Tuesday, March 31, 2009
A Scattered Approach
If I'm not writing in bed or at work, I write in the corner of the couch. I aimed for the middle of the the couch a couple
times. It's better for my posture and my feet, and not uncomfortable, but inevitably I'll creep back into a corner, mostly
because I've been pushed there by the stuff I fondly call paper work.
31 mar 09 @ 4:50 pm
It's an ecclectic mix: a t.v. listing, newspaper clippings (unless my current journal is in the mix, then those two quickly
merge), stationary, (I still mostly write paper letters and would go on-and-on how different that is from e-mail, I've met
maybe two people who could write a real letter an email and both of them used to write real letters), envelopes (some belonging
to note cards, mostly not), letters I've been sent, file folders with story notes, note pads, and note books ranging in size
from post-its to three-subjects and several in between. And that's just what's there today. Often it's worse.
The floor is much the same, less scattered -- the loose papers, magazines and a box of letters I've answered are piled in
a laundry basket of folded towels, my lap top on the top (when it's not in my lap). Other clutter includes vacation photos
(I'm waiting until I can afford a photo-sized displayer with a mini keyboard for labeling and on which I can easily flip through
a trip's worth of photos, one displayer for each trip, or a larger size for easy scrap-book-style layouts, before I go digital),
a box of disks (for backing up my reloaded and future files), a project binder, a bag of shreddable trash, a hot pad, and
the computer bag are gathered around my feet.
And so it usually is when I write. It seems to work. It's one with how I write--bounding from one thing to the next. A
letter, a plot line note, a draft for a scene. I've considered whether I would do better another way. I've had to push myself
to finish novels, to pull them together, end, at first by hand printing them for my sister to type (my college papers were
long enough ago that all my essays and reports were typed just so, and thus several of my novels started that far back, with
only one or two short ones typed by a friend and editted with access to a department's first generation Apple-Mac.) I've
gotten better at putting scenes together end-to-end, but I still don't compose that way and wonder with amazement when I hear
that many writers can.
On rare occasion I fill a notebook front-to-back in sequence, bur rarely even that. I'm ever on the quest to stay minimally
organized (on the rarest occasion I'll write a scene for side characters not yet named and had difficulty deciding which story
it was for later). I will work on one story at the front, and another at the back, from back-to-front. Inevitably though,
I 'll think of an idea for something else and do no more than start a new page, wherever I'm at. Note books for home, notebooks
for travel (always smaller), for coat or carry-on, or suit pocket, never successfully a notebook, except a binder for just
So, advice for today, however you do it, in order or on a whim, thoughtfully or as the mood fits, take pen and paper (or computer
and finger or thumbs or stylus) and write it down. Later is never soon enough. Write it down.
Sunday, March 29, 2009
Back to Typing
It's nice to have the computer back. Still haven't figured out what I've lost but have been busy typing notes I wrote when
it was down. Te usual mix of already forgotten scenes (a sign that they at least need lots of work) a few not wwoth the typing,
a couple I feared I had lost, but not so much, until I tackle the next stack.
29 mar 09 @ 10:28 am
I rarely type exactly what i write. Soemtimes it's so different, I'll go back and type it again and get two scenes from the
one, which is why i know some of the stuff i lost will be irrecoverable though i retain the notes. Still, it could be worse.
Reloading the disks of stuff I'd saved, I realized there had been months when I'd backed up nothing. don't do that unless
you print more than i have, or e-mail drafts regularly to a friend. (I send my work to a friend and my Mom, but usually onthe
stuff that's nearly done, a series of chapters or a whole book). I'd go through stacks of disks (those I have now aren't
re-writeable.) I haven't recently tried my zip drive since it proved unable to read the "smaller" zip disks, but
maybe I'll go back to that, at least for between CD backups.
I know it's all already behind the times, but writing for the long term, long term durability and old files matter. If any
of the new technology looks likely to be be forward compatible for multiple years, let me know, especially if it's American
Made. I need multiple years, not months, and the word processing software to handle it.
