A picture worth a thousand plots. Or turning ideas into stories

Helga’s Post #102: Like all writers, I am inundated with countless ideas that I think might be worthwhile for turning into a story (not exactly words of wisdom to the initiated). Writers get ideas during most of our waking hours, and probably more often than not, they keep us awake at night. So it’s not a lack of worthwhile ideas that stifles our writing progress.

Where do all these ideas come from? It’s often a small detail that catches my attention, an image of an every-day occurrence, maybe with an unusual twist that over-stimulates my brain. I believe that happens to all writers. We think up possibilities or conclusions when we witness some ordinary event or not-so-ordinary people. That’s the start and essence of a story.

But harvesting these ideas and turning them into real stories becomes a challenge. If only we could remember these flashes of brilliance when we get to sit down at the keyboard. For me, an unexpected, surprising image works best. It can stick to my brain like secured with heavy-duty contact cement. It won’t let go until I spin a story around it.

Here is one such example.

I was late for an appointment the other day, a hugely important one: getting my hair cut. Please don’t judge me as excessively vain – I wear my hair short, very short, so it really shows when I don’t keep it cut regularly. Since I am planning to go on a lengthy trip, I could not afford to miss it. So here I was, rushing to my precious appointment at the salon, and being late because of a traffic jam on the way.

What’s your point? You may well ask. What’s this got to do with writing?

Okay. I admit this is not a suspense story or thriller. I just want to illustrate that writers have priorities. When something crosses our paths that we instinctively know will turn into a story, nothing will stop us. Not even missing a hair appointment.

So here I was, one block from the salon on Mainland Street, running, fighting a nasty January wind. I turned a corner, and what I saw made me slow to a crawl and then stop. Full stop. I stood as if rooted to the cobblestones.

I slowly reached into my purse for my iphone. I tapped on the camera icon. I pretended to focus on the building behind. Click. And another. And then I was gone. He didn’t notice. How could he?IMG_1182

And that’s the story. A solitary man immersed in the warm closeness and affection of his dog, and his other dog up close too. A man who couldn’t care less about the weather or a passerby getting a photo of him. A man so completely absorbed that nothing else seemed to matter. What does his body language reveal? Is he happy, sad, content, longing for something?

Not sure if I made the point. Or even if there is a point worth making. To me, this image for some reason triggered an emotion. A sadness, but also something else. That’s when I started thinking up a story. It would not have had the same effect on me if the man had been in rags, begging for money using his dogs as props. This man however was well dressed. Expensive shoes, rings on his fingers, a stylish cardigan. I didn’t see his face. It’s his body language that got me thinking.

What’s going on here? My imagination started to churn into full gear. What if… what if…

I recently found a useful exercise on another writers’ blog, ‘The Science of Story’, by David Baboulene, a story development consultant. His advice? Keep it simple, and furthermore: “If you keep the protagonist and his aims to the fore, ensure everything is relevant to these aims; and set them head on against conflicts provided by the forces of antagonism, then show us how the protagonist overcomes the forces of antagonism and how s/he grows in achieving those aims by the end, you will probably have a fine story in front of you.”

He provided the following template as an exercise:

My story is about <name of protagonist>. His/her goal is to <insert aims here>. However, s/he is blocked in achieving these goals by <insert forces of antagonism here>. Only one of the protagonist or forces of antagonism can win; their aims are mutually exclusive. At climax, <insert key conflict event> happens, leading to <resolution for protagonist happy or tragic ending>, depicting a significant <positive or negative> change in life values and moral understanding for the protagonist.

Let’s see how my man/dog image could morph into a story:

My story is about Stephan Bartok, retired owner of a profitable restaurant chain (I chose the name because I want him to be an immigrant from Europe). His goal is to remarry after losing his wife in a tragic accident. He is terribly lonely and has started an online relationship with a woman who seems like a perfect partner in every way. They share values, interests and educational background. She is twenty years younger. She, like Stephan, was born in Hungary and now lives in Virginia. She works for the CIA and does a lot of travelling to the Middle East. A first meeting is arranged and he plans to propose marriage. However, he is blocked in achieving these goals by his online love cancelling because she becomes ill with a mysterious virus and can only be cured with an experimental drug. He sends her money and more money until he realizes he’s been scammed. His only solace are his two dogs.

