Hobbies that Inform or Improve my Writing

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Notice: I did not say OTHER hobbies. Writing is no hobby.

If you want other people to take your writing seriously, you have to take it seriously first. Writing is my job. It may not pay me very much right now (which is the #1 reason it is so hard for others to view it as a job), but people do all kinds of jobs that don’t pay. Whether it’s volunteering for the library, school, church, or community, most people do some kind of work for free – or they have at some point in their lives. Often, those “jobs” can turn into employment. If you volunteer at the library for long enough, they may offer you a position when it becomes available. The same goes for church or school. I take writing seriously and call it a job in the hopes that someday, someone will say, “Hey, you do this job really well. Let me pay you to do it!”

A pipe dream, I know.

Now that we’ve established the writing – paid or unpaid – is a job, we can discuss hobbies. Many creative people direct their strengths into one area while dabbling in others. For me, writing has always been my creative focus. However, I have been known to paint, draw, and sing. I don’t do these things nearly as much these days as I once did, but I can still utilize those hobby skills to inform my job – writing.

My MFA program at Spalding University has an Interrelatedness of the Arts component, which encourages students to view fine art, listen to musical compositions, and attend plays with the present mind of the reader. I think that’s just a fancier way they have of saying that writing does not exist in a vacuum. Creation and content of all types are continually speaking to each other, and these are just some of the things they might be saying.

Drawing teaches the artist to pay attention to detail. Every little line is a choice the artist makes, choosing to make things look one way or another. I find this is especially true when it comes to people: faces, body shapes, poses, expressions, and body language. If you’ve never tried drawing, or never thought about these things, give it a try! The focus might just teach you a new way to look at detail and description in your writing.

Painting is similar to drawing, but I tend to bring a freer hand to a brush than a pencil. Painting for me is about the atmosphere of the piece; the overall theme. What is the color theme (cool or warm) and what tone does that bring to the piece? What kind of feelings are evoked by the piece, and why? Is it meticulously crafted with a tiny brush, so you can see each blade of grass, or is it spread freely over the canvas with broad brush strokes and bold designs, capturing the essence of the subject rather than the exact likeness? What would happen if you thought about your novel or story in terms like this?

Music is a bit different than these. Although you can’t see the sound of music as you can a work of art or a paragraph, music has more in common with creative writing than you’d think. Unlike visual art, music progresses. There is a beginning, middle, and end to every piece of music, and most pieces have a midpoint and a climax as well. Why do those words sound familiar? We use them all the time when talking about plot and story. Orchestral soundtracks or piano pieces are especially useful to me in thinking about the progression of a scene or a story. Try listening to Hans Zimmer’s “Now We Are Free” from the soundtrack of the movie Gladiator, or “Batman Begins, Film Score.” You might also choose music from The Chronicles of Narnia, Pirates of the Carribean, TRON, The Last of the Mohicans, or Jurrasic Park. (I’ll do another post, or a video, soon on what music I listen to while writing!) Notice the rising and falling “action” of the piece, the midpoint, the climax, and the conclusion.

Walking or hiking outside is the last hobby that I believe influences my writing. Although walking is not an act of creation, it is the art of learning to observe Creation. As writers, we must notice small things with large meanings. We must see beauty in the everyday. We must see the extraordinary in the commonplace. The outdoors is the best place I know to do this. When I have problems with a piece I am writing, I go for a walk.

Let me know if you try any of these or if you have other hobbies that have influenced and/or informed your writing.

You know what time it is…

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So I’ve been pretty silent this October on You Know What, but it’s time to shatter the stillness.

National Novel Writing Month is almost here!

While I will be participating and MLing for Michigan: Elsewhere, I want to share that my goal this year is not 50,000 words. My list right now includes: library stuff, teaching stuff, thesis stuff, residency, and a 12 hour Star Wars marathon because Star Wars. 50k is pretty unachievable against all that. However, I have a full outline for a new story that I’m really excited about, and my goal is to finish a complete draft. That’s enough to make me happy! If you are debating whether or not to participate due to hectic schedules or crazy lives, delay no longer. 50k is the end, but the means are more important. Write what you can and at the end of the month be happy that you have more than you did on Halloween.

The great thing about NaNoWriMo is that nobody cares how much you write. If your final wordcount is less than 50k, no one will shake a head or wag a finger. It’s just about having fun and making friends, and a busy schedule is no reason to miss out on great stuff like that.

What is your goal for the month? 50k? Or something lower (or higher!)? Share your tips and tricks with fellow Wrimos, and find a first-timer to encourage!