Thursday, March 26, 2009
The software is currently pretty sucky (but at least there is some; it was missing the first time I brought the computer home
this week) and the bigger hard drive doesn't make anything move faster, but I'm on line and you will find a double-scene post
on the Fantasy Explorations page as well as something new on the Homeworld page. I am slowly catching up on e-mail (the hardest
thing to set up and the slowest to down load, mostly because of huge advertising e-mails).
26 mar 09 @ 8:04 pm
I'd be interested to know if my readers would be interested in smaller, less polished smippets than the scenes of Mattias
I am posting (and will continue to post at double length for a couple of weeks, to catch up to where I hoped to be in the
tale by now). Short peices on the blog to show stages of writing. Probably not enough to reveal much of the story line,
but perhaps enough to tell if the characters and scenes (and alien planets, in some cases) are interesting, to see the changes
in writing from rough to polished, finished scene, that sort of thing.
Not today as it has taken a few hours of checking typos and chatting with earhtlink live tech help to get my e-mail and all
set up, but soon, and sooner if anyone expresses interest. And as always, I always appreciate feedback on Mattias. I've
worked on it a long time and polished many aspects, but I still think it lacks something in the story line and am always willing
to revise if revision might help it get published. Until then, it's just a good draft.
Monday, March 23, 2009
And still not ready
23 mar 09 @ 8:42 am
Though I have hopes of it being waiting for me tonight. Frustration has passed into a quiet acceptance (and indigestion)
and into catching up tasks with occaional new insights into my own writing habits. So, still no Mattias scenes but I
have added a moody essay to the Homeworld page, and I have come up with some different approaches to problematic stories.
Among other things, I have thought of a new character and setting (tirggered by a casual mention in a letter about
an upcoming historical novel society conference and fitting in, and then modified by a later discussion about
the same issue, so that an incomplete idea is joining an old story bit and a collection of characters that made
an intrigueing mix but lacked a setting and impetus to form a setting and scenario and maybe enough of a framework (once
I check my references on pilgrimage triptick maps and historic siege campaigns) to put together a complete
fantasy story in a historic setting.
Right now my concept of the novel includes a faerie with magically bound wings and a romance gone bad, a changeling
scribe-cum-cartographer, several humans starting to look like a Chaucer's collection of pilgrims, and at least one siege campaign
cutting across their sometimes disparate, sometimes shared paths. Somewhere in there I also have a dragon, an arched
through-truss bridge, and the Russian tradition of heart-shaped locks on bridge posts, though I need to do some research
on historical bridge types to be sure of the appropriate structure...
I'm sure I couldn't have come up with that, as a doable mix in a single story line, if I had been doing my normal typing
away on the computer. Typing seems to activate different parts of the mind than that, and not te more creative, link-forming
parts that seem to prefer idleness and waiting.
Friday, March 20, 2009
Wasn't ready yet...
20 mar 09 @ 10:53 am
So I have nothing to set up. If it isn't ready by the end of the day, it won't be ready until next week Monday
at the earliest, so just another blog post today, no story and no essay.
Meanwhile, I've been desk cleaning on the theory that I'll be ready to charge ahead when I'm back on my own computer.
Desk cleaning is always a stressful thing in my experience. Both the historian and the writer in me protest against
the process. The question is always what do you toss? What do you LET GO?
Sometimes it seems to me that every little scrap of paper, post it, and note, is a story in itself, at least the sort
of story to fill my journal pages if not to write as a publishable story or fiction or creative nonfiction. The notes
I don't understand are easy, as are the ones with phone numbers but no names, the unfamiliar names with no context (I write
even when I'm on the phone with the help desk; I'd be a slueth's nightmare with a vast overabundance of random and meaningless
clues). Sometimes, though, a couple of words are enough to trigger a fleet of memories about ideas, discussions, struggles
to get things done, efforts to persuade: all good story material but only if I get it written down in something more coherent
than a couple of words, no matter how meaningful to me at the moment. That means taking time that the messy desk proves
Sometimes I decide to keep the note (I have piles sorted by the size of the paper when all else fails in my efforts to
organize). I might add a few more notes to clarify my current memory for later re-jogging, or jot a couple more words
intended to tell me why I kept the scrap of paper. A few might be combined into a brief (or long) journal entry about
wishes and hopes I've had to leave behind. And sometimes I just hold it out to the shredder and let go.
