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Posts Tagged ‘writing’

Space

I’ve finished a project.  It feels odd to type those words, because I’ve been working on it for so long. And of course it’s not really finished — it’s just resting with someone else for a bit.  I’m nervous and anxious and a bit at a loss for what to do with all this mental space.  I finish a freelance project and turn around to poke some words on my manuscript into place and remember that I’ve sent it off. I pick up a book to read and don’t have to put it down because it’s 10 p.m. and I haven’t made my word count for the day.  I can read my favorite authors again without worrying I’ll be influenced by their voices.

What will I do with all this head room?  For now, I’ll let it be.  I’m organizing my physical space — I promised myself if I finished writing this month I’d clean my office and closet (how sad is that for a motivating goal?) — and in a bit I’ll organize my brain,  too.  I’ll read plotting books, research the idea for a story that’s whispering in my ear, and maybe take a few workshops.  But for now, I’m trying to let my brain be still, let the writing muscles rest so that they’ll be ready when I need them again.

What do you do with the space between projects?Image

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Feed and Water

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I read this post a few months ago, and it has stayed with me almost every day since. It is so hard in today’s society to do something you are passionate about that doesn’t produce a dollar return, to make time for something just for the sheer joy it gives you. To give that something some of your best hours, not the ones you have to cobble together around work or family or other responsibilities. Like sleep.

I interviewed a group of women recently who have taken up hockey. Hockey requires logging lots of hours just to be good enough to stand on the ice, to move around without the puck. These are women in their forties, women with children and jobs and carpools and houses to run and dinners to make. And yet they are cheerfully going off and spending hours and hours each week learning to play hockey. I asked one of them what she planned to DO with these skills (because don’t we always have to DO something with our skills? Make something out of them? Turn a profit?) and she looked at me as if I was slow, and said “I’m going to keep skating, I’m going to get as good as I can for as long as I can. Because I love to skate.”

Duh.

It’s hard to put our passions first. It makes us seem selfish, or immature, or oblivious to the needs of those around us. Lazy, even. But sometimes our passions aren’t just what we want to do, they are who we are. And when we neglect them, we starve our souls.

Don’t forget to feed and water yours today.

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Point of view is on my mind this month. My friend Vaughn Roycroft wrote an excellent post on head-hopping that you should read. And  as I am deep in the midst of my own head-hopping with my current book, I thought I’d share my favorite tips here for any writers who might be going through the same process:

Give each character her own book. Go through your manuscript and cut and paste each character’s story into a single document. Yes, it’s a bit of a pain to do (easier in Scrivener than in a regular word processing program) but it will help your writing in several ways. I find I’m much more likely to see inconsistencies this way —  Trudy hates the color blue in chapter  five but wears her favorite blue sweater in chapter 17, for example — than I would if I were just reading through each chapter in the larger document. Plus, creating a separate ‘book’  really helps you nail the voice of each character. And mixing up your work this way will help you with the overall editing, too.

Now read each character’s story aloud. You can do it yourself or paste the copy into a words-to-text program. Are the intonations, the slang, the speech patterns different? They should be. Can you close your eyes, listen to the reader, and know immediately who is speaking?

I’m not saying to go crazy with odd word choices or verbal tics to distinguish your characters. But think of it this way — if an email from a good friend arrived in your in-box with the sender’s name stripped out, you’d probably be able to figure out who sent it based on the way they ‘talked’ in the email, correct? You should be able to do the same thing with your characters.

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Diversity in your characters’ voices — it’s a good thing.

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It snowed here last week — crisp and white and heavy. I’d planned for a snow day and finished  my work early, but the kids wound up having school.  And so I found myself with several whole hours and nothing (besides laundry! writing! dinner!)  to do.  I decided to play hookie and go for a hike.

Near the preschool where my children went is a parcel of conservation land. When the kids were little, I knew it well. The school was just far enough, and the program just short enough, that most days it didn’t make sense to go back home after I’d dropped them off, so I spent many of those two-hour segments wandering the trail.

