Monthly Archives: April 2011

A Few InterPlay Forms

I have written a guest post for Patrick Ross over at The Artist’s Road looking at InterPlay in my creative life.

In it, I mention a few of the InterPlay forms that I use to loosen up my writing, but I did not describe the forms in detail.

For those who are interested in a little more detail, here are descriptions of the forms I mentioned in that piece.

  • Babbling in a Made-Up Language: For 30 seconds talk in a made-up language. Advanced practices include talking in a made-up language in response to a single word prompt or talking to a partner who translates into the local vernacular.
  • Big Body Stories: Telling a Big Body Story involves using your whole body to tell a story. Sometimes movement is featured more prominently than words, sometimes words and movement happen together. It is all made up on the spot.
  • I Could Talk About: Each person in turn names one thing they could talk about. This repeats around a circle until time is up.

In the video below, InterPlayers who juggle play “I Could Talk About” while juggling.

Here is an example of InterPlay being used as a improvisational performance form by Wing It! featuring Cynthia Winton-Henry and Phil Porter, the founders of InterPlay. Yes, it’s all made-up on the spot: music, dance, words, everything.

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What Image to Show the World? A Question of Presentation

When I first set up this blog, I used a dark, slightly gothic theme.

And, I loved it.

But, it didn′t reflect who I am or what I write about. My goth days were decades ago. These days, my appreciation of the dark sides of life is subtler. I still love themes of transformation through the depths, but as I have grown older, that fascination with the dark has softened and is now balanced by an appreciation of the light. The original theme for this blog appealed to the part of me that first wanted to be a writer more than it appealed to my current self. I always sensed it wasn′t right.

More importantly, I got some feedback that the blog was hard to read. So I went hunting for a new image.

Then, I found the theme I am using now, which had a lovely default header picture of a bridge in the mist.



I love the idea of words as a bridge between people. Mist invokes magic and mystery for me and there is a mystery to the creative process. As a default image, this was one I could use.

And, you may have seen that image here in the past. But, even as I chose to use it, I knew I wanted a custom image on my blog. I just don′t see myself as a default setting kind of gal. But, I was busy and I wanted to have the blog up and easy to read more than I wanted to have it perfect. So, I lived with it.

If you came by the blog last week, you may have seen this image in the header space of this web page.



I was playing around with photo-editing software and some of my photographs when I created this picture and it struck me as a possible image for my blog. But, I wasn′t sure.

I changed the image on my blog and asked my Facebook friends and Twitter followers for feedback. And most of the feedback was that it didn’t work as a header. So I changed the image again.

The new header is also a photo of my own. It feels appropriate to me that I would use one of my own images as the main visual element of my blog. And, I like the resonances of this image.

  • I took the picture. I edited it. It is a representation of my visual sensibilities.
  • Fall is my favourite season of the year; the last flash of nature′s glory: the wild celebration of colour even as the world fades to the muted tones of winter. The constant change that is our life cannot be avoided when reflecting on the changes of the seasons.
  • I like to think of myself as grounded, but I spend much of my life looking up and out at things I cannot reach. The image of the high tree tops reaching to the sky as seen from below, cropped to feature the glimpse of sky reflects this aspect of my personality.
  • The part of my personality that revels in the dark is not ignored. Fall is the season of dying. The fascination with death, darkness and liminal spaces that is part of my work is held in balance with my love of nature and my hope for renewal. The magnificent conifers rising in the background will stay green through the winter as a reminder that there is life even in the depths.

I am happy with it. At least for now.

But, I want to know. What do you think?

Who Should Writers Read?

Earlier this evening, Patrick Ross tweeted this question to his followers:

What are 3 authors every writer must read?

This is my response.

Knowing Patrick, there will be an interesting post about this on his blog, The Artist’s Road, soon. I hope he doesn′t feel I′m raining on his parade. It′s a great question and I am sure there are as many answers as there are writers.

Part of the challenge with the question is that it begs the question ″What needs do all writers have in common that can be satisfied by reading?″

I am going to address the question of fiction writers working in English and I am going to avoid books about the craft of writing. My basic assumption is that writers should be exposed to a wide variety of styles and to good storytelling.

In general, I am against including an author whose work needs to be read in translation. Translation is such an art itself that any such recommendation would require also recommending a particular translation.

My short list of authors is Shakespeare and Hemingway. And then, there is one book I think all Western writers should know.

