Tag Archives: writing activities

Looking Back & Flying Forward

Happy 2011! The past year has added another ring to the trunk of my tree, and as I trace a finger around the circumference of bark, I’m elated to be looking back on a year of frolicking, friendship, and focus, an enchanting year of feeling more at home overseas and in my new freelancing capacities, while still basking in the joy of home-home periodically—this last visit being an especially candy-coated one of icicles and white Christmas lights glowing from beneath inches of snow, of attending Nativity plays, marveling over how a bee could have stung my niece inside the house in December, hearing an older nephew’s voice deepen, and initiating a younger one into our Finer Things Club on the basis of his Harry Potter knowledge…of laughing with siblings, savoring parents, celebrating with in-laws, toasting with friends, and sharing chocolate fondue with several former students at the quaint café where I used to grade their essays :).

And, of course, it was a whooping, whirring, sometimes wilting, but always whimsical year of writing, but one that has now gotten me prepped for the humbling undertaking of querying and thrilled to start up new projects. Time to get warmed up, then…time for this monkey to fly.

The Prompt:

Today, page 44 of Room to Write asks us to write about flying—how it makes us feel, where it takes us. As an alternative, we can perform a free-writing by starting with the word “flying” or “wings.”

Response:

Flying these days inevitably makes me think of airports and how such places that used to represent adventure and freedom have now come to mean “goodbye.” There’s still anticipation in it, still excitement in it, yet somehow I also worry that with every new flight I take, the world becomes less unknown and more trodden. Nevertheless, flying is still my gateway to other perspectives, other features, other values, and flying is what will bring me to my 6th continent next weekend and allow my greying UK-ified skin to gulp up some Vitamin D. Flying is soaring, feeling the air rushing against my face as my heart rises into my throat and my stomach sinks to my bladder or clenches at my spine, it’s loop-de-loops and spinning spirals, then having to peel the cape off my face. It’s Peter Pan, it’s Superman, it’s the birds that escape the pavement and the predators and sing me out of slumber. Flying is icy pressure beneath my fingernails as they pierce the air and a tickling tug at my toes as their wake sucks a vacuum into being. It’s hearing the crackle of joints as my wings finally unfurl and spread out in a stretch that luxuriously takes my breath away before expanding my lungs with cool purity. Flying is connecting, an efficient means of traversing the distance between A to B or of ascending from thoughts to ideas, information to knowledge, sense to sensibility, for even when not stepping onto a plane, it is only opening a book or reading an email from Mom or closing my eyes atop a pillow that yet makes me fly. Flying is high-speed, forward-moving levitation, or it’s the freedom of imagination I enjoy while never feeling more grounded.

Reflection:

BeezArtist.com

I didn’t do a full-on free-write without stopping, but I did let my thoughts meander wherever they fancied sentence by sentence. No surprise that, being between a recent and upcoming plane trip, the word first took me to modern air transport, though it still didn’t take long to get to the actual action at hand, physically and metaphorically. Not my most creative effort, but a productive enough burst before bedtime to motivate me to wake to a day of more fruitful word-weaving tomorrow. I think when I found my mind wasn’t fully taking flight by writing tonight, it started yearning for a book—someone else‘s writing :). Fair enough. We become better writers by reading as well, so time for me to check-in (i.e., get in my PJs), get my boarding pass (grab my novel), check my bags (ditch any emotional baggage at the bedroom door), board my aircraft (climb into bed), switch on my reading light (uh, that’s really the same thing in both scenarios), and get ready for take-off!


So, uh…Did You Bring Any Protection?

*blush*  Get your minds out of the gutter.  What kind of monkey do you think I am?!

“The best lightning rod for your protection is your own spine.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

I have long neglected my little writing prompts that originally kicked off this blog, mainly because they’re aim was to get me over writer’s block, and it worked!  I’ve been cranking until I’m crossed eyes these recent days on revising my manuscript, and for the time being am keen to step away for a bit to clear my head.  So…

The Prompt:

Today page 43 of Room to Write asks us to list the protections we use in our everyday lives or, indeed, our writing.  We are to then have our main character embody this protection in a scene or simply write a new piece without using writing-protections (e.g., a different place than the usual, without a word/page limit, etc.).

Henry VIII's armour

Response:

My everyday protections include:

– smiling

– expression through writing versus speaking

– diving behind a book or in front of a computer/tv

– my giant headphones and iPod

– sarcasm

– my forked tongue, when need be

– stubbornness, which includes a common refusal to say, “sorry”

– quiet pensiveness, reclusiveness

Hm, given that codpiece on Henry's armour, perhaps he could've used this protection as well...

– over-analysis

– verbatim recall of prior conversations (one of my more superb defenses)

– cold silence or, conversely, inane babble

– hats, cardigans, and sunglasses

– take-away caffeine (somehow just holding the steaming paper cup is a fortification, regardless what’s inside)

– sleep

– my quilt

– a hybrid superiority/inferiority complex that’s a bit difficult to describe…

I’ll stop there and address the second part of this exercise by first peeling off one key writing-protection of mine:  the ability to revise.  So I’m just going to write this off the cuff and not obsess over how it comes out, leaving it raw in its first draft form.

So, that said, I have certainly infused a lot of the above protections into my protagonist, who I’ll continue to address by the pseudonym “Margaret” (whoops, there I go, still protecting…and for whatever reason protecting the fictional :)).  I could probably find one-to-one matches for almost everything on the list, but here’s just a few examples:

“Margaret beamed one of her fake smiles in maneuvering in ninety-degree angles toward her.”

