Writing As If…Acting, Writing, and Living

frightnight

You won’t make fun of me, will you, if I tell you I sometimes act out what I’m writing? Usually I only do this in my mind, but if I’m having trouble choreographing a scene, I may well get up and see how it would work, pace it with the dialogue.

Sometimes when I am working with troublesome characters I will wear holes in the carpet while letting them talk, will argue with them. They use my hands to show me what they mean. Maybe that’s acting, or maybe that’s the extreme of active listening. (Insert smiley face here.)

At any rate, the best writers use their imaginations as much as they use words. They write as if they are the character, even characters they want to hate. (Caveat: we never hate any of our characters, not even the worst ones, because they possess a seed of ourselves and that’s how we are able to bear being who we are. Or that’s my theory.) If that’s not a kind of acting, I don’t know what is.

How can you despise someone after you allow yourself to feel with his or her hands? How can you not round a character (even if she is modeled after someone whose bed you’d like to short sheet) when you allow yourself to imagine what this playground scene would look like to you if you were this woman who had just had a miscarriage?

Come now, Dear Writer. Let us confess that the reason we write is to right our lives. Often we want to BE someone else, if only for a time. Perhaps we want to travel to a place or a time to which we have never been, and so we act as if we are there, witnessing every moment. It’s all acting. We never have to settle for what is when we can act as if, can write as if. We can live any life, love anyone, and try on any lifestyle we choose with no consequences.

So the next time you get stuck while writing, act as if. Write as if. Live as if. I can’t finish those for you. To turn those fragments into sentences is yours alone. Action!

P.S. In case you were wondering about the photo, there I am in my cat mask with my writer friend Shirley Jump and running buddies at the Fright Night race. Both Shirley and I came in third place for our age groups. Score!

The Monkey Mind and Reese’s Peanut Butter Hearts: It’s All Writing

I’m not writing a dissertation, so you might wonder why I recently picked up a book called Writing Your Dissertation in Fifteen Minutes a Day by Joan Bolker at the library. Of course it was the word “writing” that drew me. What kept me interested was its intriguing, fresh writing tips.

A few months ago I had the marvelous opportunity to teach a writing class at my church. When I surveyed the participants, I discovered they were there for many different reasons. “That’s okay — writing is writing, in many respects,” I said. Reading this book confirms this for me, because Bolker’s tips ring true to me, even though I am primarily a fiction writer.

May I recommend chapter six, “Interruptions from Outside and Inside”? Here she asks the reader to take a hard look at what is really outside of our control when it comes to writing. We all know about those “interruptions” such as social media and those fascinating, emailed newsletters that we just have to read right now. And don’t get me started on Pinterest!

She references an essay by Anne Tyler that I’d like to hunt down called “Still Just Writing.” Even though I haven’t read it, I can imagine (because I adore Tyler’s writing) what it says. I wonder if she’s been questioned about the legitimacy of her work as I currently have. I’ve been accused of being unemployed because I made the leap to full-time writing. Yesterday I ended up working thirteen hours with only a brief break or two. Unemployed? Hardly.

That is not to say that I don’t fall prey to those interruptions that others do: mail (I love all mail, email or snail), a phone call (although I try not to answer the phone while I’m working), and emails. So many wonderful emails to answer!

If you need a kick in the rear, Bolker will do that. She recounts the story of an advisee she had who was 8 1/2 months pregnant. Bolker told her that was no excuse for not finishing her dissertation, and the woman did! Tough love, but someone’s got to do it.

While it’s not the same, my last semester in the MFA program I attended I had the opportunity to present a novel for a novel-writing workshop led by an idol of mine. I quickly signed up for it, only to realize that the “novel” I had been working on was not what I wanted to present to her. This was a once-in-a-lifetime chance, and I didn’t want to waste it on something that was not the best, the truest writing I had in me. So.

So I decided that I would write a first draft of this newest novel (thankfully the subject of the novel called to me at this very time…not sure I believe in coincidence) in, oh, less than eight months.

I wrote in a dreamlike state, writing until my wrists ached. I think my maximum page count FOR ONE DAY was twenty three pages. This novel burned in me; this opportunity was truly that special to me.

I lost weight. I taught in a trance. I quit going places or hanging out much with friends. Our house became, shall we say, pleasantly cluttered as I struggled to do the most important things — dishes, laundry, cooking. My husband helped out as much as he could, but he was working long hours too.

The only thing I didn’t let go was my exercise regime. Most days. But that’s because that’s brain fuel for me. Yeah, yeah, I’ve told this before, but I just can’t believe I did it. I finished that draft. And a second. I am currently on the third draft and am still as excited about it as I was when I began.

I think Bolker would approve.

For me, perhaps the most meaningful section of Bolker’s book comes in her utter acceptance of an individual’s writing process. She suggests not fighting the monkey mind that wanders off, but to work with it. To either keep a list of those “I should” tasks that pop up, or to write what you’re thinking, no matter how off target it seems to be, and you might be surprised to see the connections your mind is trying to make.

What a relief! So my mind (which ping pongs) is okay? In fact, those thoughts that seem wildly out of line with my writing might actually be my mind’s way of trying to classify its thoughts? Monumental! I can’t tell you how freeing that validation is. She’s saying we should trust our minds! Yes, even our monkey minds.

