writing

The Description Duality

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I am a bona fide description junkie.

Can’t get enough.

I dive into pages of language paying homage to the precise angles of parquetry; the multi-hues of honeyed sunshine pouring through jewel-toned panes of leaded glass; the wealth of colors and textures in a garden lush with twining, scented blooms.

These things make my toes curl. As long as they’re about environment. As long as they allow my imagination to follow their path and build, layer upon layer, a space of some sort. But pay that much attention to describing characters and you’ve lost me.

It’s the difference between world-building and backstory.

To me it’s the difference between being a participant or an observer.

Once again the concept of show vs. tell rears its quixotic head. Show me a place I can inhabit as a reader and I welcome infinite detail. Use that same level of description to paint a character and I’ll wonder why I should be interested in this passive creature who wavers into view via words instead of his own actions, or feelings, or thoughts.

As a reader, I know what I like; able to scan a dust-cover or blurb and instantly discard or covet.

As a writer, I fall into the trap, carried away on the tide of my own creation.

It’s difficult to read your own work without making the unforgivable mistake of falling in love with it to the extent that you’re blinded to its faults. That’s why everyone tells you to lay the story aside for a few weeks, months, years even. However, if you don’t have that luxury, if a deadline looms…you have to develop the skill of being able to split from your work.

Because the only way your opinion of your own work counts, is if you can confront it as a reader plain and honest.

No patting yourself on the back for a particular turn of phrase.

No thinking cleverness can disguise a lack of heart.

It’s hard. I’m not sure if anyone can do it consistently. But it’s the only way to know if your backstory is as enticing as your world-building. And for those of us who are unusually description-susceptible, it’s a necessary sort of schizophrenia.

Otherwise, we’d sink beneath the surface, sucked into the creation that will never be anything but a playground for one.

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cooking, Just bitchin'

The Lesson Learned

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Every once in a while it’s a good idea to try something new. Kick your brain out of the lumpy, rutted, familiar ground it navigates without really taking notice.

It’s good to take a break from the keyboard. And the plot line. And the characters.

I’m not much of a cook. Okay…fine…I’m NO kind of a cook. Dinner is usually microwave popcorn and, if budget and circumstances allow, a glass of wine.

So, yesterday I decided to see if I could blaze a new trail through my limited nutritional repertoire, and maybe…I dunno…BAKE something. I’d been cleaning out kitchen drawers and cupboards (a foray into Creative Distraction…see previous post…while waiting for a kink to work itself out of a story I’d been laboring over).

I found muffin tins. I discovered various containers of spices that hadn’t yet caked in the moisture-laden air of the Northwest. I unearthed an old stack of recipe cards from someone who once thought I should be the owner of an old stack of recipe cards.

I plunged into my new adventure, trusting it would, if not open new vistas of  culinary aptitude, at least give that story-kink time to unknot as it lay in its own creative juices.

Here’s what I learned:

1. When the labels fall off of spice containers and you’re suffering from seasonal allergies, curry powder looks a lot like cinnamon.

2. If you’re going to make muffins, non-stick spray or those little, paper cup-thingies are kind of necessary. Unless you don’t mind digging them out with your fingers like a savage, eating them straight from the pan, leaning over the sink for crumb-control.

Side note: A male friend who should know saw me do this and commented, “You look like a bachelor.” No offense to bachelors…most of them fare better than I do.

3. Curry-by-mistake muffins are okay; they complement popcorn and red wine nicely, especially if seasonal allergies prevent you from savoring anything other than texture.

4. I belong behind the keyboard.

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writing

Creative Distraction

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There is a fine line between creative distraction and procrastination.

But I know it’s there. I keep stumbling over it.

I love to write. Love it. So what’s up with that sudden need to browse the internet in search of ways to identify which application has hijacked my sound, rendering my laptop as silent as the grave?

With the story or article I’m immersed in open before me, why is it so urgent to investigate if the cat’s dish has enough kibble mounded in it to keep him from launching one of his evil, stank-eyed glares my way?

A beautiful, blank screen and the luxury of time to fill it with words awaits. But I can’t leave that breakfast dish soaking in the sink. Must. Clean. Now.

I love getting lost in my work. Absolutely adore that sensation of surfing waves of vocabulary, feeling as though all those tedious hours of lower education where you were forced to read what teachers, parents and other authorities deemed necessary, have finally been justified. The original purpose shredded and forgotten, but their elements distilled down over time into an internal thesaurus. Each successful excavation of expression slipping into place with a satisfying *click*…

So why all the avoidance?

And then I realized…It’s not procrastination. It’s Creative Distraction.

It’s that tiny break when you’re doing something else and…*click*…your imagination engages. The gears and cogs mesh. The next step in your story emerges from the fog, clear and concise and cogent. You fly back to your laptop, eager to get it all down. Then, as soon as the surge has passed…you stare at the keyboard and realize…

…you just have to organize your closet. Must. Do. Now.

