Monday, February 20, 2017

The lingering gaze

The best part of a home-improvement show is, of course, the big reveal, where they take you through the newly built or renovated space and show you how it looks.

On some shows, the film editing is done in an extremely annoying manner. The camera pans slowly over an area, but just before we can absorb what we're looking at, there's a jump cut to some other area. Sometimes the screen will split, showing three or four areas simultaneously. It's all jump cuts and sudden flashes. After five minutes of touring the place, I feel as if I haven't really seen anything, because the eye hasn't been allowed to linger anywhere.

That lingering gaze is one reason I enjoy reading above video or audio of any kind. When I'm reading, I can speed up or slow down at will. I can reread certain lines. We now have the ability to freeze, fast forward, and rewind through other media, but it isn't quite the same. A mumbled or rushed line is still mumbled or rushed in replay. With reading, I decide on the volume and pacing of every line. I build all the scenery, and I may add details that aren't specified in the text but seem to fit. I can stare at everything as long as I want to. I can let a really good line of dialogue hang in the air without abruptly stopping the background music and turning the characters into mannequins.

People do like having control, and maybe this is one reason reading has endured as long as it has. I love the ability to savor.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Hints of change

Thursday's (scant) snowfall is still melting. But today I found a witch hazel bush in full bloom, and spied some shoots of spring bulbs peeking above the soil.

In every season are hints of the season to come. If this were a book, we'd call it "foreshadowing."

In the happiest scenes in books, we often plant a seed of disturbance, a suggestion of trouble to come. In the darkest scenes, we make room for a glimmer of hope. One thing we know: the change will always come.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Percolating

I don't know if every writer experiences this phase of writing--maybe some writers jump from project to project with full force and no pauses--but it's typically been part of my process. I'll call it "percolating," for lack of a better word.

It's the phase when I have part of a story--a character, a voice, a basic plot or situation--but not enough to start writing. Something's bubbling away in my brain, but it's at a subconscious level. I get glimmers, slivers of dialogue, flashes of partial scenes. I try sketchy outlines, I do stream-of-consciousness writing exercises. I do a lot of thinking.

During this phase, I often write scenes and openings that don't go anywhere. Starts and stops, trial and error. I am finding my way in to the story. I am waiting, but part of me is working. The progress is invisible. But a change is happening.

Monday, January 30, 2017

When life happens

We make plans and schedules, and then life happens. Illness, an uptick in workload, the need to move, a family crisis, an exciting new adventure--whatever it is, it obliterates the schedule and elbows aside the plans.

For those whose writing thrives in periods of sustained quiet and concentration, writing can take a backseat during such upheavals. If at other times we're able to put writing on the front burner, during times of chaos we just can't.

Sometimes all we can do is take notes until the dust settles. The words will come.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

What matters

A couple of months ago, when I had the chance to mentor other writers and they asked how you find stories and how you know what's worth pursuing, I said, "Write about what matters most to you." That is, write the story that won't leave you alone, the one that's on your bucket list, the one that insists on being told. Write what you care about.

It was a good reminder to myself, too.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Between projects

Between writing projects, one waits. Listens. Reads. Tests ideas. Practices patience. Cleans the bathroom. Trusts. Wonders. Doubts. Keeps the mind open. Takes notes. Makes false starts. Lathers, rinses, repeats.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Connections and disconnections

I just finished Delia Ephron's book of personal essays, Sister Mother Husband Dog. A quote that stood out to me:

"All I want is for someone not to change something I love. All I want is for someone to keep it simple."

She's talking about the relentless march of technological upgrades, about which I agree--I don't see the point of arbitrarily moving buttons from the left side of the screen to the right, or vice versa. Or adding dozens of new features that I didn't want and never use. Or hiding the menu so you can't find what you need. But those sentences, pulled from their context, also can stand on their own in a more general sense. We've all lost what we loved, or seen it change for the worse, at some point in our lives. We've all had a perfect thing or place or situation that deteriorated, or closed down, or moved away. It was going along so well ... and then it wasn't anymore.

But then--if I want to go down that rabbit hole, I can also reread Joan Didion's Blue Nights, an entire book that meditates on loss, and change, and how swiftly it all occurs.

I'm also reading Rebecca Solnit's The Faraway Nearby. It's coincidental that I've been reading this at the same time as Ephron's book, but both books deal with losing mothers to chronic, personality-changing illnesses--Alzheimer's in one case, alcoholism in the other. In both books, the mother-daughter relationships were complicated and not warm-and-fuzzy even before the onset of illness.

I like finding multiple books that deal with the same subject. It enables me to consider it from even more angles. It's as if the authors are bouncing ideas off each other through me.