Shakespeare

Shakespeare is my favourite playwright, but I have a certain reluctance to suggest that all English language writers should read his works. Shakespeare wrote poetry and plays. The plays should be seen to be appreciated most, and the poems, though lovely, do not strike me as more necessary for a writer to read than those by Yeats or Shelley.

But, I see three good reasons for writers to read Shakespeare′s works.

  1. He was a mash-up artist. He stole his plots from every source he had available, mixed and matched them, added his own experiences and understanding of life, and created something entirely new. Any writer who worries about the fact that everything has been done before and all work is derivative can find comfort in Shakespeare.
  2. Shakespeare′s inventiveness with language is a reminder that language need not be used as expected. Writers are wordsmiths of two sorts: we build with words, but we also build new words.
  3. The plays are full of great examples of characterization through dialogue. Shakespeare′s use of language to convey character and emotion is rich. The choices about which characters use prose and which use lyric poetry or doggerel are revealing. In addition, the use of metaphor versus direct language varies as the intensity of the emotions vary.

Hemingway

To be honest, I do not enjoy Hemingway as a reader. My tastes run differently in both subject matter and diction. But, I believe Hemingway′s direct use of language is a example writers need to be aware of. Few writers come close to his power of evoking a reality without extraneous flourishes.

The Book

Or more accurately, books.

If you are going to write fiction in the Western tradition, I do think you should read the Bible: Old Testament, New Testament, and Apocrypha. Not for any theological reasons, but because English literature is so full of references to Biblical stories that not knowing the stories is denying yourself an understanding of much of what you will read, not to mention a sense of the historical context in which you write.

But maybe you don′t need context, in which case, skip the Bible and write.

The Big Question

The real question, I think, is what writers should be exposing themselves to. To which I say, everything – unless it interferes with your ability to find you own voice, in which case, cut back.

Seriously, fiction writers should read. Widely. The grand stories that have lasted the ages and the small stories that make the local papers.  The classics from foreign cultures that open the imagination to other ways of being.  Flowery prose, concise prose, poetry, nonfiction of all flavours, potboilers and pulp fiction, Literature with a capital ″L″, all of it. Just read.

4 Ways Gardening is Like Editing

Irises and crocuses are blooming in my garden. Perennial herbs and vegetables are showing signs of life after the dormancy of a Northern winter.

Inside the house, I have completed the first complete critique of my middle grade fantasy.  Pages of corrections wait for me to enter them into the computer.

And, as so often happens, these two simultaneous happenings have made me aware of connections I had not previously articulated: parallels between gardening and editing.

1. Location, Location, Location

Plants need the right conditions: soil, light, water all must feed the plant for it to grow. Sometimes you need to move a plant for it to thrive.

Scenes need to fall in the right place. Sometimes you write a scene for the middle of the story and then realize it works better at the beginning.

2. Treatment Matters

Too much water or fertilizer may kill plants as easily as too little.

Backstory needs to be dripped in like irrigation pipes bringing just enough water to the right plant to drive growth without flooding. Action without pauses for reflection may exhaust some readers.

3. Dormancy Can be Good

Last year, I planted rhubarb in my garden. A friend divided hers and gave me half. I knew nothing of rhubarb, but she said it was hard to kill. I planted it, and watered it. A few leaves died, and a few stayed green all summer, but there was no new growth. In the fall, it died back all the way to the ground. Having no understanding of the ways of rhubarb, I watched, wondering if this was, indeed, a survivor. A few days ago, I noticed bright red growth in the midst of the dead material. This morning, there are leaves coming out. This rhubarb will live!

I wrote the first draft of my novel last November. In December, I read it once and noted a few sections that needed to be cut and a few sections that needed to be fleshed out. Then, before I could revise it properly, I needed to let the project go dormant. For three months, I focused on directing a play. As the play neared production, I went back to the manuscript. By leaving it for a time, I was able to come back with a sense of perspective and a deeper understanding of some of the story elements I had glossed over in the first draft. This novel, too, may live!

4. Start With What You Have

The first house I lived in had an overgrown front yard and a mess of a backyard. To quickly beautify the landscaping, there was nothing to do but dig out the front and start again in both areas. So, we did.

Like that house, my first NaNoWriMo manuscript is a mess. Having looked at it through several editing lenses over the past few years, I have concluded there are no more than 3 scenes that might be worth saving, and those probably won′t be usable once I rewrite the rest. If I want to tell that story, I will be better off starting again from scratch.

