Saturday, January 31, 2015

Golden Advice: My Fellow Worms!

Hi folks, this is my February series on Golden Advice. I like to spend the month of February digging into the wisdom that has come my way, and that guides my art, my craft and my life. I find having some wise stuff in the soul helps me write stories with purpose.

I like to start with American poet Carl Sandburg. I always have this feeling that Carl is with me on my writing journey. His words whisper in the back of my heart. Something about his homespun writing gives me hope that I can be so much more. This week I'm going to respond to Carl Sandburg's broadcast in the 1950s called "My Fellow Worms."

Here's the first thing up. You grow older and you start getting a sense of what you really believe. This is the stuff that is tried and true. If you ask the question, "What do I believe?" and then answer it -- you end up writing a book or making a cute poster with a smart saying on it. Carl believed in "getting up in the morning with a serene mind and a heart holding many hopes." I am one the fellow worms. This little thought makes me want to put on some music and dance. Life is all about the small, tried and true things. I hope that you are waking up to this truth.

We are small in this universe. Tiny, tiny, tiny. Like Carl said about us: insignificant speck of animate star dust each of us is amid cotillions of billion-year constellations. When you realize this, it helps put perspective on all those hills you are trying to climb. In view of the universe, the towers of achievement that men proclaim just don't make a lot of sense. Note: I wrote a poem to bless my friends or I wrote a book that reached the planet -- not much difference in the scheme of things. Always keep things in perspective.

Next up, stop being so freaked out by pride. Pride is a good thing though it has a bad rap as a deadly sin. Be proud of your achievements but stay out of the sticky glue of  arrogance.  You know, don't lose your perspective and jump into vanity -- look at me!  Not so easy in this life -- we live in the look-at-me generation -- selfies, social media, online life.  Keep out of  the mirror gazing. Your personality is sacred. It's a holy thing.  Keep that in mind every time you share a bit of yourself. If you cut off enough, you will lose who you are. 

Finally, I share a love of platitudes like Carl. Occasionally I here someone disparage my love platitudes but old well used thoughts are hard won.  Moral content and thoughtfulness is much more than banal. You won't convince me otherwise. We should hold old sayings dear and not use them as lip service. 
Share the platitudes that you have earned the right to share. 

I especially like Carl thoughts about preserving our freedoms.  We live in a world that seems to forgotten that "eternal vigilance is price of liberty."  We are all in the struggle of freedom. You must get up today and fight. You will do it again tomorrow. Every life will find some "fiery trial and agony." Don't forget that as you share those tried and true words and suffer degradation because you have trusted others. 

We are small but wondrous. Every little thing is going to shine, shine. Every little thing is going to shine. I hope my response to Carl's wisdom helps you find your way. Let it guide your creative journey.  I will be back next week with more Golden Advice.   

Here is a doodle:  Spring is around the corner.
Here is a quote for your pocket. 

Time is the coin of your life. You spend it. Do not allow others to spend it for you. Carl Sandburg

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Novel Craft: Pottery Lessons

Hi folks, I'm writing a series about how certain artistic skills enhance other artistic skills. I am an artistic and crafty person. I buzz around art. I will dip my toe into most forms of expression. There are a few that I've focused on and have found that those experiences have informed my novel craft. This week I'm going to talk about pottery lessons.

Once upon a time back in my college days, I had the time learn how to throw pots. I have found that those long ago pottery lessons have always been with me as a writer.  At first, you need much support to even begin to throw a pot.  Someone else chooses your clay. She walks you through how to prepare it. You are given many hints on how condition the clay to make it suitable for throwing. Beginning writers need this same kind of support. I needed others to help me recognize my viable ideas versus my dead-in-the water ideas. I needed advice on how to approach ideas so that I could even get on the road to producing something that would engage readers. Seek out help in the beginning. 

Throwing a pot is about finding the center of the clay, and getting all the other clay to revolve around that center. At first it feels impossible. The clay bulges in weird ways. It will even go flying off the wheel. My hands and elbows would be scraped.  I practiced again and again.  Experience is everything. Finally the day came. I slapped the clay on the wheel and pressed it with my hands, and the clay instantly centered.  I had to have confidence and a steady hand. The first important step to writing is finding that story center.  Stories revolve around their centers.  It took much practice to throw the clay of an idea onto the wheel of my imagination and then center it with the force of my will.  I always feel that sense of knowing when I center a pot or center of a story. It is unimaginably satisfying. 