She suggests “…instead of trying to push it out of your mind, try writing whatever is in your head”. She believes if you do this enough, useful patterns will emerge and themes. I love the idea that everything about us is connected and helpful. (I’d like to believe that my irrational fondness for Reese’s peanut butter hearts — or Reese’s pb anything — is not a weakness but helps make my writing better. Wait. I think we call that rationalization.)

Bolker teasingly jokes that the best equipment for a writer is a bucket of glue and a chair. Many others agree that all you have to do is show up. Regularly. (I’m ripping someone off, but who?)

If you’re not writing a dissertation, there are chapters such as “Your Advisor” that you can safely skip. I confess to doing just that. But if you need to feel better about yourself and your unique writing process, give this book a read. Who knows — maybe you’ll end up wanting to write a dissertation, even if you never do.

A Writing Checklist

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I wrote this recently and shared it with my husband. He asked if he could have a copy, which surprised me, because I didn’t know anyone else would be interested in it. But if any of you find it useful, feel free to make this yours as well. Just if you share it, give me credit. 🙂

For me this is more my philosophy of writing than a nuts and bolts list, although there are a few of those on there.

A Writing Checklist

By Drema Drudge
1. Have I engaged all of the senses?
2. Have I built anticipation and tension?
3. Have I created a plot that leads to the answer of a question?
4. Have I resisted the urge to describe too much?
5. Does every word belong?
6. Have I considered the sound and cadence of my words?
7. Do my characters live?
8. Are my characters complicated?
9. Do they make us see the world in a new way or in a new light? Do they confirm something?
10. Have I created a world?
11. Have I done adequate research, if applicable?
12. Have I taught and/or entertained my readers?
13. Does this work of mine make the world a more complete place?
14. Have I portrayed a facet of truth?
15. Is this my best effort?
16. Have I been fearless?
17. Have I attempted to address any weaknesses in grammar, style, etc.?
18. Have I been open to criticism and feedback from my beta readers without compromising?
19. Is my work original in every way?
20. Am I writing work that engrosses me?

What is on your checklist, mental or written?

My Top Ten Tips for Organizing and Writing About Art: A Sneak Peek at my Ebook.

I’d already read Susan Vreeland’s books, and Tracy Chevalier’s wonderful Girl with a Pearl Earring. I fell for Of Human Bondage as well — it remains my favorite novel, even though I did throw it against the wall when I finished it because I was so distressed at Philip’s decision. But it wasn’t until I took a college class called “The Painted Word” that I considered mingling my twin loves of writing and art.

When we students were asked to write about art, I wrote a short story based on a painting that turned out to be my first work of fiction ever published. The person who published the piece said I should write more about art. An agent who read the story agreed. So I’m fond of writing about art.

Writing about art shares skill sets with all writing, of course, but I do have some tips that can help you make the journey from yearning to write about art to actually doing it. In fact, I’m so convinced that there are hints and tips that can help that I’m writing an Ebook about it. Until it’s out, here are my top tips. While they can be used for writing in general, they are more art writing centered and because I write about historical art, can be applied to historical writing as well.

1. Print eight by ten photos of the main paintings you are writing about and put them in a binder. Print them on photo paper, not on regular paper. It will be so much more inspirational. Trust me.

2. Break out the old school notecards and rubber bands. There’s nothing wrong with using typical research recording methods for fiction. It just likely will not be enough.

3. Have a binder for essays as well. While you’ll make your notes on notecards, sometimes just revisiting old territory will yield a little gem you missed the first time around. Or perhaps you just want to capture the tone of the essay.

4. Keep a record of all of the books and websites you consult. You may not end up citing them all at the back of your book, but then again…in any event, you can always include them on your website. (You do have a website for your book, don’t you?)

5. Draw your notes, to make sure you keep your novel image driven — you’re going to want to do this with art, right? Seriously. Even if you’re not a great artist, try it. Bonus tip: as you read, pick out startling or vivid images to open and close your book with.

6. Google “art terms.” Learn them. Use them liberally in your works. Those who know them will respect you, and those who don’t know them will learn and be in awe of you. 🙂

7. Make timelines of art and artists during the time period you are writing about. Because no one (or at least I can’t) can keep all of those dates straight without a little help. This is also a bit of an outline, brought to you courtesy of history.

8. Dig into all the key players and some who aren’t. While I’m certain that your main character is fascinating or you wouldn’t be writing about her, be sure to delve into the background of secondary characters to complicate your plotlines.

9. Consult any surviving family. It’s a longshot, but maybe…while the last two artists I’ve written about sadly did not marry or have children, you may have better luck. Even a cousin could be a great resource for family lore.

10. Make things up if you don’t contradict facts. I was actually told this in a workshop where I was gently chided for writing too timidly in spots where I had no information. I quickly realized my workshop leader was absolutely right, and I now make up anything and everything with abandon if there isn’t contradictory evidence. It’s quite freeing.

These are only ten of the top tips I have to share about art writing. While I don’t have a definite release date for my Ebook, I’m guessing it will be within the next three to six months. Look for The Grammar of Painting coming your way in, say, September. Or sooner! If you’re an art writer (or just a wannabe!), what do you need help with? I’d be glad to take a try at addressing your need in my Ebook.

P.S. Clearly the photo on this post is not of my forthcoming book. But it’s cool, because it’s a book from 1891 that shares the proposed name for my book.