Wednesday, July 4, 2012
Tuesday, June 19, 2012
10. Entering a bookstore (full of works by already published authors) leaves you feeling both invigorated and envious.
9. You read novels, short stories, memoirs, poems for both pleasure AND education.
8. Every email, flyer, notification, tweet, blog post, magazine ad, etc. that offers a webinar, class, conference, getaway or service that you cannot attend, drop in, frequent, or take advantage of due to time, money and practically leaves you with that regrettable notion that you're missing something important.
7. Every fantastic novel you've read since you've started your own has made you want rip out the pages, pour water on the Kindle, and throw them both in a fire pit; because, daaamn, this author is SO much better than you are!
6. Laundry, food shopping, house cleaning, wedding planning, tooth brushing, eyebrow plucking, nail clipping--just about everything other than writing--feels like a GIGANTIC waste of time.*
5. Everyday you kick yourself for not beginning your project sooner--like when you were 12.
4. What to do first? Research publications? Network? Blog? Tweet? Read? Write? Drink?
3. On a daily basis, you: curse out the world, for moving too fast; yourself, for getting to old; your friends, for using one of your perfectly good, full-of-spare-writing-hours weekends to whisk you away to Atlantic City; your cat, for sticking her butt in your face as you try to write.
2. You've realized by now that in this creative pursuit, there are no patterns, no formulas, no quick tickets to success; in fact, the only thing you can really count on is sheer persistence.
And on that note...
1. No matter what stage of the game you're at, you're going to keep doing it, because frankly, it's who you are.
*This does not include new episodes of Mad Men.
Tuesday, June 12, 2012
Anyhow, these are some original writing prompt ideas. In this segment, they relate to the plot points of a novel, story, poem, etc. If you've seen any of them before, it's pure coincidence. As far as I'm concerned, they all come from my intrinsic writing brain:
1. A woman is standing at her kitchen sink washing dishes, when she notices, from out the window, a solitary, red (or any color, really) balloon floating in the vast sky. This reminds her of a significant childhood experience. Write about it. OR A solitary, red balloon is floating in the vast sky. Tell the story of how it got there.
2. Four teenage friends are trying to get into (any concert) back in (any year). Write about their adventure.
For example, it's 1978, and four high school sophomores from New Jersey are just dying to get access into CBGB's. How does the night unravel? This may or may not require some research.
3. An old man from the World War II era is taking a long train ride to visit his grandson. When a strange woman takes a seat across the aisle from him, he is suddenly taken by a distant memory--the day he lost his virginity to a prostitute while in the service. This also may require research.
4. A little boy (or girl) gets separated from his mother at a carnival, and witnesses something that terrifies him. Tell the story from the child's point-of-view.
5. A young man sees a young woman in a movie theater, and swears he knows her from someplace. He barely watches the film, because he is trying in vain to figure out why she seems so familiar. After the credits, he follows her outside and approaches her. Who is she? What happens?
This is a fun exercise because it not only gives my readers potential ideas, but it gives me ideas too. Any of these prompts can twist and turn in directions a writer never expected. That's really the beauty of it all, isn't it?
Anyone else want to contribute? Pen your own writing prompt below!
Tuesday, June 5, 2012
I was eager to come home and observe my space for my obsessions. I went straight to my office, and just as my professor said, I noticed some patterns. Flowers, for one thing. Fake flowers. Feather flowers, glass flowers, plastic flowers, wooden flowers. On my desk, shelves, end tables, etc. Then there was my lighthearted fixation on the occult: astrology books, psychic books, palm reading cards. I also have a greeting card with a painted fairy balancing the scales of justice on her shoulders. LIBRA it says in fancy font across the bottom. I have posters, calendars, and books on Elvis Presley. Numerous more books on rock 'n roll, and Rolling Stone compilations, etc. I was surprised to find I had more than one book on England--some simply images of the countryside, some tour guides, and some chronicled histories, including an anthology on the kings and queens.
