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.”

in Fog and in Contrast

53rd Trial: “I’m sitting’ on the dock of the bay, wastin’ time…”

Weekly Hours Spent Writing or in the Pursuit of Plot:  Since last post, I have averaged about 6 hours a week

Weekly Choice of Tea: Earl Grey, yet again my friends

Biggest Success: I have finished and typed up Chapter 8, and have begun plotting Chapter 9! I am almost done reading “The Professor”, which has turned out to be another masterpiece to the inner working of the human heart (male this time, which makes it the more intriguing) (and might I also add, has little events happening but the construction, confusion, and complete destruction of characters themselves in the eyes of our severe protagonist).

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While I have been a resident in Frisco Bay for almost 10 months now, my drive home from work today assured me of one inarguable fact:  there is no place like San Francisco. Sure you can say that regarding the character of any place you go, any city you get to know, any country you happen to travel; but places that I have gone, known, and traveled tend to have similarities, things to compare them to. San Francisco is nothing but a contrast to everything.

When I first alighted the streets of Fisherman’s Warf and the popular tourist destinations, I felt as if seeing the Golden Gate Bridge clearly was a chance encounter;   that for a tourist to catch the city in sunny rays was lucky enough to miss the foggy atmosphere that usually engulfs it. And grant it, since living here I have gotten used to the gentle flow of foggy wisps that begin to roll over the tree tops in the early evening — but a ‘foggy city’ has not been my experience of San Francisco, that is, until today.

It was one of the most beautiful moments I have had this past year. As my car curved through the hilly East Bay, I saw the city obscured by a depressed sky, as if someone pulled on the horizon just below the sun as one does a shade in a window. As I approached the Bay Bridge, I could see the fog hovering low above the water. I saw that if Alcatraz could stretch its arm just a little bit higher, its solitary state could touch both Earth and Sky and epitomize Purgatory.  I too felt that if I reached enough outside my car window, I could scoop up a handful of the low clouds and sell it on a stick at a fair. The fog was thick, thicker than I ever have seen. The sun was a perfect circle if you chanced to see it, and if you didn’t, you knew it was still there by the yellow glow that horizontally cut through the grey sky. It became more like the beacon of a distant lighthouse, growing brighter one minute then drawing away as the light rotated its cycle.

I passed over the bridge in this manner, never once thinking the city looked eery in its dark shroud. You felt as though you had no idea where this bridge actually led to, and if it was suddenly magicked to transport you from this foggy snow globe to a fantastical land. And then you would glimpse the flicker of orange peaking out of the top of the cloud, Golden Gate Bridge herself alluding to the same idea, convincing you you were in a land of giants and Jack’s beanstalk was under your wheels.

No city, no town, no place that I have known could elicit so much excitement, so much imagination, so much energy, all while surrounding you with so much darkness.

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!

Amongst the Rare

51st Trial: The first 30 minutes of the writing process. The sitting down, the picking of the pencil, and the blank and sometimes uninviting white paper.

Weekly Hours Spent Writing or in the Pursuit of Plot:  8hr

Weekly Choice of Tea: Earl Grey

Biggest Success: Successfully snowboarding down the mountainside in Northstar, near Lake Tahoe. I fell, I landed hard, and I conquered.

snow-boarding

Jane Austen claims that one who can write a letter with ease, cannot write ill. Yesterday as I struggled with the chapter’s momentum (I have started chapter eight, happily enough) those words wrapped me in an innocent bubble, because I can write letters easily. In this bubble I do not feel the weight of my own expectations or of those brilliant writers that any novel will be compared to. But instead I fell alone, and my writing and my story are what they are. My technique compares to mine alone, and my voice echoes from my own mind. It does not give me confidence that I do in fact write well, but at least I cannot write ill. I find, like with most letter writing, beginning it is the toughest, whether you are starting a new chapter or picking up where you left off. About 30 minutes into my writing do I then become involved and pick up speed, but those 30 minutes are dreadful.  Must look beyond dreadful – mental note!

I wished I had seen Austen during the book fair I went to during my Valentine’s day treat! It was in Oakland, and it was the largest rare book collectors fair in the world. Jamie took me there as a surprise, little knowing that any book there ranged from $400 – $100K. I looked through the rows of vendors, pining over the Dickens, the Brontes, the Wordsworth, and the Shakespeare. I held tightly to Arabian Nights only to have to put it down again. The series of Tennyson sat nobly overlooking my puppy set eyes. Austen though, evaded me. I felt her, along with my favorite stories by the Bronte sisters, in the booths of particularly dusty, well-used, and sometimes stained books. There were large world Atlases that reminded me of the young Dashwood from Sense and Sensibility, and there were thick books of anatomy, horticulture, and beetles that took me into Mr. Rochester’s library. Rarity comes with a price, but it was worth it to hold and flip through the pages of History and Time itself.

Happily I found a first edition of Harry Potter, which came home with me later that night!

