Posts Tagged ‘writing life’

Permission to Toss

January 20, 2020

One of my writers groups has an annual workshop. The last couple of years we have used it as a brainstorming session. I used my time more as a confession about what I’ve been allowing to get in the way of my writing. My group kindly pointed out that “allowing” isn’t the right word. I have obligations that take my schedule out of my control. One of the members, Paula Chinick, said since my obligations are non-negotiable, I should focus on something other than my to-do list. “Take a look at the pile of notes you brought,” she said. “You don’t need all those scraps of paper.”

As well as being my friend, Paula is the owner of Russian Hill Press and has lots of experience dealing with the eccentricities of writers. She knows that I keep scraps of paper with notes-to-self. This is a great strategy if those action items are accomplished and the notes are tossed, but a nightmare when they pile up. Clutter is my constant companion, so I know exactly how exhausting it can be to watch the stacks grow and grow. Paula suggested I create a digital file of my notes, thus giving me both permission to get rid of the scraps and an assignment she knows I’ll keep.

One of the notes I am tossing

And this is why every writer needs a strong, supportive writers group.

Luck and wisdom!

Choosing A Book By Its Size

January 13, 2020

I didn’t have any books that I wanted to bring with me on my travels, so I got to play one of my favorite bookstore games – choosing a book by size. The game works best in a cozy, independent shop, because the first step is to make a quick assessment of all the paperbacks that I can hold easily. Next is to go through the genres. I gravitate to nonfiction mainly because I have a better idea of what I’m going to get with nonfiction. There isn’t a lot you can do with a book that surprises you in an unpleasant way at 40,000 feet. Last is actually reading a few pages of the book. If I’m lucky, I’ll find two or three books to choose from, but sometimes there is only one that holds my interest. That’s what happened on both ends of my travels this time, but I lucked out with each choice.

On the way out I brought Mary Robinette Kowal’s The Calculating Stars. I’ve read her short stories in “Asimov’s Science Fiction” and always enjoyed them, but this is the first novel I’ve read. What a treat! Her alternate history of the space race is set in the 1950s just after a massive meteorite strikes just off the mid-Atlantic. The main characters must confront all the bigotry of the era while trying to save not only as many Americans as possible from the immediate catastrophe, but all of humanity from the ecological disaster that will follow. I started the book at takeoff, and nearly finished it before we landed.

On the way back, I found Horizon by Barry Lopez, a memoir and travelogue. The author distills a lifetime of discovery with a lifetime of questions, and concern for the future. The book resonates with me on many levels, even as it gives me more to ponder than I already had and no firm answers.

My little game doesn’t always reward me, but this time it did. Both books are delightful reads, beautifully written, and showing what deep thinking can produce. They both offer me a glimpse of the road I need to travel to become the writer I want to be. Try the game yourself, and see what treasures you can discover.

Luck and wisdom!

The Calendar and Me

December 23, 2019

For the first time since I started this blog, I’m going to take a short break. I’ve published while traveling, and I’ve published at the holidays, but this time I am traveling during the holidays and there is only so much fun I can handle. So, enjoy the end of 2019, and have a wonderful start to 2020!

Luck and wisdom!

My Story To Tell

December 16, 2019

If you’ve ever written a memoir, you know that one of the questions you will be asked is “How does your family feel about what you wrote?” I’ve started asking myself that question even about the happy stuff. Sometimes we are privy to good news but can’t say a word until the official announcement. The novelist and blogger in me has a real hard time respecting those confidences when there’s a good story waiting to be told. That’s why I started asking, “Self, is this your story or someone else’s?” If it’s my story, I have the right to tell it when and how I want. If it’s someone else’s story, take the fingers off the keyboard, Buttercup. The person with the most stake in the story gets to determine when, how, or if it will be told. In this time of holiday family newsletters (and everyday social media), take care that you don’t overshare. Your family will thank you.

Luck and wisdom!

