Flashbacking

apple cratesInspiration comes from the strangest places. I often have flashbacks throughout the day to random memories and times in my life that seem to come completely out of nowhere. I let myself ponder through the things I remember about that moment before I snap back to the present and wonder, “why am I thinking about this?”  Sometimes, it’s just the meanderings of memory that take me to that day in high school when I was put in charge of entering fruit orders into the computer for the FFA fund raiser.  Not that I was one of the “jacket wearing” FFA members, but I did participate in our “field day” demonstrations by churning butter in a series of jars with a sweet, sandy-haired farm boy who was almost too shy to talk to me.  What was his name?  I don’t know.  I only remember that he liked NASCAR and blushed when I teased him about being too handsome to not have a girlfriend.  See?  Why the heck was I thinking about entering fruit orders for the FFA fundraiser?

I’ve been working more regularly on a novel this summer, but I’ve been reluctant to share my progress with friends. I have the odd preference of writing in longhand for my first drafts, which means my “second draft” happens when I enter the writing into the computer.  I’ve started the second draft process, but I can tell the writing is missing something.  I need to add to it to make the situation believable, to make the character seem more like a real person, and to move the plot along without it feeling like it’s dragging.  I have the old pang of self-doubt that strikes when I start struggling with a project, but I’m dedicated to working through it.  But how?

My character is 18.  She’s in the summer between high school and college.  And she is in the middle of dealing with a moment of intense family turmoil.  How do I bring this girl to life?  How do I tell the reader who she is without banging them on the head with a list of likes and dislikes?  And how do I do this without making the long-form fiction feel like it’s crawling at a snail’s pace?

Then came the a-ha moment!  With a flashback, of course.  OF COURSE!  Why haven’t I thought of flashbacking (which may or may not be a “real” word) before now?  She is not far away from being in high school, so I have to tap into my own “yesteryear” memories to remember the angst of being that age again, being in the midst of a major life transition, and how to deal with complicated relationships between siblings and parents and grandparents.  But, she is not me, so I must invent a past for her.  I *can* use my own mental wanderings to populate her past, though.
woman-jumping-out-of-window
I remember when I was a little kid, I really thought I was a badass.  It was a freer, more dangerous time, I guess, in retrospect.  I played in half-constructed homes as new portions of my neighborhood were developed.  One of those houses was a two-story house–a rarity in the land of one-story ranch-style homes.  During an intense game of chase with two boys who were older than me (boys who kept calling me a “baby” and a “girl” like it was a slur and not just a fact of genetics), I jumped from the second-story window of the newly framed house, daring them to follow me.  They did not.  I remember laughing at the looks on their faces.  They were looking down at me from the window, stunned that I had jumped from so high.  I was all of 5 and fearless and had legs made of rubber.  Ah, how sweet was that victory!  I decided to give my character the same sense of “I’ll show you” daring.

 

Exercise:

Take 10-15 minutes to write down one of your childhood memories.  Try to remember as much as you can, especially sensory memories and the way you felt, emotionally.  After you’ve captured the essence of that memory, use the same “feeling” to write a new scene for your character.  You can frame it as a flashback to your character’s childhood, or not.  Maybe you have a character who is a child, so it could happen in “real time.”  Maybe you’re character has a child.  It can be translated in so many ways.  Maybe it will inspire a piece of non-fiction.  Maybe you won’t want to change the scene at all–you know how us writers are–always stealing from real life to tell our stories.  That’s what they mean when they say, “write what you know,” right?

Happy writing!

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Taking Your Art Seriously

I write. I am a “writer.” I am, however, not what I would call an “author.” The distinction in my mind is the difference between being published and not being published. Authors are published. Writers write.

I have a good many friends who are authors, though, and if I am being honest with myself…I am jealous of their success. I am truly, truly happy for them, but I confess that I am also covetous of their ability to win the acceptance and approval of whatever powers that be that decide: “YES! You! This work you have produced–it is publication worthy!” Huzzah for them. Sincerely.

