Tag Archives: Creative Witer’s Notebook

Writing is hard

The title says it all.

I think we’re done here.

But seriously, writing is hard. For me, the initial drafting is usually the easy part. Especially if I’ve done some planning and outlining, the writing flows pretty well. Or so it always seemed. But as I’m continuing my way through my writing exercises, it’s bringing up so many additional things that I’m conscious of, but not quite sure I’m being purposeful about.

For example, one of the exercises was titled “Hemmingway’s Iceberg,” a prompt where you write a detailed character description, then try to convey information about the character in short sentences, showing instead of telling. That’s usually one thing I’m pretty keyed in to when it comes to my writing, and something I usually catch when I’m editing. But following the advice of everyone for writing is overwhelming. Should I outline my whole entire story in immense detail? Should I write detailed character sketches for everyone? Or just main characters?

I’ve always been a little bit more of the “fly by the seat of your pants” kind of writer. I’ve adapted some, and in my last few projects I have done moderately detailed outlines, which has truly helped in the process. But I’m afraid of getting so bogged down in the planning that, when the times comes, writing the story has lost the joy of creation and discovery, which is what has always drawn me to writing in the first place.

So what’s the answer? For me, it’s just doing my own thing. If I’m having a hard time with dialogue or my character doesn’t feel real, I’ll take it as a sign that I need to do a sketch and compare words and actions with who my character is. If I’m stuck with writers block, I know I need to sit down and map out where I’m at and where my story needs to be.

Best practices aren’t for everyone. Writing is a very personal endeavor, and as such, what works for me won’t necessarily work for you. But, writing is also about having various tools to use when you need them. And with that in mind, it’s good to know some of those best practices, and have a plan in place for when you might need them.

 

So, after all that blah, blah, blah,  I’ll share a personal bit of writing, from the last exercise I didn’t do a few weeks back, the one on getting inspiration from the art world. It took me a little bit of time, but once I thought of it, it just flowed. Maybe you can guess what painting inspired it.

Sometimes, the most beautiful things emerge from individual strokes of chaos.

In a painting, a million wild strokes swirl to form a starry night. The swirls lead your eye across the piece, drawing you into nostalgia, remembering your favorite starry nights.

But when you’re down in the trenches,where the swirls become a maze of canyon walls, you don’t always see the beautiful, just the chaos.

I was in the trenches, to say the least. I was 24 years old, married, living independently, making my own appointments, and utterly overwhelmed by anxiety and stalled dreams.

It wasn’t that I hated my job, I worked hard, but the constant human interaction was draining. It was more that… I was more. I had a degree, I had career goals and dreams, and as the years ticked by and graduation faded, it was hard to believe someone would hire me with barely any experience, so long after school.

And my personal dreams–don’t even get me started. I loved writing, but I was lazy and didn’t always like to edit. I didn’t have any left over energy for another full-time job. All my other hobbies I essentially gave up when I moved. So if my life wasn’t intended to be what I wanted, what was it to be?

I wonder if painters ever feel this way, like their just throwing strokes onto canvas and waiting to see what emerges–art birthed from chaos.

But then, isn’t that what life is all about? Finding beauty in our own personal chaos. To keep painting until the picture emerges, and we can see what we’ve made.

The Creative Writer’s Notebook: authentic voices

Because I don't always keep up on my editing, and don't always have something here and exciting worth sharing, I decided to come back to my book of writing prompts that I bought almost a year ago.
This week I did the lessons inspired by William Faulkner (ok, I did two out of three, the last one was hard and I couldn't think of what to write). They were mostly focused on allowing your characters to speak in a real voice, allowing punctuation, grammar and vocabulary to show what your character is like. I've always thought that would be quite easy, but as I sat down to do it, I realized just how proper my dialogue must be. When I'm writing, probably my most authentic language is the use of contractions.
The first prompt I did was inspired by one of my nieces, who wanted to make sure her papa didn't "lost" her hat instead of returning it to her. I tried to write a little scene about a small child who had a bad dream about an upcoming zoo field trip. I tried to think of the kinds of things that trip kids up, often tenses. My little girl would sometimes use the present tense if a word because she didn't know any better, and sometimes she would add an extra "ed" on the end of a word.
As challenging as that was, it was harder to try to write a scene about two people trying to cross a river using only dialogue to portray what kind of people they were. That I as what really made me notice how proper I am while writing.
So this next week, I have two goals in mind for editing: I want to work on the first chapter, making it something that grabs your attention and makes you want to know more. But I'm also going to read through my story and pay close attention to my dialogue, and ask myself if my characters sound real, or if they sound stilted and stiff. I'll have the answers for you next week!

Writer’s Notebook: Virginia Woolf

This week’s author in the Creative Writer’s Notebook was Virginia Woolf (duh!).

The exercises in this section were very fun, I thought, though the first one, a writer’s diary, felt like a repetition of the very first exercise, an interior monologue.

