Winter Solstice

Freedom and Structure

By the FirePerusing through the She Writes network the other day, I came across this most excellent post, Driving a Car at Night; Do you Outline, or Not?, by Kamy Wicoff.

Seriously, go read it. Especially the comments. I’ll wait right here for you.

Welcome back. The reason I wanted you to read Kamy’s post is that I’ve been struggling with the exact same issues lately. Process. Expectations of process. Ultimately why my expectations have been holding me back.

I grew up outlining in all my creative writing classes. I love outlines. I rock at writing essays because I can set up my structure ahead of time, gather all the information and support I need, then bang out my essay. Simple, easy, done.

Then I started writing fiction, fantasy, primarily. I ran into a brick wall in the form of my characters. It’s taken me quite a while to realize that every time I tried to outline my story or follow any sort of regulated process, my characters would throw up their hands and walk away shaking their heads. “She doesn’t get it.” I heard that from them multiple times.

Finally I started listening. I hear them. They don’t like structure. I do. How do I reconcile the two opposite poles? The answer I’ve come up with is…I don’t. I have to first give up my expectations, my process, my ideals, and let my characters have full control. I am merely a vessel for them to speak through. I’m doing this with my current story. I have envisioned a fireside chat with all the main players in the room. A cold, snowy evening with a fire in the fireplace, hot cocoa or something stronger for everyone, and my characters in various comfy chairs or on the soft rugs. All I’m supposed to do is write the stories that they tell, capture their gestures, the dynamics between them, and hear what they don’t say. What they don’t want me to know yet. It’s my job to be still, listen, observe, and write. Suddenly the words start to flow.

When I’ve finished writing all that they need me to know, however, you can be sure as hell that I’m outlining to ensure that I have all bases covered, that the holes are filled, and that the plot has been threaded successfully. In the end, both my characters and I get what we want. Freedom, and structure. They can coexist.

Winter Solstice

Get out of the way

Would you just get out of the way already?

One of my main characters just yelled this at me in frustration. I cringe, hearing the bite in his voice and knowing I’m the cause. Get it through your head, he continues as I sit down in my chair with my tea. We don’t want restrictions. We don’t want outlines. We don’t want to be counted and categorized and lined up for inspection to see if we fit the right criteria. We want to tell you our stories without all these stupid interruptions!

By this point he’s leaned over me, his glare boring into my eyes. I can practically feel the steam. “All right,” I reply, putting my hand on his chest gently to ask him to give me room. “How do I do this?” Just listen, and write, he says. Why is that such a difficult concept?

Why indeed. Whenever I have trouble with my writing, it’s never about the story. It’s always because I’m getting in my own way. I put up blocks because of the expectations I place on myself, or because I’m uncomfortable. I hesitate to generalize, but I have a feeling this is true for many writers. We are our own worst enemy when it comes to progress on our stories. Writing is not for the faint of heart. It calls for introspection, faith, and the call to arms every day to battle the doubt monster.

How do I get out of my own way? I’m still working on the answer to that. In the meantime, my main character is tapping his foot, waiting. I’m off to go listen to his story. Maybe it’s that simple.

Winter Solstice

Transitioning Focus

Dear friends,

I have closed my Etsy shop and decided to focus on my writing. After working with my most excellent life coach, I’ve finally realized that what I yearn for most is to have my stories come to life. I’m finally giving them the space and time that they deserve, and I do mean that literally. I’m transitioning Heart of Autumn to reflect this renewed venture, and would love to have you join me as I meander about the story pathways.

Crafting and art quilts will always be a large part of my life. I’ll be posting my creations here too, so Etsy friends, I’d love to have you stick around if you choose.

I’m excited to be here and have this new direction. It feels authentic and right for me. Off to find the magic within.
Bright Blessings.

Winter Solstice

What Archery Taught Me About Writing

A close friend of mine came up this weekend for a mini getaway. We had a focus though; we were critiquing each other’s stories that we swapped a week prior.

We’re also both archers. Well, aspiring archers anyway. I have an expanse of lawn in the back yard with a bank on the end that is perfect for catching stray arrows. My friend pulled out her compound bow, I grabbed my re-curve and we shot off some rounds of arrows and had a great time.

It hit me later on that writing is just like archery. It takes time, patience, and consistency to increase skills. Some shots are going to go wide, some are going to be close yet skim by, and then there are a few that just sweetly sing to the target. Those shots are worth waiting for, are worth traipsing through the leaves on the bank to retrieve the arrows that missed. Those shots erase the sting of the arrow hitting the one part of the arm that isn’t covered by the bracer and the pain in the end of the fingertips from soft fingers that need callouses.

Archery illustrated for me today the need to keep working on my writing, to push through the frustration, the lack of progress, the characters that remain silent, and the plots that go astray. The moment where it all comes together makes it worthwhile, just like the moment an arrow leaves the string and you know it’s going straight for the bulls-eye.

