Tag Archives: Writers Resources

On flights of fancy

Portrait_of_chino_Hyogo_seated_at_his_writing_desk
Portrait of chino Hyogo seated at his writing desk, by Katsushika Hokusai.

There are days when 700+ words come clearly and definitively, all within an hour. Then there are days when 140 words can take me a lifetime. Today belongs to the latter, but for the first time in a year and a half I find myself completely and happily immersed, once again, in the world of my own making.

The writing process has been a little different for me this time around. There isn’t as much structure as there was before. My outlines are looser, as are my ideas. I know where I need to start and where those pivotal stops in the journey must be, but I’m not as fixed on pre-planning as I used to be. That’s probably because Book One set the proper foundation and tone, and I simply find myself easing back into a familiar rhythm filled with friends I haven’t seen or spoken to in many, many months, but that doesn’t take away from the wonder of it.

And it’s those moments of wonder that makes me want to keep writing; that brings me back time and again to the arduous process of trying to give shape and meaning to the abstract. In the end, that’s what writing is—a way to explain, in finite terms, living, breathing ideas that are by definition infinite and intangible.

Neatly tucked within Chapter Ten of The Butterfly Crest you will find a flight of writer’s fancy, added on a whim without innuendo or forethought. A character spoke, the intangible took shape, and then the words made their way onto paper. I would have never guessed that those few words, which were not a part of any grand plan or carefully crafted scenario, would provide the key for the perfect beginning.

That, for me, is the wonder of writing.

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On time, tide and the whims of inspiration

Femenine_wave
Ukiyo-e print by Hokusai Katsushika

For months I’ve been struggling to put word to paper when it comes to Book 2 (and this blog, if I’m being brutally honest).  I have a list of possible beginnings, but even with that I couldn’t find my way.  Whether it was the timing, lack of availability, Mr. Muse’s most recent disappearing act, or simply a genuine case of writer’s block, the words just wouldn’t come.

To get my mind off of it, I busied myself with other things (and trust me, I can find plenty of distractions).  I found any reason not to face that blinking cursor that had been mocking me for months.

I know what you’re thinking—that I’m obviously not very good at following my own advice—and you’re right. All I can say, quite definitively at this point, is that the writing process does not get any easier after your first book. For me, it’s actually proven to be a little harder.

I can come up with plenty of excuses, like the fact that I don’t have the full 8 hours a day to dedicate to my writing like I did when I wrote The Butterfly Crest, but that’s too convenient. The fact of the matter is that I will most likely never have that perfect storm of circumstance and opportunity find it’s way to me again (at least not anytime soon), and if I keep waiting for it to present itself then I will have nothing but a blinking cursor on an empty page to show for it.

In the universal interest of never finishing a post on a negative note, I am happy to report that the beginning of Book 2 presented itself one hot and muggy late summer afternoon (yesterday), somewhere between unloading and reloading the dryer; and it is such an obvious place to begin that I cannot fathom how or why I had not thought of it before.

The whims of inspiration, like time and tide, wait for no man (or woman, in my case).

To celebrate my happy circumstance, I will be posting Chapter Two of The Butterfly Crest in the next few days. Please stay tuned!

On destroying your work

Image

“Put down everything that comes into your head and then you’re a writer. But an author is one who can judge his own stuff’s worth, without pity, and destroy most of it.”

― Colette (Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette)

Going into this, I was certain that at some point the editing would stop.

I was convinced, by some inexplicable notion, that there would be a magical moment in time when I could flip the switch and go from author to reader; a moment where I would be satisfied and would be able to read my work with the same fervor I read other books.

That magical moment, however, has yet to come.

Every time I think my editing is finally done, something else comes out of the woodwork.

Don’t get me wrong. I knew editing would take time. I knew enough to know that I would seldom be satisfied (I have a tendency to over-think and overcorrect). I also knew that once I handed the manuscript off to my husband for editing, we would probably differ quite a bit in our opinions (he’s far from my target audience, and I’m set in my ways).

In the end, I approached editing in two ways.

First, I edited as I wrote. I know some people are of the opinion that editing while writing is a mistake, but it works for me. I would write a full chapter without stopping, review it, revise it and then send it to a trusted friend (she’d been my only audience for 14 years, so I knew she would be the perfect critic). We would discuss her suggestions, I would make the corrections and then move on to the next chapter.

After five months, I had myself a finished manuscript.

