Transition Girl

Why transition girl?... Best answered by a quote from the Iliad....."The soul was not made to dwell in a thing; and when forced to it, there is no part of that soul but suffers violence."

Monday, August 23, 2010

learning with practice

I sometimes wonder if the writing process gets easier with practice or easier when we discover our writing niche. I think about this as I am now only three scenes away from completing my first draft of my second novel, some ten months ahead of schedule after only seven months of writing, knowing that I have been able to apply some significant learnings from my first novel writing exercise.

The first draft of the first novel took three and a half years. Alot of factors were at play in contributing to that length of time:

(1) It was my first full length novel after a fiction focus almost exclusively based in short stories and poetry. The very process of learning how to take the time to describe so much more when brevity was ingrained into my psyche was a challenging aspect of the writing process. I doubt many writers have been asked by their editor to write more because there just was not enough description. Wordsmiths can rarely help themselves but get carried away with diatribe on scene setting. I am not one of those writers. With a pre-disposition for metaphorical based description (which I suspect reflects my own reading preferences), I have always liked writing that leaves enough to the reader's imagination to flesh out what is seen and done. My editor told me that I had to assume readers needed all the help they could get as most readers lacked the ability to fill in the blanks. Aside from the fact that I felt this belittled the average reader, I struggled with adjusting my writing style to flesh out the scenery. I still struggle with this but I am getting better with practice.

(2) I chose a very meaty philosophical question as my "what if" question for the story telling. Sure - life's big questions are, and have always been, the subject of many a book, but there were many times as I sat in front of my computer screen where thinking about what the main character might say or do where I stopped to think about how I dealt with the same questions personally. An angst ridden philosophical journey takes time. And I found did not answer many of the questions I set about trying to answer.

(3) Writing part time is a bitch. I have a full time job. As I have mentioned in previous posts, writing for me is one of the ways I process my life experiences and balancing that with actually having some experiences meant that I was constantly juggling three very large balls at once to work, play, and write. I got better with time applying the discipline needed to do all three successfully.

(4) Preparation turned out to be critical to delivering a better writing product. This was an area I definitely learned what needed to be done with practice. My original story board and the end product were very different. With the benefit of hindsight, I did not spend enough time plotting out my story first time around and doing the required research to present a convincing story ahead of putting the words on paper. This made both the original drafting and subsequent editing quite a convuloted task. The key lesson I took out of this was that you need to know where you are heading to know how to get there.

(5) Poor choice of genre. Most of the people who know me understand that I enjoy discussing philosophical questions. This blog is a testament to that. It turns out though that it is not my 'natural' genre when it comes to writing. I should have been guided by the type of short stories I chose to pen before I turned my mind to novel writing - the vast majority of which were well and truely in the world of science fiction and fantasy. While I am not a scientist by profession, I have long been fascinated by patterns along with considering questions about human behaviour in extreme situations. It is not as if the real world is any less interesting - there are some great books about supposedly mundane aspects of life (see for example Carol Shield's The Stone Diaries) - authors that can spotlight the extraordinary things that emerge from everyday life are impressive indeed. But I like to think and write about the stuff of dreams which points to an obvious choice as my writing niche.

So what have I done better second time around? I had a very strong vision about what I wanted the story to say. My preparation and research to build my plots, sub-plots and characters was cleaner and more thorough as a result and done in advance of starting to write the story proper. Without fail, I have spent at least one day a week writing (whether I have felt like it or not). I have allowed the story to evolve with a degree of dynamism to reflect the motivations of the characters as the story has unfolded. (This did involve a reassessment of the storyboard about half way through the drafting as some characters emerged as more significant than I originally envisaged when I started writing.) And I am writing in my natural genre.

These differences have allowed me to write with passion. Only time will tell if it is a better product. Though there is no doubt in my mind that the second novel promises to deliver so much more than the first with a better recipe and ingredients that have been used to create it.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

letting go

The creative process is different for every writer. Much like DNA, we all seem to have a unique signature in how the words form inside of us and find their way to the proverbial blank sheet of paper. Whether it is a over a couple of quiet beers down at a pub to pour out our emotions about a fresh new love or holed up in a dark cocoon of a room channelling the anguish of abandonment, one common thread seems to be writing to process life experiences.

I have known for a long time (since the age of 12 in fact) that an integral part of my creative process is the concept of "letting go". My dreams and nightmares are a part of my process. The feelings associated with something I experience get put into the sausage factory that is my brain, churn about consciously and sub-consciously to produce both abstract and concrete ideas that form the genesis of the plots to my poems, my short stories and now my novels.

Because a fair chunk of what I write is in the fantasy/science fiction genre, often the story produced is distant from the original experience. Beyond the simple "the names have been changed to protect the innocent". Often I will even forget what the original experience was that inspired the idea. To this day I cannot remember what Barney the giant spider who thought it was a cat represented in my every day experience.

Sometimes it seems like my creative writing is an elaborate form of journalling (though I clearly journal too given this blog exists), just a tool to help me process my feelings about my experiences. Especially the negative ones. And it seems my writing product is so much better when there is some hurt bubbling away inside of me that needs to be surgically extracted that only words as the instruments can do.

But then I realise that the hurt is only a trigger in my creative process. It helps me to let go of any pain, by allowing me to lose myself in the "what if" creative ideas that grow from the piece of me that has been removed. The piece that sits in a petrie dish and sprouts forth into something new and different and better. A bit like the bacterial swab cultures that form into intricate patterns with a blast of heat in a pathology lab. Beautiful nature. Exquisite art. (Deadly too but that is by the by.)

