Friday, November 23, 2012

The Belated Turkey of Gratitude

This journal's almost finished.
I love Thanksgiving dearly because it is a chance to relax with family and practice gratitude for all the things we have. I am committed to insulating my family for as long as possible from the encroaching BLACK THURSDAY. One day in our not so distant future only apostates will celebrate Thanksgiving, everyone else will participate in the sport of competitive shopping where credit card-wielding hordes crush the doors of big box stores, trample the weak and prove their worth by purchasing discounted items so that they may return home with an electronic gizmo as proof of their commitment to consumerism... So, in the face of my fear that the practice of gratitude is losing ground to the practice of getting, here's a list:

31 things about writing and storytelling for which I am grateful.
  1. For finishing a journal and looking back on the glorious, sloppy scribbled pages, pictures pasted in, notes sticking out brain dump.
  2. For starting a brand new journal with all those blank pages were anything could happen.
  3. For stationary stores and everything in them.
  4. Specifically for the Pilot P-500 extra fine (for when I'm feeling gel inky) and Pilot Razor Point II (for when I'm feeling felt-tippy).
  5. For writing apps and software like Dropbox, Evernote, and Scrivener that make writing on screens efficient and fun.
  6. For the public library, a well of books for the whole family, and a place where I can write without being required to buy something - because I'm not always hungry or thirsty when I feel like writing.
  7. For coffeehouses and diners for when I am. 
  8. For my ten minutes of freewriting, where I can bitch and moan to a sheet of paper that is bound for the recycle bin.
  9. For the way that writing has taught me to be a keen observer of the world around me and of my own responses to it.
  10. For all the nascent, fragile little story eggs that fill my head, even if they can be a bit distracting rolling around up there.
  11. For how writing has given me something to aspire to. Mastering storytelling is serious fun.
  12. For creating a world, entering it and discovering something, or someone, unexpected there.
  13. For how writing has taught me to stretch and grow my imagination. To imagine worlds stranger than our own and the characters who can live in them.
  14. For how writing has made me broader in my thoughts and braver in my actions. A good story is built on experiences. Good storytellers are experienced. 
  15. For how good characters encourage me to step out of my comfort zone and look at issues from more than one perspective (file under how to write a good villan). 
  16. For writing until I realize the way even if I have to spend thousands of words. Sometimes those who wander ARE lost.
  17. For the camaraderie of my writer's group. 
  18. For meeting new people who are willing to give honest, constructive opinions in an effort to make us all better at what we're trying to accomplish.
  19. For the privilege of having another writer share his or her unfinished work with me.
  20. For all that I've learned about writing by learning how to give a good critique of someone else's story.
  21. For the work of busting apart a draft and putting it back together.
  22. For reworking a sentence until it rings like a bell.
  23. For publications that accurately gague and post their turn-around times for submissions. It's easier to be patient if I have some idea how long I have to wait.
  24. For slush readers who deal with their monumental slush piles with alacraty.
  25. For all the editors who have read my submissions -- all of them. Even when they send a rejection, I know it took time to read my story and many have taken a few extra minutes to comment on my submission. I am grateful for their time and their valuable insights.
  26. For writing podcasts like Writing Excuses and the Coode Street Podcast that talk about writing and Escape Pod and PodCastle that keep my ears entertained with stories.
  27. For semipro zines like ClarkesworldLightspeed and Daily Science Fiction that are committed to finding and putting great stories out there on e-readers, in print and as podcasts.
  28. For how the practice of STORYTELLING has enhanced and sharpened my enjoyment when reading, hearing and watching other stories in books, on podcasts and at the movies. Especially when someone else tells a story in a completely surprising and original way.
  29. For the magic that is a good story, which is more than the sum of its parts.
  30. For sitting in the sun with a good book.
  31. For the journey.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Structure & Freedom

Network Structure
Bonsai Tree Table by Anke Weiss from Dezeen
I'm still working on my process, partly because I am currently stuck on a story. I have this idea. Actually it's a constellation of ideas along with an odd little collection of evocative images, characters, and places that make up a mood or feeling that I think this story could capture. This is generally what my unstructured ideas look like. I've been trying everything to discover the underlining structure (i.e. through line, sequence of events, plot) that will articulate this nebulous idea to the point where I can sensibly write it as a story.

So, the past couple weeks I've been just working toward some kind of outline. I have never had any luck writing by the seat of my pants. I blame my own empathy. I am very driven in my real life to avoid conflict, so when I just write into the blue everyone in my stories comes to sensible compromises or finds a way to walk away from the dragons they should be facing down. But making an outline is tricky. Outlines can strangle or obliterate a nascent unstructured idea before it's even had a chance to be born. I think it might be better so say I'm trying to "find" an outline rather than "make" one.

