Friday, November 28, 2008

Art and Fear

New Make-Me-a-Better-Writer book creates New Thoughts. Part I of this interesting contribution to the Education of Peg, Art and fear, Observations On The Perils (And Rewards) of Artmaking by David Bales and Ted Orland begins with this:

"Writing is easy: all you do is sit staring at a blank sheet of paper until the drops of blood form on your forehead." - Gene Fowler

Since this quote is actually on my screensaver, I felt an immediate kinship with the authors.

Most of us, who live in the United States, celebrated Thanksgiving yesterday. And we did this as most of the world tried to stay up to speed on the horror unfolding in India. The outside Real World ran head-on into our safe kitchens and dining rooms and traditions. It ran head-on into our ability to cut off everything around us and write.

Blood poured from more than my forehead. It poured from my heart.

Bales and Orland want me to believe that talent isn't necessarily randomly gifted to those the world labels as "genius"—that if I don't possess the real-deal, I may as well hang it up because fate is against me. Instead, they say: Personally, we'll side with Conrad's view of fatalism: namely, that it is a species of fear—the fear that your fate IS in your own hands, but that your hands are weak.

So, what do we do when the world inflicts itself?

Right or wrong, this past week has been devoted to my family, my life, my imperfect world. It was a time for me to be thankful for the fact that I love a man of honor and integrity, and am loved by him in return. That my quality of life isn't threatened by poor health. That we have made our nest in a little slice of the world where there are no gunmen fighting for a cause I haven't yet heard about to even begin to comprehend.

My hands may have been weak where my writing life is concerned this past week, but they've been strong maintaining the structure that holds me up.

More next week.

Just finished Field of Blood. I'll work on my review tomorrow.

It's all better with friends.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Inspirational Cannibalism

Last night I wrote 903 words. Wahoo! I was inspired by memories of a little white dog named McKenzie. He was a part of our lives for sixteen years, and although he's been gone now for almost six, he remains strong and healthy in the part of my heart he holds. (This is one of the last pictures taken of McKenzie.)

The things in my life that strike a chord, evoke strong emotion, link me to other people, places and situations, make up the well that as I writer, I draw from. Using pieces of my experience, and utilizing craft, are what helps me paint stronger word pictures.

McKenzie is McKenzie in the story I'm writing. Well, mostly. In real life, he was my dog and did not have another family. But my characters are composites and situations are based on "what if." I try to work with one foot firmly planted in reality, and the other one, "foot-loose and fancy-free."

In the scene I wrote last night, McKenzie is cruelly hurt as a warning. My fingers flew over the keyboard, because the bucket I'd pulled up from my well was overflowing. To be honest, there's a possibility a lot of this will be cut when I start doing a bit of editing. As riveting as it was for me to write, if it doesn't add to the story, it'll get the boot.

I heard Dean Koontz say this the other day (okay, not in person . . . in a video he'd made for Barnes & Noble): "Everything you learn about or know about in your life, you cannibalize."

Cannibalize is such a Koontz word, isn't it?

I have a tee-shirt that says, "Careful, or you'll end up in my novel." I think it's funny. Apparently the humor doesn't extend to other people, because when I wear it, no one laughs. And I get pretty much avoided. What's that about?

So, my advice is to keep a notepad handy, but out of sight. If you need to jot down an overheard phrase that tickles your fancy, slip away for a moment. Taking notes is not a good thing in settings where the chairs aren't lined up.

Still reading: Field of Blood.

It's all better with friends.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Nano No-No

I have to say I don't know what I'll get accomplished today. November is a nutty month in my family. Aside from Thanksgiving, this month holds my sister's birthday (the 25th) my brother-in-law's birthday (the 28th) and my husband's birthday (today, the 19th). To increase the excitement (?), it's my husband's 70th birthday. Not only is it no small potatoes, but it doesn't even seem real. And you just know, there are some special things planned that won't be mentioned here in case he pops in to see what I've been up to. Sheeshkabobalino.

Yesterday was also only quasi-good. We live in Colorado. Normally this time of year, we are looking at high temperatures in the 50's. Yesterday? 80's. I didn't get crazy and spend hours outside, but I did take advantage and read on our deck for a while. I would've been a fool not to.