One more pottery lesson, once a pot is formed and hardened, it's time to fire it. A glaze is applied to the exterior of the greenware.  This glaze will harden into shiny coating when extreme temperature is applied.  All stories must go through a refiner's fire to come to elegant completion. This is a dangerous time for a pot and a story. I have worked hard to get it to this place, but the refiner's fire can destroy my work.   Pots crack. Glazes wonk. You may end up with something very different from your initial vision. You may end up with a muddy mess that has to be thrown into the scrap pile. Stories are the same. In writing, the fire is revision. Revision may lead to a new novel or it may lead to a worthless disaster. Regardless, it is the only way to success.  You may feel fear during revision time. You are right to be afraid. You will have to apply your hottest thought force to make your finished story emerge, and there is a good chance you will fail. Writing is not for the faint of heart. 

I hope these pottery lessons help you on your journey.Next week I will start my Golden Advice series. 

Here is the doodle.

Here is a quote for your pocket: 

Beautiful forms and compositions are not made by chance, nor can they ever, in any material, be made at small expense. A composition for cheapness and not excellence of workmanship is the most frequent and certain cause of the rapid decay and entire destruction of arts and manufactures. Josiah Wedgwood.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Novel Craft: Sewing Lessons

Hi folks, I'm writing a series about how certain artistic skills enhance other artistic skills. I am an artistic and crafty person. I buzz around art. I will dip my toe into most forms of expression. There are a few that I've focused on and have found that those experiences have informed my novel craft. This week I'm going to talk about sewing lessons.

I love textiles. I always have. I know how to knit, embroider, and crochet. I can even do some tatting. I know how to dress a loom and weave fabric. I also sew. I learned how to sew in junior high. I've made over a hundreds of shorts, jackets, Halloween costumes, dresses, pants, toys, and quilts. I know how to use a pattern. I know how to create my own.

When I write, my sewing skills always come to me. Sewing starts with a provocative idea. Making a well made garment takes time and work. I fully envision the garment I plan to make. I fully envision the book I plan to write too. This is something in my head. Yes, I draw sketches and doodle on paper, but the big work is a complete internal vision. I see the thing I want, then I proceed to bring it into the light of life. Writing a book follows the same process. Just like a physical garment, I must envision a physical book at the beginning of the process.

To sew something I need a pattern. I have to decide do I want to use a pattern off the shelf or do I want to try and go it alone. I start by looking through books of patterns. For writing I look at books in the genre. I gather together patterns that are close to my vision. I always tweak patterns for sewing and writing. I feel a need to put my stamp on my sewing work and my writing. I have certain sleeves that I love, and often those sleeves go into the WIP garment , even if the pattern calls for something else. I don't like the way certain collars look so I will modify to put on a collar that is more of my thing. In writing, I have certain scene structures that I use often. There are some sorts of pacing that I will never use. The list goes on.

After I've got my pattern, chosen my fabrics, picked out my notions, gathered my tools, I'm ready to sew. In writing, I gather scrap art, pick characters, research subjects, gather thematic elements, and gather my tools. I cut out the pattern, and it's time time to sew. I write an outline and it's time to write. Sewing is painstaking work just like writing. You have to pin each piece just so. You must also fit in each scene just so. I have sewn in pieces backwards, upside down, and on the wrong side. It hurts to pick out all those stitches. No matter how slow you work, there are always necessary adjustments. It's the same with writing. I put scenes in the wrong place. I have to reorder events, sometimes I have to edit out huge swaths of my planned plot. I've got too much going on.

Sewing helps me write.

I often find myself working through writing problems by comparing them to sewing problems. The comparison helps me find my way. Perhaps you have some artistic skill that will help guide you, Will help you out of tight spots, Will help you complete your WIP. Good luck on your journey. I will be back next week with more lessons.

Here is a doodle for your week: This was a doodle I did when envisioning a dress.

Here is quote for your pocket"
Sewing mends the soul. ~Author Unknown

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Novel Craft: Screenplay Lessons

Hi, folks! I am an artistic person, and I buzz around art. I will dip my toe into most forms of expression. There are a few that I've focused on and have found that those experiences have informed my novel craft.  This week I'm going to talk about screenplay lessons.

