Category Archives: writing
2013 is almost a week old already. A lot of people have written about resolutions and plans. I don’t write resolutions, but I felt that I wanted to make some kind of statement to myself. So I wrote wishes on self-made cards and they are turning out to be quite motivating, spread around my desk. And pretty to look at. Amongst them are things as general and important as ‘I want to earn my own money again’, as well as those that are more personal and immediate, like ‘I want to attend Nathalie’s wedding‘. I have also chosen the beautiful song ‘Ends of the Earth’ by Lord Huron as my personal anthem for this year.
These wishes and this song will guide and accompany me. However, there was something still missing. A direction. Something to strive for, to go towards. Then I remembered that author Lynn Viehl, who blogs at Paperback Writer, sets herself themes for each year. I thought about what this could mean for me and I had two words in my head that I was experimenting with and had almost decided for one, when courage came along.
1. the quality of mind or spirit that enables a person to face difficulty, danger, pain, etc., without fear; bravery.
2. Obsolete. the heart as the source of emotion.
definition from Dictionary.com
Courage and bravery are often used synonymously, but they aren’t the same when you think about it. I’d even argue that bravery is a result of courage. So I looked it up in an etymology dictionary and got the following:
courage (n.) c.1300, from Old French corage (12c., Modern French courage) “heart, innermost feelings; temper,” from Vulgar Latin *coraticum (source of Italian coraggio, Spanish coraje), from Latin cor “heart” (see heart) which remains a common metaphor for inner strength.
In Middle English, used broadly for “what is in one’s mind or thoughts,” hence “bravery,” but also “wrath, pride, confidence, lustiness,” or any sort of inclination. Replaced Old English ellen, which also meant “zeal, strength.”
definition from the Online Etymology Dictionary
Isn’t that a wonderful word? Inner strength, heart, confidence, lustiness, pride – all part of this one concept: expressing what is in your mind or thoughts. I don’t know what triggered me to think of courage in the first place, but since I have, I see it everywhere. It pops up in blog posts, in video talks, in discussions with friends, in old diary entries. I think it’s a sign. So I’m adopting courage as my theme of the year.
And because I like to be thorough in these things, I also looked it up in a thesaurus and while some of the synonyms were a little contrived, there were a lot that I really like – amongst them words like boldness, adventurousness, audacity, daring, determination, endurance, enterprise, fortitude, intrepidity, mettle, pluck, resolution, spirit, tenacity and élan.
So 2013 will be the year of courage – a year full of intrepid enterprise, determined resolution and bold adventures. I know it will be – because I’m going to make it so!
Do you write resolutions? Or choose themes? Or maybe an anthem? Or is all of this new-year-new-beginning thing a nuisance and unnecessary anyway?
After moaning about being unfocused and being gently-but-firmly kicked in the butt by Julie (who is a writing machine and has just published her first book, which I’m currently reading and which you should so check out), I stopped the complaining (out loud) and did sit down and write and have now, by Sunday afternoon, two fresh new chapters – yeay!
My morning walks with the dog, which I touched upon in the previous post (as a devious means to distract your attention from the fact that I was feeling sorry for myself) also enter into this post, although not for the pretty landscape, but for something I’ve been experimenting with: dictating the story to myself.
Usually when I walk the dog, I either just listen to my surroundings – especially in the mornings, when it’s still fresh and quiet and birds are singing – or, if I need a bit of escapism, I listen to audio books on my mp3-player (Georgette Heyer, anyone?). Shortly before November, when I was scrambling to get to know my characters sufficiently to be able to work with them, I decided to try and not only talk to myself in my head, which of course I do all the time, but to do it in a more constructive way and talk out loud and record it on my player. Which I did, feeling like a fool and falling silent every time I only saw another person approaching on the horizon. But it worked! Talking and asking questions out loud really focused my attention and I developped some interesting and quite unforeseen backstories.
This morning, I decided that I had enough backstory, that I didn’t need any more ‘about’. So I gulped – twice – and took out my trusty little mp3-player and started telling the story at the point where I had left off the night before. Every time I got stuck, I just repeated the sentence before and every time it clicked after two or so repetitions and I could carry on. It was amazing! I’d expected it to be more difficult, because usually I need my hands to move to have my best ideas, but somehow, it worked!
