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December 2016

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Oct. 28th, 2016

halloween

Fear in stories

It's the season when we replay scary movies, testing and exploring our fears. I blogged over at YA Outside the Lines about the ways in we can use our fears in storytelling, and the ways in which we use storytelling to deal with our fears. A sample: "the page provides a great way to pin down a fear, dissect it, even control it."
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Oct. 26th, 2016

capemeareslthouse

Yes and no

One thing I've always struggled with is the yes/no balance in life: when to follow new opportunities, and when to hang back and rest. It doesn't help that opportunities tend to come in clusters. I'll say yes to a couple of things because life has slowed down and I have time and energy, and then a few more things will crop up: emergencies I can't ignore; goals I've long pursued and can't refuse even if the timing isn't optimal; and so forth. Sometimes I'll look at a particular week and laugh at how events have piled up close together, despite my attempts to spread them out.

I wrote about the yes/no challenges in Loner in the Garret. I don't have a universal magic answer, but for me the yes and no end up taking turns. When I have to, I'll even set aside precious days for cocooning, for an absence of formal plans, for the gathering of energy in between the busiest stretches.

Oct. 21st, 2016

flower

The ghostly reader

Purely as a warmup, throwaway writing exercise, I've been keeping a journal this year. I ask myself to write at least 100 words a day, and they don't have to be good, or tell a story. I just have to put down a few sentences.

This is not a journal ever meant for anyone else's eyes, and I can't imagine why anyone would want to read it, since it's the equivalent of finger exercises for a pianist. And yet, I still find it difficult to write with the assumption that nobody else will ever read it. I'm not revising or polishing what I write, but I often find myself adjusting my words or topic as if to accommodate some nonexistent audience. I was talking with a writer friend about that, and she agreed: she also feels that ghostly imaginary reader hovering over her shoulder when writing a journal. Does every diarist feel it, I wonder? I suppose we're too aware of how many journals have been published, even when their writers never intended it.

Oct. 19th, 2016

KeepWriting

Trust the story

One of the little scraps of paper I have kept around my writing desk for inspiration says, "Trust the story." That's to remind me where to look when I need the perfect ending, or climax, or when I don't know how to connect a couple of essential scenes, or when I'm floundering. That's to remind me to go back to the story itself, the theme, the characters' goals, the point I'm trying to make, the reason I started writing the story in the first place. Often the key is already there, and I just have to recognize it.

Oct. 13th, 2016

flower

Notes

Today I wrote myself a note. When I stumbled across it just a few hours later, I'd forgotten it so totally that it was as if an alien had written it. What note was this? What was it about? What was that word--potato? Why was I writing a note about a potato?

After a minute or so, I not only deciphered it but remembered the context, and had a good laugh. The word I misread as "potato" was "portable," and the note was about an email I had wanted to send someone. I had sent the email, and so my brain apparently decided not to waste any more energy on the note.

When I look over old journal entries, they bring to mind things I would otherwise forget. Writing is, among other things, a way of remembering. We change, we forget, and so much is fleeting. So I pin a moment in place with words, capture a memory, and then I have it for good. As long as I don't make my words too cryptic, or too illegible!

Oct. 8th, 2016

flower

Striving for the better

Life is unfair. Bad things happen to good people; justice is often not served. Hard work doesn't always reap proportionate rewards.

It occurred to me that stories are one way we deal with this. Some of the earliest stories I ever read were fairy tales and Aesop's fables. The good people lived happily ever after, while the ones who were cruel or deceptive suffered. The tortoise won the race by working hard--never mind that the hare was born to be faster. Every event had its lesson to teach.

As I grew older, I encountered stories in which the good weren't always rewarded. Things got more complicated. Yet I still looked to stories for insight and comfort. Even if the scales didn't balance in a story, I looked for the author to signal his or her awareness that the scales didn't balance. Atticus Finch loses the big trial in To Kill a Mockingbird, and the defendant ends up dead, but every reader knows that the book is, in a larger sense, calling out injustice. This outcome isn't supposed to be a happy ending.

