The Forbidden Forester

57th Trial: It is one thing to finish a novel, and then to start at page one again in an attempt to edit it. I have been reading E.M. Forester and his severe criticism has placed new eyes into my head, which has been a trial in itself. A first draft is as rough as sandpaper, and the same is true for mine. There are times when there is no smoothness between dialogue, description, and characters, and then there are rays of light that bring hope. 

Weekly Hours Spent Writing or in the Pursuit of Plot: 14 hr/wk:  thank you quarantine!

Weekly Choice of Tea: Vanilla Bean Tea

Biggest Success: I have completed the first draft of my novel!!!  It is done, and yet I am so far from the end. I am told this is the first step, and quite the accomplishment. However I look at it like I do a pile of bricks on a cement slab:  I have the foundation and the materials to build a house, but I still need to place each brick individually while making the mortar to give it strength and cohesiveness. It is an exciting time, and I have sent it to several people to help me edit. The process has begun!

Book

I would like to begin this blog with a note on the author E.M. Forester, before I delve into all that I learned from his teachings in “Aspects of the Novel.” Reading from the eyes of a critic has been as enjoyable as it has been despairing. He shone a light onto all writers  to reflect their own inabilities; naturally, that is one way of teaching. Personally, what I felt after reading this book was complete reluctance. Looking over the pages of my novel, it seemed as if I have little to actually say, and that I lack a necessary intention in my descriptions. Fear of my potential lack of depth has crept in, thanks to Forester, as well as a fear that I have only accomplished to shy behind the charisma of my characters – that they take the novel to places I could not alone.

But I have begun to read it over, and thankfully made enough edits that it is already sounding better. Yet I cannot say I have not laughed at myself. I have such a love for older literature, and my language can come off so grand and therefore so inappropriate! Some sentences cannot be said without a British accent, or there are interactions that are so prim and proper that they must’ve jumped off of Austen’s page and landed on mine (though without the art). I know I am sounding harsh, but it is only with the accomplishment of the first draft that an editor, even a self-editor, must become cut-throat.

While reading Atwood’s “On Writing” I beamed as a Writer, enjoying the hope and excitement of writing; maybe it was because of her humor. And how every point was drawn in sarcasm or dripped with a type of sticky substance that I couldn’t shake off. But with Forester – with Forester I have grown blue. Oxygen does not circulate in the ice cold reality of true critics. My writing could deem me a great novelist for the sake of novels only, or that it could develop well enough characters with an artist’s stroke, but fail miserably at the overall painting. I had no idea that a writer reverently adored and in the literary canon could be still so debased by a lens held up to their writing. No one worth reading my book will do it without bending forward to see the details that are both distasteful and tasteful, instead of what I hope they do:  sit at a distance and bask in the portrait of it like Monet’s exhibit in Musée de l’Orangerie. But then I think of Monet’s exhibit. And while I liked sitting and sensing the space between me and a wall of water lilies, I also did not love it until I saw the layers of paint that differentiated the corner of a lily pad from the draping leaf of a willow tree, both immersed in water neither above or below me.

While this has been a brutal lesson, it has been a good one. I have crossed the finish line only to create another one, and once that one is crossed, I shall have built more frame of confidence.

E.M. Forester:  “Aspects of a Novel”

