Tag Archives: seasons

Summer Is A-comin’ In…


Right out of a John Constable painting….

We are nearing that time of year that marks the summer solstice, also known as Midsummer’s Eve, and school’s out, the garden is up and running (if you have one), and you’d rather be outside than inside, even if it’s hot. The beach is much more important than doing something that resembles work.

Instead of working on something like a short story or a novel, now would be a good time to take something off the shelf that will make you a better writer.  Take a break.  Don’t be quite so intense and worried about getting it done. Give your characters a little rest. Do some sketching or shoot photos. Do something that will inspire a book cover or illustrate a story or poem.

‘Writing In Flow’ by Susan K. Perry is one of the books I have recommended strongly for anyone who wants to write, if only for the sake of writing. I’m going back to that instead of reading novels this summer, because it is meant to jar you loose from being stuck. Being stuck for something to say happens to everyone, and is not something to worry about.

Take some time this summer and into fall to follow one of Susan Perry’s suggestions:  open up to new experiences.

Standing on the porch in the middle of a cloudburst, taking in the scent of fresh rain and feeling the changes in the air while it’s going on, and after it’s done and the storm has moved on – these are physical sensations that you can put into the lives of your characters.

If you’re stuck, don’t worry about it. The flow will return. But if you feel compelled to write, then follow a new path. If you usually create prose, then try poetry instead, as in making up some silly children’s rhymes. If you write poetry, turn a poem into a one-paragraph story.

It’s less important what it is than that you do it.

 

Well, I thought Spring was here….


Bloodroot in blossom

…and I may have been right, looking at the calendar, but when the temperature drops from a very pleasant 72F to barely 50F overnight and you have to turn the furnace back on, then you start asking if winter is having trouble leaving us.

Yes it was very nice last week. I was happy to be out in the warm weather with no sweater or jacket, even happy to be able to scrape the mud off the soles of my hiking boots, and looking forward to more days like that, and then – WHAM!! Back we went to the low to mid-50s. And I see by looking at the weather map that it’s still snowing in many places.  That’s fine. I like wearing sweaters.

So that brings up attention to detail. It isn’t necessary to overwhelm anyone with details, but if you read detective novels, they are the people who notice the small things. Something out of place. A sweater not neatly folded but thrown on top of a pile of stuff. The dirt marks on a clean floor. Tiny bits of gravel where they shouldn’t be. Pens scattered instead of in a collecting cup.  Basically, show us the unexpected things.

All people have certain habits, things they do that they aren’t aware of but other people are. There are people who will complain if there is no rain and also if there is too much. Never ever happy. Too hot. Too cold. Too bitter. Too sweet.  Too many cars. Buses never on time. These are things that go into building characters, things that can be repeated until they are unconsciously recognized by your readers as habits or characteristics, such as a very sensitive sense of smell, that give your characters a small touch of reality.

There are other things. Butterflies, for instance, will flock to a place that provides salt and other minerals. In a mystery novel, this might be a clue to where the body is buried if there has been a lot of rain and the soil covering the corpse has been leaching away.

It isn’t necessary to cram the details in all at once. Distribute them through the story, and for Pete’s sake, make notes about it! It’s easy to lose track of who is who and what is what.

Have a nice Spring weekend, even if it rains!

 

 

A Gift for the Coming Year


A long trail ahead of me...

A long trail ahead of me…

Well, by golly, I’ve been slipping again! My bad. No Christmas cookies for me!

But this is what happens when you get busy, working on things that do have importance to you, and finishing my current book projects is very important to me. I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to take something from start to finish, and then go back and review it.

“Oh, but wait!” you say. “I have all these ideas and they get to a certain point and then nothing happens.”

I know. It happens to me all the time. I’ve spent untold hours coming up with ideas for stories, summaries, blurbs and titles, and wondering if they’d ever be finished. I have starts that stopped, and summaries that cry out for expansion into full-blown stories. Is there enough for a full-length book? Oh, who cares? It’s the thought that counts. The idea that came up on paper sits waiting in a dusty notebook, or an unsearched file on your hard drive, wondering if anyone cares about it enough to finish what you started. I knew somebody way back when who had a storage box full of notes and ideas and did nothing with them. In fact, she was so certain they weren’t worth the bother that she threw them away.