Wednesday, March 18, 2009
18 mar 09 @ 6:45 am
Today's excuse is that the computer problem continues. The good news is that a hard drive with much more capacity
than I had is relatively cheap. Of course that is like saying that its a good thing I have an indoor job when the weather
is so lovely, because I'm allergic to the happily blooming trees and/or flowers... The bad news is that I lost about
a months worth of writing and I don't know if I backed up things like my e-mail settings so that I can get on line.
I plan on taking off Friday to reset it all up if I get my computer back by then.
Meanwhile, just a blog entry today, drafted while I was on the road (as a passenger, of course). I'm not sure what
made me think of the topic (or if it's new) but here goes:
The real interest of any story is conflict (I know that's not a new idea, but bear with me. Some of this was new
ideas to me, at least). The conflicts might be between goals and reality, protagonists and antagonists, forces of man
or nature against the central character(s) or against each other, or internal to the hero or heroine. By nature, writers,
like other people, like things to align in the end, to come out nice, to develop agreement, but for the story, alignment is
the end of the conflict and the end of theintersting part of the story. So the writer's job is to create the conflict
more than to resolve it, in conflit with out own nature.
To get past it and find the conflict worth focusing on, and to portray those conflicts in a way that will help the reader
understand and appreciate them and the characters working their way through them, I've tried many techniques.
One that works to strengthen conflict in dialog is to find issues that I myself am undecided on and have the characters argue
the opposing sides with stobborn resolution, at least until I see that one character or the other might be persuaded, either
reasonably or by some trick of phrasing or personal connection to one of the elements. They may trade sides in the end,
or side step the issue along the way. They may argue the point logically or emotionally or duke it out. So long
as I keep the argument true to the character and pertinent to the story, the scene or scenes will be interesting and potentially
education both to write and to read. Even if the issue is not quite pertinent to the story, I can find a related or
similar issue (personal or social, ethical or physical, plan or understanding of the past) that is core to the story
and follow the same course of argument, the same kinds of phrases, even a global replace of certain subject matter elements
to change an arguement about economic policy to one about knightly land rights or a fist fight to a magical
One of the ones I've tried more recently with some success is to write a scene as one of the characters would like to
have it go. Then write the same scene again, this time asserting the opposing character's personality traits
and preferences, or interrupt the scene with the arrival of other characters and events to see how differently the
scene would flow. This is especially helpful when I'm not sure which way the story should go (preferably away from the
end point, especially if it is early in the story).
This technique also helps to get to a desired end point (at least for the scene) while making sure that that desired
end point is realistic; that is, natural and believable for my characters as I have designed them. By letting the characters
and their nature decide the course instead of forcing the story line on them, I can see how far off they might steer from
my intended destination, and adjust the scene accordingly, by bringing in other forces of conflict that lean toward the course
I want to be taken. If is is early in the character development, I might give one character a stronger trait or a bit
of background experience that changes their reaction. If one character seems to have too good of a position, too inclined
to win easily (almost as bad as having no conflict), I might align more forces against him though changes in setting or timing,
or by adding alies to the other side to make the outcome less certain and even push it the other direction.
It's also a good chance to test my vision of the characters. If I'm not certain what they would do in a change
of circumstances, then I need to strengthen their nature and quirks, and give them a more eventful history to guide their
course and define their fate for myself as well as for the reader.
Saturday, March 14, 2009
14 mar 09 @ 11:10 am
I'm borrowing another computer today to post a blog note and a new herb essayon Homeworld but no stroy section yet, sorry
for those waiting to read more about Mattias.
One of the useful things about the difficulties is taht it has made me more aware of what I am doing (and not) with
the blogging and how it impacts my daily activities. Blogging has definately encouraged discipline, and the loss of
mycomputer files has actually prodded along some of my writing activities by prodding me into wrting new things not already
drafted on my computer. Much of my creative nonfiction (aside from journaling, which is all on paper)has been for classes,
not because of the classes themselves so much as because the sense of deadline, timeing, and perhaps the encouragement of
interacting with other writers encouraged me to do something with ideas I've merely toyed with between classes.
