Monday, August 11, 2014

Thoughts from the Heart

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I know many people are stunned by Robin Williams' death. His suicide.

I have no new words to add.

Only a deep feeling. Many deep feelings.

I know he talked about depression and his struggles. I didn't realize his struggles were - this. I didn't realize this was a possibility.

He had it made! Right? He was loved by many - not just the public, but family and friends. He had money. He had talent, oh so much talent. He could make us laugh. I know, sometimes made us laugh at times with pain behind the laughter. He was at the top of everything. It seemed.

I was wrong.

But isn't fame and money and adoration of fans and a following and so much talent enough to keep us safe?

No.

I want to write something profound but I have nothing profound to say. Stunned. Sad. Feeling that my anxiety episodes and complaints and periods of mild or situational depression are nothing. I know they're not, but this. Today. Losing Robin Williams to depression. I'm talking about the collective loss - I know his family's loss is even greater and. And. I have experienced two losses due to suicide - but neither of them were that close. It is always a loss.

But somehow I wouldn't think that we would lose Robin Williams this way.

I want to write a poem for him. But it didn't come, yet, so I'm writing this to add to the thoughts of others.

Here is one piece I've read which I really relate to and like. It's worth the click. Depression is a Duplicitous Asshole by Angela Giles Patel.

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Saturday, August 9, 2014

Re-establishing a Practice

Photo: Underground Tour begins.
Beginning the Underground Tour in Seattle
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This week we took an overnight trip to Seattle. We packed in several activities and even got a good night's sleep. And we had a great time. A couple of days away, no work, just fun and exploration, and silliness.

I also took the opportunity to re-establish my daily writing practice. I've been thinking about it. In the not too distant past I've written here about different sides of the writing every day issue and I still stand by my earlier thoughts: not every writer must write every day. But I also know that writing every day can be a benefit for some of us.

I needed a break from writing every day. I needed a break from the expectation that I had to write every day. I needed a break from the pressure of performing and "doing it right' or "doing it wrong." And I freely admit that the expectation and the pressure was internal. I could point to external experts and successful authors and say, see, they said so - or they do it so it must be right. I also know that I was the only one who could make it happen. Or not.

So I took a break.

Good idea. Really. Take one thing off the "must do" list and keep it enjoyable.

I also noticed that my writing production, when I'm not in an ongoing workshop or class slows. I can point to work - and it's true. I can point to theater - which is one aspect of my work - and it is also very true.

And I can point to times when I have written every day and I've been working my normal amount of hours and I've been doing a play. It worked.

There is also something to writing begetting writing. I was just having this conversation with another interpreter. Yes, we were talking about theater, interpreting theater - and about writing. We are both authors and we are both interpreters.

Writing every day can be like the joint fluid which keeps your knees and shoulders and hips and all of that in your body more mobile and moving easier. Writing every day can be the grease on the wheel which, when mobile, keeps it lubricated and the mechanisms working.

Or writing every day can be a signal to the Muse - or whatever you call your inspiration - that you are willing to show up. Then you have to listen, as the other interpreter-author pointed out. And she's right.

So I decided a couple or so weeks ago that I wanted to try writing every day. Not like the Morning Pages, though that was a very useful project many years ago. But something where I set a realistic goal to write every day. I didn't act on that decision. Until this week. Until we were in Seattle and we went to Elliott Bay Books and I found myself again standing in front of some blank journals. Knowing that I had several at home - but not like this one - and I bought the one that stood out to me.

Then I wrote. The next morning after my shower and while one of the other of the three of us was in the shower, I wrote. I decided on three pages a day, not because of Morning Pages though that is her magic number. But I decided on three pages because I know it is a little past my "done!" point and it will push me just a little.

I also decided - obviously since I purchased a notebook to write in - to do this writing by hand. This writing is the grease and the movement. I write well on the computer, efficient, fast, things work. But this writing is more from the body and that is what I need to communicate with and from more. Also so I don't feel the same pressure to produce that I sometimes do when I'm on the computer. Or feel like I should be editing the novel in progress.

This is writing from the gut.

And I am.

Trying to re-establish a daily writing practice. And to be gentle with myself and have self-compassion on the days when it may not happen; which I hope are few.
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Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Re-Vision

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Several years ago, when I was doing the facilitator training for Write Around Portland, our trainer talked about the revision process for the workshops we would be leading. Then she wrote on the board - which was probably an easel sized sticky note on the wall - Re-Vision.