Come on, now! These are your babies, your brain’s offspring, your source of joy and pride and it does not matter one tiny bit that they’ve been sitting in a bin on a shelf in your coat closet for years or months, or just until you ‘have the time’.
Let me tell you something. The ‘time’ will never arrive on its own. The ‘babies’ will never become full-fledged, completed stories of any length by themselves. The offspring of your overactive imagination will spend eternity in a coffee shop, wondering if you are ever going to show up and get this show on the road.

They can’t live without your interference. This is how it works. If you can spare 20 minutes for a shower, a half hour to an hour at the gym, can’t you spare an hour and a half with one of those crazy ideas you wrote down on a note pad ten years ago?

I spent a good deal of time during my workaday life coming up with ideas for stories. I wrote down as many as I could on a pad of paper, and later typed them up on 3-hole punched paper, and kept everything in notebooks. When I moved twelve years ago, the volume of stuff I had put together as starters was huge and no, I did not throw out any of it. I simply kept it stored and here it is now, in my house, waiting in the storage boxes and notebooks it was stored in so long ago, waiting to be brought into existence. And I have all sorts of distractions to keep my attention off my ideas and stories and keep me from completing these things, but over the past summer, with an enormous distraction that turned into nothing at the end, I persevered and am moving ahead.

Because it’s Christmas, my gift to someone who thinks s/he has no time to do this kind of work is to say the exact opposite: you do have the time. You just think you don’t. The only thing standing in your way is you.

There are all sorts of books on how to do a good job of storytelling, and likewise, all sorts of books with exercises to nudge you along the writer’s path. But reaching the goal at the end of the path, completing the story, is something you have to do yourself.

Here’s how you do this:

1 – complete the story, period. Do not make corrections.
2 – print it out on 3-hole punched paper and store it in physical form in a 3-ring binder.
3 – put it away for several months.

On a cold, rainy day in the spring, when you don’t want to be outside, fix yourself a big pot of hot tea or coffee, get some cookies or other snacks, and reread what you wrote. Ignore the mistakes, just read it. If it still seems worth the time and effort it took, it’s a keeper. This is when you proofread and edit it, polish it, make the ‘mystery’ connections work, and decide whether or not to expand it to a lengthier form, such as a full-length novel, or keep it as a short story or novella. You may see the possibilities for a series of stories in it when you reread it after some time away from it.

I found that to be true for many of the summaries that I created a long time ago: they could be full-length novels as well as short stories.

It was up to me to complete them.

There is always something that will distract you. There is always someone who will be negative about what you’ve done. There is plenty of tremulous self-doubt floating through the air, enough to sink anyone into a Well of Gloom. These are people whose lives are limited by restaurant menus and coffee shop couches.

Writing is not about gaining fame and fortune. It’s about creating something out of whole cloth, floating moonbeams, and squeaky closet monsters. It’s your imagination at work, the part of you that wondered if you’d ever get to go to the Moon or find out that the guy who sells watermelons out of his pickup truck is really a philanthropist with a hobby that lets him meet people.

Now go on: get those ideas down on paper, filed on a jump drive, backed up on a terabyte peripheral drive, and printed and stored in a physically tangible notebook.

And have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year, because a year from now, you may have a LOT of stuff done!

The End of Summer…


It really is the end of summer now.  In the Pagan/Wiccan calendar, Lunasagh marks the beginning of the harvest of foodstuffs to be stored and used through the fall and winter into Spring.  In the old days, when icehouses stored winter ice cut out of ponds, lakes and rivers for use in the summer, people would find themselves coming to the end of their supply of ice.  In truly hot, humid weather, that could become a burden.

If you pay attention to the rising and setting of the Sun and the Moon, then you will mark the Moon’s position in her relationship to the Sun through the seasons.  Why bring this up?  Partly because most of my life until I was an adult was spent on a farm or in farming country. I’m still conscious of the seasonal changes. The Farmer’s Almanac and the Old Farmer’s Almanac (two separate publications) have online presences as well as published print editions that give weather forecasts, tidal changes, the phases of the Moon, the planets in their various constellations, and all the other things that people who work in a ‘natural’ setting will notice more than those working indoors in an office.  There is an article in my local newspaper noting that fewer and fewer people, adults and children alike, are spending time outdoors in the fresh air and sunshine for various reasons, and it does have a very real affect on their emotional state when they shut themselves up in buildings.  They become more fractious, contentious and sometimes aggressive.