The second was fun, it was writing the same scene from three points of view– first person, third person, and through dialogue. This exercise made it quire clear how the different perspectives change the way you can write about something. When you write in first person, it limits how much you can explore the thoughts, ideas and even actions of anyone other than that character. You can only know things the character was told or overheard.

Third person, which many writers use, allows you to explore many perspectives and many characters, which was exactly what I experienced when I wrote my scene in third person.

Finally, writing the scene as only dialogue was challenging. (Perhaps I took the exercise too literal, again, because I didn’t use any dialogue, or hardly any, in the other two versions of the scene, and I’m sure I could have if I wanted to.) First, because I wanted to add in movements but, of course, I thought I could only use dialogue between the two people. And I could only manage to let myself break that rule once or twice.

What was interesting, was that even though it was supposed to be the same scene, because I wouldn’t allow myself to use dialogue before, it meant my last scene of dialogue was more a continuation, but, I think that’s ok. After all, this is about being creative. There is no right or wrong way to do this.

The last exercise inspired by Virginia Woolf was my favorite; interesting because it was the vaguest one of them all (though that is in fitting with my character, I suppose).

All the direction given was to write a short piece using one line from To the Lighthouse as inspiration: “Little daily miracles.” I wrote about the first thing that popped into my mind, my first kiss (and my the first and last first kiss). It was a fun little exercise, with plenty of things I would have enjoyed to write about, but, maybe more of that later.

I’ve enjoyed the several pieces that allow me to write about myself or my own thoughts. I enjoy the autobiographical bits. And actually, what had got me started writing again in the first place was that very thing, just writing some things for myself, with the thought that someday, maybe people will be interested enough in me to want to read the inner workings of my mind. But, even if no one is that interested, it’s still fun to write, and gives me a personal clarity that can be hard to come by otherwise.

Writing exercises inspired by James Joyce

So back in September I bought a book called Creative Writer’s Notebook. It’s a collection of writing prompts and exercises, 70 in total, inspired by the writings of 20 classic and/or well-known authors.

I had intended to wait to start working my way through this notebook until I had finished the project I was working on (see older blog posts about how I wasn’t doing any writing), but, I’ll be honest, I’m just not into that story anymore right now. Maybe it’s because I don’t feel particularly lovey or loving (I’ve got enough for my husband and the cat each day, and then I’m about at my wits end), or maybe I’ve just procrastinated and the passion is gone for now. Whatever it is, I’ve decided to take the easy out and start working through this notebook. If I do one author’s exercises a week, I’ve got 20 weeks, not including any other writing I do that I can blog about, which I truly do intend to get back to.

The challenge, as I’ve discovered via journaling my own thoughts, is that I’m tired. I work full-time, eight hours a day five days a week being around other humans and trying to make them happy. Then, usually, I come home to cook and clean, which frankly feels like a second job. And if I intend for my writing to go anywhere, I need to treat that like a job. And I just don’t have the energy to work three jobs when I’m already fatigued and working through (honest confession here) anxiety and depression each day too. I’m not going to give up on this dream (with where I’m at in life, I simply can’t give up on this one), but I’m going to go a little easier on myself and make a plan and set some easier goals, and if I don’t enjoy what I’m working on, I’ll move on to something else.

So, this Creative Writer’s Notebook. The exercises I’ve done so far, three inspired by James Joyce, as noted in the title of this blog, have been very different. The first was an interior monologue, essentially writing down your thoughts, following them on paper wherever they go. This exercise I had actually kind of accidentally done (though more formally than just writing down my thoughts as they pass through my brain), and it was upon realizing that I’d kind of already done the first exercise that I decided to continue and finally dust off this second half of my blog (the book reviews are going wonderfully, of course).

The second exercise was making up portmanteau words, words with double meanings. Examples from the book include “kissmiss,” “smog,” and “eleventeen.” This was the exercise that stumped me. Perhaps it’s just the phrasing, but I couldn’t think of many. What I came up with were “brunch,” “sniggle,” and the name of a character from another one of my stories, “Mr. Snidely.”

The last Joyce-inspired exercise was to write descriptions of family members using the same number of words as their age. This, of course, posed some little challenge for me, because my brain naturally was wondering if that meant 23 descriptive words about my husband in various sentences, or do I have only 23 words, so don’t waste any? (Sometimes I don’t think I’m very good at the creativity bit, I’m too orderly.) Anyway, I just did it, and it was fun and an interesting way to think about writing descriptions, and to see what kinds of things I focus on when describing. Looking over what I’ve written, only my first two descriptions had anything physical in them. I tend to focus on character traits, not hair or eye color or the chiseled features or long nose someone may have.

So this gives me something to think on, as I would be the first to say I frequently neglect physical descriptions of my characters, and this may be something my readers would like to see more of.