My photo albums are chock full of pictures of myself as a child. On an antique step ladder that I use for decorative purposes are photographs of my grandparents as children. I have another framed picture of my father and uncle as young boys. Then there are the lighthouses--tiny knick knack versions of course. My grandfather--formerly of the Coast Guard--was an avid collector. I also have an image of a lighthouse I took with my digital camera on the background of my computer. And cats...paintings, books, and a humorous tapestry that says, "The more I get to some people, the more I like the cat." Plus two real live ones that like to rub against my face as I write.
I could go on (Thomas Kinkade desk calendar, prints, and collectors' coffee table books), but I'll stop and say this: At one point or another, all of these things have turned up in my work. We all write for various reasons, and sometimes we get too caught up in the 'business' side of it--publications, queries, conferences, platform building, etc. and while these elements of living the writing life are both important and thrilling, I think sometimes we forget that writing is a subliminal, unconscious process that can help us connect to our hidden depths, those things that make us who we are. Writing is channeling, it's drudging up the dirt, and these 'obsessions' of ours are symbols, or keys have you, that unlock what we consider to be important.
So I'm interested...what are YOUR obsessions, and do they, perhaps inadvertently or not, reveal themselves in your writing?
Tuesday, May 29, 2012
On average, I write five to eight hours a week. When I say "write," generally what I am referring to is my novel-in-progress or one of my many, many underdeveloped short stories. For the most part, I don't include writing this blog or engaging in other forms of social networking as part of my writing time. I am solely commenting on my 'work,' or in other words, the pieces I hope-upon-hope, wish-upon-wish will one day be in print.
I teach both day and evening courses, and as a result, certain days of the week are unavailable for writing. The benefit of this is that on other days, I have a light course load, which leaves plenty of (non-excusable) hours to enter the thriving world of my own creation. In other words, it is necessary that I both find and make time to be the scribe I so desire to be. On Tuesdays, I'll grab an hour after work. Thursdays I finish teaching at 3 pm, hence I can fit in two hours or more. This quarter, I am off on Fridays, so I take at least a three hour chunk to devote to the art. Then there are the weekends, which depending on my level of 'open availability,' I either have two extra Fridays, or, sadly, a Monday or Wednesday (days in which writing is not possible).
Of course when the quarter changes I'll have to formulate a new plan, but until then this is what I work with. Are there some weeks when I write only three hours? Of course; life's ebb is ever changing, but the key truly is persistence. If I miss a day, I'll find another where I can make up for it. But regardless of the unpredictability of time, I've been working with this (albeit inconsistent) schedule since August 2010. The truth is, though I am still in the midst of perfecting it all, I really have made considerable progress.
I think the key is this: Look for time, make time, and utilize time. You know your schedule better than anyone else. But if you decide to write, you need to sit down and do it. Trust me, in this enterprise, it truly is the only way.
Wednesday, April 11, 2012
“We, and I think I’m speaking for many writers, don’t know what it is that sometimes comes to make our books alive. All we can do is to write dutifully and day after day, every day, giving our work the very best of what we are capable. I don’t think that we can consciously put the magic in; it doesn’t work that way. When the magic comes, it’s a gift.”
They'll be more contests. Not all is lost. But maybe my subconscious is telling me that it's possible. Everyday I pray, not for success or fame or bestselling novels, but for belief. To dare believe I can do this. Perhaps it's working? I'm pushing myself to break through?
I'm not sure that what I'm doing is groundbreaking. To be honest, that's not really my intention. All I truly want is to believe. Yes, that and both the liberty and leisure to able to write more. My whole life maybe. This sounds so pseudo-inspirational. But to me it's actually very important. Regardless of what happens.
So I won't stop. I've been rewriting my novel and discovering all the things it didn't have the first time around. Now it does. It brings me personal happiness each day. In this endeavor that's all I can hope for. If not for that, I don't have much. I'm glad I'm learning to understand this.
