Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Words Fail

Sometimes, words are insufficient. I've sure spent more than my share of time, and words, looking for a perfect metaphor for those intense events that I want to capture somehow.

And sometimes, I just can't.

For several weeks, I've been creating music every day. Just for a few minutes. Mostly to clear my head, exercise my fingers and brain, and let my heart relax. I've also returned to "making lines on paper," as I once described drawing to my sister.

I'm not particularly skilled at either music or drawing. But sometimes, words fail. Sometimes, my fingers need to do something else for a while.

Especially when a dear friend dies. Many dear people have died this week--not all of them dear to me, but every one dear to someone. Every person who dies is dear to someone, surely.

I stole the title of this post from the title of a meditation posted by a church that unexpectedly lost one of its stalwart members, a woman with a heart as big as the Tucson sky, a woman who never met a stranger she didn't turn into a friend. The full meditation is here.

If sometimes you're frustrated by your own efforts to say what it is you really mean, noodle on the piano or guitar for a few minutes. Pick up a camera and take a picture of what's at your feet. Make some marks on paper with a pencil. Bury your nose in a flower.

Let it be okay that words fail.
Wednesday, September 14, 2016


Sometimes you feel like one. A fraud, that is.

Sometimes you don't but have to deal with fraud anyway.

Ironic, I guess--on a day when I'm not feeling particularly "legitimate" as a writer, whatever I even mean by that, I am forced to confront the fact that even so, I'm "legitimate" enough that someone somewhere wants access to my credit.

So I'm off to look at Ryan Nickerson's artwork, here.

Ryan's cousin is a Thunder Bay writer, and she's been sharing his new works that feature our most famous landform, the Sleeping Giant. But I love the energy and cheer of all his work.

Why not check it out? It's an excellent place to see pretty things on a day that might otherwise feel less pretty.

And after that, heigh ho, heigh ho, all I can control is doing the work. Time to do some more.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016


While tidying up items in a notebook I ran across a couple of questions that I've had fun investigating.

* Yes, "ignorance" and "ignore" are related.
* Yes, "routine" and "rut" are also related.

Recently I met writer-friends at a new-to-me coffee shop. I hadn't been ignoring it; I'd just never made it there. And it was great! Fun art on the walls, interesting selections of coffee, some tables. A nice place to go when I want a change of pace.

I also FINALLY got to an exhibit at the local historical museum. Again, not a place I'd been ignoring, exactly, but a place that isn't part of my routine. And it, too, was an awesome choice. I happened to go see an exhibit in which my cousin had a hooked rug, but I don't need to wait for a personal connection to go back. The permanent exhibits are interesting, and who knows what visiting exhibition they'll host next.

And both destinations and activities were inexpensive. A huge bonus.

Routines are my go-to method of managing life's vicissitudes. They work for me. Routines let me ignore some things ("I'm not working on that today; it's scheduled for next Tuesday") to focus on the things I've identified as priorities.

But yes, routines are sometimes ruts. That helpful side of focused ignoring can lead to ignorance. As in my complete lack of understanding of the skill and creativity involved in creating a hooked rug. The subject matter and techniques were so varied! I'd seen pictures in publications, but seeing works in person was mind-blowing. I had no idea. But now I do.

I've also found this place that I'll have to work hard to avoid in the future: The Online Etymology Dictionary. I could lose sight of so many priorities here!

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Random Questions

We had errands today, so lots of time in the car--enough to get beyond the necessary sharing of information, through the "hey I forgot to tell you this weird thing I heard about," on to those random questions that come up.

Such as:

1. Do birds enjoy flying on muggy days, or do they like relatively dry days?
2. Is traffic heavier on the expressway or Lakeshore Drive?
3. How come we've seen only black birds today? All grackles, crows, and ravens. Well, except the pileated woodpecker. Was it because once we started noticing black birds, they were the only ones we've noticed?

