All “Write” Already! Be Professional.

Writers, a word, please. You know I love you, right? But I think we are being a bit too precious. I’m including myself here. Especially me!

Either we have “no time to write” while we watch TV, surf the net, and play yet another ridiculous game on Facebook, or we can’t get into our writing during writing time. What a load of hooey! (I’d rather say something besides hooey, but I’m trying to be somewhat PG.)

The truth is, whether we write for a living or for fun, we make time for what is important to us. Sure, your life may be overwhelming at the moment, but if writing is in your blood, even if you can only squeeze in fifteen minutes a day to write, you’ll do it. Only you can really say what you can sacrifice to gain that time. What I really want to focus on is WHAT WE DO WITH OUR WRITING TIME!

Many people have already written about how often writers procrastinate. We do so for many reasons — fear, anticipation, laziness, distraction.

So instead, let’s imagine, for a moment, that instead of writers we are chefs. You say to the server that you’d like an omelet. The server conveys your wishes to the chef, who says
A. I’m too busy to cook.
B. I’m too tired to cook.
C. I just can’t get into it.
D. I don’t think I can do it. Making an omelet is too hard. I think I’ll go back to being a _____.
E. No one appreciates good cooking anyway. It’s all just product to the owner. He doesn’t care about my creativity.
F. But I got a text and there’s this party.
G. Wait! I’m just going to watch ten minutes of this show first.

You get the idea? What would you do if you didn’t get your omelet? What would you think of that chef? Yeah, me too.

If we’re going to write, let’s be professional about it, please. You set aside writing time, and even if it’s total crap, you write. So what if you write in the wrong direction or if you hate it when you’re finished? Throw the omelet out and start over, or see if you can turn it into a frittata.

While writing CAN be a magical, mystical process (just yesterday I put in something as a placeholder until I could research it, and inexplicably my placeholder was exactly right, even though I KNOW I’ve never read that fact before), but it doesn’t have to be. Sometimes it’s just grunt work and you just break those eggs, whip them, and put them in the pan. Because you can. Now, if you’re REALLY feeling it, you can get fancy and add spices, fry up some veggies, and even grate some fancy cheese.

We forget sometimes that we GET to write. It’s a privilege. Yes, it can torment us. It can haunt us and cause us to take long midnight walks to try to outrun the writing hound, but we also kinda hype all that, don’t you think? We writers tend to be a dramatic lot.

So what I am saying is, even if writing isn’t your 9 to 5, treat it as if it is. The Muse will respect you for it, and more importantly, you may discover you don’t need a stinking muse. Everything you need is in you, literally. Now just commit to getting it out, you pro, you!

You have my permission to print this and keep it by your desk, highlighting it freely. I know that’s what I’m going to do with it, because I sure could have used this earlier today before I gritted my teeth and just went for it. I’m happy to say I edited almost 20 pages in this manner.

All write, already!

Telling the Truth About Art By Lying About Paintings

I’m writing about paintings that don’t exist. Let me back up. I’m writing about an artist whose work has largely been lost. When a trusted mentor read my work, she suggested I write about the artist’s paintings. “Make them up,” she said. I was fascinated and daunted.

I’ve since gotten over my fear and have discovered that it’s freeing and fun to imagine what an artist’s work looks like. We only have one of her paintings to go by (as of yet, though I am hopeful that more will come to light), and some titles of her paintings that I fervently believe will one day be returned to the art world, so I do have something to guide me. And there’s my imagination, of course.

It starts with an image. I imagine her painting en plein air, and I look around and ask myself what would interest her. Or I think of where she is and what is happening. Is she in the city? Then she would be fascinated by the building going on. In the country she would adore the sheep, or so I tell myself. Then I allow the image to focus. I ask myself what the weather’s like. I try to “become” her: what is she seeing? Feeling? Smelling? What direction is the wind coming from?

I take it a step further by framing it. It’s not enough that there’s a girl with a lamb. I need to zoom in on one aspect, one angle.

The advantage to this, of course, is that I don’t need to ask the child to stay still. I can force this through my imagination. If the wind needs to blow in another direction, I can do that, too.

It’s powerful and great for imagination-building skills. I dare say it is probably helping my painting skills, though I haven’t painted for some time.

I have seen people become totally paralyzed when asked to use the imagination. It’s only by exercising it that it gets stronger, so if you need to apply this technique, just give it a try with confidence.

Let’s try an exercise, shall we?
Close your eyes. See a simple shape — a high-rise building, a four-leaf clover, or even the moon. Now build a painting. What color is the building? What do you see through the windows? Any signs on it?

That clover, where is it? What is of interest around it? Is a chicken about to eat it?

The moon…is it a full moon or a half? How bright is it?

To properly “build” a painting in your mind, you need to tell a story about it, so let’s keep going.

Go back to the building. What do you want to say about the building, or what story do you want to tell? Are you making a statement about how it looks just like the ten around it, or that it is different? Is it a monument to civilization, or is it competing with the tiny tree below?

The clover…are you highlighting its shape and the luck it supposedly gives, or that the chicken (if your picture has one) is about to eat luck, making itself lucky, or that the chicken doesn’t know that she is eating something “lucky”?

That moon…is it a persistent light despite a smoggy atmosphere, or is it clear and beautiful with the magic that only night can bring, the kind that makes you fall in love with yourself and everything that breathes just by seeing it?

Once you know what your CHARACTER would say about it, that makes things easier. For it’s not your painting. It’s your character’s.

