The Prompter Room

For Friday, May 20, 2016:

 

“Some day you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again.”

C. S. Lewis

It is my hope that there will come a time, in the near or far future, when we will never stop reading fairy tales.  There is so much to learn from them, those of our childhood and folk tales alike.  Clarissa Pinkola Estes’ Women Who Run With the Wolves is a fascinating treatise on how such tales inform and shape our grown-up lives, and I highly recommend it.

If you don’t want to read a fairy tale or two (though I recommend that, too!) then how about writing one?  This can be a good exercise on a number of levels.  It takes us out of our everyday thinking and actions, for one thing.  If we write in genres other than fantasy, too, crafting a new-to-us story form stretches our creative muscles.

Though it’s not my favorite genre to read, I once wrote a zombie short story that turned out a lot better than I thought it would.  I’d never written one before – and probably won’t again – but I wanted to try something new, and I’m rather proud of the result.

Zombie stories aren’t fairy tales, of course, though they’re definitely fantasy.  The point is to try something new.  It doesn’t need to be fairy tales.  If you’re a poet and always write sonnets, try a haiku or senryu.  If you write essays or memoir, try a short-short story.  Can you write a complete story, with beginning, middle, and end, in 250 words?  Or use Hemingway’s model of a story (or poem?) in six words.  Find a story you’ve written and turn it into a poem, or a poem into a story.  Try to make a poem rhyme if you usually write free verse.

Or write that fairy tale.  We all have them in us.

Once upon a time, there was a group of writers who excelled at everything creative they put their minds – and pens – to.  The townspeople of the place in which they lived expected nothing else, and it was always an honor when a humble townsperson was asked to join this elite group.

One day, word reached the writers that a young woman thought she was ….

Good enough/not good enough to be one of the writers?  What happens in each case?  How do various characters’ perspectives change?  For the better or the worse?  What is the moral of the story, what do readers learn?

Go for it!

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The Prompter Room

For Thursday, May 19, 2016:

 

“You can’t blame a writer for what the characters say.”

Truman Capote

Confession time: I am not a fan of the ‘eff’ word in writing or in movies.  (Or in conversation, even though I say it to myself often enough … but I digress.)  So when one of the characters in the novella-that’s-almost-ready-for-release started using it – more than once, I might add – I found myself using other words (like my own favorite, which begins with ‘s’ and ends with ‘t’) instead.

I don’t mind the occasional ‘F bomb,’ especially when it fits a situation and/or character, but I feel like I’m being physically assaulted or overwhelmed when they come at me fast and furiously.*  I’ve stopped reading books and stopped watching movies, in fact, where that happens.  So I usually shy away from using this particular word when I write.

This time, though, the word was appropriate for the character and his situation.  Between drafts, then, I decided I had to be true to the character – to listen to him and not my own Puritanical voice – and I let him rip.  More than once, too.

My first novel didn’t have any swear words – not on purpose, really, but because the characters just didn’t say them.  They found other ways, other words, to get their points across, to respond to what was happening around them.

Therein is the crux of the matter, perhaps: response versus reaction.  When speaking, we tend to use the ‘eff’ word when we have a knee-jerk reaction to something or someone (like when I fell a few weeks ago and turned the air around me rather purple – mea culpa, mea maxima culpa).  When we can take the time, even a moment, to think more carefully, we respond rather than react.

In my character’s case, his use and omission of that certain word helped indicate his personal development.  This can be true for most characters, in my opinion.  It’s not the only way, of course, but I do think it’s something to consider.  If everyone says that word, for instance, and says it all the time, how different are they from each other?

The most important thing to consider is this: is the, or any, colorful language from the character(s) or the author?  If it’s from the latter, then some of those eff bombs need to be disarmed, in this reader’s humble opinion.

* It’s interesting that this doesn’t happen when I edit a manuscript with frequent usages.  If it’s too frequent, in my opinion, especially if it doesn’t add anything except explosive words to the plot, I do suggest that the author omit some of them – especially those that feel more author-driven than character-driven – but that’s on behalf of the story, not for my comfort.

The Prompter Room

For Wednesday, May 18, 2016:

 

“The accomplished hermit stays in the town; the immature hermit hides in the mountain.”

Zen koan

Some decades ago, advice columnist Ann Landers responded to a question about loneliness and being alone with the statement that one does not equal the other.  She went on to say (I’m paraphrasing) that if you don’t like yourself enough to be alone with yourself for half an hour, then few others will either.