Now it was my husband’s turn. Several weeks after I finished, I handed him the first physical copy of the manuscript. He went chapter by chapter, and as he edited I would revise. Once that process was complete, I would be done.

A year and four months later, my editing is still not done.

My first mistake was editing so soon after finishing the book. You see, I made most of the corrections my husband suggested, but there were several I was unwilling to make that turned out to be absolutely critical. The problem was, I was too attached to what I had just written. Not enough time had gone by, and I couldn’t find the resolve to destroy my work.

In all honesty, I didn’t think I needed to destroy it.

Now, so many months later, I realize I was completely wrong. Somewhere between trying the read the book myself (a long and arduous process, since there is always something, some minute detail, I want to change) and getting feedback from the handful of people I’ve asked to read the book, I ended up making those difficult changes I was unable to make in the beginning.

It was a gradual process, but before I knew it I was destroying my work without feeling guilty about it. As I started trimming the unnecessary parts, and rounding out the parts that were lacking, I started to feel like I was finally close to the finish line.

But that brought with it it’s own set of problems.

With the momentum came the overcorrections. Suddenly, everything was suspect. The things I had been sure of before became uncertain. I started questioning dialogue formats, obsessing about the number of times I used the word ‘said’, and went so far as to doubt the beginnings and endings of my chapters. I became so consumed, that I couldn’t see the forest for the trees.

Moral of the story? Once you learn to destroy your work, the rub is being able to recognize that almost imperceptible moment in time when destruction becomes complete and total annihilation.

On the in-between

Peonies and Butterfly by Hokusai

Impressions in writing are important.

They are what you are striving to create. What you hope the reader takes with them.

Sometimes they’re the inspiration for something or the reason behind a particular choice. They can fuel the creation of a character, for instance, or unexpectedly bring about their demise.

They have a lot to do with rhythm, tone and instinct. Very little to do with rules, preconceived notions or overly-worked designs.

Recently, I’ve come to realize that they are the cornerstone of my writing process.

I chose to write in third-person narrative because it allowed me the most flexibility in creating the impressions I wanted to evoke. There’s no right or wrong answer in the choice of narrative point of view. It comes down to personal preference, and for me it was easier to create the atmosphere I needed for The Butterfly Crest by using third-person narrative. Elena’s journey is rife with contrasts that could only be elicited in that way; a human’s view of the divine is limited to the human perspective, and I needed the reader to see beyond those limitations.

Impressions also influenced my writing method. I wrote The Butterfly Crest chapter to chapter, each chapter building on the one before. The starting point and the end point of a chapter were clear impressions in my mind that began as images but had nothing in between. The goal was to transition from the first image to the second, the in-between developing on its own. I knew the stages of Elena’s story, so in that sense the starting and ending points of each chapter were planned, but they evolved from images and impressions rather than an overly-worked design. I had an outline, which was pivotal to the process, but the bullet points were concise, and it was the image they conjured that propelled the story forward.

The title of the book was ultimately chosen because of an impression left in me several years ago, when I purchased my first Japanese textile. I bought a haori, a coat that is worn over kimono, made of black crepe silk and decorated with a beautiful floral pattern stitched in silver, gold, blue, green and coral threads. The black crepe has a swirl-like water pattern woven into the fabric, designed to act as the backdrop. The inside lining has a delicate hand-painted design of pink magnolia flowers on pale branches, the petals lined in gold. I fell in love with every aspect of the textile, but the most curious element was the single kamon painted in white on the back panel, several inches beneath the collar.

Kamon are family crests, and in kimono they are used to indicate levels of formality. After seeing the emblem on my haori, I researched the subject and came across a butterfly crest that I never quite forgot. As I developed Elena’s story, the butterfly became a very prominent symbol, and the crest I never forgot naturally became the emblem for her story.

For the past few weeks, I’ve been considering how to begin the second book in the series. It’s been a difficult process because most of my time is being consumed by my law practice. I have an ongoing list of ideas, and as I looked them over this morning I realized they are a list of impressions; experiences like the ones described in my last blog post. Each impression has a link to the story. The front runner is the image of a single red camellia blooming in snow. Believe it or not, the image ties into several aspects of Elena’s journey.

Moral of the story? Structure is necessary but magic happens in the in-between, when a an image or impression evolves into something greater than itself (be it a single sentence, a chapter or an entire book).

On the intention of words and the creation of a journey

What I remember most about a book is where it has taken me, emotionally and metaphysically.

