Sunday, October 30, 2011

Another thought on Beginnings - The RAVEN

The Raven

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore--
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
"'Tis some visiter," I muttered, "tapping at my chamber door--
Only this and nothing more."

Excerpt - The Raven by E.A. Poe

I love sharing poetry and "The Raven" by Edgar Allan Poe is a classic must read. The first few stanzas are a great study in beginnings. They offer such a beguiling and eerie lure - perfect for Halloween!

I was happy to rediscover this poem when a friend's son (thank you Jacob!) offered Poe's essay, "The Philosophy of Composition" to me as I bemoaned the difficulty of beginnings. Today I am happy to share them both with you. 

To read the complete poem, see HERE.

To read Poe break it down himself, see his essay "The Philosophy of Composition".


Thursday, October 27, 2011

Comic Relief for Writers

This MUTTS comic strip sits at the bottom of my computer. When the outside world feels heavy and gray it serves as a reminder for me to just keep writing.

What do you surround yourself with to stay inspired through the daily grind?

Sunday, October 23, 2011

TED - A Name So Nice You Have To Say It Twice - TED!!

I heart TED, do you?

TED is the world stage for Ideas Worth Spreading, a conference that features some of the greatest minds in Technology, Entertainment and Design today. I LOVE their events, especially when authors take to the mic.

Here's a starred talk by "Eat, Pray, Love" author, Elizabeth Gilbert on nurturing creativity. She makes a thoughtful and entertaining argument for the use and misuse of genius. ENJOY!!

To learn more about TED, go to their website HERE

Is creativity the work of "a genius" or are you the genius of your own work?

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

In Between The Lines

Bryan Berg - House of Cards
These days the word "revisions" feels like a misnomer to me. That or maybe I am just doing it all wrong.

Yes, I am revising and shaping up my chapters but I am also adding to them, writing more and more in between the lines. (And I thought I was done with all the heavy writing in my first draft.)

The margins are all to blame. They stand there innocently enough, wanting to help. I cross out a few words here, a sentence there and rewrite in the wide open spaces. The trouble starts when I notice how a change of a few words can invoke a different tone for my character. Another side of them is revealed and it makes me want to go exploring. Streams of words follow, dialogues, new scenes, even whole chapters emerge. In the moment, it's all wonderful until I look back and realize that I am now somewhere else in my novel, in uncharted territory. Wonderful then turns into disconcerting.

These new words impact not only the current scene they enter but all the choices my main character makes from beginning to end. They challenge everything that stands in the first draft and take me to task for a better house of words. "Revision" is too simple a word for all the elaborate play they make inside my head. Truthfully I can't ignore it. I know it's what's needed but dang, if you could only see the view from where I stand.

Where have your revisions taken you? Did you find your way back to your story or did you find something else, for better or for worse, in between the lines?

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Where You Begin...

Another thought on beginnings through the lens of photography.
Thanks to my friend Sara for sharing these lovely words of wisdom.

 "Regarding beginnings, I can only share with you my experiences as a photographer... sometimes it feels like you are always in the dark. I go out and shoot returning with nothing but a light tight film canister  (I know I'm dating myself in this digital age), head off to the darkroom and process the film, adding chemistry and time, again in the dark about what is actually captured on the film. It is not until I open the canister with trepidation always, because there are so many variables, did I get the right exposures, did I choose the right chemistry to bring out the best, did I agitate enough or not enough (which can destroy the film with uneven streaks). Once the development tank is open, you can only take a quick glance, as dust and finger prints are equally destructive. After the film is dry, you can begin to reverse the view from negative to positive. In the darkroom you can play with size and contrast too but it isn't until the very end of the process that the creative beginning actually occurs, because it is only when you put the image up on a wall that you can really step back and look. It is always a moment of surprise and often disappointment. But if there is the one image (in hundreds of attempts) that resonates, then the process begins and gives me something to build on."

Question: What do you find more challenging - writing a good beginning or a good ending? Could they be two sides of the same coin?

Monday, October 10, 2011

Zadie Smith - Speak To Me

Every writer should know the tale of Clive. No, you don't? Then let Zadie Smith tell you...

The Tale of Clive

I want you to think of a young man called Clive. Clive is on a familiar literary mission: he wants to write the perfect novel. Clive has a lot going for him: he's intelligent and well read; he's made a study of contemporary fiction and can see clearly where his peers have gone wrong; he has read a good deal of rigorous literary theory - those elegant blueprints for novels not yet built - and is now ready to build his own unparalleled house of words. Maybe Clive even teaches novels, takes them apart and puts them back together. If writing is a craft, he has all the skills, every tool. Clive is ready. He clears out the spare room in his flat, invests in an ergonomic chair, and sits down in front of the blank possibility of the Microsoft Word program. Hovering above his desktop he sees the perfect outline of his platonic novel - all he need do is drag it from the ether into the real. He's excited. He begins.