NaNoWriMo Cometh

NaNoWriMo: Why Serious Writers Should Promote Rather Than Dismiss

NaNoWriMo: A Pantsing Planner

Write Every Day?

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Write. Write more. Write even more. Write even more than that. Write when you don’t want to. Write when you do. Write when you have something to say. Write when you don’t. Write every day. Keep writing. ― Brian Clark

You must write every single day of your life… You must lurk in libraries and climb the stacks like ladders to sniff books like perfumes and wear books like hats upon your crazy heads… may you be in love every day for the next 20,000 days. And out of that love, remake a world. ― Ray Bradbury

I write when I’m inspired, and I see to it that I’m inspired at 9 am every morning. – Peter DeVries

These quotes, and more like them, can be found all over the internet, in writing craft books, and in those images with words on them that get put up in classrooms everywhere. They are repeated because they are quotes from writers who are published, renowned, and – perhaps most importantly – successful. Somehow, I think we writers believe that if we can just follow the advise of those who have gone before, who have “made it,” we’ll be able to make it, too.

The concept of writing every day, sticking your but in your chair and typing away until you have something, is common in quotes like these. That’s why they make me nervous. There was a time in my life when I did, in fact, write every single day. No matter what. Sometimes it was a paper for school, sometimes a blog post, sometimes a newspaper article, sometimes just a few pages in a journal. After a few weeks of doing this, I did find that when I decided my writing for a given day would be directed toward an essay or a story that my fingers moved a little faster and the words flowed more readily than before. It was great place to be, having a semi-regular schedule that offered the opportunity of following all of the advice of the writing gods and writing every day.

But those times never last for ever. Since I’ve been working through my MFA, I find that the few short weeks where the workload is lighter during semester transitions are cherished times – times where I do home renovation, catch up on housework, do a ton of yard work, go to parties, watch TV in the evening, catch up with friends, and generally do not write. At all.

During the heavier parts of the semesters, I find myself thinking of these in-between-weeks wistfully. But during the in-between-weeks, I find myself afraid, because I absolutely do not write every day. I find myself wondering, is this what my life will be like when I’m done with my program? Will I make myself so busy with home and friends that my writing desk is just sitting there to hold up the wall? Will writing simply be there, in the back of my mind, as something I will do when I have time?

All of which makes me wonder – is writing every day really necessary? Are quotes like “Don’t be a writer, be writing” both inspirational and unnecessarily harsh? If I only write a few times a week, or even once a week, does that mean I am not a writer?

I don’t think so. But while I am enjoying this time of home improvement, relaxation, and “spare time,” I am looking forward to beginning the next term, where I will once again be writing every day.

NaNoWriMo: The Way Out

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You will notice that the banner on this post is not a winner banner.

On November 30th, I can tell you that I have no clue if I’ll be able to make up the (way too many) words I would need to reach the 50,000 word goal by midnight tonight. But I do know that the story I’ve developed this month, my first attempt at middle grade fiction, is a great story, and I can’t wait to continue working on it and revising it in the months to come.

Part of the reason I’ve fallen behind is because… Christmas is coming! That kind of excitement makes it hard to contain enough to focus so intently on a story. It’s time for cookies and carols and indoor trees. and being excited about that is enough to take away any discouragement at not reaching 50,000 words.

If you’re like me, and Christmas shopping has fallen by the wayside as your novel has taken priority, have no fear! Next week I’ll be posting a gift buying guide for your favorite readers of all ages – or your favorite people you’d like to convert to reading. Stay tuned!

NaNoWriMo: The Power of Titles

Participant-2014-Web-Banner (1)As I’ve been away at residency in Louisville it’s become glaringly obvious to me that my NaNoWriMo project is stuck. When I arrived, I had 24,000 words (no, I haven’t added to that in a week) and no idea where my story was going, what it was about, or what I needed to write next.

This is not to imply that I’ve been uninspired. While here, I’ve drafted two picture books and a flash creative essay. Thanks to workshop, I’ve been more than successful in figuring out what last year’s project needs in it’s next revision, but I’ve made little progress as far as my current project is concerned.

Which leads me to a conversation about titles. Great titles are amazing. They’re like a muse that is always there to remind you what your story is about, and never fail to lead you back to the heart of the book when you’re floundering. Without a title for this project, I feel like I’m wandering around in the wilderness with no idea where I’m trying to go. So my new goal is: come up with a title. Even a placeholder, a throwaway, a horrible title that would never market.

Naming the thing makes me more powerful than the thing itself.

So that’s what I’ll try to do. Then I’ll try to write 25k+ in the next ten days. That can be done right?