That changed my perspective of rewrites, of editing my work. Even though I was there to learn the Write Around Portland facilitator way (which is awesome - as a facilitator and as a participant). But it gave me a new insight into working on my own writing.

Last week I was thinking about how I wanted to change the novel. There are many changes, but some of them are structural. One of them was that I needed to strengthen the beginning. I will admit right here that beginnings (at least in my early drafts) are not grab-you-by-the-heart-and-hold-on. I don't mind reading a book which leads me gently into it; I don't need to be hit on the head or have a murder in the first scene; I can wait if the writing is good and the trail of word crumbs looks like it's leading somewhere I want to go.

But I've also read a couple of books with really strong openings recently and I thought, That! That is what I want my books to do at the beginning. Not all of them, maybe; but this novel I'm working on right now, it needs a solid opening.

So I played around with finding what would be about the first 25 pages for the writing retreat I will be attending in October. I even printed it out because my schedule has a few breaks built into it where a paper editing process will work and on the computer won't.

One day I was driving to work, thinking about writing and something else, and that word came to me: Re-Vision. And in the next minute I knew what I was going to do for my new opening. And I did it.

The novel now has a new beginning. It is a section from a later chapter in the book, which has some excitement and a bit of a hook. And it is pivotal to the story - but that doesn't come out until later. It can't come out until later or else I'd have the whole thing wrapped up in a short, boring ten pages or so. Maybe more.

That new beginning chapter? It's written. And revised. I need to do one more look over for myself and will probably make some changes; but I should have that opening chapter in its Re-Visioned state done by the end of this week.

Once again I have discovered that editing can be fun.
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Saturday, July 26, 2014

Making Space

I've returned to editing the novel. And it feels to right. And good. Which is really good because I don't often say that it feels good to be editing.

I freely admit that I am not generally a big fan of editing. It is one of the necessary tasks of writing, I know. But it doesn't mean I have to like it. I usually don't; or I at least don't find it an enjoyable part of writing.

After setting aside the memoir, I thought about which task to focus on. I have a short story collection in the works, one novel which was actively in revision, and another one I want to return to. And then there are some short pieces from the memoir I am still developing.

I signed up for a week-long writing retreat in October and will be submitting 20-25 pages of something to the facilitator for reading and feedback. I considered both the first novel and the short story collection. I had a good conversation with my Tuesday writing partner, Rooze, who had some good advice. I listened to what she said - she has many words of wisdom and she has both a BFA and an MFA in writing, so listening to her makes me wise, too. And i thought about what she said along with my gut feeling and opted for the novel.

Originally I thought I would go with the short stories. Three of them feel solid and two of them are done, in my opinion; two others are still being written and there are another three so far which may or may not fit. But they are my more recent writing and feel ready or near ready for another's eyes and feedback. And more representative of my current writing style.

But the facilitator writes novels. That was Rooze's advice - to think about what the facilitator is writing and pick what matches her strengths and her style. That felt so true and right. And I am in the revision and rewriting process of the novel, so I decided to go with that.

As soon as I made the decision to get 20-25 pages presentable for a new set of eyes, I had an insight about the book. I was able to move forward with the rewrites - from which I am taking a break right now to write this. I realized the first thing it needs is a new beginning - and that I had the basics of that new beginning in the book, it was in the wrong place.

So today I am having more fun with rewriting the beginning of the novel. I have moved a section to the front ad the rest of that chapter which be moved later in the book. It is actually an important scene, but that doesn't come out until the end. Where I had it, it's importance and impact were completely lost. But that was where it came out in the original by the seat of my pants writing. When I first wrote the scene, even I didn't know of its importance.

And this is fun. Yes, thankfully, finally, I am having fun with editing.

I know it won't always be this way. That sometimes editing is painful and boring and long. I know I will get to that point with this book later on, when I get the next draft done and I have to go back and do this again. Or there are a few chapters I already know will feel like slogging. But today, I'm enjoying the process of editing. And this is good.
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Friday, July 18, 2014

Big Project Update - It's a Doozy

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I sat down to write this post, then wondered when I had made the announcement that I was going public with my editing process on the memoir. So I saved the draft and opened a new tab in my browser to check previous posts.

It was June 17th.

Now it is July 17th.

After the Universe gave me a few unexpected gifts last week, I did some serious thinking about writing, including The Memoir.

Before I go on, I must tell you that the Universe had to slip the information in sideways, in the guise of work, because I wouldn't have seen it otherwise. Maybe I would have. Maybe she would have found something else to get my attention or some other avenue. But I doubt it. She made the work situation so appealing that of course I jumped at the opportunity with barely a thought to not do it. No regrets.

