Dry Spells — Writing and Weather

Our spring warm-and-frosts killed off our state’s fruit tree blossoms. This summer has been  H-O-T and D-R-Y. The drought has nearly done in the corn, but for your tofu lovers, the heat has helped the soybean crop.

During one of my more philosophical moments last week, and after hearing complaints from people in my critique group about going through dry writing spells lately, and being fully aware of the unusual weather this summer, I started wondering how much our own psyche and writing is related to weather. I know that moon-cycles and tides have a physical effect on people’s emotions and behavior (ask people working in E.R.s or law enforcement). As a former teacher, I could tell you exactly when a storm was coming in by the squirrely antics of my students the day before, as the barometer jumped along with the kids.

Embrace your dry periods as a natural cycle of life of which you are a part. (Cue in Lion King’s “Circle of Life” song in background as you continue reading this post.) It’s okay to ignore that “Write every day” creed and trudge through a dry period. I give you permission. And now you can even blame the brain-suck on the weather! (Or on me.) Just don’t ignore your writing forever. Sadly, I’ve known some really excellent writers who have done just that.

I figured since I can’t think this summer, I should invest what little energy I have into physical projects. A few years ago, I took the wallpaper off the kitchen sopet near the ceiling. The wall was hard and smooth beneath, and although awkward to get to, the paper came off and the paint spread on rather fast and slick. So last week when I removed the wallpaper from the main walls of our kitchen, I discovered three different types of walling beneath the paper. As ugly as the wallpaper was, it covered a lot of uglier wall. So now, I no longer feel I have a blank pallet to work with and a fast house project to complete. Before me lies a time-consuming challenge. After staring at my ugly kitchen, writing suddenly seems extremely appealing. Hallelujah! I’m inspired to write again. Rats. I know it’s just my attempt to procrastinate the uglies. There’s nothing like needier projects (or visiting relatives) to sling you right back into the writing mood.

Embrace your dry times. Do something non-writing. And never give up.

The Character Traits of Weather

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We can talk about the weather, but we can’t change it. (Good ole Ben Franklin)

We authors can describe weather and the impact it may have on our heroes or heroines. The ancients used to name various weather or sea gods, giving them character traits and often names. I’d like to suggest changing the author’s thought process and think about weather as one of your characters.

What comes to mind when you think of stormy weather? Perhaps an angry or jealous character? Or Baby Paul Bunyan throwing a tantrum? Sunshine is the restful scene (unless it’s strikingly hot). A gentle rain, a hail storm, four minutes of straightline winds, the dampness of morning fog… We writers don’t need to be pagans or even ancient to embrace weather traits as character traits.

Writing challenge: Describe the weather outside right now, using words you might give to her (or him) as a character in your novel.

March 5 Story Beginnings — A Challenge

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Periodically, my critique group and I do workshops together. We choose a book. We read it. Or one in our midst is knowledgable in one area, she will lead the workshop. We discuss the topic. We give each other assignments. We apply it to our own mss.

This week we are taking a break from our submissions schedule to continue our discussion on story beginnings from last month. We each read the book HOOKED: WRITE FICTION THAT GRABS READERS AT PAGE ONE AND NEVER LETS THEM GO, by Les Edgerton.

His idea is to make sure in the first scene that there is an Inciting Incident (something which upsets the MC’s norm), along with a Surface Problem (a bad situation for your MC), and a Story-Worthy Problem (a goal which changes the MC’s world).

So our challenge this week, and I offer the same to you, is to:
1) finish reading the book, HOOKED;
2) find example beginnings from published books, naming the Inciting Incident, the Surface Problem, and the Story-Worthy Problem; and
3) do the same as #2, but with our own novels.

Keep on growing in your craft!

Villians and other Scaries

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Thinking of writing about bad guys, I started wondering what makes them so bad. One thing which comes to mind is that there is something socially unacceptable about him, something which makes her stand out in a crowd, something not quite “normal.” Another thing is the element of surprise, as in, he seemed so regular, or you thought she was your friend, a person just like you, until… Most importantly (HUGE flares go up for winning the top villain reason), there’s conflict. And conflict gives birth to emotion. A story without conflict will put you to sleep. Life without conflict is boring — although those of us with plenty of conflict in our lives fantasize how lovely it would be without any.

Writing challenge: Name your top three real-life villains. Or think of just one.

Two stipulations: 1) They have to be real people and 2) You have to personally have had contact with him/her; so it can’t be a Satan incarnate taking over the world type.

Name not the person, but why they rank so high on your list of despicables.

