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Archive for September, 2012

“Write drunk. Edit Sober.” – Ernest Hemmingway

I love this quote. Not because I wish to indulge in a drink nor am I trying to encourage anyone to drink heavily and call it creative fuel, but I like the idea of writing without the constraints of soberness.

At some point, every writer hears the advice: write without editing. Hemmingway’s drunken writing implies the same thing – that when we are free from the burdens of ‘behaving’ we do memorable things. When we write without trying to behave or follow the rules of writing, we create something memorable. Sometimes the result is fabulous…othertimes, not so much. But writing freely seems far safer.

That is what makes a story great – crossing a line into new territory, finding a new way to spin a tale, creating a plot twist so tasty the success of the scene feeds you for months.

My issue with this idea of free writing is the ‘free’ part. It’s in my blood to follow the rules. My creative mind does have limits – but I prefer to think of those limits as tiers of imaginative storytelling; the more practice I have the more freedom I experience.

It’s like taking pictures in this digital age: shoot many pictures, then crop, adjust the color, the focus and add text.

For example, this:

with a little crop and color can become:

or:

The writing equivalent to picmonkey.com is the red pen, a discerning eye, an honest writing partner and excellent samples of literature.

A recent scene I worked on started with blurry logic and unfocused placement.

Yeah, I know. Ick!

I took the scene and slowed it down, increasing the tension, cueing in on the focus and creating a much more palatable piece. It became apparent that I needed to include the main character in the description. Here’s the latest version:

What I like to have at my disposal are books of those who have bridged new forms of literature, strapping their ropes to the muse of poetry, the master of mystery, becoming a proficient fiction weaver. Here is a short list of books that have zapped my creativity to the next level. These tales have left me breathless and standing in line to buy the next book by these authors.

The Underneath, Kathi Appelt; A poetic masterpiece that changed the way I view trees, cats and hummingbirds forever.

The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien; It’s a classic. Not a surprise that I absolutely love the rich language and description. Some say they feel bogged down by the length of the description. I like the leisurely stroll through the words…reminds me of Sunday afternoon drives through the country.

To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee; Opened the nation’s eyes to injustice. Opened my eyes to the power of a well-written novel. Plus it has a rabid dog, a recluse, and a spunky kid…what’s not to love?

The Never Ending Story, Michael Ende; I was given a copy for Christmas when I was in the seventh grade and I spent the next two days reading. Will probably spend the rest of my life searching for the book that Sebastian read.

Inkheart, Inkspell and Inkdeath by Cornelia Funke;  A story within a story within a story. Literary genius. Read it. You will not be disappointed.

The Shack, William P. Young; A difficult subject matter handled beautifully with the Trinity present in a surprising way. A self-published success story.

So, set down the drink, pick up a book and dive into the pages. When you pick up your pen let the essence of a story flow through without the restrictions of rules. Notice the scenes that slow down and up the tension, the suspence. Duplicate it in your own writing. Take a scene that rushes and do a frame-by-frame in writing.

Taking that into your own improvement, slow down and read great stories. Take it chapter by chapter. Then pracitce. The pay-off will be well worth the time and effort.

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There are hundreds of stay-at-home moms and dads who somehow find time to write their short stories, poetry and novels during nap times and in 5-minute increments that sometimes appear when children are suddenly, and momentarily, happily playing with a toy. I’ve tried to embrace the 5-minute novel idea, but my brain won’t.

There are moments when I can jot down a few notes for a scene idea, but I truly enjoy the silence I encase myself in when I write. As a mother of four, the youngest a very happy, jolly little boy (read that as ‘the loudest boy ever born!’), the silence is necessary for creativity to come through my pen.

Besides, the romantic side of me clings to the Hollywood ideal of writing – fast, furious and impeccable writing that makes me laugh, then cry as I craft scenes off the top of my head. And when the book is finished, I call my agent, who asks for the manuscript immediately. The day is topped off with a champagne toast with my husband and cheers from adoring fans. Yeah, that’s never happened, so I’ll take what I can get: an hour a day of total silence to write.

There are six things I do in order to create a Silent Writing Retreat at least once a week, but ideally, every day:

1. Schedule a time for writing. Maybe you can wake up an hour early and write in the silent hours of dawn…or pre-dawn. Perhaps you will be like me and squeeze an hour a day during the afternoon nap time. Work all day? Stop at a coffee shop on the way home for your hour of writing. Or put the kids to bed 20 minutes early and then work for an hour. (I know, you’re laughing too. Kids don’t typically stay in bed. Just sayin’, it might work. You’re still laughing, aren’t you?)

2. Create a work space that appeals to your senses. My desk is not a clean, neatly squared off surface. I like to have a few books out to help me stay motivated to improve my writing. I have a lamp from a garage sale, and a slew of my favorite pens. I bring up a hot cup of tea and a piece of toast when I start my writing retreat and dive into the silence. Try some candles, instrumental music (George Winston is my favorite).

Where I want to write…

…and this is where I really write – the dining room table.

3. Unplug. Leave the phone in the other room or turn it off altogether. Stay off all social media for the duration of writing time and if necessary, lock the door…which isn’t really unplugging, but a must!4. Have a plan. As I begin work on a story, I sketch out scenes. When I have time to write, I grab my scene outline and write. (More on scene outlining will follow in an upcoming post: “How to Plan a Story” subtitled: “The Type B’s way of writing like a Type A”.) Make the most of your allotted writing time.

5. Keep a Writing Journal. This isn’t your notebook of ideas to keep in your purse or pocket, but a notebook to write about your writing process, your plan and your worries. Jot down what you are feeling before you start writing, then return to it and write about how the writing progressed. Take time to read back through journal entries and note patterns in your emotional reactions, things that inspire and what destroys a good day of writing.

6. Write. Duh! Right? Don’t research or read during your WRITING time. I’m not suggesting that you don’t research or read at all, those activities are an essential key to the success of every story and writer, just don’t do them when you are supposed to be writing.

Bonus Tip: Let your family know that while they are very important to you, your writing is something that brings you happiness and maybe someday in the future, an income. If you treat your writing as a business, your family will respect that. My three older daughters know that unless someone is uncontrollably oozing, bleeding or knocked out by some unsupervised game, I’m to be left alone during my hour of writing. And so far, so good.

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