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

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.

The Effect of a Pause

25th Trial: CHANGE. I have decided on a change, personally and professionally! So much different weights are now placed on my shoulders. What is next? Where will I go? Will it all Succeed? Will I put aside my literary passions in a desperate pursuit of other future goals or will it be these passions in the end, that I have left to live on?

Weekly hours spent writing or in the pursuit of plot: 2.5 Hours

Weekly Choice of Tea: Sweet Tea. Tapping into the roots that I have developed here in the South

Biggest Success: Last weekend I spent a ridiculous amount of time watching Glee and The 100 episodes. I got so fed up with my addiction, that I have taken a 4 day break from them both.

A speaker came to Jamie’s work to discuss public speaking and self-presentation. Jamie then came home so animated from it, knowing well that I could benefit from the same information. As it happens, I come from a wonderful family-line that is popular for filling any silent space. A pause in conversation can only be wanting. And yet, is not a pause the most powerful thing in observation? In understanding? In absorption, healing, and dramatic effect? As a doctor, do I pause to make sure patients understand what I say, or understand myself what was just asked? Not only do I bring consideration of a pause to my professional life, but also in my methods of being a writer. How can you write of silence, inactivity, and the static background between sentences? I challenge myself today so create a pause in the next few pages.

But let me take this one step farther.  I do not pause enough to consider what will happen after the current chapter that I am on.  When I started writing I realized that I am going to take this chapter by chapter, however I can’t do that for the entirety of the novel. How choppy it could then turn out, and how easily I could lose the breath of certain morals that should flow throughout it. When I sit down to write, I must preserve an hour at least a week to consider the future of the storyline (I know, a simple concept that has sneakily evaded me until now).

Taking such a pause from the current chapter will satisfy novel planning, something I desperately need to work on. However, this does not mean to fill the writing hours with pauses filled with episode-watching on Netflix. I love watching episodes—a little too much! Lately it has been Glee that captivates me. No, I never watched it while it played on cable TV, and the fun high-school drama and breath-taking vocals give me a world to escape to. I have also been watching The 100, which is much different from the carefree world of Glee. It is a show that has recently proven to break my heart with abominable characters that do not act as I have trusted them to. I even went to bed crying after watching an episode, swearing never to watch it again! This series has recently taught me a valuable lesson:  do not escape the world you are in, nor are creating. Some storylines fail you. They cannot be trusted! I only want to be in the world before my eyes, and the world I intend to create. That, I can control.

I am reminded by Austen’s quote, “Let other pens dwell on guilt and misery”. Alas! WWAD (What Would Austen Do). Some pictures from my Inner Eye, developed during my Austen-days in the Lake District!

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At the Center of Detail

21th Trial: What do you see when you look at art?

Weekly hours spent writing or in the pursuit of plot: 0 hours

Weekly choice of tea: Pumpkin Spice Chai

Greatest Success:  Swam Three miles! I’ve got a couple more to go, then St. Croix open swim race here I come!

I see this portrait of a husky that Jamie painted, and already its image steadies itself within my mind. You understand art, or you search within other’s interpretations and understand theirs. Within a minute or an hour, the observation of art brings balance with its ability to create knowledge. Look at the Husky’s eyes, the colors of contrast within its mane, and you understand Jamie more. How she views the beauty of her art, how she creates beyond the boundaries of reality.

I find that the time I have spent away from my novel, I look at it as of a stranger’s painting on a wall. In a second I know it–as naturally, it has my strings! However, the question arises of what I am trying to create. Alas! What does happen when the artist puts the art brush down, only to then pick it up again? Creation will ensue, however to what cost? I already am itching to retrace my steps. I see what could be inserted into this section, or maybe an event could be placed between such-and-such paragraph to foreshadow where we are now. Like the painted accents of gold that fleck through the mane of the Husky, the artist must know when to start adding, editing, changing, and knowing when to stop. Already I have not yet concluded chapter four–it seems much too soon to go back now and focus on what could be inserted. I find that the most assure way to not re-edit the same passages a thousand times is to blunder forward, and once I know the conclusion (or course for that matter) of my novel, then can I bend and alter the scenes that have led up to it. I just hope that the words penetrate in the future as they do now, as if to hope the blue eyes of the dog maintain their mystery, or that the calm yellow around it’s eyes bring balance to the fierce reds of it’s fur.

What I see when I look at my novel may not be the understanding that years of progressing it will induce. I can only rely on my taste changing ten-fold as I weave through the lives of my characters, and allow the unfolding plot to give direction on how to retrace the path back to chapter one. Like this artwork, I see my story’s center. Yet I cannot tell how I will accent it, or exactly how much gold I should use. Placing detail where it ought not be can be very distracting, and bring failure to the finished artwork. Does the same apply to a novel? Can one add too much detail? My answer changes depending on who I cannel!

A Story by Any Other Name

5th Trial: Describing what I am writing about to others, which is so easily explained by my own inability to see far into how on earth I am going to get my character’s from here to the end of the novel.

Weekly hours spent writing or in the pursuit of plot: 2 hours– a low point! The sacrifice was well worth it, spending it at Perin Plantation, a home back in country side Ohio

Weekly choice of Tea: Iced peach tea

Greatest Success: Sharing the weekend with the wonderful grandmother Perin and holding a beautiful baby named Amelia

I have been writing at a local coffee-house called Smelly Cat this past week. It has adorable small red tables with tin flower pots, where the bright yellow flowers bring a feeling of quiet meditation with them. Which is important, because the streets surrounding Smelly Cat bring many characters with it. Just Friday I had a man screaming across the street “Bless you!” to anyone that sneezed within his ear shot, as he sat by his possessions in plastic bags, wearing a thick red sweater with ornaments dangling from it. I, of course, was sitting next to the person that had an allergy to something, and was in the middle of that strange dialogue between them. It was at this place too that I had two separate people ask me very similar questions:

“I see that you are writing, what are you working on? Oh, a story? Of what?”