“Writing was so much easier than calling; writing gave control, the ability to pause, reread, and revise.  Margaret didn’t trust herself with speaking any longer; the restraint in talking to her parents was difficult enough, and they alone embodied the innocence necessary to not pick up on vocal cues.  Her not-so innocent friends and brother, on the other hand, were risks she couldn’t take.”

“Shaking off the mundane tasks of Everyday-Land and shoving in a thumbnail to spear a dog-eared page, Margaret tiptoed into her alternate universe at the delicious creaking sound of a hardcover binding blooming into action.”

“She’d banked an increasing number of slumbering hours ever since that first day […] and she wiled away the afternoons on indulgences like prolonged soaks in the tub and otherwise luxurious daytime lounging.  The solitary nature of her days quieted her mind to her earlier paranoia, distortions in perception that she’d ascribed to stress-induced fatigue.  [It] all dissipated before her like the steam that rose off the bubbles in her lap.”

The sun shied away behind the clouds, making Margaret’s sunglasses redundant, so she reluctantly removed them.”

“She’d lately taken to […] a route of anonymity that concealed her among side streets rather than parade her before rows of shops and sidewalk cafés.  She didn’t want to be observed, though sometimes played a mental game that she was hiding from the paparazzi lusting to lavish her with attention—somehow desiring to be a Nobody while still feeling like a Somebody.”

And that kitten definitely has claws when she needs ’em to shield her inner vulnerability.

Reflection:

As much as this character isn’t supposed to be me, it’s interesting to look back on her through this lens and realize how cognizant I am of my defense-mechanisms, as reflected in this mirror.  I reveled before in the fact that writing can be a protective filter of our thoughts by virtue of its revision stage, yet it is also something that leaves us exposed, unveiling raw emotion, intellect, and imagination.  I’m sure I’m not the only one who felt (and continues to feel) timid about posting a blog, putting those ideas out there for anyone to read and judge.  Getting something “in writing,” after all, carries that sense of no-turning-back, as though signed in our blood or chiseled in stone.  There’s both a structured permanence and organic fluidity to it that just fascinates me, but I’ll leave that to another blog topic on another day.  For now, I suppose these blogs do allow us to go back and edit, but I’ll keep my promise and not exercise that protection ;).  In fact, I’m not even going to let myself read this over before I press “Publish.”  Ha, take that!

What are your protective layers?



Show Me, Show Me, Show Me How You Do That Meme

These have been busy days causing much blog-neglecting, so for now I shall finally snag the writing activity from Corra McFeydon’s A Lit Major’s Notebook blog as I told her I would.  I had also told her I had a Spotlight Award waiting for her when her blog was up and running again, which is still out there for the offering, though I know she will graciously not accept 😉

This is in keeping with some of the writing prompts I follow that allow for brevity…it’s like an ink-blot test, really, offering insight through metaphorical self-perception:

– If I were a season, I’d be autumn.
– If I were a month, I’d be October.
– If I were a day of the week, I’d be Thursday.
– If I were a time of day, I’d be 23:00.
– If I were a planet, I’d be Saturn. (I like a good accessory).
– If I were a direction, I’d be West.
– If I were a tree, I’d have the perfect branch to sit and imagine on. (and there’d be a monkey in me)
– If I were a flower, I’d be dried jasmine blooming at the bottom of a tea cup.
– If I were a fruit, I’d be a tomato.
– If I were a land animal, I’d be a cat, sleeping in a sunny window.
– If I were a sea animal, I’d be manatee, fooling sailors that I’m a mermaid.
– If I were a bird, I’d be a mockingbird.
– If I were a piece of furniture, I’d be a chaise lounge.
– If I were a liquid, I’d be red wine.
– If I were a stone, I’d be sedimentary.
– If I were a tool, I’d be a level.
– If I were a kind of weather, I’d be alternating showers and sunshine, UK-style.
– If I were a musical instrument, I’d be a piano.
– If I were a color, I’d be burnt sienna (consult your Crayola box).
– If I were a facial expression, I’d be a raised eyebrow.
– If I were an emotion, I’d be anxiety.
– If I were a sound, I’d be fingers tapping on a keyboard/piano keys in inspiration or a flat surface in impatience.
– If I were an element, I’d have an even atomic number.
– If I were a car, I’d be a Volkswagen.
– If I were a food, I’d be cheese.
– If I were a place, I’d be lined in dark wood paneling and floor-to-ceiling bookshelves, flickering in candlelight.
– If I were a flavor, I’d be spicy.
– If I were a scent, I’d be spicy 🙂
– If I were an object, it would be fun to be unidentified and flying, too.
– If I were a body part, I’d be the eyes.
– If I were a song, I’d be “Just Like Heaven” by The Cure.
– If I were a pair of shoes, I’d be black ballet flats.
– If I were transportation, I’d be my own two feet.
– If I were a fairy tale, I wouldn’t want any contemporary retellings of me to star J-Lo.
– If I were a holiday, I’d be spent traveling.

Oh yeah, and if I were a song, I’d also most certainly want you to rock out to me (men, apply that guyliner):


On the Borderline

Oh goodie, this is a fun one—a game of sorts for those days when you fear the tap to your creativity has run dry and you just can’t write.  Well, you can.  Given some direction—rules, if you will—you might be surprised when you spring a leak 🙂

The Prompt:

Page 41 of Room to Write asks us to choose one of the following words:  fence, road, boil, or fall.  Then:

1. Write the first words that come to mind when you think of your chosen words.  Write them in a list form until you hit the bottom of the page (or your computer screen…I decided to do 20).