lessons

  • “…the novel’s success lies in its own sensitiveness, not in the success of its subject-matter.”
  • “The final test of a novel will be our affection for it, as is the test of our friends…”
  • “The intensely, stiflingly human quality of the novel is not to be avoided; the novel is sogged with humanity…We may hate humanity, but if it exorcised or even purified the novel wilts, little is left but a bunch of words.”
  • “The allegiance to time is imperative:  no novel could be written without it.” He proceeds to give examples of author’s and ways to work with the wall clock:  Emily Bronte hides it, Proust alters its hands, Stein smashes it, and Sterne turns it upside down. Ha!
  • Why love is so prominent in novels:  1. “The constant sensitiveness of characters for each other… has no parallel in life, except among those people who have plenty of leisure.”  2. “He can make it a permanency, and his readers easily acquiesce, because one of the illusions attached to love is that it will be permanent.”
  • Characters in novels are “real not because they are like ourselves (though they may be like us) but because they are convincing… We get from this a reality of a kind we can never get in daily life. For human intercourse, as soon as we look at it for its own sake and not as a social adjunct, is seen to be haunted by a spectre.”
  • “Perfect knowledge is an illusion.”
  • On Characters:  “…if they are given complete freedom they kick the book to pieces, and if they are kept too sternly in check they revenge themselves by dying, and destroy it by intestinal decay.”
  • “A novelist who betrays too much interest in his own method can never be more than interesting.”
  • “Characters must not brood too long, they must not waste time running up and down ladders in the own insides, they must contribute, or high interests will be jeopardized.”
  • “To pot with the plot! Break it up, boil it down.”
  • Melville “has not got that tiresome little receptacle, a conscience, which is often such a nuisance in serious writers and so contracts their effects.”
  • “To most readers of fiction the sensation from a pattern is not intense enough to justify the sacrifices that made it, and their verdict is ‘beautifully done, but not worth doing.”

On Atwood and Writing

56th Trial: Happily I have little to report here, as the gift of gab has seemed to infuse my fingers of late. However, my dog Boo Radley persists in her state of distress with the fact that I am home more, writing at my table, and she is forced to lay toys at my feet that sit there, unobserved by me. She pretends to sit and wait patiently, but then her exhales narrow in her throat and come out as incessant whines. 

Weekly Hours Spent Writing or in the Pursuit of Plot: 10-15hr/wk

Weekly Choice of Tea: Peppermint Coffee – I have set aside the power of tea and have continued the holiday-inspired flavor of peppermint coffee that I stocked up on, making the addiction REAL.

Biggest Success: I am in the Home Stretch. Its that exciting anticipation of being on third base, seeing the end with just one more bat at the metaphorical ball. I have not disappointed myself, and have left most things to catch fire on the back burner so that any and all free time have been filled with a hot cup of joe and my pencil. I have a tan notebook that has the black block letters “WRITE” on the front cover, and it is now more demanding than it was inspirational. 

The past few months have not been a struggle. I have felt more like a writer now than I ever have, and it is because I struggled over the past years to build the foundation and the story line, that now it is happily unfolding. I see the scenes play out before I can write them out, and the character’s have their own voice. I had not felt that till now, and realize the development of the story is likening to the development of my own, that both go through the awkward phases only to come out confident and certain, sort of! That in retrospect, something has been accomplished and created. This story is real, and the novel is nearly finished. I am on the last chapter, and my hands pause over this keyboard as I struggle to find the words to express what that even feels like.

It could be completed next week. I could spend the next month polishing it off before I print it out, wrap it in an outlandish bow, and submit it to my freelance editor (who I chose due to her deep affinity for Beyonce and Harry Potter). With the end so near, I hit a milestone that marks the beginning of the next mountain:  editing, agents, and publishing. That alone could take years, and on top of the many years it took me to get this far, I find myself only half way to the finishing line. But who knows, if it turns out to be a “success”, what time will open up for more stories to follow? But please, I get ahead of myself.

As introduced by my last post, I began Margaret Atwood’s book “On Writers and Writing” after reading the instructions of Edith Wharton. My education on the subject continues, and I continue feel the boundaries of a novel and a writer’s playful attention to them.

These are some of the most important take-aways that I marked in her novel “On Writers and Writing” :