AND I know I have no room for grousing about feeling jealous or depressed about my own lack of authorhood BECAUSE it’s my own fault. I haven’t *really* tried to become published in the traditional way since I left grad school. If you read this blog on a regular basis, you know that I put a short story on Amazon (about a year ago) to be sold like a Kindle “single.” For 99 cents. And of all the people I know who know I did this…let’s say something like 100 people (a low estimate)…7 of them dared to spend less than $1 on a story I wrote. And these are people I know. It’s demoralizing.

So yeah. Boo hoo. Pity party for me. In all honesty, I wrote a supremely snarky “nobody loves me” blog about the whole debacle, but wisely decided not to post it. Although, in retrospect, it’s pretty damn funny. I mean, if you like snark.

But now that party is over. I am just done wallowing. Because I decided, “If I don’t take my own art seriously, who will?” Self-publishing is one route to take, but just plopping something down on Amazon isn’t going to turn me into an author because I wish it to be so. It’s time to go back to the basics of becoming an author and go about it in a different way.

First, obviously, is writing.

Second, just as obviously, is attempting to become published by TRYING to become published. There is no wishing in publishing, dear self.

Third, is to return to my old methods that allowed me to gain insight and growth as a writer…by reaching out to my friends who are/were writers and get them to share work with me. And if they won’t/can’t, then it’s time to find a new group of writers to bounce ideas off of, and to serve as a voice of reason when I want to put a sasquatch in my short story. Or maybe they will say that sasquatch should stay. You just never know.

And I’m going to take this little gem from my cousin. She is a painter, and recently she quoted a friend of hers who said, “art is an equation; the more you put in, the more you get out.” Such a simple adage, but a good one to remember.

So. Here goes. Taking my art seriously.

The Vocation

I started this blog because my stepson challenged me to.  Because I want to be a writer when I want to grow up.  Because I feel as if writing is my true life’s vocation.  And by vocation, I mean:  I can’t not do it.  I am miserable when I don’t do it.  When I write, something inside of me unlocks and I am able to be myself.  My “real” self.

I have, largely, felt as if my hands are tied by the reality of life.  I have, though, dreamed the craziest of dreams telling me I must…that I have no choice, if I want to live a fulfilling life.  I dreamed last night that my hands were dripping what felt like blood, but when I looked down…it was words, dripping from my fingers on to the floor, where they lay there in a puddle, like alphabet soup.

When morning rolls around, and I have to get dressed to go sit at a desk, and do other people’s work, I have to damn up those words and stories and keep them at bay until I have time.  When the end of the work day comes, I am frazzled, and stressed out, and tired.  And then there is dinner to make, kids’ sporting events, dogs to walk, exercise to do, dishes to wash, floors to sweep…and then I really ought to go to sleep.  And then, my mind whirs out these ideas and notions and stories–things I would really like to explore on paper, research and write about, and I make a mental note and finally fall asleep.  And then it starts over again.

I want to know…how do I make this dream life my real life?  I remember Toni Morrison saying that she had to make time to write…that she had to carve it out for herself or it would never happen.  In an interview from the Paris Review (1993), she said, “Writing before dawn began as a necessity—I had small children when I first began to write and I needed to use the time before they said, Mama—and that was always around five in the morning.”  {If you have read my blog, you know this does not work for me…I am not a morning person.}  But then, she says this:

Writers all devise ways to approach that place where they expect to make the contact, where they become the conduit, or where they engage in this mysterious process. For me, light is the signal in the transition. It’s not being in the light, it’s being there before it arrives. It enables me, in some sense.   I tell my students one of the most important things they need to know is when they are their best, creatively. They need to ask themselves, What does the ideal room look like? Is there music? Is there silence? Is there chaos outside or is there serenity outside? What do I need in order to release my imagination?

I know that I have to carve out the time for my writing life.  I know that I am going to have to prioritize and carve the time from the day for this act of creativity, because no one else is going to, because no one else needs to.  It’s not their vocation…it’s mine.