2.  Keeping the list in the exact same order, develop a story in which every line uses one of these words.

Response:

He rode the fence on the issue.

Sure, he realized the importance of establishing boundaries,

but was this something to fall under such restriction?

He was already on the border of sanity as it was.

One thing he was never good about was choices,

options that left him speculating which path to take and leaping to cynical conclusions as to what menaced him ahead on each.

In this way, even the gift of choice wound barbed wire round his psyche

and threatened to strangle his pride with the chain-links of fear he entangled himself within.

He never was a man of conviction, willingly crossing picket lines to not rock the boat with authority

and practically tying their strings onto himself as if he were some wooden puppet,

his thoughts and actions the property of someone else, always.

Facing the crossroads that he was now, he tried to envision vast farmland

dotted with livestock and caressed by the open breezes.

In this vision was also a garden; yes, there must be a garden in the back,

serving as the division of pleasure and labor,

where his legal troubles could be checked at the gate and all he would know of the world was a blooming fortress.

He then frowned at the way even his fancies imposed a natural barrier around him,

and wondered if he wouldn’t constantly need something to hold him back—balancing on the precipice of order and chaos as he was—

yes, something that would keep him penned in for his own protection and the safety of the world below.

He struck a match against the brick ledge, the final demarcation he would draw.

Reflection:

Today is definitely one of my days of feeling groggy and uncreative—there’s so much to take care of on all levels of my life, so my preoccupation with it all is almost paralyzing me into doing none of it.  In light of these kinds of days, I really appreciate an activity like this that confines me within a short set of rules; for as much as I think I’m a creative spirit, I’ve always functioned well within parameters.  Maybe that’s why the word “fence” is the one that leapt out at me 🙂

Anyways, if you ever find  yourself in a writing funk, I can promise you this is a good way to shake up your stagnant creative juices; there’s no pressure to how this sort  of piece will turn out, just that you follow the rules and keep on to the end.  Maybe it’ll go straight to the rubbish bin, maybe you’ll actually pull something from it to recycle in another work.  Who knows, but this took me less than 10 minutes, so surely you can afford that little bit of time to see what results.  It also has potential as a good lesson in working with motifs/extended metaphors in following through on a theme.

So, obviously I use these writing prompts to get me going, but I’m curious about YOU.  What is it that gets your brain-blood flowing and inspired to write again during periods of creative dormancy?


In the Year 2030

So, folks, this week we’ve found ourselves the victims of an Internet hoax that claimed yesterday, 6 July 2010, was the very day that Marty McFly and Doc flew into the future from 1985 in Back to the Future‘s sequel.  The evidence of this was compelling:  a photograph of the time-traveling DeLorean’s dashboard (above).  Uh, well…see here’s the thing about living in the “futuristic” society that we do today:  computer technology has brought us a little something called “Photoshop.”  The actual date?  21 October 2015.

Do you realize what this means???!!! We still have five more years to invent the hoverboard.  Wicked.

In any case, I found this “news” of transcending time and space to be quite timely with regard to the next writing prompt…

The Prompt:

On page 36, Room to Write asks us to choose a fantasy of what our lives will be like in 20 years.  We’re supposed to “develop a reasonable plot that would make the fantasy work out.”  Otherwise, we can try the same exercise using a beloved character from either our own writing or a treasured story.

Response:

Well, I don’t know how “reasonable” this is, but in my fantasy future life, I’ll have published a few novels, earning not enough for a sustainable living on my own, but enough to supplement our travel budget—or, wait a minute, if this is my fantasy, I’ll up it and say that it’s also making the mortgage payments on that stone cottage in the English countryside that we’ll maintain so we can still get our UK fix after having returned to the States (eighteen years earlier) to start a family.

[okay, I’m grabbing the DeLorean’s stick and shifting this into present tense—it’ll be cooler, like I’m speaking to you from the future]

For we do have a family—Fate decided it for us before we managed to overcome selfishness and laziness on our own 🙂  Three children, two in high school, one in middle school.  Ever since the offspring have been old enough to poop and wipe by themselves, we’ve been travelling with them abroad as well as domestically (so they know how to appreciate their own country as well), taking them to London to show them where Maw-n-Paw started their married life together, pointing up to the very window out which Mumsy would stare and formulate her fictional storylines in penning her first novel.

Not much has changed with the old neighborhood, essentially as little as had changed in the century-and-a-half prior to then.  Well, the doors are painted different colors, and the streets need some paving—we have those hoverboards as well as hovercars by then, so they are no longer a priority!

“Roads?  Where we’re going, we won’t need roads.” – Dr. Emmett Brown, Back to the Future

[…oh, c’mon, I’m spotting the envisioners of Back to the Future an extra fifteen years here]

Wellll…no, okay, even twenty years out, I think we’ll be lucky if we’ve even converted to 100% alternative fuel automobiles, so I really don’t see the hover-anything happening.  Rather, every petrol station has outlets where we can plug in our electric cars, or hoses for those autos that run solely on baby shampoo.

