Sunday, October 31, 2010

boundbytheword « Boundbytheword Blog

This is my friend, Noelle's, blog - funny, clever, insightful, helpful - all about reading as writers, writing, and her own process. Good stuff.
boundbytheword « Boundbytheword Blog

boundbytheword « Boundbytheword Blog

This is my friend, Noelle's blog - funny, clever, insightful, helpful - all about reading as writers, writing, and her own process. Good stuff.
boundbytheword « Boundbytheword Blog

Friday, October 29, 2010

All About Retreats

It is Friday and I am getting ready to see my last client of the day before heading off the the exquisite Sir William Mackenzie Inn in Kirkfield, Ontario, for a Turning Leaves writing retreat. Wind is blowing sharp wet snow in all directions on the street today, so I am leaning into the wind and imagining fireside writings and readings. In workshops, classes, writing circles and retreats I write like mad. During one Sunday sanctuary with Sue Reynolds' group I wrote 4000 words. And they didn't even stink. After reading Natalie Goldberg's, Writing Down the Bones and Long Quiet Highway, I have given myself permission to write crap. The miracle is, that giving such permission seems to open the gates to metaphor, imagery and insight I didn't have a clue were there.

Alone, I manage. Barely. Honestly, those emails, Facebook updates, and dirty dishes always have the siren's call. So whenever I have the opportunity to write with others, I'm so there. Give me a prompt and I'm flying. When I look over the scenes in my novel, I can identify most of them by where I wrote them, who else was present, and often the prompt that set the scene in motion. It's odd, because the act of writing IS solitary.

This weekend, I have a stack of scenes I want to write. A miscarriage, a Jungian dream workshop, a different meeting for my protagonist's love interest for starters. And I want to play with shifting from first person to third person limited for the same character. That's novel, isn't it?

One of the things I cherish about working with the writers currently in my life, is that we generally use feedback rather than critiquing as a response to the writing. In these stages of tremendous vulnerability (someone said to me recently that it is that very vulnerability that allows us to write with sensitivity, depth and honesty) it feels safe to read when you know that no one is going to tell you what's wrong with the piece. With work that is hot off the heart, the responses are always about what is strong for the listener, what stays, etc. Reading aloud gives a new dimension, especially to dialogue, and being able to feel how the listeners respond is so helpful in seeing my work from different perspectives.

So here I go, to write my heart and then expose it.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Flaw-full first attempt

The first scenes of what is today, Weather Vane, were flaw-full. My word. I read somewhere recently that most authors guard the secret hope that their first draft will be publication-ready, with perhaps a few changes, such as a comma or the capitalization of a place name. I confess. But I wanted to make sure. I was humble. I was brave. Let me have it.

Ouch. You mean this thing I love requires work? I sat listening to what Anna had to say, and as soon as she would make an observation or a comment, I would SEE it and understand. If I am writing in first person limited point-of-view and waxing all poetic about the sand and the sea and the driving wind one moment, I can't suddenly say that he thought it wise to keep his "bony butt" glued to the chair. And it wasn't likely that any literary editor, agent or publisher would go for the protagonist carrying his feisty wife out of the storm because her sarong blew off in the wind, and then make nice love to her in the bedroom of a Jamaican villa, and be ever so grateful. Hmmm. A little too romance novel-ly, perhaps? Anna carried on, stopping to sip a little wine and check in with me to see if I was all right, from time to time. "Oh I'm fine," I assured her. She was right, after all. I thanked her, sure that I would just go home and fix everything up in a jiffy.

When I pulled up the file the next day, and perused Anna's notes, my shoulders fell. I stared at the screen, looked out the window, stood up and decided it was time to sweep the floor. And do a few loads of laundry. And make a sandwich. You get the picture. I didn't have a clue how to fix these things. A long walk might help. Two months later, I hadn't changed a word.

I was continuing to write, however. My short stories were making the rounds of various contests. Anna suggested I connect with someone who was a writer by trade. She pointed me toward Sue Lynn Reynolds. And Ruth Walker. Great suggestions. I took a short workshop with Ruth and then a longer day-long retreat workshop with Sue, called Sanctuary Sunday. This was a day of prompts and open writing, with an opportunity to read at the end of the day. 

At six o'clock, I got in my car and burst into tears. I thought, "I can do this," with a joyous but oddly painful certainty. Waiting for me in my inbox when I returned home was a very warm and encouraging message from Sue. So warm and encouraging that I could barely read it through my grateful tears.