It makes sense, then, that immature hermits don’t realize they can’t lose themselves in the paucity of company in the mountain.  Accomplished hermits know they don’t need to lose themselves in the town.

A familiar stereotypical image of writers, of course, is that we are solitary, reclusive, or eremitic folk.  Many may be one or more, but there is a big difference among the three types.  We tend to work or live by ourselves, solitary but not necessarily alone – family, neighbors, or colleagues are frequently nearby.  On the other hand, a recluse is usually one who removes him/herself from people and doesn’t want to interact with people, sometimes going to great lengths to keep others away.

Mystic hermits such as Dame Julian of Norwich and the Desert Mothers and Fathers actually welcomed company when it came around and were as hospitable as their circumstances allowed.  They knew the point of going off alone is not to lose oneself.  The point is to find the best of one’s self.

Usually that is done in community, working out and through our difficulties and differences in such a way that benefits both and all parties.  At the same time, though, we must work through the darker, uncomfortable parts of ourselves, and often that means taking what I call ‘hermit time’ as we live and work to find those places.

This hermit, for instance, always struggles to reconcile myself to the noises and disruptions of the town – such as the neighbors’ leafblower that whines all day at least once a week for three seasons of the year, and delivery trucks, and loud cars – while, at the same time, I enjoy the people around me.  I love getting to know people, about their lives.  Just this morning I enjoyed meeting two evangelists who came to the door.  We had a good, substantive conversation – so much so, the two women asked if they could come back.  I look forward to seeing them again so we can talk some more and I can get to know them better.  These are, after all, the instances from which we often glean fodder for our writing.

We don’t need to hide in the mountain for a mountaintop experience.  As much of a hermit as I tend to be, some of my own best ‘mountaintops’ have come when I’ve been in the company of others.  Other people are where we most often find the Other, which will – when we put in the effort to make it so – lead us to that place of otherness within ourselves that we want to spend time with.  Even Ann Landers would want to be with us then.

The Prompter Room

For Tuesday, May 17, 2016:

 

” … The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.”

Sylvia Plath

“Your only responsibility as a writer is to be true to the story that has chosen you as its writer.”

Jean Little, via LiteraryLighthouse.com

A story sits before me right now: the hardcopy proof of my novella.  This is my last chance to catch typos and make changes before it’s released to the world, so I’ve been going through it with what I hope is the editorial equivalent of a fine-toothed comb since Friday.

I loved the story and its characters as I wrote and when I went over the digital proof.  I still do.  Now, though, as I progress through the physical copy, I find myself wondering if it’s any good after all.  Is the writing as good as it can be?  Is it effective?  Does the storyline make sense?  Did I tie up all the pieces, connect all the dots?

This is where I have to trust.  I have to trust my early readers, all of whom say it’s a good story – and yes, according to them all the pieces come together, everything makes sense.  I have to trust my instincts now.  I have to trust the characters and their parts in the story.  They definitely chose me, not I them – and they’re still speaking as I embark on the second story in their collective series.

Another thing I have to do is not compare this story to other novels.  It’s not a thriller, it’s not jam-packed with action or brilliant technological details or sex or horror or … whatevers.  I can’t write those books and I don’t want to.  There are plenty of others who can and do, so I’m not going to get stuck wishing I could.

I can edit such books – I have, and I enjoy doing so – but I’m just not called to write them for some reason.  Maybe it’s because I’m an introvert, but I tend to hear the voices and the stories of the shy, quiet ones, and that suits me fine.

Well, there’s a new insight – I’ve never thought of that before!  If I’d not been talking myself out of my self-doubt, I don’t think I’d have reached such a realization.  Thank you for bearing with me as I wrote through to this point.  Now I can say with conviction that the story is good, and that it seems to have chosen me for a reason – perhaps to give voice to some of the more reserved and taciturn among us.  I can do that.

That being said, I’m not sure how quiet I’ll be when it’s time to announce the book’s release in a week or two … but that won’t happen if I don’t finish going through the proof.  It should go a little faster now that I’ve worked through the doubts.

The Prompter Room

For Monday, May 16, 2016:

 

“What would life be if we had no courage to attempt anything?”

Vincent van Gogh

Tomorrow and Wednesday my best friend will debut a new creative enterprise and I am so proud of her I could burst!   Chris is one of the most courageous people I know – I always think of her when I need a dose of courage myself – and the way she has embarked on this whole process doesn’t surprise me.

