be. (I freewrote a lot but writing short stories had not quite clicked for me yet. Even more interesting, my shorts are very different from my long work, I've discovered.)

So after the much-needed rest, I accepted the Nanowrimo challenge. With very little idea of what would land on the page, I wrote 50,000 words of God-knows-what in a month. I kept starting different stories that I did not finish. But the challenge did its job. Every story that I wrote had some element of the fantastical. It showed me where my inclinations were heading. Right in line with my reading preferences. Also, I have two particular stories from that exercise with which I want to do something. The character from one is always on my shoulder. The idea of the other story intrigues me, and I'd like to explore it. At some point.

So now I had a little more courage. This was where I picked up a project that I'd started the year before and began to write it over. Once again, I did no preplanning, no outlining (using only the blind instinct I spoke of in yesterday's post). I didn't even know how to plan a book beyond some basics.

This was where my post from yesterday came in. Plot terrified me, but I had to learn it. Once you learn how to do something, it's not as scary I reminded myself. But, for some reason, I did not believe I was clever enough. After all, it takes such cleverness to plot a book! Alas one of my favorite quotes from one of my favorite writers, Alice Hoffman: "No one knows how to write a novel until it's been written." OK, so I could feel my way around.

The above projects narrowed me down to a few elements that I knew I wanted to pursue in my story. The story I was determined to commit to and test its soundness BEFORE I started writing it. Things might change and probably would, but I needed to know that my foundation was solid. I did not want to build a house of cards. But how to test its soundness? (Aside: the amazing short story class I took in 2005 also helped greatly with this; I'll write about that in another post.) How to take these ideas and thoughts to the extent to which I needed?

I needed an expert, a teacher, a mentor. Over the years, I have bought so many books--fiction, writing books--half of which I have not read. But I get to them eventually, when the time is right, and the time had come for two I had bought years before at the New Jersey Romance Writers conference. This was the first step in my beginning to really, sincerely understand and appreciate plot:

Writing the Breakout Novel and the Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook by Donald Maass.

I had read Writing the Breakout once before, had even been to his workshop, but I hadn't been ready for it. This time I was hungry; I absorbed and learned. Conflict, tension, stakes, public stakes, ultimate stakes ... I've learned that the best question to ask myself at every juncture is ... why does it matter?

You can't learn everything from a book, but some landmarks along an unknown road sure do not hurt.

This is the first in probably a few posts about my new hot-and-heavy relationship with plotting and planning. Also when to know you might be spending too much time with your new love and need to begin the writing. :-)

What has helped you with plotting? Or does it come naturally?

Hugs, C

PS - are these posts too long? Should I break them up for quicker, easier reading?

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Paying Attention

In November, I gave myself permission to be patient with myself. Since the last time I wrote a book by myself was 11 years ago, there was no way I could know my own process anymore. If I even knew it in the first place, which I don't think I did. I was working on blind instinct, which was just fine for that time. But I knew I could not begin a new writing career--build it to what I hope it to be--writing only on blind instinct.

Blind instinct to me is the subconscious that produces all of the yummies and surprises in a stories. The real jewel that make you say, "wow, how did I come up with that?" The thing that lead us to the places that make us nervous, excited. The thing that sticks in a reader's mind long after a book is closed. The thing that knows better than we do. I WANT that. Always.

But I had also come to understand that I needed something more than just subconscious, more than even my craft. I had to know myself. How I work. How to best get out of myself what I want and need. I had to be observant of how I worked naturally ... like watching how water flows over rocks and around bends without having to be told how to get downstream.

Two concrete things I did know in November: (1) I was stronger at characterization than I was at plot. (2) I could not start and stop another book. My confidence would suffer worse than ever.
So how to guarantee I would not get halfway through the book and have no plot?

(1) There was no guarantee. In paying attention to my thoughts and impulses, I realized that this was something I craved. First thing I had to do was surrender my need to control the situation. There was no guarantee other than doing the best I could. There was no guarantee that the best-I-could would sell. I had to let go that I cannot control the publishing world. All I have is me and being true and present with my art. This was something I needed to accept for a very long time.

(2) In order to consistently write in the first place, I had to pay attention to the my daily routine. When was I most fresh? Most creative? Most disciplined? I reminded myself that I am more disciplined in the morning than at night. At that point I was running in the morning. I love to run. It keeps me invigorated and strong. But it is not the thing that will make me most satisfied in my life. So running become after-work activity, which is a great way for me to get re-energized for the evening, clearing the fog and smoothing the jangles from the work day. Then I set my alarm for an hour earlier in the morning. Since November, I've been getting up at 5:30 a.m. and am at the cafe in my office building by 7:00 a.m. with coffee and oatmeal. One hour of nothing to do but write, brainstorm, outline. Then one-half hour lunch for more of the same. By the time I get home at night, I have one-hour and a half of writing under my belt. Right after work is the time of day when I am least motivated.

Aside from weekends, I have brainstormed, outlined, and researched my new story all in this time. I'm also less snappish to my husband at night and do not feel the weight of the whole day dragging me down with the guilt and burden that I have not yet written.

That is how it is for me. For now. It is not for everybody. Everyone has their own process, their own way of making their creative water flow. This process may not work for me next week or for the next story. But it is working now, and I am running with it.

We are ever-changing creatures, and we need to continually pay attention to our rhythms and thoughts. This presence will keep us working, keep us consistent, and keep us creating our dreams as we see them, day after day, week after week. It will help us over those intimidating rocks and around those windy bends.

What have you noticed about your process in your everyday life?

Tomorrow I'll talk about how I am working through my weakness: plot.

