Monthly Archives: October 2012
It keeps me up at night…trying to figure out what a character wants. They are born and living only in my brain until I relinquish them to the world at large. I think this snippet of advice from Mr. Vonnegut is true. And as simple as it sounds, actual human beings are pretty complex and often times have no idea what they really want. Our friends may be better at knowing what we want than we do ourselves. I say I want a different job, but what do I *really* want? More money? More security? To be my own boss? To not have anyone to tell me what to do? Freedom?
Consider what your character(s) want/s. If it isn’t clear to you, workshop that character until they have it: desire. For something…anything. If they do already “want” something and it is something simple (like a glass of water), why is this simple thing so important? Does your character get what they want or not? Do they even understand this about themselves, or are they, like most of us, oblivious to this driving force? If they DO get it, is it everything they hoped it would be?
After pondering these questions…write for 15 minutes and see where you, and your character, end up. Good luck!
I cross-stitched this in fancy script once upon a time. Framed and matted, it hung over my bedside table so I would see it when I woke up in the morning and when I went to bed at night. What a sappy romantic, right?
It reminds me that I have something important to write, and where to look to find my source. And I don’t mean that in a lovey-dovey way, of course. One of the things you will hear from other authors and teachers is to “write what you know.” When I was younger, I had a real problem with that advice because I was at least self-aware enough to understand that I didn’t know much. And how do sci-fi, fantasy, crime thriller, etc. writers write what they know when what they want to write about requires time-travel or alternate universes or to BE a murderous phychopath? And if I’ve had a pretty crappy life, that is quite frankly, the LAST thing I want to be writing about.
For me, it means, “write your truth.” And when you strip your life’s experiences down to the nuts and bolts, whatever this life has taught you is what you should be writing about. Of course, you can apply it literally, which will add the richness of first-hand experience to your craft, but again, that is because it is true.
For me, these truths are stored in my heart, and that is where I should look when I am wondering, “what do I write next?”
Imagine: Fanfare, trumpets, and a snazzy drumroll!
I registered for NaNoWriMo! Huzzah!
Yesterday was the official NaNoWriMo “prep day.” I have already recently stocked myself with fresh ballpoints and pencils and five or six new notebooks (overkill, I know). The only thing left to do is set up some folders on the old laptop and I am ready to rumble! I *have* also informed my family that I will be writing from 10-11 (or longer) every night in November, so they are all aware and, not so surprisingly, on board with my plan. Huzzah, again for supportive family-members (although the dogs are probably not going to be so understanding when they are ushered into their crates about 30 minutes earlier than usual)! Oh well!
And I have been trying to glean from other writers what they do for time management, in pursuing the writing life…the first kernel of advice: from a Writer’s Digest article by Carolyn Marsden, “7 Things I’ve Learned So Far.”
“4. Write anywhere and everywhere. In working on my first books, I found myself faced with revising the plot from the foundation up a couple of weeks before copyediting. I learned to be extremely flexible about where, when, and how I worked. I have written on cruise ships, while having an operation on my toe, in lines at banks and at the DMV, and even at red lights. If you want to be a writer, don’t wait for the muse to strike. Don’t be too particular about working conditions.”
On one hand, it is a relief to hear that I am not the only one who writes at red lights (only as necessary to not lose ideas), but on the other hand, it also reminds me to stop daydreaming of the “perfect writer’s office”…which, right now, is dominated by image searches of “treehouses.” This one, in all of its rustic seclusion, keeps catching my eye, though there are far more luxurious ones…
So, now…only thing left to do is…write.
In my efforts to make this a home base for my future, I have decided to do make some alternate pathways for Write Under Your Nose.
First, Twitter. You can follow me @writeundernose. It’s a little disappointing I couldn’t fit the “your” in there, but…oh well. I’ll be tweeting writing prompts and mini-exercises and links to my posts. I will probably also share quotes that I find inspirational from other writers. If you follow me, I’ll follow you, too…I hope to dive right in to this “community of writers” one way or another.
Secondly, Pinterest. You can follow me there at http://pinterest.com/writeundernose/ and I hope to promote similarly inspiring ideas/thoughts/images. I want to start crafting some prompts associated with images, so if seeing something helps you visualize your stories/settings/etc…go there!
Thirdly…you’ll have to wait and see, but it starts with F and ends with k…okay, that sounds terrible…it IS more than four letters, though, promise! 🙂
See you there!
It seems, as I get older, I both enjoy the seasons and despise them.
I like the way the light starts to shift in early autumn–it makes me see the late summer greening that happens in Texas in a different way. It’s a melancholy wistfulness that takes over me…remembering times from my childhood when I spent these days playing in the woods and romping through fields after school and all weekend long. When a day somehow stretched beyond itself.