When I came back home with about 45 minutes of talk on my player, I was so psyched that I sat down, put on the earphones and started taking dictation from myself straight away. Now that really was weird, to be honest. Most of us, I think, feel uncomfortable with hearing our own voices outside of our head, and I had been almost whispering when I recorded it, as well as walking quite fast, so I was breathy and hard to understand even to myself! Also, every time I talked to the dog – to call him back or something – I switched to German and spoke much louder. Then I went back to telling the story in English in a half-whisper. People are strange, aren’t they?
Anyway, after typing what I’d told myself and adding some details here and there, I had a whole chapter where before, I’d had nothing. Magic! How cool is that?!
Have you ever dictated anything to yourself? Did it work for you? What other tricks do you know to move forward those troublesome stories? Do you feel as horribly self-conscious about hearing your own voice as I do?
Last week was the first time since I’ve been back, the first time since I expected it upon coming back, the first time since I was a teenager, that this senseless, panicked aggression, that sense of suffocating and having to claw and shout and scream at other people came over me. That feeling that if I don’t scream, don’t burst through walls, don’t shock people, don’t hold on to myself while raising my voice above all the white noise, all the muttering, murmuring, mumbling, stumbling, … if I don’t assert my self, I’m going to slip under and just sink into the deep, well-lighted, comfortable depth of routine and stability and expectations and days going by and never come to the surface again where there is wind and laughter and storms and danger and change and waves and dreams and space.
One of the most persisting and pervading day dreams or dream pictures I have is that of driving my car down from a plateau into a huge, empty landscape, the road rolling straight ahead of me, the sun beating down, the windows wide open, hair whipping in the slipstream, blasting music, not a single soul to be seen anywhere, just endless nature, sand, gravel, rocks, plants, maybe some birds of prey gliding on the thermals and the endless open road before me.
It’s the embodiment of freedom, the mental picture that keeps me going because I know, deep down, that one day I will drive down onto that plain at the fastest speed I can, with the most heart-rending, howling-at-the-sky-worthy music turned up as high as I can take it, and when I’m at the point where I will feel as though shortly I will explode into a thousand pieces and shatter the universe, I will stop the car, screeching and whirling up dust, and jump out and let out an almighty scream to shake the world in its foundations as it reverberates from the mountains behind me and in one tiny moment I will be a part of everything, every particle of this world, of the rocks, the water, the wind, the people, even you, and I will split your heart with the beauty and the magnitude and the free-whirling mystique of this world and leave you changed forever.
it’s all very well
saying I’ll only do what I want to do
when what I really want to do is
soar across an evening sky
look down on a landscape of open space
mountains on the horizon
the red sun lighting them up from beyond
the moon riding high and cold
on air that is cool
and tasty and supporting me
slipping along my body
carrying me as I glide over
the dusky emptiness
For the first time in my life, I have a room in which I work and a room in which I sleep. Separate rooms. A bedroom without a computer. A work space without scattered clothes. And to think it only took me thirty years to achieve this dream!
My youngest sister has moved to England a while ago, vacating her room, and my room in the souterrain (or basement, if you prefer, although it does have a large window!) has now been renovated, which means that I now have two rooms at my disposal. One for sleeping, reading and just closing the door behind me to get some privacy. Another to sit at a large desk, with lots and lots of daylight and do important things like … well… hm… writing blog posts? Yes. Writing blog posts. Also, read blog updates by other people. And read facebook updates. And catch up on some news, or better, write messages to friends. … Hm. I feel like I’m forgetting something…
OH! Of course. AND prepare for NaNo! Obviously. Very busy with that. Yes. Very. So far, I have done four characterizations out of eight people I need in-depth knowledge of. Two of which I’m not quite happy with yet. Hm. What date is it again?
What? The 25th already? Well, then there’s nothing for it, I’ll have to press the button. [panic mode activated]
What am I doing here? What are yo doing here, reading this? Shouldn’t you be plotting away? Shouldn’t I? So much to do! So little time! Gaaaah, where’s the last week gone?!? Help!
(To the writers: how are your preparations progressing? All done? Struggling? Not preparing anything anyway? Please tell me I’m not the only one whose stomach flutters unpleasantly at the thought of November 1st getting closer and closer!)
A while ago, author, fellow blogger, chocolate lover and generally cool gal, Zen, wrote a post about fairy tales, wherein she expressed surprise that fairy tales aren’t ideal after all. This is a response to that post. So before you continue, please go and read her post, and the comments. I’ll wait for you.