Our current house had been cared for well by the previous owner, but featured plants I find boring or actively dislike. I have made changes slowly, looking at what is already in place and deciding how to convert it into something I like better without ever going through the completely dug up phase.

My current work-in-progress is similar. The first draft was strong enough that it holds together as a story. It needs major revision, but the core is strong. Editing what is there will work.

Editing a manuscript and gardening are both about looking at what already exists and making changes to bring that reality closer to an imagined goal.

I planted these iris bulbs last fall after clearing space in an uninspiring flower bed. Seeing them bloom this year makes me smile. There are small clumps of them now. I hope they naturalize well and create bigger groupings for the future.

It may take time, but editing a garden or a manuscript produces results eventually.

Haunted by Unfinished Projects? Fight Back

Do you have unfinished projects niggling at your mind, calling on you to finish them, crying out that they have been abandoned unfairly, and inspiring guilt?

If you do, you have a problem. You need to finish those projects or banish them and throw out the guilty feelings.

I generate a lot of unfinished projects. I need to dig into a project before I know if it is worth finishing. Sometimes, three pages of writing is enough for me to see if an idea has enough power to justify development. Sometimes, it takes longer. In either case, I explore many more projects than I finish.

For projects that I explore but chose not to pursue for conscious reasons putting them aside has no downside. I can just set them to rest.

For these projects, I use a variation of The Scanner′s Finnish described by Barbara Sher in her book Refuse to Choose. The Scanner′s Finnish involves gathering up all the parts of the project, wrapping them up, and labelling them with the project, the original goal of the project, the stage at which the project was stopped, and next steps should the project ever be picked up again. My variation is simply to put everything in a box or a binder and put it away. If I know I am abandoning a particular project for good reason, I have no issues about letting it go.

But, there are projects that get dropped and haunt me. What about them?

I know that if they are haunting me, there is something truly unfinished about them and I must find a way to finish them.

I have three projects that are haunting me at the moment:

  • a play I was collaborating on, but the collaboration fell apart
  • a play retelling Jean Racine′s Phaedra from Phaedra′s perspective
  • a horror novel involving a take on vampires that harkens back to early myths

Each of these was begun years ago, each was dropped for reasons that had more to do with my lack of discipline than with anything intrinsic to the project, and each was founded on ideas that still appeal to me. These projects haunt me.

And I am fighting back.

These three projects are all optional now. Working on them is unnecessary creating in the words of Todd Henry of Accidental Creative.

I am busy at the moment, so I need some pressure to force myself to make time for unnecessary creating in my day. Spurred on by some friends, I have taken up a new challenge: Script Frenzy. Script Frenzy is the April script writing challenge issued by the folks who bring us NaNoWriMo every September. The Script Frenzy challenge is 100 pages in 30 days. I don′t expect to meet that goal. My personal goal for April is to get a bad first draft of at least one of those unfinished plays written.

Strangely enough, now that I am writing this play again, I am excited to work on it.  The guilt is gone. Finishing this draft should keep this demon at bay.  Then, it will be on to revision to banish it for good.

Do you have unfinished projects haunting you? How do you banish those demons?

Irregular Output: A Necessary Part of My Creative Process

If you′ve been following this blog, you will have noticed that I haven′t posted anything for a few weeks. There is a very simple reason for this: I have been working on other things.

My natural creative pattern is to immerse myself in a single project for a time and then to resurface and dabble in many areas until I dive into the next project. And March required me to dive deeply into a theatrical production I was directing. Now that Theft is up and running, it′s time to dabble for a bit.

I have a few big projects to tackle in April – and not just filing taxes in two countries. I have an editor lined up to review a portion of my novel at the end of the month, which means I need to do some major revision, and there’s a website I want to launch this month. But, I am not ready to dive into these big projects without a little dabbling first. And so, it is time for some more blog posts and writing a few columns.

When I go through a period of deep work on a project, I sometimes worry that folks who read my blog will stop coming back when I come back to posting here. But, the truth is that I need to let my output be irregular. When I am deep into a big project, I cannot complete it to my satisfaction without letting go of smaller projects. And so, I must once again trust that doing what my creative process demands is enough.

After all, if I never get my novel revised, does it matter that I blogged regularly?

No. The novel is the goal.

If I need to sacrifice regular blogging to finish the novel, then I need to blog irregularly.

And so I do.

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