Dang . . . and here's another time waster. Some of you know I'm a major dog-lover, and this is a live web-cam of some Shiba-Inu puppies that are to die for. I'd never heard of the breed until my cousin sent me this link. A neighbor tells me they're incredibly smart.

But I digress.

I'd set my minimum acceptable word creation at 500. Guess what I did yesterday? 503. Hint, hint. After these next few days (giving myself a break here), I'm going to have to bump it to at least 700.

Anyone for a Nano in March?

Still reading Field of Blood. If you go back a couple of posts (and the comments), you will see that the author, Eric Wilson, actually knows I'm reading his book. Gotta give the guy credit for staying on top of things, that's all I can say.

It's all better with friends.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Word Wealth

This struck me yesterday while I sat and bichoked my way to 718 words. (I need thousands, but 718 is what I got.)

Writers mine words like those words were gold. Sometimes I hit a rich vein, sometimes it's hardscrabble, and sometimes it's fool's gold. But every day, I don my helmet and tie on a toolbelt. Some days, at the end, I look like I've moved mountains—with a smudged face and wild hair—and maybe only have 200 new words in my backpack to show for my work. Other days, I walk out of my writing space and look like I haven't broken a sweat, and that day I may have mined 718 words or 1,718 words, or more. Like buttah.

My talent for this business lies in my ability to mine everyday. To up my required load. Or is that lode?

Nanowrimo has at least gotten me to the point where I'm less than satisfied with anything under 500. That doesn't mean I don't have 200 word days, I do. I'm just not satisfied.

In On Writing, Stephen King tells us that he doesn't stop until he hits 2000 words. What he doesn't exactly spell out, but what I think is probably the case, he has plenty of days when his word count is double or triple or even quadruple his target. 2000 becomes a benchmark. A flag gets raised and a silent hallelujah is sung.

The coolest thing? Just because King and Koontz and Connelly are mining a gazillion words every day, we're in no danger of running out. (Oh shoot . . . there's that fear thing again.)

Well, I'm off to the mines.

Still reading: Field of Blood (which is a paranormal thriller and pretty darned interesting.)

It's all better with friends.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Weirdness Loves Company

On one hand, I'm a dismal failure at Nanowrimo. I try and console myself with the fact that it's my first time making this effort, and I broke one of the rules from the very beginning. . . . I didn't start from scratch, but rather from a piece of writing that already meant something to me. I was invested. My fantasy of freewheeling wordplay was riddled with fallacy.

On the other hand, I am putting more words down on a daily basis than I have for a long time, and that feels good. This is the hand I try to keep in front of me when I'm frustrated . . . by me.

Writing is a solitary thing—something I both seek out and rebel against.

That's kind of weird, but it's not The Weird Thing. Ready?

I imagine that as I sit here stringing words together in an effort to decorate the pages with the pictures in my head, I'm clacking away at my keyboard at the same time as Stephen King and Dean Koontz and Michael Connelly and Elizabeth George are clacking away at theirs. What amazing company I'm part of!

CR: Field of Blood by Eric Wilson. I just started this book, but look for the review here when I'm finished.

It's all better with friends.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

My Nano Puddle

At this point, I have four buddies writing their hearts out to get to 50,000 words for the month of November. (If you're involved, I'm listed under Peg Brantley . . . I know that's not very innovative. I'm saving innovative for when I really need it.)

For those on-track, the total word count for the month should be about 20,000. I am shooting for the moon with 6,813. I have one buddy really close at 18,456, and I couldn't be more proud. My other two are both in the 12,000 range and I think they are rockin'.

One of my buddies, a pubbed author, is sitting at 1,777. Have you heard of a sandbagger? This person is gonna come out at the eleventh hour with a full 100,000 word novel. I just know it.

Still reading Orbit.

Not very happy with my word count, but hey . . . maybe they're all keepers. Yeah, right.

It's all better with friends.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Snap! Crackle! Pop! Poof!

Friday's post has an interesting element about the fear of going like gangbusters as a writer, and then emptying the pot. Okay, that sounds like a mixed metaphor, but you get my drift.

There's nothing left. What had been simmering and boiling away (smelling divine, by the way), is gone and all that's left is gunk burned on the bottom of the pan.

