I’m Under A Writing Deadline

Jun 5, 2017 by

I’m Under A Writing Deadline

So what does that mean? Naturally, my mind is trying to find everything it can to NOT write. And I have 56 days to meet a writing deadline.

My kitchen is clean. My sock drawer indexed in a way that would make Sherlock Holmes envious. My Scrivener file is full of sub-folders. And I keep rehashing my Resurrection, Supreme Ordeal and fighting with myself about how to actually re-write my Call to Action.

Why is this?

The Quest for Perfection

In Chapter Seven of The Artist’s Way this week, I’m dealing with PERFECTION. Or my mental quest to put out something that is as close to perfection as humanly, or me-ily possible.

I’m on a writing deadline and doing all I can to NOT do what I should be doing.

“The perfectionist is never satisfied,” says Ms. Cameron. “Midway through the project the perfectionist decides to read it all over, outline it, see where it’s going. And where is it going? Nowhere, very fast.”

I’m trying to break out of this syndrome. In a video on the CREATIVE app today for Apple TV, the screenplay writer teaching the class said to “Imagine your harshest critic sitting here on your shoulder. Most like, if you’re fortunate, it’s your mother. Pick a place she would love to be on a vacation to, and send her there for the time being.” Get her off your shoulder, is what he said.

So yeah, I get that. Mom probably isn’t alone perching on my shoulder. I know I have several critics who I need to send packing.

And not just until I finish this draft.

The Artist’s Way

Julia Cameron’s book, done right, a chapter a week, is altering my creativity. She is healing my heart. She’d argue more so that it is ME who is healing my own heart. And she’s right.

I recommend this book for everyone. In 2014 I bought a copy and gave it to each of my three girls who never did anything with it. That’s not a criticism, because in 2014 I started reading it and thinking, I don’t have time to devote 13 weeks to this.

Three years later, that’s exactly what I am doing. I don’t peek into the coming week’s lesson. I review those of the past. I re-read my Basic Principles, and The Affirmations I need to hear. I also read An Artist’s Prayer every couple of days to help keep my mind fresh and healing.

Writing Deadline

I have a third of fourth draft I’m working to revise of my book, The Voodoo Hill Explorer Club. A revision of it must be ready for submission to the head of The Writer’s Path Program at SMU on Aug. 1. The first 15 pages are going to be judged and determined whether or those those of us who submit should be selected to go to New York in November to meet with publishers and agents who work or represent the Big Five.

In the meantime, I’m struggling to not self-sabotage this effort. But it’s hard. I’m finding plenty of excuses to not write. I need to go for a walk. Three miles and an hour’s time. But while I’m walking I’m thinking about the book. And a dozen other things. The garbage needs to be taken out. The floors haven’t been vacuumed in several days. Oh gosh, there’s dust on this computer. Oh my, look, it’s about to thunderstorm. What’s being said that’s dumb on Twitter? How about Facebook? What did Simon Cade or Matt W post in their video feeds about filmmaking today? What’s Hazel Hays up to? What’s in my Mail inbox? Julia Cameron says I need to throw some old clothes out. What can I really do with this closet? Ah, yes, what am I going to eat for….

Chapter Seven

This week Julia Cameron affirms that my story is written. I just need to get it down on paper. Or into Scrivener so I can push it out of Word. I need to think of the writing process as being lowered down via a well into an sub-dermal layer of consciousness. She says writers, creatives, should not be trying to think things up. Then you’re reaching for something that’s out of reach. Visualize being lowered down into that river and the words are floating past. It’s my job to offer them rescue. To gather them into the boat and then put them in the right order onto my pages.

That is a much easier way to see writing. It seems to be working today. Today.

The teacher in the CREATIVE network on Apple TV says that we should schedule time on our calendar for writing and then adhere to the calendar.

I’m going to do a little of both. But it’s not easy. I keep trying to find a way to not sit here. To be elsewhere. And yet to retrain my brain to stay fastened to the chair.

I will say that the extracurricular things I am doing are not all bad. Yes, they are excuses, but they’re also allowing my brain to play. And Cameron also says that a playful mind is the most creative one of all.

I hope she’s right. There are only 56 days left until submission and I have 56 scenes in my work at present…..