Hugs, C

Monday, February 06, 2006

Call to Adventure

In the vein of Joseph Campbell's The Hero's Journey and Christopher Vogler's The Writer's Journey, I would say that publicly announcing that I will write and finish this book is my Crossing the First Threshold in my own new writing journey. There is no going back. I have accepted the Call to Adventure after much Refusal of the Call. I cannot hide. Everyone knows that I said it. I have raised my own stakes.

I believe it is important to raise your own stakes. To step into the space that makes us uncomfortable and to continue to reach past that into even more uncomfortable territory.

For example, here I've shouted from the rooftops, like that movie about country songwriters with River Phoenix and Samantha Mathis, that "I'm not leaving!" I'm doing this, I've shot my stake and banner into the ground for everyone to see. (Luckily I don't have to live in a motel to do it.)

Another example, I have never written a fantasy. I have read urban fantasies and love them to pieces. For the past two years, I seemed to want to write some of the fantastic into our everyday world. But what did I know about it? It wasn't what I was trained to write. What I had been working my butt off for and making contacts and doing all the right things in the romance world.

This was a world where I knew no one personally. I had no experience. I had no ... nothing.

I was scared. But the ideas and the images kept coming. I had to build the courage to accept them and believe that I have what it takes to carry off by hand what I see in my mind. Many artists--maybe all of them!--have said, it never quite comes out how I saw it. I guess it really can't. Like a book turned into a movie, there is probably no way every image, snippet of dialogue, all the little essences that take our breath away can fit between the covers ... or even make sense. We "feel" it, we "know" it, but it may not ultimately make it/stay on the page.

So back to fantasy ... what did I know? How could I write this stuff I knew nothing about?

I wrote 60 pages of my first idea, The Disappearing Man. I stopped. It was an interesting idea about a man with a secret past coming home and not knowing it had been his home, but it was lacking something--mainly interest from me. I worked on short stories for a year. Then I tried to resuscitate something I had started a while back about a girl-witch, but then realized I didn't have enough passion for witches to commit to a book. Another six months and I tried to work that story into something else--still fantastical but not witches. Then I had realized why I didn't want to write about witches. I didn't want to write about an order that already existed with so many rules. In a way, it might have been less complicated to pick a particular group of witches, study them, and set the story around them. But I tend to be complicated.

I wanted to write about something fantastical that I could make up. I have also learned since then that many, many, many things have already been made up. The adage is true about nothing new under the sun. But not to despair, I told myself! There is also truth in the other adage that "I" haven't told this story yet. Every person--if they let themselves loose--can have their own view, their own new and fresh way to tell a story. That is what is exciting to me. New, fresh, different.

Like I said above, those little visions and realizations--whether mine of someone else's--that take my breath away. That's why I read. It's certainly why I write.

While you have to forgive me for all of the breath references so far, it's true. So I here I stand, just over the first threshold ... and I want to take my own breath away ... and yours too. I have to believe that I can.

Hugs, C

Evening

Thank you to everyone who has stopped by my blog to wish me a warm welcome. I am excited to share our writing processes with each other.

Just an update, during the week, I will most likely post in the evening after I arrive home from work. I really look forward to talking about writing with you. I can't think of a better way to transition from the work day to the writing night.

As an aside, I love the word evening. It makes me think of deepening purple skies as the day mellows into something softer, more infinite. Of course, rather than driving on the interstates, I'd love to spend my evening on a vine-draped veranda with spiked lemonade and the Tarelton Twins in the wings, waiting to beg me to go to a barbecue.

Don't you love fiction?

More later! Hugs.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Starting Again

I was a multi-published, award-winning romance writer. I had 10 years into learning my craft, the industry, writing, polishing, making forever friends in the romance circles. The romance circles are the most supportive and heartfelt places to be as a writer. Romance writers believe in love and are not ashamed to sigh and want their writing friends to succeed as much as they want to themselves. There is openness and sharing.

My writing partner, Beth Ciotta, and I, writing as CB Scott (http://www.bethciotta.com/cbscott.htm), grew in leaps and bounds writing together for some of those years. But we grew and leaped in naturally different directions. Not juxtaposed directions, but with art, even the slightest variance is a whole wide world of difference, and we needed to explore our own paths. Beth is a sensational, talented, dedicated author. Over the past two years since we began our own adventures, she has taken the world by storm. As I knew she would. As her friend and fellow romance author, I sighed and wanted it all for her. She deserves it.

But I didn't know what I wanted for myself. I wanted to write. I wanted to disappear into the words and the worlds. But I no longer knew how to do it. After 10 years, I felt like I was starting over again. The only bonus was I got to keep the craft. All that I had learned thus far on craft got to go home with me.

And home I have sat for over two years. Left drifting without a sail, I didn't even know what shores to try to paddle to. So I floated. Wrote and sold a short here and there. Finished up some other business that was already started. Read. Started, stopped, finished, tossed 3 books. Questioned my ability, my dedication, my dreams.

But that sail was only tangled. It wasn't torn or forever broken. By simply staying with the craft, dabbling in whatever held my interest long enough, and paying attention to the consistent themes and characters that appeared in those stalled/tossed manuscripts, I am finally standing on the threshold of starting over.

I am starting a new book, and I will finish it. I have brainstormed and outlined for months. I am going to do it.

Why did it take so long? This question and other writing experiences will be the focus of my blog. Because like the characters in our stories, we too are on a journey, and we do not have all of the information as we go. We can only have courage and faith.

Thank you to my dear friend, Beth, for suggesting I start a blog. May this be a place where we understand what it means to be a writer ... and know that it is a place like those romance cirlces that I miss. Safe, supportive, and not afraid to sigh.

Cyndi

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