The Doldrums

I was so excited a week or so ago. I was writing like there was no tomorrow, rattling out a few connected scenes for the next installment in Valerie and Daniel’s story. There’s lots more to be written, but it’s not easy like it was. Let me tell you, I was on fire, I was getting great feedback and ideas from my writing buddies on the forum and it was clicking like my knees when I get up in the morning.

Alas, it is no more. I’ve been busy with work and meetings and watching my bank account dwindle between paychecks and my scaly, sulfurous muse has abandoned me for greener pastures, or maybe cooler climes. (It is hotter than Hellfire right now and I hate it.)

What to do?

Well, I’ve fallen back to my old standby, re-reading old stuff. Hell, I’ve got most of what I’ve written pretty much memorized. But, it’s part of the process and it led to a nice online conversation with an old online buddy. His character plays a large role in my fantasy story and I asked him  some questions and gave him examples of what I’ve written to make sure I was doing his character justice.

I think I’m doing okay. Our ‘talk’ got me thinking about the Behemoth Disjointed Fantasy Epic that I’ve been writing for years, and you know what? I got excited about it again.

Which leads me back to my meandering path. When you’re stuck, when the wind has fled your sails and the ocean around you looks like a mirror, do what you have to to get that ship sailing again. Getting away from it for a short while is okay, like I did by setting up a blog for our work-related learning, but don’t take too long getting back to your fiction. Read other stuff, talk about it with like-minded people, harrass your writing buddies, but make youself stay involved. Don’t let the latest wildly-popular-piece-of-shit novel get you down. Get angry, get determined, get writing!

(This has been a public service message from the Off Your Ass and On Your Feet Method of Writing. Send small bills, unmarked, in large quantities. Thank you.)

Advertisements

The Loom of Dreams
I broider the world upon a loom,
I broider with dreams my tapestry;
Here in a little lonely room I am master of earth and sea,
And the planets come to me.
I broider my life into the frame,
I broider my love, thread upon thread;
The world goes by with its glory and shame,
 Crowns are bartered and blood is shed;
I sit and broider my dreams instead.
And the only world is the world of my dreams,
And my weaving the only happiness;
For what is the world but what it seems?
And who knows but that God, beyond our guess,
Sits weaving worlds out of loneliness?
– Arthur Symons
Why all the mystical dream references?
That’s where I get some of my best ideas for stories or scenes for my writing.
I have a theory about my writing. I am an only child. I had myself for companionship growing up and I role-plyed while catching minnows in the ditch. I put sawhorses together and they became real horses. The yard and surrounding dirt road were anything from African savannah to South American jungle. I swung from the trees like Tarzan (and dang near hanged myself), I ran through the pastures and woods and I was never alone, not really. I had friends in the characters from TV shows that I loved and insinuated myself into the plots lines as I played. Only one imaginary friend? I had/still have hordes, of every race and species.
The time between going to bed and going to sleep are prime creative time for me. I run dialogue through my head, think about whatever scenes that are harassing me at the time and doze off hoping to have that dream. You know what I’m talking about, the dream that’s like watching a movie, that takes an idea you’ve had, turns it over and hands it back to you, giving you a different perspective. Or, better still, a dream that conjures a whole new idea to run with.
The danger in those kinds of dreams for me is my inherent laziness. Once I’m in bed I am not inclined to get up unless, say, the house is on fire. My side of the bed is against the wall, so I have no bedside table to place a pen and paper on. So when a dream really gets my attention, I tend to lie awake and try to commit it to memory, when, it would be much more efficient if I would just get my lazy ass up and write it down. I hate waking up all the way and losing that tenuous grasp on the dream itself. It’s just not the same once you’re fully awake, no matter how much it captures your imagination. But, if you do write it down, maybe you can conjure a little of the sense that you got while in the dream. With luck it can be the spark that leads to a whole universe of ideas.
No wonder I don’t sleep half the time.

Shipbuilding (a.k.a. Writing and editing)

So, in lieu of writing something in my multiple works-in-progress, I am instead updating my long-neglected writing blog with another one of Jill Ciment’s brilliant analogies about writing, before it slips my mind forever.

Not dissimilar to the Jane Goodall approach to writing that I shared awhile back, it goes something like this.