I still sit at a desk tap-tappin’ my stories, even though computer keyboards are now archaic—replaced with laser light sensors that project from a paper-thin pad.  I decide to still play it old-school, vowing to use my last-generation Mac keyboard until it goes kaput, just as I had with my Jetta, dearly departed about thirteen years ago…(resto en paz, my little German car manufactured in Mexico).  I listen to my same old alternative rock 80s tunes, but not on the computer—I now upload my iTunes (just like the rest of my apps) by scanning the chip embedded in my wrist against my monitor whenever I order new music; the music then pipes into my inner ears through my veins, so no headphones necessary.  If there’s a video, it projects inside my eyes.  There is now an app for dreams.

My parents are still alive, and they are defying science with their amazing health and sharp minds.  There is no question they will be able to see our children off to university (not the one where I teach literature and film studies, though, having earned my PhD a decade ago), just as they did for my nieces and nephews.  Our Illinois home is a warm and velvety, pristinely preserved 19th-century house with a floor-to-ceiling bookshelved library with REAL BOOKS (they’re not obsolete yet) and a hidden door, an attic bedroom with a dusty sock monkey resting in a box, and an echoey phonograph reproduction playing my Artie Shaw—and, okay, my John Hughes movie soundtracks thanks to the vinyl records a friend gave me for my birthday way back in 2008.  My siblings still live near us and make me laugh as hard as they did twenty years ago, and the twenty years before that.  Some things never do change.

Otherwise, when it’s life at the English cottage with its durable thatched roof, it’s Wellies and soil beneath fingernails, raking the earth to make a garden bloom and feed us.  It is quiet.  The few cars along the narrow roads no longer make noise.  The iTune chip in my arm is muted.  It is only the insect-leg violins and fluting birds that orchestrate the score of a life of expectation now fulfilled.

Reflection:

Well, I had to stop it somewhere.  I look back on this and notice all the aspects of my life I inevitably left out—What job will my husband have?  What about friends?  In-laws?  Relatives?  What about the negatives?  The illness?  The loss?  What’s going on in the world?  Politics?  Other technologies?  Pop culture?  And on and on and on…it makes me ponder why I did describe what I did, what I chose to idealize and stretch as far as fantasy would allow me…and still feeling that I didn’t play with it quite enough or feel comfortable with what extent I could.  There was the temptation to write science fiction, yet the reality is that 20 years isn’t really that far out.  Though technology has made tremendous strides in the last couple decades (ah, to recall a time before email and mobiles), I don’t believe the same goes for people and lifestyles in general—so this is more a study in how an individual might evolve over time, the outcomes of choosing certain paths over others.

But if I did want to tinker with creative futuristic imaginings, I’d definitely have to leap waaaay farther out than 20 years…further than Back to the Future II‘s 30 years…something more like…the Year 3000:

So consult the crystal ball and do tell—what does the future hold for YOU or your characters?


Are YOU Talkin’ to ME?

We all have them.  Those heated exchanges (or ones that are on their way to becoming heated) when we bite our tongues rather than spew what we’d really like to say.  Well, I must say I’ve gotten much, much better at speaking my mind over the last decade, so it’s hard to think of any recent times I’ve muzzled myself (quite unfortunate for my husband)…but still, there are times when we’ll do it for whatever reason:  to be tactful, to spare feelings, or maybe just to save time until we can regroup and come back with a better debate strategy.

The Prompt:

Page 24 of Room to Write asks us to think back to an argument when we’ve held back.  Let it all out now, considering what you censored or reworded at the time.  Develop it as a dialogue in which you likewise speculate how the other person may have responded.

Response:

I’m going to cheat on this one.  I’ve been trying to dig up some great conflict from my youth, but it isn’t coming to me right now.  The first hot topic that does come to mind, however, is one that I addressed three years ago by writing a letter that I knew I would never end up sending.  The file name I’d saved it under was, “If I Ever Have the Nerve to Send it,” so I could at least have it at the ready if need be.  The act of writing it out was in itself therapeutic and, as of this year, perhaps financially rewarding.  I’m still waiting to hear the latest update, but as of March I signed a release to have the letter included in an anthology entitled Best of Unsent Letters (I’m doubting the intended recipients would discover it under my pen name). We’ll see.  Maybe publication is delayed.  Maybe they forgot about me.  At any rate, until I know, I can’t share it here, but if it gets posted on their corresponding blog, I’ll retroactively add the link so you can see what spiteful things I have to say when someone crosses my family. “NOBODY puts Baby in the corner!

To make up for lack of creativity this fine, lazy Sunday, I’ll throw this out there.  When I do have a bone to pick but not the commensurate nerve to say it to the applicable person, I have a habit of carrying out the exchange in the mirror.  Of course, this could mean that I’m senile.  Regardless, I ended up incorporating this into one of my character’s list of quirks to rationalize why she (me) does it. Here is the draft excerpt of such a scene:

She really did spend inordinate amounts of time standing [at the bathroom mirror].  Not cleaning it, Heaven forbid, nor was it time reserved for inspecting pores or removing blackheads from her small, upturned nose; most of the time, she spoke in whispers.  Whenever her brain felt the size of a walnut or, conversely, enlarged to the point of bursting with thought, she just vomited out the swirling words and conversations verbally, wishing she [could] deposit them in a physical, external reservoir where they could be left behind and visited when desired, rather than confronted involuntarily and often when unprepared.

Eyes locked on her own, the visual reminded that her identity did lie in something more than just her own awareness.  Her presence meant something.  Her absence meant something.  She was here, in your face, and she mattered.

And so, she resumed—partially whispered, partially mouthed—the conversation she’d recently begun in her mind, a monologue finally telling John how she felt about their relationship and threatening him with how much her absence would absolutely matter to him.