It stinks and it's stuck.

There's an old saying that goes, "Fear is False Evidence Appearing Real." Sounds good, right? But novelists work very hard at making false things real. It's hard to get my mind around this one.

So, let's see . . . we have:

1. Fear of failure.

2. Fear of success.

3. Fear of not living up to our expectations.

4. Fear of being exposed as a fraud.

5. Fear the words will stop.

6. Fear of [fill in the blank].

There are, of course, an unlimited amount of sub-fears that fall under each of the primary fears.


Don't be. I think I know the cure.

Ready? . . .

Write. Then write some more. Write your head off.

I'm counting on this as the solution.

"First you're an unknown, then you write one book and move up to obscurity." -Martin Myers

CR: Orbit by John Nance

Getting ready to open up my work and exercise the cure.

It's all better with friends.

Friday, November 7, 2008

On Writing—A Few More Things

For some reason, God has me reading Stephen King's On Writing at the same time He has me doing Nano. There's a message there somewhere, but I have absolutely no time to look for it.

In case you're interested, yesterday was a lousy Nano day. Zero words. Chalk it up to Techno Treachery. Writing longhand may sound glamorous and more "in touch", but like King, frustration mounts when my hand doesn't produce at a speed that anywhere near matches my thoughts.

Today however, even with going to a movie and dinner with my husband, having a wonderful walk and visit with a friend, taking a shower, getting on "public clothes", putting on a face, and seeing to all of the societal things one should see to, I still managed to crank out 1,277 words.

Personally, I think it was because I didn't have to make dinner.

I was in The Zone. It was almost a shame to stop. But this scary-fear thing set in and I dunno . . . I was either going to become a lunatic and type until smoke came out of my computer, or (and this was my greatest fear) I'd write away until the flame became a sizzle, and the sizzle became a spatter, and the spatter became a pop, and then I'd be left wrung out and dry, never to write again. No more words.

But I digress. That's a topic for another post.

A thought from On Writing that has given me freedom . . . it sits right next to Anne Lamott (whom I love) telling me I could write a "Shitty First Draft" (her words, not mine—but they do create a clear picture). King talks about writing the first draft behind closed doors. In other words, it's just you and the story. No one else is peeking. In fact, he doesn't even do any research at this point. If he doesn't know squat about a particular subject, he just makes it up and waits until the second draft/rewrite to get the details right, if he actually needs them.

The first draft is produced behind closed doors (do you get that I love the closed door concept?). He writes for an audience of one. Not him, but his wife—the Ideal Reader. He imagines her reading the words he writes as he writes them. How cool is that? But he says ". . . my mental version of Tabby is rarely as prickly as my real-life wife can be; in my daydreams she usually applauds and urges me ever onward with shining eyes . . . " Still, he writes for her behind those fabulous closed doors. It's not until the first draft is done that he actually shares it with her.

I'm still nowhere near on target with Nano, but I do have a warm fuzzy feeling of accomplishment. Next month (or whenever) when I start to edit, I may decide this was a tremendous waste of time . . . but tonight? I don't think so. It feels too good.

It's all better with friends.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

So, A Little More on On Writing and Not Plotting

I'm beginning to think the really great writers are confident enough (insane/wonky/free enough) to just sit down, with as King says, a "situation", and let the story rumble.

I remember describing King years and years ago to others. I said that the amazing thing about his books is how he took a normal, everyday event/occurance/place and twisted it.

King talks about not plotting: "I'd suggest that what works for me may work equally well for you. If you are enslaved to (or intimidated by) the tiresome tyranny of the outline and the notebook filled with "Character Notes," it may liberate you. At the very least, it will turn your mind to something more interesting than Developing the Plot."

And: "Plot is, I think, the good writer's last resort and the dullard's first choice. The story which results from it is apt to feel artificial and labored."

And: "Story is honorable and trustworthy; plot is shifty, and best kept under house arrest."

My friend and critique partner, Susan Lohrer, sent this quote today from Dean Koontz: "I give my characters free will. The story is never outlined. They go where they want — and surprise me. When they speak, I don't force them to feed information to the reader and advance the story. If they want to digress, I let them. If each is a vivid individual, his or her dialogue will be unique. And often in the digressions, we learn about them and discover new dimensions in the story. When a character says something funny, I laugh out loud because it’s as if I'm hearing it, not writing it."

