Tuesday, February 23, 2010

New Blog Award--Lucky 7

It's true--the best things in life aren't "things." Last week I received a blog award (above) from my friend and fellow author, Shawn Murray . The award was especially meaningful to me because Shawn was one of the first writers I ever knew to have a blog. I've always been impressed by her discipline and dedication to her craft, so it's thrilling to have her input on my own efforts. Thank you, Shawn! For this particular award, the requirements are that I share 7 pieces of info about myself and then choose 7 blogs I feel deserve the award too. I'll start with me (yes, it's all about me!!):
  1. My preferred writing tool is a Waterman fountain pen filled with violet, turquoise, or brown ink depending on my mood.
  2. I studied art history at the National Gallery in London for two years and attended lectures anywhere from three to seven days a week.
  3. My bachelor's degree is from Auckland University in New Zealand and I majored in Spanish with an emphasis on Spanish film and literature (we were a very tiny department).
  4. I want to go to Japan. Badly.
  5. I'm a serious minimalist. My ideal wardrobe fits into a medium-sized suitcase and I only have one small bookcase. Excess or unused "stuff" makes me nervous.
  6. I'm a vegetarian and never can follow a recipe, much preferring to invent my own.
  7. I love Formula One motor racing and cannot wait for the new season to start.

Okay, enough about me. Now to hand out my awards:

  1. http://eugeniaalvarez.wordpress.com/ Eugenia's posts are in Spanish and despite my terribly neglected language skills, the first thing I noticed when I visited her blog is that she writes straight from the heart. I highly recommend everyone getting a English/Spanish dictionary and following along because what Eugenia writes is worth reading.
  2. http://olivosartstudio.blogspot.com/ Claudia and Sergio Olivas are two artists from Chile and Mexico (blog is in English). Fantastic artwork and much inspiration for newbie artists such as myself.
  3. http://dmsolis.blogspot.com/ Diane Solis's blog is new to me and I wish I had known about it much sooner. Her blog is a work of art and filled with good information and writing prompts.
  4. http://dolcebellezza.wordpress.com/ Another blog I only recently discovered and one that concentrates on reading and thoughtful book recommendations. Many of my favorite authors are featured here. This is also another blog that is lovely simply to "look at."
  5. http://naptimewriter.blogspot.com/ I admire writer Amber Lough and her persistence to stay in the creative zone despite the challenges of raising two little kids still in footie pajamas. Great writing tips, great sense of humor.
  6. http://zigzagpaz.blogspot.com/ Pamela Anne Zolkov has just published one of the best books I've read in a long time: Zigzag Paz. I'm still reading and hope to post an interview with Pam as soon as I'm finished. Wish I had a book award to give her too!
  7. http://karilonning.blogspot.com/ Kari is a professional basket artist. Her blog is filled with wonderful photos of both her work and scenes from nature. Always makes me want to start yet another creative adventure.

So that's my list! Thank you again to Shawn Murray and thank you to my award recipients for sharing the art of life.

Tip of the Day: Please take the time to visit and read these great blogs. You'll be glad you did.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Take Twelve

Here’s the best piece of writing advice I’ve heard in a long time: no matter how busy, tired, overwhelmed, sick, depressed, swamped, apathetic, or blocked you are, just write twelve lines. That’s all. Just twelve. But write those twelve lines no matter what.

I love this tip because not only does it work to help keep my WIP in shape in spite of a crummy day, but it’s saved me from feeling that much sicker, more depressed, or more swamped during the times I would previously have thought writing one word was impossible.

Once I started using this technique I discovered I couldn’t stop; even on the good days I began to learn new uses for just twelve sentences. Best of all, the very nature of “write only 12” made my writer self turn all rebellious and eager to keep writing, going for twelve paragraphs or even twelve pages simply to prove I could.

