Novels and the Big Picture – WWf(a)C#2

I so appreciate the encouragement and energy that comes from a cohort of writers.

Wednesday evening I shared the rough (rough) draft of the beginning of my first chapter. I asked for “gut” feelings. What do I need to clarify? Are you interested, engaged? I received some great critical feedback. I was worried that I don’t have enough details–I don’t like to give a much description–but I think I have enough well-placed specific details.

The biggest thing I took away is that I need to slow down. I’m used to short-story writing, being dense, condensing important plot points into one or two paragraphs. In a novel, however, the reader needs time to breathe. Jonathan Franzen wrote that a novel should take you to a quiet place. A still place. It’s good to show, but it’s also important to tell some things, as well.

I like to get the characters out the door. But they can linger in that door, too. I’m still toying with the idea of adding this to my “works in progress,” but for now I think I’ll keep it private. However, feel free to email me if you want to take a look at it.

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WWf(a)C #1

I see shoes. All these women, different ages, different sizes, so intimidating that I want to curl up, I look at their shoes and remember their just like me. Sneakers. Flip flops. Slip-ons. Comfy shoes, mostly. Me, I’m wearing boots. They’re a little snug in the toes, and I wish the heels were more comfortable. But these women–this space, so “sacred” with its bouquet of flowers in the middle and candle and tissues reminding us YOU WILL CRY!–aren’t so scary when I focus on the shoes. We all walked different paths to get here, and no one’s judging my path, just as I’m not judging theirs.

Humbling, though, to think about where all these shoes have been.

(Cross-posted on blogspot)

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Women Writing for (a) Change

Tomorrow I take my first class with this group. Two things I’m sure it will bring: a space to write, and community. Today I’ve spent time picking out samples to share; most of my recent work is non-fiction, but fiction is where I want to move forward. And so I decided on “Wednesday Afternoon” (fiction-ish) and “A Messy Room is a Messy Soul” (non-fiction). Both are pretty representative of what I do, for better or for worse.  I’ve already practiced reading them both out loud. The nonfiction, in particular, sounds kind of clunky, and I’m thinking how nice it would be to recite a poem instead 🙂

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Just Added: Art Works

Seventh through twelfth grade, I spent at least 90 minutes per day in art class. We sketched, we painted, we drew, we made prints, we crafted books, and we exercised parts of our brain not required for chemistry or economics.

When I got to college, I didn’t even consider majoring in art. But thanks to advanced placement classes, by the time I was a senior in college, I had a lot of room in my schedule: I took both painting and advanced life drawing. I regret not taking more art classes in college, but c’est la vie.

Still, I created a page and uploaded images of many of my drawings from that time (there’s one from high school, but I won’t say which!)

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On “Going It Alone”

In my last post, I mentioned some of my favorite writing books. Instead of doing my own writing, I see what Natalie Goldberg has to say about it. In “The Long Quiet Highway” she writes,

Writing became the tool I used to digest my life and to understand, finally, the grace, the gratitude I could feel, not because everything was hunky-dory, but because we can use everything we are….We can’t use what someone else had–a great teacher, a terrific childhood. That is outside ourselves. And we can’t avoid an inch of our own experience; if we do it causes a blur, a bleep, a puffy unreality. Our job is to wake up to everything, because if we slow down enough, we see we are everything.

Sure, I may be reading Goldberg’s words on writing instead of doing my own. But these words help me to keep going. More than slow me, they give me a sense of legitimacy; I’m not crazy to be thrilled, rocked, and exhilarated by words. I’m not alone in using writing to make sense of the world around me.

This novel of mine. I had the basic idea for it but then had to figure out how it would fill 200-300 pages. After all, my stories, for better or for worse, are tied up in 15 pages (or, you know, left ambiguously ambivalent to represent the ambiguous ambivalence of life).

Step #1, google “how to write a novel.” My former students would laugh as I often cautioned against relying on google for research. However (and I admitted this to them), it can be a starting point. The first non-sponsored link was Randy Ingermanson’s “How To Write a Novel Using the Snowflake Method.” He describes a step-by-step process for how to write a novel (while acknowledging that the same process won’t work for everyone). It was helpful for me because I tend to throw characters into a setting and see what they do. I discover who they are and what the story and conflict is during the process of writing about them. But for a larger piece, I knew I needed more structure; I didn’t want to have 5000 words written and still not know the main plot. The “snowflake method” provides a framework.

Perhaps my post title is misleading. When I say “going it alone,” I mean outside of academia. I’m no longer in the process of earning my Bachelors, meeting with my advisor once a week, having my work critiqued. I’m not in an MFA program with prescribed weekly goals and, again, a cohort or advisor telling me I am or I am not headed in the right direction.

I may be here, in my apartment, at my laptop. I may have no one but myself telling me to type instead of watch the Emmy awards. Ultimately, I’m only accountable to myself. But I’m not really “going it alone.” As much as Dillard’s words and Goldberg’s words inspire me to keep at it, so to do the words of this awesome online writing community.

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Novel Ideas

I have always loved books about writing. One of my favorites, William Zinsser’s “On Writing Well,” helped shape my nonfiction writing style. I also adore Annie Dillard’s “The Writing Life”: she discusses not the craft of writing but the process; the writer’s journey and struggles. She writes,

This writing that you do, that so thrills you, that so rocks and exhilarates you, as if you were dancing next to the band, is barely audible to anyone else. The reader’s ear must adjust down from loud life to the subtle, imaginary sounds of the written word.

From Natalie Goldberg (“Long Quiet Highway” and “Writing Down the Bones”) to Anne Lamott (“Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life”), I can’t get enough of writers on writing.

And so it is that I have a strong desire to go out and buy more books about writing. There’s the “Portable MFA in Creative Writing” — why pay upwards of $20,000 for more schooling when I could get a book? There’s the “Idiot’s Guide to Writing a Novel”–I don’t think I’m an idiot, so the book should make it really easy to write a novel! Oh, and there’s “How to Write a (Damn) Good Novel”–it has “Damn” in the title, so I know it must be excellent.

But sometimes I think that reading these books is just another way for me to procrastinate. So I’ll go for some time on my own. I spent four hours at a bookstore today sketching out the plot and characters of a novel. Just like the Ronald & Cynthia story, I’ve had the idea for this one in my head the past year or so. And while staring at my notes, I realized I had to eliminate one of the characters altogether. She had been a major character; in fact, she was possibly going to narrate! But once I got rid of her, things made so much more sense and the story began to come together.

I’m excited. After I had decided not to jump in immediately to an MFA program, I felt a little lost: What should I be doing? But this gives me direction and an achievable goal.

And as for “Ronald and Cynthia,” I’ve finished the draft; I think a lot of it works, but I need some distance from it before revision.

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Just Added: Books & Reading

I added a “Books & Reading” tab that contains reviews of books and stories I’ve recently finished; it should be frequently updated.

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