Monthly Archives: June 2012

New Growth: Editing and Gardening

I want to thank Sharon Overend for republishing my post from April of last year4 Ways Gardening is Like Editingon her blog about writing. Sharon has published short stories and poetry and is currently working on her first novel.

When Sharon asked me to contribute a guest post to her blog, she wanted something sooner than I could get her something new, so we discussed republishing an older piece of mine. The piece comparing editing to gardening came to mind immediately as it had been on my mind a few days earlier.

My new house has a pool, and although the pool was kept up well by the previous owners, my guess is that it had not seen frequent use over the recent past. Nearby evergreen shrubs had spread, encroaching onto the pathway next to the pool.

My kids are young and I expect them to tear round the edges of the pool at high speed; shrubs in the path are dangerous. So, I spent a day hacking at the shrubs, trimming them back to behind the edge of the path.

To clear the path, I had to saw off limbs that must have first been allowed to break the confines of the flower bed years ago. If you look at the shrubs now, you will see exposed, raw edges of many small and medium-sized branches, and it is ugly.

Ugly with potential.

Once the plants grow to cover the wounds, they will look fine. Nature will take care of the growth.

I have to be the force of Nature with regard to my novel. I have spent the last year pruning and shaping the large scale edits of my novel. I now have some spaces in the book that need filling, places where I need a scene to complete the picture. The gaps are more obvious after the pruning; the novel has a more unfinished feel than it did a year ago. But,the gaps are intentional, spaces of potential, waiting for the new growth that will give the complete work a more pleasant shape.

In the meantime, I am enjoying seeing a past blog post have a new life on Sharon’s blog. If you missed what I had to say about location, dormancy, treatment, and facing reality, click here and have a look.

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Does Your Muse Have a Groove?

For the past year, I have been struggling with the world of my novel. As it is currently structured, the story starts in a realistic world and a parallel fantastical reality is revealed to the reader and the protagonist as the work proceeds. In theory, it works. My intellect loves it. But my Muse is not impressed. The realistic sections of the book aren’t working and I hate writing them.

Looking at the pictures I have been creating using Mixel, I had what Holly Lisle calls a Muse-bomb – an explosion of insight from the creative source.

Is this an image created by a Muse who hangs out in realism?

What about this one?

Or this?

I think not.

When she critiqued it earlier this year, one of the comments Charlotte Rains Dixon made about the opening pages of the book was that she wanted to know why a character overreacted to a car accident; it was the kind of question that made her want to turn the pages beyond what I shared with her.

This, my friends, is exactly what the beginning of a story should do.

But, the reason I had given this character for such an extreme reaction was the sort of heavy, gritty, realistic, trauma-related reason that appeals to people who like issue-oriented YA. And it wasn’t working for me.

So, last night, I asked my Muse to justify the reaction to the accident in a way that fits with the fantastical elements of the book.

And she came through. Big time.

She gave me an accident witnessed by the character some years ago that involved the shape-shifting near-immortals that populate the world and created PTSD, fear of being crazy, self-doubt, self-censorship, and willingness to believe in an alternate magical reality in one moment.

I can work with that, all of it. It fits beautifully into subplots and plot twists that already exist. And I am excited about it.

I had been asking my Muse to work in my analytical world and she balked. Meeting her half-way is clearly a better approach.

Does your creative imagination have a strong suit, a world view, a groove? What happens when you work outside that range?

Mixing Things Up

I have been busy not writing.

Partly, this is end of school year stuff with the kids, but mostly, this is inviting my muse to be more daring before I head back into revisions. I had been feeling penned in by the synopsis I wrote of my novel for the class I took this spring. And I had lost the fun. So, I stepped back from requiring my muse to deliver material associated with the synopsis and asked her to play with the ideas that were what inspired me to write the book in the first place. She has been very obliging. Ideas are flowing again and I am looking forward to diving back into the writing.

Bubbles and Butterflies

I have been anticipating writing without getting my butt in the writing chair. This is delicious but needs to stop.

I had to take time away from writing recently because I am directing again.

Directing is my creative home: my decades of theatrical experience have taught me enough that I know what I am doing and how to do it. Each production is different and the challenges presented by working with this particular group of people on this specific play are unique enough to be interesting while rarely feeling unmanageable. Directing is never easy, but I can do it with relative ease. I am in the middle of auditions now. And then, there will be a few rehearsals scattered through the summer before the production process starts up at full speed after Labour Day.

My goal is to complete the next revision of the novel before Labour Day.

To meet this goal, I will have to avoid my latest creative distraction, an iPad app.

Mixel

Mixel is an image-mixing environment. The process is like taking digital musical samples and remixing them into a new musical piece, but with pictures. You can use provided images or upload your own.

Wonder

There is also a social-media option. You can create private or public images. Public images are available for comment and re-mixing. Entire threads of pictures created through remixing a set of images provide a glimpse of how several people have responded to the same images.

