Trials

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“A writer is one for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.”

–Thomas Mann

Guess I’m a real writer.

J

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Tree Wool

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Today, I learned that the German word for cotton is Baumwolle, literally “tree-wool.”  The Germans have a very no-nonsense approach to creating new vocabulary and this is one of the things I love about the German language.  The language is peppered with compound words consisting of 3-4 other words, which seem overwhelming at first, but once you break them down, the words make perfect sense.  Not only are the new words made up of words you already know, but the new words describe exactly what they mean.  It’s made me wonder if other things in life could be seen that way.  It’s like the riddle: “How do you eat an elephant?  One bite at a time.”  When we look at the big rocks and focus on those, then we don’t get distracted and confused by the mush of everything coming at us all at once.  If you look at what’s important and take it one piece at a time, it becomes beautiful in its simplicity.  If you take the no-nonsense approach to life, you can see that the world is really quite simple.  You just have to know how to look for what matters.

J

New Life

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I’ve been thinking a lot about life lately, due to some events in my personal life.  I’ve been thinking about how very hard it is, but also about how beautiful it can be.  Paul Cardall is my favorite pianist and favorite living composer.  My uncle gave him his big break, so he’s had associations with my family for a while, which has made his music especially important to me.  He played at both of my grandparents’ funerals in Utah and I’ve been to a number of his concerts.  Even listening to his albums for the hundredth time, his music still moves me.  His music is all the more powerful because I know the struggles behind it.

Paul Cardall was born with congenital heart disease.  He has been fighting for his life from the moment he was born and because of this, he knows how very precious life is and he has made every moment of his difficult life count.  Today, I wanted to share with you my favorite piece of his.  It’s called Gracie’s Theme.  It was written for a sweet little girl who was born with the same condition.  Paul got to know her and her parents in the hospital while they were both waiting for transplants.  Unfortunately, Gracie didn’t make it, but her legacy lives on.  Life is beautiful, even if we only get to enjoy it for a brief moment on this Earth.  Cherish it.  Make the most of it.

J

The Impossible Dream

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I recently picked up a few books on writing that I thought might be helpful.  The one I’m reading at the moment is Writing Fantasy Heros: Powerful Advice from the Pros by various fantasy writers (including Brandon Sanderson and Orson Scott Card).  I’ve been very frustrated with my work this packet and wondering if it’s even worth continuing with my thesis because how can it ever live up to my hopes and dreams?  How can I create something good enough to finish this program, let alone publish?  But I came across this bit in the section by Ian C. Esslemont:

We who follow the path of writing must keep in mind that it is an on-going journey of discovery and refinement.  One never ‘arrives.’  We are all apprentices striving to improve our craft.  The lessons here are ones I must constantly keep in mind as well.  By way of encouragement I suggest you trust in our active fantasy readers who are among the best out there in their willingness to give you a chance.  They want you to succeed because they want that dream—just as much as you hope to achieve it.

So hey, maybe there is a chance.  Writing is seriously hard work.  It makes us doubt ourselves every single day.  To make it as a writer, other people have to actually like what we do and want to read (and buy) our work, which just puts that much more pressure on us to be amazing.  But you know what?  Somebody out there does want to read my story.  I can do this.  And so can you!

J

Death and Taxes. Or, well, just Death.

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Assateague Island

I had my first story inspiration in weeks this morning.  I decided to poke it and see what happened.  As I followed it along, it resulted in the death of one of my favorite characters.  Which also adds complication to the parallel novel because at the point I thought the idea was coming, that character is still needed elsewhere.  So.  I’m really not sure what to do with it.  Half of me is intrigued and excited because, while I adore this character, his death would certainly add to the conflict of my current MC and it might explain why he is no longer in the other MC’s life at the point of her main story.

I am beginning to realize just how very complicated this story is.  I’ve already written about 5 first drafts of novels contributing that happen in all different sorts of times.  There’s a war (which I’ve been putting off writing until this book) and lots of little battles, some very distinctive societies and races that have to be developed clearly enough to work with, really complicated family trees, and who knows what else.  What have I gotten myself into?

It was either the story with no plot or the one with way too much plot.  I figured at least with too much plot, I’ve got something to work with.  Everyday I wonder if I chose the right one.

Trust the Process, right?

J

Character, not Caricature

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“When writing a novel a writer should create living people; people not characters. A character is a caricature.”

—Ernest Hemingway

I came across this quote today and I rather like it.  Often when I start writing a character, he/she is based on something—an idea, a person or character I’ve met, a goal—but as I write, I find that the characters take on a life of their own and become something completely different from what I started with.  The character has his own wants and needs and ideas.  Sometimes his plans are different from what I want them to be and I have to dig in deep to discover the character and figure out what he wants.  Sometimes he surprises me.  It can be hard to let go of my preconceived notions about the character, but when I do and let the character be that real person with a life and everything of his own, that’s when I get really interested in him and in what I’m writing and that’s when the character becomes real and writing his story is as much an act of discovery as creation.  It’s one of the best things about writing.

