Tuesday, March 24, 2015

More Advice on First Drafts: 8 Quotes to Inspire

clip art courtesy pixabay
"The pages are still blank, but there is a miraculous feeling of the words being there, written in invisible ink and clamoring to become visible." --Vladamir Nabokov

Work on the first draft of current WIP is progressing but, depending on the day--or week, words flow or words dry up. Pages have scribblings (I'm handwriting this first draft!) or are left half-blank. We've talked about this before (here and here), but the first draft can seem so...well...blank. I'm in need of a shot of encouragement again. How about you? We're in good company, you know...

1. Begin. "Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it." --Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

2. Close the door. "Close the door. Write with no one looking over your shoulder. Don't try to figure out what other people want to hear from you; figure out what you have to say. It's the one and only thing you have to offer." --Barbara Kingsolver

3. Take chances. "Get it down. Take chances. It may be bad, but it's the only way you can do anything really good." --William Faulkner

4. Jump off cliffs--and grow wings. "We have to continually be jumping off cliffs and developing our wings on the way down." --Kurt Vonnegut

5. Develop intestinal fortitude. "Everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt." --Silvia Plath

6. Get yourself a club. "You can't wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club." --Jack London

7. Raise rabbits. "Ideas are like rabbits. You get a couple and learn how to handle them, and pretty soon you have a dozen." --John Steinbeck

8. Wear ear plugs. "Don't listen to people who tell you that very few people get published and you won't be one of them. Don't listen to your friend who says you are better than Tolkien and don't have to try any more. Keep writing, keep faith in the idea that you have unique stories to tell, and tell them." --Robin Hobb

And keep the end goal in sight, that's what I keep telling myself. Each word gets you closer! Even if the ending holds some surprises you couldn't fathom at the beginning:

"I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I needed to be." --Douglas Adams

Any words of advice you could share on staying the course? How do you resist giving up on that elusive first draft?

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Timeless Suggestions for Writers, Circa 1950

1950 me
"There have been great societies that did not use the wheel, but there have been no societies that did not tell stories." --Ursula K. LeGuin

I came across the following in a 1990 Writer's Digest buried deep in my files (and I thought that publication date sounded old):

"The cover of the January 1950 issue of Writer's Digest..." (Wait! 1950? I was only a year old in 1950!) "...featured this list of New Year's Resolutions:
1. I will write 500 words each day, at about the same hour.
2. I will write for a definite market and I will carefully read and study that market.
3. I will seek only professional editorial advice and ignore what the homefolks say about my manuscripts. (A newspaperman, a person who loves books, or a minister is not a professional editorial adviser.)
4. I will believe in myself and my ability.
5. I will keep abreast of the best work done in the writing field that interests me.

Really, is there any new advice all these years later? The rules of writing are timeless, aren't they?

What fun to go back and see what earlier generations said, see common threads. What will future generations say about the writing of today?

How far back do you go with your writing? How successful are you at 1950-style resolutions?

Saturday, February 28, 2015

"Nodes" and Potential Story Connections

February 2015
"I discovered that if I trusted my subconscious, or imagination, whatever you want to call it, and if I made the characters as real and honest as I could, then no matter how complex the pattern being woven, my subconscious would find ways to tie it together--often doing things far more complicated and sophisticated than I could with brute conscious effort. I would have ideas for 'nodes,' as I think of them--story or character details that have lots of potential connections to other such nodes--and even though I didn't quite understand, I would plunk them in. Two hundred pages later, everything would back-fit, and I'd say, 'Ah, that's why I wrote that.'" --Tad Williams

Do you trust your imagination to come through for you in your writing? Have you ever experienced an "ah-ha" moment when an unexpected but welcomed detail bubbled up from your subconscious and surprised you, making you ask where did that come from? Doesn't it make you want to push through to the end of that first draft in order to see how all those "nodes" connect?

There's hope in the midst of the pain of a first draft. Just look for the gift of the nodes and trust they will eventually connect to build a commanding story!

Saturday, February 21, 2015

On Snow and Writing: Sift, Shift, and Shape

February 2015
"It sifts from Leaden Sieves-
It powders all the Wood
It fills with Alabaster Wool
The Wrinkles of the road..."
---Emily Dickinson, It Sifts from Leaden Sieves (311)

Snow, it keeps on coming down. Not as accumulative here as in the New England states this winter (thankfully), but coming down nevertheless. Six to seven inches already today and it's still falling. It does look a bit as Emily Dickinson portrayed it: sifting from leaden sieves. Beautiful imagery.