The interface is simple, though not completely intuitive.

I have not connected with people I actually know on Mixel. All of my interactions are based entirely on the images that appeal to me. It is an interactive, visual experience.

And my muse loves playing with it.

Check it out. Remix some pictures. I’d love to know what you think of the program.

Find Your Zest, Your Gusto: A Tribute To Ray Bradbury

Zest. Gusto. How rarely one hears those words used. How rarely do we see people living, or for that matter, creating by them. Yet if I were asked to name the most important items in a writer’s make-up, the things that shape his material and rush him along the road to where he wants to go, I could only warn him to look to his zest, see to his gusto.

~ Ray Bradbury (1920 – 2012)

Like many readers and writers of science fiction and fantasy, I reacted to the news of Ray Bradbury’s death on Tuesday by finding his books on my shelves and starting to reread them. But, I did not first turn to Farenheit 451, The Martian Chronicles, The Illustrated Man, Dandelion Wine, Something Wicked This Way Comes, or any of his other wonderful stories. No, I went straight to one of my favourite books about the craft of writing: Zen in the Art of Writing.

Zen in the Art of Writing is a collection of essays on writing that Bradbury wrote over a span of decades. The quote about zest and gusto at the top of this post is the opening of the essay entitled “The Joy of Writing.”

I come back to this essay more than any other single piece of writing about writing. It reconnects me with the reasons that I write.

[I]f you are writing without zest, without gusto, without love, without fun, you are only half a writer. It means you are so busy keeping one eye on the commercial market, or one ear peeled for the avant-guard coterie, that you are not being youself. You don’t even know yourself. For the first thing a writer should be is — excited. He should be a thing of fevers and enthusiasms. Without such vigor, he might as well be out picking peaches or digging ditches; God knows it would be better for his health.

~ Ray Bradbury, The Joy of Writing

That paragraph hit me hard when I reread it this week. I have had a hard time getting back to writing my novel since my class had me working feverishly on exploring how to pitch it. I was stuck, but I couldn’t figure out why.

Intellectually, I had a plan. I had generated a timeline and a synopsis of a story worth telling. I had noticed themes of the novel reflecting deep themes in my life. I knew what scenes I had to write to make the piece hang together.

But, my muse was bored. She refused to show up. I think she figured I didn’t need her since I had it all mapped out. She was wrong.

To get out of my rut, I started listening to the materials associated with Holly Lisle’s How To Think Sideways course. One of the things I love about Lisle’s teaching materials is that she demonstrates how she gets her inspirational muse and her craft-based thinking mind to work together on a project.

I found myself leaning on one idea: One of your jobs as a writer is to write bigger than your first impression.

In order to prepare the pitch for my class, I had to pretend the novel was closer to finished than it is. In essence, I pitched something close to my first impression. And, I boiled out some fo the complexity to build the pitch. But it is too early in the process for that. I needed to give myself permission to grow the story beyond the pitch as I prepared it.

By focusing on the scenes that work and being willing to ditch the rest if need be, and by giving myself explicit instruction to think bigger than the pitch I had prepared, I convinced my muse to come back and play.

I am making progress again. With gusto and with zest.

In tribute to Ray Bradbury, I offer these links:

When an artist who has touched you dies, how do you respond?

In his speech to the graduating class at Philadelphia’s University of the Arts, Neil Gaiman argued that one should greet life’s trials with one response: make good art. I add now, from Ray Bradbury: with gusto.

So please, find your zest and your gusto and make good art.

Say it Loud: I am a Writer

Jeff Goins is leading a 15-day challenge he calls “15 Habits of Great Writers.”

15 days is not long enough to form one habit, let alone 15, but I am curious to see what he thinks, so I have signed up to get the daily challenge e-mails.

Today is Day 1.

Today’s challenge: Declare Yourself a Writer.

His point: If you write, say you are a writer. Say it loud; say it big; say it often. If you say it big enough, you will believe it.

His challenge to his readers for today:

Declare you’re a writer.

Not just to your wall or computer or notebook, but to an actual person or institution. Someone or something you’re scared of — this could be a person who might reject or judge you, a family member who may misunderstand you, or a publisher who could discredit you. But tell them and tell them now.

I grew up believing I could neither draw nor be taught how to draw. I am learning I am teachable.

So, I figure that makes today as good a day as any to tell you about my new Facebook page. I have

been on Facebook as a private individual hanging out with my friends for years. Last week, a little latte mug with a link to Facebook appeared on this page. That link, my friends is to my public page; the page where I present to you Kate Arms-Roberts, Writer.

On that page, I expect to post about the things that make me the writer I am.

  • Books I read
  • Books I want to read
  • Things that inspire me
  • Creativity
  • The genres I write in: Science Fiction, Fantasy, Young Adult, Middle Grade
  • Things that make me think
  • Information about the craft and business of writing

Please come on over and Like my page.

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