I love times like this. The sharing of idle speculation. The thinking aloud. The "I know this factoid, does it relate to the question?" Sometimes, after we bring in all the stuff from the car, one of us researches while the other puts the groceries away.

Wondering about stuff together is fun. And I've found that what I wonder about, I write about. Especially when a to-do list is a mile long, even if that hour of there-and-back-again is all the unscheduled time for reflection, it can make the difference.
Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Today's Metaphor for Revision

Here's a project I should have been helping more with. Except I've been indoors, revising.

But I think what I've been doing is a lot like what's going on with this tree. Here's why.
* Sometimes you have a tree and what you need is firewood, so you take out a tree.
* Sometimes a tree falls down and you might as well cut it up (lemonade from lemons, as it were).
* Sometimes a tree hasn't quite fallen down yet but when it does, it'll destroy other stuff so you take it down and since it's down, why not make firewood.
* Sometimes a tree dies and you leave it standing because the birds find it useful.
* Sometimes you have a tree.

The thing is, it's your tree--your life experience. You decide what to do about it. You don't even have to write about it.

But if you want to write about your life experience, sometimes you have to revise the hell out of your original work. Or so I've found.

The work is improving in its new form--either through fifteen to twenty years of seasoning and perspective that lets me see and shape it more clearly, or because I just have more skill. Or both.

So. Sometimes revising is "fixing," but sometimes it's "felling" and "sawing." So I think today, at least.
Wednesday, August 17, 2016

When It's Ajar

When IS a door not a door?

When I'm revising. At least at this point in the process.

In On Writing, Stephen King said, "Write with the door closed, rewrite with the door open." Meaning, write "for yourself" until you get it as right as you can, then think about how other people might read it.

In relation to my (APPARENTLY NEVER-ENDING) revision projects, by his definition my door is still closed. But by my definition--anything that comes after the throes of creation, any time I can return to a draft with slightly jaundiced eyes--my door is ajar.

I'm certainly not thinking, "Who would ever publish this?" or "Where should I submit this?" or "What's the word count for that contest again?" All "door open" questions.

But I am thinking, "What does a reader who doesn't know me need to know in order to care about the story I'm telling?" And, "Oh, by the way, is this even a story?" So: still trying to get it right. Sorta.

Yet, I do have some perspective. I'm far enough away from the early drafts that I can see the things I did to make myself feel better while I was pounding out early drafts--unique word choices, a shrug instead of explanation of why something's important, creating a scene that doesn't do much but justify a character's (my) actions. All "door closed" things.

Some of that stays (word choices for specific people), but much of it goes (justifications), and some has to be massaged (impact).

So yeah. Ajar. For now.
Wednesday, August 10, 2016

The Doldrums

I'm revising a couple of things. Okay, several things. And by "revision" I mean a wide range of things, from "more" (writing new material to see if it broadens the emotional range I'm going for) to "less" (reading aloud to ensure that the words I'm using are the ones I actually mean).

Sometimes I want to throw papers in the air. Most of what I'm working on is still pixels, which are more difficult to toss into the air in frustration. Also: although creativity is a messy process, not all messes actually move me forward. (Your mileage may vary here.)

So to entertain myself, I tried to label this point in the revision process. I looked up "the doldrums," and learned that what I sort of thought meant "becalmed" has a lot more nuance. In fact, the doldrums (according to Wikipedia) include variable weather patterns--severe weather (I especially like thinking of my frustrations as "squalls") as well as those periods of calm when basically nothing happens.

In any case, that's where I am. Depending on the moment, frustrated or inspired (and both!). Trying different things. Resisting things I know I should do (cutting--the "sunk costs" thing is hard for me to overcome). Mulling over options while doing other things. Listening to podcasts to procrastinate.

This week's Scriptnotes podcast: very helpful. John August and Craig Mazin (at about 10 minutes in) talk through ways to apply The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up (no I haven't read it) to your writing work. Lots of interesting and helpful stuff there. As usual.

But no podcast is going to do my revisions. That's on me.