The Zone

Synapse

Synapse

What a busy week!  I had to finish a travel anecdote I had barely begun, complete four critiques, redraft two chapters, plus get out and enjoy this beautiful Colorado weather.

Back in 2006 I was only writing the one novel . . . and working four days a week.  Along with the usual:  vacuuming cat hairs off the sofa, roasting chicken and chasing ground squirrels and deer from my lettuce.  And cussing the gopher holes in our front yard.  And digging stubborn thistle and ….

In those days, I knew what I liked when I read it, but had no idea why, or how to write it.  One lucky day I was in Magpie’s in Durango and picked up a copy of “The Writer” magazine.  There was method to this madness of writing!  I wouldn’t have to spend thousands of dollars to get an MFA, only well under one hundred for a subscription and a number of recommended books.  And spend time writing.  And writing and more writing.  Every day.  That instruction was a constant:  Write every day.  Even if you only write fifteen minutes, do it every day.  Did I repeat that often enough?

.Write every day.

Why?

For the same reason swimmers swim and runners run.  Guitar players play and painters paint.

To get into the zone.  A lot of work is required to get into the zone–that place that’s hard to describe because there are no words to describe it clearly.  People try:  “Everything’s right; everything works;  I don’t think, I’m just there.”

The zone is the place where a runner finds the last breath and strength to run that last mile.  The zone is that place a guitar player goes when his fingers play seemingly without his direction.

The zone is where a writer goes when the words flow onto the page, where one is so deep into character that the present world disappears.

You become surprised by your own writing.  How easy it is.

You want to write.  All the time.  Writing is you, and you are a writer.

Does the preceding sound a little “airy fairy” to you?  Consider this:  Everything we think, everything we do either causes or is caused by nerve pathways carrying messages throughout our bodies.  Those messages flash from one nerve to another by macroscopic bridges called synapses.  The more we exercise any one pathway, the stronger it gets, just like a muscle gets bigger and stronger.  The more you exercise your writing skills, the stronger they get.

Maybe you have experienced what happens when you stop writing for days, a week, a month, and then try to start up again.  I have.

Getting back into my story was nearly impossible.  Start, stop.  Start, stop.  “I can’t write.  Did I think I could write?” I no longer had feeling for the story or for the characters.  I had to sit down, force myself, and write shit.  Every day.  For three weeks until I started to feel I was writing again.  Even now, four months later, I am not writing as well as I did before.

Whatever you do, don’t stop writing.  Even if you only write for fifteen minutes a day.  Write something.  Exercise those nerves.

One Writer’s Journey

JourneyThis post is almost like starting my blog all over again.

So many people have asked me what it was like to begin writing (at such a late age?).  When I thought about the answer, I realized that, once I got into it, I could probably go on and on and fill several blogs, especially if I included all that I have learned (or hope I have learned), and am still learning, along the way.  Making my journey, hence my blog, more personal, might even make it more interesting.  I will probably have to expose more of myself, for one thing, and that’s what makes our characters more interesting, isn’t it?

Yikes.

I think this blog is going to be another part of this writer’s journey.

IN THE BEGINNING:

2006.  I was a big fan of Battlestar Galactica on television.  I loved the idea, the characters and especially the writing.  I had a new Mac, discovered and read a little fanfiction.  I thought, “I can do that,” and, for fun, started writing a series about the childhood of one of the adult characters of BSG.  The character’s immediately family and the character, himself, along with the name of their home, were all that I took from the TV series.  Everyone and everything else in the story were my own.  Readers actually liked my series!

I wondered if I might actually be a writer, seriously.  I turned the manuscript over to a professional editor to see if he thought writing was something I should pursue.  He let me know that, with additional work, I should go for it.

Here I am, six years, many books on writing, two college classes, and a continual subscription to “The Writer” magazine later.  Plus all those writing web sites and blogs I subscribe to.  “To which I subscribe” is better English, but I hear that placing prepositions at the end of a sentence has become acceptable these days.

I remember my high school English teacher abhorring the use of “and also” and “but also,” which I see even in literary fiction.  Cringe.  I will never do it.  Aren’t we told to remove all those redundant words?

Excuse me, I have wandered into my pet peeves.

I rewrote that first manuscript, changed the characters, the background, the local, etc., but not the name of the story, at least not yet.  How freeing it was to create whatever I wanted!  My first novel, now in its third draft, grew out of this process–Learning to Fly.  I haven’t found a better title, yet.

There you have it.  Next post I’ll go back five years to how I made that first draft into a redrafted manuscript.  I had no idea what a mess it was until I started learning what was involved in writing a decent novel–in learning to write well.

Another Random Act of Kindness!

A smile.  An encouraging word. A thoughtful gesture. Nearly every day we interact with people, in our lives and on the web, people who often help us and make our day a little brighter. This notion is especially true in the Writing Community.

Take a second to think about writers you know, like the critique partner who works with you to improve your manuscript. The writer friend who listens to you, supports you and keeps you strong when times are tough. The author who generously offers council, advice and inspiration. So many people take the time to make us feel special. They comment on our blogs, re-tweet our posts, chat with us on forums and wish us Happy Birthday on Facebook.