My character equally loves progress and the country, so very likely her paintings would reflect the conflict between these worlds. How could I show this? I could have her painting a pastoral scene with the train running in the background. Or the smoke of a factory could waft above a lake on which a couple is rowing a boat.

Even if you’re not writing about art, this will serve you well when writing description and deciding what’s important to write about. Pretend you have a camera, and use it. That’s all.

Happy Lying!

Transcribing Bites! But It MAY Be Worth It!

It’s not an elegant title, but it tells the truth.

This is going to be a quick post because Barry and I have dinner plans with new friends and half an hour out from it, I am still in my bathrobe, so. But I really do want to kvetch about this.

Lately I have returned to writing in notebooks, long hand. There are several reasons I’m doing it, such as portability and to see if I write differently. (Yes, I do. I write more thoughtfully and philosophically, I think.) The only problem is that then said writing must magically find its way onto the laptop and into a Word file. Right.

The writing part went really well recently — I found myself quickly with 100 fresh pages of my novel. How fun it was to go from a coffeehouse with my light notebook to a park bench. How liberating! Until.

I have spent two days this week transcribing and whining. Whining and transcribing. I’m happy to say that I transcribed all 100 pages, yippee, and now I’m editing them. Editing, I don’t mind. In fact, I enjoy it, once I get started.

I whined about the transcription so much my husband asked why I didn’t just hire someone to type it in for me. Trust me, I was tempted. But it occurred to me there might be benefits to doing it myself. Just what are those said benefits, you ask?

1. It reminds you of what you wrote. Maybe I’m the only one who forgets what she wrote some days, but it happens to me. So transcribing places the story more firmly in my mind.

2. It’s an early form of editing. As you type, if you’re like me, you’ll whittle at that bad boy even as you’re transcribing it.

3. It enthuses you to write more. I found that after I had the new pages on the laptop before me, I was inspired to keep going.

4. It’s interesting to see if you do write differently when you write long hand. I think I do. You should try it!

5. I was easily able to add side notes and questions. Yeah, you can do this in Word, but it’s a little harder to make out, if you ask me.

6. I underlined things I questioned as I wrote that I might want to confirm or reconsider. Again, early editing without it seeming as if I were being overbearing on myself, so it was nonthreatening when I went back.

7. Cursive just seems friendlier and prettier. Maybe not my writing — I can write prettily but am usually too busy/impatient to — but cursive (or print, if you prefer) is romantic looking.

Maybe I could think of more reasons, but our dinner date looms and while I don’t think the restaurant has a dress code, I’m not sure a robe and slippers are acceptable attire.

So write by hand, and then transcribe. If you dare. It may be worth it.







Telling vs. Showing: A Privilege of the First Person POV

Even though one is not supposed to wear the editor’s hat while writing a first draft, I found myself doing so yesterday, forcing myself to stop and go back and show versus tell. I did this in a couple of places before questioning myself.  Was the result of my pruning what I had really envisioned?

I also found myself freehanding long passages of exposition, telling’s nearly verboten cousin. Some of it will, of course, need to be weeded. I’m fine with that. But one of the reasons I enjoy writing from the first person point of view is interiority and all aspects of anything even approaching that.

What’s that? You don’t think telling and exposition are quite the same thing as interiority? Again, not exactly, but they certainly share traits. They involve explanation, sometimes at length. They hold up a mirror rather than a camera.

A few years ago my husband and I visited Rome. I had been so looking forward to seeing the famed Sistine Chapel. In my head it was going to be this small, remote chapel with a starry-skied, hazy ceiling filled with pews and walled with stucco. We would quietly file in, spend some time in the silent near darkness, contemplating the art.

Had I but looked once at it online I would have known this was not at all what we would encounter. The chapel is, of course, part of the Vatican. It is a loud, crowded room where you are shushed every two minutes and given the stink eye if you raise your camera. You are not at all encouraged to linger or meditate upon the painted ceiling.

My point is that somehow I got the impression of what I thought the chapel would be like from something I read, and that impression stayed with me until I was disappointed by reality. Telling has a charm that showing sometimes does not.

Telling is also where the “eye of the beholder” comes in. The picture the beholder can give us often trumps the actual place or experience, and sometimes it is more valuable to us. When I was a child, I used to pester my father to tell me what my grandfather, who was deceased, had been like. I was only three when he passed. My father’s description of him has left a longing and a vision of the man that I doubt would have been there had I known him, not because he wasn’t a lovely man, because by all accounts he was, but because no mere mortal can live up to the “true” stories that are doubtless embellished and inflated. I write because he wrote; I have always tried to play guitar because he did. This was all based on the stories my father told me about him, and on the photos of him playing guitar and the picture of me sitting on his lap. He looked utterly blissful to be holding me. (I should insert that photo here, but it may be at my parents’ home. TK, let us say, in editor speak.)

I’m a thought junkie. One of my favorite books is Of Human Bondage. I remember saying when I read it that I wished the man would stop with the story, already, and just talk to me! Because when he used (albeit not in first person, true) telling, he lit circuits in my brain. Give me beautiful things to think about and I’m yours! While showing lends us beautiful images, telling gives us ideas to consider.

So if you want my storytelling skills, you’re just going to have to be patient at times when I tell you, rather than show you. If I do it right, maybe you’ll even want to hear more and see less.  Or not.  But if I’m writing in the first person POV, rest assured that I’m going to take that privilege. Let’s hope it pays off.