I have been inspired the last year and the last few weeks in particular. The combination of my poor health and someone that I believed was a friend who, it seems to me, has abandoned me (to become lost in love with another soul that needs him to be a knight in shining armour). Delivering my latest source of emotional inspiration. I cannot do much about losing this friend. I have even found that complaining to him about it simply drives him further away.

All I can do is immerse myself in my writing. Letting go.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

mercy street

Thought I would share an excerpt from the (published) first novel today, a scene entitled mercy street...

The dream is always the same. This dream is always a nightmare. This dream is a recurring dream: etched in my brain not once but a hundred times. The dream is always the same.

A twelve-year-old girl trembling terrified hiding in the linen closet watches, through a crack in the door, a threatening mad man with a shotgun violently destroy her entire family.

She cannot speak nor yell to sound a warning alarm no matter how much she tries. Her voice box is broken. Frozen, motionless – her limbs are deadweight.
Her mother is silent. Her brothers are silent. She has not seen any deaths only heard the sound of the gun - a thunderous crack through the walls, the wallowing of a family dog as it draws its last breath of life, then the sound of spent shells hitting the tiles.

Why can’t the neighbours hear the mayhem? Why can’t the neighbours see this madness? Why can’t the neighbours smell the stench of something rotten?

The mad man wanders down the corridor now only inches away from her. She is desperate not to be seen nor heard. It’s only a matter of time before he finds her.

I wake up just as the linen closet doors are opening. I am utterly helpless and about to face my worst fear. Cold sweat. (My bed sheets are soaked through.) Sense of dread. (My heart beat races at a million miles an hour.) Disoriented. (I have no idea who or where I am.)

Sometimes this dream merges into a waking dream. The threatening shadow is in my room. I cannot move – I cannot breathe. I cannot beg for mercy – it is a word that has no meaning for this dark shadow. I cannot even gulp for air because I am too afraid he will hear me. There is no escape.

I hate the dream.

My subconscious works over time with this dream. Then it translates to physical manifestations of pain when I cross beyond the sleep boundary.

I am a walking dead woman. A zombie.

I cannot keep it corralled. I am desperate to quarantine its meaning.
But it just leaks out, shouting at me to make sense of it. After many years of experiencing this recurring dream, I know what it means – I have always known what it meant - I just do not want to acknowledge its existence: block out any memory of past events.

Deny something long enough and perhaps it will cease to exist.

Most of my recurring dreams involve trying to escape. They are usually more of a positive construct - an adventure - over hills in faraway places. Sometimes I am a skilled spy solving a world crisis. Sometimes the dreams involve planes that never seem to land gently. Occasionally they involve trains on a track that has no end.

But this particular dream makes me feel my soul is flawed. I drink myself into oblivion to escape. I make myself numb with drugs to hide from the truth.

I deliberately evade connecting with any depth to those around me to reduce any risk that a spotlight will discover this perceived flaw.

The spotlight’s beam occasionally catches glimpses but for the most part, the light is a safe distance away. And, in the darkness, my soul’s flaws stay hidden.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Silence is Golden

I have a rather peculiar habit of starting my day everyday reading a daily horoscope (not necessarily my own star sign!) and then reading a randomly generated tarot card. I say peculiar because I do not really think much about the generalized statements made in either of these “guides” but they do both serve to remind me to reflect upon my actions and behaviours. (I also like the pretty pictures on the tarot cards!) For me, these are my proverbial pieces of “string on the finger” to prompt my desire to try and be more self-aware. As I said, peculiar.

I got the Queen of Swords tarot card not one, not two, but three days in a row and wondered if the universe was trying to tell me something. Sure it was a random coincidence, but the description on the card has been used to describe me on more than one occasion.

“A woman that considers only the absolute truth of a situation without regard to mitigating circumstances. A quick and decisive woman. Someone able to understand the hidden motives behind others' thinking. A candid and frank person, sometimes at the expense of others' feelings. A funny and irreverent sort of woman that makes others laugh. You may not always agree with this woman, but her wisdom is absolute.”

One of my friend’s responses to the tarot card was that the description also sounded like “agree with this woman or she'll stab you with her twin blades of wisdom”. Very Kill Bill.

I am not very good at biting my tongue. I am not very good at sugar coating. Never have been, perhaps never will be either. If someone asks me for an opinion, I will say what I think without hesitation. I am brutal in my honesty. If I see a spade, I will call it a spade. If someone does something to upset me, I will also say so. To me there is no point in pretending I have not been hurt.

I know that this one size fits all approach is not always appropriate. I have found that anyone even remotely fragile or sensitive emotionally can be ripped apart by my incisive approach. And it is only after their carcass lies bloody on the floor that I realise the error of my ways.

Is it a matter of playing the person, not the issue? Recognising that sometimes some people will take what I have to say to heart even when there is nothing mean-spirited in what I have to say. Being gentler when it might be called for.

I wonder if there is a lesson here. Is it that Silence can be golden every now and then? But how do I learn to recognise the signs offering cues on when to apply this principle? And do I really want to? Should I really doubt myself just because others are less capable of hearing what I have to say.

I hurt a friend the other day with my brutal honesty, so much so that their response was to shut me out (implicitly threatening to walk away from the friendship). Such was my casual indifference to it all, I actually decided that if that hurt friend did not have the wherewithal to see beyond my message (i.e. don't shoot the messenger just because the message delivery is less than perfect) it neon signposted reduced prospects for the longevity of the friendship. That, and I do not have any tolerance for cold shoulder responses.