Etc. etc.

We can spin this yarn any way we like. What if… what if… indeed, we have a myriad of ways to let this play out. We can use characters based on real people in our lives, we can tell the story to reflect our own values, likes and prejudices, and whatever else we want to do. We are omnipotent and unstoppable. We are the storytellers.

Who else could claim such powers?

Writers, how do you kill your self-editor?

Karalee’s Post #102

I’ve put my writing aside over the last few weeks. In November and December I’d written a fast first draft, well, nearly to ‘The End’, and I find it’s helpful to put my work on the back burner for a while before readdressing it with fresh eyes.

I’ve also put something else on the back burner for over twenty years that has to be addressed ASAP! My only daughter is getting married in July, and I have 40+ video tapes that I’d taken during my 3 children’s childhoods that need to be formatted on to DVD’s. Technology is amazing. So is the amount of time it takes to watch them. I’m not done yet either…. Then comes the editing….

I’m also committed to have a finished manuscript this year, complete and ready to publish. That includes formatted, edited, book jacket done, marketing platform up and running, etc., etc., etc.

Yikes!

So, I’m back at my manuscript again, intending to read it from start to finish, intending to lock my self-editor where she can’t find the key.

No such luck! I find it very unfortunate that I’m one of those writers that rewrites way WAY before I should rewrite. And I tend to keep rewriting, ESPECIALLY the first few scenes.

My self-editor seems to have a life of her own and can go on and on until I feel like this skeleton picture. Really.

Boy do I want to, but I haven’t yet found a way to kill her or even maim her until she can’t function properly.

2001 A Space Odyssey

My self-editor is like Hal in 2001: A Space Odyssey. She takes over, looping my story around and around,  rearranging words from here to over there, adding sensory stuff and emotional ties to my characters before deleting it and adding something else, and on and on……. She takes complete control, stifling much of my creativity and ignores me like I’m not even there.

Do you get stuck like this too?

Believe me, it’s not a romantic relationship, not even a love-hate and let’s-kiss-and-make-up relationship. It’s a war. And I must win!

I would love to take my self-editor and tie her up like this (or worse) and force her to sign a contract that said, ‘Do not touch until your creative half finishes reading, digesting and getting excited about the manuscript again.’

Then I would have a chance of making progress.

And of course, once the contract was signed, I would tie her hands behind her back to make sure she behaved.

What do you feel like doing to your self-editor?

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Progress this week: not much. Need to kill you-know-who.

Pies, cookies, cakes and muffins eaten: none, but felt like going to our neighborhood bakery and not coming home to you-know-who.

TV/Movies watched: Last half of Downton Abbey Season 4. Did not invite you-know-who to join me.

Goal next week: skip first few chapters in my manuscript in order to ignore you-know-who and get my work done.

Book I’m reading: To Rise Again at a Decent Hour by Joshua Ferris. First book of his I’ve read and I love his humor and the style of his writing.

Happy Writing!

 

 

Research thoughts

Joe’s Post #128

Research Insights … OMG, not ‘research’, again, right?

sharpeWell, I decided to take a look at some books that I loved. You know, historical books. I didn’t read through them, again, but just took a look at the first pages and a few chapters. And it gave me a few insights I’d like to share. The books I looked at were Outlander, by Diana Gabaldon, the Sharpe series by Bernard Cornwall, the Brother Cadfael series by Edith Parteger (Ellis Petters), and Dorothy Dunnett’s books (Lymond, Niccolo series).

So, are you ready?

  1. Jamie Fraser from Outlander

    I read them all for the characters. Yup, that’s right, the characters. So if you’re going to get anything right, get the characters right, right?