. . . (are you reading yet?)
Back? Alright, let’s get started. The following might turn out a bit long and/or scholarly, but I’m keeping it to the point as much as possible, so just bear with me, please.
Fairy tales and me
Maybe it’s because I’m German, but I grew up with the originals, the Brothers Grimm and lots of others, some more local, some from neighbouring countries. Fairy tale movies are a big thing, and on one of the best TV channels we have, there’s a special feature, the Sunday Fairy Tale, where they show a fairy tale movie each week. It’s been around for years and years and years. When we went for family walks, my siblings and I used to ask our Grandmother or our Mum to tell us fairy tales. Later, my siblings asked me and I’d tell them the Grimm ones I liked the best or I’d invent some of my own. I also told them to all the kids I used to babysit. If you don’t know, you can make most of these stories quite interactive, and that’s what I did. Of course we also saw the Disney versions, but we were aware the whole time that they did not tell the “true” story.
When I studied to be a teacher, I chose fairy tales as a focus topic for my oral (and final) exam in literature. I read all the classics, I read all the scientific stuff about how to analyze them, different approaches from psychology towards fairy tales, historical documents, books on comparative literature, … Well, I studied them. And because I think fairy tales are an integral and extremely important part of any culture, I think it’s worthwhile to get it clear what they are, what they do and what they don’t do and why they are important.
Also, just to get it off my chest before I go on: I adore Zen, and her blog is one of my favourites and this is in no way intended to be patronizing or anything like that. It just happens to be a topic that I feel strongly about and that I like talking about and her post was just a kind of trigger.
So, why are these stories called “fairy” tales? There’s very few fairies present in any of them! The answer is, quite simply, that ‘fairy tales’ is the wrong word. It has become the word that is used in the English language, but that is just a matter of convenience and usage. What they really are, are folk tales. Tales that have been around for a long time, that have been passed down from generation to generation, that have a long oral tradition.
In German, the word is ‘Märchen’. In literature studies, this word is even used in English, as a technical term for these kind of stories. It’s a diminutive form of the the word ‘Mär’, a very old-fashioned word that means nothing else than ‘story’. So ‘Märchen’ just means ‘little story’. Not that most people are aware of that, as I said, it’s a very old-fashioned term.
Because I don’t want to write “fairy tales” for the rest of this post, I’ll lay off the quotation marks. After all, it is the word that is most commonly used. But let’s keep in mind that really, they are folk tales, okay?
The Brothers Grimm
The Brothers Grimm, or rather, Wilhelm and Jacob Grimm, were not, as some people assume or as they have been portrayed, these adventure-seeking, dangerous-living, travelling guys. So who and what were they then? I’ll give it to you in one word: Geeks. Very prolific, very cool geeks. They were academics, both studying law and reading, reading, reading… They read Schiller and Goethe, were interested in the Romantics and friends with some of the most well-known German Romantics, and laid the foundations for what we now call “Germanistik” (the studies of German language, literature and culture, like for example “Amerikanistik”, the study of American language, literature and culture).
They were born in the 1780s, the eldest sons of a numerous family, the father was a civil servant of middle rank, their grandfather had been a cleric. Their research went into finding the roots and charting the development of German literature and culture, because they thought that the present social and political circumstances could be explained and charted and hopefully changed by this. For their research they studied documents and records and literature from England, Scotland, Ireland, Scandinavia, Finland, Serbia, Netherlands, Spain… large parts of Europe.
Together with a number of other academics and writers, all loosely connected to Romanticism (I’m talking about the literary epoch here, guys!), started collecting folk tales. They did not want only the written-down documents, because those only gave the view of the literate and the rich. Together, they went out to ask old people to tell their stories. However, they did not go very far out. They didn’t travel all the lands or anything like that. After all, they worked for their living as well. They went to the surrounding villages on weekends and a large portion of the stories actually comes from one source, an old lady that lived in a village near the town where they lived. They did work scientifically, in that they tried to find at least two different sources for each story, but they did not work scientifically in that they were picking and choosing which versions to include.
Yes, you heard right, versions. You don’t think that a story stays the same if it’s told and re-told and re-told by a number of people? It changed from village to village, from family to family, from generation to generation. And that’s just as it should be, since a story is a living, breathing thing. What the Grimm brothers and their friends and colleagues did, was to pick the ones they thought were most representative. They brought out the first part of their collection in 1812, entitled “Kinder- und Hausmärchen” (“Children and House tales”, literally).