Wednesday, March 21, 2012
I have absolutely no reason to doubt them. They've published, sold, gained readers, etc. And quite frankly, I don't think I have it--the 'block' that is. Because, in the current stage of my novel, I know what I want to write. I know what is going to happen next. Usually once I sit down to work on manuscript, new ideas come, old ideas get trashed, the characters' voices take over my thoughts and so on and so on. In this sense, I agree. The best way to cure writer's block is to WRITE! Sit down, and scold yourself. Say, 'you may not get up from this chair for one hour. After that you are free.' Surprise, surprise. Writing gets done.
So, if the lack of flowing ideas is the surface of this awful affliction, I think my current problem goes a few layers deeper. See, I haven't posted on this blog since March 4th. My plight is more complicated. It's doubt, and it's back. I've written about the D word before. It goes something like this...what if my idea doesn't have a place in the current market, what if deep down, my story is total crap, even if I do publish, will anyone care, how many people even read this blog? What do I really want to come from this story? Am I too old? Am I running out of time? Can I call myself a writer if I have virtually nothing to show for it? And then, the big question: Is it even worth it?
I'd write all day if I could. I love it. Plain and simple, that's why I do it. But these questions consistently flow through my mind in a steady stream. I know this much. I will complete my novel. I promised myself I would. So I will. After that....???
Sunday, March 4, 2012
“When I start on a book, I have been thinking about it and making occasional notes for some time—20 years in the case of Imperial Earth, and 10 years in the case of the novel I’m presently working on. So I have lots of theme, locale, subjects and technical ideas. It’s amazing how the subconscious self works on these things. I don’t worry about long periods of not doing anything. I know my subconscious is busy.”
—Arthur C. Clarke
The other afternoon I worked tirelessly on revising my novel. When I stopped, I went downstairs to feed my cats. As I stood at the counter, the two of them circling my feet like sharks, suddenly I thought of the perfect thing for character X to say. I slopped the food in their bowls and raced back upstairs. Wrote one extra line of dialogue. Then wound up spending another half-hour at the computer.
I'm even doing it in my sleep. Really. I'll wake from a image-less dream where I hear the flow of a narrator's voice echoing in my mind. It won't necessarily be coherent material. I'm not even sure if its my book. But it's writing. It's definitely writing. Very strange.
New scenes develop out of nowhere. Friday night I saw a news brief about a 90 year man who still owns, runs, and operates his own barbershop. Suddenly I had an idea for a scene in the book. Not a scene, really. A 'clip.' There's a difference. A scene runs at least 700 words (or more), a clip can be under 300. This barbershop notion turned out to be an important clip though. It established an early hint of something that was to come. It worked beautifully.
I think I've been enmeshed with the story long enough now to where this kind of stuff happens on its own. In the beginning, yes, I had to actively seek out inspiration. But the wheels have been turning for nearly a year and a half, and it's true. The subconscious is an amazing tool. I'm beginning to think that so much of writing is to learning to activate this way too often dormant oasis that lies in all of us.
Thursday, March 1, 2012
—James Lee Burke
This is essentially true. But as both intrinsic writers and student writers we do learn rules. Lots and lots of rules. Endless rules about characterization, plot, structure, dialogue, thematic undercurrents, and on and on. And yes, there is a basic format to a piece of writing. It has to be organized--this organization takes on many, many, forms, but it still must have a form.
So maybe we can 'learn' things about writing, but it seems like everywhere I look the rules are being broken. Maybe that's why Burke is saying the 'learning process,' in a sense doesn't really exist in writing.
I've heard countless critiques about my characters and their lack of dimensions, yet then I read a published piece in a literary magazine where the characters don't have names, backgrounds, anything. They're shadows who live in a timeless space. Do we learn the rules to ignore them? Or is there a certain recipe to follow regardless?