  2. Setting is a character. I know I just said that I read them for the characters, and now I say setting is a character, but with these writers, it’s not just a place to set a scene, it’s an active part of the story (like a chase across the red-tiles roofs of Venice.)
  3. None of them bog us down with details. A few writers that I’ve read (and honestly couldn’t finish) had vast swaths of information about the period they researched, like they wanted to show us how much research they’d done.
  4. The characters live and breathe in their world. By this I mean the world for them is not a collection of facts, but a real place, with real smells, and sounds, and all of that seen THROUGH the character’s eyes.
  5. spoonDetails are (mostly) added sparingly. Like a sprinkling of salt. “Picked up the wooden spoon”, vs “picked up the wooden spoon carved from a spruce branch that was cut in the summer which was, in fact, the best time to cut such things”.
  6. windowsWhen they spend time on details, it’s because it matters to the character. Like the first time they see something or when it’s a wow moment for them. I mean, hey, the first time I saw Chartres Cathedral in all its glory, I was gobsmacked (yes, that’s a word). That we, as human beings, took hundreds of years to create perfection in stone and glass and wood, that every detail, every window, every carving had a purpose, made me stare in wonder at what we could do when we put our minds to it.
  7. food hollandFood, dammit, food. That Don Maass guy know his stuff when he talked about food being a vital part of taking someone back in time. Why? Because we are all linked to food. But all these masters of writing do way more than just sit someone down with a nice cup of tea, they add tension, smarty-pants dialogue, mood, and even suspense in that scene as well.
  8. Story is key. Outlander, for example, is a time-traveling story, perhaps more science fiction than historical fiction, but the tale she tells of Claire and Jamie is one that’s hard to put down. I honestly can’t remember if she got the kilts right, but damn, she nailed the romance.

So, that’s all for today. Just a few insights into research while I work away on my novel. Now I’m going to bug my Netherlands experts on what they would have eaten.

So what makes a good historical novel for you? Come on, I really want to know!

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Best show last week – Being sick for most of the week, I watched a bit more TV than normal. The Killing is perhaps the most depressing show I’ve seen in a long while. It’s unrelentingly grey. Brilliant, but grey.

Book that I’m reading at the moment – Alan Furst’s, Mission to Paris. Nope, still not sold on this. It’s going to be a slog to finish. Not that there isn’t interesting stuff happening, but it’s happening to other people. His protagonist is not the hero of the story, or even the narrator.

Pages written on new book  40 (Could be more, I did a lot of rewriting this week.)

Social Media update – Trying to do a bit more on this blog. Have you seen the changes?

Health  Still sick. Dammit.

Best thing last week  Down 10 lbs now. Awesome. Forget that it was due to sickness.

Worst thing  The flu. Yup, still the worst thing. Yuck.

The BEST book he's written so far IMHO.

Lastly, again, my favourite author, Sean Slater, had his newest book released in Canada. I honestly believe it’s his best book he’s written, and he got virtually no support from the publisher, so if you see it anywhere, buy it. Or hit the Amazon link below.

Slater

Is trying to get published a time waster?

Helga’s Post #101:  What do writers spend most of their time on? Writing?

You may be surprised at the answer. Marketing supposedly takes more time than the actual writing. At least this is what some studies on writers’ behavior suggest. I find that a startling statistic and I am not sure of its validity. What about writers like Ernest Hemingway? Did he spend as much time peddling his manuscripts as writing them? I doubt it. Or take Agatha Christie, the most published novelist in history. She wrote 69 novels and 19 plays and is estimated to have sold 4 billion books. If she had spent more time on marketing than writing, she would have lived to at least double her 85 years.

Nonetheless, we know that writers do spend a fair chunk of time on getting their work out into the world and trying to make money from it. More time than most of us can imagine. Take the example of Amanda Hocking, an American writer of paranormal romance young-adult fiction. (You can read about her on Paula’s blog post of Dec. 18, 2014, ‘Top 10 Gifts for Writers’). Hocking has sold over a million copies of her nine books and earned two million dollars from sales, previously unheard of for self-published authors. In early 2011, Hocking averaged 9,000 book sales each day. Has it been easy?

“The amount of time and energy I put into marketing is exhausting. I am continuously overwhelmed by the amount of work I have to do that isn’t writing a book. I hardly have time to write anymore, which sucks and terrifies me.”

While most of us won’t need to be quite as involved as Amanda, it begs the question: What is the most efficient way to market one’s writing? Much has been said and written on the topic. Some excellent advice, as well as a lot of rubbish that only befuddles our poor writers’ brain.