Now I find myself using this trick several times during the day (or night!) regardless of a jammed appointment book or time constraints. Favorite uses of it so far include:

Brainstorming. List 12 “what-ifs” for problematic scenes or chapters. 12 possible actions to include in scene or chapter. 12 lines of dialogue. 12 specific details. 12 character traits. 12 possible character goals or motivations. 12 marketing opportunities. 12 positive affirmations to keep writing. 12 things to add to my gratitude list. 12 possible titles for the WIP. 12 ideas to blog or tweet about. 12 points to cover in a new blog post. 12 points about a book I liked, loved, or hated for review. 12 writing prompts for writer’s group.

Flash fiction or freewriting. Write: a 12-line story. A 12-line poem. A 12- line screenplay. A 12-line letter to the editor.

Why limit the technique to writing when I’m pressed for time? What about: 12 rows of knitting; 12 lines to a drawing; 12 quick photos; 12 magazine cutouts ready for collage.

There’s something special about the number twelve: twelve months to the year, twelve signs of the zodiac, twelve dancing princesses… It’s a number that resonates deep in our creative and cultural unconscious. Which is why it may be the perfect number for getting something done when you feel at your most lost.

Tip of the Day: The easiest way to write just 12 on a bad or any day is to get your notebook, number the lines 1-12 with about 3-4 spaces in between and keep that page open beside you at all times. Every chance you get, write down a line. Don’t worry about making sense or keeping your thoughts “in order.” Fill in the blanks and rearrange or use where you can later.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

What Does Your Writer Self Need Right Now?

For me it’s sleep. I never seem to get enough of it. Or when I do, I dream too much, waking up feeling like I've been assaulted by endless action movies. A few meetings back, my writer’s group took on the challenge of freewriting from the prompt “sleep falls" without really knowing where it would lead. For me the word "sleep" was prompt enough to start writing.

The following passage is what appeared on the page after thirty minutes. Just like when I read it aloud at our meeting, this is the unedited raw version and uses the word “all” an awful lot. This in itself is interesting to me. I find word repetition is often a good indicator of some other important theme we want to write and think about. But that’s a topic for another day and as the great writing coach, Emily Hanlon, said to me once when I was asked to read aloud in one of her workshops and I couldn’t stop qualifying: “Shut up and read!”

Sleep falls like a kid glove, brushing across the children’s faces. Put to bed by their nannies, their amahs, they sleep like the abandoned battlefield dead, arms sprawled, faces averted, small hands loosely holding toys and the corners of favorite blankets. Their dreams are innocent: “I was being chased by a gorilla.” “I forgot to bring my homework to school.” “I was at a birthday party.” They sleep from a distance and they sleep alone. The music and voices of grand parties, their parents’ affairs, the shouting after the fourth gin and tonic, the children hear none of it and all of it. Sometimes they move; eyelids twitching as moonlight falls across their hair, their feet, their discarded toys. All is waiting for when they wake up and say, “I had the strangest dream.” But it wasn’t just any dream. It was the stuff of day and nightmare, the hidden voice and message that will follow them subtly, invisibly through all the days of their adult lives. “I had the strangest dream.”

I have never fallen asleep where I fell. All of my life I have had to know where I am. I have to have the same night time rituals: washing my face, brushing my teeth, my hair, setting out the morning’s work, thinking of what I will wear to work, locking doors, turning out the lights, waiting for sleep to fall upon me. I don’t sleep easily or well. I think of too many things, things undone, unfinished, not even started. I see myself as a partial insomniac; I crave sleep like others crave wealth or fame. Yet I keep myself from napping (too restless, too guilty, too busy). I dream too much, volumes and shelves of stories, reels of film, all meaningless. For awhile I tried recording my dreams. The amount of detail bored me.

When I was small I had a bed I pretended was a boat. I would steer it through the confusion and troubled waters of my early childhood. Later I inherited my parents’ old double bed and I would sleep lost in the wide middle of forbidden territory, the sheets pulled to my chin, the streetlights invading my first series of peculiar dreams I can remember to this day. Once I dreamed of going to a house in the forest. Jars of dried herbs and strange potions lined the walls. And I knew whoever owned the small house was planning to kill me. I woke in terror and the images have never left me.

