The Long Absence From Writing

Writer'sBlock

Remember to add backlink from previous article to this one in first paragraph.

It’s intimidating to get back into a project after a long absence from writing. In my last post, I mentioned the relief I felt finishing the rough draft of “The Shepherd and the Courtesan,” because I’d had writer’s block for years. If you want to read it, you can find that blog here.

That rough draft was difficult because my writing muscles had atrophied, and my abilities had gotten weak. It hurt to write when what I was writing wasn’t good; and for a long time, I didn’t have any faith that eventually, it would be good. But I kept it up and finishing that godawful mess of a rough draft about a year ago was likely the most magnificent achievement of the last five years.

More than twenty years ago, I discovered that I can’t write when I’m in pain. This was the year when my mother suddenly collapsed with a cerebral hemorrhage. She almost died, and if my brother, Robert, hadn’t been at the house to do CPR, she would have. I was journaling every day at that time, and I remember opening up my notebook, putting pen to paper to write about it, and I froze. I made nothing more than dot on that page that day because I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. When somebody suggested I write about the pain, I argued that I could do that from a place of remembrance. At the time, it was all I could do to live through it. I couldn’t bear to reflect on it.

Over the years, things happen. Things like betrayal, heartbreak, abandonment, death, and grief, and every time I would take a long absence from writing. I envy those writers who can produce even while they suffer, even when they wake up with anguish and go to bed with despair. I’m sure their writing is very powerful and deeply moving. But to date, I simply can’t do it. For me, suffering blocks productivity. Maybe that will change some day; maybe I will find solace in the fictional story that has nothing to do with what is current in my life, and that will give me an escape.

I have no advice on what to do when things are bad and the writing is blocked, but I can offer some ideas on what to do to shift your energy away from the inertia that grief often brings. Several months ago, I did a blog about changing your habits, which is pretty much how I became productive again. You can read about it here if you like.

But it really comes down to meditation and exercise. If you must choose one over the other, I suggest exercise that has a meditative quality, like walking, running, and swimming – especially swimming. Exercise pulls you out of apathy quickly, and meditation brings you to the inner stillness and peace I believe are necessary for productive creativity.

Then write. Make yourself write even if your writing sucks. You have to do something to get back your momentum. Eventually, your writing will be good again.

Read a Lot and Write a Lot

Writing.Advice

Stephen King offered this pithy gem of advice in his fabulous book for scribes, “On Writing,” and he considered it crucial enough that he repeated “read a lot and write a lot” throughout the book. As much as I admire Mr. King for “On Writing,” “The Shawshank Redemption,” and the sheer mass of work he produced (I’m not a fan of horror), I have a slight tweak to add.

Read a lot, but read selectively. Write a lot.

The reason why is that I have found that whatever I’m reading affects the way I write. Although it probably affects character and plot development in ways that I’m not aware of, my biggest concern is the effect on the beauty and quality of the writing. In other words, if I’m indulging in a juicy piece of mind candy to escape from reality – and we all do it, chances are it’s not written in the gorgeous style of quality literary fiction. Chances are, the editing may not be that great either. But if the story is engaging, pulls me in, and I’m enjoying the read, I don’t care because I’m getting what I want out of it. However, I’m not thrilled when that less than high quality style of writing is coming from my fingers as I’m typing happily, especially if I’m in the 3rd or 4th rewrite. So it’s probably best to read the most sumptuous, lyrical, poetic prose I can get my hands on, especially while I’m in the later stages of rewriting, editing, and polishing.

I have found that what we read influences not just what we write, but how. This is especially true of the fiction we read while growing up. For instance, before I found my niche where I belonged, I tried my hand at writing a mystery. Why? Because I grew up reading Agatha Christie mysteries. I read all of them by the time I finished my teens. Between the pages of those deceptively simple tomes was a brilliant brainteaser of a Whodunit. Nobody did the Whodunit better than Agatha Christie. Nobody even came close. And the reason why is because it’s f***ing difficult. It wasn’t long before I found out that I sucked at writing mysteries in general, and the Whodonit in particular. 