Perhaps an even more fundamental question than ‘what is the most efficient way for marketing’ is this: How does a writer decide whether his or her work is marketable in the first place? Don’t you wish someone could tell you if you’re wasting your time trying to be a writer? Or if you’re at all close to getting traditionally published—assuming that’s your goal?

That question showed up in a Writer’s Digest article of a few years ago. While traditional publishing may have become a lesser goal for many of us, the question about wasting time trying to be a writer is still valid. At the risk of stating the obvious, it might be useful to quote WD’s 5 time wasters that writers should avoid:

  1. Submitting manuscripts that aren’t your best work.
  2. Self-publishing when no one is listening.
  3. Distributing your work digitally when your audience wants print—or vice versa.
  4. Seeking New York commercial publishing deals for regional or niche work.
  5. Focusing on publishing when you should be writing.

The article goes on to ask two questions most relevant to the publication path:

  1. How much time did you put into writing? Have you put in enough time to get good at it?
  2. How much time did you spend reading quality, published work? This helps you learn how to write better AND understand where you might be on the spectrum of quality.

When is it time to change course?

  1. Honestly assess whether your work is commercially viable. Not all work is.
  2. Are you getting bitter? If you find yourself demonizing people in the publishing industry, taking rejections very personally, feeling as if you’re owed something, and/or complaining whenever you get together with other writers, it’s time to find the refresh button.

But there is hope, compliments of Jane Friedman, the WD article’s author (I prefer to call it a reality check): “If your immediate thought upon reading this blog post headline was something like: I couldn’t stop trying even if someone told me to give up, then you’re much closer to publication than someone who is easily discouraged. The battle is far more psychological than you might think.”

I am convinced most of us fall into that category. We love what we do and nobody and nothing can deter us. We know the rules of good storytelling. We know when too many rules get in the way of good writing. And we can laugh at ourselves when our stories get silly. Or when we really, really screw up. Like this:

Credit: Tom Gould

Credit: Tom Gauld

Writing blog post 101

Karalee’s Post #101

I thought I’d have a bit of fun with the number 101.

In Wikipedia there’s a heading under 101 for both books and education:

Books:

  • According to Books in Print, more books are now published with a title that begins with ‘101’ than ‘100’. They usually describe or discuss a list of items, such as 101 Ways to… or101 Questions and Answers About… . This marketing tool is used to imply that the customer is given a little extra information beyond books that include only 100 items. Some books have taken this marketing scheme even further with titles that begin with ‘102’, ‘103’, or ‘1001’. The number is used in this context as a slang term when referring to “a 101 document” what is usually referred to as a statistical survey or overview of some topic.
  • Room 101 is a torture chamber in the novel Nineteen Eighty-four  by George Orwell.
  • Creative Writing 101 by Raymond Carver, “A writer’s values and craft. This was what the man (John Gardner) taught and what he stood for.

Education:

  • In American university course numbering systems, the number 101 is often used for an introductory course at a beginner’s level in a department’s subject area. This common numbering system was designed to make transfer between colleges easier. In theory, any numbered course in one academic institution should bring a student to the same standard as a similarly numbered course at other institutions.
  • Based on this usage, the term “101” has been extended to mean an introductory level of learning or a collection of introductory materials to a topic.

______________________________________________________________________

Most of us are familiar with the number 101 being used as a serious marketing tool to catch a reader’s eye and promise that a book has ‘101 somethings’ important to tell us about. The number is also thrown around a lot as slang, often in humorous or sarcastic ways. Even I can make stuff up and you would understand it’s intent:

  • 101 ways to catch flies while sleeping
  • How to drive your mother crazy 101
  • The last 101 roads to Rome
  • 101 T-shirts not to wear before you die
  • How to survive 101 days with your dog on holidays
  • 101 songs your grandma taught you and you forgot
  • 101 ways to tie your shoelaces
  • Eat chocolate anonymously 101

I must admit that the number 101 sings to me a bit. I’ve taken many 101 level courses at university. So have my children and their significant others. To me the number 101 is synonymous to learning something new; the beginning of understanding a topic. This got me thinking about how I can use this number to help me in my writing.

What can I try that is new and will add to my growing knowledge of ‘How to Write A Great Story?’