I love fantasy stories. Good fantasy storytelling is always something I look for.  The things I’ve already mentioned – seasonal awareness, the effects of being outdoors versus indoors all the time, noticing changes in the sky in daytime and at night – are essential to making your people believable to your readers.  This is what Tolkien did when he created the Universe of Middle-Earth.

I also love good science fiction.  When Anne McCaffrey invented the world of PERN, she paid attention to those very things. Her people had to do so, or suffer the consequences.  It’s as necessary to fantasy as it is to science fiction, both of which I grew up reading, and wondering if I could come close to telling tales that resonated with people the way the stories of J.R.R.Tolkien and C.S. Lewis and Robert Heinlein did.

If you are going to invent a Universe to populate with dragons and sea nymphs and Sea Kobolds (look that one up, it’s interesting), then I encourage you to fully understand that Universe yourselves.  If you are going to write fantastical tales of Knights lost in a wilderness, find out why they are there in the first place, and then tell us what happened and how they’ll get out of this dilemma.  How many will survive? What are they facing?

I have a good friend working on his first novel, trying to make it as good as he can, so my part in it is to ask him questions.  What? Who? Where? When? How? Why?  He will send me his chapters and I will send him mine. His is a world that is unique and has not been done before – or if it has been done, it did not last because it was not done very well by someone else and he’s found his stride in creating it.

I apologize for taking so long to write another post, but this is part of what happens when you do want to take your story from start to finish.  Your blog posts become unintentionally sporadic. You forget to fix lunch and you drink ice tea (when it’s hot) instead of having breakfast, and find that you’ve shrunk a full dress size without trying.  No harm in that. Just take your vitamins, get a ham and cheese sandwich and some grapes, and keep pecking the keys.  And if you get stuck, don’t worry about it.  Have something else you can turn to. And get outside in the fresh air occasionally. It will do you a world of good.

 

To every season, there is a purpose….


My sunflower in bloom

My sunflower in bloom

Summer’s end is coming closer every day. We’ve had either too much rain or too little. The flowerbed I planted never sprouted and the ants ate the seedlings in the pots of flowers that I put out.

So I started over.

That’s what you do. I said in my last post that I will get stuck and have nothing to show for my time. It happens to all of us. Is there a solution to this problem? Of course there is! There’s always a solution!

Okay, but is the solution going to make you feel guilty somehow, when you think that maybe staring out at the distant blue horizon is less important and less valuable than doing something that everyone can see? I’m talking about brainstorming when you’re stuck.

I went to a restaurant on one of those boring, dull, off-and-on rainy days that had me feeling cooped up in my itty-bitty house and took pens and a small notebook along, with the intention of just making notes. Instead, I stared out one of the picture windows toward the west, toward the very pale, wimpy sun dropping lower through the rainy clouds toward the horizon, and did not put a single word on paper. Finally, I made a note: I have nothing important to say right now, with a big smiley face, and I paid the bill for my nice, crispy french fries, and went home.

And that’s it right there: sometimes brainstorming works, sometimes it doesn’t. Your brain goes blank. Your characters are taking naps in your mind. Your plotline has chosen a new path to follow without asking your permission. Your brainstorming session which was meant to refire the engine of your imagination petered out to a mere pop of backfiring noise and simply didn’t restart as you’d hoped. Gee whiz, even Chaucer and Shakespeare and Mark Twain and Charles Dickens had bad days, you know!

Normally, this is when people trash the story and delete it, but here is the solution: DON’T DELETE IT. Period.

Set it aside. Print it out. Put it in a 3-ring binder with the other stuff. Let it gestate. Go do something else. Make chocolate chip cookies with an extra splash of vanilla. Have a small notebook at your elbow and every time you put a sheet of cookies into the oven (10 minutes at 375F for chewy, 11 minutes for crisp), write a brief sentence about something.