Yet there was no way I wasn’t influenced by Agatha Christie’s work. I read too much of her when I was young for any other outcome. How? What gift did I receive from the pages of those mystery novels I couldn’t write? Strict and obsessive attention to detail. From what I read, Agatha Christie didn’t neglect a single detail in her books, that’s why when the reader and the innocent characters in her stories finally got to Whodunit, every detail offered up was presented, including the details that she sneaked in. Not a single detail was wasted, whether it was to throw us off the path, or stacked to build a case for the murderer who had actually done it.

As a reader, I notice the abandonment of details - usually in subplot storylines that don’t conclude or even in the main story itself – and every time, I’m irritated with the sloppy, lazy writing and editing. I’m especially annoyed because those works actually got published. As a writer, I do my best to avoid that. Hopefully, I succeed in the goal of getting all stories and details to round out to a satisfying ending. 

So those influences come out in sneaky and surprising ways.

Read a lot and write a lot. But be selective in your reading choices.

If you would like more of Mr. King’s pithy advice about writing, read his book, “On Writing.” In the meantime, here’s this blog: https://jerryjenkins.com/stephen-king-writing-advice/

The Sweetest High Ever!

Indie.Author.Fantasy

“Artists are envied by millionaires.”

I don’t remember the book where I read this, but I do remember that claim and how gratifying it felt to read that. All flattery aside, this makes sense. Artists are creative and to be creative is to play God. Who wouldn’t envy that?

Personally speaking, I believe everybody is born with creativity. Yet few grow that quality or have that part of themselves nourished enough to have that creative strength throughout their lives.

Creativity is powerful. It is also overwhelming. Because I have found that a deep creative groove carves many paths, one detours to another, which then segues into another…and before one knows it, what was supposed to a straight road has become a labyrinth of various creative pursuits.

How heady is that? And how easy is it to get carried away and get lost and very possibly be left with a plethora of unfinished projects? Way too easy.  

For example, I write original fables and fairy tales. I also enjoy the art of oral storytelling, my own stuff, as well as other people’s, and of course, the myths and folk tales from all over the world. Those two pursuits are very compatible, but I still have to stop writing to practice storytelling, even with my own stuff. Storytelling is not the same thing as reading from a book. It’s a performance, and that alone takes time and energy and repetition before a piece is polished enough to present to an audience. In other words, the path of writing segued into performance art.

When I was on the road with my collection of fables, I stopped in Santa Cruz for six months and came across flamenco dance. I even lived with my flamenco teacher and her husband for most of the time I was there, and was blessed to learn from excellent Gypsy teachers who came to California from Spain. Several months later, I wrote a lyrical piece, “Snowboarding for Flamencos” when I was torn between a flamenco workshop in Santa Cruz and the best snow season in SE Alaska where I lived at the time. Winter was intoxicating, and snowboarding won over flamenco. But the conflict was such that I wrote that piece and recorded, doing flamenco dance steps in a wide variety of footwear, including my snowboarding boots. So that is writing, spoken word, dance, and even music, because I made the cadences of my dance steps into as hypnotic a rhythm that would match the lyrics of “Snowboarding for Flamencos.” This short lyrical piece that was only two minutes long was doable, and very joyful when I finished it. I also used flamenco with another piece I wrote about an ecstatic experience I had on the Oregon Coast while on magic mushrooms. Again, performance art, choreography, dance, and live spoken word. That took at least 2 weeks for me to put together and practice, and if I did it again now, the rhythms would be different because I didn’t film or record it. Again, it’s doable. But I also fantasize about doing that as a book on tape for AN ENTIRE NOVEL. That would likely take a decade. That’s not doable.

So yes, creativity is overwhelming. But what a glory it is when all those segues and paths come together and something gorgeous is created!

That is the sweetest high ever!

Engaging Characters or Juicy Plot?

character-plot.jpg

“Fiction writers are strong in either plot or character - never both and each envies the other their talent.”

