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!


  1. My writing has actually been going very well lately - probably because it's too cold outside to think of doing anything else! Mostly I'm in the shaping process now, which I love doing. I've never used a writing journal, but I firmly agree with her left brain/right brain idea.

    Spring is less than a month away - enough snow already!

  2. Peggy, glad your writing's going well, that's good to hear. Sounds like you're making the best of a snowy situation :-) We're mixing writing with grandkid sleepovers and sled riding down this way. Stay warm and keep writing!

  3. Time with grandchildren brings plenty of plot ideas - always a good idea!

  4. I am finding it hard to settle in an work on the edits of my WIP. It seems marketing it consuming me plus a new computer and typing on it is a switch after seven years on the same on. You should have share button on this post--would be nice for Twitter!

  5. Terri, I hear the marketing side of a book is very time consuming. Good luck in finding a balance in editing, marketing and learning a new computer! Btw, I don't know if you saw it, but my previous post highlighted "The Mulligan." Was glad to help promote your book :-) And twitter? I keep telling myself I'm going to dip my toes in there, but as you can see it's just talk so far. Any tips on how to pass that learning curve fast??

  6. I love this. These points are great, and I appreciate your insight and advice. Thanks, Kenda, for sharing!

  7. Thanks back to you, Karen. Appreciate your comments :-)

  8. Have been working on my WIP, draft 2, but also thinking about marketing and getting the word out about my release in May. So confusing trying to decide what to do and how much, but writing on the WIP is actually giving me a break from the worrying and waiting on reviews. Ahhh, well, the life of a writer.
    Enjoyed your winter descriptions--we don't get any of that here in my part of Texas :)

  9. Catherine, good luck on the WIP--and congratulations on your upcoming release! Glad to share a bit of our winter with you. But I must say, I'm ready to be done with snow for the year!