Archive for the ‘Writing’ Category

Bloom Where You Are, and Other Sayings

March 30, 2020


For the first time, I understand the connection between two sayings I’ve heard for years. The first is the advice to torture your darlings. The second is the adage, “Adversity doesn’t make character, it reveals it.” Watching the different ways people are responding to the pandemic was my aha moment for writing. If I don’t fully understand my characters and I drop them in the middle of a crisis, the scene is usually flat. I can’t reveal what I don’t know.

Even if I have a good sense of who my characters are, what they do in the conflict sometimes comes as a surprise. I’m starting to enjoy those experiences. Yes, there is the underlying terror that the story is spinning out of my control, but the joy of seeing my imaginary friends become real people is worth it.

You may have understood this connection for a long time, but it’s new to me. Or rather, this added layer of understanding is new to me. As is the added layer of understanding this pandemic has brought to another saying, “Bloom where you are.” I’ve seen so many small acts of kindness lately. I’ve been on the receiving end of some of them. It’s enough to keep me writing stories with happy endings.

Luck and wisdom!

Surprise!

March 23, 2020

We’ve been under a shelter-in-place order for a week now. Although it shouldn’t have been a surprise, given the rapid spread of coronavirus in my area, it was. Not so much of a surprise that I was caught without supplies on hand, but a surprise in the way I reacted to it. My immediate response wasn’t anger, or panic, or a descent into the long, dark tea-time of the soul (thanks, Douglas Adams!). I had this unshakable feeling that I was forgetting something important. After days of fretting, I finally realized that this first week of restricted movement coincided with my busiest week of the month. I usually spend this week checking my to-do lists, and bring-with-me-to-the-meeting lists, and remember-to-ask-this lists. A week with nothing on the schedule should have brought rest and relaxation; instead, it brought anxiety.

“Self,” I said, “this can be used in character development. How would your protagonist react at a gut-level if she was stranded while on vacation? Could your villain manage to stay calm if all the coffee shops were closed?”

Now that I have identified my anxiety, I’m working through it by – you guessed it – creating more lists. I will write down the questions this experience has presented, and see if I can’t use them to give my characters more depth. What will you do with the surprises that life brings you?

Luck and wisdom!

Time to Prepare

March 16, 2020

The middle of March is a hectic time for rites and celebrations. This month was a doozy. First was Friday, March 13. The next day was Pi-Day (we had strawberry, pictured above). Sunday was the Ides of March. Today is St. Urho’s Day (yes, it’s a made-up holiday, but I like purple and green). Tomorrow is St. Patrick’s Day (note previous comment on green). The 18th would have been my father’s 87th birthday, but that’s a blog for another time.

On top of all this is the COVID-19 pandemic. I’m beginning to think I should add an annual review of my disaster preparation plans to the ritual-and-to-do list for mid-March. While my sewing room and writing space offer enough to keep me occupied, there is more to life than art. Food helps, and that includes chocolate. My reward-buying stash is almost gone. Can I make the case that another trip to the chocolate shop is an essential activity, necessary for the safety of all those around me? On the other hand, I probably have the ingredients to experiment making my own chocolates, which will not only occupy a good chunk of time but also provide me with other questions to ask when I create characters or scenes. How do you prepare for the unexpected, and does that influence how you write?

Luck and wisdom!

How Do Your Characters Reward Themselves?

March 9, 2020

I checked off the last item on a huge to-do list (one that spanned several months), and decided I needed to reward myself. Since I just happened to be going by the See’s Candy store, it was obvious what that reward should be. As I filled up my shopping basket – giving no thought whatsoever to the cost in calories or dollars – it occurred to me that this was a good time to re-examine my characters’ backstories. I realized I may not fully understand the go-to rewards for all my major characters, especially the villains. As it happens, Susan, the protagonist of the Chenille series, is a confirmed chocoholic. Yes, this is a case of art imitating life. All of my characters have some aspect of me in them, and Susan got the sweet tooth. That makes it easy to write scenes when she rewards herself; the other characters, not so much. Now that I have a little extra room in my schedule, I’ll spend part of that time considering what motivates the characters who are least like me.

Luck and wisdom!

What We Create

March 2, 2020

I read an article about the models we have used to help us explain brain function, and why thinking of the brain as a computer may not be ideal. You can read the article yourself here. This line caught my attention: “. . . the brain does not represent information: it constructs it.” The mad sci fi writer in me said, “Bwah-ha-ha! My world building is alive! It’s alive!” The quilter said, “See, your brain quilt series isn’t such a silly idea after all.”