Winter Solstice

Doubt Monster

I’m staring at my story Callie’s Heart, and I have no clue where it’s going. I’m trying to outline, to give it a direction, and this really annoying thing keeps popping up. The doubt monster. It’s laughing hysterically as it says that I have no idea how to construct a decent story, that my plots are boring as hell, that my characters are mush and so transparent that no one will have to guess how they are going to act, and so on, and so forth…

I stare at the doubt monster, and the problem is he’s familiar. And cute. And really likeable. I open my mouth to defend myself, to declare that yes I know how to write and he really needs to stop, but nothing comes out.

So doubt monster smiled his irresistible smile and continues his tirade with well, work on something else. He know that I’m going to get completely overwhelmed just thinking about the multiple stories I have going on. I pause in fear thinking that I have absolutely no basis for declaring myself a writer and he just sits there laughing. Maniacally. It’s really annoying. And I’d like to punch him, but half of me starts wondering if he’s right and why the hell am I putting so much energy into doing something that probably won’t pan out anyway? And don’t I have laundry or something to do, I mean really, taking this time is just taking time away from the practical things that need to be done – there are dishes to put away, and cleaning to do, and really, don’t I need to get breakfast or something? So writing? What the hell was I thinking?

The doubt monster really gets into it now. Come on, you’re just a little administrative assistant who couldn’t succeed any other way, so you think you’re going to take on writing a novel? The laughter continues…haven’t you followed the the good little path long enough and got yourself a nice husband, nice house, nice vehicles, and a nice job…why do you want more? That’s enough to deal with. So, writing? You have no clue what you’re going to be getting into. Like you know anything about finding an agent, sending out queries, and the editing process, and you know you’re going to get tons of rejections so why so you even want to bother? When was the last time you wrote anything of substance on your story? Hmm? It would take so much energy, and aren’t you tired already, so shouldn’t you just be a good little girl like you always have been and go do something productive? The doubt monster pats me on the head to send me on my way.

But, you know, doubt monster, I don’t like you after all. And you know what else? I have two words for you, instead of trying to justify and rationalize all the arguments I have against what you just said. Fuck you. Oh, two more…Go Away.

I have stories to write.

Winter Solstice

Finding a Door in a Blank Wall

There are days when all you do is stare at the wall in front of you. It’s white, seamless, and without doors or windows. The wall stretches endlessly in either direction. It’s too smooth to scale, and extends in the ground below. Turn back and the wall shifts with you. The wall blocks you from your creativity.

Some writers and artists get trapped staring at the wall for days or months. Sometimes years. It can drive you to the point where you question your sanity. There is no peace. You scream, cry, curse, and pound the wall in frustration. There seems to be no way out.

Keep in mind, though, that there are reasons for the wall. Maybe life needs your full attention. Perhaps there’s a part of your writing or art that needs more thought. Maybe you’re headed in a direction that differs from your authentic self. Possibly you’re afraid of what’s to come. The wall is there for a reason. What do walls do? Protect. They keep something out, or something in.Your mind is trying to protect you by erecting a wall.

You’ve tried to break the wall down to no avail. You’ve pounded, kicked, and pleaded for the wall to crumble into pieces. The wall will not budge until you ask why it’s there in the first place. Until you figure out the answer, it’s not coming down.

So, what do you do? Stop fighting. Listen. Change your perspective.

  • Go somewhere else and get a change of scenery.
  • Write or create something completely different.
  • Work in a different medium.
  • Research the subject you’re working on.
  • Journal about whatever is bothering you.
  • Be physical; get out of your mind and just move.
  • Realize that sometimes the rest of your life has to take priority.

I didn’t write for ten years. Ten years. I know why now. Once I figured out the issue, and not a moment before, I opened my eyes, looked at the wall, and saw the door that had been right in front of me the whole time.

Image: Danilo Rizzuti / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Winter Solstice

Procrastination vs. Research

There’s a fine line between doing research and taking notes for a story and just plain procrastinating. I’m really good at doing both, and am trying to learn the difference.

Many times I need to let thoughts incubate for a while, and have to let the story develop in my head until it’s ready to move forward. Usually when I’m stuck it means I need more information. So I start asking questions, taking notes, talking with my characters and then voila! The story is ready to continue.

Other times though I’m just taking notes so I don’t have to tackle the story head on. Instead of going through the door, I’m peering into windows and saying I’m not ready to go through the door yet. Wait, I tell my story. I just need to look in the windows a couple more times and write down some details. I’m not ready to go through the door yet.

Then my muse usually starts staring at me with a disappointed look. Stop procrastinating, she will tell me. Open the door, and walk through it. Now. Sometimes I listen to her. Many times I don’t. Once I finally walk through the door, I find that the other side is clearer than the filtered light through the windows that I was looking through.

Learn to tell the difference between gathering information and procrastinating. Then walk through the door and continue your story. Or else your muse will be irritated with you, and there’s nothing worse than a disappointed muse.