Time went by and they worked on a large number of things, publishing essays and books and studies analysing or translation or commenting things like myths, epics, legends, … They were scholars, and they did what scholars do. In 1815 they published the second part of their collection and 1819 they brought out a second edition of the first part. This had to be heavily edited. A lot of stories were struck out, other included and most of the stories were toned down to exclude all the too obvious erotic allusions. They also published their notes and study references and later brought out a ‘small edition’ in only one book – that one brought them most of their publicity. Their collection was translated into English and became even more popular.
Although their work was largely scholarly and had to do with language and culture, they also were active in politics, publishing political arguments to the purpose of unifying all the splintered little states to form a republic. Both helped to formulate the first German version of human rights (following the example of the French revolution and other similar influences). Jacob was a representative of the first National Congress of Germany, something for which he was later exiled by the king.
I could go on about those two for a long time, because, as I said, they were cool guys and they did a lot with their lives and their talents, a lot of which is not enough acknowledged. But since this is supposed to be about fairy tales, and not about the lives of Wilhelm and Jacob Grimm, I’ll quickly inflict one more topic on you.
What’s the point of fairy tales?
Good question. What is the point of stories? Well, entertainment for one thing. Imagine you’re a farmer somewhere in 1700-something, or earlier, or later, any time before electricity and modern infrastructure. What do you do for relaxation and entertainment? Sure, you get together with neighbours and gossip. Or tell tales. Invent histories, lie about your achievements, exaggerate your woes. All those things that we do as humans. Stories are entertainment.
But more than that, stories are how we make sense of the world. They explain human behaviour. No, they don’t tell us of ideal behaviour of a hero, a demi-god (these stories exist as well, but they are myths – dealing with superhuman beings). Fairy tales talk about humans. Humans lie. They cheat. They seek their own advantage. But they also believe in rules of good and bad behaviour and fairy tales are pretty clear on that: good guys become happy and rich. Bad guys get punished. It’s all very black and white. No shades of grey in a fairy story. There are no complex emotional dramas. That does not mean that you cannot imagine them to be there! I’m pretty sure that if there were a father who would abandoned his two children in the woods, would probably suffer intense emotional drama (unless he was a heartless, a-social freak, of course). But detailing that drama is not what fairy tales are about.
Incidentially, anybody who argues, that what some people nowadays perceive as “gruesome”, is a reflection of a harsher life in the past, is guilty of depriving people of the past of their humanity. No sane person would under any circumstances, as harsh as these circumstances may be, suffer a child of theirs to be lost or killed. It’s got nothing to do with that. Again, fairy tales are “only” stories. To instruct (and entertain) children. To help and make sense of the world to people. To entertain adults. Yes, I did say adults. They are not children’s stories, although the Grimms named them that, in a rather savy marketing strategy. If you read the originals, and I mean the original originals, not the edited ones, it’s perfectly obvious that these stories are full to bursting of sex and crime. Although it’s still perceptible in the edited version. Folk tales, not “fairy” tales.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
If you’re interested in getting answers to why fairy tales are important, what other fairy tales there are, where they come from, and what psychology has to say about them (a lot, believe me! and also this: you’ll be surprised!), check back here in a day or so. I’ll answer these questions in a second post.
In the meantime, go and read some of the Grimms’ tales, they are all online, since they are part of the public domain. Amazon features them as free downloads for Kindle, or you can either download them or read them online at Project Gutenberg.
On a related note, if you’re interested in things like fairy tales, myths, legends, mythical or fantasy beings and creatures and fantasy in popular culture, please go and check out this website and blog: Twilight Wanders. It’s a side project on which I’m collaborating. We’re only just starting, so there is not that much to see yet, but it’s growing every day and we’re very open for suggestions, ideas and guest posts!
Also, any comments, contradictions, questions? Need me to clarify something? Want to correct me on something? Please comment!