When Writing What You Know Works

December 9, 2019

The short story “SeeApp” (Asimov’s Science Fiction, Nov/Dec 2019) is a brilliant illustration of why we are advised to write what we know. James Van Pelt taught for 36 years; he may have never been in a school like the one in his story, or met anyone like his characters, but everything feels right. The descriptions are in his bones, and the words flow off his fingers. This is why my co-author Ann Anastasio and I set our first book in a quilt store, and grounded all our books in the quilting world. We know those places like our own kitchens, and we know the people in them. It was easy to create the settings and characters when we had our combined lifetime experiences to draw upon. Once that was on paper, the stories took off on their own. I’m convinced everyone has at least one story to tell, so give it a try. Put the world you know best in words, and see where that takes you.

Luck and wisdom!

Titles and Where to Find Them

December 2, 2019

I have a file box of quilt, story, and title ideas. When inspiration strikes, I’ll write the idea on whatever scrap of paper is closest to hand. The trick is to keep an open mind for the odd turn of phrase, have something to make notes at all times, and be prepared to give your conversation partners fair warning when you intend to steal something they said.

If I don’t use the idea immediately, I’ll keep the scrap in a pile. After a few months or years, if the idea still appeals to me, I’ll write it on a 3×5 card and put it in the box. I’ve actually used those cards, although there are more ideas than I’ll ever have time to use. Nevertheless, it is comforting to know if a good title doesn’t reveal itself immediately, I have a resource. Even if none of my backup titles fit the project, they will often lead me to the proper one.

Luck and wisdom!

Thankful for Brevity

November 25, 2019

In this holiday season, I am thankful for brevity. I appreciate journalists who know how to write a proper lead, websites that get me where I want to be in three clicks or less, and bloggers who get to the point.

Luck and wisdom!

The Sewing Guide to Character Development

November 18, 2019

As a fiber artist – whether for art quilts or garments – I let the fabric tell me what pattern to use. I realized I also use the same technique when I’m creating characters. Like the titles of my two favorite sewing books suggest, I repurpose people and mix and match traits to create the characters I need. Treating the plot as if it were fabric, I adapt the material at hand (ie, my friends and family) to suit the needs of my art. There are a couple of advantages to this, the first being if I blend traits well enough no character of mine will be recognizable as a real person. Just because I think I am using the best parts of folks I know in my characters doesn’t mean the actual people will agree, or like the way I’ve portrayed them. I love all the people in my life, and wouldn’t hurt their feelings for anything, not even the possibility of being on The New York Times best-seller list. The second advantage is no one I know has ever fought shape-shifting aliens invading Earth disguised as bolts of beige fabric, or gone to another planet to stop a civil war, or tried to lure a renegade alien soldier with spumoni ice cream. Using bits and pieces of the life stories of people around me turns out to be the ideal way for me to begin developing my characters. Then, like my quilts, the piece takes over and tells me where it wants to go. What is your ideal method of character development?

Luck and wisdom!

Sharing and Self-Promotion

November 11, 2019

Forgot to take a picture of us at the boutique, so here’s one of my book covers

I rented a booth at a holiday boutique to sell my books. Knowing that I can promote other people’s products much better than I can my own, I invited two friends who write in basically the same genre to share my table. To my great delight, the scheme worked. We all sold books, and we all had a great time. To me, the moving target that is self-promotion is easier to vector in on with friends. It seemed that even the shoppers who didn’t buy our books spent more time listening to our pitch when there were three of us at the table. You might think bringing in competition would hurt my chances of making a sale, but it didn’t work out that way. Next time you’re planning a book event, consider helping another author and see how it helps you.

Luck and wisdom!

PS – Shameless self-promotion alert, you can buy The Chenille Ultimatum here.

What Is Forward?

November 4, 2019

Although I write fiction, I mostly read nonfiction. The latest book – that I found at the library, the best invention ever – is Joseph LeDoux‘s The Deep History of Ourselves: The Four-Billion-Year Story of How We Got Conscious Brains. Without weighing in on LeDoux’s theory, I will share one tidbit that may inspire a poem, a quilt, and/or a character. LeDoux writes, “What is forward? Forward is a direction that emerges from the shape of a bilateral body.”

So, forward is where I’m looking.

Okay, that’s simplistic to the point of inaccuracy, but still there are creative possibilities in those two sentences. Quilters who make double-sided pieces know what I mean. When both sides are beautiful, which is the front? I’m not sure where my pondering will take me, but I have given myself permission to explore. After all, if I don’t like the view I can always change direction and still be going forward.

Luck and wisdom!