Fast-forward three years. Somehow, despite all Clive's best efforts, the novel he has pulled into existence is not the perfect novel that floated so tantalisingly above his computer. It is, rather, a poor simulacrum, a shadow of a shadow. In the transition from the dream to the real it has shed its aura of perfection; its shape is warped, unrecognisable. Something got in the way, something almost impossible to articulate. For example, when it came to fashioning the character of the corrupt Hispanic government economist, Maria Gomez, who is so vital to Clive's central theme of corruption within American identity politics, he found he needed something more than simply "the right words" or "knowledge about economists". Maria Gomez effectively proves his point about the deflated American dream, but in other, ineffable, ways she seems not quite to convince as he'd hoped. He found it hard to get into her silk blouse, her pencil skirt - even harder to get under her skin. And then, later, trying to describe her marriage, he discovered that he wanted to write cleverly and aphoristically about "Marriage" with a capital M far more than he wanted to describe Maria's particular marriage, which, thinking of his own marriage, seemed suddenly a monumentally complex task, particularly if his own wife, Karina, was going to read it. And there are a million other little examples ... flaws that are not simply flaws of language or design, but rather flaws of ... what? Him? This thought bothers him for a moment. And then another, far darker thought comes. Is it possible that if he were only the reader, and not the writer, of this novel, he would think it a failure?
Clive doesn't wallow in such thoughts for long. His book gets an agent, his agent gets a publisher, his novel goes out into the world. It is well received. It turns out that Clive's book smells like literature and looks like literature and maybe even, intermittently, feels like literature, and after a while Clive himself has almost forgotten that strange feeling of untruth, of self-betrayal, that his novel first roused in him. He becomes not only a fan of his own novel, but its great defender. If a critic points out an overindulgence here, a purple passage there, well, then Clive explains this is simply what he intended. It was all to achieve a certain effect. In fact, Clive doesn't mind such criticism: nit-picking of this kind feels superficial compared to the bleak sense he first had that his novel was not only not good, but not true. No one is accusing him of so large a crime. The critics, when they criticise, speak of the paintwork and brickwork of the novel, a bad metaphor, a tedious denouement, and are confident he will fix these little mistakes next time round. As for Maria Gomez, everybody agrees that she is just as you'd imagine a corrupt Hispanic government economist in a pencil skirt to be. Clive is satisfied and vindicated. He begins work on a sequel.
Excerpt - The New Yorker Festival: Zadie Smith: How To Fail Better.(The Guardian)
If you'd like to read more, send me an email to receive the full transcript.
Question: Have you ever had a "Clive" day, week, or year? What part of Clive speaks to you?

Monday, October 3, 2011

Let's Start At The Very Beginning...Or Not.

As I revise my first draft, one of my challenges has been the fact that I am not a linear writer. My novel currently stands as a collection of documents, scenes that have been written out of order because that is the way they have developed for me.

My writing is a visual experience. I see scenes in my head, like a movie. The story begins when I put pen to paper but it's not the actual beginning per say. If I do my part, looking and listening, the story takes flight quite easily. However the assembling of these pieces into a cohesive whole is another matter.

For starters, I have been struggling with the question, "What is the start of my story?" It would seem obvious, "Start at the beginning..." but there's more to consider with this thought. It's not enough to merely introduce characters and set up a scene. I know I have to offer something more, a compelling read. In this regard, beginnings can present a lot of trappings for novelists. One has to be careful to avoid lengthy introductions, questionable use of tension (too much as well as too little) and sparing use of the ol' writer's friend, the flashback. If used ineffectively, any of these elements can turn into a stumbling block for readers.

Knowing all this, I have been reading through my work over and over trying to decide, what stays, what goes and what ultimately should be my page 1. It hasn't been easy. I've rewritten my beginning several times now, maybe even one too many. There's a frustration in admitting that.

I began writing this post ready to admit my disappointment, figuring something has to give and then I came to realize that maybe that something was me. 
I've placed a lot of importance on knowing my exact beginning and I had to ask why?

A part of me wants the beginning to be done, set in stone, perfect and yet another part of me knows this is a naive thought in the midst of a first revision. Thanks to fellow bloggers, I know I am not alone in this thought. They remind me that thinking like this gives no room to the possibility of discovering something new as I make my way through the revision process which is the goal at this time. 

So I've decided to let go of knowing my beginning and moving on to another section of my manuscript. If I have any additional thoughts or movies in my head, I will just jot them down in a notebook for the next revision.

In the meantime, I just have to remind myself that some things written will serve me as a writer to understand my characters, most things written should serve the reader to want to turn the page but everything I keep should serve the story's plot. 

Yes, just knowing all that makes for a good start.

What's your feeling about beginnings? How many times have you rewritten your novel, short story, blog post or email?