Funny, but if you look closely at the above picture--and when I first saw it I wasn't sure what I was looking at--you will see what appears to be a light brown blotch in the middle of the cedar, a tree that randomly sprouted by the edge of our driveway and which I haven't had the heart to let hubby cut down. Too late, and too tall, it already impedes the path to the garage door. But, oh, well--turns out it is a haven for this, the creature nestled there during the recent snowfall.

Tucked in and hunkered down, this soft brown dove chose a unique vantage point to watch the snow sift, and shift. Why, I mused, was she sticking her beak out on such a cold, unwelcoming day? What was so spellbounding that she'd come out of her cocoon to look around? The snow drifted down like flour from a sifter. The landscape shifted shapes like a lumpy cake batter mix.

Sift. Shift. Shape. First drafts involve those same concepts, don't they? I posted about first drafts a few weeks ago (New Year, New Draft: 14 Tips to Grow It). The process of writing my draft continues. Words on paper, story slowly unfolding. I'm still doing all those things I wrote about then--like planting seeds, plowing through, watering. Now I'm sifting and shifting. What am I doing, writing a book, planting a garden, or baking a cake? What will be the end result?

I don't know yet, but as I continue to write through this story, I've resisted burrowing into my cedar cave and giving up. I feel a little bit like the dove--I'm sticking my head out and testing the possibilities. Along the way I continue to gather bits of inspiration on the writing process:

1. Sift. One definition of sift is "to scatter or sprinkle through or by means of a sieve." In other words, give it time; test the possibilities.  "It is common wisdom," Melanie Faith writes in Sifting Through: Writing a Way Into and Through Stalled Pieces, "that it takes time to make life experiences into literature. Rarely can a masterful piece of writing emerge wholly formed immediately after an event. Reflection, space, perspective--these are not immediately forthcoming but necessary for crafting a piece with meaning and resonance for the reader."

2. Shift. But don't stew. Don't get anxious. Jane Smiley, interviewed by Writer's Digest's Paula Deimling in The All-True Result of Loving to Write, said, "...The paradox is that you can't commit yourself until you get rid of your performance anxiety. And the only way you can commit yourself to something is to become so interested in it that all ego considerations disappear and you can feel yourself fully engaged. That's the state in which all your best writing is done."

3. Shape. What's your favorite tip on how to "shape" a novel? James Scott Bell, in 5 Tools for Building Conflict in Your Novel, shares one tool from Sue Grafton: "One of my theories about writing," Mr. Bell quotes her as saying, "is that the process involves an ongoing interchange between left brain and right. The novel journal provides a testing ground where the two can engage." In her journal, Grafton notes things about her life, jots down ideas that come to her, records where she is in her book, explores scenes and trouble spots. She keeps records of details that help her shape her books. A novel journal has proved to be very helpful for me in sorting through and shaping my thoughts, too.

So here we are, on another snowy day, sifting, shifting, and shaping. The snow's doing just that very thing outside. A similar process is going on inside.

How's the process going for you?

Stay warm, little dove!

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Shout-Outs, Celebrations, and Terri's Give-Away

photo courtesy pixabay
"Thoughts fly and words go on foot. Therein lies all the drama of a writer." --Julian Green

I'm happy to announce the release dates of books by two authors I've met through blogging--cheering them on and thankful that they not only let their imaginations fly, but that they also marched on to produce wonderful stories that we can all hold in our hands.

Terri Tiffany writes inspirational women's fiction, and her first book, The Mulligan (Harbourlight Books), was just released yesterday, February 6, 2015. Description: "Twenty-year-old Bobbi Snow is more at home behind an easel than on the golf green. After all, being a pro golfer was her twin brother's goal and her father's obsession. But when Bobbi's careless accident causes a fire that leaves her brother crippled, she's determined to dust off her clubs and follow his dream. Playing the hero might be the only way to save her splintering family. Maybe then her father will forgive her. But can she ever forgive herself?"

To celebrate The Mulligan's release, Terri is sponsoring a very generous giveaway. Drop in over at her blog, Terri Tiffany, Inspirational Writer, Writing Stories That Leave a Fingerprint on the Heart, for details--including the announcement of two $50 Gift Cards! The deadline is February 15.