When the words strip the world around me bare, refashion it into something entirely different, and it affects me in such a profound way that it becomes as much a part of me as any step in my own story—that’s what every writer strives for.

It is the intention behind every written word.

In order for me to channel that intention effectively, I have to immerse myself in what I’m trying to create. That can prove to be difficult when what I’m creating only exists in the abstract or, worst yet, when it exists but it’s a place I’ve never been.

Most of Elena’s journey in The Butterfly Crest takes place in worlds that exist only in mythology, and the beginning of her journey is born in a country I am irrevocably devoted to but have, regrettably, never had the pleasure to see with my own eyes.

It is easier to convey an intention when you have experienced it with every sense in your being; when you’ve seen it, touched it, tasted it, smelled it, heard it. Your senses are necessary tools in conveying your intention. But what do you do when they aren’t in your arsenal; when the only experience you have is abstract?

It’s in those moments when I turn to other people’s experience; immerse myself, vicariously, into some else’s senses until they supplement my own. I’m sure it was a much more academic exercise before, but today we have an endless supply of blogs, video, and information to learn from.

I was fortunate enough to have a history with the things I chose to write about—I had years of books and resources I could turn to at first—but it was the “virtual” information that really made the difference. Photo blogs. Travel videos. Endless articles on a particular culture and aesthetic. Information on archeology and myth.

The good thing about writing on mythology is that history already provides you the footprint; you just have to fill in the blanks with a little innovation. Writing about a place that exists is a little more difficult. You have to honor it, be mindful at all times of striking a balance between artistic and ethical integrity.

Blogs like Patrick Latter’s Canadian Hiking Photography were pivotal; photographs that affect me in the same way as a well written book. I’ve never been to Canada, but he makes me want to write about what he captures in his photos (not just scenes, but a visceral expression of something outside of ourselves).

Using blogs like Patrick’s, I researched the places I wrote about – whether real or myth. I studied photographs and videos, searched for as much sensory information as I could, and then wrote with that intention in mind.

By the end of Elena’s journey, I felt as if I had visited all of those impossible-to-reach places; a feeling I hope to have in common with my readers by the end of their journey into Elena’s new world.

Creating a setting is as important as creating a character. It should live and breathe as viscerally as their animate counterparts.

On ambrosia, beginnings, and the inner fangirl

Every year there comes a day, a singular, spectacular day, when you step out of your front door at the exact moment when summer has transitioned to fall. Sure, the process began long before you took that fortuitous step, but somehow you manage to tap right into the flow of it. It seeps in through your skin to the marrow of your bones, ravaging every nerve ending it encounters along the way. In that pivotal moment, the world stops. A massive silence drowns out every sound as one season shifts into the other, before the world takes a thunderous breath and is born anew; recharged, vibrant, and infinite.

Portland_Japanese_Garden_maple
A Japanese Maple (Acer palmatum) in the Portland Japanese Garden, photo by Jeremy Reding.

Chosen excerpt ends here; click to continue reading full post…

On facing the blank page

There are days as a writer when you wake up empty. Inspiration eludes you. You may have a temperamental muse. You may find yourself up against a deadline (self-imposed or otherwise). Your mind may be mush because you stayed up working until 3 a.m. the night before. Whatever the reason, the page remains blank.

Today was one of those days for me.

These types of days can be very difficult for a writer. Suddenly you find yourself ruminating on what came before, second guessing every choice you made, rather than looking ahead at the work you should be doing. In these moments it can be really easy to give in, to walk away for the day, but in my case it was always better to force myself to face the blank page.

Some of my best work came in those moments, when I managed to claw my way out of my own head—because that’s what it is most of the time, a case of self-sabotage.

For days now, I’ve been trying to find the time to write. I kept telling myself I was too busy, that there was simply too many other things that needed to be done (there always is) and that there wasn’t enough hours in a day to do them in (there really aren’t), but I realized a few minutes ago that I was just avoiding the obvious – my temperamental muse was eluding me.

I could see him sitting in the recesses of my mind dressed from head to toe in one of his impeccable suits, his right ankle resting gingerly over his left knee, ice blue eyes staring right through me, with a hint of a smirk touching his lips.

He taunts me in a way only he can—striking at my weakest point as if to say, what would you be without me?

But the real question is, what would he be without me? After all, I created him.

Facing the blank page is difficult, but chances are you’ll seldom be disappointed with the result. This may not have been the post I had envisioned a few days ago, but I promise you it wiped the smirk right off of his beautiful face.