  • “A lot of people do have a book in them – that is, they have had an experience that other people might want to read about. But this is not the same as ‘being a writer.’ Or, to put it in a more sinister way:  everyone can dig a hole in a cemetery, but not everyone is a grave-digger.”
  • All writers have a diagnosed condition:  Duplicity. With a capitol “D.” While this could easily be understood in a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde reference, I enjoy Atwood’s explanation of it. “What disembodied hand or invisible monster just wrote that cold-blooded comment? Surely it wasn’t me; I am a nice, cosy sort of person, a bit absent-minded, a dab hand at cookies, beloved by domestic animals, and a knitter of sweaters with arms that are too long. Anyway, that cold-blooded comment was a couple lines ago. That was then, this is now, you never step twice into the same paragraph, and when I typed out that sentence I wasn’t myself.”
  • “The composition of a novel may be one part inspiration and nine parts perspiration, but that one part inspiration is essential if the work is to live as art.”
  • Writer: “Why this self-loathing? Perhaps it’s the gap between the image – inherited from the Romantics – and the reality. what will the glorious dead, the giants of literature, make of the ninety-pound-weakling descendants?”
  • “There is never any shortage of people who can think up good things for you to do which are not the same as the things you are good at.”
  • “Publishing a book is often very much like being put on trial, for some offense which is quite other than the one you know in your heart you’ve committed. They [critics] know there’s a body buried somewhere, and they’re keen to dig it up, and then to hunt you down. Trouble is, it’s not usually the right body.”
  • “It isn’t the writer who decides whether or not his work is relevant. Instead it’s the reader.”
  • Reader:  “A spy, a trespasser, someone in the habit of reading other people’s letters and diaries. As Northrop Frye has implied, the reader does not hear, he overhears.”
  • “How many writer have put on other faces, or had other faces thrust upon them, and then been unable to get them off?”
  • “The act of reading is just as singular – always – as the act of writing.”
  • “Going into a narrative – into the narrative process – is a dark road. You can’t see your way ahead. Poets know this too; they too travel the dark roads. The well of inspiration is a hole that leads downwards.”

 

As always, thank you Atwood for your friendly, and yet terrifying, mirror that you hold out for all writers (and society). I read this, warm with laughter at her mindset around the writer and the reader, and as I tucked it back into my bookshelf, I shuddered from the bitter cold this road may prove to be. Luckily, I am not far from the ocean should I need to warm my toes. Only this is laughable still, as it would be in Pacific waters.

XOXO

The Writing of Wharton

55th Trial: Reading parts of my novel to people who do not typically like that style of literature to begin with. It does not tell me if in fact my writing actually doesn’t make sense, or if it does, and that person just has no tolerance for that style of prose. Thankfully, I am understanding the importance of finding the right people to read my novel, and how much I can learn from their perspectives.

Weekly Hours Spent Writing or in the Pursuit of Plot: 4-6hr/wk

Weekly Choice of Tea: Irish Breakfast Tea

Biggest Success: Becoming a student again. It is far easier to admit the need to tighten the skill set of a writer than to lounge on a throne of chipped paint and consider yourself a writer rich in prose.

 

 

Welcome back! Whether I am saying that to you, or to myself, I say it with arms flung wide to my sides and deeply from my diaphragm. I read my last post, which was a year ago, and I say yet again, welcome back. While my posts will continue to be far and few in between, I cannot neglect documenting my writing process any more. This is after all, a faithful journal of the trails and errors of a first-time novelist. After I have published my novel, I intent to bind all these together and read the contrasting ideas and emotions that have pasted over the many years.

And it has taken years for me to write what I have written, and sometimes one chapter takes a whole 6 months. I do not say that apologetically, as I have a business to run, a non profit to manage, and the impulse of adventure at my fingertips. But aside from all the time, travel, and hustle, I have managed to re-focus, and pick up the pencil once again.

At the beginning of 2019 I began Jen Sincero’s program of working towards one goal of my choice. Mine was to “Secure a Publishing Deal” by the end of the year, and it is a goal that I am working towards. But I knew I would need help. I cannot faithfully pick up writing and ignore the diversions that make me set it down again.

And so I began Margaret Atwood’s online Masterclass on fiction writing. I bought 4 self help books for the writer:  Edith Wharton’s “The Writing of Fiction”, Margaret Atwood’s “On Writers and Writing”, E.M. Forster’s “Aspects of the Novel”, and Stephen King’s “On Writing”. So far, I am learning a great deal, and feel much more of a connection to the world of writing and to that part of me that is a writer. Atwood says that every artist has that element of duplicity – the person brushing their teeth is not the same person that writes “Anna Karenina”.  As I go about my day, handing money to the cashiers, getting in and out of my car, and even as I take Boo out for a walk, I now know that being a writer is within me always, and that in itself its that warm, fuzzy, feeling of community that is making me create a rhythm and routine. As if me and the other me will clink glasses later, salute to the day, and change roles naturally.