King's exhortations to be honest and truthful (and it seems Koontz would agree with him) are keys, I think, to allowing a situation to grow into a full-fledged, nail-biting story filled with people we can, on some level, identify with. I'm willing to give this situational writing a try and see what happens.

It's that basic "don't write for the Legion of Decency" hurdle that's a little scary to jump over. At least it is if you've always been the Good Girl.

I loved what he said about description: "Description begins in the writer's imagination, but should finish in the reader's."

Writers, readers and movie-goers were all saddened today to learn of the death of Michael Crichton. Our loss of his imagination and energy will leave a hole on earth.

Still plugging (albeit slowly) along in Nano. Trying to swing a little looser ala King and Koontz.

It's all better with friends.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

On Writing

I'm working my way through Stephen King's On Writing.

The first portion had me laughing out loud.

About half-way through the book (and I'm only slightly farther than that now) some ideas about writing began to sift through to my brain. Not all of them were stunners. I mean, I've heard them before. But the fact that Stephen King said them gives them some kind of ethereal glow.

"If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot."

Since lunacy grabbed be by the neck a few days ago, I've been fighting with my ├╝ber-ugly writing progress with Nanowrimo. It isn't pretty, but I am writing more than before.

Reading is the easy one for me. Plain and simple, if I don't have something I'm currently reading, and at least a few things waiting to be read . . . well, thankfully that's never happened. I'm afraid I would be sent away for a very, very long time. But hey, as long as they had books. . . .

Stephen King writes 2,000 words a day. Every day. I know of writers who write far more than that, and I'm sitting here watching the words appear on screen of a writer who writes far less than that. (Which would explain why I'm woefully behind with the Nano project.) ". . . but only under dire circumstances do I allow myself to shut down before I get my 2,000 words."

And here is one of my favorite quotes, and one that I'm struggling with learning now, because as King explains it, it pretty much goes against plotting.

The question is, once a writer sets a goal and creates the space to write, what do they write about? King's answer? "Anything at all . . . AS LONG AS YOU TELL THE TRUTH."

Regarding plotting? ". . . I believe plotting and the spontaneity of real creation aren't compatible." King tells me that my job as the writer is to give the story the opportunity to grow and reach its full potential. I merely record what I see.

Where can I get some of that magic dust?

You know what I'm reading. You know what I'm working on. That felt like I was writing something along the lines of "I know who you are and I saw what you did."

It's all better with friends.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Nano pooh-pooh

Criminy. Yes, that's a word I remember from women who have preceeded me in my clan. Somehow, it fits.

Today is the first day of the National Novel Writing Month and I'm posting a pathetic 434 words. Well, it could be 433 for some odd reason because when I encode the crazy thing, something gets lost in the translation. That's 25% of what I needed for the day to stay on pace.

Or, it could actually be nothing, a big fat zero, because I can't figure out how to upload the bugger. (Another ancient familial nounish thing.) I've encrypted it so I don't release the next great Nobel Prize to the world before its time, but can't figure out how to upload it to Nano. Sheeshkabobalino.

Today was spent (after my morning walk and quick sit-down with writing) running errands and getting dinner ready for guests who were due to arrive at 5. The dinner and evening with our friends was lovely, but I lost on the other end. Know what I mean?

I'm not a night owl. My mind has slowed to the pace of a slug on sleeping pills and I just can't go there.

Tomorrow will prove to be almost as interesting. We are leaving by noonish to be hot diggedy-dogs in a box suite for the Bronco game. I admit to loving the attention and catered aspects of a private box (along with the almost private potties), but will likely lament the additional loss of writing time.

Just so you know, I took 50,000 and divided it by 30 and came up with the dastardly number of 1667 words. Per day. Every day. Which means that tomorrow I need to find time to write about 1900 words.

What have I gotten myself into?

Is a competitive nature enough?

Stay tuned.

Still reading Steve's On Writing. At least he made me turn off the TV.

Working on: Not completely doing the freak-azoid and urping all over my desk every time I think of Nanowrimo.