A few weeks later, I attended a weekend retreat with Ruth Walker and Gywnn Sheltma, called Turning Leaves. And this was, indeed, a turning in the road on which I was now a dedicated traveler.  I read my rewritten wild sex scene on the Saturday evening, and it didn't seem so flaw-full now. The participants laughed, sat forward on their chairs, and when I finished, one woman yelled a warning to my protagonist to "Run away, Simon!" My characters were taking on flesh.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

I am a Writer

I wrote furiously for a couple of weeks - a sentimental scene of this father first holding his tiny infant, and a hot (both figuratively and literally) sex scene in Jamaica during a hurricane where the child is conceived. Then I imagined the protagonist having an intimate relationship with weather. So I wrote a monologue in which he waxes poetic about the flight of birds in a windstorm, the velocity of the wind in Wichita the day he was born, and the futility of weather prediction. But the story began in present time. I wanted to show how much he missed his daughter, so I had him talk to a video camera. Maybe he needed a friend. So I gave him a friend he could talk to. I wondered if this was the best way to go about writing an entire book.

I took a writing workshop series facilitated by Anna Mackay Smith, a wonderfully vivacious and talented director, actor and creative life coach. The fire was lit. I was writing. I hired her to be my life coach, because, like many people who WANT to do something creative, there were always a million reasons why I couldn’t. One of the first things she asked me is, "What do you want?" Simple question. I gave her what I thought was a simple clear answer, one we could set about moving toward. “I want to one day be able to say, I am a writer.” “Done!” she said. “You are a writer.” And she instructed me to make signs that read, “I am a Writer” and put them up all over my house. I did.

That was weird. Everywhere I looked, these goofy coloured marker scraps of paper asserting that the person who lived here thought they were a writer. Even putting up something that had the whiff of "affirmation" made me cringe a little, like that fellow on Saturday Night Live, who constantly affirmed in his wee voice, "I"m good enough. I'm smart enough, and by golly, people like me" or something to that effect. However, the sentiment was sincere and I allowed those little messages in.
I wrote a story about my mother and showed it to Anna. She suggested that I had a poet crying to get out, and that poet sprung out of the narrative and then retreated. She suggested I write the piece as if it was fiction. When I did that I discovered a tremendous freedom, and began to find my voice. A clear poetic voice that didn't depend on fact. 

So then I showed Anna what I had written for my novel-to-be. I was certain she would tell me that it was publication ready, or at least that it took her breath away. We opened the file on her computer and I took a sip of wine. She turned to me and studied me for a moment. "Are you ready for this? she asked.

"Oh yes!" I replied, sliding forward on the chair, gripping my wine glass.

Monday, October 25, 2010

In the beginning was the story

Three cool Septembers ago I leaned in close as a man who had been prophesied told his story. I leaned in for a kiss, but I got his story. And the story lit a fire in me. Kisses came and went. The story endured.

I put fingers to keys and thought, maybe this is it, maybe this is the story, maybe this is how I can tell my story without telling it. I’ll show it through the eyes of the man. And then no one will know it’s actually my story. That’s how it works, right?

I have always written. Poems, short stories, boxes of chapters from never finished novels. I’ve even had a little publishing success – some poems in Poetry Toronto, an inclusion in bill bissett’s, end of the world speshul, a short story in Cross Canada Writers’ Quarterly, but for two decades I hadn’t even attempted to present my work to the world. I’d lost my voice.  Or at least set it to the side.

This story fired up all that had lay smoldering for years. So, I began by writing a poem:

She was
barely a handful,
her tiny heart
the whisper
of hummingbird wings

He longed for her voice, her weight,
her presence,

He waited
with her and
for her,
attending with delicate precision,
her care,
his daughter, Brigitte

Now, his heart wraps around her
like the chords of a melody
he longs to sing,
even now,
so that he could bring her home

She was a four-pound premature baby that the mother instantly discarded, only to come around two years later and snap the child away from him, under the pretence of shared parenting, only to slowly poison the child against the father. At the time we met, he hadn’t seen his daughter in three years.  To me, that was a story worth the telling. How, was another matter. A novel. Yes. I had the storyline, the main character, the evil wife and the objective.  Should be a cinch. It was so romantic. A noble father who wanted to care for his child. It was a novel idea for a novel. The last book I read where a father cared about his child was David Gilmour’s, A Perfect Night to go to China. Oh, and Nino Ricci’s, Origin of Species. Now both of the heroes in these stories weren’t exactly model fathers. And I knew that I couldn’t make my protagonist a saint, either. But he would show a face that was noble and heart-full, if somewhat naive.