So said Margaret Grossman, my favorite writing teacher of all time. Her natural inclination was to write awesome, well-developed characters, the kind of people you’d want to sit down to coffee with and have long, intriguing conversations. But she struggled with finding things for these lovely characters to do.

My natural inclination is plot. I have absolutely no problem making stories up, with lots of plot points, twists, and turns. But it’s connection to the characters that keeps readers engaged with the plot, and I’m sad to say that my characters are often misunderstood and their development criticized. I struggle to flesh out fully actualized people in a fictional world - especially at that time when I worked with Margaret. I also think it’s peculiar, because I am always trying to figure out the psychology of people in the real world, and what makes us all tick. Perhaps all that amateur psychoanalysis has helped. Maybe I’ve improved since then, but criticism around character development is the most consistent when it comes to my writing. Perhaps that’s why I use archetypal types for my characters? Either way, I do the best I can, and sometimes that falls short. In my current novel, both the protagonists are telling their stories from 1st person “I.” I hope that will make a stronger connection between the readers and my characters.

Truth be told, I believe this weakness around character development is a pretty common problem with most indie authors. I haven’t made a formal study of it, but most indie authors whose work I’ve read have 1 dimensional characters as well.  

I wish I could give some sage advice and how-to’s on how to write plot if you naturally write characters, but I’m one of those who doesn’t know how to teach something that comes very easily to me. When it comes to writing character, I say practice.

But another tool that may come in handy is to write up a character sheet describing each of your characters, and then add some of those details in your plot pages.

Name:

Age:

Hair/Eye Color:

Height:

Unusual feature:

Beautiful/Homely:

Biggest Fear:

Greatest Hope:

Primary Motivation:

Likable Quality:

Fatal Flaw:

Quirks:

Best Friend:

Primary Partner/Spouse/Lover:

Secondary Partner/Lover:

What does this character want?

What role does this character play?

Is this character sympathetic and trustworthy?

What is the primary struggle for this character in this story? 

Feel free to add any more details that may help flesh out your characters into a person you’d want to hang out with or the kind of person you’d avoid at a party. It actually helps to list details of each and every character, no matter how minor they are. I don’t always do this exercise, but when I do, I find this tool helps bring characters to life.

And yes, as Margaret claimed, I do envy natural character writers their talent. But at least I have an exciting, juicy plot line to carry the day, and I’m sure some writer somewhere envies my ability to do that.

The Don't Wanna's

Resistance.In.Writing

What part of writing do you resist the most? What is the least enjoyable? What do you put off until the last minute? For me, it’s setting. I used to hate writing setting. Most of my early pieces I naturally wrote in a void of the timeless and spaceless. Even as a reader, I’ve always found the description of place to be very boring. Setting slows down the pacing of action, and sometimes it seems to bring the story to a halt. If I had my way, the reader would simply fill in the setting details themselves without any help from me. And of course, setting has always been one of my weakest areas in writing. Perhaps that may be the clue as to why I’ve disliked it so much.

But it doesn’t work that way. A well-developed setting is needed for world-building, and not all readers share my tastes. Many readers savor the description of setting. They love it when a writer makes a place real for them whether it’s historical, fictional, or actual.

I remember the first time I wrote a setting piece that did my teacher proud. She said it was one of the best pieces on setting she’d ever read – which was a high compliment. In that particular piece, I wrote setting as a character. I wrote about the town I grew up in, a place that I hated from the point of view of its culture as a personality. So there was a lot of energy and even passion to what I wrote. It was cathartic and healing to make fun of my hometown through the written word. I would even say I enjoyed it.

Since then, I’ve been able to tackle setting in my stories with less reluctance and more willingness. I try to make the descriptions beautiful and sumptuous, and therefore more interesting to read. I also try to make the sense of time and place unique and fantastical. After all, this is a fantasy world I’m writing about, so make it beyond this ordinary world.

