Saturday, February 27, 2010

Journal Writing

I started keeping a journal in 1976. It was one of the suggestions made by the instructor of the writing course I was taking. The idea was that it got one into a habit of regular writing.

Over 34 years, you can imagine how many journals I've filled. I don't profess to write in the journal every day. Sometimes whole weeks go by, especially when my creative writing is zipping along. But if something significant happens in my life, both private and professional, I write it down.

Over the years I've found journal writing helps to focus me. Too often my brain seems to run in every direction -- things to do, deadlines to meet, talks to prepare, commitments to home and family. But taking a few minutes to write about what I'm feeling, how I'm coping (or not) slows me down. I close my journal, promising myself to do one thing at a time, and to do it mindfully.

I enjoy looking back at my journal to see what was happening last year on this date. Or 20 years ago. It has even served to settle the odd argument!

Just for fun, here's what I wrote on this day in 2005. (I was still working at that time.)

Monday. The one day in the week when I get to stay home. Ideally, it would be the day I spend 8 hours, writing. In fact, I write between laundry loads and trips from room to room with the vacuum cleaner.

There's a winter storm watch in effect. We could get more than 15 cms. of snow tonight and tomorrow. Sometimes these watches are overblown. With temperatures just below freezing, it may not be too bad. I only hope none of this happens two weeks from now -- when we are en route to Myrtle Beach. That trip this time of year has always frightened me.

We enjoyed having Z. (our 5-year-old granddaughter) with us overnight Saturday. Yesterday, we drove to Barcovan Beach to see the swans. There were dozens of them, and we were all thrilled when they swam right up to see us.

Z. had a full agenda of what she wanted to do when she was here: play a game with Grandpa, make a craft with Grandma, help with the cooking, watch her movie, have a bedtime story, and go to church( a special joy for me). She's such a happy little girl, well-behaved and polite, but not in the least timid. It's wonderful how much confidence she has.

Write on!

Sunday, February 21, 2010

"Cross Creek," the movie

I love movies where the main character is a writer, especially one that has to struggle for success.

Last night I watched Cross Creek, a movie I'd seen before (it was made in 1983), but one that has stayed with me because of the main character's determination to become a writer.

In 1928, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings left her husband and New York state for a piece of real estate she'd never seen -- a rundown house with an orange grove in the bayou country of central Florida. She wanted to write a Gothic novel, a genre that was very popular at the time. She planned to work at it for a minimum of eight hours a day. Although ready a freelance writer, she had never been able to publish any of her short stories.

In Cross Creek, in spite of holes in the roof, mosquitoes, and her neighbour's marauding hogs, Marjorie sat at her typewriter till she finished that Gothic novel.
When the novel was rejected, it took a while for her to get over her disappointment. Can you relate?

Eventually, she took her editor's advice and began to write about what she was familiar with, to tell the stories of the simple, honest people of Cross Creek, of the wonders of the natural world around her. With renewed determination, she went back to work and found herself so engrossed that she was writing twelve to fourteen hours a day. It's interesting to note that Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, this Pulitzer Prize winning novelist, said that for her writing was agony.

I found the movie, Cross Creek, very inspiring. Surely, I should be able to shut out all the daily distractions and get to work.

Marjorie Kinnan Rawling's Cracker-style house, her orange grove and vegetable gardens are today open to the public. We plan to visit Cross Creek when we go to Florida later this spring. I'm sure that historic place will feed my writer's soul. I can't wait!

Till next time.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Time to Print

I wonder if there's anyone out there who writes his/her entire novel on the computer?

I've reached the stage with my latest manuscript where I know I must print myself a copy. It's only about 29,000 words, and there is much more work to be done on it. But, for me, it's time.

I realize that this shows my age, but sometimes it bothers me that my novel is stored inside a computer, where I can't even see it unless I turn on a machine. I'm at the mercy of the hydro company whether or not I'm going to work on it!

Okay, that may be a bit of a stretch. The truth is I want to be able to hold the pages in my hand as I read. I want to spread those 100 pages out, sort through the scenes, make notes in the margins, even cut and tape sections, if necessary. Once I go back to the computer those changes will be easy to input.

I'd never want to go back to the"olden days" when I plunked away on the typewriter, re-typing draft after draft, trying to fit revised chapters in, without having to repaginate. I love the word processor's ability to move whole paragraphs to better positions or delete them altogether.

It all boils down to the fact that I can't see the whole thing on the screen. It's not easy to flip back to see what I said about something in Chapter Three and stay consistent in Chapter Eight.

I'd love to hear what you think.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

A Letter From the Grave

I wrote a letter this week to Delia Moffatt, the main character in my new story, from her dead mother. The mother does not appear in the story, having died when Delia was five, eight years before the story begins. But I wrote the letter as a means for me to understand the complicated relationships between some of my characters.

"Dearest Delia,
I am sorry that I can't be there to see the delightful young girl you are today. How relieved I was that Grandma moved back in with you and Daddy after I left. You have Esme too, remember -- my lifelong, closest friend. She means it when she says she will do anything for you. Don't let Daddy be too proud to ask her . . . "

The letter goes on, but you get the idea. This little exercise has helped me to get more of the back story straight.

It's not necessary for the reader to know where Delia's and Sam's parents came from, but I need to be aware of these details as I write. The letter will not appear in the book, and I will use only a small part of the back story, but in order for me to tell the story, I have to have a sense of what happened before the opening scene.

Write on!
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Sunday, February 7, 2010

Writer/Reader Recognition

Anne Lamott (Bird by Bird: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, 1995) talks about "life being a recycling centre." It's true, isn't it? Everything has happened before.

Don't you love it when suddenly you recognize your own life in something you are reading? You know exactly what the author is saying. He's been there, done that.

That's something we writers should strive for -- that ability, as Lamott calls it, "to turn on the light for the reader."

Write on!

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

When the Writing Goes Well

I love it when the writing goes well, when the hours fly by and I look up to discover it's already past noon. That's the way it was for me this morning.

Now that I'm nearing the end of my novel-in-progress, the pieces are starting to come together more quickly. This morning I was working on the dialogue between four characters, hearing their conversation as if I were with them in Alicia's sunny living room. The words just started to flow. I didn't bother with dialogue attributes (I'll go back and fill them in later, where necessary). I knew who was speaking by what they said. Besides, I didn't want to interrupt the flow of conversation.

I felt exhilarated by the time I stopped writing, had lunch and went for my usual walk. But the characters didn't stop talking. Their conversation continued in my head. There's still a lot of writing to do, but we need days like this to keep us slogging ahead.