In stories we often strive for our better selves, the best world we can imagine. Even when we show it by using the worst world we can imagine as a counter-example or warning (as in dystopian literature). Characters change and grow, and even the darkest stories usually end with some ray of hope, the hope we all need.
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Oct. 3rd, 2016

capemeareslthouse

Vacation

For a week, I've been hiking, and reading, and enjoying scenery. I have written nothing except for brief daily journal entries. I've been completely unplugged from social media, and I barely watched any TV.

It was wonderful.

Before I go away on vacation, I am so deeply immersed in my world that I hate to disconnect. The packing, the air travel, the many arrangements, all seem like too much trouble. Why am I doing this? I ask myself. I could stay home and relax, and that would be vacation enough.

Then I see my first mountain, or giant sequoia, or canyon, or beach, and I remember why.

The world is so large, so beautiful.

I need to slow down, every now and then.

I need to step away from the screen.

I need to reconnect with some part of myself that gets buried in the busyness of work, the daily minutiae.

Sep. 22nd, 2016

flower

The in-between time

I've been a little scarce around these parts because I've been pouring my writing energy into a certain writing project. That project has now reached the milestone I was aiming for, so I get to come out of my cave, blinking, and see what's going on in the world. I will be scarce for another week or so while I pursue another, non-writing, interest.

But while I'm here, I'd like to speak about this in-between time, this break in a writer's life. I used to jump almost immediately from one project to another, as if I were trying to outrun ... something. I don't know what. Sometimes that jump can be eager, an excitement to start the new thing, but for me I think it was more about fear, about losing a day or not staying relevant or something. Now I savor a break. I have more trust that the next project will bubble up when it's ready, and in the meantime it's OK to reacquaint myself with the world beyond my keyboard.

Enjoy your time, whether you're inside or outside of the writing cave at the moment!

Sep. 15th, 2016

flower

Lists

It doesn't surprise me that there is such a thing as a "list poem." I'm a big fan of lists--I could hardly navigate my way through a week without them--and there are some lists that do evoke the poetic. I've always loved lists of colors (as in a watercolor paintbox, a box of crayons, a clothing catalog, paint chips). A menu is a mouth-watering list. A trip to the airport offers a horizontal list poem as I walk past other gates to get to mine, reading the destinations off the gate screens and mentally adding an exclamation point to each: Honolulu! Phoenix! San Francisco! Denver! Seattle!

I snuck a list poem of sorts into my third novel, Until It Hurts to Stop, when the main character muses over the names of mushrooms in a field guide. Tree names, bird names, and wildflower names are just as satisfying. (I used to pore over a flower book that included in its offerings "viper's bugloss," "blue vervain," and "butter-and-eggs." What more could a word person ask, than such names?) The challenge in a creative list, such as a list poem, is deciding what to include and what to leave out, and how to arrange the items. But sometimes I just enjoy the lists I stumble across in the world as found poems.

Sep. 13th, 2016

capemeareslthouse

Thankful for the window

Before I set up the writing office I have now, I read or heard somewhere that your desk shouldn't face the window. It should face the wall, because a window is too distracting.

I've been grateful a million times that I ignored that advice. The window over my desk shows me trees in all seasons. It has shown me spiderwebs glistening in the sun, and squirrels jumping through branches. I have seen ice and rain, a bat, birds and insects of all kinds. Cicadas have clung to the screen, and fireflies have drifted past to blink their lights at the green lights on my computer.

But what about writing? you may ask. Isn't that what I'm supposed to be doing here? Haven't I just proven how distracting a window is?

For me, it's the kind of distraction that has enhanced my writing rather than blocked it. Something about facing a blank wall felt stifling, like a punishment. (This is just me; it isn't so for everyone. Many writers may find a blank wall a perfect canvas for their imaginations.) This window of mine reminds me there's a world out there, the world I'm writing about. It gives me breathing room, a view of nature. I spend a lot of time staring at a computer screen. Every now and then I need to lift my eyes to the greenery out my window.

What's your favorite feature of the place where you write?
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