Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Revisiting Razor's Edge - Writers' Block

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I'm happy to report that I am not experiencing writers' block.

But I received an email earlier today from a writer who read a piece I wrote a couple of years ago, which included a link to one of his favorite articles on the topic. (You can read my original post here, from April 2012, Razor's Edge: When Writing Feels Dead.)

The author of the email was Josh Spilker, whom I have never met, but I did click over to the link he provided to a short piece he wrote, 9 Tips To Beat Writer’s Block (Including 1 That Feels Like Cheating). This is a short list of tips and tricks to help kick your writer's block out the door. It's a fun list I thought I'd pass along.

I also wanted to share it because the "controversial" tip is fun and is not often spoken out loud. I have heard it mentioned a time or two, behind closed doors, in the halls. I don't know if I've seen it in print - it probably is somewhere. But it is a nice tip.

The "cheat" has to do with copying. Copying for practice and exercise, "to break the block." It's interesting, because my partner is an artist and I have heard her talk about a traditional teaching/learning technique among artists (really, I'm not making this up!) of copying the work of The Masters. I'm not talking about the "in the style of" paintings, though those do have value, too. I mean really trying to copy a Master's masterpiece to learn about brush stroke, color, line, shadow, and so on. 

Writers can use a similar technique to learn about voice, style, craft, character, etc. Or you can use it to juice the wheels of craft. Click on over to read more about what Josh Spilker has to say. It's worth a few minutes of your time!


 
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Monday, October 20, 2014

Affirmative Assumption, My Writing Retreat Adventure, Part II

One of our walks on the beach.

"Do not ASSUME," the saying goes. "Because when you break it down, it makes an ASS out of U and ME."

You've heard that phrase or something like it, right? If you haven't, well, now you can add it to your list of old fashioned or outdated bits of advice or pack it away in your arsenal of witty retorts.

Assumption has been given a bad rap. I know, I know. It's true that I shouldn't assume that I understand another person's experience if I haven't lived it. I agree, though I may be able to understand some of the feelings or bodily reactions if I have experienced something similar. I know that I can never understand the lived experience of being, for example, a Deaf person in this country (I am hearing), or a person of color (I am white), or a Wheelie ([can I use that term, Bug?]  I am a walkie), and so on.

But it is also true that assumptions can be positive experiences. The writing retreat at Rockaway Beach, which ended one week ago, was proof of positive assumption.

It has been hard to put what I felt into words, in person, when I've tried to explain it to a couple of people. Some success and mostly people "got" what I was trying to say. I'm going to try to put the words down here, as well.

But there was an atmosphere of assumption:
- that each of us are authors;
- that each of us hae a project we were working on or towards;
- that each of our projects are worthy of publication;
- that each of us are or can be published authors;
- that each of us would find our own process about how we needed to take care of ourselves and our writing during the week;
- that each of us would write and process and take breaks, sleep and eat and be involved in group activities as was appropriate.
When the cook was away for a night, we went out for dinner!

That each of us are skilled writers of equal value and importance and writing ties us together was in the air for the entire week. There was no doubt that we were authors and we were writing.

I suspect some people reading this may wonder why that was even a question. Of course. We each went there for a writing retreat. Duh. But it isn't always true when writers or wanna-be-writers come together that there is this total giving over to our author selves as valuable and in a spirit of acceptance that whatever each of us needs to do, she will do it, for herself and her writing. I am grateful to each participant and to Lori Lake. The success of a retreat like this has to have a good facilitator, a good leader, who sets the tone and expectations.

Lori made each of us feel comfortable in our author selves. She made time for each of us individually, before and during and even after the retreat. She led discussions in the evenings, shared resources, was a positive presence throughout the week.

Luca did an amazing job of meeting a myriad of dietary needs and preferences, with delicious and healthy meals. With making sure there was a variety of options for our make-our-own breakfast needs, which happened from the time the first person got up around 6am until the last of us got up around 10am. She also led us in a couple of collage nights, designed specifically for our retreat. Again, Luca was another great leader in the assumption that each of us would participate or not in the collage nights, as we needed to do for our author selves that week.

It was a week of being present. Of writing. Of knowing that I was in the right place and with the right people. Affirmative assumption can be a very good thing.

Rockaway Beach, OR  10.11.14

Sunday, October 19, 2014

My Writing Retreat Adventure, Part I

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October 5-12, 2014, I was at a writing retreat in Rockaway Beach, Oregon. It was held at the Oregon Writers Colony house, which has an ocean view out one side of the house and a lake view out the other. There were eight wonderful women authors and we were led by author Lori L. Lake and fed by poet, artist, and caterer Luca Hart.

