Creative Process

Marrow

Go outside, then, to the top of the pasture and stand witness to the tree swallows tilting a wing, iridescence streaked under a black eye beady with hunger and intent, tempted by the gnats clustered around my face.  They are only hungry but their speed and courage are the grace I carry away with me down the hill and back to work.

Last week a timid but necessary insight revealed itself to me and this week, with nothing on the schedule, I have to follow up on it.

My work has improved, these are pretty good stories I am writing.  But I am letting my characters off too easily.  I am keeping them too safe.  They need to be more flawed, more wary, more angry.  They have to go down the dark hallway of my subconscious mind and what is really scary is that I have to go there with them.  I cannot keep protecting all of us.

I have to carve closer to the bone each day and when I nick that hard tissue, I cannot stop.  Even to scrape it clean with the side of a tired blade – even then, I know by now – I will not have gone deep enough.  Everything hungry, everything with teeth, cracks that bone to eke out the rich, grainy marrow of compassion and truth.

And peel those back to find forgiveness for the slow work this is and the balance I have to discover anew every day.

© Margaret Grant and magoffleash, 2012-2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

Writer's Life

A bit of news, a bit of weather…

Summer is upon us and we’re out the door by five-thirty to get ahead of the intention-flogging heat of the day.  Halfway around the pasture before I’m even awake.  Yesterday’s heat remains in low pockets where the night breeze wasn’t stiff enough to chase it off.

With coffee I climb the stairs to this small, white-walled room, the east-facing windows already heating up.  Soon my dog comes off her bed in a slow few steps to lie flat on her side on the somewhat cooler floor.

I have finished three short stories in the series I am working on.  I don’t know where these characters came from but they seem to have arrived fully formed.  It’s interesting watching them come alive and see what they will make of themselves.  The third story I will edit this week after letting it lie fallow for awhile and then have it workshopped early next month.

I have also been editing the first three chapters of my novel (again!) and working on a query and synopsis.  Taking steps, trying to have faith in myself.  I am pleased to find that it is not as bad as I had feared.

After weeks of indecision I have relinquished my position of Managing Editor of Mud Season Review.  I have loved working on this journal with such an amazing group of talented and generous people.  Throughout the year I’ve been on staff I kept writing, but other tasks have fallen away – blogging, for example, and the always intimidating agent search.  I have one more day on the Review and then I will be fresh out of excuses for not trying to get my work out there.  Hope to see you here more often.

© Margaret Grant and magoffleash, 2012-2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

Creative Process

Too Hot to Write, Too Hot Not To

Suddenly summer and we’re baking – no – more like simmering, in a fine stew of pre-storm humidity and above average temperatures.  I know that there are places in the world much hotter than this most of the time, but I am genetically pre-disposed to suffer in the heat.  On the farm nobody is out at mid-day.  It is dead quiet, not a leaf stirs, even the birds are resting.

Early morning, then, is the time for everything.  Walking my dog, chores, errands.  The trouble is that it is prime writing time, so the annual dilemma of how to fit everything in begins.  My dad would have said, “I wish that’s all I had to worry about.”  So, not complaining, just noticing.

I wrote a short story at the beginning of this year and was pleased with it.  When I sat down to see what was next, more stories from the same fictional town made themselves known.  I am now working on story number three and am not sure how many more there are.

The first story was well received by the writers’ workshop and my writers group.  I edited it several times over, coming up with at least ten drafts and then sent it off to literary reviews to see what they would make of it.  It’s funny how nerve-wracking that is.  I keep telling myself, why not me?  Other people do this, just send it!  If none of the publications I submitted to are interested, I will send it to my next list of possibilities.  Why not?

In the past year I have let myself be spread too thin, obligating myself and being distracted.  These stories, which are the best writing I have done, were written at the expense of everything else I could/should have been doing.  This town and the characters in it have captured my imagination and won’t let go.  This tells me that I need to, once again, let loose of everything else and just write.  If I am writing better now than I was a year ago, how much will I improve this year?  I won’t know if I don’t keep at it.

And, honestly, it’s so damn hot, it’s not like I’m doing anything else, right?

© Margaret Grant and magoffleash, 2012-2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

Creative Process

Blessed by good characters and a rejection…

Have finally been able to focus on a story.  For awhile, wandering around my days, I was cogitating on ideas and characters.  Either I was trying too hard or every idea seemed epic in scope and was clearly a novel.

Then two things revealed themselves to me.  First, typically with a novel I struggle to have enough words, so maybe if I thought something was too long to be a short story, it would actually be just right, given my penchant for, and struggle with, brevity.  I would have something to edit out.  That would make for a nice change.

Secondly, I realized that this character who was hovering around the edges of my consciousness was not going to go away.  She is quiet, but she has presence.  So I capitulated and began writing her.  I like her very much.  It’s coming along.

Sometimes I worry that my stories, or rather the settings of my stories, are too rural.  Will people be interested?  Yet I always come back to them.  To these rugged people in a northern landscape.  What else can I do?  I am their scribe after all.

Another turn of fortune was that a very, very short piece I submitted to a review was rejected.  I was annoyed but also relieved because as soon as I sent it, I regretted it.  I had more to write about those characters and their struggle.  More setting to describe.  They deserve better.  So now I have a second idea for a story and somehow this feels like having back up.  I’m honest enough to say, too,  that there may have been some, “Oh yeah?  I’ll show you,” in my thought process as well.

So now, no excuses!  Two stories in the pipeline.  It has helped me knuckle down.

I wish you all a nice holiday season and all that but mostly I wish for you more words and breathtaking sentences.