As I read from other writers, I wish to share their words of wisdom here. They are nuggets of pure gold that I do not want to wash away. Some are words that are encouraging, some are subtle explanations that blow my mind, while others are brilliant analogies meant to soften the edges of the matrix of novel writing. Or of being a writer. Because both are trials in their own rights, and both need to be navigated through as much as they are cultivated.

Edith Wharton’s book “The Writing of Fiction” is the subject matter I intend to share with you, with the sincere hope that you will read the entirety of it for yourself. Her perspective on writing is absolutely illuminating, as her taste and study of literature is the North Star.

These are the golden highlights; the mineral within the mountains. Enjoy all the words that have spoken so much to me!

  1. “[failure]…is the cause of some painful struggles and arid dissatisfactions; and the only remedy is resolutely to abandon the larger for the smaller field, to narrow one’s vision to one’s pencil, and do the small thing closely and deeply rather than the big thing loosely and superficially.”  Nailed it.
  2. “The great continental novelists are all the avowed debtors of their English predecessors; they took the english novel of manners in its amplitude, its merriment and pathos, and in their hands ‘the thing became a trumpet’.” Something More British, please.
  3. “…dailogue, that precious adjunct, should never be more than an adjunct, and one to be used as skillfully and sparingly as the drop of condiment which flavours a whole dish.” Best advice EVER!
  4. “It is the unnecessary characters who do the crowding, who confuse the reader by uselessly dispersing his attention; but even the number of subordinate yet necessary characters may be greatly reduced by making the principal figures so typical that they adumbrate most of the others.” This, I feel, also applies to changing POV too much.
  5. “The impression produced by a landscape, a street or a house should always, to the novelist, be an event in the history of a soul, and the use of the ‘descriptive passage,’ and its style, shoulde be determined by the fact that it must depict only what the intelligence concerned would have noticed…” How easy it is to share my impressions with the reader, instead of respecting the mind we were just in.
  6. “It is obvious that a mediocre book is always too long, and that a great one usually seems too short.”
  7. “The question of length of a novel naturally leads to the considering of its end; but of this there is little to be said that has not already been implied by the way, since no conclusion can be right which is not latent in the first page. About no part of a novel should there be a clearer sense of inevitability than about its end; any hesitation, any failure to gather up all the threads, shows that the author has not let his subject mature in his mind. A novelist who does not know when his story is finished, but goes on stringing episode to episode after it is over, not only weakens the effect of the conclusion, but robs of significance all that has gone before.” She goes on in length regarding the proportion of the novel, and how the great writers of fiction knows that space is required for any argument worthwhile, and that they follow a “prescribed orbit”.
  8. “The writer must have a range wide enough to include, within the march of unalterable law, all the inconsequences of human desire, ambition, cruelty, weakness and sublimity. He must, above all, bear in mind at each step that his business is not to ask what the situation would be likely to make of his characters, but what his characters, being what they are, would make of the situation.”

A Tete-a-tete With a Storm Cloud

52nd Trial: Being in Chapter 8, I am eager to go back to Chapter 1 and change so much of how it all started, even down to the descriptive language and the dialogue between characters. But back tracking at this point may be detrimental – I may have the same desire at Chapter 10, or Chapter 15! There will be no end to the madness.

Weekly Hours Spent Writing or in the Pursuit of Plot:  Since last post, I have wrote for 12hr! Take that!! **knife hand strike to the throat of my work week**

Weekly Choice of Tea: Earl Grey (I am on a kick!)

Biggest Success: There are two main successes that I am particularly proud of! I have begun writing the Boo books (a children’s book that Jamie will illustrate), as well as my training for the Alcatraz swim!