“I’d feed you the ‘It’s not you, it’s me,’ line, but it’s not not you, and it surely isn’t just me.  It’s both of us and our mutual inability to ‘get’ each other.”

The figure opposite her served as an acting coach, giving Margaret feedback on her body language as she fine-tuned the script to perform later.  Satisfied after thirty minutes that she’d thoroughly convinced her reflection with her eloquent articulation, she was too exhausted and bored with the effort to even consider repeating the words to John anytime soon.  Such was the way with all the actual face-offs that never actually happened, especially because she’d lose her nerve without her reflected self as guide.

Reflection:

So…for whatever that was worth.  I’ll try to get my mind back in gear next time to churn out something new.  How about you?  What have you left unsaid?


The Art of Lying

Okay, then.  Getting me arse back into gear with my writing prompts now that I’ve concluded my grand U.S. tour.  I had a productive writing/revising day yesterday, though, so hopefully this will help me accomplish even more later today.

I was just watching the film The Invention of Lying last night, and, funny enough, the next prompt in Room to Write is about lies.  The movie is about a world in which no one lies until one man discovers the possibilities of doing so, and it’s hilarious the utterly dull impact the inability to lie has on advertising, literature, and film—fiction basically can’t exist!  The fact is, everyone at some point tells a lie.  Our motivations for doing so can vastly vary—it might be out of kindness to spare someone’s feelings, or it might spring from more ill intentions like self-gain or pridefully covering up that we are not as all that and a bag-o-chips as we’d like to think we are.

The Prompt:

In light of the different reasons why a person might choose to tell a “good” or a “bad” lie, our characters’ motivations in doing so can be very telling about them, even more so than the actual lie that they speak.  Bonni Goldberg tells us that we can more convincingly portray our characters’ lies by considering our own motivations for lying.  So, page 20 asks us to write only lies.  We have these options:

1.  Write silly lies, like you’re confirmed to pilot the next shuttle to the moon;

2.  Write more realistic lies that you have told or would actually tell to yourself and those you know;

3.  Write lies you have told and reflect on why you chose not to tell the truth in that instance; and/or,

4.  Write a scene in which one of your characters considers telling a lie.

This is one opportunity we have to tell lies without judgment…well, I guess I’m setting myself up for more judgment than if I were privately scrawling these in a journal vs. publishing it in cyberspace.  As I’m concerned this might hold me back from revealing certain truths through lies (odd how that does make sense), I’ll do a variation on #4 and share a scene in which my protagonist tells a string of little white  lies, and reflect on her motivations thereafter.  As in my earlier post, “Dialogues of Destiny“, I’ll call her “Margaret” and likewise alter my other characters’ names.  I will also highlight her lies in red font (that’s red, right?  Or is it orange?  I will not tell a lie and confess that I’m color weak.  Not proud of that fact).

Response:

To provide some context first, Margaret (an American) is temporarily living in her British friend Ron’s London flat.  They have had a recent, inexplicable falling out while standing in the doorway of her room.  Afterwards, he goes out for the night with his girlfriend Wendy while Margaret takes a nap.  She has just woken up and been writing in her journal when he returns, and this is what happens:

Margaret started when a dull thud on the door sharpened into three knocks of increasing conviction.

“Margaret?”

She adjusted the dimmer to fill the room in starker light, bracing, and the desk chair answered on her behalf with a creak as she lifted her weight from it to open the door.  Dread permeated her heart as she stepped into the threshold with a clammy hand still on the knob.  In the silence, it took several seconds before she could raise her meek eyes to his.  The face she met was not the darkened, scowling countenance of the Byronic hero she’d imagined; Ron’s visage, perhaps shaded in uncertainty to counteract its enhanced pallor, was otherwise unaltered.

“Are you all right?”

His tone conveyed that he had not analyzed this to remotely the same extreme Margaret had, if he’d even given it more than a second thought before embarking on his planned evening.

Sure.”  Feeling short of breath and sickened by their resumed postures in the doorway, a déja-vu she could control, Margaret suggested they relocate to the living room.  Averting an instinct to go to the sofa, she sat timidly on the club chair like a child sent to the Principal’s office.  A chair for one could be safe, personal space for her.

“Wendy was here just briefly, then we went for dinner.  Pizza—seventy-five centimeters of it.  I have the leftovers here for you if you like.”

The simple act of kindness pressed her eyes from behind.

“Oh, that’s so nice of you.  I’m fine, though.”

“You did eat, then?”

No.  “Yeah.  But thanks.” Not wanting the gesture to be thought in vain, she added, “Maybe tomorrow for lunch.  Cold pizza’s always been a national favorite.”

“What were you up to tonight?”

“Oh, I just slept.  I’ve been really lethargic lately, and just taking advantage of the fact that I can.”

“You have appeared positively knackered.  I assume you’ve had some late nights studying.  That can take its toll.”

His words sound so sadly strained…forced.  “To tell you the truth, I haven’t been to class in over a week now.  I never ditched class in high school or college, but, again, just finally realizing that I can, so I do.  It’s nice for a while to just be.  Whatever ‘being’ is.”

He rubbed his chin slowly between thumb and forefinger as speculation shadowed his piercing blue eyes.  “Well, you’re an adult.  I suppose you know what you’re doing.”

Not likely, but she was grateful he did not get didactic on her.  Still, she tried to salvage her studious reputation to an extent.

