Sunday, November 19, 2017

Same song, different day

Just now, I heard a song that I've heard hundreds, maybe even thousands of times. And for the first time I understood that a word I've always heard as "pain" is almost certainly "paying."

Either word works in the context of the song, and we've long been accustomed to not catching mumbled or slurred lyrics, or not understanding them even if we do (such as the neologism "pompitous" in Steve Miller's "The Joker," or the entire song "Whiter Shade of Pale"). But it still makes me marvel whenever I discover something new in something old, when I finally get a reference that always floated over my head before, or when I see the familiar in a whole new light.

One reason I like to reread is that I like to see how works change as I understand them better, and as I grow and change myself. Some works lose their luster over time; others gain. Nothing is static, even when the words themselves don't change. Society changes; we change; our tastes change. One work of art can bring multiple experiences.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

The reader-writer conversation

I read for the moments when I can say, "Yes, that's exactly how the world is, but I never thought about it before!" And for the moments when I say, "Yes, that's what I've always said to myself, but didn't know if anyone else felt the same way!" And for the moments when I say, "I had no idea what that experience was like, but now I'm glad I have seen into someone else's world." And for the times when I say, "No, the world isn't like that!" and mentally argue with the author.

All of it lifts me. Which experience I go for depends on what mood I'm in, what I need at the moment: education, comfort, escape, reassurance, stretching, challenge. In this season of thankfulness, I'm thankful there are so many books, and I'm grateful I've been able to contribute to the conversation in whatever small way.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Going there

The story wasn't working, and I couldn't figure out why. And then I realized: the two members of this broken relationship had to confront each other. All the main character's internal musings about the conflict would never be as productive, or as interesting, as her facing the other person and letting us see the conflict play out. Asking the questions she needed to ask; saying the things she needed to say. 

Backing away from conflict is one of my weaknesses as a writer, and I continually have to push myself to go there. Because that's where the story is.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Musings on a quiet day

Here are a couple of quotes I've found thought-provoking, both from Alexandra Fuller's Leaving Before the Rains Come:

"'But we cannot live in the afternoon of life according to the program of life's morning, for what was great in the morning will be little at evening and what in the morning was true, at evening will have become a lie.'"

"'Although it's worth remembering it isn't supposed to be easy ... Easy is just another way of knowing you aren't doing much in the way of your life.'"

In the first case, Fuller's quoting Jung; in the second, she's quoting her father. For me, they are reminders that things change, and we change. We should keep questioning our settled notions, even our notions about ourselves and what we want and where we are going. And if things are tough, it doesn't necessarily mean we're doing it wrong.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Starting over

This was my day to post at YA Outside the Lines, this time on the topic of "starting over." My take is here. A sample:

"Sometimes it seems as if we’re in a rut, doing the same thing, seeing the same people, going to the same places. Yet if we pay attention, we see that nothing is exactly the same ..."

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Lessons from paint-by-numbers

When I was little, I loved paint-by-numbers sets. If you don't know, they were a template with numbered shapes marked on them, accompanied by numbered paints. Match the numbered paint with the numbered shapes on the template, and you would essentially be "coloring in" a painting, ending with a beautiful oil masterpiece!

It sounds simple, but the more complicated versions used very small shapes to get a finer gradation of shading and a picture with more depth. With such small shapes, the printer often couldn't fit the shape's paint number inside the shape, so s/he would put it in an adjacent, larger shape, with an arrow pointing to the shape in question. The problem was, if you painted the colors in the wrong order, you could paint over a number and arrow before getting to use it as an indicator for its neighboring shape.*

I got very frustrated with one such project while staying at my grandmother's. I was very much a perfectionist who couldn't stand when things weren't working the way I thought they should, and when I couldn't do something I thought I should be able to do. I may even have thrown a bit of a tantrum.

After calming me down, my grandmother suggested a solution: use a pencil to write in, myself, the color numbers inside each shape, making all those infernal arrows unnecessary. (I could write smaller than the printer could print.) Then I could paint in any order, not worrying about painting over a necessary number. Thank God for Grandma.

It was my Bird by Bird moment (if you know the allusion to the Anne Lamott book in which her father told her overwhelmed brother to write his big school report on birds by taking it "bird by bird"). So many times, a task that seems impossible can be broken down into simpler steps. We can find workarounds, solutions that fit our own way of working. These skills come in handy in writing, because there are so many different ways to write, and not every way works every time. And in the end, no matter how big or complicated the project, we can only write it one word at a time.

*It is possible that if you painted the colors starting with #1 and proceeding from there, the arrow problem didn't crop up. Believe it or not, it never occurred to me to paint the colors in numbered order--not until years later did this possible solution come to me. At the time, I chose to use the colors in the order that made sense to me then, and for simpler pictures it didn't matter what order you used. Only the complicated pictures used those arrows. But I'm glad my grandmother came up with this more innovative solution, because I think I learned more from it.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Revealing just enough

One of my favorite parts of revision is balancing what I want to spell out explicitly with what I want the reader to figure out. How big are the bread crumbs I should leave, and how far apart can they be, for the reader to still be able to follow the trail?

Some things I only want to suggest, to hint at, to foreshadow. Some things I want the reader to have the thrill of discovering--or even of deciding. Yet I can't be too vague.

I'm doing such a revision now, deleting repetitions, trimming where I've over-explained, cutting back to make room for the reader. I'm also adding a few words where I realize I haven't been clear, have assumed too much. Seeking, the whole time, a perfect balance.