10,000 Lives

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Life is so fascinating. If I lived 10,000 lifetimes, I couldn’t do, learn, see, say, taste, or meet all I would love to. I’m neither Hindu nor Buddhist. Even if I were, I wouldn’t remember my previous lives, so being one doesn’t even count for more than one life. We only have one life to live. Maybe I should write a soap opera show with this brilliant title. Oh. Right.

I attended a symposium this past weekend. A Navajo workshop speaker shared how, growing up off reservation and also being college educated, he wanted to live on reservation to know how it felt, including not knowing from day to day from where food or money would come. He told how he made a three-year commitment, he would survive like his people did during that time period, or else up to the point where he would have to declare bankruptcy.

Screech, went the tires of my thought-car. How is that the same? He always had an out. Always. Unlike those who live their entire lives on reservation. And then I crashed right into my own lifetime as a writer.

What gives me the right to write about cattle round-ups (I’ve only been on two), or wildfires (I do recall the heart-racing “will we survive hiking off this mountain” and other times “will our house burn”)? What gives me the right to write about life in a small Lake Michigan town in 1873, when I don’t even live in that town, let alone not in that time? And what gives me the right to write about unicorns when I’ve only met one… Oh. Right.

I may not really have 10,000 lifetimes to live, but there are millions more than that to read about. (Yea, books!) And there are millions of stories scrambling to escape from my head. (Yea, writers!) In this one life to live today, read some, write some, talk with strangers and with friends, do something out of the ordinary, and come live 10,000 lifetimes with me.

Full Moon Hike, Report

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It wasn’t a snipe hunt after all.

When I first arrived, a mere ten minutes early, there were eight ladies who’d gotten there before me — all in their 70′s, all birders. I wondered, not for the first time in my life, what I’d gotten myself into, and kept watching the parking lot for my friend to come join me in my awkwardness. About 75 people came to the night hike, with my friend being one of the last to arrive because she thought it was located someplace else with a similar name v.s. a couple of blocks from her house. Still, she came in time for the start of the hike, and I was very glad to share the adventure with a friend. Families with small children also came. I think I unintentionally impressed my friend with my star and sky knowledge, mostly from teaching kids and family campingtimes, even though I feel I know so little myself and constantly want to learn more. For instance, I know that you can see all Seven Sisters if you have 20-20 vision. These days, I can only see four of them clearly with the rest pleasant blurs. And I know the distinction between jets, satellites, and the International Space Station. We saw some of the former two soaring overhead.

We hiked silently, and without flashlights, through the woods and along a lake where we heard (but couldn’t see) trumpeter swans and Canadian geese. It was interesting to see in the dark woods even before moonrise lit the night. I also found that a lot of my senses went foot-ward as the terrain changed from pavement to leaves and tree roots, to pavement again, and then to flattened tall grass and crunchy patches of old snow. At first I didn’t trust myself and watched my footing, but there were so many interesting things to be watching at night, in the woods, that it didn’t take long after our start for me to not to bother looking groundward.

We star-gazed out in the meadow, with two telescopes, and identified constellations and planets. I learned about really cool star apps of which got my little ole heart a-racing. When the moon glowed over the horizon, we discussed her for a bit, and then as the stars gave way to moon’s light, we headed back to the entrance along a paved road.

Would I do this again? You betcha! Only next time, I’ll bring even more friends, and be more prepared with more star knowledge and a constellation-reading app. Very cool.

Full Moon Hike

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I’m going on a Full Moon Hike tonight, sponsored by the Kellogg Bird Sanctuary. Although I know nothing more about this than the words “hike” and “night,” I can hardly wait until dark.

I figure I must be half-cat since I mostly prefer natural light to, say, flashlights. When an electrical light is on out of doors, my eyes adjust only to that one small area where the light shines. How creepy is that? What lies beyond that lit circle? If I were a cartoonist, there would probably be lots of eyes watching me. I prefer my eyes adjusted to the darkness, where I can see shadows moving and identify shapes.

Yet, we are talking full moon here. I have been around on full moon nights before, sometimes the light is so bright I can read by it. Unfortunately, there’s not much snow on the ground right now, so we won’t get that tripled-brightness which a full moon on white snow gives. Still, it will be enough light for bumbling humans to trampse around in.

Maybe I’ll slip away from the group… after dropping a hint here and there about snipes and snipehunts. I’ll trail behind behind the ones who depend on flashlights to light their way… and then take a silent shortcut through the woods… and then…

Wait one minute. Am I creating a story scene here, or remembering snipe hunts of my past, or what they might have been like?