Yet it shouldn’t surprise anybody that the settings in my novel are nameless. The setting of the Ella Bandita stories is vaguely any country in pre-Industrial Europe, the implication that the country in question could be Italy or Spain or Portugal. Yet there are some scenes with winter and heavy snowfall – in the 3rd novel, snow and ice play a crucial part of creating a setting. So that could be the northern, Scandinavian countries. In other words, I make the setting to suit what I need in the novel, and I’m not going to restrict myself to one particular country, its history, or its limitations. It is also the part of my work that I focus on last, filling in the details as I rewrite.

I wish I had some strong words of wisdom on how to tackle those areas of resistance, those areas of weakness. The only advice I can give is to keep working on it, and perhaps take notes on writers who are strong in your areas of weakness.

Here’s a lovely blog by Jill Kemerer on her tips on strengthening weak areas of writing: https://jillkemerer.blogspot.com/2014/10/strengthening-weak-areas-in-your-writing.html

So how are some of the ways you handle an area of writing you don’t like or are even weak in? Writing setting as a character in one instance worked to open me up. Even if I still address setting last of all, I wouldn’t say that I hate to write it.

Finding Writerly Concentration With an ADD Mind

Writers.With.ADD

I used to think that procrastination was the biggest problem I had as a writer. But now I’ve come to realize that it’s my attention span. Perhaps procrastination is a side effect of ADD, or it’s simply a bad habit that happens to be very compatible with somebody who is distracted at the drop of a hat.

While I was growing up and through college, I timed my space outs really well, at points in the lecture where a story was being told or somebody asked a question. It never affected the information I gathered or my exam results. Of course, I took many breaks from studying and had the most epic conversations of my life on those breaks. But my grades always reflected my ability and the time I put into those courses. So no complaints.

Then smart phones came along and made me stupid. I’ve noticed in the not even 7 years I’ve had my smart phone and can surf the internet and check my email and Facebook whenever I want, that my attention span has plummeted. That nasty little tool makes it way too easy to get distracted from something that actually matters – like writing a novel. The hours of uninterrupted concentration I enjoyed with the collection of stories and my first novel, I don’t have that attention span for it now. And it has really freaked me out. Progress on the 2nd novel has gotten much slower.

But I’m still making progress.

So what to do?

Well, one really great habit to pick up is meditation. I stuck with it for 6 months, and that was when I finally picked up some steam with The Shepherd and the Courtesan/The Art of Taking Chances/the 2nd book in the Ella Bandita stories. My attention span increased and concentration became more effortless. However, I’ve let my meditation practice drop and I plan on picking it up again because it’s so good for me on so many levels.

But in the meantime, I haven’t dropped writing the novel with the drop in my meditation practice.

The one habit I’ve picked up recently is to actually work within the nature of my ADD. If I get distracted, I allow myself to venture off down another avenue, because I notice I get bored or irritated quickly when Facebooking, surfing the Internet, or a Netflix show. (Yes, I have Netflix on my phone. I’m such an addict.) When that happens, I go back to my piece and really don’t have too much trouble getting back in the groove. When I get distracted again, I started working on those short and sweet blogs, when I need a break from my novel or NetFlix or Facebook (which is not a satisfying pursuit anymore) or whatever else made me look for a squirrel. In fact, I found this habit the most practical, because I will go back to it.

And here I’ve written a lovely little blog on a break from my novel.

Piece of cake!

For the Love of BackStory!

Writing.Advice.

Fiction has changed a lot, and really, not necessarily for the better. My fiancée used to teach high school English, so she stayed current on YA fiction. She has a particular love for YA dystopian fiction, but she even read YA fiction she didn’t like to stay on top of what her students were reading. Like me, she loved to read her all her life. But I have given up on most contemporary fiction because I think most of it has gone down the toilet. She agrees, and insists that most of the great writing right now is happening in YA.

If I had to guess, I bet one of the reasons why is YA doesn’t cut out backstory.

I read voraciously when I was a kid. Growing up, I read mostly commercial junk and did not become actively interested in the classics until I was in college. But one thing most of my favorites novels had in common was that the backstory was a crucial part of developing the novel. Novels were often hundreds of pages long, and probably 100’s of 1000s of words. What made up all those pages and words? Quite a bit of it was the backstory. The backstory of each of the characters before they came to be a part of the main plot line was anything but shortchanged, usually described in great detail.

