Tag: creativity

Sticking to a Writing Project

diary-614149_1920

I should be writing the draft for my second novel.

Instead, I just finished drafting the synopsis of a short story that has been nagging me since last week. It got me thinking about writing for its own sake, as opposed to writing for the sake of a project. Obviously, a writer can’t be successful if they can’t get sh*t done, so there is something to sticking to a thing and getting it done.

But the thing with me and projects is that every step of it is planned. I have an outline (which I deviate from all the time), a word count which I try to hit or exceed each day, and a self-imposed deadline.

With short stories or things like this that hit me randomly, there is no plan. That kind of freestyle writing is fun and liberating, though most of the time, such stories will sit in my famous bin when I’m done. Sometimes they are useful when an opportunity to contribute to an anthology presents itself and I can dust them off and edit them. But mostly they are there. Five or ten hours of my life in a file somewhere.

It all goes back to the tension between productivity and creativity – I have a ton of ideas but what do I dedicate my time to? What am I trying to accomplish? There are as many ways to manage this as individuals struggling with question. I found some great ideas in this blog post, How to Decide Which Writing Project to Focus On.

Personally, I like to get the nagging project down on paper. I do a fair bit of journaling and have notebooks full of half-ideas. For example, this morning, I handwrote eight pages of my story, in synopsis form. I’ll type it up so it’s backed up in my drive. Having worked it out of my system, if it doesn’t fit in my current project, I’ll set it aside. It might come back as a project of its own later. Or it might just sit somewhere, a bit of writing practice that went nowhere.

What I didn’t do was let it cannibalize what I have in front of me. Yeah, I wrote for a couple of hours and it might look like wasted time. But I’m still on track and, after today, I probably won’t dream about the thing like I’ve been doing for the last week. It frees up some intellectual bandwidth and I’m not anxious because I haven’t wrecked my potential manuscript by going on a tangent.

The post referenced above also discusses the value of using a calendar. I print them up from Outlook and staple them into my journal.  By having projects chunked and scheduled, you give yourself less permission to veer away from your objective because, sorry, that plot bunny is not on the schedule.

A side note on journaling: bullet journals and other kinds of creative organizational systems are nice but sometimes, they become a project unto themselves. I’m not interested in getting all fancy with what is essentially a brute tool. If you’re like me and are looking more for streamlining, below are two posts with some great suggestions on using both calendars and journals to maximize productivity:

 9 Calendar Hacks to Maximize Your Productivity

How to Boost Writing Productivity with Calendars or To-Do Lists

For those of you who like to get creative and colorful, there are some great Pinterest boards dedicated to just that.

Whatever you choose, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with chasing the bright shiny object, if that’s what your creativity demands. But being able to finish a thing is a big deal. If an idea continues to persist even after a project is complete, then you know it’s a keeper.

 

 

 

 

Don’t throw it in the plastic bin

pen-282604_1920

I haven’t posted lately. The nice thing about being relatively unknown is there is no actual pressure to produce content because no one is waiting for you to post. Each blog post is a shout in the void and, for an anxious person like me, that works out just fine.

With that established, I’ll tell you (my nonexistent audience) what I have been up to.

I kinda-sorta finished editing my first novel. And it’s…well, it’s not what all that I want it to be.  I’m not saying that to garner sympathy of any kind or publicly flog myself with my clear and evident insecurities, of which I possess in abundance. I’m saying this because it’s a truth universally acknowledged that all first novels are kind of crappy.

That’s why I have one of those large, plastic bins next to my desk. All my middling, experimental or dissatisfying work ends up in there. Just like my first poems and short stories are all safely hidden in the bottom of that bin, to be pulled out when I want to convince myself that in all the time I’ve spent, well, being alive, there is some material evidence of my existence, beyond the launching of my DNA into the human gene pool. So I almost stuffed this bit of writing down there, too.

But there’s something in this manuscript which I believe, with more polishing, might be worth sharing. There’s also a lot to build on – I’m thinking a family saga of interconnected stories, the first four contemporary, followed by a side series of historical novels. I think I could pull it off, and if the conventional wisdom is true, the more I write, the better I will hopefully get.

Such was my optimism that I sent my manuscript, after a professional edit, and a few passes through a beta group, to one (just one) publishing company. Instead of blanketing the world with my magnum opus, I’m playing this game with myself. I want to see what happens. I might get a rejection (the most likely outcome). I might get a revise and rewrite (a solid win). Or something bigger. Who knows.