Elizabeth Varadan, over at Elizabeth Varadan's Fourth Wish, has announced the release date for her middle-grade mystery, Imogene and the Case of the Missing Pearls, which is June 15, 2015. Isn't that one of the prettiest covers you've ever seen? Although the book isn't available yet, you can sign-up with Amazon here to be notified of availability by email. The book's description: "In Imogene and the Case of the Missing Pearls, a day after Imogene's obnoxious step-cousins pay a visit, her mother's pearls go missing. When Sherlock Holmes is called in, Imogene, harboring a secret desire to become a detective, sees her chance to learn from the great Mr. Holmes."

I'm looking forward to reading both of these books, and I think you'll enjoy them, too. Wishing both authors much success as they continue on their journeys as published authors!

I would guess both Terri and Elizabeth would agree with these thoughts from author Janet Evanovich (found here at Gotham Writers):
Q: "What is the most valuable advice you received as a writer?"
A: "One of my early editors told me to never hold anything back. Put all your good ideas into the book you're writing and hope to God you have more good ideas for your next book. Also, set aside a portion of time each day to write. Turn off your phone, don't put in another load of wash and don't cheat by answering e-mail. It doesn't have to be a long period of time, but it has to be used exclusively for writing."

Okay, I think I'm going to ignore that obnoxious beeper on my washing machine this upcoming week. What will you ignore in order to get your targeted words down in the days to come?

Friday, January 30, 2015

Place and Proving Grounds: 10 Links for 19th Century Life

photo courtesy pixabay.com
"Every story would be another story, and unrecognizable if it took up its characters and plot and happened somewhere else...Fiction depends for its life on place. Place is the crossroads of circumstance, the proving ground of What happened? Who's here? Who's coming?"--Eudora Welty

Crossroads (n)--"the place where one road crosses another." At the crossroads--"in a situation where a choice must be made." My personal crossroad direction in writing this time around has taken me to 19th century Ohio. I see the potential of circumstance swirling around my character, the landscape of her proving grounds. She's surprising me in some ways while she whispers her story in my ear, but she's got her feet firmly planted in the times and circumstances of place. So far I've not allowed myself to get too mired in the details (I've already spent enough time there). But here are some resources I'd love to pass along to others who might be looking for just the right 19th century detail for their story, too.

1. Library of Congress. "American Memory" source.

2. Godey’s Lady’s Book, January 1864. Internet Archive

4. Household Cyclopedia. General Information  in the Useful and Domestic Arts, 1881

5. Cornell University Making of America Collection. Digital library of primary sources in American history. Browse magazines and documents.

7. 19th Century America. Primary documents, timelines, maps and more

8. Ulysses S. Grant Homepage. Photos and more.

9. A Portal to the Victorian World

10. Victoriana Magazine. Contemporary magazine transporting readers back to the Victorian age.

So far so good in my goal to just get that messy first draft down on paper. Words aren't necessarily flowing fast but neither are they drying up. Place is helping me listen: Who's here? Who's coming? Place is unfolding and determining and challenging me to go deeper.

What part has "place" played in your writing recently?

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Words-of-Week Survey: Are You Lucy, Linus, or Charlie Brown?

graphic courtesy weheartit.com
The scene is bucolic. The three characters in the Peanuts comic strip (Charles Schultz,  The Complete Peanuts, Vol. 5, 1959-1960) are lying on their backs on the top of a knoll watching the white, fluffy clouds float by above them in the sky.


Lucy: Aren't the clouds beautiful? They look like big balls of cotton. I could just lie here all day and watch them drift by. If you use your imagination, you can see lots of things in the formations. What do you think you see, Linus?

Linus: Well, those clouds up there look to me like the map of the British Honduras on the Caribbean. [Points up] That cloud up there looks a little like the profile of Thomas Eakins, the famous painter and sculptor. And that group of clouds over there...[points]...gives me the impression of the Stoning of Stephen. I can see the Apostle Paul standing there to one side.

Lucy: Uh, huh. that's very good. What do you see in the clouds, Charlie Brown?

Charlie Brown: Well.. I was going to say I saw a duckie and a horsie, but I changed my mind.

Ah, poor Charlie Brown!

Actually, I can sort of identify with him. The past week has been relatively successful--the rough draft is moving forward, about 4000 words-worth so far. That in itself is amazing since I procrastinated so much on this project last year. I'm not looking back over the mess (see last post about the messy first draft here) to edit or fill in the blanks. Just pushing forward at this point. I'm afraid when I do go back, though, the voice will sound more like Charlie Brown than Linus.

But maybe that's okay. Duckies and horsies might be just what my story needs!

Are you Linus, Lucy, or Charlie Brown in your writing this week? Watching very many clouds go by? And how is your imagination faring?