While putting together a collection of music for a friend, I got stuck on Nick Drake. To be exact, on Bryter Layter. And writing a little anecdote for said friend, explaining why I’d chosen this album, I relived the times I described and it suddenly became so real and so overwhelming that I couldn’t go on and am now, on an autumnal Saturday night, at my desk, listening to the whole album and drifting somewhere between daydreaming and remembering. I will just hope that the friend in question does not read this post before I can send the music off, because I’m just going to copy what I just wrote for him half an hour ago because I can’t describe it any better:
I can’t say that I have a favourite Nick Drake album, but if I had one, I think it would be this or Pink Moon. This is my “falling-asleep-under-the-stars” album. I listened to it almost every night when I was travelling in Croatia. I’d be outside in the sun all day, hiking or swimming or reading or writing or meditating and when it started getting dark, I’d crawl into my little tent and watch the stars through the mosquito net of the open tentflap, snuggled into the sleeping bag more for comfort than warmth and I’d listen to the rustle of the wind in the pines and the creaking of wood as the earth slowly cooled down and then I’d put on my mp3-player and listen to this album very softly.
I held on to that feeling in a poem. I’ll share it below the songs, together with a photo I dedicated to the poem.
cold stars are out
warm and safe
in the dark
in my ears
piano and guitar
for lonely songs
with intricate longings
and the vulnerable voice
of a musician
who died too young
and yet can make me feel
in this night
Wow, thanks for everyone who voted on the NaNo novel! The numbers are in and it stands as this:
Option 1 (comic urban fantasy): III
Option 2 (children’s adventure): IIII
Option 3 (literary fiction):
So it looks as if I’ll be attempting some literary fiction. That’s a new one for me and I have to tell you, I’m a little intimidated by it, but in the end, challenges are good, aren’t they? Help us to rise above ourselves? Make us better and stronger people?
… alright, it did sound more convincing in my head…
Okay, I’ll be serious. Serious about planning, that is. Since it’s already the 18th (!!! gahhhhh! how did that happen?!?!?) and there is lots and lots to plot and plan. Some things I already know though. The names. I don’t how how you guys deal with names, but for me, it’s pretty much one of the first things I know about a character. Not always. Sometimes I know who he or she is and then find a name that fits them. But usually, the name and the character of the person come to me in a bundle. And then, once they have that name, that’s it. There’s nothing I can do about it. I might want to change it later on, because maybe the name has to sound different or maybe it conveys a ‘wrong’ cultural background or two names in one story sound too much alike, but in that case, it’s just bad luck. Nothing I can do about it.
I mean, just imagine if you took it into your head that you really didn’t like your own name that much and you decided to go by another. Maybe you have a second name, maybe you’ll change your surname to something else… but underneath, in your own head, wouldn’t you still think of yourself by your original name?
I can see how a change of name would help if you wanted to become a different person. Just like clothes, I guess: you put them on and you just feel different. They allow you to leave your personality and pretend, for a little while, that you are more fun or more quiet, more outspoken or more professional, more this or that or anything else that you can think of than you usually are. That’s one reason why people dress up for job interviews or for dates or for festive occasions – it’s an outward signal to themselves and it bucks them up to be professional or at their most charming or in their best festive mood. It helps. It’s certainly part of why I only really use make-up and fancy jewelry at certain times (like interviews and exams and parties and so on). In the end though, you’re still yourself when you take the clothes off.
A change of name, of course, is more permanent than clothes and I’m sure it would help you change, just by always reminding you to be different and act as a sort of guide to the new you. But that’s exactly my point with characters: once they have a name, that is them. I cannot change the name without changing the personality. And the other way round, if I think that that secondary character (or even, in one case, the main character herself) really has to be different to fit in the story, then I need to do them from scratch: new personality, new name, new character. The old ones gets put in a back corner of my head, where they sulks for a while, crossing their arms in front of their chests, huffing and kicking at the dusty furniture and pretending not to be hurt, until they snatch up a random particle of inspiration and hold it up above their heads, its light reflecting back on their faces and lighting it up with a wild hope and glee and they shout at me: “That’s my story, right there! All mine! My story! Do something about it! Move, come on!”
(I don’t know if your characters sulk or are hurt or angry at you or shout at you and order you about, but I fervently hope they do, because if they don’t, it might mean I’m crazy after all.)
So, yeah, names are IMPORTANT. They define people. They define characters in novels. And I have the names for my next book, and attached to that, the personalities of the characters. That’s a good start, right?
All the writers out there: do you find names as important as well? Are you able to change them in the middle of the story or is that utterly unthinkable for you?
I have been “editing” the first draft of my novel for the last two weeks. Basically, that means re-writing it. I apologize for my long absence, but at the moment I feel empty of words. They have all gone into my work-in-progress. And at the moment, I hate every single one.