In my last post (#100) I said that writers are counters, they are organized, creative and driven. So, taking all of these into account, what I’ve decided to challenge myself with 101 times this year, is to look at the world from different perspectives through picture taking. I don’t have a GoPro (which gives an awesome perspective!) so my pictures will be mostly on my iPhone as I’m out and about.

I’m excited that this simple task, this ‘Looking at Perspective 101′ will encourage me to be mindful of the world as I walk, run, bike, hike, drive and sail through it!

Of course, I need to remember to take my iPhone wherever I go so I don’t miss the moments.

Here are a couple so far:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Happy Writing!

Fake it til you make it

Joe’s Post #126

from brainyquotes

from brainyquotes

Everyone has their cool, purple-pictured philosophies they practice. Or say they practice.

But today, I’m going to admit to a secret philosophy that has largely been successful in my life. Especially as a writer.

Fake it til you make it.

Now I don’t mean out and out lie. I’d never write a query like this…

Dear Agent,

butterflyAs a former CIA operative now working for the illuminati, I am in the unique position to write a novel about the assassination of the president by a butterfly assassin drone. Having developed – and indeed used – a wide variety of neurotoxins, I can bring a level of expertise to the subject that is second to none.

If you don’t believe me, I hope you haven’t touched this letter because it is coated in AXT, a delightful ebola-measles mix that’ll kill you in about 20 minutes. Please find my contact information below. And say the words, “I will publish you,” on the message machine.

No, lying isn’t what I’m talking about.

Faking til you make it isn’t new. It’s even maligned by people who clearly don’t have to fake it and who’ve made it. So, good on them.

For me, though, it’s about using my imagination. Or living in a dreamworld. It’s pretty much the same thing.

Every time I sit down and write my novels, I sit with the idea that this will be the best novel I’ve ever written, so good that it’ll be loved by my dog, my girlfriend, and, I hope, my writers group. It will be even be good enough to get published.

That’s faking it. For me.

SOTLIt’s not, “oh, yeah, that movie, yeah, that was based on a book I wrote”. Or, “oh, sure, I make so much money as a writer, I could buy Iceland.” Or, “I write 12 hours a day, seven days a week and man my life is hard.” Or, “I could have written that story so much better.”

No, those are just lies. Ok, crap, I may say that last one every so often, but I try to be authentic about what I do. The good and the bad. Hell, read the blogs.

But I do believe that if you act like a published writer, behave like one (and no, I don’t mean, “I know I didn’t make a reservation, but you know who I am, right?”), that you’ll become a published writer.

So, I keep doing it and doing it.

Sooner or later I will make it.

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Best show last week – Modern Family may be the best sit-com on TV. Maybe ever. It’s so clever, so funny, so fast that it has to be watched more than once.

Book that I’m reading at the moment – Alan Furst’s, Mission to Paris. Ok, so it got all sorts of grand endorsements, including from James Patterson, and Vince Flynn. But I’m finding it a total grind. The author, much to my astonishment, pretty much ignores every piece of writing advice out there, and has his main character meandering through the story without a purpose.

Pages written on new book  40 (At this rate, I’ll get a book done this year, but only just.)

Social Media update – My twitter hoard continues to grow. Imagine the dark lord getting an orc or two every week or so. No wonder it took him a thousand years to try to reconquer Middle Earth.

Health  Totally hit by the flu. Lost 7 pounds in 5 days. Pretty impressive. 0 energy for 3 days. Like 0. Nearly passed out trying to do up the youngest boy’s skates.

Best thing last week  No one else got what I got. Otherwise I think we’d have all hung out in the bathrooms. Plus I think I pooped out something from 1980. Forget colon cleanses, a good tummy bug will clean you out far better.

Worst thing  The flu.

The BEST book he's written so far IMHO.

The BEST book he’s written so far IMHO.

Lastly, but most importantly, my favourite author, Sean Slater, had his newest book released in Canada. I honestly believe it’s his best and he got virtually no support from the publisher so if you see it anywhere, buy it. Or hit the Amazon link below.

Slater

Multi-tasking writers: are you a tortoise or a hare? (Part 1)

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Paula’s Post #96 

I am ‘Hare’.