When we write, we’re trying to convey ideas, a story, something, to someone else. Think of yourself on one side of a wide river, with the people you want to communicate with on the other side. Your information, your story, has to cross that expanse of water so that those people can marvel at it, and perhaps even come on board. You start by building a raft. That’s yout first draft. You work on it and think to yourself, “That’s pretty good, I can make it across.” You set sail and that booger is leaking. (With any luck you have a crew of readers and writing buddies to help you find and plug those leaks.) So you turn around and limp back to shore and you take the materials and you build a bigger vessel, sturdier and more watertight. That’s the second draft. You try again and get about halfway before turning back because it sails crooked or tries to capsize because of something you’ve added or left out. Lather, rinse, repeat, only this time, when you get about halfway across, it’s just as much trouble to turn back as it is to keep going. Now you’re getting to the finish line. There’s your potential audience, waiting on the shore, admiring your ship as she sails into port. This is when you start to market your writing, and polish up the things you discovered need attention during your maiden voyage. The book probably isn’t done, but you have a vessel worthy of attention at this point.

My point is, to keep going, keep writing, keep improving on that raft until she’s the Queen Mary. You may have a Titanic now and again, but every writer does. The point is to keep bailing and keep plugging the leaks. Get help, the biggest issues with our stories is we’re often too close to them to see the glaring errors/plot hole that is making our story take on water like she’s rammed into an iceberg.

Just keep writing.

Our characters, in the ‘flesh’, so to speak

I know when I read someone else’s work, I have an image of what their characters look like. Sometimes it runs contrary to how the person is described, for some incomprehensible reason, but it happens. I’m not a neurobiologist, so I have no explanation, except good old human nature. One man decided to feed the descriptions of literary characters from classic novels into police composite-sketch software. Maria wrote about this in her writing blog so naturally I had to check it out. The fascinating results can be seen at the website The Composites.

But how do we visualize our own characters when we write? Myself, I do what lots of other people do; I think of actors or models that have the right features and perhaps even personality. That’s what happened with Alan Mueller, Valerie’s brother-in-law in my manuscript Old Dogs. He needed to be blond and blue-eyed like Valerie’s family, to make her even more of the odd one out with her dark curly hair. Before I even wrote the first line describing him, his humorous expression and personality were forming in my mind and I was reminded of Wash from Firefly. So my Alan, taking his name from the actor who portrays Wash, is Alan Tudyk in my mind.

And you can ask any of my writing buddies, they know that Daniel looks like my favorite celebrity crush, Clive Owen. The whole reason I started writing Old Dogs is because I had chosen Mr. Owen in his role as King Arthur to be the face of Garoben, in my huge rambling fantasy saga about Rayne, and I had decided to leave Rayne’s story alone for awhile but wanted to keep in the habit of writing. So that exercise turned into a novel length manuscript for which I am currently in the throes of an agent search. But Arthur wasn’t quite the right image I wanted for Captain Daniel Hollingsworth, ex- RAF, now commercial airline pilot. When I describe Daniel, I’m describing the lovely Mr.Owen. So, back to Google I went. (It’s such a hardship, doing research, finding pictures of gorgeous men to inspire my muse to do something. It’s a sacrifice I must make because I’m a writer, dahlingk…;-) And I found something more like this.

Another character that I had a hard time finding an image for in Old Dogs was Valerie. I knew what she looked like in my mind; long dark curly hair, pale freckled skin, blue eyes, short and small, but not frail-looking. She has curves. Well, there’s no way I could find all that in any one actor, and Googling things like ‘dark curly hair blue eyes’ got me lots of the right hair, but nothing else that fit my criteria. So I went to a model/actor search website that allowed me to specify exact criteria. The Donna Baldwin Agency has a database of actors and models of all types and is searchable to narrow down those zillions of photos of people. Honestly, I can’t remember if this is the website where I found the pic of the closest I could find of Valerie’s description, but it was one of these sites. Your mileage may vary.

I probably got this idea from an old online role-playing game I played several lifetimes ago. It was a bulletin board based kind of RPG, which meant that there was a lot of imagination and thought that went into the action. People interacted with each other for the most part, rather than a game-master running the action. Those sorts of adventures happened as well, but most of the population of the city of Ramsalon lived and worked and fought and played with each other. And each character’s post had an icon beside it, offering a visual image of that character for the other players. I’m positive that a great deal of my writing skills were formed in that environment. As a result, my character Rayne and her adventures are based on that gameplay. I never found an actress that fulfilled my image of Rayne. But I had written a fanfic based on the television show Highlander that was archived on a fanfic website. Someone graciously provided an graphic for the title page of my story and this was the image that looked like Rayne. I still don’t know who that artist was or where they got their idea but I am grateful. This. Is. Rayne.

However we do it, with written descriptions, index cards, or actual drawings or photographs, the fact remains that most of us writers have some strong feelings about our characters appearance. And even if these images are never seen by anyone but us, it can still be a powerful tool to inspire and prompt us to greater heights of writing.