There were so many insights from the work that I won't even try to tell you all about them. That isn't the point of this particular piece of writing, anyway.

Within a week of that experience, I met with my sporadic Friday night writing group, a Portland writer I met at a workshop in Port Townsend with whom I am going to start regular writing meetings (which will probably become a writing group and more), and I met with my Tuesday writing partner. The writing energy was strong.

The point of this writing is: I have decided to shelve The Memoir for two years. Not all of the stories. There are pieces I have sent out into the world, a couple have been published; there are a couple of stories I want to develop more or rewrite. I will continue to work on some of the stories and revise or edit them to be standalone pieces (if they aren't already).

I realized that The Memoir project had become a block to moving forward with other writing. I did complete another read through the manuscript and came away with more questions, with more problems, with the knowledge that there are some challenges and problems which make it not work in major ways. I have been devoting most of my writing time to The Memoir and it has significant flaws. And I don't want to work on it right now.

I decided to set it aside for a specific period of time so that I don't waste energy and time wondering if I should look at it. If I should work through specific passages and dig out the industrial sized shovel to fill in some of the Godzilla sized potholes and looming question marks.

I have had some insights into the memoir work in the past eighteen months and they were good. New perspectives and new energy. And daunting. And they lead to another path. It is not the path I am on and I have been struggling to keep my footing but feeling like I had to hold on and keep going.

There are so many pieces of advice about creative work being hard, putting one foot in front of the other, hang in there and keep going and you will make it, and that when it gets hard it just means to try harder and you will get through it.

I did all of that. I am actually very good at hanging in there and wading through the muck, head down, move forward, just do it. But not for this anymore. I need a break.

I don't know what will happen in two years. I don't know if I will see where it needs to go and rewrite it. Or junk it. Or extend the "on hold" status. But I do know that I don't have to think about it for two years.

So right now, while I have another three hours alone at this place, with the ocean crashing against the rocks across the street and the wind blowing the shades on the window and the birds arguing over who gets the worm or seed or whatever it is they are conversing about, I am going to unplug and move outside. There is a lovely set of chairs and a table under the pine trees, on the edge of a now cold fire pit. The sun is reaching the edge of the welcoming space and - I assume - warming it just a bit.

I am moving out to that space on the edge of the sun. I will take the laptop, battery fully charged and Ethernet cable disconnected. The owner of the space offered to hook me up to his ultra secure wireless router before he headed off to errands for his work, but I said no, I don't need the Internet to write. So I'm moving outside and away from the temptation of the 'net into the open air - even my mobile has no service since we're in a little cellular black hole here - and I'm going to work on the novel. I've already done a little work on my short story collection and it is coming along well. But I am going to return to the novel I love and begin again. Not completely from scratch, but I am using the notes and research from the first draft to rewrite the story. The first draft was rough and unplanned - a NaNoWriMo winner written without an outline or storyline or anything at the stroke of midnight:01 on a November 1st, and it's a mess, as a pantser NaNoNovel will be.

Big Project Update? Shelved for two years.

Now I get to go write fiction without self-imposed guilt.
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Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Dorothy Allison Writes About Place

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Over at The Open Bar on the Tin House website, Dorothy Allison writes about "Place."

She begins with :
What do you notice when you first enter a story? Who is talking? Who are they talking to? Where are they standing? What’s going on in the background? Is there a background?

If you have not had the opportunity to be in a workshop or class with Dorothy Allison or are not otherwise familiar with her words on writing, this is a brief introduction to her work. If you know her writing and her work on writing, then you already know it's worth the click.

Click to read "Place" by Dorothy Allison.

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Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Relationship with Rejections

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I received a rejection for a hard to place piece of writing today - and the rejection makes me happy. Reason one that I'm happy - it means I am getting my writing out there. Reason two that I'm happy - well, I will let you read the rejection :

"Unfortunately this particular piece was not a right fit for Mason's Road, but we were very impressed by your writing. We hope that you will feel encouraged by this short note and send us something else.

We look forward to reading more."

I like this particular short story. I have workshopped it with several writing groups and individual writers and friends. I've edited and revised. I believe it's a strong piece of writing and I've received good feedback, and people like it - not everyone, but those who understand it, like it. I think it's hard to find the right fit for this particular story, but I am not giving up on finding a home for it out there in the world. I will keep looking for the right publication and go back to this one to see what I have which might be a better fit.

Rejections are a part of being a writer = getting a rejection means I am writing and submitting my stories. Thank you to Mason's Road for the note.
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