“I heard you say you were writing a story. What will it be about?”

I of course avoided both questions, shrugging my shoulders, mumbling that it is something we all have yet to find out. I find it humorous that I give myself no credit as to the direction of the novel, one because it is true. However, I am realizing that stories seem to take its own direction, whether you intended it or not. For instance, at the start of chapter two I had the brother character being present and moving the scene alone, initially not intending him to come out until later on. I find that I like his placement there, and wonder if this is an effective approach to writing a novel: give it little restraint, and it will unfold just as beautifully, though differently. Didn’t Shakespeare teach us that? That a rose is still a rose, given a different name? My story will not lose its overall meaning, its ability to create that which I want it too, if I allow it to change an intended course. I have had a title in mind for a while, and yet that may change too. And so for anyone who wants to know such similar questions as asked above, just know that my story will be what it will be, and will smell just as sweet!

“A rose by any other name would smell as sweet,” -Shakespeare

An Introduction

First, it must be understood that I do not wish to condemn my writing nor hold it in higher estimation than it naturally is in these weekly blog entries–for I am sure my inadequacies and talents, romanced or not, will be well versed in my novel. I imagine every writer transforms themselves into pages and glorifies their lives to the eyes of readers. You can trust therefore, that my following passages are nothing more than the laughable and quizzical blocks that enter in someone’s mind who wishes to write their first novel–as much as I can imagine, for it will be my own trials whether or not any other writer can vouch for similar feelings. As for the topic, plot, and morality of the story–most I am unfamiliar with as you! I have waited vainly for the lightning of knowledge to zap me in my dreams– for me to awake, hair disheveled and in writhing knots much like Medusa herself–and shout “Eureka!” to a no doubt brilliant plot that would surpass the Brontes’. I would then of course and with great ease throw a silk robe that magically appeared over my shoulders, glide over my slumbering dog as gently as a doe does a log in her path, and scribble furiously over paper as I can romanticize Beethoven set about symphony making. I cannot wait for a brilliant idea to write my first novel–I could be waiting forever.

And I probably would be– regretfully but comfortably sitting on my couch reading enviously the words of Dickens or watching re-runs of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I began writing a couple weeks ago, realizing fast that being a good writer does not a novelist make, that the art of creation can turn into a headache quickly enough. But also that the 40-45 hours a week working a different career is taxing on the imagination, and more importantly, is suffocating the will to feed another passion.

But is this not what most struggle with? Am I not the commonest of birds, singing a forlorn song?! And so this blog will be created not for my own amusement (and i would be happy if it added to yours as well), but for my own documentation of this journey, and also to keep me honest. If I constantly write about my failure to write, then how silly I shall seem to myself! Let this blog be a mirror to myself, a motivational tool, and more-over, a reality coming to life.

That being said, for those of you who do not know me so well, how did I come to want to write? I find this to be a proper subject, as instead I could rattle on about my interests and other aspirations, my favorite color being yellow, and display who I am as I would prefer you to see me—no, you will find me out shortly enough. My story begins as most in my generation do–I was in line at Barnes and Noble. My mother and I were buying items that have since been forgotten. Standing in line, my eyes constantly looking at all the shiny items for purchase on display and my clumsy hands poking at anything in reach, when my mother said, “Kathy, have you read Jane Eyre?”. I of course, being in middle school, had no idea what she was talking about, and said so. “This is an absolute must-read!” And so she picked up a small tan book with blue edging and golden leafed pages, sealing my fate forever. After Charlotte Bronte I had to tackle Austen, and from Austen came the Harry Potter obsession (which has never stopped, actually), and then naturally Shakespeare. Once College hit I wanted to devour the Literary Canon, an effort that will forever be my pleasure and hobby. The day, or moment, that I decided to write a novel is lost to me. I feel as though I have always had it, as my love for great stories seems to pre-date my mother’s purchase of Jane Eyre. Maybe I just said it one day, and as many things that seem extraordinary and difficult to achieve, I decided immediately that I will one day say that I’ve done it.

My love for novels does seem to exceed my desire to write at times. I have made a plan for 2015 to read one book a month and have written a chapter every other month. March came and went and I had only completed two novels, and my first chapter only half done (I say “done” loosely). Two days before April arrived I finished Cold Mountain, a novel I wanted to read before I hiked Cold Mountain here in North Carolina. I found myself sitting by the window, amazed at the description of nature within that novel–having apparently read Whitman a long, long forgotten time ago, it seemed quite unparalleled! How well Frazier knew the trees, the foliage, and the toll of weather within the mountains. I glanced down at my own descriptive tenses and thought, yes, you need more trees in this scene. Then, looking out my window for help I glanced at the trees eager to scribble down their effects. Sadly, I have no idea the nomenclature of trees, and realized that this writer’s influence is beyond my own abilities to story-tell.

It is time for a new novel to read–and what influences me more than anything??? A British writer—in this instance, Austen. Yes! that’s it! I picked up Persuasion from my bookshelf and began chapter one. When that was done, the need for something more British overtook me and I bought all of Downton Abbey Season 5 on Amazon. And so with tea in my cup and an imaginary scone to the side of my teapot, I will be induced to write less on trees and the entrails of dead animals (that which I know little) and more from my own thoughts and impressions that live and form an imagination that is in desperate need to get to it. That being said, this need for something more British will get pencil to paper with magnetic force.