Yep, that’s right – I hate every single word of it.
My writing sucks, my characters suck, the story sucks. My writing is painful, wooden and filled with clichés. The characters are flat, lifeless, boring, exchangeable. And my story… what story? Why was I deluded enough to think I could write a novel? I’m wasting my time, I’m wasting everybody’s time and I should just give up.
Alright, now that bitterly-needed rant is out of the way, I guess I should start picking myself up again. Let’s start at the beginning:
According to this excellent and very funny article on Fevered Mutterings, it appears that at the moment I’m “officially the least reliable critic of [my] work in the entire world”. Oh. Okay. Alright.
And didn’t I read somewhere… oh, well, actually, just about EVERYwhere, that a first draft is just that: a first draft and it needs to be re-written and edited, re-written and edited, re-written and edited, … [repeat another ten to fifteen times]? Hm. Well, yes, I guess I did, but … But did that mean me?!? It did? Ah, okay. Well, that would explain some things.
On top of that, didn’t I read this pep talk by Lemony Snicket on why it’s best to give up writing straight away? I guess I did. And when I did, I wanted to sit down and write a ten-part epic novel right away, but sort of didn’t get around to it. So the conclusion? Read it every day to hang on to that power and inspiration.
It might even get me through this re-writing chore.
I sit on the terrace. It’s been sweltering and humid all day. I’ve kept the doors and windows closed so it would stay nice and cool inside the house.
Now the sun has disappeared behind the hill, although the sky is still high and blue and hazy clouded. It’s cooled down some after a five-minute-summer-rain. My skin feels sticky.
I drink endless glasses of water. I feel restless. I wish the flies would let me be.
Snatches of poetry run through my head. Words that adequately describe the feelings of sitting on the terrace on the evening of a hot summer’s day, watching the swallows dip and weave, listening to the blackbirds singing, feeling flies settling on my sweaty skin and wishing for something to happen. I cannot remember the poems, nor the poets, only flashes of their work.
The red-pink roses look good against the clouds gathering on the horizon. The goldfish in the pond move lazily just below the surface. There is no wind down here, although the clouds are moving closer fast enough.
I love this place, and yet I’m restless. Will I ever be satisfied with what I’ve got?
I hope the swallows will be able to stuff themselves tonight. I like swallows. I don’t like flies.
A plane cuts its way through the sky, sunlight glittering on its silver skin. It hums along in eager pursuit of a different place to be. The swallows stay put, close to their nests, even though they zip through the sky on their fast wings. The goldfish don’t zip. They just drift.
The edges of the clouds are white, tinged with a rose-golden hue. I hope the swallows and the planes appreciate how pretty they are.
So the NaNo fun has started… I went into the game with slightly over 3000 words, none of which I’m particularly pleased with, but they needed to be put on paper. I’ve been doing other things the whole day, hoping to get every urge to procrastinate out of my system by dinner time. I work best at night.
My main character, Meg, has arrived in the village, had an almost-fight with her Mom and has made the acquaintance of some of her future friends. In the middle of writing I changed the sex of one of these friends – I felt there were too many girls. 🙂
Also, I’m so happy to have the support system of my cabin – hurrah for fellow writers!
I’m sitting in the reading nook at the back of the garden, on a comfortable chair, my laptop on a small table in front of me, feet propped up on a stool, right below an orange cloth that is fashioned tent-like above the wrought-iron structure that shades this corner. The Moroccan lamp dangles down from the highest point and isn’t lit because it’s bright afternoon.
Outside my shady tent my youngest sister lies on the soft green grass of the garden, reading a book and tanning in her bikini, while dragonflies zip through the air around her. Birds chirp and sing and sometimes the far-away humming sound of a plane can be heard, as it cuts its way across the pale blue sky and the wisps of clouds up there. Playful gusts of wind tease the branches of the roses that have climbed over the arched garden gate and flutter my tented roof.
On the terrace, separated from the grassy garden by a stone bridge over an artificial little brook that runs around two sides of the garden, with little ponds in between, is the terrace, where my father naps in the sun, and my mother reads on a reclining chair in the shade. The dog moves from shade to sun, from sun to shade, and cannot decide if one is too hot or the other too cool. Whenever one of the big black flies, or bumblebees, or dragonflies or bees come too close to him, he jumps up and snaps at them, trying to catch them, but he never succeeds.