One of the coolest things about writing fiction is that you can play the “what if” game, and it doesn’t even have to stay in your head. You can get it onto paper (or flashdrive or iphone). Plus, you constantly have conversations with people who don’t even exist. In the normal world, this would be a crazy person posting such thoughts. But in the writing world, this IS normal.

Never let go of your imaginative ways.

Learn Something New – Research and Experimentation

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I remember a speaker at a writer’s conference, mucho years ago, telling us not to limit ourselves to one genre of speaker. If we write science fiction, go sit in on a workshop given by a romance writer. If we are an adult mystery writer, listen to an author of young adult literature. I found her advice very interesting. I also read outside my box (genre), sometimes randomly picking books from the library shelf or eShop. I have researched poisonous snakes of Brazil, and toilets of the middle ages, and land-locked U.S. Navy bases which GPS their trees. We have moved enough for me to have learned and several experienced different cultures and humor in many states, including internationals.

While I was working as a long-term substitute teaching the other year, I found myself at a school where white boards (don’t even mention black boards) were obsolete, and everything was taught via computer and workbook page projection through ceiling attachment. I had a lot to learn at that school, not about student behavior, nor about subject matter, nor about teaching in general from years of past experience, but about communication and presentation to the students. In fact, for the first several weeks teaching there, I wasn’t informed of meetings or even school-wide assemblies because my email wasn’t part of their daily staff system.

On the first second day, I asked my next-door teacher and grade team leader (in her third year of teaching) how to use the classroom equipment. She told me to ask the teacher across the hallway (in her second year of teaching) who was the equipment expert. I was substituting for a maternity leave teacher after six months of teaching. The equipment expert across the hall told me she just played around with it until it did what she wanted. I asked her more specific questions, which she couldn’t answer. I asked her to show me. When she came to my room, the expert informed me my equipment wasn’t the same as hers, and left. I went back to the team leader and asked for a manual. The team leader said she didn’t know of any, then informed me that it was good for old people to learn new things, that it kept them alert with new streams flowing in their brains. I really wish that slapping were still a viable means of communication, put that is so passe. Instead, I just stood facing her with my mouth opened, trying not to drool – like old folks do – then went back to my classroom and figured it out on my own.

Well, I’m off now to research different forms of nuclear energy and waste for a book I’m revising. I also feel the need to find out more about rose-breasted grosbeaks who have visited our yard this past week for the first time ever. (Merely curious.) Later, I’ll mow our lawn with our new manual push lawn mower – a very, very, very cool green machine – which I assembled the other day, before going for a run, showering, and singing and playing guitar at a health care facility.

Learn new things. Experience new places. Meet and talk with people unlike yourself. File away encounters for future references. And KEEP ON WRITING.

How Much Social Networking?

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Admittedly, I’ve been too busy lately to keep up with others’ blogs. I struggle just with planning out my AAA — Aggressive April Attack  with daily humor posts & writing daily poems & revising a novel). I’ve resorted to turning Darcy’s Fiction Notes into a weekly message since I was not getting around to reading so many of her posts. As much as I bow down to Darcy’s wisdom and writing advise, lately, I don’t even read those grouped posts. Today, I read a couple of her most recent ones — one was on social networking. She said to start small. Here were some of her suggestions of setting small goals: Make a goal of 10 comments a day. (Or do similarly on Facebook, posting daily and liking 10 things daily. Or new video daily and 10 comments on others. Or Tweet once a day and message 10 others.)
 

So… I didn’t comment or read anything more. It was just too daunting for this writer. Maybe I’m just unique that it takes me L.O.N.G. to write out even the simplest response (like this), because it gets me thinking, because it stirs a response, because I want to word my response well. You see, I’d rather spend more of my valuable writing time actually writing or researching or revising or submitting than responding to posts. Sure, doing what Darcy says gets your name noticed, published or not, and I love her gumption and challenges, and marketing (getting your name out there) is definitely a related topic. Responding to her post here on my blog has taken writing thought time. Off to write a poem and revise some more.

 

March’s Challege Results

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At the beginning of March, I sent out a personal challenge (and included any others to join me) of writing 20,000 raw words (new words) during the month. How did you all do? Sadly, I didn’t reach my goal. I only made about 1/3 of the way through. If only an editor or agent were on my back pushing me… NO EXCUSES! I didn’t meet my goal. Too bad. Those are 4,000 words I didn’t have before, plus I have a full day ahead of me to write more. (If only the sun would stop shining so I wouldn’t be tempted to go outside and do some yard work.)

Tomorrow’s a new month. I’ll have a new writing challenge to set before you to get those creative juices flowing. For me, it will be a scary challenge. Oh, this challenge is on top of my revision of an entire novel during April. Hello, Spring!