Friday, February 23, 2018

The Art of Unfolding

This has been a strange month: everything I set out to do mysteriously morphs into something completely different than my original intentions. Whether it's writing, artwork, or my day job, my so-called plans have been no use whatsoever. 

Thanks to my writer's group I've discovered a solution of sorts: The Power Path, a website based here in New Mexico one of our members suggested I take a look at. Every month the site centers on an inspirational theme, and this month's theme is "Unfolding." 

The idea of unfolding immediately makes me think of a box. One of the things we have to do at my day job is fold boxes, lots of boxes, for shipping. I’ve become pretty good at seeing a flat, unfolded square of cardboard and then figuring out how to put it together: e.g., flap A gets bent over to slide into slot B after flaps C and D have been creased along their respective lines, etc., etc. Over the years I've learned it truly is an art to fold a box correctly and efficiently. 

Unfolding, on the other hand, sounds easy enough, but for me, there are some fundamental problems, like when I unfold a map. On the surface this is almost too easy: just open it up and study the required section. But then comes the hard part: folding the map back up again. No matter what I do even the smallest tourist map remains a wadded-up mess I can never force back into shape. No wonder I tear them up for collage!

The reason I get so frustrated with things like maps and fitted sheets is that at heart I am a folder; I like things folded. I will fold an unruly sheet or towel twice, three times to get it "right." I'll do the same with T-shirts and sweaters.  Heck, I even like the word folder when it refers to an organized filing system. Unfolding, at least to me, means making a mess. Unfolding also means letting go, and worst of all, being open, revealing what’s inside. Pretty scary stuff! 

Scary or not, I know I need to work more with this concept of unfolding; I want to jump out of the proverbial box and if possible, abandon the need for maps altogether. I want to be okay with letting things happen without a panic attack when they don't go the way I've planned. 

One way I thought I could apply the concept of unfolding to my creative life is to let my artwork and supplies stay out in the open. This might sound a little weird, but I’ve suddenly become very self-conscious about my art-making, especially since I’ve started working on “real" projects starting with the drawings and paintings for my proposed picture book, The White Pony and my series of doorways for my literary novel,  Ghazal. I’ve become so nervous about any kind of potential critique that I’ve started putting rubber bands around my sketchbooks, a bad move as it makes me reluctant to remove the band! Without realizing it, I’ve set up unintentional boundaries keeping my art so private I almost have to ask permission to go into my own studio. 

To counter this, I'm making a radical move this weekend; I'm going to set up my art table with a dozen different mediums, pencils, paints, and a big pad of paper, then start an art piece that I don't put away. If I leave the unfinished piece out in the open I might be more inclined (tempted??) to simply sit down and doodle on it over the coming days until it's finished. Then I'll start another one using the same process. It will be messy and I'm sure it will feel totally unnatural to not clean up after myself, but my resistance could be a very good sign that this is exactly what I need to do. I also want to try letting each picture unfold the way it wants to without too much interference on my part. 

Tip of the Day: Ever since I decided to work with the concept of unfolding I keep seeing references for origami patterns. Talk about ironic! My basic interpretation of this is that there is a time to fold, and there is a time a time to unfold. Both of these make great journal as well as sketchbook topics. Get out your pens, make a big mess, and let me know what happens!

Thursday, February 8, 2018

February Check-in: Revisions

Happy February!  It's the start of revision time for me, taking last year’s edits on my current work-in-progress novel, Ghazal, and putting them into action. According to my notes, there's a lot to do, but I'm more than ready to get the show on the road.

For those of you new to this project, the plot of Ghazal centers on thirty doorways that individually figure in each chapter, and two relationships between two couples. The first couple is comprised of a married, middle-aged businessman and a young woman who has recently abandoned her choice to live in a convent. The second couple is made up of the young woman’s next door neighbors during her growing-up years, two retirees who once spent a magical summer in France and have never forgotten. Together and separately the characters discover what it is they truly believe in, discarding along the way the many lies they have told themselves and each other for decades. 

While the plot is continuous and involves the same group of characters, the chapters can also be read as stand-alone short stories. I realize it's experimental, unconventional, and all of the worst things an editor or agent wants to hear, but it's the direction I'm the most drawn toward. Writing about my characters' lives and decisions in the form of short stories has allowed me the freedom to explore areas and themes that might not work in a traditional novel. For instance, one chapter is about a high school ski trip gone wrong; another is about seeing the Alamo at midnight as a child; while yet another is about the sudden death of a friend in a swimming pool. At first glance these events might not have much to do with each other, but taken as a whole, they can be considered as beads on a cord that eventually ties together in just the right way. 

My self-imposed deadline is to have the manuscript ready for submission by the end of the year, a much wider frame than I'd originally wanted, but I want to fully craft this novel; hasty decisions and speed-revising won't work this time around. I'll be thrilled if I do finish before then, but I want to stay as mindful and focused as I can on this project and not feel pressured to get it over and done with.
One of the things I'm doing to make the revising more interesting is I'm drawing illustrations of the thirty doorways I mentioned earlier. I’m still undecided on my final medium, style, and color palette (or if I'll even use color at all), but that's half the fun. Another trick I’m using is to keep a daily “writer’s log," tracking not only my daily progress, but also my thoughts and emotions about the entire revision process. Alongside these are my notes on what I hope to achieve within each chapter as well as a record of my characters' names, ages, backgrounds, and anything else that I need to refer to as I continue to re-write.

As much as I love freewriting and getting that first draft down on paper, I must say there's really nothing better than having those pages finally assembled into a revisable manuscript. At least you know you do have something to work on and improve. The only hard part after that is knowing when to stop polishing, tinkering, and changing every other word so you can finally declare: The End!

Tip of the Day: If you haven’t tried keeping a daily log of your writing or other creative projects, you might like to start one now. One easy method is to use a calendar (especially now that all the 2018 ones are on super-sale!) and write down your word count or similar into each date square. Many calendars have room to write extra notes for the month too, and you can always write on the picture page as well.