Shh. I don’t want to know your answer.

 

NaNoWriMo: A Room of My Own

My whole life I’ve imagined what it would be like to have an entire room in a house that was dedicated to books, both their creation and consumption. In honor of NaNo, here’s what that looks like!

When we bought our three-bedroom cape cod in August, I knew exactly which room I wanted for this purpose. It’s on the main floor, not too far from the kitchen (caffeine access), gets great light in the morning, has a tiny closet for crafting and art supplies, and has a perfect view of our back yard. We painted the room a lovely, inspirational shade of green, put up some pretty curtains, and filled that sucker with books. Every writer is familiar with Virginia Woolf’s recommendation that each writer needs a “room of her own” to think, read, and write in. This is my room, and I love it to bits.

My desk

My desk and the matching chair were a craigslist find, and the items on this wall were gifts. The desk provides the perfect amount of space to work in, and it has a wonderful view.

View

When I write at this desk, I am surrounded by the whisperings of the hundreds of books that have influenced me with their pages. There are two more bookcases in other parts of the house, but this is the bulk. On the leftmost bookcase I have antique books, filled journals, writing reference, and to-read. Next is nonfiction with blank notebooks and school binders at the bottom. On the other side, young adult books get a shelf, with filled sketchbooks, art journals, and photo albums at the bottom, and lastly is the fiction shelf with magazines and oversize books at the bottom. This room is such a happy place for me!

LibraryDo you have a room of your own? I highly recommend it. 🙂

 

NaNoWriMo: Why “serious” writers should promote rather than dismiss

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Many of you will shake your heads upon reading this. Or perhaps even roll your eyes. Maybe blow a raspberry, send a prayer heavenward.

I’m going to say it anyway.

NaNoWriMo season has arrived.

This year, more than usual, I’ve seen a number of posts by those lofty, unattainable beings who claim to be, above all else, serious writers. They scoff at the mention of month-long noveling, turn up their noses at the thought of it. Discourage whoever they can from participating. Wait patiently for that far off day (December 1st) when Twitter, tumbler, and the internet at large will return to it’s regularly scheduled programming.

And I am here to set the record straight, at the risk of sounding like a broken one.

Serious writer or first time participant, you absolutely should try National Novel Writing Month.

Let me tell you why.

NaNoWriMo is fun. It’s a month-long (distressingly, horrendously, terrifyingly hard) party, where we spend time with people who are working toward the same goal that we are. Whatever our methods, our means, our motivation, or our end result, we’ve all attempted (and hopefully achieved) the same result: a 50,000 word piece of crappy first draft fiction. Maybe that’s all you do. Then the next time you’re buying coffee at your favorite place or books at your favorite shop (please buy books from shops) or groceries at the supermarket, you can say, truthfully, without guilt, remorse, or modesty, “Yeah, I wrote a book once.” But maybe you go on and spend a long, long time doing the hard, hard work of revision that gets you, eventually, to final draft fiction. And maybe somebody somewhere likes that final draft, a lot, and your name gets to be on the cover of a book. And you become an author.

There are plenty of wildly successful, quality authors out there who cannot be described as serious. Just check out a few of their YouTube channels. Being a not-so-serious writer can be key to getting in touch with your audience, making friends, and (someday) selling books. Any aspiring writer who finds that one of their favorite authors thinks they should (attempt, try, stumble through the process of) write a novel will be inspired and pleased and instantly find a little more space to add to the box in their heart that belongs to that writer. An author who discourages (snubs, belittles, snickers at) this endeavor, however, might actually loose some of their holy-authorness in the eyes of readers.

Besides, any writer, serious or not, who says they aren’t pleased to tell people in coffee shops that they’re a writer and yes, they’ve written novels is lying.

A Note About Quality: Or, Mediation

To the Naysayers: anyone who has read Sara Gruen’s Water For Elephants cannot truthfully declare that NaNoWriMo is a worthless, awful feat. Don’t allow you negativity to discourage the next book that good from being written.

To the Wrimos: Water For Elephants was not the book that it is on December 1st. As described above, there was a long, long time and a lot of hard, hard work between then and publication. Don’t send you 2014 NaNovel out to agents or publishers until after January 1st, 2016 (no, I don’t mean 2015). And only then if you’ve given it everything you possibly have to give. And don’t self-publish it just because you can.

To the One Who is Just Considering: Try it. You’ll like it.

Okay, I rest my case. Here’s to NaNoWriMo 2014, my fifth (hopefully) completed NaNovel, and more crazy than any other time of year. Futher up and further in!