J

New Beginnings

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“All writing problems are psychological problems. Blocks usually stem from the fear of being judged. If you imagine the world listening, you’ll never write a line. That’s why privacy is so important. You should write first drafts as if they will never be shown to anyone.”

—Erica Jong

* * *

“The scariest moment is always just before you start.”

—Stephen King

Because I haven’t posted a quote in a while, here are two.  These are in honor of starting the new semester and really starting my thesis.

J

The Residency

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The G2 Fireballs!

There is something beautiful and incredible and magical about throwing a bunch of writers, from all walks of life, together for a full week of writing insanity. There is really nothing like residency week at Goddard. I got home late last night and I’m missing it already.

We have work to do, meeting with our advisors and planning the semester, creating study plans, writing annotations or whatever else our advisors assign. We attend workshops on anything from critical writing to describing the senses to improving characters. We attend and participate in readings—I didn’t attend very many, but the ones I did, were great. We share meals and we play.

Now we will spend the rest of our semester working on our own, as writers tend to do, but that bond we create at residency sticks with us. We can still turn to each other to celebrate and commiserate and bounce ideas around. We talk about our work and we talk about our lives and all the crazy changes we’re going through.

Now that I’m home again, I miss Goddard and all my friends there, especially the Fireballs, but I love them all still and with the boost I get from residency, I’m ready for this rollercoaster semester and ready to write my book.

J

On the last day of residency, I took a break to just sit and read.  The campus is so astoundingly beautiful in summer.

On the last day of residency, I took a break to just sit and read with some of my fellow Goddardites. The campus is so astoundingly beautiful in summer.

Decisions

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As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve narrowed down my options to two possible theses for my MFA.  Both stories draw me and I’ve been reluctant to make a decision.  I can continue to work on both for a few more weeks to possibly months, but the decision will have to be made at some point and the longer I take, the less time I’ll have to focus on my thesis in the long run.  In a previous post, I mentioned that I haven’t been writing and haven’t felt much draw to do so, but I have been muddling over the stories in my mind, weighing pros and cons of each option, and exploring the worlds and stories of the characters, and this is a vital part of the process, even if it feels less productive than the physical act of writing.

I’ve let the stories germinate for some time, which is necessary, but I can see that I am reaching the point where I need to make a decision and choose one story to focus my attention on because I can no longer develop these ideas as well as they deserve while my attention is split.  At this point, I also feel that it really doesn’t matter which story I choose because both are good and worthy stories that I would potentially enjoy writing and each will continue to be blocked as long as I’m trying to work on both.  Each has very good reasons to be the Chosen One and each has its unique set of challenges that I can’t even begin solve at this stage of the game.  Each has an intriguing protagonist whose story deserves to be written.

I love William to death.  He was one of the first characters I created when I started writing more than ten years ago, but the idea of him has been with me for at least 17 years.  He started out as a minor character with a simple purpose, but I fell so deeply in love with him that I had to go back and tell his whole story.  Over the years, he’s been featured in 3 of my 8 winning NaNoWriMo novels—one of which starred only him; the other two were intended to be about Arah, but he crept in and took over.  He’s lived in my brain and in my heart for a very long time and I know him better than any other character I’ve written.  I love the character; I love his story.  I love the world he lives in (it’s my favorite universe to write in) and the magic around it.  I love writing fantasy.  The particular book in his series I’ve chosen as a possible thesis will be the hardest to write.  It involves his experiences in the war and some difficult decisions he has to face as far as his life path and his true nature.  War is such a big topic, I’m not sure how to tackle it, but there is a lot of information out there, so it’s mostly a matter of lots of research and absorbing as much as I can.  The emotional aspects of the book will be quite heartbreaking and thrilling to write, as I discussed in my post “First Blood.”  The biggest problem with this story is that it is so very BIG.  There is already story to fill 2-3 books prior to the events in this book and I know the timeline following can take at least another book or two.  This story could stand on its own—if I do it right—because it involves the most pivotal decision he will ever make, the one that will set him on his life path and so is a powerful story in and of itself, but there is so much more to William that I really do want it to be a series.  This story doesn’t mean nearly as much if you don’t know what follows, if there aren’t books to tell the rest of the story.  And his whole character relies heavily on his life experience prior to this time, the relationships he develops, the people he loses.  So I really feel like if I’m going to work on this book, I have to be ready to tell the rest of the story and the rest of that story is just so BIG.  I’ve been working on it for over a decade and I’m seeing now that I’ve still only scratched the surface.  I want to do it right and I want to do it justice and I’m just not sure I can wrap my brain around it all at this time and in the format of this program.