Not all of the creative nonfiction has been for those classes, and certainly it's never about the classes themselves,
but the classes help guide the effort and sometimes even helped set the mood because many who write creative nonfiction are
dealing with stresses and disasters and other deep problems in their lives and discuss those things in the process of discussing
their writing. Creative non-fiction is all about the mood, and I've found than melancholy is a good mood for the kinds
of essays I like to write: happy but not fully into the moment; a passive observer of thought-stirring events in other people's
lives and experiences; sympathy and gentle relief that I have not suffered such traumas or sorrows. That passive, small
distance from the immediacy of the moment allows me to write, to capture some aspact of the mood and its causes to jog memory
for later composition into an essay that I hope has meat and interest.
Not that all my essays are melancholy in the end. Sometimes the mood is lighter and comes across as humorous (I
hope), and other times just thoughtful (and I hope the research aspect of some of the imformative pieces does not come across
as too factual and cool). Whatever the result, what makes me laugh is when readers tell me I've captured the event,
the mood, "wrong". How can it be wrong when it captures what I myself felt, what I saw and experienced through whatever
mood lens I was wearing in that moment? It was my experience to capture.
Still, I know what they mean. What I captured failed to align with what they experienced or remembered from some
experience of their own, even if it was the same shared event, the same moment in time. Each of us experiences it differently.
Ultimately, that is the true challenge of the writer, to find a mood and experience that sufficiently aligns with the readers
understanding and experience and write it out in a way that the reader can understand and share through memory, or that sufficiently
relates yet offers something different that the reader can follow the writer to a new perception, a new understanding--all
through the words, style, tone of the presentation--that is different from what they experienced for themselves yet no less
meaningful for that.
Maybe because of the concrete reality of it, the interposing of subjective mood, not on some made up appropriate scene
but on a nonfictional truth, I find taht creative nonfiction, especially but not only the informative pieces like my herb-with-personality
essays, takes a more deliberate step than writing fiction. Of course the nonfiction involves some research, which is
part of the deliberateness of it--I know the nature of the herbs from experience, but not necesassarily their history and
other uses--but it more than that. Facts have a certain logic and an endless stream of real and potential associations
in the readers mind and our own that must bo followed. In fiction, the writers job is to create, define, and build
that nature for each character, each setting, each scene, unique and controlled, the product of a makers hand, and not our
own being, and so create a mood that we may never have experienced outside that writing. Real moods have their own patter,
their own tempo, flow, and beat, and to write otherwise than the mood calls for is counter to our own nature.
Monday, March 9, 2009
Due to technical diffficulties...
9 mar 09 @ 12:40 pm
(I.e., my computer crashed despite the new battery). I was able to write the Saturday blog but the crash
prevented me from finishing the story and essay updates and I was only able to post the Saturday blog today by borrowing the
computer I'm on now. So, I'll try to post more material later this week but will probably have to hand type in everything
until next week, by which time I'l either have a fixed computer or a new one. (If new, some set up will be required
including reloading backed up files, and figuring out what I've lost, so please be patient!)
Save and backup, save
and backup, and print now and again just in case. Even the best computers eventual crash!
Saturday, March 7, 2009
I'm back from my travels
Sorry about the short delay. i was going to do it last night but was dealing with getting a new computer battery instead
and had a few corrupted files to deal with, probably a side effect of the dying battery. I have a stack of paper files I'm
going to have to go through, too, to discover what has been lost from one of my novels. Fortunately not one I have been working
on much this past month, which is the last time i backed up my files.
7 mar 09 @ 11:19 am
The trip was interesting if tiring. My confort in hotel beds is always pot luck and this one wasn't sleep enducing though
in writing instead of sleeping, I was able to fix a troublesome scene through several attempts at different approaches. The
third one was the charm and I have turned an awkward seduction into a seductive dance.
