Sunday, March 30, 2014

Reptilian Melody

I just finished a major rewrite of my latest novel. Each successive version of the piece comes closer to what I had hoped to glean when I started, yet I ask myself, “Is a writer’s job ever finished?” Eventually I just have to abandon the effort, except my imperfections, and move on to my next endeavor.

But when do I place my baby on the stranger’s doorstep and run? My writer friends tell me revision is necessary and to edit my work until it is right.  If you are like me, I pick my prose to death. I’m never quite satisfied with my sentence structure or my word choices.  Often, when I change things, I add additional mistakes without realizing my error. Years can go by before I even allow others to read the manuscript, and then a day after I send it off I’ve already changed the story. I lament, "Why didn't I wait until now?"
My problem is I don’t want others to see my imperfections. I envision my readers rolling their eyes and muttering to themselves, “What was she thinking? And she calls herself a writer!” But I can’t please everyone. It’s imperative that I rely on fresh eyes and fresh perspective to shake the kinks out of my writing. Neither do I know all things and allowing others to peruse my words can only improve my work.

All writers must become reptiles. They must don a tougher skin. Accepting criticism and acknowledging their lack is part of their craft. Unfortunately, no other way exists to achieve a higher level of accomplishment.
Still, the thought of someone’s corrections stabs me to the core. I better scour my closet for that thick skin over-suit.

Hmm… now where did I hang it last?

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Beauty Surpasses Pain

In February, I attended another mind-enriching American Night Writers Association conference in Mesa, Arizona. The keynote speaker was one of my favorite Regency authors, Sarah Eden. The woman is an enigma to me. Challenged with disabling arthritis that will affect her body the rest of her life, she faces the future with faith and encourages other writers to do the same.

Over the last month, I have reflected on the comments she left with us. They are fodder for the most discouraged of authors and have encouraged me to face the future with a different frame of reference. I share her thoughts  in bold type below and have included my comments on how her points have molded my thoughts.
  1. Don’t confuse lack of experience with lack of ability. As I anticipate building my platform and producing books that will appeal to a vast audience, I often cower and fail to attempt a project that will advance my writing career. I let the challenges of such lofty goals intimidate me until I believe I am unable to learn the tricks to advance my writing and platform strategies. The facts are: We can all become skilled if we at least undertake something new. We may not be perfect. We may make mistakes.  But with each bite of the proverbial elephant, we discover we have more inside us  than we ever anticipated.
  2. Don’t expect a gourmet meal on a fast food timeline. Perfection takes time. If I put forth the effort and attempt a new story, I might as well take the time to make it right. I’m rather an impatient person. I want to see results quickly. I sometimes skim over the necessary steps in my haste to the reach the end product. Eden says, “Great art always takes time.”And my experience has proven: working on somebody else’s timetable never produces the results I desire. So who says I have to write as fast as another author? Who says the faster I write, the better my work will be? I’ll be much more satisfied if I use my time wisely and work until I get the piece as perfect as I can make it.
  3.  Don’t settle for good enough. While I’m on the subject of perfection, I have to admit I am a perfectionist, at least some of the time. Maybe I am too much a perfectionist during those drawn-out moments and not enough of a perfectionist when my impatience kicks in. What a dichotomy! Balance is the key. Eden suggests we don’t puree the applesauce, but that we do take the time to revise our work. In the end, she says, “A writer never finishes a story; he abandons it.”
  4. Don’t approach writing the way you approach Halloween. We have to be ourselves. Joining trends or adopting someone else’s writing style only keeps us from discovering our unique voice. We can never really copy somebody else’s success anyway.  We must build our own worlds, find our own strengths, and start the next trend. 
  5. Don’t assume critics know what they are talking about. On the other hand, some critics are accurate in their assessments. But criticism must be ingested with a discerning palate. We will never please everyone, and judging by the way some writing is accepted by the public, criticism, or lack of it, is not an accurate science. A good way to determine whether we should heed solicited or unsolicited advice is to follow only those judgments that continue to surface from many different sources. Just don’t take to heart the manner by which some critics dish out their remarks. Disparagement, in all its forms, holds different weight in different circumstances.
  6. Don’t start polishing your Captain America Shield. Most of the time, I am my harshest critic. Hopefully I’ll never fall into this superhero worship of anything I do. We all must grow. None of us, at least the last time I assessed the menagerie of authors in the field, are perfect. We build our skills one line at a time, correcting one mistake at a time. 
  7.  Don’t take to the field if the marching band hasn’t arrived. We need each other in this insane goal of building worlds so others can enjoy them. Never believe you have to attempt the task by yourself. Join a writers group. Let others read your work and help you make your product better. If you don’t know how to build your platform, find someone who does. Nothing is beyond your reach when you surround yourself with friends. 
  8.  Don’t ever assume the zombies can’t find you. The hideous comments Sarah Eden has received from tactless individuals over the years, left me with my mouth agape. No one has the right to crush the life out of anyone endeavoring to become the best they can be. Yet, the world is a cruel workshop, and people have lost the art of kindness. So how do we keep our shield raised as we cross the battlefield? Eden suggests we plan to react or take hurtful comments in stride. At our most vulnerable moments, we should turn to our friends. Nothing can rid us of the sting of harsh judment, but we can make a valiant effort to deflect the assaults, even if we prefer to knock our assailants on their backsides.
  9. Don’t forget why you started the journey in the first place. In the midst of the battle, I often forget the joy and excitement of my beginnings. We are all aware of the difficulties of writing. Even though I’ve experienced the loss of a contract and have failed to meet the objectives of publishing one of my novels, I can’t allow myself to forget how much I love to write. Creating is everything to me. Odds are if I keep at my goals, I will eventually succeed. And if I don’t succeed yet another time, I’ll keep moving forward anyway. Maybe my family and friends will be the only ones to read my thoughts and taste of my creative voice, but I have gleaned a lifetime of enjoyment and learning from my craft. 
Eden ended her address with a quote from the French Impressionist painter, Auguste Renoir. Renoir suffered from arthritis and struggled to paint masterpieces despite his infirmity. His dear friend and colleague, Henri Matisse, after watching Renoir work through a grueling painting session, confronted him one day.