And that’s how an extra blog post gets written, too…. 🙂

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Subjunctive Text–The English Answer to a Lack of Emotion

Apr 25, 2017 by

Subjunctive Text–The English Answer to a Lack of Emotion

Saturday in Montgomery, Alabama, famed novelist Rita Mae Brown spoke during a workshop at the Alabama Book Festival about the hole in the English language caused by our vocabulary lacking the adequate words to “articulate emotion.” She says Subjunctive Text is English’s answer to our language problem.

Rita Mae Brown at the Alabama Book Festival April 22, 2017.

I had expected a lecture on how to get published as a writer and got 50 minutes of mind-bending perspective on the tools we writers have–think of a mechanic with a red Craftsman box.

We have a “warriors’ language,” she said. It’s not equipped to describe emotions. At least not like Spanish or French.

Thankfully, Ms. Brown says we have an answer to this problem–the subjunctive text–what is imagined, wished or possible.

Her challenge to all writers: “Can you put the truth on the page?”

Hmmm.

The Close Your Eyes In A Restaurant Test

Ms. Brown offered writers a great tool about observation. “Go to a restaurant, close your eyes, and then listen to the falsity in what you hear,” she said. “You’ll hear people change their voice, derogatorily, to talk to children. You’ll hear the fake laugh of conversation. You’ll be amazed at the anxiety of social situations,” that you can hear by sitting there with your eyes closed.

She said men drop their voices a half octave to talk to women they’re interested in wooing. “It’s natural, like the male pigeon fanning his feathers, he can’t help it.” Women, she said, raise their voice, look upward, and raise their hands to gesture.

“Listen to the pauses and how people breathe when they talk. See how many of them talk from their diaphragm and mean what they’re saying.”

Governments and Passive Voice

Ms. Brown talked about the use of active and passive voice, saying men use active voice a lot, and governments use passive voice to cover their tracks. “Bombs went off earlier today,” she said. “That doesn’t tell you anything about who made that order, who set them off, who got bombed, or even the time it happened. Government makes use of passive voice to cover its tracks. Never forget that “language can be used to conceal as well as reveal.” 

Dramatic Epiphanies 

A real epiphany in life she says is something dramatic, though some are indeed quiet. “But they almost all paralyze us for a few moments when they happen.” Her point was that we, as writers, should pay attention to this in our characters. These events are like “faces falling off Mount Rushmore.”

There are times when epiphanies are “quiet and you suddenly realize you’ve changed and have either been deepened by pain or enlarged by success,” but they happen and when they happen in writing, we should give them the space they are due. “But then you must start again with a subtle pause in the action.”

Ms. Brown says people read because they need a break from the miseries of the day. So that we can learn how to survive the situations that life throws at us. “People look for curious characters,” she said.

Animals

During her first workshop and a later presentation, she spent considerable time talking about animals. “All higher vertebrates have their own language,” and she encouraged the study. “The fox is a vermin,” she said. “It’s hardly been studied at all, but don’t you think it’d be wise for us to spend some time trying to figure out how in January the fox seems to know what the food supply is going to be like in May?”

Another curious observation–“Animals, like your dog and unlike humans, don’t lie.”

Writers We Should Read

Ms. Brown said there are certain examples in the English language that we should all strive to emulate, but most likely will never achieve. Virginia Wolf was the top of the list. She loves Faulkner and then said Toni Morrison’s Beloved is crucial reading for its literary elegance and use of the English language.

I really enjoyed what she had to say. She bordered on controversial political jabs here and there, but no one seemed to mind, even in a Southern town like Mungumry.

She said some good things to know as a writer.

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The Travelers — You Are Now A Spy

Mar 19, 2017 by

I recently had the opportunity to read Chris Pavone’s The Travelers, a spy thriller and a great example for anyone living on the edge of morality not sure if their actions can or will have consequences.

Will Rhodes is living on the edge and makes a costly mistake after making every attempt, well, a fair attempt, to keep from being persuaded to do something he should not. It is succumbing to that temptation that gives this story it’s thrust. The bad guys trick him and then begin to make him do their bidding, or else what he did will get out.

Mix on top of that the questionable operations of his employer and you have a four-hundred page thriller that leaps from one continent to another with guns, knives and bad guys a step ahead or behind, depending on where in the story one is.

Largely this is a page turner that hangs its hat on a couple of basic principles—obviously the one noted above—what can happen if you’re unfaithful to your spouse in a world of spies when your wife is a spy and you don’t know it—but the application is there for all regardless.

