Thursday, December 30, 2010

So Long 2010

I haven't blogged the second part of 2010 as I was busy cooking up these nuggets!

I did manage to read a few books, and a list of my favs are on StoryStudio Chicago's blog, Cooler by the Lake.

Here's to a happy new year and a return to writing in 2011!

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Trying a Story on For Size

I've been tinkering with my writing process, hoping to learn what works for me as a writer and what doesn't as I (hopefully) grow in my writing skills and process. I'm halfway into a new novel, but when I reached that midpoint I hit a bit of a standstill. I wondered if my seat-of-my-pants approach might be doing me a disservice and I should try a different method. I thought it might be time to *gasp* plan.

But when I tried to think out the rest of my novel, it just didn't take. I had ideas in my head of a few ways the story could end, a handful of obstacles I could throw at my characters. But that was about as far as I could take it. When I sat down with the intention to plan major plot points, or draft deeper character sketches, I came up with nothing. So much nothing I stopped writing anything at all.

And then one day, while reading, an idea popped into my head. I wrote a scene, short but sweet. A couple days later I wrote another one. And it all started to gather momentum, and I've gotten back on the writing horse. I'm quite relieved, and really glad to confirm that those thoughts of "I should just give up writing" were temporary moments of insanity.

So I realized yesterday that I have a certain writing style, and that style keeps me writing, and writing makes me happy, so maybe I should just stick with what works instead of trying to invent something new.

The best way I can describe my writing process -- just sitting down and typing and seeing what comes out -- is that it's like shopping. When I go shopping, I often have an idea in mind of what I'm looking for. A dress for a special occasion, new shorts for the summer, cute weekend tops. That's all I know, and that's enough. Then when I get into a store, I grab anything and everything that I might even consider draping on my body.

I go into the fitting room with clothes spilling over my arms. And I try it all on for size. Some clothes that look adorable on the hanger look terrible on me. Too boxy, color washes me out, pants are too long. And then some clothes are okay, take a few turns in the mirror to consider, and get temporarily assigned to the "maybe" pile. And then there are those gems that are a perfect fit. You know with that first glance in the mirror that the dress is to die for.

And that's what my writing style is like -- I just can't tell what will happen next until I sit down and type it out. I need to constantly try my story on for size. Some scenes are awful and need to be deleted. Some scenes have potential, but you know they need more work. And then there are those scenes that push the plot forward, reveal deeper layers of your character, and burst with beautiful language.

I'm not a plotter. I can't order clothing from a catalog either. These are things that I know and accept about myself, so there's no sense in fighting them. As long as I keep writing, I have to believe that some great story somewhere is bound to evolve. I'll discover the story that's a perfect fit.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Writers Group Guest

What would get me driving through the crummy Colorado snow on a day when it hit 83 degrees in Chicago? A writer's group. I've been on a family ski vacation in Steamboat Springs this week, and as I'm not a skier, I've been looking for other ways to pass the time when everyone else is up on the slopes.

So I've spent the week reading and writing, just like at home. As I was looking through a visitor's guide, I found a listing for the Steamboat Springs Writer's Group. They welcome drop-ins and visitors, so I schlepped through the snow to hang out with writers.

The group was wonderful. About 10 or 12 members attended today, but they sometimes get up to 20. This group has been around for more than 25 years and they meet every Thursday. Folks read their work -- up to ten minutes -- and there's a brief discussion of their work afterward. It's not a hearty critique like I'm used to in writing workshop, but people offer off the cuff reactions and insights.

I read the opening scene of my current novel, just three pages. I received feedback that I should get to the crux of the story sooner. Even with three pages, they wanted the story to move faster. Some folks disagreed with that, but the topic was debated enough to signal that it's something to think about it.

And I've heard so many different ways of saying that an author owns her work, and you can certainly ignore any critique comments you like. But in this group, Cesare gave a unique interpretation of this rule that I will never forget. He said, "If you don't like our comments, just flush 'em!"

They invited me to coffee afterward, and I sat and chatted with these writers who live on ranches or ski every Sunday -- a completely different set of writers than I'd ever met. It was a wonderful experience. If you're ever in Steamboat Springs, check them out on Thursdays at noon at The Depot. They'll be happy to have you.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

All About My Writing Home

I'm excited to share this article about StoryStudio Chicago, my writing home that I often gush about here. I've taken creative writing classes at StoryStudio Chicago for about three years and work there part-time as the Events Coordinator.

And did you see that great nugget of news at the end of the article my non-Chicago writer friends? StoryStudio Chicago will be offering online classes in the future! So even if you're not local to Chicago, you can soon take part in the supportive and challenging writing community that StoryStudio provides.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Olive Kitteridge

I just finished reading Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout, and it was one of my favorite reads in recent years. I read Strout's debut novel, Amy and Isabelle, years ago, and found it breathtaking.

Olive Kitteridge is a novel in stories, mostly centered around the oafish and oblivious Olive, a schoolteacher and pharmacist's wife, but also the folks who live in her small Maine town. I love character-driven stories and this book is all about character. Each short story has its own story arc, and is beautiful independently.

But through the collection of stories, the reader follows Olive wading through life with oblivion, anger, and sadness. Yet it's her brief moments of self-awareness -- she is very observant, but about everyone else and rarely herself -- that are startling in their simplicity.

Strout won the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for this beautiful book. I think it's a must-read for writers who want to study the art of characterization.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Story Ideas: Do You Find Them or Do They Find You?

A writers group I belong to asked to do a profile on me, and one of the questions was, "Where do you get the ideas for your stories?"

I didn't have a glamorous answer, just that sometimes I have a fuzzy idea of a character, or maybe an opening line. I sit down and type and see what happens.

I've been sitting down and typing and seeing what happens to my current WIP, although this time I have a few more ideas of what I want or need to write about next, a rough bulleted list of plot points I know the story will hit. I just don't know how the story will get there or what the characters will do at those points. I just write and hope that these folks I've created know enough by now to keep causing trouble.

How about you? Do you get ideas for stories, or do you show up and see what happens?

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Out of Order

I'm 27,000 words into my current work in progress -- over a fourth of the way complete with a first draft. One might say this is a minor milestone to be slightly proud of, but I'm skeptical. Instead of jumping up and down and glowing about how many words I have on the page, I know (and it took me two other novels to learn this) that now is a pretty good time to stop and see if I need to do some course correction.

I've done a lot of experimenting with this novel. I'm writing this draft super slow, with these long, leggy sentences. So my word count is not shooting up that high, which makes me nervous. But, I know that this is the best first draft I've ever had.

I'm also writing from multiple points of view. This story revolves around two couples, and I'm telling the story from each of these folks' POV. I did this at first as an experiment, to get to know all my characters better. But then I liked the concept and decided to stick with it. I've had fifty pages in front of my workshop group, and the jury is still out on whether or not this is effective. The most helpful feedback is that I'm not spending a long enough time with each character, and that's been an easy fix. I'm sticking with it for now.

But the thing I'm doing most differently with this WIP is that I'm writing my scenes out of order. I've heard people talk about doing this before and I thought they were out of their minds. But now I get it. I have, for once, an idea of the plot of this story. So I wanted to write out key scenes and see what they felt like. Then I've been going back and filling in the gaps.

Yet now I wonder if this is harmless and I can keep drafting this way, or if it's a lousy idea and I should just knock it off. Does anyone write this way? Have you tried and it found it to be a disaster? Or has it been an effective writing technique for you? I'd love to hear any and all advice!