Wednesday, May 4, 2022

Creating With the Seasons, Part II: Writing

Happy Spring, everyone! Taxes, allergies, never knowing if the weather is hot or cold or simply freezing . . . Yes, it's a wonderful time of the year.

In my last post I wrote about finding ways to use the various seasons as a creative direction for my artwork, especially for the days when I was stuck wondering what to paint. For today's post I want to discuss how to use those same ideas as writing prompts, starting with:

Poetry. Although it's now a few days behind us, April was National Poetry Month and one of the ways I celebrated was experimenting with some haiku. You might recall learning to write one in school, something teachers love to promote as for some lucky reason children seem to excel at the form. In case you missed out on those lessons (say it isn't so!) haiku is a traditional three-line poem from Japan consisting of a five-syllable first line, a seven-syllable second line, and a third and final five-syllable line. One of the most important elements of haiku is that ideally there should be some mention, or at least a reference to the seasons. A good book on the subject that encourages daily haiku writing is Clark Strand's Seeds from a Beech Tree. Even the title to me implies a seasonal sensibility as I imagine all those birch seeds flying around in a spring breeze. Beautiful!

Scenes in your novel. Winter storms; mosquito-infested summer camping trips; constant autumn drizzle . . . all of these things can enhance both the mood and the action of a well-written scene. Not only can seasonal details add plenty of drama or humor, but they can also be what spurs the action: a summer cloudburst destroying a high-society wedding, or the fatal consequences of SADD (Seasonal Attention Deficit Disorder) in a Yorkshire-based murder mystery.

Writing an entire short story or novel set in one specific season. Limiting your timeline to one specific season can both tighten your pacing (e.g., a goal that must be achieved during an explosive summer abroad) as well as amplify your story's theme, e.g., end-of-year gift giving can be the catalyst for a wealth of character reactions, from over-the-top shopping sprees to deep and dark financial woes, all to be dealt with during a single season of joy.

Use the seasons to bookend a story or novel. Begin your story in spring; end in spring twenty years later. Choosing a significant, stand-out season to begin and end a narrative can provide a satisfying sense of closure for both your characters and your readers.

Give your characters passionate reasons to love or hate an individual season. We all have favorite times of the year and so should your characters. Consider how the seasons might affect your characters' health, happiness, and/or plans for the future. What if they need to travel at a certain time of year, but their choices are blocked when they encounter overbooked hotels and flights which then spark entirely new challenges and obstacles to overcome. Or perhaps they suffer from "anniversary syndrome," every year reliving some terrible event from a distant summer that leaves them devastated and struggling to meet any challenges at all.

Seasonal or holiday foods. In some of my previous posts I've written about how much I enjoy books that include descriptions of food or cooking. I like authors who feed their characters as opposed to those who insist their heroine save the world with only a cup of coffee to sustain her, and she drank it three mornings ago. Showing your characters eat or prepare seasonal foods for any given holiday or time of the year is a great way to add metaphoric as well as literal descriptions of culture and character attitude (positive and negative) as seamlessly as possible.

Bundle up, or dress down for comfort. Be sure to keep your characters warm or cool with appropriately seasonal clothing. Then again, if you really want to torture 'em, ensure that they've got it all wrong: a padded raincoat in August; a summer dress for a winter party. I know from experience how difficult it can be to not have the right outfit at the worst possible time. Years ago I traveled to New Zealand in the middle of their winter (American summer) and due to an airline snafu I ended up staying in hot, humid Tahiti for two weeks with a suitcase full of sweaters and socks. Fortunately it was easy enough to buy myself a pareu and a new bathing suit to beat the heat and not stand out like a misinformed tourist, but think about how much trouble you could create for a fictional character in a similar situation. Heat rash, anyone?

Seasonal Journals. There's nothing quite as special as a journal dedicated to capturing the beauty and essence of the seasons. Whether it's an art journal, a travel journal, or a nature or gardening journal, writing down your impressions and activities amidst the changing of the seasons is a journal to keep forever.

Tip of the Day: In case you're considering writing a holiday novel, children's picture book, screenplay, or a series of craft articles for magazines, keep in mind to write and submit your material well in advance of a seasonal publication date. Six months to several years in advance of your chosen holiday is never too early. Some tricks to help with writing about fruit cake while you're sunbathing can include decorating a section of your writing space with a miniature Christmas tree in July, or doing the same with beach towels, sea shells, and resort posters in the depths of winter. Never let what the thermometer reads hinder your imagination.

Monday, March 21, 2022

Creating With the Seasons, Part I: Artwork

Happy Spring!

For everything there is a season . . . A time to write, and a time to paint. A time to be totally inspired and a time to completely lose it--

Hello, everyone! Time, where does it go? It seems like forever since I've had "time to blog" or do much of anything else for that matter.