© Margaret Grant and magoffleash, 2012-2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

Creative Process

Writing Life

What do I mean when I say I am a writer, that I work alone at home?  Because it is so very different from what I ever have imagined it would be.  And the struggle that is the creative process is like nothing I have ever done before.  I am nothing like I have been before.

In my last office job we had deadlines year round and I had enough work for two people.  My life was one of constant re-prioritizing, communication, and intense focus.  I argued and negotiated with people around the world, all of them well above my pay grade.  It was a good job and I was very good at it.  I wasn’t miserable.  I thought, this is great, I get to run my mouth, use my brain, and win.  My rational side was well pleased.

Since circumstances and my own decisions brought me here to this quiet, white-walled study, I have changed and it’s difficult to say what caused these changes within me, since so much happened all at once.  It’s as though my world got up from a long nap, shook itself, and went on walkabout into the Real with me hanging on for dear life.

I thought I was tough, articulate, and opinionated.  Now I sometimes find myself searching for the right word, less articulate and more thoughtful.  I sometimes stand in one place and feel afraid and cannot think what to do.   At first I thought, what’s wrong with you?  This isn’t you.  But in fact, it is me and it was the blustery, defensive me who was the impostor.  Now I’m apt to walk away from someone abusing me.  I just can’t be bothered to engage, to defend myself, to repeatedly throw my sense of self-worth in someone else’s face.

The reason for this is not that I am older and wiser.  It’s not that I have been hurt and am broken and have given up.  It is that I spend my days hooked into a direct line to my heart and soul and the generous muses who visit me.  I am finally where I belong and I go there every day.  Even if I’m not in my study working, I’m still there.  I live here now.  The things that were hurtful in my past, or are frightening now, I welcome them rather than put them off.  They are excellent creative fodder.  I go for a walk outside with my dog and at some point I stop thinking about whatever is bothering me.  I forget it without even trying to because I know who I am and what I am meant to be doing.

© Margaret Grant and magoffleash, 2012-2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

Creative Process

Landscape and Story

Outside the hillsides turn dun colored over the course of November, snow lines the edges of gardens, and eaves drip with the lost heat of the old house.  Below my window firewood is tossed length by length through the hurricane door to the cellar and hits the basement cement floor with a sound like tinker toys.  There are things to do today and I should get going but the first thing on the list every day is writing.  Chores press on my study door, tempting.  The best days are the ones when I am so absorbed in my work that I do not even feel them lurking out there.  For months I was working on the final revisions of my novel which I finished a couple of weeks ago.  I have been looking forward to that utter absorption of a new story, pure inspiration, without worrying about where it is going.  Just get in the flow and write.  It will come in its own time.

I go outside, I stand in the wind and watch the colors shift from gray to purple, to pink and gold and see what the land and sky have to tell me.  It is November and things start to quiet down.  The hillsides turn from flaming red and yellow to a more subtle, intricate gray and lavender.  The air smells of woodsmoke.  What needed to be done ahead of winter is done and now there is nothing but breathe and wait for the snow.  You can smell it a day before it comes, crystal ozone in the air.  It becomes possible for me to get quiet, to settle into writing, to stop trying.

I am fascinated by our relationships with landscape and sky, how deeply they define us, and the role they play in story.  It is crucial to know whether it is raining and on what type of ground my traveling characters are riding because this explains why they cannot be seen or heard. Early in our lives we long for the landscapes we’ve never seen – the oven air of the desert, the cold fog of old forest, the bloody salt crush of the sea.  Later in life we long for home.  For land that slants as steeply as you remember or unrolls before you as far as your eyes have vision.  A man walking on familiar ground is sure footed and able to dream as he walks.  By describing the effect a landscape has on a character we reveal details such as age and place of origin.  We know where we are.

What I have learned by finishing my second novel is to take my time.  Not to be in such a hurry to get the action down that details, description, and elements of character – in other words everything that makes it interesting at all – have to be added afterwards.  Two parts of two different stories were recently described to me by readers as my best writing ever.  And I am humbled and reassured because when I wrote both of those pieces I could feel that I was not in a hurry.  I closed my eyes and imagined the forest, the scents, the wind, the season and described it all and described the weather, tools, and animals as characters.  To let every detail and nuance become clear takes patience and more importantly faith in yourself.  To fly through it and not give it the time it deserves allows you to not quite admit your are really doing this.  This is something I understand now.  Words are delicate and shy and cannot be rushed.

© Margaret Grant and magoffleash, 2012-2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

Creative Process

White Sky, Leonard…

The morning is soft and quiet with white skies and clustered mosquitos and I am still here.  Still writing (almost) every day and walking with my dog around the farm.  But here now is the big difference – I finished the final major draft of my novel.

What a fascinating, heartrending struggle this has been.  For two years no matter what I was doing, I should have been working on it, and most of the time I was.  Now I tend to wander a little, lost between manuscripts – the one that is completed and the ones I haven’t yet begun.  A strange and uneasy limbo.

In spite of emotional challenges and the mind blowing clarity they engendered, affecting everything, I managed to continue working on this piece.  It is now the best I can make it.

Isn’t that the way of it?  When you begin to commit to whatever it is you know  you were meant to be doing, all the doors along the way fly open.  Sometimes they let in the light, sometimes the very deep dark, and sometimes people you love walk out those doors, too afraid of your courage.  It is all, all alright.  Dance down that hallway, bellowing song.  There is nothing to be afraid of but giving up, and no point in that anymore.

“There is a crack in everything.  That’s how the light gets in.”  Leonard Cohen

I hope there is a line in the hall outside my study of muses whose voices will soon tell me their stories.  Their short, brilliant stories which I will take down for them and call my own.

© Margaret Grant and magoffleash, 2012-2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.