777 Challenge post

All right, Juli Morgan, here you go. From the 77th page of my manuscript Old Dogs, seven lines down, the next seven lines are here for your perusal.

Valerie gave her a grudging nod. “Yes, he’s nice.”

“So?”

“So, we both like movies and books and he’s about fifteen years younger than me.”

“Age is just a number.”

“When did you turn into such a cougar?”

“I’m not! I just want to make sure you’re enjoying yourself.”

Feeling more than a little tipsy, Valerie nodded. “Damn you, I am enjoying myself. But I turn into a pumpkin pretty soon.”

Just Do It!

“Excellence is an art won by training and habituation. We do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but we rather have those because we have acted rightly. We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.”

That Aristotle guy said it with more words, but he and Nike have the same idea in mind. It’s good advice.

But, being the giant procrastinator that I am, I write this post to remind myself as much as anyone, that the only way to realize your dreams is to do something about them. In my case, it means that in order to sell my writing, or to even finish something to try to sell it, first, I’ve got to write. And that means every day, I’ve got to get something out of my brain and onto the page/hard drive.

Every. Single. Day.

What’s keeping me from achieving this simple goal, you ask? How hard can it be to rattle out 1000 or so words, especially when you brag about how you can do it in something like thirty minutes? First of all, you aren’t supposed to be listening when I make such silly claims. Yes, I can do it, and sometimes I don’t have to dump those words like last month’s leftovers. Occasionally some of those words are even good. But very often they’re pure crap, but encasing a seed of an idea. The words may not be great in and of themsleves, but that little idea is there. And without the crap surrounding it, if that idea was still firmly stuck in my brain, such that it is, that tiny inspiration would never have a chance to receive the careful attention and encouragement of my friends who critique my writing and help me coax that seed into germination. The novel-length story I’ve ‘finished’ started out as nothing more than an excuse to fantasize about a certain British actor that I have had a celebrity crush on for years. Nothing more than that.

Aristotle speaks of excellence gained by repetition. It’s a common fact that any muscle, without regular use, will atrophy and lose its strength. The brain is not different, even if it’s not a muscle per se. Still, those neural pathways have to be stimulated into reinforcing old connections and making new ones. Repetition, repeated writing, thinking, reasoning, all serve to make those paths deeper, wider, more conducive to the frenzied electrical activity that our thoughts and ideas are made of.

Writing is what I do, yet I still find other things to do besides write. Hell, this blog entry is a distraction from the scene I should be writing. But it’s still writing. I’m taking my idea out of my brain and putting it where it can invade your brain and maybe shake a thought or two loose. Maybe this idea even likes what it finds in your mind and decides to stick around awhile, kick the tires, see where it can go. Take it places, show it a good time. If it inspires an idea that leads to more writing, excellent. But even if it just makes you think about it, even for just a few minutes, it has done its job.

Go forth and write, my friends. Make it a habit, show writer’s block who’s boss.

I’m going to do that right now.

Right after I check my email.

Readers are like Helen Keller

 See that little girl on the left? That’s Helen Keller, the famous deaf and blind woman who   learned to read and speak and went on to do Great Things, with the help of her teacher, the woman on the right, Anne Sullivan.

Now, you may ask yourself, what in tarnation does this have to do with writing? I’m so glad you asked. Read the paragraph above again and then think about it for a moment. I’ll wait.

Done? Okay, in case there are some of you still scratching your heads, I will elaborate. Because if someone (my instructor and author-hero Jill Ciment) hadn’t explained it like this, I’d have never come up with the idea on my own.

You see, our readers are like little Miss Helen Keller. In the dark, seeing nothing, hearing nothing, understanding nothing, until we, in the role of Anne Sullivan, show them the way by the words we choose to write. Now I’m not saying that my stories are going to inspire someone to go out and be a great philanthropist, I’m happy if someone just enjoys what I’ve written and has a few hours pleasant distraction. But, unless I tell that blind, deaf reader what is going on in my story, how are they supposed to know?

I know, I’ve just been talking about streamlining and making sure my prose is not too wordy, but there’s a difference between describing a scene so that someone understands what’s happening and where the characters are, and a ‘filmed version’ of what’s going on. I am all too often guilty of describing the setting in great detail. I have to remember to think like I might if I were leading Helen Keller by the hand. Tell the important things, right off the bat, so the reader can get a handle on the action instead of being bewildered by the details.

Think of yourself as a diver on a diving board. You know that water is cold, but jumping in is the only way to tell the story. Bouncing on the end of the diving board doesn’t get that story told any faster or easier, it just adds extra information that the reader  really doesn’t need.

So, jump in already!