I will share specific details here as soon as I can, but for now I will say how impressed I’ve been as I’ve watched Chris create this new venture.  She’s faced her technological fears and frustrations to design and implement a beautiful Website.  From the start, she’s found personal, digital, and business resources that have helped her to develop an endeavor that will serve others who are unable to leave their homes or are in nursing and veterans’ homes or rehabilitation facilities.  She has navigated territories and will go to places that are literally and figuratively unfamiliar to her, all because she is dedicated to helping others.

Creating anything new always takes courage and inner strength, and my beloved BFF is my example and role model for both.  Good luck tomorrow and Wednesday, dearest Chris!

 

The Prompter Room

For Friday, May 13, 2016:

 

“The world is ruled by letting things take [their] course.”

Lao Tzu

Today’s been one of those days already.  I don’t know if it’s because it’s Friday the 13th, or the rain, or because Mercury’s still in retrograde (I presume), but this has been a day of distractions and interruptions out the wazoo.  Since I don’t have any brainpower left to speak of, then, I had hoped to re-blog one of my earliest posts.  That didn’t work either, so I’ll just explain it some here and refer you to the original post if you can access the archives.

The post is called ‘Handy Work’ and I wrote it on May 11, 2015.  Old-timers have seen mention of it a few times over the past year, and I hope newcomers will find it useful. This exercise, which I created some years ago, loosens up the creative muscles by using your non-dominant hand.

This means getting away from the keyboard and putting pen/pencil to paper.  Now write something, but use your non-dominant hand.  It can be anything, even a grocery or to-do list, or you can copy something, or try a short poem or craft a paragraph for a work-in-progress.  If these options don’t appeal, just doodle.  Write down the ABCs, draw circles or various shapes.

The intent is to access the side of the brain you don’t use as often, so do this for 10-15 minutes.  The mere physicality of putting hand to paper – brush to canvas works, too – is beneficial.  Doing so with your non-dominant hand frees up the creativity even more.  A friend of mine once said that his always-active and -noisy brain quieted down enough with this exercise to actually give him some unexpected peace.  Others have found that using their non-dominant hand helped them to get over a spell of writers’ block.

If you’re having one of those days with your writing, then – even if you’re not – try using your other hand for a while.  No one else has to see it, so don’t worry what it looks like.  Some exercises actually can be fun, and this is one of them – and there’s nothing wrong with a giggle or two in the process!

The Prompter Room

For Thursday, May 12, 2016:

 

“Show up, show up, show up, and after a while the muse shows up, too.”

Isabel Allende

The kitchen sink did it again.  This time I wasn’t doing dishes.  I was just standing there, waiting for my morning coffee to brew and watching the birds through the little window over the sink, when an idea for next steps in my work in progress came to me in an instant.  I wrote it down, of course, and spent the next couple of hours – on my way to, from, and at a short monthly medical appointment – working out in my head how to weave this new idea into the storyline.

Since this has happened several times now, I’ve decided my muse must live in or near the kitchen sink.  Or the window.  It would be nice if I could arrange a line of some kind – like the plastic tubing maple sugarers here use to tap their trees to harvest the sap – so I wouldn’t need to get up whenever I’m stuck, but I think that’s probably the part of the creative process that makes it work.  I remove myself for a few moments, get away from the chair and the screen.

Even if I continue to think about the story itself, or a particular paragraph, sentence, or vignette, I’m not staring at other words that might get in my way.  I know I’m not alone in this.  Other writers take walks, some go shopping or for bike rides, others work in the garden or clean.

I’ve done and do those, too, but for some reason, the kitchen sink has been the most reliable lately – so much so, I may have to include it in the acknowledgements when it’s time.  Before that, though, I need to get back to the WIP and integrate that good idea into the story.

The Prompter Room

For Tuesday, May 11, 2016:

 

“I wrote my first novel because I wanted to read it.”

Toni Morrison

“Write a page a day.  Only 300 words.  And in a year you have written a novel.”

Stephen King

Or a memoir.  Or a collection of poems or essays.  I did the math – well, the calculator did – and 300 x 365 = 109,500 words.  That’s definitely a book.

