Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Julie Berstein: 4 Lessons in Creativity (TED Talks)

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I was looking for something on creativity and came across this TED Talk by Julie Berstein. I like what she has to say - and I admit that I love pottery, especially raku and pit-fired pottery. I also am inspired by the beauty of impermanence and flaws and happy accidents when creating.

Nice words and images, hearing artists' stories. A good 17 minutes of time out to listen and look and take it in.

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Thursday, January 22, 2015

Simple Words I Needed to Hear Today

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My Tuesday writing partner and I have started up our weekly meetings again. December was a tough month, with the creeping crud and both of our work obligations. Maybe we met once. I've lost track. But we promised to start up again in January.

I knew I had heavy theater requirements this month and was holding huge blocks of time available because the schedule for this theater commitment was not yet specific. I've altered my work hours and some personal commitments so I could be available for this other task I agreed to do. So we were committed to writing time but I knew I might not be able to keep it to exactly every Tuesday.

We agreed to do our best to find another time during the week if a Tuesday didn't work out.

Which it didn't this Tuesday. There was an opportunity and need to work on a scene for the play so I asked my writing partner if we could move it.

There was and we did. To Wednesday.

I showed up at our writing place and we did our check in. She asked if I'd been able to do any writing this last week and I admitted that, no, I hadn't. I didn't feel guilty about it because my week was so full of theater that I was doing my regular interpreting work and going to rehearsals for the in-depth theater project and the show I'm interpreting next week and sleeping. That was it.

But, no, I hadn't written a thing in 8 days. Since the last time we met.

"But you are here now," Rooze said - or something like that. "You showed up to write."

I felt relief from hearing those words. I wish I could remember exactly what she said, but that is close. And it was exactly what I needed to hear today.

Yes, even in this exciting and energizing and creative theatrical time, I showed up to write.

Thank you, Rooze!
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Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Grabbing the Reader's/Editor's/Agent's Attention

As writers we hear and read this all the time - that in order for a piece of writing to be successful, we
have to grab the reader's attention. That "reader" may be a member of the reading public, or she may be an editor or a publisher or an agent. It doesn't matter. The emphasis has been on how to grab them to keep them reading further into the essay, short story, novel.

photo from The Amusive Relationship
I don't disagree with that idea. Although I am also, as a reader, a fan of a slower start, where I get to know the characters and the place and the events surrounding the main event. But I "get" the big appeal at the opening to draw me in immediately and have read some great examples recently. The opening few hundred words were so strong, so poetic, so full of life that I couldn't put the book down for a while.

So this is not an argument about openings. Fast, slow, page-turner, sauntering stroll, is not my main criteria. It should be well written and whatever style is chosen should be supported by the story - the journey - the writer presents.

My question at this current moment, though, is about the endings. There have been three books in the last year where it started strong. I was engaged as a reader. The story moved along and I smiled, made notes (mental or physical), felt moved. It was good.

But when the story neared the end something changed.

In the case of one book, the style dramatically changed to the point that it could have been written by someone else. Perhaps it was. Or it felt like the outline or brainstorm for how the book could end. It would have been much more interesting and in keeping with the story if those near bullet point paragraphs were written out, written as was the rest of the book.

In another book the deus ex machina was invoked on several levels and I felt like I'd been robbed of an ending to go with the story I'd just read.

The book I just finished a couple of days ago sputtered out near the end. It was strong at the beginning; she nailed the opening scene and kept me going for a long time. It started to pale a couple of chapters from the end, like she'd lost steam, and I found my interest drifting here and there. The story I'd started stayed present to the last page, but the quality lessened. It wasn't as drastic, but the power and craft of writing was not the same.

Which led me to wonder about endings. There has been so much emphasis on the power punch at the beginning. I've heard agents and editors talk about their process and how, if they aren't grabbed in the first two sentences (no kidding, someone actually said that) or first paragraph or first page, they don't read on.

I understand that these people are very busy. It must be hard to have to read so many submissions and make a determination about what is good or not. I'm serious. It's not easy. There are so many writers and the styles and quality are so varied that it must be a very hard job to have to sort through everything they receive. They can't take it all and they have to wade through submissions where the writers have clearly not done their own research to see that this particular person is not a good match for their story.

