Monday, March 27, 2017

The mysterious path

Over at YA Outside the Lines, I blogged about the mysterious path of writing, complete with photo. We may not know exactly where we're going or how rough the path will get, but that's part of the adventure.

Friday, March 24, 2017

The core problem

I used to listen to a radio call-in show where the host gave advice to listeners, Dear-Abby style. I think now that what drew me to the show was that each call was the setup for a story, the jumping-off point for novelistic daydreams.

Stories are built around problems and conflicts. A request for advice is a brief statement of a problem or dilemma. A writer can take such situations and, by following branching paths of what-ifs, build a whole world that is very different from that of the person who asked the original question.

I don't recall ever using an actual advice call as the basis for a story I've written, but I learned a lot about succinctly stating problems, about identifying key choices. If your protagonist had to boil down his or her problem into a simple statement seeking advice from a mentor, what would he or she say?

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Home base

"'Someday ... there will be a story you want to tell for no better reason than because it matters to you more than any other. You'll give up this business of delivering what everybody tells you to do. You'll stop looking over your shoulder to make sure you're keeping everybody happy, and you'll simply write what's real and true.'"

In her memoir At Home in the World, Joyce Maynard attributes these words to JD Salinger, based on a discussion they had during her year-long involvement with him. The conversation in question was about the direction her writing was taking.

Writing, especially writing for publication, can get all tangled up in shoulds and oughts and approval seeking and market chasing. If we get lost sometimes, it can be good to touch home base by asking what matters to us, what we find to be real and true.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Nature

I don't know what it is about the natural world that works magic for me, but it has always been so. Since human beings are part of nature, there shouldn't really be this distinction, a difference between a factory building and a beaver dam--both built by living beings--but somehow there is, at least for me.

I find beauty in human creations: in art and in crafts, certainly in music. I can find beauty in objects as various as a quilt, tinsel, a microscope, a fireplace.

But there is something essential about the scents of snow and dirt and rain, about the sight of trees and wildflowers and ferns and moss, about the view of rock unsculpted by people. There's something soothing in the sight of a pond that I don't find in a swimming pool.

And so I make sure to get outside regularly, to walk where I can hear birds and see leaves, to visit the ocean and the mountains and the desert from time to time. It's like a tune-up or a replenishment, and I don't know exactly what it does, only that it does something necessary.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Deceptively idle

An important part of the writing process--for me, anyway--is time that may look like goofing off, or idle time, or procrastination. It's simply time during which I presume my brain works on a level beyond my immediate awareness and analytical thinking. Sometimes I'm outwardly busy--vacuuming, showering, what have you--but other times I'm taking a walk, or staring out the window. The important thing is to let the mind wander, not pin it to a new analytical task or busy it with social media. Out of such seemingly fallow ground rise shoots of new stories, new ideas.

Not all writing time is spent typing. Sometimes it feels like the first step in the creative process is just getting out of the way.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Spotlight

Sometimes you understand the lyric to a song that you've heard thousands of times. This time, you hear the words clearly. You might even discover the song isn't about what you thought it was about.

Sometimes you're walking down a familiar street, and you notice a detail you've never noticed before. It might be an elaborate door knocker or a small stained-glass window or carved detail on a wall or the entrance to an alley.

Sometimes you suddenly recognize a play on words that's gone over your head hundreds of times.

The best writing is like that, for me. It shows me something that's been right in front of my eyes all this time. It makes me notice something new-yet-not-new about the world. It makes me recognize it, understand it with new eyes. It articulates what I've known without realizing it. It makes me look twice.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Taking stock

This month at YA Outside the Lines, I posted about the question, "Why do you write?" It's a good question to reflect upon from time to time, and especially at those times when we don't know where to go next with our writing--or even whether to go.

Along these lines, Nathan Bransford asks, Do you want to win the game you're playing? In other words, is the goal you're chasing worth it? Maybe it was once, but not any longer. Or maybe you found out that the party that looked so great when seen through a window is not so much fun once you're invited inside. Or maybe it's just time to try something else.

As children and teens, we're encouraged to think a lot about goals and possibilities. "What do you want to be when you grow up?" we ask, and are asked. As adults, the question becomes, "What next? Still this, or something else?"

Sometimes the answer is a renewed commitment to, and zeal for, the path we're on. Sometimes the answer is a change in direction.