“Well, Ive still met with my project-mates, so they bring me up to speed.  A lot of this stuff is innate, or like something straight out of work experience, so I’m making good headway.”  This was half true; she had sporadically returned their phone calls and emailed bare-minimum contributions so at least their credits would’t be sabotaged.

“Interesting project?  Challenging?”

“Not really.”

Ron didn’t probe further, even though it was an area in which he himself had expertise; Margaret appreciated this in him, that he knew where to draw lines and let her be.  To a degree.

“What were you working on just now?”

“Huh?”

“You looked like you’d been at the desk writing.  In a notebook.  Documenting your stay here?”

Mm, sort of.  Just a blurb about something on my mind.”

“What is on your mind, may I ask?”

Shit, I handed him the perfect segue, garnished on a platter.

She was sincerely at a loss for what had come over her, remembering all the actions, but none of the motives, and she didn’t know where to even begin explaining something like that to her friend.  But she owed him a try.

“Not much.  I don’t know.”  She audibly expelled air from her lungs at the point of conceding defeat.  “Look…I’m…really, really sorry for my behavior earlier.  I don’t pretend to have an excuse.  I have reasons—I was tired and starting to feel positively nauseous.  But this doesn’t excuse me for my rudeness.  I’m sorry.”

“Yeah, you were a bit of a prat, weren’t you?  Rather unexpected.  What made you fancy laughing in hysterics like that?  Only to slam the door in my face all in a paddy the next instant?”

So he had thought about it.  Just took some classic British passive-aggressive beating around the bush to get down to it. “I’m really embarrassed; I’m not sure.  Did Wendy hear?”

His brows elevated. “Quite clearly, yes.  I believe that was the point, was it not?”

FuckBlame it on my hormones? “At the risk of making you uncomfortable, I think I’m approaching the end of my, you know, ‘cycle,’ so my estrogen levels are outta whack.”

“I comprehend the feminine chemical imbalance that occurs monthly, but, really now.”

This was a male attitude that never failed to royally tick off Margaret.  She lifted the tail from between her legs and automatically ignited.

“What the hell is with men being incapable of understanding that!  It would save your kind so much trouble if you’d just learn how to track a fucking calendar and know when to stay the hell away.”

Ron laughed through his teeth at the re-flaring of her incomprehensible temper.  “And what calendar is that?  How am I supposed to know your menstrual cycle, pray tell?”

“You could ask.”  Margaret realized this was an idiotic comeback.

“Oh, yes, quite right.”  He affected a Californian Valley Girl accent: “So, like, Margaret…when’s, like, your next period?  Need to borrow a sanitary towel?”

As funny as it was hearing the phrase “sanitary towel” articulated in an American accent, she was provoked.  “Well, hasn’t Wendy trained you to follow hers by now?  Or is she just bitchy all the time?”

“You’re out of line.”

Sorry.”

“No, you’re not.  And according to your own earlier statement, you don’t know Wendy.  So where do get off insulting her, offending me in the process?”

I was just making a joke.  I apologize that the humor doesn’t translate.”  The arrogant bitterness infusing her reply rendered the value of this apology null and void.

“What has come over you?”  She had never heard his voice raised before.

“This is getting all blown out of proportion.  I don’t even know where it started.  All I know is, I’m sorry for whatever misunderstanding is occurring right now.”

No, you’re not,” Ron repeated.  “Margaret, in just a matter of days, you have become a completely different person.”

Reflection:

And scene…well, to be honest in the midst of all these lies, that isn’t really the end of the scene, I just don’t want to give too much away about the plot and central conflict of the story.  In any case, beyond this point, Margaret shifts gears and becomes truthful to a fault, with more jabs below the belt.  But I will divulge what is hopefully apparent in this scene—Margaret’s emotions have become more erratic than usual, which, in all fairness to her, is just as perplexing for her as it is for us readers.  So, in her defense, when she tells Ron she isn’t sure what came over her earlier when she snapped at him, she really isn’t—nor does she understand why she’s becoming more disorganized and irresponsible.  However, she is not secure enough with herself to admit this to anyone just yet.  Rather than confront the possibility that there may be something psychologically imbalanced about her, she grasps for a commonplace explanation.

What is evident earlier in the scene is Margaret’s repetitious assurances that she’s “fine.”  Her motivations in this case also relate to her insecurity; she wants to hold up a brave face rather than show further vulnerability in front of someone she respects and in whose presence she just recently embarrassed herself.  This further explains why she half-lies about her coursework (she is taking a leave of absence to pursue summer professional development studies).  What is also going on here, though, is what I mentioned above about Margaret’s own confusion over why she’s acting the way she is lately.  In light of this, she is not only lying to Ron in this scene, but to herself.

When her temper begins to flare yet again, she spits out nasty comments (revealing her instability as well as tinge of jealousy over Wendy) and tries to backtrack by lying that she’s sorry; while he might not have noticed her dishonesty earlier, it is at this point Ron is able to call her out on it.  He knows she does not regret saying the spiteful things she does, and while it is offensive to him (and, oh boy, does it only get worse when the rest of the scene that is not posted here unfolds), his genuine concern encourages him to try to work through it with her.

One more white lie highlighted above centers on something Margaret wrote in her journal.  I’m not going to reveal what that’s all about, just that her deliberately vague response is likewise inhibited by her fear of revealing too much about herself that could be considered strange.

So that’s that for today.  I hope this dialogue comes across as natural and that the motivations underlying Margaret’s little lies do indeed say something about her character, regardless of whether it makes her sympathetic or not.  In closing, below is a tiny window into what the world might be like if nobody lied.  As it will reveal, lying is not an altogether bad thing in certain circumstances!


