Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Sirens Aren’t Only For Emergencies

Whether you’re a blogger or novelist or merely jot down letters that go to Aunt Tilly, you’re answering a call of some kind. People listen with heads, hearts, and ears. The only thing that differs from one time to the next is what they’re listening to.
And if a writer listens hard enough, she might just come to special territories yet uncharted.
When I got serious about writing a few years ago, I thought I’d stick to one genre and deviate only by age group. Children’s writing allowed for that choice. Along the way to seriousness I discovered many things.
After working on short stories for children, ages second grade and younger, I realized that I don’t have the knack of writing for very young children. I like those stories and books written for the age bracket. It hurt to learn that writing for that age wasn’t my long suit. I can’t think in the same vein they do. I’m much better creating stories for older children.
Along the way, too, I learned that I liked working in non-fiction more than fiction, which scared me silly. There are many exciting ideas out there in the real world that could excite a child. I wanted to be one of those who excited and entertained them with such stories. At the time I had a marvelous editor, who had faith in me and told me that my strength was non-fiction.
Why is it that other writers recognize our strengths long before we can?
In addition to that, I began writing for adults, both non-fiction and fiction. Poetry came into the mix, as well. I was one of THOSE writers; I found true pleasure only when writing in multiple genres for many audiences at the same time.
Enter the Dabbler
My nemesis had returned. I was a true dabbler, with fingers and toes in mud pies everywhere, never satisfied any other way. I should have known. I’d dabbled in hundreds of things during my life. As soon as I mastered them, I was off and running toward something new and different.
Was my nomadic lifestyle trait going to take over every aspect of my life? It seemed so. Knowing my past, I could attempt a prediction of my future in writing.  I studied and wrote for children and young adults when I began. I moved on to study more and to write for other writers. I segued into poetry only to find a different type of joy and expression. From there, I jumped over to the journalistic side of the house with local interest pieces and travel.
What Now?
Now the most serious work begins. I can finish my journalistic studies and move onto my first book in that arena. While I work on that with my sister and photographer partner, I can split the rest of my time with work on poetry projects, plotting and preliminary work on a women’s novel. When time allows, I’ll dabble in two different fantasy worlds for YA. Odd moments will find me working on articles and short stories for magazines and Yahoo.
A couple of years may pass before I get all of those projects done. I’ve learned a few things from NaNoWriMo, though. Plotting doesn’t take forever any more, since I learned how to plot from a few experts.
Besides, every writer knows that the initial writing doesn’t have to take years for a book today. It’s the rewrites, tweaking, querying, grabbing an agent’s attention and contract, and then marketing it to publishers and readers. That’s where the time lays waiting. Unless, of course, you’re building major universes to live in like some of the greats have done.
I’m also realistic enough to know that some of those projects will fall by the wayside. I’m doubly blessed in that I have terrific writer friends who will give me a good swift boot where it counts if I don’t do the best job I can on any project. They’ll hold my hand when my characters turn traitor and abandon me in the midst of a crisis. Laughter will take me by surprise when I’m most in need of it.
A writer’s circumstances ebb and flow with the Moon’s cycles as do the tides. Procrastination wars with frantic productivity and creative exuberance. I’ve climbed into my baby writer’s rowboat and placed my hands on the oars. My only decision of the moment concerns which port-o-call holds the greatest allure. Muse sirens call to me.
I cast my glance toward a distant shoreline named Journey and begin with the first stroke. I have heard that the destination isn’t as important as steps taken to get there. Each stroke of the oars will move me ever closer, but what will each stroke reveal along the way? That’s a question that can only be answered as they happen.
Until we meet here again,

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Weekly Wrap-Up

The last few days have been lazy ones for me—totally unrelated to writing, or socializing, for that matter. It had nothing to do with desire for solitude or lack of ideas. Rather, it had to do with chaos and instability of direction for those days.
Sounds gloomy, doesn’t it? It wasn’t. Instead, the hours have been used for reading and contemplation. I studied part of the time, both books on writing and those for pleasure. Of those for pleasure I managed to use those for study as well. I studied what it was about those particular writers and their stories which kept my attention and how the story’s construction was done.
I must admit that I can only do the latter type of study on books that I know really well. If I like a new story, my only attention is on the story itself, not on its construction. The only thing that will stop my eyes from their scanning is a typo or awkward sentence, etc.
I’m also readying to get a card for the local library. I'm staying with cousins in a small town, you see. They have a credible library that has a wonderful children’s section. I spent a couple of hours in that section just the other day. Soon I’ll go in, present my IDs and get my very own card to the local book lender.
I’ve been collecting library cards for many years now. I have several. I’ve always considered the possession of a library card to be the official citizenship ID. It may not stand up in the legal system, but without it, a prospective book borrower is doomed to failure.
I may only be here for another month or so, but I will have access to resources that I can’t carry around in the car with us. That’s a real plus. Besides, I like the smell of libraries.
Clouds and rain showers kept photo ops to a minimum these last few days. Jo did get to shoot a wedding last weekend, which was a bonus for her. She got to be in the wedding and shoot part of it. She had a great time doing that.
We did take the opportunity to go down to Honor Heights Park in Muskogee one day. That park celebrates the entire month of April each year with their Azalea Festival. Several years ago severe ice storms early in the year decimated the park and its largest shrub and tree specimens. Those in charge have replanted since and the park fairly bristled with visitors the day we spent time there.
Resident ducks and geese favored those making free with goodie bags with their attention. Quacks and honks kept the air filled with sound. Children ran and played while parents looked on. Other families gathered for picnics at tables dotting the grounds.
Early summer has come to Oklahoma. It was 78 deg. here today and in the mid-90s in OK’s far SW corner. Tomorrow we’re supposed to be in the low 80s here and warmer south of us. Everyone else’s mild spring is the beginning of summer here. It’s the same nearly every year.
That’s the local report from NE Oklahoma. I have done little writing, though there’s been plenty of planning. The next week may prove very productive. I hope so.
Here’s hoping your week has been to your liking, everyone. Take care, study hard, and have fun.
Until later,

