Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Don’t judge a house…

The new home we bought is deceptively small looking from the outside.  Inside is another story – literally.  Below the split level half that holds the bedrooms is a finished, sun-lit basement.   Although most is a single large room, I was surprised to find (after I’d lived here more than a week) a home office behind door number four.  I guess I assumed it was another closet…but we all know what happens when we ASS U ME…
When I finally found my little Narnia with its built in desk and the view of the underneath side of a huge Japanese maple and a red rhododendron bush, I instantly thought, “library,” and wedged in the two 8’ book cases and stuffed them full of books.  (I have a TON of books)
However, after reading Stephen King’s On Writing, it dawned on me that I had the perfect space for what King deems a writing necessity -  a dedicated, isolated place to practice one's craft.  So, yesterday, I finished hauling out the boxes containing the 31 volume 1988 Encyclopedia Britannica (what the HELL were we thinking?!), the extra pieces from the ultra-plush “teddy bear brown” carpet we installed in the basement, and a couple dozen boxes of VHS tapes (do we even still have a VCR?) and declared the space Fit To Work In.

It still needs a bit more work - as you can see - but, in celebration, I’m headed down there now to get writing in My Very Own Writing Space.    

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Damn the Word Count - Full Speed Ahead

So, I’ve been reading Stephen King’s On Writing.  In it, he recommends having a toolbox of writing essentials.  I have one.  In it is a dictionary, thesaurus, and my Flip Dictionary.  I'm still up in the air over that one – I’m currently on the “it’s a big thesaurus” team.  Stand by for my final analysis.  And, now I’ve added The Elements of Style (Strunk and William), as per his suggestion, as well as my very own copy of On Writing.    
I’d call On Writing a How-to book on writing, but it’s not.  Reading it is more akin to sitting down with an old friend and having a chat.  Figuratively speaking, I’ve known Stephen since I was a pre-teen. Christine was the first of many of our conversations.  In On Writing, King tucks nuggets of knowledge inside his real life experiences making it seem like less of a DO THIS and more of a HEY, TRY THIS.  (Despite my years in the military – or maybe because of them – I hate being TOLD what to do.)
I’m sure I drove my twitter followers crazy with King quotes this last week, but I can’t get over how helpful I’ve found his advice.  Yesterday I hacked 1000 words from my first chapter.  I tried not to watch as my word count dropped from 3,700 and change down to 2,605 as I cut out all the repetitiveness, adverbs and random blather.  Then, I had an epiphany – I realized the quantity had somehow overshadowed the quality in importance.  I said to myself, “Self, Damn the word count.  Get the story right, and the word count shall follow.” 
Those are not King’s words – they are mine.  But, he is free to use them. 

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The Gospel According to King

I have great esteem for Stephen King, so reading his take on what I am trying to do (write) is important.  About a month ago I reserved On Writing at the little library in town.  I was at the bottom of a long waiting list.  So, I waited.  Amazingly, it came in this afternoon. 

This evening, as I waited for my daughters to get out of religion class, I leaned against the brick wall outside the entrance to the church and read by the dim glow of the security light.  King’s words were like the gospel to me.  (semi-sacrilegious allegory be damned…I have to go to confession on Saturday anyway). 

I was captivated by the first sentence on the dust jacket.  “If you don’t have the time to read, you don’t have the time or the tools to write.”

Page after page, I consumed every word.  Sometimes I am guilty of skimming, but not this time.  I wanted to savor each syllable.     

The Way:

“Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work.”

“If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There's no way around these two things that I'm aware of, no shortcut.”

The Truth:

“Writing isn't about making money, getting famous, getting dates, getting laid, or making friends. In the end, it's about enriching the lives of those who will read your work, and enriching your own life, as well.”

The Light:

“Writing is not life, but I think that sometimes it can be a way back to life.”

Wow.  Heavy stuff.  Now that I have On Writing in my hands, I plan to be doing a lot of reading.  I’ll get back with you cats in a few days…

Sunday, September 11, 2011

How does your garden grow?