As an aside, there was an agent speaking at a workshop who admitted that if he was hooked in the first two sentences he would read the first paragraph. If he was still hooked, he might read to the end of the page. If he was still impressed and hooked, he might take on the book and the author. He admitted in a room full of writers and authors that he almost never, ever, ever read the entire book. Ever!

So I understand that openings are important if you're looking to land a publishing deal.

Have endings gotten lost in all of this attention grabbing? I wonder. I don't have an answer and maybe I've just happened to pick a few books this year whose endings don't live up to the openings. Or maybe in all this emphasis on the beginning, some authors are letting the story slip quietly into The End and if they happen to have an I-never-read-the-whole-book agent, it goes unnoticed.

Have you noticed a problem with endings?
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Friday, January 2, 2015

Writing into 2015

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First, I want to clear up a slight misunderstanding from my last post. I haven't taken up knitting instead of writing. I have taken up knitting to keep my inner fussy editor busy, since it seems to never be content with how much I'm writing. When I'm not writing as much, such as right now when I'm busier with theater, and my writing is more about getting inspired, contemplating edits, research and note-taking, it puts on the shame and guilt of what it means to be "a real writer." So knitting, while not in any way directly related to writing, does quiet the editor because knitting requires a type of focus, attention to detail, and a measure of precision or at least consistency.

I've also returned to knitting to have something tangible and tactile to do with my hands.

I've been wanting to return to making pottery for several months. I do have a pottery wheel, though I haven't used it in many years and am not sure it even still works. It was fine last I used it, but it was so long ago that anything could have happened. There is handbuilding, which I also enjoy.  I don't have a kiln and I don't have a friend with a kiln. I considered taking a class at Multnomah Art Center again, but the timing doesn't work with my schedule.

So I opted for a larger knitting project, which is less messy, easier to pick up and put down, and doesn't require specific timing like a drying pot and firing. And knitting is more portable - though I will see how true that holds when the project starts looking like pieces of a sweater!

I am still writing. Not at my ideal pace. Not at my NaNoWriMo pace, for sure. But I am still working on short stories and editing the novel. The novel has been taking a rest for a couple of weeks, although I have been thinking about it, primarily the structure and about the new opening chapter it needs.

So I am writing. And I'm knitting. And I'm wading deep into theater. All of this with my regular interpreting work.

In 2015 I'm looking forward to more writing time, more writing submissions, and am excited about a new writing group. That writing group had its first meeting in November; we took December off because scheduling would have been too tricky; and we will start up monthly meetings in January. My Tuesday writing jam partner and I have missed several meetups due to illness and work, but we will be starting those up again soon. The Tuesdays (or whatever day we land on if we need to make a temporary adjustment to the day of the week) will definitely be good; I miss those times.

I have to accept that sometimes the hustle of December gets in the way. No matter how much I try to avoid the stress and the hype and keep out of the media induced frenzy, the times get complicated and schedules are hard and the energy is buzzing all around. But once we get to the new year, things can level off and I can get into a more regular flow. I hope and I believe I will.

That flow includes writing. And maybe I will get this sweater done while it's still winter!

My inner editor is in there somewhere,
contentedly counting stitches!
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Monday, December 29, 2014

Pushing Through the Yuck

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After I finished typing the title, I realized that there were several possible meanings. To "Yuck." Several of which apply in this case.

Meaning one could be "The Yuck" of cold that I was unable to escape. I successfully held it off for several weeks, but it made an attack which overwhelmed me three weeks ago and, for the first week, I was lying low. I was sleeping nine to ten hours a night, was cancelling everything except work, which included interpreting a play, so that I could stay home and rest. Get over The Yuck. It took a long time, nearly three weeks. I'm now at 90 - 95% over it and ready for it to be done. That Yuck impacted my writing because it took everything I had to get to work, prepare to interpret and interpret the play, and get myself to those places. Week one was only those activities; week two was a couple of other meetings; and the third week was my normal schedule, although I was exhausted at the end of the day.