Have you designed your perfect place, found your perfect time?  I’m taking this as my task today.  To schedule it and make it known.  To steal it, if I can.  To listen to the calling.  To write.

Happy NaNoWriMo Eve!

I found this list from another author…you may know him as the man who wrote Tropic of
Cancer (oh so scandalous back in the day!), Henry Miller:

Writer’s, write!

I wish (with eyes closed and heels clicking) that writing…the art and craft and community of it all…can become my primary, sustaining, fervent, fulfilling work.

There is no reason to be waiting until tomorrow to do any of it.  But tomorrow, I start on THE project of the month…that 1,667 words a day undertaking…the one I will do my best to apply the above rules to.  I AM going to have to shoehorn it into my life, but once I get my foot in there, I am going to wear it out like my favorite pair of pennyloafers.

Church of the Palomino…if I have time for it, I will pluck and pin and reshape it into the thing I want it to be…it is still not quite “there” yet, so I am going to have to put you aside for a while.

Tonight (and surely, I should have done this already), I am going to set up my workspace for NaNoWriMo.  The pencils and pencil sharpener will be within reach, the notebooks meant to capture this particular story will be stacked and ready.  I have decided NOT to do this on my computer because I write better in longhand first.  First pass editing happens electronically.  There is no time for editing with NaNoWriMo.  I DO need to set up a particular playlist on my ipod and/or queue up my favorite CDs, so I have no excuse to go looking for them when it is time to write.  And now that I am thinking about it, I need to have a writing “outfit” ready to go, too.  I know that sounds crazy, but that’s how I roll.  Big shirt over pajama pants and slipper socks.  It’s the little things, people.

I have to admit…this feels kind of like Christmas Eve…so exciting with the getting ready!!!  All that is missing is hot chocolate and plate of cookies (and carrots for the reindeer).  And to think…a book is going to come out of this!  That is the most exciting part of all.

Good luck, all ye other NaNoWriMo-ers!  Let the insanity begin!

A little quote…

From a dream I had…

I have a lot of dreams related to writing. Mostly they tell me that I need to, that I am not spending enough effort toward it, that I have a calling, what am I waiting for…you know: WHY AREN’T YOU WRITING?

I go through phases where it is all that I think about. But sometimes, when work is burdensome and I am tired and there are too many other distractions either personal or professional, I will have one of those dreams that knocks me back into place with a jolt.

The quote above was a from a dream. One that I woke up from like walking through a door. I won’t go into details, but the one person whom I would listen to without question said these words to me: “Write like your life depends on it.” I’ve been haunted ever since. And I must write these instructions on my heart and do so.

And then days like this come along…

I have finished my stripper story (THANK GOD!)…first draft, anyway.  Now that I have it out of my system, I am not all that interested in doing much else to it.  At least not for right now.  I probably need a break from those characters anyway.  I *have* sent it to friends for review, and I may need to tap a few more for some first-hand fact checking (since I really don’t know all that much about strippers, strip clubs, etc.), but once I feel it is “finished,” I am thinking I will probably try to post it to a “download to your Kindle/iPad” kind of place and offer it for sale for $0.99.  I mean, what could it hurt?  Maybe I’ll make a buck or two.  I will share that whole process when I get there.

But today, with the early morning drenched in a constant pattering of rain, waking up in the arms of my love, listening to my dogs softly snoring in the next room…and then realizing I have to leave them to come to a desk job…It is exactly the kind of thing that inspires me to recapture that writing vigor that makes my palms itch for an artist’s life.  One where I can sleep through the rain in a cozy bed, make myself a whole pot of coffee and drink it at my leisure, stay in my pajamas, crack open a new (or old) notebook and put pen to paper.  If I can really get something going, I could work into the wee hours of the night when my brain is best at conjuring stories and poetry and visions of grand landscapes.

And somehow I will sneak writing into my day today, and somehow I will make it my life, instead of the thing that is constantly singing to me…a siren on some distant shore, incessantly calling my name.