I think every piece of writing must work in spite of itself. It has to operate in its best capacity as it stands. Any reader can tell when a story, poem, essay has value. It's isolated from every other story, poem, or essay. Maybe once an intrinsic learns all the learns he or she can pick and choose the ones he or she wants to incorporate into the piece.
As a child I learned how to print my letters. Then I learned cursive. Now my handwriting is a unique hybrid of the two. Maybe writing is like that. But then again, I don't really know.
Tuesday, February 21, 2012
Well, Faulkner, that's my problem these days. I can never tell when I'm finished. The other problem is, I always think I can express it better. For me, my already written text is like an iceberg--stands in the way, won't move, won't budge, actually, and blocks a calm, smooth sail. It's a crutch, a challenge, a 'hard place,' if you will.
The other night I dreamed I was sitting in a park on a bench as day gradually turned to night. At one point I thought to myself, 'Hmm, it's dark, maybe I should get up and go.' I began to feel spooked actually, so I got to my feet, and strolled over towards another bench, where apparently all my stuff was: my school bag, my purse, and, oddly, a small, brown dog. I fumbled around aimlessly, trying to collect my items as the duskiness of night set in. I don't have a dog. I've never seen this one in my life. But I picked him up, along with my other (less furry) cumbersome items and began to walk.
Then I was walking down my grandparents' street--towards their house, I suppose--and the world began to light up again, gradually, in degrees. I still held onto my things, dog included, but I felt resolute in making it all the way to my grandparents' house without dropping anything.
All my dream research points to darkness as a sign of doom, evil, the death of the spirit. But I don't think I believe that--not in this context anyway. I think I'm 'in the dark,' about what my writing should look like, should sound like, etc. I'm fumbling around, trying to figure it all out. I'm determined to hold on, to make it back, and little by little, the fog--or darkness, in this case--will dissipate.
I don't think anything I've ever written is perfect. I don't know if I'll ever be able to tell. If there is even such a thing as 'perfect writing.' I'll keep aiming for perfection; maybe one day I can get close.
Tuesday, February 14, 2012
Tonight I had dinner at my grandfather's house. I've worked many hours in the past two days, and taught various classes. Before heading to Grandpa's I decided to stop at a county park near his house and relish in twenty to thirty minutes of down time. I think it's crucial for intrinsic writers--or your everyday introvert-- to do this occasionally. I'm both. A writer, an introvert. It's crucial. Reflection periods. I used to think that more people ought to do this. But today it occurred to me that if everyone did it, then parks like mine would be swamped with run-of-mill thinkers and philosophers like myself. And that would just kill my vibe.
Either way, I'm always surprised to find that others do the same. Today, a kooky woman parked her car next to me and proceeded to empty out the contents of her trunk and back seat into the mesh wire garbage bin planted in front of the man-made pond. Afterwords, she just...chilled...in her back seat, retrieving pieces of paper off her car floor and reading aloud to herself (I could tell; her lips were moving). My first thought? Are she and I the same breed?
Speaking of backseats. When I initially pulled into said park, an Acura SUV had been trailing behind me. Get off my ass, I'm thinking. You're really staring to irritate me, Lady (introverted philosopher or not, I'm still from Northern Jersey). She kept moving her vehicle to the side, like she wanted to blast past me, but kept herself from doing it. She pulled into the same parking lot I did--naturally-- and by this point my 'Zen Zone' was wavering. She breaks next to a black Mercedes. An older man steps out from the Benz, and leans into the talk to the aggressive Acura driver. Meanwhile, I kill my ignition and wait. I'm just dying to see what the bitch who was trailing me looks like. When she gets out of the car--I'd say mid-forties, long reddish hair, in shape--and she and the old man slip into the back seat, which by the way is clandestinely hidden by oh-so-illegal tinted windows. Valentine's Day affair? I kept waiting for the car start rocking back and forth.