And these were great stories and I loved falling into those worlds.

The biggest mistake I made with my first novel of the Ella Bandita stories (Ella Bandita and the Wanderer) was cutting out so much backstory, and the reason why? Because I was trying to get traditionally published and all the agents and editors insisted on a word limit between 70,000 and 110,000 words. Sometime after the 80’s, novels became shorter and backstory was only a succinct mention, and in many cases all but disappeared. If the story is one that takes place in a short frame of time, that would work just fine more often than not. But where’s the space to fall into another world?

It certainly didn’t work for mine, and the criticism that is most often pointed out in reviews is the lack of backstory led to a lack of feeling connected or understanding of the main character. I know I should go back and rewrite it, add that backstory. But I simply can’t do it. I wrote and rewrote and cut out large chunks of that first novel so many times, I can’t bring myself to work on it anymore. There comes a point where one has to move on to the next book. Lesson learned, but ouch, that hurt.

So now I’m working on the 2nd novel in the Ella Bandita stories – working titles are: The Shepherd and the Courtesan or The Art of Taking Chances – and the Courtesan has a juicy backstory. Even if the transformation of an ugly peasant girl named Addie into the legendary Courtesan, Adrianna the Beautiful has nothing to little to do with the main plot, I’m writing it and it’s staying. Why? Because it’s good. Even if it makes the novel more expensive to print, it’s going in. Besides that’s the beauty of ebooks.

Maybe the glorious backstory can find its way back in to the pages of novels, now that printing may not be such an expense.

Do You Want to Be a Writer? Then Give Yourself Something to Write About!

Hey y’all,  Do you want to be a writer? Then give yourself something to write about.  I made a very nice, proper, young girl very uncomfortable with this piece of advice when she asked me about how I became a writer. Until I said that, she looked at me with hero worship in her eyes when I told her about my year on the road, selling a book out of an old Four-Runner I called the Beast. Once I told her to get out and do some living if she wanted to find her best stories, she averted her eyes and looked down in the posture of shame. I’m sad to say that there is no writing class that will give anybody the silver bullet. Mastering the mechanics of the art and craft of writing is valuable, but the real juice of inspiration is sucked from experience.  My best stories come from my life – especially vivid happenings that catapulted me out of my comfort zone, brought me to states of ecstasy and/or agony - anything that made me feel alive. There I found the richest fodder for stories, or even pieces of stories.  For example, there’s a really luscious scene in  Challenge  that I am especially proud of.  Challenge  is the third book in  Ella Bandita and the Wanderer . The illustration above is the setting for that scene. As you can see, the illustration is a very sensuous image of a beautiful, naked couple soaking in a shallow pool; the Wanderer is coming Ella Bandita’s hair, while she leans into him and lets her fingers dangle in the water. The backdrop is not only a forest, but the type of old growth woods of a temperate rainforest, found in the Pacific Northwest and Southeast Alaska, and the pool they are soaking in is a hot spring.  Have I had a sexy interlude in a sexy hot spring that I’m disguising as fiction? Maybe I have and maybe I haven’t. But my points are I have the experience of living in Oregon. I lived in Alaska for 11 years where I went hiking all the time. AND I LOVE HOT SPRINGS! I especially love hot springs that are found in the woods of a temperate rainforest, and I have the gorgeous experience of finding my bliss in fabulous places such as these. So…what better setting could there possibly be for a scene that builds sexual tension between these antagonistic characters?  That’s only the beginning. Other examples are the On the Road posts that I put up from time to time. Being on the road with a Beast full of books, telling stories and selling them out of my truck was wwwaaayyy out of my comfort zone, and there were so many incredible stories that came out of that.  So, a few weeks ago, I gave my blog an official name, and therefore a theme and purpose, which should help on my author’s platform. This was a necessary step to moving away from the theme started by my former Operations Manager, Jessica Cox. She did a lovely job of building a blog with writing prompts and writing how-to’s, but that blog did not reflect me, my writing, or my tastes. And writing advice is well and good, and valuable information that people want and need. I’ve written a few blogs on this, and I also enjoy the writing prompt memes. But it was incomplete somehow.  Knowing the tricks of the trade to execute good writing pieces is essential, but the experience to inspire those tales is priceless. The mechanics will take of themselves in due time. I hope this blog more thoroughly reflects my perspective on the journey of being a writer. Apologies on the month long hiatus. I was rather occupied with the experience of an ayahuasca journey. I’m sure eventually that will find its way into my writing.  So go have an adventure and give yourself something to write about. Happy trails!  Peace,  Montgomery  PS: If you’d like to download  Challenge , to read that succulent scene for yourself, you’ll find it under the books tab. It’s only 99 cents!