Title this page ‘What if…’

See, this is when the notebook becomes your source for more stories. So you ran out of things to say about the story you were working on – so what? It happens. It’s part of the job, and yes, writing is a job, one that you chose to do, and one that you can do for the rest of your life if you want to.

If you inhabit the working world, you can carry that little notebook in your purse or briefcase and make notes on the train or the bus. You can write them up on your smartphone and mail them to yourself. I used to do that, with a pen and notebook. Then as soon as I got home, I’d put typing paper in the typewriter and copy my ‘what ifs’. They were all single sentences like ‘what if… your new neighbor next door never told you who he was or where he came from, but after he vacated his apartment, men with little plastic ID cards showed up and asked you lots of strange questions about him?’

Going through my 3-ring notebooks full of stuff that I started a L-O-N-G time ago, I found that particular story, which I started in 1989, reread what I had written, and decided I was glad I kept it because it was a good idea, after all. I just have to revise it here and there, and finish it. I don’t care if it turns into a novel or stays a short story or fits somewhere in between. If it was a good idea 24 years ago and it still works now, it’s worth the effort to finish it.

That’s my point.

Ditch the guilt and let your brain churn. This is not done for instant gratification. It takes time and persistence, and the more you do, the better a writer you will be.

I know people who will discard some bright idea because they can’t figure out how to make it work right away, or at least, they think they can’t. Well, if you come up with the idea, you put it into existence on a piece of paper and store it with the other ideas you had. Then go back and review it. You’ll most likely figure out how to make it work.

This is where you start over, replant the seeds and let her rip. Never mind if you run out of gas. Keep it. You can always do revisions later. You’ll be surprised how much is worth keeping and finishing.

Oh, yeah – my sunflower? Poor thing isn’t going to make it through the summer. The cardinals discovered it and they’ve been eating the seeds every morning. I can hear them around sunrise. They just think I don’t know. And there is another ‘what if….’

Clearing the cobwebs….


Showy trilliums

Showy trilliums

Okay, no excuses. There are times when life simply gets in the way. It isn’t neglect that kept me away, I was actually cranking out copy for several books. Yes – several. And while it seems vainglorious to me to say “I busted my butt to get this done”, well, frankly, I did just that. I neglected my blog here unintentionally while I focused on my stories.

So I’ll give you all a pump-up about yourselves and what you do, if I can.

In fiction, any writer’s desire and responsiblity are to create and firmly establish the characters and events in those stories which he or she is creating for you, the readers, to enjoy.

I do know people who want desperately to write something – anything – and have a good start, but come to a grinding halt because they asked someone to read the starts they’ve made and are – well, disappointed, maybe even a little hurt, maybe even a teensy bit teary-eyed that the incomplete piece which they wrote, they labored over, they gave life to isn’t viewed as Pulitzer material. So, they quit before they even get a start.

Don’t do that.

If someone says ‘you got typos!’, deal with it. Fix them. Fix the punctuation mistakes. Get a spelling dictionary or find one online. Make yourself look as smart as you are. Most of the time, when people say ‘you got booboos’, it’s merely pointing out simple errors that you didn’t catch in your draft. No one is trying to hurt your feelings.

There are people who like to engage in flamewars toward everyone, because it makes them feel good about themselves. That is not the same thing as being told ‘you got typos’. Not remotely. It is just bad manners.

These are your steps in writing a piece of fiction.
1 – Decide if it’s a short/long story or a novel.
2 – Ask yourself if there is more than one story for this idea, i.e., can this become a series of stories?
3 – Are you serious enough to finish what you wrote, or are you just dabbling with ideas? If it is just ideas, keep them for later use.
4 – Write the first draft, set it aside, write a brief draft or even a long summary of another story, set it aside and go back to your first story.
5 – Make notes. Make a LOT of notes. Keep them with your story. Review them regularly. You’ll find your original idea has wandered off in a new direction.

You will be pleasantly surprised to find that, not only has your story taken on a life and will of its own, but your original idea may show distinct signs of growing larger than you had thought it would, and may even start splitting into various parts on its own.