Pavone also explores the essence of society on page 208:

“Everyone is acting all the time.  Smiling and laughing, great to meet you, that’s awesome. Wearing this and not that, keeping quiet when you want to scream, saying things you know aren’t true. You do it every day … and you did it before you ever met me. We all dot. That’s what keeps society going. That’s what life is. Acting.”

“Organizations are like organisms. They have deeply ingrained survival instincts. Which isn’t surprising, is it? After all, organizations are made up of people, and people are motivated by self-interest. We’re all self-preservationists. First and foremost, what people want is what’s best for themselves. We want to survive, we want to flourish. We get jobs, then we develop loyalty to our employers, and our loyalty helps our employers achieve success, which in turn help people survive. It’s a symbiotic relationship.”

“The vast majority of espionage is committed for a very simple reason: money.”

The book obviously has some darker perspectives on humans in general, and that’s what helps supply the gasoline for the fire this book burns.

I don’t regularly read thrillers like this because I normally read books that seem to have more to say, but I read the book in the matter of a few days and am glad I did. If you’re headed to the beach in the next few months and need something that will keep you company in the sand, this is a great book to take with you.

ABOUT THE TRAVELERS

A pulse-racing international thriller from the New York Timesbestselling author of The Expats and The Accident

It’s 3:00am. Do you know where your husband is?

Meet Will Rhodes: travel writer, recently married, barely solvent, his idealism rapidly giving way to disillusionment and the worry that he’s living the wrong life. Then one night, on assignment for the award-winning Travelers magazine in the wine region of Argentina, a beautiful woman makes him an offer he can’t refuse. Soon Will’s bad choices—and dark secrets—take him across Europe, from a chateau in Bordeaux to a midnight raid on a Paris mansion, from a dive bar in Dublin to a mega-yacht in the Mediterranean and an isolated cabin perched on the rugged cliffs of Iceland. As he’s drawn further into a tangled web of international intrigue, it becomes clear that nothing about Will Rhodes was ever ordinary, that the network of deception ensnaring him is part of an immense and deadly conspiracy with terrifying global implications—and that the people closest to him may pose the greatest threat of all.

It’s 3:00am. Your husband has just become a spy.

“I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.”

 

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The Emotional Craft of Fiction

Mar 9, 2017 by

Donald Maass is a literary editing GOD. There is no better way to say it.

I’ve now maintained a snail’s pace, using pen and stickies, to actively absorb every possible word of three of his books–Writing the Breakout Novel, Writing 21st Century Fiction–and now The Emotional Craft of Fiction.

During the fall, I took the Revision class offered by J. Suzanne Frank, the director of Southern Methodist University’s The Writer’s Path program. The go-to book Suzanne recommended for that phase of writing was Maass’ Writing 21st Century Fiction. What an amazing book it is. But….

Suzanne, whom I refer to as the Jedi Writing Master, didn’t know about this new work Maass published late last fall. Heading into back surgery last week, I had Amazon rush me a copy knowing the value of Maass’ work. Lord have mercy! At one in the morning yesterday I was photographing entire pages of Mr. Maass’ work, the part about the mirror moment–a term I’d only heard Suzanne use up until I found it in Maass’ book–and I decried she should just hand out the simple section on mirror moments where Maass says, “If you haven’t felt this emotion, essentially you don’t have a mirror moment!”

That was one of those sun-ray shining only on you during a dark, dank, cloudy day moments. My mirror moment in my present draft of The Voodoo Hill Explorer Club is heavy, but with the aide of Mr. Maass’ study suggestions it’s about to become a whole lot more intense.

Case in point: Kirk Carson, 14, has worked with his three closest friends all summer to build a the fort of his dreams in the woods off KI Sawyer AFB, (Upper Peninsula of Michigan), in 1977, largely in an effort to forget about his first true love, Rose Maxwell, dumping him for the base bully, Billy Banks, the son of the Wing Commander. While in the woods, the boys are met with a series of triumphs and setbacks, natural, self-inflicted, and mysterious–Lewis Luntz keeps saying it’s the Chippewa Haints who still roam the woods of Hiawatha–but what they don’t know is it’s a Soviet spy hiding out in the woods tracking the number of B-52s armed with nuclear weapons and by being in the woods off base, the boys have encroached on his hideout. The way it turns out, the spy has made it look like the boys will be safer under the leadership of Billy Banks and they vote to remove Kirk, and he feels their act is the ultimate in betrayals.