Hey y’all,

Do you want to be a writer? Then give yourself something to write about.

I made a very nice, proper, young girl very uncomfortable with this piece of advice when she asked me about how I became a writer. Until I said that, she looked at me with hero worship in her eyes when I told her about my year on the road, selling a book out of an old Four-Runner I called the Beast. Once I told her to get out and do some living if she wanted to find her best stories, she averted her eyes and looked down in the posture of shame. I’m sad to say that there is no writing class that will give anybody the silver bullet. Mastering the mechanics of the art and craft of writing is valuable, but the real juice of inspiration is sucked from experience.

My best stories come from my life – especially vivid happenings that catapulted me out of my comfort zone, brought me to states of ecstasy and/or agony - anything that made me feel alive. There I found the richest fodder for stories, or even pieces of stories.

For example, there’s a really luscious scene in Challenge that I am especially proud of. Challenge is the third book in Ella Bandita and the Wanderer. The illustration above is the setting for that scene. As you can see, the illustration is a very sensuous image of a beautiful, naked couple soaking in a shallow pool; the Wanderer is coming Ella Bandita’s hair, while she leans into him and lets her fingers dangle in the water. The backdrop is not only a forest, but the type of old growth woods of a temperate rainforest, found in the Pacific Northwest and Southeast Alaska, and the pool they are soaking in is a hot spring.

Have I had a sexy interlude in a sexy hot spring that I’m disguising as fiction? Maybe I have and maybe I haven’t. But my points are I have the experience of living in Oregon. I lived in Alaska for 11 years where I went hiking all the time. AND I LOVE HOT SPRINGS! I especially love hot springs that are found in the woods of a temperate rainforest, and I have the gorgeous experience of finding my bliss in fabulous places such as these. So…what better setting could there possibly be for a scene that builds sexual tension between these antagonistic characters?

That’s only the beginning. Other examples are the On the Road posts that I put up from time to time. Being on the road with a Beast full of books, telling stories and selling them out of my truck was wwwaaayyy out of my comfort zone, and there were so many incredible stories that came out of that.

So, a few weeks ago, I gave my blog an official name, and therefore a theme and purpose, which should help on my author’s platform. This was a necessary step to moving away from the theme started by my former Operations Manager, Jessica Cox. She did a lovely job of building a blog with writing prompts and writing how-to’s, but that blog did not reflect me, my writing, or my tastes. And writing advice is well and good, and valuable information that people want and need. I’ve written a few blogs on this, and I also enjoy the writing prompt memes. But it was incomplete somehow.

Knowing the tricks of the trade to execute good writing pieces is essential, but the experience to inspire those tales is priceless. The mechanics will take of themselves in due time. I hope this blog more thoroughly reflects my perspective on the journey of being a writer. Apologies on the month long hiatus. I was rather occupied with the experience of an ayahuasca journey. I’m sure eventually that will find its way into my writing.

So go have an adventure and give yourself something to write about. Happy trails!

Peace,

Montgomery

PS: If you’d like to download Challenge, to read that succulent scene for yourself, you’ll find it under the books tab. It’s only 99 cents!