All around, trees are softly waving their branches, blue and purple and yellow and white and pink and red flowers are nodding their heads in the breeze, and on the pond, pink and white waterlilies have opened their petals and float serenely on the glittering surface.
It is a long weekend in early summer, and I’m so very happy to be where I am.
because it’s a balmy, velvety, starshining night outside and I’m remembering last year’s camping trip to the Balkans with longing, here is a poem I wrote on that trip, pretty much exactly a year ago…
………………..The Evening Cathedral
……………….. Particles of dust and peace
……………….. are floating in the shafts of light
……………….. that boldly enter between
……………….. the high domes of the pine trees.
……………….. Birds are singing hymns
……………….. while angels drift golden and red
……………….. across the serene sky,
……………….. disguised as wisps of cloud.
……………….. And when dusk arrives
……………….. in its dark robe, carrying the evening star,
……………….. men and birds and rocks hold their breath,
……………….. overwhelmed by the immense stillness
……………….. as the world stops spinning for one heartbeat –
……………….. and then goes on with the business of nightfall.
What can I say about it that hasn’t been said by a thousand writers before me, all of them more knowledgeable and experienced? One thing I can say is that I always, ALWAYS underestimate it. After all, it’s fiction, isn’t it? I can just do what I want. … Or maybe not.
Today, I wanted to ‘just quickly’ look up some Welsh fairy creatures. Just to get an idea what kind of mythological things populate that area. Just as background knowledge. Nothing to do with the story itself. That was this morning. Tonight… Well, let me put it like this: I dare anyone to ask me anything about Welsh mythology and get away in under an hour. Except for the pronunciation, which totally defeats me. Okay, so maybe I read too much, but it doesn’t feel too much. Rather, I totally underestimated the effects my ‘little bit’ of research would have on my story. Where I originally thought to have the standard range of fairy creatures (dwarves, elves, fairies, …) as a backdrop, maybe with a Welsh name thrown in here and there, I know realize that…
… the actual creatures are so much more interesting! I mean, who wouldn’t prefer to have a disembodied screeching voice that announces the death of a person to a bunch of boring old elves? Or a black dog with putrid breath and fiery eyes to a run-of-the-mill ghost? And did you know that in Wales they have this amazing creature that is called the Water Leaper? It looks like a giant frog, only it has bat wings instead of forelegs and it snaps the lines of fishermen, and sometimes it eats the livestock. Cool or what?
… all these things, all the legends and mythical creatures and spirits and so on actually fit the story so much better! That will really throw my main character off balance, and she needs being thrown off balance pretty badly. To start seeing fairy creatures is one thing. But to see fairy creatures she has never even heard of before… Perfect!
… Yeah, well, that’s the drawback: I need to make major changes to my story.
*note to self: in future, do the damn research *in depth* before you even start typing the first word!*
The last few days I have been obsessed. Possibly also possessed. Anyway, that’s my excuse for failing miserably at writing one post a day.
I couldn’t think of anything else, except of my project. Ironically, that project is all about blogging, which would make the sane and normal person think that it would remind me of writing a blog post, but nope. It didn’t. I woke up in the morning, long before the alarm, with the feeling that I was wasting time, after I had dreamed about the project the whole night, grabbed my computer, worked right through the whole day without stopping except for a quick walk with the dog, went to bed with red, swollen eyes and completely exhausted around 11 pm, dreamed all night about it, woke up much too early, … I think you can guess how it continues.
Anyway, that was me the last three days.
Right now, my part is done and I’m waiting for reactions. Which leaves me suddenly feeling adrift. Even though it was so exhausting, I really enjoyed my headlong rush to finish a project I can be proud of. Waiting for the reactions from my classmates is eating me up inside and making me nervous as anything, but at the same time, I’m already looking for the next project I can dive into with the same abandon as I did with this one. That might not be so easy, because I usually have a problem: I’m a committment-phobic when it comes to my own ideas.
I’m really fabulous at starting things and quite the reverse when it comes to finishing something. Fantastic ideas always come to me, and I never see them through. So right now, I want to take a quick look at what made this project different. What made me see it through to the point where it’s actually out in the world and depending on other people to carry it further.
- First, I had a vision. But then, I also sat down and turned the vision into a real, do-able goal. I thought about the details and the nitty-gritty, instead of just the glory of the finished product. I drew plans, made notes, researched stuff.