I still hike there from time to time, but almost always the shorter loop — the longer one requires a time commitment I’m rarely free to give. Last week,  it felt almost sinful to start down the longer path, but I did.

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My, what big footprints!

The trails have changed since my children were little — the conservation organization has added new paths and extended old ones. The snow had covered the way in several places, and I had to backtrack until I found the right direction. And then I found a pair of footprints leading off on their own, through a part of the woods I hadn’t visited before.

I was hiking by myself. Normally I have the Slobbering Beast for company. He’s an ideal companion — an 80-lb missile of muscle with Orca jaws and white shiny teeth, ready to have my back if required but a waggle-bottomed enthusiastic greeter of the toddlers and their parents we sometimes encounter. He’s also my personal GPS.  He can find a trail in any condition, and is a stickler about staying on it. (Unless there are bunnies, in which case deviations are allowed.) But even the most handsome Beast occasionally needs to be bathed, whether he wants to be or not, which is why I was on the trail and he was getting his nails cut.

So when I saw the footsteps, I hesitated. I worried whether I would be able to find my way back. I wondered who I’d encounter on my own, with no Beast by my side. But the woods were lovely, dark and deep, and I had no promises to keep that day. Except to myself, so I stepped off the path and wandered away.

And it was lovely.  Peaceful and quiet, aside from the ice and snow falling from the trees, shattering into a handful of sparkles when they hit the ground. There were deer tracks, raccoon prints, and disturbingly large dog-like tracks that appeared on their own and disappeared down a little gully, but the only human prints were those that I’d followed into the woods. And then they veered up, toward where the trees broke along the meadow, but I continued on, along the hint of the path ahead, which curved and double-backed and eventually met up with the main trail, at the exact spot at which I’d meant to be. But the way I’d gone this time was so fresh and new to me, I was able to see it with clear eyes, and so the journey was completely different than it might have been.

Writing is like that. Sometimes you have to break away from the known, from the carefully constructed outline you’ve made, and follow that hint of inspiration where it takes you. It may get lonely. You may come across something that disturbs you. But the journey will be your own.  It will be unique, and it will be what your reader remembers, even if you end up in the exact same spot you’d intended all along.

The end.

The end.

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Sunday I went letterboxing.  Letterboxing, for those of you who might not know, is like going on a treasure hunt in the woods.  You have a map, and hopefully a compass, and you search for hidden boxes that contain rubber stamps, which you then stamp into your notebook.  I had volunteered to lead a Girl Scout letterboxing expedition this week, and since I truly could get lost in my own home, I thought it might be wise to cheat and do the route in advance.

I took my daughter and the slobbering beast and we set off.  We were under a time constraint, and at first I step-marched us through the woods at a brisk pace.  And then we came to the first cache and couldn’t find the stamp and the normally benign Harley decided to terrify an adorable fluffy intact German Shepherd puppy for absolutely no rational reason that we could see, and the day kind of started going to hell.  (Strange man holding the leash:  “Wow.  He looks really strong.”  Me, holding leash and tree: “Yes, he is.   Please leave us now.”)

But the sun was shining after what seems like an eternity of New England winter, and I was with my nine-year-old daughter, who is growing up and away too fast, so I gave up on the quest and just enjoyed the time with her.  And then miraculously, we discovered that one of us had been reading the map wrong.  (Hint:  The nine-year-old was not at fault.) And then we (okay, she) figured out where the first cache was, and from there the path was clear.

Writing, I think, is a lot like letterboxing.  There’s no guarantee of success at the end, no promise of a treasure box of riches or a spot on the best seller list.  If you write, the best thing you can hope for is that you enjoy it, that you find your way from one plot point to another, that the story unfolds beneath you in a way that makes sense.  And then, if you’ve worked hard and are very, very lucky, the rest may come.  But it’s the journey that will matter either way.

The chastened Harley

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