How do you stay focused?

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So, I’ve been writing a good bit on Valerie and Daniel’s story and I think it’s going well. But other characters are starting to pipe up, characters that aren’t participants in their story (Okay, it’s Rayne. She and Keresh are poking at me again. “Just read a little. You don’t have to write anything. Just read about us. You’ve got 200 pages. A little reading won’t hurt anything.”). Now Valerie and Daniel have done a bit of gardening and survived a canoe trip and more scenes are suggesting themselves, but I’m finding myself reading the same scenes over and over and they are starting to get stale. I know if I leave them alone they’ll be fine again later, but I don’t know how to keep it fresh while I work on it. Maybe not reading, maybe not touching anything for a day or two? Or should I just slog along and keep writing, try not to read over it so much. That’s the way the NaNoWriMo philosophy goes: Don’t read it over; just keep writing. I can’t help it though. I’m a born tweaker. I read it over, find typos, a slip of a phrase, a better word, and I have to do it.

So, staying on track is a difficult task, but one I have to work on if I ever want to finish anything. Writing is increasingly important to me as I learn and share my work. The dream is to be published someday, but if I never finish anything… well, you know how *that* story ends.

Reading as inspiration

bookshelf

One of many bookshelves in my house. The population is in a constant state of flux. Only the books I intend to read over and over or those of some intrinsic value remain. But that criteria includes a LOT of titles.

Yeah, I’m a big-time reader, although in all honesty, often my reading ends in my snoozing over the book. No matter how good the story is, I tend to crap out because I usually read in bed. Lately my reading has floated over a few books in my To Be Read pile, some of which started out on the wrong foot for me (within the first few pages, a child vanishes from her soon-to-be stepmother’s side, I don’t want to read that!) or simply lost my interest. I’m a pretty patient reader, but something has to start happening or a character has to be compelling for me to continue.

The last book I read, however, did not fall into either category. Sarah Gruen’s Water For Elephants was captivating and interesting, showing a glimpse of life in the circus during the Depression. And, as a writer, I now notice things that might have previously escaped my attention. For example? Ms. Gruen writes in first-person, present tense. It’s a little odd but it seems to flow well and I stop noticing it after a moment of reading. It makes you feel like you’re watching the events unfold as they occur. (Her previous novel Riding Lessons is written in the same way. Flying Changes is awaiting my attention as soon as I finish RL.)

This does sound like a big advertisement for Sarah Gruen’s books and maybe it is. But, as a writer, I want to read books that inspire me. Her do. Granted, RL and FC both involve horses, and all three books have animals as characters, a subject near and dear to my heart, but they also feature characters that are human enough to step off the page and situations that any of us might find ourselves in. 

Any writer wants to produce a work that their readers can identify with in some way. Even fantasy novels have situations that we Muggles can identify with: friendship and loyalty, betrayal, the companionship of a lover. All of these and more are things we all can imagine ourselves doing, either through experience of our own or tales from another. Sure, who among us has really faced down a dragon? But I bet we have all felt that jaw-dropping awe at seeing something truly magnificent and terrifying, all at once. And when that dragon foils Our Hero’s attempts at gaining the treasure (be it monetary, spiritual or otherwise), haven’t we all felt the bitter disappoinment that such a defeat would generate?

Write what you know doesn’t just have to be about (in my case) veterinary medicine, gardening and being an unfulfilled writer, though elements of all creep into my work. I know nothing whatsoever about *being* a werewolf, but I know what it’s like to have something I’d rather others not know about. I know what it’s like to fall in love and I know what it’s like to not have my love returned. Those things play roles in my werewolf story, as well as others. I guess what I’m trying to say is that a person could pick a worse example to emulate than Ms. Gruen. I hope to someday find my own works on a bookstore shelf. Having said book be reasonably successful wouldn’t go down too badly either.

When a snake falls in a canoe…

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…things can get interesting.

Yes, the stagnation/writer’s block/black cloud seems to have abated. For now. I’m sure it will cycle around again at some point.

But meanwhile, back at the ranch, I believe one story has decided it wants me to write it.  *applause*

Valerie and Daniel have been giving me glimpses into their lives again and the title (of this post) scene is fun to write. Take a girl that lives in Florida, loves her home, yet is terrified of snakes, put her and her friend in a canoe on a creek in the middle of the swamp and drop a snake on her neck. Oh, the fun! Concern will be followed by arguments as to who should lead them home; a good time will be had by all.

Other parts of this story are also starting to gel and the editing is getting tighter on my part. Sometimes, when I go back and read what I’ve written, I get excited, thinking “Wow, that sounds really good!” But not always. This story is coming in its own sweet time and isn’t always very forthcoming in the ideas I’m trying to convey. Does that make any ffriggin’ sense at all? Sometimes, the words flow, the concepts are clear, the imagery is good. But others, the action is a little stilted, a character is far sillier than a person of their age and experience should be, the words to express that thought or concept that character is having are buried too deep in the grey matter to rise up and be heard. My therapy has been to give it a rest when I get frustrated and let it come to me. If the basic storyline is there and I’m not ready to rip my hair out, I rattle the scene off, basic structure, dialogue and reactions, then I edit the shit out of it after a time. And soemtimes, in those sessions of editing, a insight pops its little head up and waves at me, or a friend reads my post on a bulletin borad and gives me their impressions, and then it begins to flow again. Maybe like molasses in January, but some progress is being made.

Huzzah!

Which way is east?