Dreams are the place we can never truly share. “You have to have been there,” is the best we can do. I never liked the idea of death being a kind of sleep. Imagine all those dreams crowding in for eternity and no real way to make them stop. My mother would not let me say the prayer, “If I should die before I wake.” I wanted to die before I waked. It sounded exciting and easy, easier than navigating my way through a world I found incomprehensible at seven. It was similar to when I would stand against the mirror for hours, willing myself to fall through the glass, imagining for brief minutes at a time that I had actually accomplished my goal of stepping into a warped reality that no matter how backward had to be better than the one I lived. That is how I envisioned a sleep-like death. Anything was better than being made to survive an unwanted life.

Now I do my best to appreciate both life and sleep, though not without question. Every few days or months or maybe even minutes I wonder what it’s all for and I’ll never be satisfied with “God’s plan,” or it’s solely to make other people happy. Sometimes I imagine I will be walking down the street, a busy street, a bustling sunny happy street and I’ll simply be struck by the end of my life and will fall like a glove to the pavement: gently, suddenly, magnificently and that will be that. I try to keep my papers in good order so my survivors are not too befuddled by pages and pages of the type of things I’m writing here. I want to sleep, I want to work, the wanting both exhausts and exhilarates me. Perhaps it is as the philosophers say: Life is but a dream; and maybe the thing I long for is to finally wake up, to rise from my bed like Jesus commanded, rise and walk and never look back; to forget everything and most especially sleep—

Tip of the day: Write about the thing your writer self needs most. It could be sleep, it could be time, it could be someone to read your writing with a smile and a warm heart. Whatever it is, freewrite about it for at least thirty minutes, maybe an hour. And then go get some sleep; you deserve it.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Starting the Serious Revision. Seriously.

This week I took the first steps toward revising a book-length manuscript I completed in 2008. Why the long break? Well, one reason is I like to put drafts away for a while before I tackle revision. In this case a little over a year seemed just about right. Another is I have had such a good time freewriting these past and many months that I simply wanted to stay in the zone, exploring and experimenting with a variety of genres and forms. I wasn’t ready to come inside and stop playing. But now with a fairly hefty body of work behind me (a novella, two novels, a nonfiction book, two screenplays, and a collection of short stories), it’s time to get serious and call out the official manuscript clean-up crew. Except there’s one big problem; there’s only one person on the crew and I’m it.

I knew in advance this day was coming; in fact, I set it out in my writer’s business plan under the goals section as part of my Big 5. To kick off this grand plan and perhaps test the waters a bit I chose to work on the novella. It’s my first foray into historical fiction, paying more than a passing tribute to my childhood writing hero, Edgar Allen Poe. So far the manuscript doesn’t have a working title beyond The Gothic Novella but that will do fine; titles get changed anyway and right now my focus is 100% on creating a polished manuscript worthy of any title at all.

On Monday I began my initial read-through of the manuscript to make sure I had my important scenes in order as well as the chapter line-up that made the most sense to me. I especially paid attention to the places where I need to add more writing. These are mainly transitional scenes I’ll have to write to help tie my plot points together. My self-imposed deadline to have a submission-ready manuscript in the mail to an editor is May 31, 2010. Every day that I can I intend to work on a chapter: retyping it into Microsoft Word, adding fresh lines or small scenes where necessary, smoothing out the rough edges. I’ve given myself enough room to do this several times for at least three drafts, maybe more.

In a few minutes I’m going to take the plunge and start typing my way to a real second draft. I confess to being nervous; it’s been a long time since I rewrote an entire book. My over-riding reaction is to be a neurotic version of the three wise monkeys: close my eyes and ears and hold my breath until the book rewrites itself. But I have a feeling that won’t work very well. Besides, the real irony is I do love revision work once I’m into it. There’s a nice sense of order and security once the plot and characters have been set in place and I know my daily writing routine is simply to make them shine. So here goes; it’s time to dive off the deep end which in a funny way has always my favorite part of the pool. Wish me luck; I’ll be sure to keep you posted.

Tip of the Day: Do you have a manuscript ready to revise but one you haven’t felt ready or willing to start? Go get it now. Set a date on your calendar that sounds comfortable for you to begin revising and a date to have it finished. And stay in touch; I'd love to know what you decide to do.