Meaning two, I don't like what I'm writing. That is only partially true, fortunately. There are a couple of the pieces in the short story collection that I'm not happy with. I liked them previously, but right now they are on my Yuck list.

Meaning two, and what I originally intended when I wrote it, was the "this writing project is Yuck." Stuck and hopeless and overwhelming and it can't be saved. It's sad when I hit the wall with both currently active projects. But I did. Wondering where to go with them? Are they any good (oh, what dangerous words those are)? Should I just scrap them and start over? Do they make any sense? What's the point (more dangerous words)? And more.

One way I'm addressing The Yuck right now is by knitting. I know, it's not writing. But it is keeping my hands busy, it's creative (I'm knitting a sweater - the first in a long time; I've been knitting hats off and on but wanted a bigger challenge), and it keeps that fussy part of my brain occupied. It's funny that while I'm knitting, I've been thinking about those stories and the novel. I've worked out a couple of things in my head - though I haven't transferred them to the page, yet. I will. But I think that my chattering and figure-it-out brain has been satisfied with the knitting and my writing-brain has a bit of space to move.

We'll see how it goes. But once I get through the expectations and scrambled schedule of the holidays and another major project I'm consulting on gets a little more under way, I expect writing will return more regularly. I'm looking forward to that return.
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Thursday, December 18, 2014

Write or Die 2

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I've been lagging on my posts. Some of what I would write about has ended up on Facebook, in short bites, quick spurts. Some of it hasn't happened.

Some of it got lost in the 10 days of sickness. Only a few of those were significant successfully keeping the creepy crud cold out of my lungs, though it was close one day. Mostly really low energy, stuffiness, feeling blah and a bit achy. And interpreting a play with that going on. Wah wah, I know. But I rarely get the colds which stroll around neighborhoods and cities looking for victims. And if I do get caught by them, I'm usually completely recovered in 24 - 36 hours. But this one got me.

That was how I missed a week of writing here. I'm trying to keep at least a weekly post and am working back up to something more frequent. But last week a few things slipped through my awareness because I couldn't keep on track of everything I had to do; I was too busy resting and sleeping and trying to get over it. Which I am now - though there are a few lingering remnants.

But "Write or Die" has nothing to do with being sick. Except being sick which is what led me on an internet search to find a topic and I came across the updated Write or Die (2) website. I don't know how long "2" has been out, but it looks good.

I first discovered Write or Die in its earlier days, during NaNoWriMo. It was a fun online place to keep words flowing because in the kamikaze mode, the program starts eating what you've written.

Now Write or Die 2 also has positive rewards and the option to set up a positive atmosphere conducive to writing - as well as the traditional color-changing, alarm-sounding options which let you know when you're not being productive, though there are more options within that.

I am entering a period where I will have more time for writing - which I am looking forward to. I might try some of the new aspects of Write or Die 2.

I also appreciate that the original web version (free) and the earlier desktop version ($10) are still available (scroll down to the bottom of the page to find those links). The new version is available to purchase ($20) and you can use it online (free) by clicking on the "Try It" button. It's a fun way to keep your fingers moving.


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Sunday, December 7, 2014

Being Present in The Room

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an excerpt from

The Talent of the Room
written by Michael Ventura

Originally published in LA Weekly, 21-27 May 1993


"The room, you see, is a dangerous place. Not in itself, but because you’re dangerous. The psyche is dangerous. Because working with words is not like working with color or sound or stone or movement. Color and sound and stone and movement are all around us, they are natural elements, they’ve always been in the universe, and those who work with them are servants of these timeless materials. But words are pure creations of the human psyche. Every single word is full of secrets, full of associations. Every word leads to another and another and another, down and down, through passages of dark and light. Every single word leads, in this way, to the same destination: your soul. Which is, in part, the soul of everyone. Every word has the capacity to start that journey. And once you’re on it, there is no knowing what will happen."
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You can read the rest of the piece over on Kelley Eskridge's site.


Thank you to Lori L. Lake for bringing this article to my attention at the Women's Writing Retreat in Rockaway Beach in October.
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