I have many reasons for writing Sarah, one of which is that she’s so very hard to write.  The story is a very personal one for me; it’s a story I wish I’d had when I was Sarah’s age.  I can feel that this book has a potential to be something and I want that, but I just don’t know how to tell the story.  I don’t know what to fill it with; I don’t know what happens.  It’s not like one of my fantasies where I can just throw in some magic or a few demons when things are getting slow.  The story is real and it has to be real.  I don’t read much plain fiction.  I think it’s boring.  I read to escape ordinary life, not to watch someone else doing the same things I do everyday.  I’ve never seriously considered writing straight fiction; I’ve always focused on Speculative Fiction in many of its forms, though mostly fantasy (because it’s easier to write than science fiction, takes less research).  When I came into the program, I wanted to write SF and said I would probably focus on fantasy, though I wasn’t committed to it yet.  I pride myself on writing SF and that’s how I want to establish myself as a writer.  I’m afraid that by choosing a straight fiction topic for my thesis I will miss out on that label and on the chance to really study the genres I love—If I’m writing straight fiction, I will have little reason to read science fiction etc.

Aside from the Potential, the biggest draw of writing Sarah is that it’s small.  Sarah is one book, one story.  No series, no need for prologue or epilogue, prequel or sequel.  It is what it is.  It is also likely to be a rather short novel, which is perfectly fine for YA (though there are many YA books that are quite long, most of them are reasonably short, which is one of the things I like about YA).

The biggest challenge is that I just don’t know what happens.  I don’t know how it will end.  I don’t know what events will need to take place in her life and in this story, though some are beginning to coalesce.  I don’t know the character all that well either.  I’m still struggling with her motivations and hopes and dreams and fears.  I don’t know what her day to day life is like, especially the high school part of it since I opted out of that experience (the only time I feel the slightest tinge of regret for that decision is when I’m trying to write about modern high school students and all I have to go on are cliched teen movies).

It will also be very emotionally challenging.  Sarah and Will both have very dark stories, but Will’s darkness is turned outward while Sarah’s is turned inward.  There’s a difference in processing and writing harm to others versus harm to oneself.  The stories come from different places.  William’s story is about power; Sarah’s is about vulnerability.  Sarah’s story is much more raw.

At this point, as much as I adore William and long to write his story, I’m leaning towards Sarah, both because it is shorter and because it is harder.  I want something small enough to swallow in the brief time I’m going through this program.  I want a relatively simple project that I can pump out and wrap my head around in the coming 3 semesters.  I also want to take full advantage of the support, guidance, and instruction I’ll have while I’m in the program and the best way to do that is to choose a project that I know will be challenging.  (It’s something I’ve always done when possible.  When I studied clothing design for my undergrad, I was afraid to work with knits.  I’d never had much experience with them before school and we avoided them in the basic classes because they are so challenging.  To overcome my fears, I designed a 4 credit class and worked with an advisor to learn and practice everything I could about knits.  Similarly, in my favorite English class, we were assigned to write an essay about the classic film The Day the Earth Stood Still.  Rather than taking some variation on the topic everyone else was doing—that violence is bad and that we would end up in big trouble if we kept on the way we’ve been—I chose to write about it as a commentary on women in the 1950s and how the “perfect housewife” image fit in with the Rosie Riveter of the 40s and the coming era of women’s rights.  My professor was thoroughly impressed.)  Because I’m dedicating so much time and money to this degree and to this project, it makes sense to me to choose a project I know will bring a challenge and with it, a great deal of growth.

My advisor said I don’t have to decide before the new semester starts, so I do still have some time to settle into a decision, but I can feel the pressing need within myself now, more than I felt the pressure from the program and its deadlines.  The moment is coming to decide my fate, which will determine my path through this program and my entrance into the professional world of writing.

Wish me luck.

J

I Sit at the Piano

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I was recently wandering through old folders in search of some lost document and came across a song I wrote almost two years ago.  I don’t write poems; I don’t write songs.  I suck at it and they frustrate me to no end.  But every once in a while, I give it a shot anyway, and of course, it’s always fun to write about writer’s block.  In any case, I wrote this one.  Based on the date I created the document, it must’ve been the summer my sister and I started a band called One Day.  I haven’t even dared to read it since I stumbled across it because I’m sure it will make me cringe, but you’re welcome to read it yourself.  It has no title and no tune; it is what it is.

(Sorry about the formatting, I don’t know how to get rid of the extra spacing between paragraphs in this program.)

 

I sit at the piano

Pen in hand

Waiting for thoughts

For words to come

 

The notes won’t come

The lines get stuck

I don’t know how to write this song

 

Give me words and melody

Help me say what i need to say

Give me release, let me be free

I want to write this song today

 

So many words

Just waiting to be said

Wanting to be heard

Wanting to be read

 

Bring me the notes

Let me be the one to say

Tell me your story

Show me the way

 

Give me words and  melody

Help me say what i need to say

Give me release, let me be free

I want to write this song today

 

I want inspiration

I want to be heard

Let me tell you my story

Then you can go or stay

 

But the notes won’t come

The lines get stuck

I don’t know how to write this song

 

Give me words and  melody

Help me say what i need to say

Give me release, let me be free

I want to write this song today

June 26, 2012

 

J