POVs of the Published

Since I’m relatively out of commission this week as I’m visiting Stateside and busy mixin’-n-minglin’ with all my loved ones (not to mention that my dear hosts, my parents, have an excruciatingly slow dial-up connection to contend with), the rest of my posts in the upcoming days are admittedly pre-scheduled snippets of what I learned from my Room to Write writing conference last weekend.   To follow up on my previous post, I’d like to expound a little more on a few of the quotations uttered during that workshop that I identified of value in their simple truths:

“80% of the meaning of a novel comes from the reader and 20% from the writer.”

Anyone who writes knows that even fiction is autobiographical in some way.  Writers are the originators of their stories and draw from their life experiences and personal frames of reference to structure and weave these tales, yet it is inevitable that different readers will pull different meaning away from even the same text.

This is something I stressed to my high school students constantly when we approached a new story or novel—my favorite task to assign to them would be maintaining margin notes (provided they, and not the library, were the owners of their books!).  These would be basic symbols that they could quickly transcribe with pencil in hand as they read so that they would not have to interrupt their reading too much—e.g., a “!” for something that surprised them, a “?” for something that confused them or prompted a topic for discussion, or a “*” for a line that resonated with them in some way, be it its content, beauty in phrasing, or some other aspect rendering it significant to them.  In doing this, the outcome is often the same—while there may be some passages that elicit a common reaction from all of them (as the author surely intended), there were always those that garnered different attention, whether spurring both like and dislike or perhaps overlooked entirely by some while having heartfelt impact on others.

That is where the reader’s life experience and personal frame of reference forms unique interpretations, as when a spectator in an art gallery looks upon an abstract painting or scultpure and sees in it the infinite wisdom of millenia of human history whereas the person next to him/her snorts at it with irreverence and comments that a child could have achieved the same result.  Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, as they say, and so is meaning.  We need to give our readers credit that they can fill any gaps we leave and not bind and chain them to a narrow view through our lens alone.

“Writers taste life twice–once when they live it, once when they write it.”

I just thought this was such a lovely sentiment as it conveys the sweet gift of life writers truly can enjoy…it’s almost like a form of immortality, getting to multiply one’s life experience in this way.  Of course, when writing fiction, we are not necessarily chronicling the factual details of our lives, but we certainly draw from the essence of what we live through to fuel our stories with authenticity and heart—and, yes, the wee tidbits that really do happen to us that we can incorporate are not only special ways of documenting those moments for posterity, but likewise add a genuine touch of reality to what could otherwise entail too much suspension of belief…not to mention that sometimes crazy things happen to us that one simply could not make up!

On revision:  “Kill your darlings–if you love it, delete it.”

I found this advice so interesting in its irony.  One would think that you should leave something in because you love it, but what I infer from this statement is a warning against being blinded by favoritism to what may not be suitable for a particular story.  I have heard this uttered by other published authors as well as they related times when they wrote a scene that they thought was so powerful and well-written, yet had to concede it did not further/enhance their plot in necessary ways.

It isn’t about destroying a scene or passage entirely, but, rather, removing it from one particular text with the hope that it will possibly offer better relevance to another work that you write.  I catch myself all too often wanting to put something in a story for the sake of squeezing it in somewhere because I think it’s such a marvelous observation or insight—and that may be true, but if it comes across as forced, it is really belittling the rest of what I’ve written and probably not optimizing its own efficacy.  So there you have it…we be warned.

On research:  “Write, don’t research.”

This quotation was of particular relief to me.  While one of my favorite genres to read is historical fiction, for example, I am not ambitious enough at this stage to undertake writing it myself because the research involved seems so intensive.  As a lifelong learner, I think it’s a fun and enriching aspect of writing, however, and certainly do carry out a degree of research for my own projects.  Yet in doing so, I’ve been paranoid that a lot of it does tend to be online, as if I’m taking the lazy route.  It’s terribly convenient to be able spelunk the web to verify a fact on the very same screen as the work in progress, though I’ve often second-guessed whether this is the professional way to approach it.

Well, I learned from my lovely mentors that the internet should indeed be valued as a legitimate resource provided you are using discretion in which websites you consult—Wikipedia, for example, is the notorious taboo online reference to avoid (and, naturally, it’s always the first cyber stop my students would make, much to my chagrin).  Qualify your sources for their credibility:  verify the author/institution that sponsors it, and cross-reference its claim against other sources.  Sites like Wikipedia allow any average schmo to post information without checks in place for validity, so it should be a no-go zone for your research of any purpose.

I do consult print books the old-fashioned way to verify bits and pieces of historical information, which reassures me that I’m not approaching this totally amateurly…and yet, what’s at the heart of the above quotation is that we should first and foremost write our story rather than pressure ourselves with the research from the getgo.  This isn’t to say we can blatantly disregard fact and rewrite our own histories, but simply that if we get too caught up in researching the details, we might inhibit our writing and the depth of feeling that could infuse it through our imaginations.  We were told that if we close our eyes and imagine the experience of what we want to research, we might surprise ourselves with how our accurate our imaginations are.

One example given to a fellow aspiring author related to a scene on a sailboat tha she is writing.  She was advised to just conjure in her mind what it would feel like to be on that boat, how the motion and the air and the spit of water might feel.  Just in doing this, she can create a more authentic experience than merely cataloguing the parts of the boat and sailing terms.  Certainly, checking her facts as far as what technical aspects she may reference is important, but this is not something she’d need to prioritize initially.  Rather, she should write the scene, then research and correct for the details as necessary retroactively.