For example, that hot chick who cast her eye on the hero might just be a spy looking for easy prey. Not finding it, she just may ditch that resource and start looking again. In other words, the guy she thought was the ship’s engineer turns out to the the guy who serves baked beans in the mess line, and the only thing he’s good for is relieving the tension in her… uh, her shoulders. Yeah, that’s it! Her shoulders. Got it. So is she a spy? Or is she up to something else?

I posted the picture of the trilliums partly because it’s spring at long last, and partly because that wildflower has a brief period of above-ground existence, putting out a floral head to attract pollinators until the rhizomes at its roots have started to grow and it can split off into new plants. When it’s done for the season, it dies back and disappears to gestate underground until next spring.

Consider the trillium as an analogy to writing. You have great ideas. They need to grow into mature and complete stories. That dieback to prepare for next spring is the same thing that you do when you come up with an idea for a story. You make notes about it, you do some research on the subject, and you start the first draft.

The ideas are what you record and expand on with notes, research to support your storyline, and possibly discovering that maybe your subject really has not had much attention because everyone else is following a different trend. And this is why I say don’t ask someone to review a partially-written draft. The wrong words, a misunderstood comment, a snort of derisive laughter and ‘no one writes about this’ may stop you before you even get started.

Now, how will you know whether or not you can do this thing called writing unless you stop asking for permission to do it?

There is nothing wrong with establishing your own subject line of stories. People do it all the time. Have enough confidence in yourself to choose to follow your own path. You do not need permission to do that, any more than the trilliums need permission to poke their way above ground and blossom.

Well, what are you waiting for? You don’t need anyone’s permission to write!

Happy Christmas, Merry New Year… and, well…


Merry Christmas from Gaia, Mother Nature, St. Nick, and the Frost Giants

Merry Christmas from Gaia, Mother Nature, St. Nick, and the Frost Giants

Ok, I’m stuck. I’m stuck in a place that requires making a short story work and another place that will finish a chapter in a novel. Is it the holiday season? Or is it something about winter? Could it be cabin fever?

Maybe. Maybe not. Maybe it’s just what happens when you focus on something so much that you realize you’ve forgotten to do simple tasks like make red beans and rice for supper, fix a pot of soup for lunch, clean the catbox and change the water in the bowl, and do laundry.

That might be it. Whatever the reason is for getting stuck, it just happens.

In one novel currently underway, I cranked out 2 full chapters in 1989 and then came to a screeching halt, because I had no idea where it was going.

In the short story where I’m stuck for words, the continuity has to work or the story does not hold up.

In the other novel, chapter 2 has two parts. One part is finished, and the other part now takes its place, just as you see a movie cut from one scene to another, and these two parts take place several thousand miles apart, with different weather systems in place.

Oh, you think you’re confused? Try this: right in the middle of a nice dinner, one of the characters gets up out of his chair and starts telling me what happened. So do I go turn on my computer and start writing down his narrative? Or do I wait until I’m done with dinner, put the dishes in the sink to wash later, and then go write up that narrative?

Well, this IS the Christmas season. It’s time to not be quite so intense. Capricorn rules the sky right now, and we just passed the Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year, when the Earth’s axis moves to 0 degrees Capricorn, while the Frost Giants stand ready to overpower humanity with their bitter winds and freezing gales.

We hang holly on the mantelpiece (if we have one) or the door, because holly is what was used to keep the Frost Giants at bay. We burn the yule log to indicate the passing of another 12 months and wait for the sun to put in longer hours in the sky. We read old stories and legends and myths about winter following fall, and spring following winter, and wonder if winter will ever end.

And then some scientist will try to explain that it’s all due to climate change, which takes the romance out of it and destroys the imaginative stories and songs that make the season a lot more fun.

So my wish for this Christmas and for the New Year 2014 is that Imagination is allowed to rear her silly, giggly, frizzy head without being stifled or scorned or analyzed, and that she’ll have a crown of holly branches on her head, and a red robe with white trim and fluffy slippers on her feet, while she sits by my imaginary fireside reading someting I wrote and sipping hot cocoa with chocolate shavings, or hot apple cider with a slice of lemon.

Merry Christmas and a Happy and very Prosperous New Year 2014.