Last night I swam in a lap pool after work. It was the first time I jumped right into the water, instead of my usual big-toe-followed-by-heel-and-then-retract ritual. I usually look like the cartoon elephant that dips a part of its foot in the water then runs away with a trumpet sounding protest! However, the chill in the air was worse than in the pool, and so went away my reluctance to enter it.

I use my swim for many things, from sweating stresses to idle dreaming of me saving the world in some fashion or another. But mainly, I use it to consider the plot of my novel. Dialogue and relationships. What direction the story will take next. It turns out to be a poor brainstorming session most of the time, as I do not have pen and paper readily submerged in the water with me to jot down ideas. The ideas themselves struggle against drowning, and sometimes I forget them altogether. However, I at least reconnect with the big picture of the novel, and leave the water refreshed and aware of my purpose with writing.

My mind during this particular swim went on a fun journey, and thus the point of this blog. While reading Charlotte Bronte’s “The Professor”, I became fascinated with her unique character descriptions of a few undesirable students at the school. I enjoyed her ability to write in the negative space surrounding a persons shape and attitude but telling me what they are not, or where they differ from normal notions of beauty, intelligence, and humility. My arms pulled me up and down the pool as the images of these characters swam into my mind, as if the ripples around me were them. They were joined shortly by characters of my own, and I noticed quick how ill defined mine were in comparison.

As I continued swimming, the weather changed around the time my stroke changed, and my mind wandered once more. My arms grew bumps as they met the cold and windy air. As I began back stroke, I saw the descending light of dusk change with the approach of a menacing cloud, and soon its light presence was extinguished. The cloud was truly a dark cloud, and its black surface crept closer and closer to the sky above me. Time passed as it usually does in a pool, monotonously, and the cloud continued to approach in the same, slow manner. And as there is not much to do besides count laps and think over and over again, I was thankful I had a storm cloud. I began by describing it by what it was not. Then I chased it, and it chased me, as I lapped the pool as if I were in a pinball machine. Before I swam my last stretch, I wondered how this cloud could represent anyone or anything? Can a character be built based on the description of a storm cloud?

In truth this lead me down a strange path, which is worth mentioning, where I seemed to internalized the storm cloud. I thought of its scary and threatening nature, and imagined it to be my own expectations of the novel. Its color reminded me of my Earl Grey tea. Boo could be considered a storm cloud, as her black fur falls in a steady stream of hair. I am swimming in components of a cloud. I wanted pizza tonight…and while this was a stretch, I quickly realized that both are pleasantly salty!

A Perfect Perspective

49th Trial: What sentiments have I not already covered?

Weekly Hours Spent Writing or in the Pursuit of Plot:  2hr

Weekly Choice of Tea: Turmeric and Ginger

Biggest Success: To date, my work-in-progress is 70 pages typed

sf

I am a Chiropractor living in San Francisco, not far from the famed painted ladies of Alamo Square. I have started slowly writing my novel, a life goal of mine that seems to share the over-cramped room of my Ambition with other careers, other desires, and other interests. Currently, my tongue is raw from a pack of sour patch kids and my Alice in Wonderland mug is steeping tea. These are the hard facts for the start of 2017 and for my first yearly blog post. Might I remind all readers that this blog is to hold myself accountable to the purpose of my writing, as well as a faithful narrative of my journey. If only there were a way to hold myself accountable for up-keeping the blog…

2017 has started as most of my years do:   an outburst of all that I want to accomplish, followed by a deep, long stare, which inevitably sinks me into a state of mild depression. So, what will I do with the challenges I have placed at my doorstep? I’m willing to tell ya. I’m wanting to tell ya. I’m waiting to tell ya!!!

My first action step was to feed the lethargy with Gilmore Girl episodes, and luckily I did so. There was a moment in the episode that illustrated how perfect, the perfect perspective can be. To accomplish any dream or desire, is to simply fall in love with it. Become in awe of it. Be humbled by it. I am not a writer because Jane Austen or the Bronte sisters inspired it. I am a writer because I am a part of their legacy. We, non of us, are our own stories that do not share the stories of everyone around us or before us. My time on this planet is minuscule, and the importance of my novel even less. However, I have contributed to the inhalation and exhalation of San Francisco’s eclectic city as it builds and progresses. Every patient of mine has allowed me to become a part of their health. I get the distinct pleasure of sitting in the front row seats of Jamie’s life and that of Boo Radley’s.  I write to support the love and legacy of literature. Those thoughts alone bring purpose to itself.

jamie-and-cable-car

Boo.JPG

 

A Top Hat-less Hillside

46th Trial: Liking what you have written. That comes in phases!