Many of us who blog write at least 300 words a day, so we know we can produce that amount.  Add in our emails, Facebook posts and comments, and tweets (if we do those), and it’s likely we’ve already surpassed those 300 words.  According to WordPress’s convenient little word count down in the corner – thank you, WP 🙂 – I’ve already reached 121 words up to here.  So it’s doable.

Yes, blog posts, Facebook, and emails are different, and at least the latter two are far easier than writing a book of any genre, but the words are there.  Usually the time is there, too.  Since I started my blog here a year ago – last week was the first anniversary of magiclampedits! – for instance, I’ve reduced my time and words on FB so I can write this blog and work on my books.

Even when I’m working on the blog, it’s not always at one sitting.  Usually I get up from the chair a few times – to let the dogs out, get some tea, turn down the TV, retrieve a dog toy from the water bowl or from under the couch, answer the phone, sometimes even to think and ponder – but those 300-500 words get done.

When I get distracted from or discouraged with my new novel-in-progress, I remember this.  Because I want to read it.  Once I reach the period in this sentence, I’ll have 290 words.  Almost there … and if I can do it, you can, too!

The Prompter Room

For Monday, May 9, 2016:

 

“How to Write a Poem – Catch the air/around the butterfly.”

Katerina Stoykova Klemer

“The sidelong glance is what you depend on.”

Robert Frost

Poetry is blooming in the yard right now.  Finally, after almost four years of trying, there are little purple violets in almost all the places I planted them.

In addition to my usual thrill at the slow gentle, tender greenness of spring, I adore the shy violets and the way they seem suddenly to pop out in their royal dresses.  A few days ago, as I looked out the windows, I saw what I can only describe as ‘blurs’ of purple, as if through a camera lens coated in rain.  When I went outside, I saw the first buds of a couple of established violets, and then little, younger, plants in more and more places.

This is a big deal in more ways than one.  The soil of the ground here needs considerable help.  Soon after we moved here, we found out that the site had formerly housed an unofficial auto body business, and that the structure had burned down.  That explained, then, why we smelled oil every time we tried to dig in the ground.  So I tried everything natural that I could think of to start the process to clean up and regenerate the soil.  I knew it would take a long time – especially with few resources – but I wanted to try.

Violets help heal my soul (as some of my poems attest), but I have found over many decades that they heal the soil as well.  Given the already-poor quality of the soil that was made worse by the remains of oil and fire, I thought I would try my go-to remedy of violets.  I ordered seeds, I dug up purple, lavender, and white volunteers in my sister’s and brother-in-law’s yard, I moved one or two that were struggling in our gravel driveway.  I thought all the seeds were washed away in summer storms, and all the volunteers that I transplanted were consumed by the toxic soil (except for three tiny survivors in one sheltered pocket).

When I first saw the ‘blurs’ in the yard a few days ago, I went outside to look more closely.  As usual, I saw the violets when I looked with unfocused eyes first.  These sidelong glances often provide the most reliable views of what is otherwise hidden in our own realm, rather like glimpses of faery beings or sprites who might accompany us or watch us as we walk in the world of mysteries.

Next time you’re outside, then, stop a bit and let your eyes get blurry.  Or as you sit and rest inside.  There just might be a poem in those blurs.  And maybe, if you’re lucky, even a violet or two.

The Prompter Room

For Friday, May 6, 2016:

 

“There is something delicious about writing the first words of a story.  You never quite know where they’ll take you.”

Beatrix Potter

Rather like the first words of a poem, the first sentence of a blog … Where am I going with this?  Where can I go?  I think one of the first things we writers learn is that it’s not ‘I,’ it’s the words.  They decide the direction.

And the characters, too, of course.  And ‘my’ characters are talking to me again – kind of.  They’re all assembling anyway, even in my dreams last night.  Which means it’s that time.  The first book is done (and almost ready for release!).  Two clients’ book manuscripts are edited.  Now it’s time to go back to the first words of the second novel in the series and see where I’m supposed to go with them.

I’m going to take the weekend off from here, then, and try to get back into their story and stories, to try to get out of my own editor’s head so I can immerse myself in the characters’ words again.  Who knows, maybe there will be a feast put on by all the assembled.  At the least I know there should be a delicious tidbit or two since one of the characters owns a diner.

So it’s on to Book Two of the Arlington Town series (you saw it here first, folks).  Hope everyone has a good, blessed, and productive weekend.  Paraphrasing Anne LaMott, may you and your words be surrounded with and by traveling mercies!