That, and the tiresome work aspects of my trip made me think about informal and formal approaches to writing and I realized
that, in the end, I usually need both. In the early stages, informal approaches always win. i write as fits my mood. I
capture ideas as dialog or narrative or lists and notes, sometimes somthing that could almost be considered an outline but
unstructured and changing structure as I go if I get a broader scope view on how the story line should go (I often have something
of a story line in mind when i start but usually not whole, and when it is fairly whole i am usually unsatisfied with it later
and it gets drastically changed anyway). Mostly, though, it's scenes and images and settings and characters interacting or
thinking or experiencing some setting, and rarely all at once in that first draft or three.
Eventually, though, a little structured thought has to take place, usually in the proces of pulling the disparate partial
scenes together into full scenes and a novel. The story line needs to be polished in list, chart, or outline (on paper, compuer,
or in mind matters less) in order to decide which scenes contribute, which do not, or often in my case, which scenes more
properly belong to the next book or a prequil, backflash or memory) rather than the current story line.
Eventually, I find I must go through scene-by scene to pull the several versions together, to find where I have little but
a paragraph or image, and to make sure that each and every scene has at least the minimum components of furthering the story
(change, however subtle), clarity for the reader (who can't read my mind to see my mental image), and preferably also action,
character, mood, and setting, all the usually things that help make the first two components clear to the reader. usually
the dialog (as an action) will come from one version of my notes, the setting from another, and more physical action, jestures
to convey mood that the dialog may not, and other keys to the full spectrum of the scene may come from many sources. some
though, and the pulling together often only come when I do this formal revision and scene analysis, because that's when I
stop writing for myself (I already have the picture in mind) and translate my knowledge and concept for the non-telepathic
Sunday, March 1, 2009
My computer is alive and well but there will likely be another gap next week unless I can figure out how to use this thing
remotely (and today if my fingers won't cooperate better with typing! I've fixed a dozen typos already and that's worse than
usual, even for me!
1 mar 09 @ 4:06 pm
Preparing today's Homeworld post (I always to a review even if I don't have to reformat much to get it on line), I was reminded
about nature writing. Not much as a genre goes but it appears in lots of genre's, like historical fiction does. It is a
common element of fantasy novels. Just consider the first few scenes of Legend: the pollen, flowers, bees of the lover's
romp in the meadow, the unicorns in their swampy glade, the waterfall freezing when the evildoers shot the unicorn. Even
science fiction has natural scenes as well as high tech ones, like the Endor moon of Starwars, shot in old-growth forest (so
rare, now, that, like some other remote, untouched wildernesses, it makes a believably alien landscape).
I considered going to a writer's convention based around nature writing. My own fantasy writings have many natural places
(or magical places with an underlying basis in natural places like boreal forests, cold water swamps, prairies and mountain
passes. Though they are set in unreal places, I try to get the natural elements right, just shy of being an obvious plea
to let such places continue to exist so that my readers, if I'm ever published, can experience them.
Mattias is all about natural places, if unnatural magical beasts. Kakla and Mountain Man were wandering a mountain side with
its rapidly changing ecologies. The bloodwood trees are not quite the great redwoods (I don't think the remnants of a chopped
redwood would be visible a thousand years later to be seen as fairy rings and a new tree is likley to quickly take its place
even if it takes several hundred years to replace the parent tree's girth.) Later scenes include river valley's and prairies
and evergreen forests, so far built to varying degrees of detail. I try to get the details right, but the story rules and
the details of the setting may be light unless they help set the mood and conditions that affect events.
More often, nature writing (mine and other people's) is about nature itself, it's interactive elements, its character, its
impact on the people who reside in it and less about the people itself. In standard fiction and nonfiction, that generally
stands out clearly, as if it had a "nature writing here" banner: the story is about the people or about nature or
about their direct interaction (which is almost like being about nature). It is easily overdone and can come across as preachy
if incorporated information and lessons are not well done. Even if it is well done, it's not for everyone. Perhaps only
in fantasy and science fiction can nature (real or imaginary or a mix of both) be one of the characters, equal with the people/animal
characters, telling its own stories just as the other characters tell about themselves, and the readers taking in it stride
as part of the core genre. It gives SFF writers a powerful tool that may reside in no other hands.