I've written a few screenplays. This experience has helped me with novel craft.  A screenplay is a working document, it is not the finished product: the film.  I've learned about writing novels by writing screenplays. Here are three useful bits that I've learned:

First, screenplays force you to think about scenes and pacing.  A screenplay has a tight structure. It is much more compact than a novel and rarely has any room for internal thoughts. Becoming more aware of scenes has made me more aware of what to cut in my novels. Every scene in my novel must argue for its right to be there.  Novelists tend to be in love with the beauty of the words, and sometimes that is at the expense of storytelling. Each scene in my novel must move the plot forward, develop the journey of the main character, offer serious conflict, offer a glimpse of the internal working of the main character, have laser focus on the goal of the story, and offer some beautiful language and deep internal thought. If I can't achieve this with a scene, I toss it on reject pile.

Second, screenplays can help you move forward when you are stuck.  Like picture books, screenplays are a visual medium. Sometimes, I reach a place in the novel that I'm not sure how to proceed forward. I break open Final Draft or Celtx and move forward with my novel in a screenplay format.  My first drafts are now always a mix of screenplay sections and narrative. Writing a screenplay is analogous to sketching. A rough draft is a sketch of the novel. All the needed scene pieces are broken apart: opening with setting, dividing the dialogue, dropping in an emotional tag, and then describing the action can keeps me from bogging down in a first draft.  Next time your draft grinds to a halt, try writing the next scene in screenplay format.

Finally, screenplays can help you beat the static parts out of your novel. Screenplays do not welcome big chunks of dialogue, must keep action swirling on screen to entice the film goer, and must be aware that the person who plays the character in the screenplay is paramount in making that character come to life. I avoid prosy dialogue. Screenplays have made me aware of this. No one wants to read about nothing happening. It's surprising how easy it is to write about a character watching the sunrise or swimming in the lake, or reading a book.  Blow up that sun, fill that lake with piranhas, and have the heroine  toss that book into that arrogant so-n-so's face.  Also characters must be nuanced. I really cast my characters now when I write. I learned this from screenplays. Character on a great journey is still a working document, the character in the screenplay vs the character in a film. It's the little things that set characters apart and make them spring from the page. You have to know if your character loves chocolate, scream when she is angry, or bite her fingernails.

Novels need to breath with life. Screenplays have helped me achieve that.

Hope something here is helpful. :) I will be back next week with more novel crafty lessons.

Here is a doodle: Clown

Finally a quote for your pocket:

When I sit down to write a book, I do not say to myself, ‘I am going to produce a work of art.’ I write it because there is some lie that I want to expose, some fact to which I want to draw attention, and my initial concern is to get a hearing. George Orwell

Saturday, January 03, 2015

Novel Craft: Picture Book Lessons

Hi folks, a brand new shiny year! Love it! I hope that you are making goals and opening up to new possibilities. Fold up all those disappointments and failures. Take anything you learned from these experiences and move on. Look forward. Huzzah!

In January, I always explore one of my great passions and that is novel craft. I'm a novelist at heart. My first published book was PLUMB CRAZY.  It was out from Swoon Romance in June 2014, but is going away soon. Cancellation--just like so many fantastic TV shows that get cancelled (cough, Firefly), so goes my book. C'est la vie.

Don't despair, you who hunger for a paperback of PLUMB CRAZY to hold. I am going to self-publish the book for anyone who is interested. It's going to take a little time to put that together, but the book should be ready to be a summer read again. :) Thanks to all the people who have supported this first novel publishing effort of mine!  Galaxies of stories are ahead!

Anyway, onto to novel craft. I am an extremely visual person. I see three dimensional landscapes in my head. I also write in many genres and find that the skills I use in one genre inform me as I approach a different genre. These skills serve me well.  Writing picture books helps me write novels.

When I write a picture book, I write the text and then I write what is going on in the picture. From an absolute telling perspective, I write what is going on in the scene before I actually write the text for the picture book.  I do this for every page. It turned out that this is an effective technique to write novel scenes, especially ones I'm stuck on.  I just tell what is going down in the scene in a fat paragraph. When I'm finished I write the scene with that word picture I created in the back of my mind. Writing the scene rolls out a lot more smoothly.

Picture book structure helps me plan the structure of my novels. Picture books have the same beats as a novel but they come much faster. I make sure that my novel has clear beats that echo picture book structure.  What is a beat?  Plot points, turning points, plot twists. If you are having a tough time figuring out if your novel has a decent story arc. Study a few picture books. What launches the action? How does the mc react? What happens at the midpoint? How does the action rise? What is the climax? How long does it take the story to resolve? All these questions and a picture book in hand should send you on your way while writing a novel.

Well, there is a tea cup of usefulness for your creative journey. I hope you come back next week for more Novel Craft.

Here is a doodle. :)  PINK

Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly. Robert F. Kennedy