One day it will seem like “fall has arrived” and the next will seem like “it’s spring again.” We will get a good chill in the air, overcast days with damp, blustery breezes, and the heavier blankets come out and windows get opened at night. I can start making soup and chili again (with a pan of hot cornbread to go with it, yum yum)…and then along comes an Indian Summer and everything gets put away/shut again…I can’t drink enough iced tea to stay cool. Of course, living in Central Texas, the changes here aren’t as pronounced as they are in more northern regions, and we usually always have cycles of warm/cool as opposed to straight cold through to March.
The pecans have started falling, and I have taken the kids gathering. East/Central Austin is densely populated by big, well-established pecan trees, so they are free for the picking on school grounds, at several parks, in parking lots, and all over the streets and sidewalks. One time we went picking pecans, we were all layered in hoodies and jeans, but the next time we were in shorts and flip-flops and the boys wanted to take their shirts off because it was so hot. It is an odd, shifting dance, this, a Texas autumn.
And I do look forward to Thanksgiving and Christmas and New Years, so there are the coming festivities. Peppermint mochas and pumpkin spice lattes are back at Starbucks. Shopping will become a passtime, the gift-giving a happy/fun/excitement that shines in everyone’s faces. All of those gathered pecans will be made into pies, cakes, candies, and such.
So…what’s not to like?
The obvious passing of time. The shortened, dark days. Being cold. Having to wear so many dang clothes that it necessarily multiplies the laundry chores. Dry skin. The unrequited craving for a beach trip that would allow me to actually get in the water. Wishing the drab, dreary brown could be green again. Hearing those less-than-joyous opinions/attitudes during the holidays–nobody can be happy all the time, sure–but those people who are actively harsh on the cheer of the season…oh, they wear me down, and I just want it all to be over…back to “normal.”
But the real thing is the dark. I love the night, but I don’t want it starting at 5:30…that’s still daytime. I feel…pressured…to get all of my daytime stuff done before the sun sets, because after the sun sets, that’s when I need to think about writing and being creative. If I still have to deal with chores and errands and cooking and cleaning and going to the grocery store and sports practices…blah, blah, blah…how do I set to paper all the background thoughts that are whirring away in my mind? It is a constant sense of “do it” stacked on top of “not right now” that happens every day for almost half of the year. During the Spring/Summer months, I can do all of my “life stuff” before the sun sets and THEN it’s time to write. It’s nice and clear cut. In the Fall/Winter, it gets all messy in my head.
So. How to unmussify? I have thought about this long and hard, and I have decided it must be managed. No more excuses like “it’s cold and dark, I have to do the dishes, and the laundry, etc., and now I’m too tired, and it’s time for bed.” That’s pretty lame. And I know what I am going to do:
Make a plan!
1. Enjoy the good parts of the seasons changing. Hooray for Peppermint Mochas!
2. Make time for your vocation everyday, no matter the season, no matter the day.
3. Stop making excuses and get down to the nitty gritty! Roll up your sleeves (or put on your pajamas), and get to freaking work already.
AND so, it comes time to think about a writing prompt. I think a good one, given my personal discontent with the shortening days, is to include the details of the season in the setting of a scene. Capturing all the sense details…sights, scents, sounds, tastes, how things feel to the touch…specific to the season will really “solidify” and paint the scene/setting in which your characters are operating. Also, consider a feature of characterization: How does your character feel about long days? Snow? Holidays? The only caveat I will put next to this exercise is to make sure you are “showing” and not “telling,” and don’t let too many details bog down the flow of your writing.
I have a confession to make. Well, certainly, there is much to confess, but I’ll try to keep this post about one. Okay, two. Tops.
1. I have never, to my own satisfaction, finished writing any of the novels I have started writing. I wrote something that resembled a novel when I was…say…17? It was a mighty mess. I don’t even remember what it was about. I have in my mind a running list of novels that must be written, but I haven’t “really” given any of them my time, effort, or dedication. I mean, it was like pulling hen’s teeth to finish both of my Masters’ theses. I even remember telling a therapist about this problem. In all of her sageness, she said, “You’ll start when you are ready.” And I did (on that particular thesis). So, now it is time to start on those novels.
2. I mentioned NaNoWriMo in my last post, and it is the source of my second confession. I have tried to participate in this writer’s challenge about six of the last eight years. I have dropped out of my daily goals about two weeks into it every time. I have never reached the 50,000 word goal of the challenge, and I have never come close to finishing any of the novels I was going to write when I started the project. Sigh. I’d like to say this year is going to be different. I really, really would. But the honest truth is…it’s hard for me to write every day (dang, I think that is confession #3, if anyone is keeping score).