So that’s my two cents on the UK authors’ two pence offered at the writing workshop.  Hopefully it offers useful nuggets of guidance for your own writing.  Coming up in my next three blog posts will be further advice provided on beginnings, endings, and dialogue.  Cheers!


Fresh Air, Fresh Faces, Fresh Ideas

Ahhh…as I expel the diesel-perfumed air that I inhaled all day today in London, my mental lungs proceed to gulp in the intoxicating purity of the breezes breathed in this past weekend in the Northeast England countryside.  I mentioned in my previous post that I was venturing out of the city for a writing-focused retreat sponsored by the organization Room to Write.  I truly don’t think that I can duly convey what the experience came to mean to me and will not attempt to do so–rather, I will hold that close to my heart and simply say that I had the privilege of being brought into the fold of some of the loveliest, most accomplished, talented, yet modest and genuinely good-natured  folks with whom I could have ever interacted.  Sipping tea with them in the conservatory of a Victorian country estate amidst an endless supply of sandwiches, scones, and fruit on a day colored by blue skies, green gardens, and brown deer was sheer heaven…it’s so me (in my dreams), and I could have pinched myself.  Hopefully my Midwest American accent was not as piercing on their ears as the sun was in our eyes 🙂

As I tuck that sweet and shimmering memory in my breast pocket, I shall tend to some matters of business.  I promised that I’d share some valuable advice learned over the weekend, and I’m a lady of my word.  As I’m heading Stateside in the morning for a week—and consequently going to subject myself to 7 days of my parents’ torturously slow dial-up internet connection that I truly think would run faster if a hamster generated it by running in its wheel—I’ll break it up into smaller bits written in advance, but to be scheduled to post across subsequent days.  Fair enough?

All right then, I’d like to start simply with some gems of quotations that I picked up.  I will repeat them as direct quotations here, though most are probably just my close paraphrases of the actual content, and I apologize in advance to the plagiarism gods for not specifically citing their speaker of origin (as the facilitators may have been quoting from elsewhere in at least a couple cases) .  Whatever…you’ll get the point, capiche?

“80% of the meaning of a novel comes from the reader and 20% from the writer.”

“Writers taste life twice–once when they live it, once when they write it.”

On revision:  “Kill your darlings–if you love it, delete it.”

On research:  “Write, don’t research.”

I will follow up in a later post with a bit of elaboration on these…I have an early flight and had better catch some sleep.  In the meantime, keep writing!


The Art of Discipline

On page 19 of Room to Write, Bonni Goldberg pauses to reflect on the importance of discipline in writing.  Her personal mantra when the going gets difficult is:

“Writers write, writers write…”

It all goes back to her emphasis on “showing up on the page” and curbing our tendencies to procrastinate or wait for inspiration to hit us.

The Prompt:

In light of the above, Goldberg asks us to write about discipline in one of 3 ways:

1.  Begin a poem or essay on what understanding you’ve reached on what it means to be disciplined, what you accept about it or what you reject;

2.  Track one of your existing characters as he/she copes with some element of discipline; or,

3.  Relate a past event that involved discipline in your life.

Going with Door #1 today…

Response:

Discipline is..

dedication and details

a dreaded dungeon

of dankness that congests my chest and blurs my eyes

resistance

like trying to run along the ocean floor.

But discipline is also

drizzling drops

of decadent delicacy

embedding structure within passion

to convert it to a sugared treat.

Reading the results

the rejuvenating reward;

whereas

idling for inspiration

the idiocy that is

waiting for words to come to you

rather than working to walk amongst them again.

The daily dollop, then,

the routine regimen,

the waking willingness

to expend effort and enjoy the effervescent energy

of Creation.

Reflection:

I can’t say I had any deliberate reason for the particular consonants and vowels I repeated in this other than they were the ones that started a lot of the words that were coming to mind with regard to the topic .  And I actually think I automatically latched onto to alliteration as a device to give me discipline, to set boundaries in which I could creatively explore.

Ironically, I’m not disciplined enough right now to spend more time on this or even take a second pass on what I just dashed off to revise or expand.  Ah well.  In truth, I think even just that brief time reflecting on it was validating, as that’s the point–if we perceive our goals as laborious tasks immense in proportion, of course we’re going to hit a psychological road-block; we’re just setting ourselves up for it.  The approach that seems widely recommended across writers is to chisel bit by bit off that boulder.  It may not feel like much at the time, but the aggregate results over the span of days will be noticeable if we discipline ourselves to set and accomplish reasonable daily goals.  If I’ve learned anything from my professional experience, it’s that goal-setting needs to focus on feasible, measurable results.

For me lately, on days when I’m not writing for my project, I’m making sure I’m at least writing a new blog post to stay warmed up.  And as for when I am working on my extended piece, sometimes I just roll with it, but other times I might set a word count–in yesterday’s case, 2,000.  It started out slow, requiring much discipline, but once I got into it, I tapped into a torrent of new ideas and ways that they could tie back to the old, and before I knew it, I had written almost 2,500 words by the time I reached a good time to stop for a break.  And even if I can at least add a few sentences of maybe a 100 or so words, I can feel the same level of satisfaction, even if I end up deleting it the next day.  Simply because I know I tried.  I worked at it, and I showed up on the page today.


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