- I started doing something, even though I knew it wouldn’t be perfect. I knew I would have to revise and, quite possibly, completely rework it later on. Still, I did it. I did it, because I needed to show the people I wanted to work with (my classmates) something concrete, instead of just talking about it all the time. I needed something to work with, even if I would have to change every single thing about it in the process.
- I filled dozens of papers with notes. I wrote down every single tasks I had to do, be it ever so small, and I did not let myself get up until I had completed all the tasks there were. I stayed in my chair and kept the fingers on the keyboard, or the mouse. Actually, it wasn’t really a chore – I didn’t want to stop. But I didn’t want to stop because I could see it moving forward and progressing.
Sound familiar? It certainly does to me. It’s what everyone always tells me. It’s what everybody is being told all the time. It’s what all mentors, all handbooks, all guides say: Set achievable goals. Work out what you have to do to get there. Sit down and do it. Don’t stop until you’re there.
I guess all those people who have given me advice… they were right after all.
As I was lying on the springsoft meadow, flies buzzed about my ears and the dandelions looked down into my face, wondering what I was doing amongst them, shaking their heads in slight bewilderment, but smiling brightly nonetheless. What was I doing?
I was watching the wind erode the tracks that the planes had cut into the hazy sky.
This morning, while browsing my feed reader, I was intrigued by this article by author Jillian Kent, as a guest post on literary agent Rachelle Gardner’s blog (which I love to read, by the way). Jillian Kent asks whether I am a craft junkie. And goes on to explain what she means with ‘craft’ – the craft of writing. The art of writing. And how she cannot stop buying books on writing.
I answered with a halting yes. Actually, I would love to be. I would love to have all these books, go to conferences, talk to authors, read what great writers have to say about the craft of writing. Unfortunately, I’m usually broke. And when I have some money, I usually spend it on live music. Hm.
Actually, I’ve made the experience that the more I read about writing, the less I write. Often it intimidates me. I love reading those books anyway. Especially because I doubt myself all the time anyway. So I figure, it’s better to doubt myself and read something that can teach me, than to doubt myself and panic. But I also know that those books can strengthen my insecurities. So I read them in small doses. Maybe it’s good that I’m broke so much.
Today, I doodled. And I don’t mean pictures. I played around with a plot.
It’s an old idea. Actually, the original idea is about fifteen years old, I wrote the beginning of the story when I was still a teenager. Two or three years ago I re-discovered it, knocking around on my computer, and at the first time of reading it again, I laughed out loud.
In a good way.
So I started doodling with it, every time I thought of it. Because that’s what I do with stories. I think of them, I go all enthusiastic, start writing, find out that I have no structure whatsoever and then put it away in some folder on the computer. And every time I feel like it, I take it out and start playing around with it.
Somehow I seem to believe that stories finish themselves, if only I wait long enough and play around with them from time to time. Maybe they mate. Or they need time to hatch. I’m not sure. It doesn’t work anyway. They don’t grow.
So today I doodled on this idea. I wrote an interview with the main character, which I didn’t finish because he was way too talkative. He also kept hitting on me. So I ended it, but I learned a lot about him. Like, that his friends call him Dev. The name I gave him was Devlin, but he doesn’t like that. He thinks it’s too Celtic. Too grown-up. Too serious.
Then I went with my old and trusted method of just asking questions of myself and answering them. Mainly, I ask ‘why’. It sort of develops from there by itself until I have a pretty good idea of where it’s all going. It did work – as in I have some more ideas – but it also brought some new challenges that I hadn’t thought of, and the most important one is that the stakes aren’t high enough. All the events and actions I’m putting on the line for Devlin (or rather Dev, as I now know) – he’d never in a million years do them! And the reasons I had before, that would make him do it, aren’t strong enough. I need to be much, much more mean towards him.
At that point, I thought that some really serious structure would help, and I brought out my little chart of what has to happen in which part of the story (first part: introduce character, establish setting, dump character into problem – second part: character tries to solve problem, fails, … and so on and so on). I tried to fill it in, but didn’t succeed much beyond the first part. Structure. I need some. Also, I need some more fiery hoops for Dev to jump through. And bigger rewards to make him jump in the first place.
I never used to do this much plotting, but I think that’s the main reason why my stories don’t mate. Or hatch. Or don’t grow in any way. I need structure.
What about you?