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The Hopeful Hue of Morning

50th Trial: How can you save money, and write during lunch breaks? It is winter still, and while only slightly chilly here in San Francisco, the rain has kept me in cozy coffee shops. I am doing as I faithfully promised you all weeks ago, dedicating 1.5 hr a day to writing during my lunch breaks. But this is now costing me $2-5 per day for the butterscotch lattes or earl grey teas! I realize there are worser things! 🙂

Weekly Hours Spent Writing or in the Pursuit of Plot:  5hr

Weekly Choice of Tea: Earl Grey

Biggest Success:  I have utilized my typewriter finally, romantically filling our tiny studio apartment with the sound of punching keys and scrolling clicks. While I am handwriting my novel, followed up by typing it on the computer, I am in need to find a purpose for my typewriter. What author does not have a typewriter, I ask you! And so far I have practiced on it, trying to come up with an appropriate novel title, but as I am less than half way through my novel, I am not sure yet what it will be.

typewriter

My commute from the city to work is lovely. The dark and sleepy city streets are close to empty at 6:30 in the morning, even with the buses “pooof”ing and clambering slowly up the inclined streets. The stop lights batt their eyelids, looking to see the few cars that approach their intersections. By the time I near the bay bridge, dawn either lays a misty pink hue around the towering cable lines or obscures them with a light fog. At that moment I sip from my mug and welcome the day, meeting it again as old friends. I am lucky to be able to drive through the east Bay of San Francisco, because the now green rolling hills are beautiful in the morning. The landscape goes from cramped and on top of itself, to wide, open, and inviting. My day begins in this inspiring attitude, and I am thrilled to admit that I am writing daily now. Who knows where this new routine in San Francisco will lead me, but I can honestly say that I am happy with it. The world around me is changing, and a lot for the worse (I promise to keep politics far from my blog). But every morning brings with it its hopeful hue, and for now I will focus on the good that change has brought me.

Levity

43rd Trial:  Sometimes the world seems to squeeze around you, as if you were in the center of an overly packed elevator. Maybe it is because your career isn’t taking the bait you’re offering it. Or a loved one’s life has taken a turn, and as their heart breaks yours does too.  Or maybe you put distance between you and your passions, whatever the reason.

Weekly Hours Spent Writing or in the Pursuit of Plot: Happily 2.5hr

Weekly Choice of Tea: Chamomile and Lavender

Biggest Success: I have found that my friends are what make me most appreciative of this beautiful world, and some steal my heart with their own happiness

As you can see from my trials and my successes today, I am at two ends. There is hurt snuggling closely and confidently with happiness. As if divorce and marriage asked me to dance.  People that are close to me, influence me more than I could’ve thought, and I am thankful for that. As one’s world seems to change with hurt and sorrow, mine cannot help but feel and resent the darkness they sit in. Yet a phone call with a dear friend, who asked me to be a part of his special day, brings that balloon of excitement and anticipation back into my chest. The tug of war is worth it, because the light and the dark compliment us all. With the levity of love from friends and family, we can all escape that which seems to close around us and restrict our breathing.

This week I will write about loss and renewal, as I am inspired to do so. And as with all things, it appears that was where my story was headed anyways. For those that feel despair, inoculate yourself with time and meditation. Open your window and let the new light in, and love will follow. I will do it with you, as will all who care about you. The beautiful thing about our world, is that in no time in our lives, are we alone.

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A Romantic Time Apart

39th Trial: How to bring the vibrancy of life experiences to a story created prior to its discovery

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

Weekly Choice of Tea: Nettle Tea

Biggest Success: Began a side writing project with Jamie:  a children’s book!

There is an undeniable attraction to distance and time, in more ways than just theoretical physics. I look at the cobwebs that have grown within the web address itself, and know that I have neglected my blog site for far too long. I was fortunate enough to write my novel and a few posts while traveling in Southeast Asia, but three weeks has followed my return and my faithful blog continues to feel the weight of dust. But then I think on something more British, as I do to calm my heart, and there is nothing more romantic than distance and time. Yes, I have been apart from my blog, but the expectant blog can only excite! Imagine the relationship between Elizabeth Bennett and Mr. Darcy, if they were able to text and call each other whenever they wished. Wasn’t it time apart that brought clarity, eagerness, a desperate need? And didn’t love grow in the years that followed Anne Elliot’s rejection of Captain Wentworth, when nothing but fond memories filled the void? I hope all my readers can gladly welcome the rebirth of my weekly blogs, allowing the time and distance between them to applaud a love unspoiled!

I have returned from different worlds, to find my pages wanting. True focus and inspiration has filled me, but more importantly, I have seen the need for a deeper individuality within my characters. There is nothing more important than knowing oneself, and living for oneself (humanity does from time to time require us to live for others, but we are all within the bounds of humanity, so there is little difference between the two). A novel and the characters within it should be extraordinary, because it is within the power of anyone to live as such. Why would I write of the social ‘norm’ and impaired? Life is about challenging and bending reality, about overcoming that which brings you down. Any character defeated by the external pressures of life has no place in a novel, much less mine. So without much ado, I say welcome back. Imagine this my love letter to you, that the distance apart has only increased my dedication to my writing, and to my journal entries of it.