As I weeded my garden this morning, I thought about yesterday’s post.  Maybe the sun was getting to me (it hit 80 here for the first time this year), but I started to equate my writing to gardening.  In many ways, they are the same.   
The end result:  What I get out of my garden is directly proportional to the amount of work I put into it.  Writing is the same.  It takes constant nurturing, constant work, and constant attention to bring forth a worthwhile product.   Just as a halfhearted garden will grow poor quality vegetables – if anything at all – a halfhearted writing effort will result in a substandard story.
Weeding and thinning:  In my garden the weeds seem to grow quicker than even the zucchini (zucchini would grow on the moon, I’m certain).  If I didn’t pull the thistles, clovers and dandelions, they would easily take over and strangle the desirable plants.  Equally important is thinning.  I planted beets and was surprised to see every single seed germinated.  I had to make the hard decision to pull up a bunch of baby beets.  I generally removed the smaller ones but occasionally found two of exact height growing side by side and had to sacrifice one without disturbing the other.  If I didn’t do this, none of the iron-rich root veggies would have adequate room to grow correctly, and I would have a poor harvest.  Again, this can be applied to writing.  Some parts are obviously garbage and should be deleted while others seem ok, but one has to make the hard decision to cut them out and permit the better parts to be strengthened.
Know when to fold:  I planted cucumbers this spring.  Because of my northern climate, they did not do well.  After a month, the seeds were a no show.  I opted to plow that part of the garden under and plant collards – a more appropriate cool weather crop.  Within a week I had sprouts.  In writing, one has to recognize when something is not working and have the intestinal fortitude to scrap the crap and start all over again.
I’m certain many more comparisons can be made between the two – reap what you sow, use the right tools, or something about patience (a virtue I do not have) – but you’ll have to excuse me from elaborating any further.  I have some serious weeding to do.  Indoors. 

Saturday, September 10, 2011

My Train Derailed

I blame it on first week of school, but I have not had a productive writing week.  At.  All.  And, this is an understatement.  I haven’t written a word in a week.  All stop.  All forward motion has ceased completely.  Somehow, I got off track…and never got back on.
I posted on twitter not too long ago that I blamed my lack of writing on the fact that the kids were home and underfoot.  I’ve also blamed errands, the sunshine and my garden.  I’ve blamed laundry, appointments, cooking and housework.  Blame this, blame that, blame the other.  So, what is the real problem here?  
It’s not writer’s block.  The story is written.  I’m not overwhelmed with the edit process.  That’s my for.  It’s not ADHD or whatever they call it…(Look!  A squirrel)
What do you do when you get stuck in a rut of non-productiveness?  When you lose your focus?  How do you get back on track?  If there is apparently nothing stopping me, then there should be nothing to getting started again.  To quote that tennis shoe company, I guess I should Just Do It! 

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Drive time

I am also a car enthusiast…heck, enthusiast is not quite the right word.  Freak might be more like it.  I’ve owned 20 cars and currently have four – 2 toys and 2 daily drivers.  My dream car of cars is a Shelby Daytona Cobra Coupe.  Unfortunately, they are few and far between.  Nevertheless, I can dream. 

I was thinking about the word “drive” today, and it doesn’t only apply to luxury automobiles.  It also addresses personal motivation.  I wrote on Friday that I want to see my book on the library shelf.  But, there’s more.  Other reasons include to get the story out of my head – to see how it ends – to share it with others – to speak my mind uninterrupted.
But, even that is not 100% of the truth.  Another motive is not nearly as honorable.  I would love to be paid to write again.  I have a head full of ideas and stories, and I think they are good.  I can actually see myself as a professional fiction author.  However, I'm not greedy - I don’t fantasize about being filthy rich.  Well, that’s not entirely true either – that Daytona costs big bucks.  But, I’d like to make a living doing something I enjoy…and I enjoy writing. 
Why do you want to be published?  Money?  Fame?  A Pulitzer?  I think, in order to write – and to write effectively, we have to honestly identify our motivation.
What drives you?  

Friday, September 2, 2011

Andrew Carnegie - My Hero

Heavy wooden doors open to endless adventure.   Dark gold carpet lines the floors between the shelves of hardback tomes.  Polished mahogany tables wait dimly illuminated by green glass desk lamps.  Murmurs of hushed conversations whisper by.  My heart is beating with excitement.  I’m in a place of sheer magic.    
It’s summer time, 1979, and I’ve walked down the street to the Carnegie Public Library to look for the latest Nancy Drew mystery and turn in the five books I checked out just yesterday.  My goal is to fill all 100 squares on my summer reading club with stickers (but really I am there for the books).      
My love of writing grew from a love of reading.  The printed word is very addictive, and I am happily a life-long book addict.  I blame Andrew Carnegie (1835-1919).
The star of his own true rags to riches story, Carnegie used his hard-earned fortune to build public libraries (3,000 of them, in fact) and push for fee free usage for all (amongst many other philanthropic endeavors).  His goal was to bring education and literacy to the masses.   In his own words:
“There is not such a cradle of democracy upon the earth as the Free Public Library, this republic of letters, where neither rank, office, nor wealth receives the slightest consideration.” - Andrew Carnegie
Maybe this is why I dream not of seeing my book(s) on the fabled New York Times Best Seller List (although I certainly wouldn’t complain) but on the shelf of my neighborhood library.  That is my goal.