I have all that in decent shape in my MSS, but what I now need to do is the exercises in Maass’ The Emotional Craft of Fiction, to help my readers feel the utter agony and humiliation Kirk feels as he learns the other three have already made the decision, have invited Billy–and Rose–to their “secret” fort in the woods and everything he has worked for and dreamed of, has been ripped away from him like a scab.

Did I mention that the day before, Kirk was also humiliated by Billy Banks–coaxed into jumping off the Devils Ledge at Chimney Rock, a sixty-five foot plunge to a Little Laughing Whitefish Falls Lagoon liquid enema? Kirk has had two bad days back to back and so now it’s time to do some of the exercises Maass has on page 99–“Is your protagonist lost or seeing a way forward?” “What does it feel like to be suspended, lifted out of time, in a moment of pure being?”–I’m ready to write those answers.

The book is a GREAT read. I’ve had a dustup with some dude on Twitter the past few hours who is all bent up about marked/unmarked linguistics. You see I tried to respectfully convey to Mr. Maass that for me, he over uses the word BOTH when he links two items together with the conjunction AND. In my copy of the book, I simply began marking them out–there are that many. One of my peeves. There’s nothing wrong with the use of the word BOTH, but it becomes a visual stop sign with repeated use and many writers on my Heather Sellers inspired 101 book list do it, too. Other than that, I love Mr. Maass’ insight and his devotion to helping writers like myself learn more about the craft of fiction writing.

This is a very good book. I think, for where I am right now, the most important of the three and it could not have come along for me at a better time. Thank you, Mr. Maass. I’m looking forward to what you do next.

Oh, an by the way, Suzanne said yesterday she was jumping over to Amazon to order her own copy. Here’s the link if you’ve not already followed one of the previous: The Emotional Craft of Fiction

 

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Read Twain’s End, by Lynn Cullen

Jun 22, 2016 by

In late April I had the fortune to meet Author Lynn Cullen while attending the Alabama Book Festival in Montgomery, Alabama. She was taking part in a workshop in discussing the process of writing historical fiction when I also had the fortune to be introduced to her latest literary work, Twain’s End, (Gallery Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster). Screen Shot 2016-06-22 at 12.14.46 PM

Since meeting Lynn, a paperback edition of her book has been released as well.

LITERARY FICTION

Lynn’s book is a 300-page magical blend of fact and fiction intertwined with dashes of literary prose so poignant that it bears the sweet smell of the hydrangeas so oft preferred by the likes of Mark Twain and more so, Sam Clemens.

As a reader, one can’t discern the difference between what actually happened and the reading between the lines that Lynn has so carefully filled in–like a brick layer setting mortar and bricks under the watchful eye of Clemen’s personal secretary, Isabel Lyon, as she helped manage the building of his famous Connecticut home, Stormfield, in Redding.

All the critical elements of storytelling are wrapped delicately in the telling of this tale of love, conflict, and self-redefinition. Lynn helps us all see, through the eyes of an omniscient narrator, the emotional and mental struggles that plagued one of America’s greatest writers–some of the same troubles we all bear even today.

There is beauty in the poetry of the writing of Lynn Cullen. Often times I found myself reaching for my iPhone to pull up a word she used to paint her imaginary scenes–words that I would then write down in my personal writer’s notebook to hopefully employ once again in a tale of my own choosing.

For its historical value or not, Twain’s End is an enjoyable read and I strongly encourage you to pick up a copy as soon as you may.

MARK TWAIN

Like all of us, Sam Clemens put on masks to create a world that was kinder and gentler than the one he apparently knew. For the writer in me, passages where she framed the thoughts and events surrounding childhood wounds Clemens alleges, provided insight that’s value can not soon be measured. Screen Shot 2016-06-22 at 12.15.13 PM

In Chapter 30, Lynn has Hellen Keller ask the most pointed question of the work: “Don’t we all make up our own worlds?”

And therein lies the heart of the message in reading this book.

In my own writing–three as yet unpublished full length works which you can read more about here–I have found relief from the pains of this life–ways to write (intended) wrongs out of existence; ways to heal pains of days that long since have passed me by that still hurt as much as paper slicing a finger’s flesh.

TWAIN’S END

Pick up a copy of Lynn Cullen’s book, Twain’s End in hardback or paperback. You will be doing yourself a mental treat.

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