No, not ‘here’ – Hare. As in Aesop’s Hare, the boastful antagonist.  At least that is how I remember these inspiring literary characters.

Tortoise as protagonist; Hare as antagonist.

And in my 5writer world, for the last few months, I’ve been feeling truly Hare-like.

Now, I do not want to play spoiler here, but I’m sure you remember that boastful Hare does not, alas, eventually win the race. For those of you who need a little literary refresher, here’s the Harvard Classic’s version of this fable from Open Culture, a cool site that boasts as having the best free cultural and educational media on the web:

Æsop. (Sixth century B.C.) Fables.
The Harvard Classics. 1909–14.

The Hare and the Tortoise

THE HARE was once boasting of his speed before the other animals. “I have never yet been beaten,” said he, “when I put forth my full speed. I challenge any one here to race with me.” 
The Tortoise said quietly, “I accept your challenge.” 
“That is a good joke,” said the Hare; “I could dance round you all the way.” 
“Keep your boasting till you’ve beaten,” answered the Tortoise. “Shall we race?” 
So a course was fixed and a start was made. The Hare darted almost out of sight at once, but soon stopped and, to show his contempt for the Tortoise, lay down to have a nap. The Tortoise plodded on and plodded on, and when the Hare awoke from his nap, he saw the Tortoise just near the winning-post and could not run up in time to save the race. Then said the Tortoise:

“PLODDING WINS THE RACE.”

Well, I am not napping like Hare, but sadly, nor am I plodding like Tortoise.

If we have a ‘tortoise’ amongst the 5writers, I guess it would be our colleague Karalee, who has created a zen-like work space, incorporated a enviable physical exercise regime into her day and who unfailingly makes small but steady daily progress on her many writing projects.

Each week, when I read the 5writers Monday check in email’s, I wish I was more like Karalee, (and Karalee, believe me, the ‘tortoise’ moniker is intended as an enormous compliment to your dedicated  ‘plodding’, one page at a time towards the conclusion of your novel in progress).

Real writers ‘plod’.

Real writers ‘suck it up’ and get the job done.

Let me give you a perfect example. One of the wonderful things about social media is that it has given all of us unprecedented access to the real life habits of working writers: they post updates; they tweet; they blog. And so it is that in the last year or so, I have started following the brilliant Louise Penny, creator of the fabulous Inspector Gamache mystery series.

She’s my facebook friend. No, really, she is. We’re like ‘this close’.

Okay, maybe I am just another nameless face in a huge sea of fans, but I do enjoy following the public updates she posts on facebook. So when she posted on January 2nd of this year:

January 2 “…will start on the third draft of the next Gamache book tomorrow…

I was curious to follow her progress and see just how long it would take her to complete the third draft. Especially since I knew how long it took me to complete a third draft (much less a first or second draft). So, let’s take a closer look at the progress of this New York Times bestselling author:

January 3 “…Started the third draft today – feels great. Will take a few days to do, of course, but after this I think it’ll be ready to send off…”

(A few days! Jeez Louise! Are you kidding me!?!)

January  5 “…Working away on the third draft…”

January 11 “…Closing in on finishing the third draft of the next Gamache book. Far less frightening (and far less work) than the first two drafts.”

January 13 “…Yay – just finished the third draft!!! Took out almost 20,000 words. The last thing I want is for the Gamache books to get bloated. Each word, each phrase must have a purpose. Taking tomorrow off then one more quick polish and then into the editors by this time next week if not before.”

January 15  “Gorgeous, clear, brittle day here – was going to take a photo to show you but that would mean going outside and, well, you know… Starting on the 4th draft of the next book. Really more a polish at this stage, I hope, but, well, you know… That is my confession for today.” 

January 16 “…Today taken up with the happy pastime of doing the fourth draft (emphasis added) of the next book. What a relief to finally be at the stage where I can read it primarily as a reader and not primarily as a half-crazed writer.

January 18 “…Nearing the end of the draft – so many moving pieces to the story, need to keep track. When I make one change it, of course, affects everything else. And each scene has to be multi-purpose, propelling the plot, enriching the characters, deepening the themes. And it all has to make sense and be natural. I think my head’s on fire. But then I step back and do a reality check – and remember that, while difficult at times, this is my dream come true.”