So in the end it’s not a fine line dividing procrastination from Creative Distraction. It’s more of a trip-wire. And you don’t stumble over it. It catches you mid-stride, catapulting you forward.

Right into the next idea.

My plants need watering. Must. Do. Now…

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Just bitchin'

Imperiled Yogurt

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Apropos of absolutely nothing to do with writing, I just have to mention what I saw today at the supermarket: a child of perhaps seven or eight…old enough to know better…using a pencil to rupture those papery lids that cover individual yogurt containers.

Trailing behind Mama, he did a rapid-fire, stabbing as he trotted along.

Behavioral issues aside, with all the attention that’s paid to safety and the prevention of product tampering, why did they abandon the plastic lids for yogurt? I may be in the minority, but I don’t always want an entire 6 or 8 ounces of the stuff. Often I use it as a garnish on top of oatmeal, or a spoonful of the plain unflavored type as a substitute for sour cream.

I liked the plastic lids. I recycled the plastic lids. I reused plastic lids under tiny, little plant starts. (Never mind what’s under my grow light…that’s not the issue here.)

At the store, I called the boy’s mother’s attention to what he’d done.

She picked him up and ran.

And I reached as far back on the shelf as I could to select my yogurt from an area well out of reach of a tiny Jack The Ripper of the dairy section.

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writing

Secrets

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I had a diary when I was a little girl.

It was a birthday present. It was pink with tiny gold fleur-de-lis marching across its leather cover in regimented rows that reminded me of button-tufting. Or ants. It had a tiny, gold lock. That could only be opened by a tinier, gold key. So that my deepest secrets might remain sacrosanct. So no one might read the horrors of which a twelve-year-old is capable.

Theft. Spiriting my big sister’s lipstick away so I could pretend I was as glamorous as she. Walking off shamelessly with the last blueberry crepe…and denying it later.

Lying. Oh, so many. From the aforementioned crepe caper, to saying school was okay when I detested its stultifying boredom and bullies, to claiming I didn’t mind that we moved so often I would never really have a peer group.

We twelve-year-olds are a hard-bitten lot. Dangerous. Skulking.

Secretive.

Hence, the diary.

It was the opposite of a blog. For my eyes only. No calculation of popularity based on ‘hits.’ The goal was to conceal, not reveal.

Cat-at-twelve still resides within. Or maybe I’ve just never progressed beyond being a precocious pre-teen with a large vocabulary born of being bookish, born of being lonely, born of moving every couple of years, born of a parent on the lam, born of bad decisions, born of another childhood that bred its own troubles.

Blogs are descendants of the diary, but their intent is the opposite. Blat out every facet of your life in hopes of being validated by being noticed. But have a care. The twelve-year-old is watching. So, no secrets revealed here. No quirks. No oddities. No tiny clues left that point to the pink, fleur-de-lis diary. Not a trace.

Really.

If I close my eyes, you can’t see her…

 

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writing

The Relative Levels of Rejection, Part III

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We all know the form rejection is a necessary evil.

It’s impossible for an agent or editor who fields submissions numbering in the hundreds, thousands, hundreds of thousands, to give each one a thoughtful, individual response. Hence, the form.

But the form is a widely varied species that includes some real standouts. One is the It’s-Not-You-It’s-Me rejection. It’s the equivalent of your date saying he had an ‘interesting’ evening. Not a good-night kiss. Rather, the kiss of death. You feel as though you’re being dumped at the front door after a disastrous outing. You appreciate the intention to let you down easy, but the grain of truth that wants to irritate itself into a lump, like sand in an oyster, tells you it’s NOT them. It’s definitely you.

“You create wonderful worlds. Your writing is very atmospheric. But we’re not sure how to market you…”

Yeah, well…I’m pretty sure if the work was really outstanding, they’d find a way to market it. The truth is, it’s not a matter of how to market; it’s a matter of no market. Time to step back and consider some major rewrites.

Still, there are some very nice variations on the It’s-Not-You-It’s-Me that, in my opinion, make them the Miss Popularities of the reject pageant.

“This doesn’t quite fit with us, but you show great potential.”

In other words…back to the drawing board. If this particular submission had real potential, you’d have been asked to rewrite and resubmit. But it’s a nice rejection, and, depending on your frame of mind, you can actually savor it a little, telling yourself you’re an undiscovered talent. You just need some more time to grow.

But my absolute, hands-down, scream-from-the-rooftops fave rejection of all time is the short, sweet “This isn’t right for us, but we’d be interested to see anything else you have.”

That makes it all worthwhile. It’s not acceptance. It’s still a rejection. But it offers that one ingredient without which a writer cannot continue to shout his words into the void in solitary defiance of the odds. It dangles that little thing that has the power to change your view of the world and your place in it. It can make you forge ahead with renewed vigor and determination.

It’s hope.

And it’s beautiful.

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