Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Julie Berstein: 4 Lessons in Creativity (TED Talks)

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.


Thursday, January 22, 2015

Simple Words I Needed to Hear Today

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!

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?

Friday, January 2, 2015

Writing into 2015

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!