January 20 (Today) “…Finished the fourth draft and sent it off to the editors/agent. First time anyone other than me has read it. As soon as I hit ‘send’ I wanted it back. Every book has felt the same way.

That’s it. Did you do the arithmetic? I did, two drafts in 17 days.

Wow!

Ms. Penny is like a ‘turbo-charged’ tortoise.

As Hare, I am despondent.

So why exactly am I comparing myself to Hare, the loser?

Ah, that’s a little harder to explain, but I’ll give it a try. I feel that in the last few years, I have been doing more and more but that, ultimately, I am getting less and less done, most especially as a writer. Let me elaborate:

I live in a world where I can work from anywhere: airports, beaches, planes, trains and automobiles.

Have keyboard, will travel.

Thanks to the miracle of free WiFi, my 6 email accounts and two web browsers, the internet is always with me. Thanks to my iphone and ipad, so are facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, Pinterest… well, you get the idea.

My fear? I believe that today’s multi-tasking world is making ‘Hares’ of us all. We dash off in all directions and are busy, busy, busy, but oh my, how much more difficult it is to accomplish much of anything.

Now, I can hear you rumbling away out there in cyberspace. You’re thinking this is just another 5writers blog post on the venerable topic of “procrastination”. Well, yes and no.

I want to revisit a topic my 5writer colleague Silk raised back in October of 2013 entitled Hell is Multi-Tasking.

While Silk’s post focused on the difficulty of working on multiple writing projects at once, I’d like to explore what all this cross task multi-tasking is doing not only to our collective productivity, but also to our brains.

Ultimately, on a personal level, I’d like to find a way to channel or manage this ‘multi-tasking’ world to become a more productive writer, so if you have some suggestions, let me know.

In the meantime, stay tuned next week for part II of this topic.

The power of legends

rotorua-1

Detail of Maori structure at Te Puia.

Silk’s Post #116 — I’m writing this from my Bayswater balcony overlooking Auckland, NZ across Stanley Bay. Travel is an inspiration for writers. I’ve been journaling on this trip to corral that inspiration for future stories, and when I sat down to write this post, I had a blinding flash of the obvious about why travel is so stimulating to a storyteller.

Now, by “travel”, I don’t mean just moving from Point A to Point B. We all do that every day, on trips to familiar destinations near and far. By “travel”, I mean taking a journey, exploring, discovering a new place you’ve never been before. It’s a process that requires being present, being curious, observing, learning and understanding.

When I travel to a new place, I automatically go into discovery mode. How is this place different from what I’m familiar with? How is it the same? It’s like an intellectual game of compare and contrast.

Perhaps when we travel we’re exercising ancient survival skills. How can I make my way in this new place? Stay safe? Establish my territory? Communicate? Find food, clothing and shelter? When you’re a stranger in a strange land, you need to be aware of everything, because your life may depend on it.

It may seem a bit dramatic in the tourism context, but travel during the greater part of the human race’s history all took place before this planet became a global village. I think these discovery instincts are buried deep in our DNA.

That’s why travel is so stimulating to writers. Once we’re familiar with a place, get into our comfort zone, complacency sets in. It’s when we’re dropped into a new environment that we become fully alert. Our five senses wake up. We notice everything in vivid detail, the way children do. The stimulation of discovery travel is like plugging a writer’s brain into a 220 volt electrical socket. The synapses start firing and sparks fly. Imagination and inspiration go into overdrive.

But it doesn’t stop with the five senses. The discovery instinct wants context and history – wants to understand a new place beyond what can be observed in the here-and-now.

How did this place get this way? Where did these people come from, and when, and how? What challenges did they face? How did they survive? Why did they settle around this harbour, this forest, this valley, this mountain? Who were their friends and enemies? Who conquered them, or was conquered by them? What did they create? What did they believe? How did their culture evolve?

Even further back: how did the land itself emerge? What were its cataclysms? What about its geology? Its flora and fauna? Its bounty and its hazards? James Michener had a long and prolific career out of writing stories that answer questions like these (many of them set in the South Pacific).