“Auguste, why do you continue to paint when you are in such agony?”

Renoir replied, “The pain passes but the beauty remains.”

How can we forget such a profound reminder that whatever our challenges as writers, we must continue the journey to reveal truth and beauty, even if our attempt is only for ourselves.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Resolution Revisited

With every New Year, the priorities I want to achieve force their way to the front of my mind and toy with me, tempting me to take on more than I can accomplish. I want to write, to do genealogy, to exercise, to lose the six pounds I gained over the holidays, to be done with braces on my teeth, to get through another year of work without losing myself in the hubbub.

This is my last day of vacation, and as I anticipate Monday, a swell of nausea roils inside my stomach at the prospect of work. I’ve enjoyed two weeks with my dad and my sons, cleaning out closets, decorating and taking down decorations, going to parties, and eating until my belly sags. The sad fact is I want to do too many things and, because I’m a working girl, vacation is the only time I can pursue all I enjoy with any quality of time.

I suppose I should set goals: set a schedule to write, even though I’ve neglected my dream of being published in the pursuit of my family roots last year. Perhaps an analysis of my spare time will produce a few more minutes to use wisely. I’m aware the unpredictability of caring for my elderly father can rob me of those spare seconds, but there is always extra time if you look for it, right?

So, without excuse, I pledge to write a little every day, starting with this blog post. I have two novels in rewrite, one novel midway in process, and another two waiting for attention. Surely, they are more important than watching television or sleeping past 5:00 am. Maybe by next January 1st, I’ll have more to show than mere promises to myself.

Will you join me?

Monday, September 2, 2013

By Way of the Portuguese

My writing has taken a turn in a different direction these last couple of months. I’ve stopped working on my novel… in mid- keyboard tap… to take up a project that was unexpected, but welcomed nonetheless. Thirty plus years ago the genealogy bug bit me in the backside, and I’ve taken up the responsibility from time to time to find my ancestors. One-half of my family eluded my efforts no matter how hard I tried to find them. I thought I would never experience success, especially after hunting for non-existent records pertaining to a people on one of the tiniest of the nine Azorean Islands.
Last June, the director of the LDS Family History Center in Oakland, California contacted me after I made an online change to one of my ancestors. He asked me if I was related to the specific individual. Of course I was, and he asked me if I would be interested in research he had compiled as a surprise for a celebrity in another state. You can guess at my answer. To say I was excited is an understatement.

Then my education began. The director taught me how to read enough Portuguese to peruse records the Azorean government has provided online. To my surprise, the Catholic priests took great care to record baptisms, births, and marriages for the Azoreans, and because the island of Flores is so small, I’m discovering I am related to a great many of the people who lived there. The records are taking me back to the 1600s.

My goal is to find the majority of records for about half of my ancestry by early next year and then write a book of enlightenment for my family. This is also helping me understand my heritage and will provide background information so I can finish my latest novel about an Azorean family’s adventure in the early 1900 California Central Valley.

How do you thank someone for gifting you such a magnificent blessing? I will never find a way to sufficiently repay this man for helping me discover who I am and the culture which I am a part of. Obrigado!


Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Discipline In Writing

I marvel at the way inspiration ebbs and flows in the mind. Some days I can’t stop typing, and words spill over the brim of my thoughts like flood waters. Other times, my brain coagulates like a molasses pool, the words sticking to the sides no matter how hard I try to free them. I have no control on the fluctuation of the muse, except maybe in what I choose to eat or whether I manage sufficient sleep or not. What I do have control over is the consistent attempt to sit in the chair and write. Two words are better than none.

If I have to edit my work anyway, I might as well have something to edit, right? Having a bunch of garbage on the page is comforting because I don’t write perfect works the first time around anyway. I write and then I make it better.

My case here is that our thoughts may not be perfect, but our discipline can be. And the more we practice, the better we become.

So what if our attitude stinks? What if we give up even before we start? You have just as much choice to return to your desk as you do to leave it. The Internet is full of tools that can help us to turn the difficult days into constructive ones. Still, even research can be distracting and take us from the path of getting our words on paper. Write. It’s as simple as that.

I have to set goals of at least X amount of words every day before I shut down the computer.  I don’t have to set unrealistic goals either. My blood pressure rises whenever I read about someone writing 4000 words during a single session. I don’t work that way. I’m a slow writer, so if I choose to meet my goals at 100 words during an hour’s time, I’m okay with that. Do whatever is comfortable for you, but just do it. The practice of disciplining yourself will become habit and you may find at the end of the day you are closer to the finish line than you expected. It’s your choice, but the time to start your discipline is now. Enough said.