Weekly Hours Spent Writing or in the Pursuit of Plot:  6hr over the past two weeks

Weekly Choice of Tea: London Fog Tea Latte

Biggest Success: I have finished Margaret Atwood’s “Handmaids Tale” and began Dicken’s “Bleak House”!

 

Isn’t it funny, how life just relentlessly goes forward? Even after the events that we feel will end us, or will hold us back from where we should be or ought to be? Timelines, examinations, milestones, detachments, and displacements are things that most humans experience–some more than others. It wraps us in its momentum or makes us feel stuck in a bucket of concrete, and we will believe that Life begins afterwards.

These past two weeks have been wonderful. My brother, whose heart is rapidly mending from his past, came to visit. We indulged in the present bliss of the “nowness of life” while we swung off the side of San Francisco cable cars, confident that the passing rain and fog over the city would not prevent us from moving forward. Worries, stresses, and heartbreak do cloud so much of what we see and what we experience;  but we realized that San Francisco was still there. And Madame City was just beautiful.

After he left Jamie and I explored a bit outside the city, and I came to a realization myself. We were walking through Briones National Park, when I became engrossed in its wide open fields, rolling hills, and grazing cattle. The green grass has returned with the wet season of Northern California, and the dead tall blades of spanish grass lay limp, replaced, and only in scattered patches. It was a sight that astonished me:  had I found in America what I dream about in England? The wide open fields, people on horseback (though without top hats and tail coats), and hillsides that give those inspirational views?

I cannot tell you how often I think, I will finish my novel in the Lake District. My dream and destiny is tied to me being in the place that has always inspired me the most. While nothing in my opinion compares to the Lake District in England, I am comforted in the reality that life will not wait for me to be there. In the meantime, I must run along beside it, finding as many open fields and hillsides along the way. And one day I will be in that smokey cottage beside the stone walls and grazing sheep, but my life will not be on hold for that.

14855910_10157679523600082_197428481741847336_o

A Half-Priced Addiction

45th Trial: I sometimes think that if I surround myself with stacks of books, heaping amounts of tottering novels, words and sentences will flow out of me as Inspiration takes form. In other words, I cannot stop buying books. I have a problem.

Weekly Hours Spent Writing or in the Pursuit of Plot:2hr

Weekly Choice of Tea: Pumpkin Spice Tea

Biggest Success: This week I have began running and swimming again! If anything was neglected more than my writing, it was my exercise.

dsc_1458

I have plenty of inspiration. Sometimes I feel small next to it, like the redwoods that towered over me this past weekend. And most times, I feel amused by it. There are so many images and interactions that flow through my thoughts regularly, and I watch them as when I sit and ponder by a passing stream. Some ideas are great, and I throw my lure out to catch them. But like I do when I would sit and fish with my father, many rush on by or take my fishing pole with them! Inspiration should be an entity to any writer, a physical catch or tangible form.

Novels and books already written have always been my inspirational object, and as you read from my introduction, the British ones do it best. However, I am using this post to justify the fact that I cannot stop going to the nearby Half-Priced Books store, and purchase one to five novels. I hunch over the section of leather bound classics like a deformed addict, as if the act of bending over the shelves has bent my spine so that it has become perfectly normal for me to go there and do just that:  hunt for more books. I take them home with me and display them. And I am dazzled by that Inspiration. I see it nestle between the Dickens and the Brontes, or watch it stretch like a lush over the Melville and Hemingway. It jumps from Wilde to Twain, and tip-toes past Conrad. Yes, in just a week, I have managed to purchase books from all afore mentioned authors. I label it Inspiration, instead of addiction, thank you very much!