I will admit that I was nervous going into this adventure. Excited and nervous - what I have come to call, lovingly, "anxietement" (the melding of anxiety and excitement, which often feel very similar to me). It is outside of my norm to go away for a week where I don't know anyone. I had met Lori at a conference, I liked her, I liked her writing, I was drawn to what she had to say and it resonated, and she had been very friendly and approachable in email conversations. And that was the only person I knew at all. After I arrived, I did find that I had seen - and possibly met briefly - a couple of the other other authors, but I didn't *know* anyone. And I was going to be sharing a room with someone I had never met. There was nothing to fear and it was a wonderful week.

We don't all have our author websites up and running yet, but I'm sure that all of us will, soon. Here is the list of the fantabulous writers I spent the week with, and their websites.

Judy Kerr
Laura Morrison
Luca Hart

I miss them all and there have been dropped hints/requests for organizing a reunion next year. Count me in!

back row: Me, Lori L Lake, Laura Morrison, Julia Ingram;
middle: Rae Richen, Luca Hart;
front row: Linda Vogt, Judy Kerr, MB Pinichi, Jessie Chandler
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Thursday, October 9, 2014

Big Breakthrough

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I have put in many hours this week on the novel. I am not done yet. Each step I make gets me closer to completion and yet, sometimes, farther away.

I was going to type, "farther away, it seems." But that has been one of my own discoveries this week is how much I qualify and discount in my story. Especially this story which was first written six years ago. I believe that my writing has improved in many ways since that time, but there is still room for improvement, need for feedback from outside eyes and brains.

This morning I started working on the timeline and plot map, which includes physical location of characters and movement in the story, where important events take place. I have made note of needing to that for at least a couple of weeks. This week, here, I have noted it and it was a major thing I needed to do which I put in my notes. I was going to start it last night, but it was late, I was getting tired, and I knew I wanted to start on it while I was fresh.

Which I did this morning.

I had to stop for lunch. I tend to overtake one end of the main table when I'm writing here. At least I have up until now because I am taking notes on one set of paper and making revisions and have my laptop. I take up space. So I paused for lunch. No problem.

After we were done eating and the table again cleared, I got back to it.

And I DID it! Making the map was slow at times. Some incidents and connections were not as clear as they seemed on the page or in my head. Who went where. What happened before or after what, was complicated.

I was happy it was complicated because I don't want my novel to be boring. But it wasn't as easy to plot it out as I thought it would be. Silly me.

Amazing things happened as I plotted and circled. Drew solid lines and dotted lines.

I realized that the section I moved to the front of the book was not an attention grabber, a hook. No. It really did have to be the first thing that happened. That is the inciting incident. It has to happen first or nothing else makes sense. (Or perhaps it's too twisting and manipulative to make it not be the first important thing.)

I also realized that the reason I moved it to the front originally, the thing I thought had to happen? It couldn't happen there. No way. It had to happen in a different time and place.

That was the big breakthrough. Once I realized that, things really fell into place. Not all of it easily; some events still had to be figured out, counted and timed in a way, noted and considered.

Which I did. I had the visual map. Then it got to a point where I had to write it out in a first, second, third, etc way. In that process I discovered that there were two incidents at one point - they needed to occur somewhat concurrently, so I had to do some thinking about how I wanted to place them in terms of story interest and timing. And I did that, too.

So, now. What's next? I believe I can move forward with rewrites now. Actually with some re-vision. There are no major changes in characters or the significant events. But there are some other changes related to the story and I think I understand now and it will move forward.

This will not be a fast process. But I have a map now. I know where the characters came from and where they're going.

Now it's time to get back to it. I was so excited that I wanted to take a writing break to write this update from the fogged in Rockaway Beach.
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Wednesday, October 8, 2014

All It Takes Is?

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I started to write this as, "All it takes is a little time and space to write." Which is true in that time to write and making space to write are important.

I started this women's writing retreat with the belief or the hope that what I needed was these two things with the novel and I could get it to the next level. I've been moving slower than I would have liked and part of the reason, I thought, was not enough time. I meant not enough long blocks of time.

I was at the combing point of my novel. I needed to go through each scene, each page, each chapter and make notes about characters and settings and plot and much more. It was hard for me to do this adequately in the short pieces of time I made for writing. And I did make time - it just didn't feel like enough.

I felt that what I needed was a big chunk of time so I could immerse myself in the novel and comb through it all within a period of time in which I could also hold it all in my head. Then, I would be able to move on, to take it to the next level of revision and move it toward publication.

And in these first two and a half days that is exactly what I have done.

