Creative Process

Blessed by good characters and a rejection…

Alpenglow outside my study window

Alpenglow outside my study window

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.

Art

Hiatus: a break where a part is missing or lost, as in a manuscript¹

Hiatus is a more apt descriptor than I had realized, given that the reason for the break is that something was missing and the example used in the definition is a manuscript.  Something has been missing from my manuscript.  Me.  

Last Autumn saw me struggling with a failure of courage such as I have never felt.  How do we get to be well along into adulthood before it occurs to us to look down at our squelching boots and see that what we took to be firm ground is anything but.  That was me.  I found out first hand what people meant when they referred to anxiety and panic.  I withdrew from everything and everyone except my writers group and tried to keep breathing.

People don’t like it when you do that.  It’s very threatening.  We are so dependent upon one another to pull our weight in hauling out the big lie that is the status quo every day and I never ever have wanted to live like that.  Since I began spending my days writing it seems I have been peeling back layers, always exposing what lies beneath to the light of day.  I thought I had gotten to the rocky substrata awhile ago, but I had not.

When you are working every day on creating something, that peeling back of layers in search of truth never ends.  As a writer it is my job to perceive every little nuance of human interaction, to turn it over in my mind, and remember it well.  By writing, expressing myself, and creating something in this way, I discover what is real and what is meaningful to me.  I shed the old behaviors that I thought protected me from unkindness.  So I find myself exactly where I need to be to write and where I have always wanted to be – raw, vulnerable, and wide open.  I let go of my corner of the status quo, the veneer that covers up those layers.

I have started writing again and I know that what I have been through was necessary in order to dig deeper in my writing than I have before.  My characters are more layered and imperfect.

Even this, as hard as it was, fuels my art and keeps the muses alive.

¹Webster’s New World Dictionary, Second College Edition, The World Publishing Company, ©1968

Creative Process

Leave Me Alone

“I thought of saying that I was writing a book and was not seeing many people.”  Colm Tóibín, The Pearl Fishers, The Empty Family: Stories, p. 89

I am protecting my time in September.  August was an unbearable bust for getting anything done except processing and exorcising emotional build-up, mine and others’.  If I am to write, I cannot do that.  I have to keep to myself, day after day, not just in pockets of time here and there.  When I am working, I am working all the time.  

I can’t focus and write in the morning if I know I have this, this, and that to do before I have to be somewhere later.  Maybe it is not the same for everyone, but for me I don’t just need a couple of unscheduled hours in my study.  I need emotional and psychic space as well.  If it takes time to prepare myself to go somewhere and time to process and recover afterwards, I lose my chance.  

My one and only chance.  Ever since I got a positive response from an agent query, outside demands on me ramped up and I found myself unable to grab the time and focus.  Coincidence?  I don’t think so.  

Charles Bukowski said you don’t need air and light and time and space.  If you’re going to create, you will, and that’s true.  I once did some of my best in-the-zone writing at a car dealership waiting for repairs.  Unlovely surroundings, but two hours with nothing and no one.  

I realize now that I have been constantly justifying to myself the need to protect my time rather than simply doing so.  Instead I could not believe I had the right to be selfish with my time or that I should be able to create and work regardless.   Not true.  It is possible to say without rancor or justification, “I’m sorry, I can’t go.  I will be working.”  Not everyone will understand my requirements and no amount of explanation will change that, but that’s okay.  What they do with it is up to them.  I need to use this chance, whatever it takes, and commit to it.  

I need pens, paper, computer, and quiet.  I need to be left alone.  

© Margaret Grant and magoffleash, 2012-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

Fiction

Writer Meets Agents

Last month I pitched my novel to two agents at a writers conference sponsored by the League of Vermont Writers.

In the days running up to the conference, and even for a few days following, I was in some kind of bubble, very much by myself and single focused.  It had been awhile since I had done something I had never done before.  I was preparing like crazy but also had a funny feeling that there was such a thing as too much preparation and that I might do better to let it ride.

At my first appointed time I introduced myself to the agent.  I shook hands, sat down, thanked her for her time, and launched into my 50 word pitch.  Before I got halfway into it, she interrupted me and began talking.  She talked more than I did and I wasn’t sure what to think.

She advised that I begin my pitch with the biggest event in the story in a ‘Can you believe this happened?!’ kind of a way.  She asked some good questions, one of which was to ask what my inspiration for the story was and to advise that I use that as a starting place.

When our time was up, I stood up having said only about five percent of what I had prepared and she said, “Oh but feel free to send me your work,” and I said, “Sure, thank you.”  Somehow I don’t think you really mean that.  

I went outside and walked around and then found a quiet place to think.  I had written a synopsis of my story just to have at the ready and I decided to take her advice and in my next pitch lead with that.  Also, at the opening panel, the second agent had said that she liked to get to know people when they made their pitch.

So when I went in to my next meeting I introduced myself and asked, “How are you,” and “How was your trip,” and watched her smile and relax.  I then told her a little bit about myself and thanked her for taking the time to meet with me.

Then I told her what my story was about, the long version.

She asked some very good questions and advised that since it was a character driven story that I would need strong characters and perhaps a variety of plot points.  She asked the same question as the first agent as to what had inspired this story, and also recommended including that.  I soaked it up.

She had remarkable communication skills, considered her words before speaking, and let me say what I came to say.  Near the end of our time she said, “I would really like to read your work, if you would please send it to me, okay?  Take my card.”  The bell rang, I said thank you so much, shook her hand and left.

I was stunned.  As much as I was hoping to hear that, I didn’t know what to do next.  But my editor was there as a vendor so I found her and she – she’s the best!! – jumped up, big smile and hug, and then said, “What did she say, tell me everything.”  That was the biggest blessing of the day.  Someone in my corner, you know?

It was several days before I could really fathom what this meant.  I am still revising my novel, for Pete’s sake, but this conference is so close by and it is only held every two years, so I went.

I have given myself a deadline to have something decent to send to her.  I still can’t believe it.  It really is true that when you set something in train, it assumes a life of its own and you have to dash to keep up with it.

© Margaret Grant and magoffleash, 2012-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.