Monday, March 7, 2011

Diving for Answers

Like most writers I know, time and its use hold importance to me. Life’s circumstances dictate time’s use and my mental athlete runs the race around the clock. Whether that race is designed for rats or not is irrelevant.
Decades ago, Frank Herbert, the brilliant creator of other worlds, made a statement that still rings true. “I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when my fear is gone I will turn and face fear's path, and only I will remain.” Paul Atreides, the MC Herbert’s masterpiece, “Dune,” said it well.
Symptoms of Fear
That niggling flutter in the pit of your stomach signals fear’s presence. That quaver in a voice tells more than spoken words. Sleeplessness caused by tension-filled muscle tissue disrupts therapeutic slumber.
Sound familiar? Some form of the question “What am I so afraid of?” falls from your lips. Your mind may or may not have the answer at that moment. The question mark hangs, dangling like a hangman’s noose, waiting to strangle your forward momentum.
Our lives are bombarded with images to instill fear. We carry around cell phones just in case something happens that necessitates our immediate attention. Some people panic at the thought of not having their phones or iPads with them.
A writer’s fears are no different, except when it comes to their work. A ditch digger doesn’t worry whether his skills are good enough to get the job. The guy at the newsstand doesn’t spend time wondering if he’s up to doing his job. Most people get along each day knowing that they’re doing their best.
It’s not always that easy for writers.
What’s the worst that could happen?
For writers like me who have yet to hit the “big time,” the noose labeled fear is a constant companion to some degree. Once I’ve asked myself that aforementioned question, I must identify the immediate fear culprit. Dealing with intimidating fear requires personal honesty.
If the fear focuses on querying a market about a story, etc., I ask, “What is the worst that can happen?” If I’m honest with myself, I say, “They could reject it.”
The answer to most questions is “Yes” or “No.” It’s that simple. In this case, the real question I’m asking myself is “Is this story good enough to get accepted by this market?” Remember, the underlying fear centered on the query and the market.
Once the “good enough” question gets an answer, another question pops up. “Am I a good enough writer to have this piece accepted?” Anything less than an immediate affirmative reply reveals the real question.
Fear tends to pool deep within. Again, I come to the “Yes” or “No” portion of the exercise. The answer to this next question takes pondering because it’s asking about belief in one’s self. The final question asks, “Will I ever be any good at this or should I quit now?”
I know a lot of writers and I’ve never heard any of them say that this last question hasn’t crossed their minds. At the end of the day we all wonder if we’re good enough at something specific; writing, drawing, competitive riding, advertising, making a paycheck, etc.
Finding the value in an answer
We ask ourselves if the activity is worth it and the time spent on it. If we’ve been honest with ourselves along the way, we can answer the question about “Worth” and being good enough.
All it takes is personal honesty. I work hard at writing. I enjoy the process of putting words together to create meaningful image. If an editor rejects my story idea, at least one person has read it. I can always try to place the story again. One person’s rejection of one idea means little in the writing world. Ask Stephen King or any other renowned writer about rejection. Writers like Jane Yolen actually post their rejection experiences.
Whether the fear focuses on writing activity or studying for the next test in school, it always takes a toll. It prevents forward movement in our lives. It sidetracks our faith in our own abilities or interests. It destroys relationships with others. And it does all that with our blessing when we don’t confront it and ask the real questions behind it.
Like all things reaching out from the unknown behind that creaky door on the movie screen, fear demands our attention. The more attention we give it, the more we miss, away from that focal point.
Paul Atreides may be a character fulfilling his fated destiny, but the writer behind the character knew a great truth and shared it with everyone. “I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when my fear is gone I will turn and face fear's path, and only I will remain.”
Once we understand what has been driving our hesitation, we can get behind the wheel and drive ourselves. That’s a gift we can give ourselves each day for the rest of our lives. That gift is also part of our "worth."
I wonder how many don’t realize that they’ve only been a backseat driver in their own vehicle all these years. I know it took most of my life to finally understand.
Here’s hoping I’ve sparked a bit of self-discovery or discussion among those who come to my table.
Until later, take care, all, and God bless.