I have, thus far, in my writing craft, relied on inspiration lining up with available time in order to accomplish “writing.”
Ahem. Seriously. Even I can see that this is no way to go about writing anything within a reasonable amount of time. Or even cohesively. I did, for about a month, get up every morning at 5:45-ish, make a pot of coffee, and write for about an hour. I stopped doing this for a variety of reasons, but the number one reason was…I hate mornings and writing during the morning time created, in my opinion, crappy writing. I am a night owl. I could start writing at 10pm and not stop until 3am. If I had that kind of life, where I didn’t have to be anywhere right around 8am, I would probably do this everyday. But I do have to be somewhere M-F by no later than 9. And it’s just life, you know, but it cramps my style.
So, how to manage it? That is the question. Let’s look at the math. 50,000 words in 30 days. That’s just 1,666.7 words per day. That’s not so bad. Not when you have a good focused hour of time. And you know what you want to write about. And you have your favorite music already cued up on your playlist. And you have your cell phone turned off. And no soccer practice after work. And no dirty dishes calling your name…See? See how easy it is to complicate the whole process? But that’s part of the problem. Instead of making it hard, I need to think about making it easy.
Surely I spend at least an hour a day looking at Facebook, and playing silly games like Sudoku on my phone. Would a simple resolution to spend that time writing instead actually accomplish 1666.7 words a day? Maybe…maybe not. Maybe I should just make an announcement in my house: “I am writing from 9-10 pm. Do not bother me.” Maybe I should do both. Maybe I should give it a shot and see before I already count myself out of this year’s NaNoWriMo yet again.
Maybe there should be a lot fewer maybes and lot more I ams.
I had a friend when I worked at a different job about a decade ago who would always say this as we walked past his desk: “Issues, man, issues…” He was from another country and thought that most of our daily seriousness was completely unfounded. That most of our “issues” were made up and self-imposed, and probably–rightly so, for most of us–completely self-focused and not all that important. His mocking false-seriousness was almost always enough to make us laugh.
“Sit,” he would say, “Have an apple (or corn, or orange, or almonds, or whatever he had at his desk that day). It will make you feel better. The sun is shining, it is a new day, we are still breathing, life is good.”
I really miss him sometimes. And I think about how petty some of my concerns can be. How my dogs are getting my floor dirty. How my kids are eating the fancy crackers I meant to take to work next week. How long I spent folding the laundry only to find it tumbled about in the laundry basket the next day. It doesn’t really matter. I am glad to wake up to my dogs, my kids, my less than perfect pile of clean clothes, because it means I have them.
And I have my hands, my mind, and enough wherewithal to come up with stories and ideas and classes I want to teach.
I think the take away is to let all of those “issues” fade away into the “not that important” part of my brain, where hopefully they will just disappear. Instead of fretting about…anything…I would rather delve into my art.
That pile of clean clothes has me thinking of the novel I plan to work on during November, aka, Nanowrimo: National Novel Writing Month. It’s about a homeless girl who has decided the best mode of survival is to not seem homeless. I wonder how she would manage clean clothes. I’m going to take that as a writing exercise today. And I challenge you to consider some day-to-day thing we take for granted and how it impacts one of your characters. It can be anything from change for the bus, a cell phone that is lost, a broken shoe, a “spilled-upon” pair of pants right before an interview…anything, really. How does this “thing” impact your character? Do they see it as a non-issue, or a major one. The outcome can be hilarious or tragic…
Good luck with your issues!
Let’s start with something simple.
Like…the Law of Attraction. That’s easy, right? You know…The Secret? If you aren’t familiar with the concept, it is the idea that you attract to your life whatever you think about. That you get what you give. A kind of daily karma, if you will, as determined by your hopes and fears.
The main challenge is to stay constant in your dreams and believe that they can come true.
It sounds crazy, right?
Well, here is my dream: I want to be a writer. A writer of novels, non-fiction, investigative articles, screenplays, poetry, interviews, and any other kind of writing I feel like doing. I also want to help other people be writers. And I want to do this every day. I recently had a wake-up call from a friend of mine. Life is too short to spend it doing anything other than pursuing your own vocation. Mine is writing.
Hence: This website.
I know it is Day One, but it’s never too early to start.
For my first exercise, and yours, if you like, write down a list of all the things you want to accomplish when you start living the life of your dreams. Just let the dreams fly. And if you have pictures of where you want to live, and where you want to travel to with the proceeds of your first big success, and what you’ll do for fun when you aren’t writing…cut ’em out and paste ’em down on your list. And when you are done, put that list somewhere you will see it everyday.
And then. Start writing.