Thursday, November 1, 2012

When Insomnia Is a Good Thing

In his short story, A Clean Well Lighted Place, Ernest Hemingway wrote:

"Finally, with daylight, he would go to sleep. After all, he said to himself, it is probably insomnia. Many must have it."

And most of us do. At one time or another.

You may not believe me, but Insomnia is my friend. I'm not talking about the kind of sleeplessness that occurs after a long, stressful day when the body is exhausted yet cannot achieve any sort of rest. No, that Insomnia hinders. It is my Friend's evil cousin.

The one that I value is the kind that comes after a few hours of sleep, when fatigue is lulled into complacency for a time and imagination takes over, waking a writer with sudden inspiration. I love having a pen and a stack of note cards waiting on my night stand for just that moment. Then those blue and white stripey squares save my bacon as I jot down new story ideas or bits of dialogue.

There is also the joy of schlepping into my office in a nightgown and slippers because my head is filled with intriguing words and make believe people. It's always casual Friday in those early hours and the world feels peaceful, unencumbered. Daily cares are hours away yet, and I allow myself the luxury of quiet thinking.

Night time can be magic for writers. Is Insomnia like that for you?

Monday, September 17, 2012

Words Like Music

I was in the grocery store the other day, looking through the book section, as is my habit. Having never read anything by Steven King, with the exception of On Writing, I opened one of his recent releases and sped through a few paragraphs. They were skillfully written, but I'm afraid of being afraid so I didn't make the purchase.

Something did stick with me though--his word coaxable. I had never seen it anywhere before, even in the dictionary, and I loved it. Still do. So much so that I'm planning on working it into my next story. Thank you, Mr. King!

The perfect word at the perfect moment is like music. (Yes. I did read the dictionary as a child. Just for fun.)

Do you enjoy words?

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Bird By Bird

Anne Lamott is funny. And wise. And generous. And an excellent writer/teacher. You read her words and daydream that you're old friends, that you could call her up in a low moment and ask for advice.

I had heard of her book for a long time from other writers, but it took me until now to read Bird By Bird. I'm so glad I did. Because I've always wanted to be understood, to feel that I'm not so isolated after all. This book provides that connection.

My problems aren't as unique as I once thought. Turns out, I'm a fairly typical writer. I love knowing that.

Stringing words together isn't the easiest of hobbies. It can make you crazy sometimes. Literally. That's why some people quit after a few disappointments, become depressed, or drink copious amounts of alcohol. Bird By Bird makes sense of all this. It compares the evolution of a story to watching a Polaroid photograph develop, the depth and color emerging slowly--and often surprisingly. It says that the happiest, and least insane, writers are those who enjoy the craft itself—they do it without hope of publication or acclaim. It's a labor of love.

Ms. Lamott points out to her writing students that the odds of the writing life bringing "peace of mind and even joy are not that great. Ruin, hysteria, bad skin, unsightly tics, ugly financial problems, maybe; but probably not peace of mind. I tell them that I think they ought to write anyway."

Why go through the hard times, blogging friends? Is it a labor of love for you?

P.S. If you enjoyed Stephen King's On Writing, you'll be a fan of Bird By Bird.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The Sisyphus Syndrome

Sisyphus was/is a writer. I swear it. That story in Greek mythology? About the man doomed for eternity to roll a massive stone up a hill only to see it roll back down again? Just a smokescreen. The actual Sisyphus is just a person with literary aspirations sitting at the computer, hypnotized by the glowing screen and wearing an old pair of slippers. He lives in a house full of broken pencils without a sharpener. His kids steal the only Sharpie just as the last page of his manuscript falls out of the printer, skidding across the desk and landing on the floor among the junk mail.

But Sisyphus won't quit—his twin companions, Obsession and Persistence, won't allow that. So Sis continues polishing an old idea to death, because he loves it and can't let it go. Because it's scary to face a new idea, a white page. Who knows where that will lead?

It takes courage to put the stone down and move forward. Poor Sisyphus. Think of what he'll miss.

Any fresh thoughts out there? How do you begin a new writing project? Where do you find the inspiration?

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

North and South, I Love You!

I decided to divert myself from the usual monotony of cleaning my office by watching a movie on my computer. Yay, Netflix! Since I love England and the whole Victorian era, I chose the BBC miniseries of North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell. It was excellent. I was transported to another time and place. Unfortunately, I was also distracted from working and my office is still messy.

The thing I really liked about this movie? The palpable, sometimes-uncomfortable tension between the two main characters, Margaret Hale and John Thornton. Margaret is a genteel, principled Southerner, while John is a plain-spoken, pragmatic man of the North. These two don't just clash. They are polar opposites who are drawn to each other in spite of themselves. And their courtship is tempestuous because neither backs down from a fight. Each time they begin to make headway in their relationship—bamm!—another impediment to their happiness. All of the conflict feels very real, not author-manipulated, because the characters are passionate about their ideals. Having such different views of life, Margaret and John would naturally offend each other.

I love that the first time we see John Thornton he's beating the tar out of a careless cotton mill worker. Margaret is appalled, her sympathies in line with those of the human punching bag. Yet, we find out later that John was justifiably making an example of the errant employee.

If you've watched this movie, you know the final scenes make up for any of the nerve-wracking tumult. Seeing John's face soften with affection as he kisses Margaret for the first time . . . Well, it's something to behold.

Let's put it this way, a happy Richard Armitage makes a happy viewer.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Tribute To You

I wanted to express my thanks to all those writers out there who inspire me. That would be you, by the way. Each one of you. I learn something new from your posts each day, see something wonderful in your photographs, and gain some very encouraging advice, just as I need it.

Thank you, Blogging Buddies. For the restored faith, the good humor, the window you provide into a wider, more beautiful world.

If you need a lift, check out Carolina Valdez Miller. She's amazing.

Like you guys.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Like A Puzzle

I am nearly at the end of a rewrite that has taken over six months. I stopped blogging about it altogether because I knew everyone had to be sick of hearing about my editorial woes. Believe it or not, I have mixed emotions now that the end is in sight. On one hand, I am thrilled to begin the querying. Rejection or manuscript request, it's a fun process, and I haven't been involved in it for a long time. The other side of the coin is missing my characters, losing the feeling of a story I love so well. There's always a grieving process at the end of a book. At least there is for me.

Last night, it occurred to me that writing a story is kind of like making a puzzle. Euphemistically-speaking, you are the puzzle-maker, you have the picture in your head. You lay it out for others to discover, only to realize that there are too many pieces, that your vision is too convoluted. So you reposition things, you remove the unnecessary sections. You polish the colors and throw in a trick or two, just to make things interesting. It's a wonderful job, isn't it?

How is your puzzle coming together?