Posts Tagged ‘writing life’

Remembering Backwards and the Writer’s Life

April 8, 2019

This is what happens when I walk and think at the same time

The latest issue of the Harvard Women’s Heath Watch has an article about boosting your memory by walking backwards. Given my record of not being able to think and walk at the same time, I’m not sure I want to try this (my ankle is healing well, by the way). Still, I remember being taught to memorize poetry by reciting it to myself while walking, so perhaps there is something to this. My big question is how can walking backwards possibly help me remember where I wanted to go in my novel when a subplot threatens to take over the book?

Luck and wisdom!

Finding Your Feet

March 25, 2019

It has been six months since I wrenched my ankle, and for the very first time I was able to extend my leg behind me, then push off with the injured foot to return to standing. This means I may be able to return to my regular yoga practice soon. Reaching this milestone won’t win me any prizes, but it does bring me joy to feel I’ve found my foot again.

Finding one’s feet is as essential in writing as it is in exercise. If you aren’t grounded, balanced, and steady you will never complete your project to your satisfaction. At best, you will bring it far enough along to fall out of love with it, and leave the manuscript as a dusty file on your desktop (physically or digitally). So, take some time to find your feet, and rejoice when you do.

Luck and wisdom!

Celebrations and Character Development

March 18, 2019

The middle of March is a huge celebration time for me. It starts on 3.14, Pi Day. The next day is the Ides of March, and although I don’t often commemorate the assassination of Julius Caesar, I do make note of it. March 16 is St. Urho’s Day, in honor of the made-up saint who chased either the grasshoppers or the frogs out of Finland (depending on which fictional hagiography you read). I’m Irish enough to get a kick out of St. Patrick’s Day. The week ends off today, March 18, which is my father’s birthday.

George Longshore

My dad would have been 86 today. It is also what would have been my parents’ 64th wedding anniversary. Dad always said he got married on his birthday so he would never forget his anniversary. Knowing my father, I’m pretty sure the sun would go cold before he would forget that date because he was devoted to my mother. Although Dad passed away in 2000, he is still an important figure in my life.

That brings me to the prompt I gave to a group of writers. I told them to create their own holiday as an exercise in world-building. As I watched them scribble away, it suddenly dawned on me that how we observe our holidays creates the world we carry with us. I mark my father’s birthday with joy for the time we had him. As a person, this realization is empowering; as a writer, it’s a tool. How do your characters approach the holidays? Do they create their own celebrations for the fun of it, or as a coping mechanism to get them through dark days? Do they refuse to celebrate anything at all, and why? Asking these questions might open a whole new understanding of who your characters are, and why they fight you on the page.

Luck and wisdom!

In Honor of Our Tools

March 11, 2019

My book club is reading Thomas Cahill’s How The Irish Saved Civilization. Cahill describes how the Irish became literate, and Irish monks copied every book they could find (as well as preserving their own stories). When the monks went to Europe to evangelize, they brought their books with them. I marvel at how fragile knowledge can be, and honor the dedicated copyists and writers who saved all they could. I also honor the dedicated souls of my time who provide me with the tools I need to write – the ones who assemble reference material. Not a writing day goes by without my consulting some dictionary, thesaurus, or collection of odd but useful facts. I think we should all take a moment to honor our tools and the people who made them.

Luck and wisdom!

Avoiding Hard Work

March 4, 2019

I have been avoiding hard work lately. I tell myself I have an excuse, since I’ve been under the weather (see tissues above). I mean that literally – what I have is non-histamine rhinitis, which is triggered by changes in temperature and barometric pressure. Some people can predict rain with aching knees, I predict it with stuffed sinuses. Given that it is winter, and rain sort of goes with the season, I’m in a pickle. Either I get my fanny in gear, or I give up any hope of writing until the spring. Since I don’t want to be a fair weather writer, that means I have to stop using any handy excuse to avoid the hard work of revising the outline for my latest novel.

The problem is, avoiding hard work is easy and fun. I can switch on the computer and get lost in must-respond-now emails, or check social media to see if my friends are still okay, or even decide that the kitchen floor absolutely, positively must be washed today. I haven’t resorted to that excuse yet, but I can see it coming. The truth is, revising my outline is terra incognita for me. I’m more of a pantser (as in writing by the seat of) than a plotter, but this novel requires a different approach. So, I’m finding myself digging out my mom voice and turning it on myself. Let’s see if works better on me than it did on the kids.

Luck and wisdom!

The Fox Story

February 25, 2019

The latest photo prompt in Writers Digest has hijacked me. I am juggling so many projects now that I trip over them as they drop, but there in the latest Writers Digest issue is this wonderful picture of a fox in a tree. A backstory for this fox popped into my head and won’t let go, so I’m throwing it out to you in hopes the blasted critter will leave me alone.

The fox is from Japan. An earthquake opened a crack in the ground near the edge of the Edo Road, and the fox tumbled down. She fell into the Mad Hatter, who promised to lead the fox to safety if she agreed not to eat him. As soon as they reached the surface, the Hatter whacked the fox with his pocket watch and disappeared. The fox climbed a marvelous tree, and found the children.

That’s all I’ve got, which isn’t enough for the contest, but is more than enough to distract me from my other work. What would you have the fox do next?

Luck and wisdom!