My time shortage started early this year when I found myself fostering a stray kitten at work. I was well aware that 2022 was the Year of the Tiger, but the last thing I ever expected to find outside my back door was a tiny, hungry baby cat. She was adorable and I would have done anything to keep her (impossible at this current point in my life). Despite my lack of space and ability to be with her as much as I wanted, I did everything I could over a six week span to get her healthy, playful, and ready for adoption. It was one of the most fun things I've ever done and I still miss her to pieces, but now that I know she's in good hands and safely onto the next stage of her journey, it's time to get back to work: writing, painting, and yes, blogging.

Prior to kitten-sitting I had been planning to write a post about my intention to draw and paint within a series of some kind for the year. I'd often heard of artists painting a series of pictures as a way to go deeper into a single subject or theme and also bring some unity to their work. The idea appealed to me as I thought it could bring more focus and discipline to my daily sketching practice, focus that would help me produce more finished, polished pieces. The trouble was I didn't know what kind of series I wanted to try.

I tossed around a lot of ideas, e.g., choose a building I liked in town and paint it multiple times from different angles; create a series of pictures based on the displays at the dinosaur museum; sketch people and dogs at the dog park. Unfortunately, none of these ideas felt like something I wanted to work on more than once. Yes, they were interesting enough on their own, but to paint over and over? I was worried I would become so bored after my third attempt to sketch the downtown Wells Fargo building I'd never want to open my sketchbook again. It wasn't until my husband suggested I try basing some work on the seasons of the year that everything fell into place.

Suddenly I had specific goals to pursue. My first step was to sit down and make numbered lists under the broad headings of each season, brainstorming subjects that fit each particular time of the year. After that I created lists of sub-categories, for instance, under the heading of "autumn" the first images that came to mind were acorns and squirrels, sweaters and scarves, bonfires, steaming mugs of tea, rainy skies, and beautiful trees. Once I had those things listed I continued mapping entirely new ideas for a seasonal series based on each subject, e.g., squirrels in summer, squirrels in spring, squirrels bounding through the snow . . . it eventually became quite endless.

Another advantage to this plan that I liked besides never having to decide "what to paint" again is that, at least for me, the seasons signify different emotional and spiritual states to explore. Themes such as renewal, growth, and letting go, topics I would usually write about are now themes I can express through color and composition, showing joy or even a little sadness through a seasonal lens. 

Right now my first attempts to go with the seasons revolve around my sketchbooks and a small painting-a-day practice. I'm currently concentrating on trees including the quick sketch I've put at the top of this post, but soon those trees will be full of birds, flowers, squirrels and even kittens. I only hope I have enough time each day to keep going!

Tip of the Day: Spring is in the air, a great time for both writers and artists to consider starting a nature journal. Always keep in mind that you don't have to draw or paint to create a beautiful journal. Instead of drawing, try some collage using items like seed packets, handmade papers, or fabric. Experiment with dipping leaves, sticks, or pods in ink or paint and printing your impressions onto your journal pages, or paste in the actual plant materials. Take photographs and add them to your words. 

And speaking of words, that's exactly what I'll be taking a look at in my next post: Creating with the Seasons, Part II: Writing. See you soon!

Wednesday, January 12, 2022

Finding a Path for 2022

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It seems impossible that it was exactly two years ago that I last met with my various writer's groups, weekly drawing classes, and my illustration groups. Two years! Since then I've done everything in my power to believe the situation was only temporary and that one day we would all go "back to normal."

Today I realized I won't be doing that any more. And that's not such a bad thing. In fact, it's fantastic!

Moving away from my hopes and dreams for "normal" means that I can be open to change and new beginnings. Best of all, I can do it my way without fear of getting it wrong. In other words, I can experiment. Hanging on to "normal" means being stuck. This year I want to run with scissors.

At the same time, I do want to put my scissors to good use, cutting out a new path of possibility and creative endeavor. Some of the projects I'd like to work on this year with a renewed sense of joy are:

1. Update my website to include my beaded jewelry for sale.

2. Publish The Abyssal Plain.

3. Submit my novel, Ghazal, and my novella, The Seaweed Collector, for publication.

4. Finish the first draft of one new manuscript (not entirely sure yet which one this will be).

5. Continue painting and drawing, but with more focus on working within a specific series. (More about this in my next post.)

6. And of course, continuing with this blog.

2022 is going to be my year of optimism with no looking back. I'm letting go of both the good and the bad experiences from the last twenty-four months and I'm looking forward to the future, whatever it brings. 

Tip of the Day: Vision boards have always been my go-to way of establishing my goals and plans for any given year. For 2022, however, I want to change things around a bit. Instead of putting together a vision board, I'm going for a vision quest. Rather than searching out a dozen or so magazine cut-outs to represent or symbolize things I already want, I'm going to let the images search for me. I want to discover things I had no idea I wanted or that even existed.

Starting with a blank journal, every time I come across a magazine photograph, headline, or article that speaks to me for even the most trivial or surprising of reasons, I'll cut it out and paste it on a page. I'll let the journal develop like a mysterious road map inviting me into unexplored, but much-needed territory. I can't wait to see what happens--I can't wait to see where I go. Happy New Year, everyone!