I have read the entire novel from word one to word final. I have made notes about:
- characters
- plot points
- settings
- time (meaning date; and the actual time or timing in a few places)
- things I labeled FIX (meaning I need to fix it)
- things I labeled SNORE (feels gentler than "boring" and keeps the work lighter and I'm not beating myself up about it)
- things I labeled PROBLEM (bigger conflicts of plot which couldn't be fixed with a few words)
- who is in each chapter or scene
- research I need to do (or redo in most cases)
- plot or story ideas I might incorporate or look into further
- things I labeled as FACT in terms of the story
...and a few more. But I'm sure you have the idea.

I didn't think I would get to this point by this time.

I am happy.

And I realized there was one more factor for me. The magic ingredients were time and space and commitment. I've had the commitment and found the time and space, and the writing camaraderie thanks to the facilitator, Lori Lake.
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Sunday, October 5, 2014

A Week of Writing


This is the first day of the week long writing retreat I'm attending in Rockaway Beach. Which just happens to be one of my favorite places on the Oregon coast.

I will admit, now that I'm here and my fears were unfounded, that I was a little nervous. Excited - and
nervous. I know some people (who don't know me well) might be surprised, but I was nervous about coming to this writing workshop where I didn't really know anyone. I had met the facilitator and talked with her - and felt completely comfortable with her, but didn't know much about her beyond what is available online. I did meet her partner briefly - though I didn't know it was her at the time. And I had no idea who else would be attending. I'm open to meeting new people and I have to do it all the time.

But to deliberately put myself in a situation where I am sharing housing with people I don't know for an entire week? And what's more, to share a room with an unknown person? It's not my usual method.

However, I was so impressed by the facilitator when I met her, I was sure that others drawn to her would be okay. And there was something in her that I knew I wanted to write and discuss writing with her. Bonus that is was in one of my favorite places!

But a week? In a shared house? Me?

Yes. Me.

Today has been great. The weather was perfect. We snacked. We talked. We laughed. I went for a walk on the beach with a couple of the other attendees. The facilitator's partner is a gourmet cook in addition to writing and other talents - so we had a delicious home cooked dinner.

And I do feel completely comfortable with all of the other writers.

All fears were unfounded. All nervousness or anxiety has stepped aside for the excitement and the time and space for writing.

Look at me! I'm writing. I have already made some progress on the novel - which includes the use of something I printed out two weeks ago but never touched and I almost didn't pack, but tossed into my laptop bag at the last minute.

This is going to be an awesome week.


Wednesday, October 1, 2014

October is Prep Month!



"But, Dot, you're a pantser!"

"I know. But prep doesn't have to mean outline."

"What does it mean if you're not outlining?"

"Things like character sketches. I did that last year and it was fun, it kept my writing creative brain busy and excited about NaNovember, but I wasn't writing the novel."

"Snore. What else?"

"One year I did try an outline, sort of. That was a two thumbs down snoozer for me; the worst NaNoExperience I've ever had and I've never touched that so-called novel since; sucked big time. I've heard many NaNo authors talking about whole outlines of their novels. With research about subjects that will come up. With storyboards. Full worlds created and visualized And plot points and pictures with circles and arrows on the back and --"

"Dot, don't go rambling off into 'Alice's Restaurant' lyrics. Most people won't know what you're referencing, anyway. Back to NaNoPrep. The pantser's view."

"My prep? Reading. Reading more. Seeing what ideas pop into my head which may become novel ideas. Or maybe characters again. I don't know. If I'm getting super excited about NaNoWriMo again, then I want to do something to build momentum so I will be ready at the stroke of midnight which was Halloween and becomes November. Ready for the ML's "GO" to begin writing. Yes."

"Dot? Hello, come back. It's not November, yet."

"I know."

"So do you have any ideas?"

"Nope."

"When will you get an idea?"

"Don't know."

"What are you working on."

"Oh! That reminds me. The novel. It was a NaNoNovel. I really liked the story and my story is that I would never have come up with that story if I would have outlined it. Never. But I like it. So I'm revising. I did some revision a couple or so years ago, then set it aside to focus on the memoir. Now the memoir is marinating on the shelf, so I've returned to the novel. And a book of short stories I'm writing."

"And?"

"Oh. Yes. The writing retreat at the coast. I'm attending a writing retreat facilitated by author Lori Lake in October. That is really exciting. A whole week away, devoted to writing. One on one meetings with the author. Writing prompts. Some art projects. The beach. That is prep for sure. Plus I hope to get more direction on the novel during the week. And do some more writing of something else. The editing is still going well, I'm enjoying it. But I like to write new material, as well."

"Ah."

"Any more questions?"

"Nope."

"Good. Good night."

"You mean good morning?"

"Not on my schedule. Nighty night!"
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