Shorthand and Character Development

February 18, 2019

We inherited some of the family papers. Going through them is a hoot, and sometimes a howl. Trying to read handwriting from 100 years ago is the howl part. My mother is translating a ledger that her father acquired, although he did not make the entries. Whoever did write those entries wrote hurriedly, and probably used his or her own personal, private shorthand. That got me to thinking about how I could use handwriting and notes-to-self to develop my characters. What would it say about my antagonist if he consistently wrote with perfectly formed letters, and in complete paragraphs? What if my hero preferred his original emojis and doodles to real words? I generally have pretty good handwriting, but when I’m in a hurry, or making lists (like the one pictured) that I expect to be the only one reading, my letters turn into random squiggles and spiky lines. Don’t get me started on the abbreviations I use that even I can’t decipher a week or two later. Keeping my own penmanship in mind as I create my characters could give me a whole new appreciation for who these people want to be.

Luck and wisdom!

What Are The Odds – Coincidence In Life And Fiction

February 11, 2019

This past weekend I was confronted with the reality of coincidence. Both events were of limited scope, but both made me ask myself what the odds are of getting a break when I thought it was a setback.

The first was buying flowers for a friend. I picked up some lovely blooms, and called to see if I could bring them over. Turns out she was out of town, but as it happened I was having a meeting at my house so I could use them as part of the decorations. Then I went to put them in a vase and discovered I had bought almost too much even for my largest vase, and the resulting display weighed a ton. Given that I have no idea what sort of vases my friend has, but I do know she’s been having back issues lately, this was definitely a case of the universe saving my hinder.

The second event was of similar magnitude in terms of the greater scheme of life. I had brought a donation quilt to the guild meeting. I planned to show it during Sharing before turning it in to Community Quilts. A friend asked if she could examine it, and as I took it out I noticed I didn’t put the Amador Valley Quilters label on the back. We always label our donation quilts, and in fact I HAVE some of those labels at home. I simply forgot to sew it on. Luckily, Community Quilts had extra labels and a hand sewing kit, so I stitched it on before Sharing started and was able to turn the quilt in as planned.

There are times in my writing when I wonder if the coincidence I absolutely, positively must have for the plot to work is all that credible. The last weekend gave me my answer – sometimes, the universe does provide.

Luck and wisdom!

The Wonder of Workshops

February 4, 2019

Tri-Valley Writers, a branch of the California Writers Club, is putting on its third writers conference on April 13. I’m president of the branch this year, so naturally I’m biased in favor of the event, but even so the day is going to be pretty special (shameless promotion alert, here’s the website link). I’m telling everyone I know to consider attending because there is nothing like gathering with a group of like-minded people pursing a shared passion to ignite creative bonfires.

You would think, given my last statement, that I would always be searching for workshops and conferences. Not so. Luckily, I have friends who point out the treasure I’ve overlooked, like the Mechanics Institute in San Francisco, which holds workshops and classes on just about everything. I attended a wonderful writing workshop on sentences presented by Nina Schulyer. We spent three hours reviewing sentence structure, and playing with different forms to create amazing emotional effects (For you art quilters, imagine the fun of spending three hours experimenting with different embroidery techniques to enhance the overall artistic vision and impact of your piece.).

Schulyer has written a great book called How To Write Stunning Sentences. Still, there’s something magical about being in the same room with creative minds. You learn from each other almost as much as you learn from the presenter. So, look for those hidden gems around you – the adult learning annexes, small conferences, extension courses – and register for as many classes as time and your budget allow. You’ll thank me later.

Luck and wisdom!

Asking Questions

January 28, 2019

My copy of Wonderland, already flagged and tagged

Creating art usually starts with a question. What if I mixed these colors? What if I sewed these fabrics together? What if a stranger came to town with a mysterious gift? Then you bring out the paints, or the scissors, or sit at the computer and let the rest of the project flow logically from that question. Turns out writing history is the same. You start with a question, assemble your supplies – in this case, the documents, photographs, and artifacts of the era you’re studying – and let the story flow logically from the facts. Except that the interpretation of the facts is colored by the way you ask the question. Steven Johnson asked a question about fashion, recreation, entertainment, and the unknown masses and came up with a different take on history. The first chapter of Wonderland: How Play Made the Modern World is called Fashion and Shopping. I’m not thin or rich enough to be a fashionista, but I certainly have experienced the benefits of retail therapy, especially at a quilt shop. How wonderful, then, to read Johnson’s discussion of the effect of cotton on Europe. Not only was cotton a revelation in texture to people accustomed to wool and linen, but the results of the dying techniques developed in India were irresistible. “When Vasco da Gama brought back a cargo full of textiles in 1498 from his landmark expedition around the Cape of Good Hope, he gave Europeans their first real experience of the vivid patterns and almost sensual textures of calico and chintz.” The next line is even better: “As fabrics, calico and chintz first made their way into the routine habits of Europeans through the gateway drug of interior decorating.”

My first thought on reading these paragraphs was about my next stories and novels. I could build my grand civilizations not on the bones of conquered peoples, but on the imagination of interior designers. My planets could be ruled not by emperors, but by fabric artists. Storytellers could be the most highly regarded in the population. The economies could work because they already have worked here. I’ve just begun the book and have already flagged a dozen pages with notes-to-self on world-building. All of which proves that asking questions is always valuable, and asking odd questions is even better.

Luck and wisdom!