The game is simply – when I (most likely) get it back, I’ll attack it again. And send it out, this time to perhaps three publishers. Or five. Because, for once, I have something that I think might not be half-bad.

This is the part where I should add value to your lives. I enjoyed this blog post, which isn’t too old, called Know Thyself…By Writing Your First Novel.  It’s a bit abstract, in the sense that it gives you the rah-rah about writing your novel, but doesn’t actually give you the how. That’s what all those courses and craft posts and organizational strategies are for. But the article does position writing as a path to self-knowledge, which is not an entirely a bad approach, especially if you aren’t aspiring to add your voice to the great Western Canon or whatever, but you simply want to tell a story.

Just don’t be so quick to dump your stuff in your giant, plastic bin.

 

Everything’s a Metaphor

This post is one of a series of writing exercises that I’ve used, either in a writing course or on my own. Each post includes this disclaimer, a description of the exercise, and an example from my own writing. If you would like to try out the exercises on your own blog, refer to the exercise in the title and ping back to this post (if you have a WordPress blog). Or you may simply leave a link in the comment section so I and others can check out your work.

girl-1141279_1920

We experience the world through our five senses. When we write, we are limited to filtering our ideas and emotions through the mode of our bodies. That’s why abstract writing is often very difficult for us to connect to as readers. We have no way of absorbing the dimensions of those ideas through purely intellectual means (one would argue that mathematicians and philosophers are able to do this but even they avail themselves of symbols to stand in for abstractions, not unlike our use of language).

Therefore, to create immediacy and engagement when conveying abstractions such as love, justice, courage, jealousy, hatred, etc., it’s important to try to make the reader feel these ideas through their senses. One way we can do this is through the use of figurative language.

Metaphorical or figurative language is the bread and butter of poets and writers. One way to understand the use of this type of language is to remember that all figurative language is a comparison. The metaphor, simile, hyperboles, personification, synecdoche – all of these modes exist to concretize abstractions through the use of comparisons involving the senses. Mastering the use of this tool can bring power, resonance and immediacy to a scene or description in a larger work.

Exercise: Choose a concept, emotion or idea and create or revise a piece of writing that uses concrete comparisons to convey the abstraction. You may choose to use one overarching comparison or a series of related ones to convey your meaning.

Be aware that in a short writing piece, it is best to limit your use of figurative language to a central motif so that your piece is not overwhelmed by a flurry of imagery.

In “The Red Dress,” I choose to convey the limitations agoraphobia imposes on a relationship. Pay attention to the way the concept of space is manipulated as well as the persistent use of bird imagery.

The Red Dress

“It’s all so public, isn’t it? The dancing, the music, the way people touch each other,” Rachel said, her hands waving like a pair of hummingbirds searching for a place to land. They found peace when she reached across the kitchen counter to test the latch on the window above the sink.

Joshua walked very deliberately towards her, careful to not startle her with his movements. Outside of his home, he moved with careless abandon, his body free to lumber along, make noise, swing itself out in wide arcs, and stretch into space as far as he could reach. But in the home he shared with his wife, he contracted inward, careful not to move with even natural suddenness for fear she would relapse and retreat into the fortress of their bedroom again.

“Just this once, Rachel. You’ll like it. I have that striped suit I’ve never worn before,” Joshua answered. “You know, the one I bought for Marianne’s Christmas Party?”

She twitched slightly, a ripple of motion that crawled over the surface of her skin. “So many people. I wonder if I would even remember how to dance? Do you remember that one party boat we took from Manhattan?”

“I do. You could wear the red dress from that night. I’ve always liked that one.”

She moved away, fidgeting with the lock on the door leading to the garden, cocking her head to the side with quick, jerky movements to admire, as she often did, the blooms unfurling beneath the endless blue sky.

“I wouldn’t want to expose my back to the cold,” she answered, shivering as if she’d already put on the dress. He wanted to scream at her, shake her hard and tell her she was safe, that the world was not conspiring to crush her, that neither of them were worth the effort. But she’d never believe him and he’d only feel worse for making her cry. So he trailed behind her as she jimmied locks she’d sealed that morning.

“A shawl, then. Or a bolero jacket. It would keep you warm.”

She slipped her fingers behind the venetian blinds, then turned to stare at him, looking older than fear, older than a woman should ever look. Lines appeared around her eyes, crinkling the smooth skin at the corners of her lips. Her skin morphed into something pallid and sallow, provoking his pity and rage in equal measure.

“I did very much love to dance.”