For me, the outline is important because structure is intrinsic to the world and our experience of it. Here's a quote from the guy that grew/built the table pictured above:
This work is the result of a research project about scale. The “network” structure can be found in every scale: by looking in as far as possible (cells, molecules, etc.), or by looking on the natural human scale (veins, lungs, trees, riverbeds, maps etc.), or by looking as far out as possible (solar system, galaxies). Even representations of the virtual world (the internet) resemble this structure.
Like this table that was once a living tree, my outlines need to grow and change, to be mutable, even while I'm drafting. The outline helps me solidify a collection of thoughts and emotions just enough so that I can capture some essence of the thing that will become the beating heart at the center of the story. 

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Honorable Mention!

My story "Futile the Winds" received an Honorable Mention in L. Ron Hubbard's Writers of the Future contest! Which, according to their website, puts me in the top 10-15% of the entrants for that quarter. While they don't list the numbers, it's a big contest so I consider it an accomplishment to make the Honorable Mention list. I have a new story entered for the current quarter though it will be months before I hear back on that one.

Mars sunset
I'm don't want to say too much about "Futile the Winds" as I'm trying to place it so that you can read it, online or in print, via a pro or semipro publication. I will say that it takes place on Mars and is a story of transformation. The title is from a poem by Emily Dickinson and while there's no other direct reference to it, I tried to steer towards the essence of that poem in my story.

Wild nights! Wild nights!
Were I with thee,
Wild nights should be
Our luxury!

Futile the winds
To a heart in port,
Done with the compass,
Done with the chart.

Rowing in Eden!
Ah! the sea!
Might I but moor
To-night in thee!

Friday, November 2, 2012

Tools for Writing

It's been a tough couple of weeks writing-wise. Halloween is a banner holiday around here and requires a fair amount of crafting and preparation. As I continue to squeeze writing into the nooks and crannies of my day I am paying special attention to tweaking my process so that I can be as productive as possible with the time that I have. And imma gonna blog about that soon, but today I'd rather talk about some of the various tools, apps and gizmos I  use to write.

I've always been a stationary store geek. There are cups of pens and pencils all over the house and pads of sticky notes secreted everywhere. Then there is my own *special* cup of pens, pencils and highlighters. While not under lock and key, I am very protective of it and whenever I spot one of my writing implements next to hubby's crossword puzzle I switch it out of a normal pencil while muttering quietly to myself... But clearly that's fetish territory. For practical purposes, I take a maximumilist approach and will write anywhere with any implement that comes to hand including pen, pencil, crayon, public terminal on the cloud, laptop, phone (Android), or iPod Touch. I believe you should work wherever you can whenever you can with what ever comes to hand.

Just because I'm willing to write with a sawed off crayon doesn't mean I don't have my favorites. Here are some of the tools I use:

For daily freewriting. I've been pursuing the practice of daily freewriting and it was getting gummed up because, I've come to believe, I was doing it wrong. I was trying to accomplish too much with it. I would try to get the next words of my work in progress out or suss out new ideas or work out a revision kink. But true freewriting wants to be - free. So for my daily ten minutes of true freewriting I've moved it out of my journal and switched to loose leaf paper. This writing is a warm up and a place where I write without stopping about anything, without a plan. Mostly it's nonsense and loose leaf pages are easily tossed into the recycle bin. Of course if I happen to blurt out a gem during a session I can always transcribe it into a document or my journal.

I have these little pads at work, all around the house and in the car. This is for noting random thoughts, ideas and inspirations, some people go old school and use 3x5 cards for this sort of thing (e.g. Annie Lamott) but I like sticky notes because they are, you know, sticky. If I'm busy I can gather them up and just stick them on a page in my journal for later integration/transcription.

This is home base for most of my working stories, notes, research, outlines, freewritten drafts, ideas, quotes. I also try write down my dreams in the morning using a different color ink. I try to put something in my journal every day. I read through it a couple times a month for useful bits and to update the index/table of contents that I keep in the first pages. I'm a visual thinker and while I don't spend a lot of time "arting" my journal up, I do keep a bottle of rubber cement so that I can glue images that I find or print out into the pages.

The electronic home for my work. I'll compose stories from my journal notes, or do directed freewriting on the keyboard. I keep everything backed up on DropBox so that I can access it from my work computer if I should happen to get an extra few minutes there. I also use Google Drive for some drafts and projects. For random notes, ideas and web research there's Evernote. I don't pay for any of this as I'm well below their bandwidth limits. Once I finish a story I delete most of the research files and any online drafts. I usually save a couple print outs with my scribbled hand revisions for posterity. That's the beauty of research for fiction. I'm not out to prove anything -- just trying to juice my brain, so I don't need footnotes.

I just bought Scrivener and have started to use some of the writerly features for my longer short stories. I'm going to be using it to write my novel come January. I'll post down the road after I've given it a real test drive. When I am out and about and feel like noting something down with my thumbs, which is my least favorite mode of writing, a fact that just makes me feel old. I use iAwriter on my iPod, which is very straightforward, with biggish buttons and synchs nicely.

So much to write and so many ways to do it. Fun!