To commemorate the release of their book The Emotion Thesaurus, Becca and Angela at The Bookshelf Muse are hosting a Random Act Of Kindness BLITZ. Because I think KINDNESS is contagious, I’m participating, too!

I randomly picked the marvelous young woman who has been consistently giving my chapters great critiques.  I use the word, randomly, because there are so many writers (and non-writers) who are helping me along the way, including sites and blogs who don’t even know I exist.

So many writers, including successful authors, are motivated to inspire and instruct us beginners.

Pass on the Kindness bug and celebrate our Writing Community!

Be Your Character

My knees and arms are crossed and I’m trying to breathe slowly and evenly.  My fingers are cold, and I’m gritting my teeth.  Shoulders tight.  Mind buzzing furiously–put something down.  Now.

I just did.

Be in your character.  Write the emotion.  Write from where you dream.

I closed my eyes and went into my dreamspace.  I had no idea how to begin this blog, so I connected to the place I was in and wrote about that.

Sometimes the ideas come whirling out from mind to fingers to keys, and sometimes writing is like, well, pulling teeth.  I am sure you know what I mean.

What I am blogging about today is:  Don’t merely write about your character, be your character–particularly in what are, or should be, emotion-filled moments or scenes.  If you ever wanted to be an actor, this is your chance.  I close my eyes, relax, breathe deep and slow, and imagine I am that person in the situation I have created.  How do I feel?  What do I feel?  What is my body doing?  What am I thinking?  Can I think?  What do I hear, smell, see?

Being your character is handy for other scenes, as well.  Your character is lying in the grass.  How does the world look from down there?  Does she see a ladybug crawling up a blade?  Is the grass green with spring or dry in summer?  What do you smell?  Does she have allergies that make her nose tickle or make her sneeze, her eyes water?  What else does she feel?  Is the grass damp from early morning dew?

Of course, you can’t bring this kind of detail into every scene.  Detail only the scenes where such moments are important to character development, mood, plot, etc.  Choosing which moments are important is part of what good writing is all about–when to show and when to tell.  For example, perhaps you have a male character who, so far, has shown only aggression, anger, and contempt toward everyone.  You might have a key scene where, when alone, he  shows kindness and compassion for a hurt animal.  This scene would be best written in great detail in order to impress it upon your reader’s mind.  Aha, this character has more to him than he shows to the world–what does this scene mean?  You have made a flat, one-dimensional character intriguing.  Readers like mysteries and surprises, as long as they make sense.

How do I describe all these emotions?  Every serious writer should have a good Thesaurus.  Mine is a big, fat Roget’s International Thesaurus, and I have sticky-tagged much of it for quick reference.  Even better, a couple awesome ladies have just published The Emotion Thesaurus for all us writers which you can find on their blog here.  For a limited time they are giving away an Emotion Amplifier download.  Check it out–their blog is one of the best on the web for writers.

I watched Game of Thrones last night and what a scene between Lady Stark and Jamie Lanister!  I watched her as he went on about Ned Stark’s betrayal of her with another woman and imagined how I would write the emotions she was feeling at that moment.  Powerful stuff!

Cat, Cottonwoods and Tags

Dickens (my cat) is whopping my shoulder with his tail.  One of his favorite spots is on the back of my chair while I tap on my MacBook.  He can keep an eye on things outside the window and, at the same time, remind me that it’s nearly time for his dinner.

We have arrived at lovely Riverside RV Park in Bayfield, Colorado, on an overcast but fairly warm, 70 degrees, afternoon.  I have an internet connection here!  Though the country silence of our friends’ land is preferable to the nearly constant woosh of nearby Highway 160.  We do have spring-leafing cottonwoods, aspens and a nearby creek.

Today’s writing subject is, you guessed it, tags, without which a reader wouldn’t know who is speaking that marvelous dialogue you just wrote.

One of my favorite and, I think, most useful books on writing is Arthur Plotnik’s Spunk and Bite.

He states in the beginning of the book that there are situations where every rule can and, sometimes should, be broken.  A good writer must know when and how.

Many writing gurus (experts, maybe) declare that you must never use any tag but Said.  At least limit yourself to said, asked and replied.  Arthur Plotnik believes that this rule should apply  “when the context and content of the dialogue, narrative description and the speaker’s character” are clear.  He used this example:

A cry of terror broke from Dorian Gray’s lips, and he rushed between the painter and the screen.  “Basil,” he said, looking very pale, “you must not look at it.”  (Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray)

Adding anything more than said in this tag would have been redundant.

Don’t use a tag that calls too much attention to itself (unless, of course, for some reason, you want it to make it stand out–humor, perhaps?).

Use descriptive tags when:

  • The sound of the speaker’s voice is important, but not clear in the dialogue.
  • To provide counterpoint where one speaker’s voice is neutral and the other speaker’s is not (anger v. calm)
  • When a character speaks against the line (“I love you,” he said angrily).

In the end, as the writer, you have the last word as to when you need to use an emphatic tag.  Only, as always, consider your reader.