A little while later, a man in mid-fifties parks to the other side of me. The second he shifts gears he rubs his face with his hands. I hear you, Man, I thinking. I need it too. When a flock of geese take off in a V-Shaped flight, beckoning loudly enough for the world to hear, his eyes follow them as mine do, and again...I'm surprised. I'm surprised to find there are others like me.
I think as intrinsic writers, if we pay attention, there are cues and stories all over the place. Parks and sanctuaries, though they seem uneventful, are a haven for those who want to shut down. Who want to watch the simplistic lives of wildfowl. Who think they can be themselves because no one else is watching...
Tuesday, February 7, 2012
Last week I received some feedback on one of my major female characters. Apparently, compared to another female character, she didn't 'jump off the page,' as they say. This surprised me greatly. I've spent much more time thinking about Character A than Character B. Character A arrived in my thoughts with any beckoning. Character B was not forged, but certainly planned. Yet somehow, according to my small group of readers, Character B--in the draft they were shown-- leaped, tumbled, and sprang, forward while Character A mostly stayed put.
I'm aware that some characters arrive more organically. As I've said before, these are the guys that show up uninvited bearing no food, drink, or gift. But what about those characters who I swear I know, see clearly, hear impeccably, feel intimately...but yet, don't get expressed properly in the prose?
So I rewrote her. I opened up a new document, titled it after her name, and wrote her whole story. Then I took the various bits and pieces of text and placed them (I hope) strategically in the all right places. When I read over the revisions, I was astonished by how weakly I'd characterized her in former drafts. She is perhaps the most important female character in the story! I'd cheated her, in a sense. But what's strange, the way in which I finally brought her to light, is exactly the way I'd always envisioned her. Now, thank goodness, so can everyone else.
I guess sometimes we intrinsic writers can lose perspective. We are so enmeshed in our creations that we develop a sort of 'blind spot' towards them. I see what I see, even no one else does. Even if it's absurdly obvious. I learned something important from this critique though. Don't shortchange your people. They don't deserve it.
Thursday, February 2, 2012
And you have to be driven. You have to have the three D’s: drive, discipline and desire. If you’re missing any one of those three, you can have all the talent in the world, but it’s going to be really hard to get anything done.”
This is legitimate advice: Love Thy Writing. Whenever I read a book that I love, it lingers...days after I've finished, weeks after I've finished, months after I've finished, and yes, years, sometimes. I'll catch glimpses of it in my mind at various, unexpected moments. It'll shoot waves of comfort through me, no matter if what kind of situation--pleasant or unpleasant--I am in.
I know I love my own novel, because it too, catches me in the midst of my day. I see the images, I feel the characters, and I sink into the setting. Sometimes it's as if it were another person's work, not my own. I imagine that this is a good sign; after all, I've written a novel that I adore, that I cherish. I've formulated such a story that if I were to ever come across it in a bookstore, I'd pick it up, take it home, and devour it. I'd long to spend Saturday night at home with it. I'd read it in days, or maybe even hours. Upon completion, I'd press it against my heart and wrap my arms tightly around it. OK, maybe not so dramatic-like, but something to that effect. Either way, I'd feel the ripples of the tale undulating throughout my being. And in a small, but significant way, I'd be forever changed.
Is this to say that my book has this kind of mega power? It can magnetically grip all who treads upon it? No, sadly, I don't believe that's the case. My wish, my life goal though, is that someone will...love my book that is. Of course by someone, I mean other than me. I know it's not perfect, and frankly, in writing, nothing ever is. I'm aware of the work it needs, and I plan on seeing that through. But it's comforting to know that I do, in fact, love my book. I love it. So much. That fact alone makes all the painstaking revision, all the doubt, all the self-torture one-hundred and fifty percent worth the while.
Any intrinsic writer must enjoy his or her story. It comes with the territory. I used to wonder if musicians or singers loved their own songs. I imagine they must, they have to. At least the ones who write the songs themselves, anyway. I just can't imagine the process being any other way.