The picture above was inspired by an article describing how language is stored in different parts of the brain. Neurosurgeons received permission from a bilingual woman to make a few tests while they were treating her, and discovered English words were stored in one place, Spanish in another. I’ve also read that the language we speak structures the way we think, so learning a new language can in effect rewire our brains. Now it appears that the very nature of what we consider real is created by our thoughts as we try to explain what we see. There’s a story in here somewhere, as well as several quilts.

Luck and wisdom!

Clues You Can No Longer Use

February 24, 2020

One of the games I like to play when watching old movies or TV shows is pointing out what could no longer be used. Old mysteries are particularly good for that, as some of the clues rely on calls from public telephone booths, family scandals that could never be kept secret in the age of social media, or bending regulations in a worthy cause and getting away with it.

The game has value for those who write historical fiction, since so much of what we take for granted is barely older than our grandparents if not ourselves. I need constant reminders that huge amounts of human exploration was done on water, not on foot. I think of the westward expansion of the United States and imagine covered wagons, but small ships running down the rivers were equally if not more important.

I’m looking at the tools or supplies I thought would last forever (like the checkbook and bottle opener above) and laying odds on how soon they will disappear. Then I’ll have to go through my unfinished stories and cut those references before I can even think about writing the ending – unless I want to switch genres from sci fi to historical romance!

Luck and wisdom!

Leave Your Ribbons At The Door

February 17, 2020

That is, leave your desire to be universally applauded aside when you join a critique group. I am in two fabulous writing critique groups, and three equally fabulous quilt friendship groups that act as critique groups. The members all bring their best work, but understand that what appeals to one person may leave another cold. That doesn’t mean the work has no value. One of the best parts of bringing my creations to these groups is that even if they don’t speak to someone, the response I get will be more along the lines of a question than a complaint. I might be asked what I intended, or gently advised there could be two ways to read the sentence, or queried about the light in my studio because that pink square sure looks orange now. This is feedback I can use. If what I thought was on the page isn’t really there, I need to rewrite. On the other hand, if I want to be obscure then I’d jolly well better own it.

As far as the pink fabric really being orange, I’m pleading the fifth.

Luck and wisdom!

Who Knew Copy Editing Is Funny?

February 10, 2020

My friend Margaret Misegades sent me Dreyer’s English by Benjamin Dreyer. He is the copy chief of Random House, so my first thought was how useful this book could be. I opened the book just to get an idea of Dreyer’s style, and read three chapters before I could put it down. Dreyer made me laugh with him about grammar and punctuation! I think even my sternest high school English teacher would be chuckling, and class would have been a lot more fun, if this book had been on the reading list. Check it out – you’ll thank me later.

Luck and wisdom!

Measured, Managed, or Mangled?

February 3, 2020

I’ve been given to understand that business programs teach the value of good data with the adage, “What is measured is managed.” If that’s the case, I should be a world-class expert on managing just about anything. I have rulers by the truckload in my sewing room, and so many handouts on tracking my writing progress that I am guilty of destroying a forest the size of Rhode Island. It isn’t that I’m incapable of meeting deadlines – I am, in fact, pathetic without them – but somehow the art of controlling my projects eludes me. The stories write themselves, or don’t write themselves because they aren’t ready. The quilts definitely rely on my hands to do the work, but the plans for the quilts sometimes dance around me in a cosmic game of keep-away. Perhaps if I used my tools more efficiently, harnessed the information more elegantly, or simply paid more attention I might be able to get my projects under control, but somehow I think the projects are becoming sentient and have their own agendas.

Luck and wisdom!

A Tagline for Me

January 27, 2020

Novelist and writing coach Beth Barany sent an email to her subscribers about creating taglines as part of one’s branding efforts. Taglines are a lot like titles to me – something that wakes me in the middle of the night and usually has no obvious place to settle. I have a collection of titles waiting for the perfect story and/or quilt, which by chance is housed in the file box next to the pile of notes I have left from the massive collection my critique group told me to cull (see photo above). Then it hit me. “Self,” I said, “you already have two taglines.”

One is the subtitle to this blog: Mastering the world, one stack at a time. Of course, the little joke is that I’ve never actually mastered a stack. I’ve consolidated, rearranged, reordered, and hidden stacks. I’ve even managed to clear a little space only for another stack to appear when I blinked.

The other is the last line of each blog. It’s what the alien Marsel says in The Chenille Ultimatum. Marsel intends for the phrase to be both advice and blessing. I discovered it works for me. Through no special merit on my part, luck and someone’s wisdom (not always my own) has favored me. Having what I need to meet my obligations but never enough to squander is a huge blessing. Having good mentors has allowed me to appreciate that. Whatever else I might kvetch about, no one is shooting at me, there is food in my pantry, and I have the luxury of creative time. I’ll light the sage bundles and do the happy dance in hopes that all of you will receive such good gifts.

Luck and wisdom!