I can’t claim to be a devoted student of human or natural history – or geography, geology, sociology, religion or culture. I doubt my research for writing would ever approach the virtual research industry that must have been needed to support the foundations of Michener’s epic stories.

But, after all, history – whether written or oral – is essentially storytelling. Every time you combine a “fact” with a storyteller, you end up with an interpretation from the storyteller’s perspective. History, as they say, is written by the victors. It’s not a science.

That’s why, for me, the most powerful form of storytelling is legends. These are histories – often originating in the earliest days of cultures around the world – that record events, celebrate deeds, interpret natural phenomena, perpetuate and evolve spiritual beliefs, teach the rules of culture, and seek to explain human beings to themselves.

One illustration of the power of myth and legend that’s especially relevant to writers is the persistent pattern of storytelling. As Helga pointed out in a recent post, Christopher Vogler’s The Writer’s Journey, Mythic Structure for Writers, is a classic treatise on the hero’s journey pattern.

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Maori carved figure at Te Puia.

We spent yesterday at Rotorua, an important Maori locale in a volcanic region that has powerful geological symbols, including hot springs and geysers. Of course, we only got the 2-hour tourist view of this vibrant culture, which is rich in legends. Now I’m hungry for more.

Every culture has its creation legend, and while they come in many flavours they also tend to follow a common pattern. These usually feature the agency of an all-powerful, creative being – an animal, a bird, a god, a mystical presence. Creation usually happens in a meaningful sequence: first the world “stage” is set, then humans enter the scene. The creator then bestows some gift of power on the first people along with responsibilities or challenges. Finally, the creator gives them rules to be broken at their spiritual peril. (Following or breaking of the rules is often the subject of post-creation legends).

Could there be a more compelling, or universal, urge – the need to explain where we came from? Many other myths and legends of widely divergent cultures around the globe also have parallels, often in stories that teach how humans should behave. How each culture frames its stories tells a lot about what makes them different, and what makes them the same. Legends are like weathervanes that point to how each culture was shaped.

Now that we live in the era of science, these legends may seem outmoded – primitive stories to explain the inexplicable. Things that science is now busy explaining “correctly”. But legends are more than literal histories. They’re cultural artifacts, full of the wisdom of human survival.

For a traveller on a journey of discovery – whether a physical trip, or one of research and imagination – there are powerful truths in legends that illuminate a new place and bring it to life in full colour. It’s something a writer should pay attention to.

Legends acknowledge things that science and modern views of “reality” ignore, or can’t explain.

Call it magic.

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Pohutu and Prince of Wales Geysers.

 

 

Thanks for following my first 100

BBLPFR_LargeHelga’s Post # 100:  Yes, we have two centenarian posters (so to speak) in the space of two days. Congrats to the two of us, Karalee! Well done. Let’s break out the champagne.

Like the ‘year in review’ on New Year’s Eve, I looked at some of the events since I published my first blog post on Sept. 21, 2012. Has the world changed? No, except the planet is getting warmer (2014 was the warmest year on record, with global temperatures 0.68C or 1.24F above the long-term average). Have we learned to live more harmoniously with other cultures? Sadly, no: Looking back, on the exact day of my first blog post, militiamen stormed the US consulate in Benghazi, killing U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other people. Today, the world is still reeling from the Charlie Hebdo killings in Paris. And in between the two events, countless bombings, assassinations and deadly attacks in the four corners of the earth. Real events that eclipse the most implausible and violent plots in fiction.

Let’s put the lens a little closer. Have my fellow writers and I changed since I started contributing to this blog? What have I done with the time between that first blog post and today?

You’ve read the numbers in Karalee’s post, the statistics for our group, so no need to repeat them. I hope you agree they are rather impressive. When I wrote my first post, we had maybe five or ten followers. As I am writing this, the number has steadily grown to –

Drum roll….

2,646 followers!

We must do something right, right? A loyal friend and follower of the 5 writers blog recently met me for coffee. She said she is always looking forward to our posts. She doesn’t have time to read it every single day, but not wanting to miss any of our posts, she ends up binge-reading maybe five or ten posts at a time. It’s like opening a bag of bonbons, all with different wrappers and colors. You don’t know what you get and they all taste so different, she tells me. Some are sweet, others bittersweet, the odd one spicy, and there may be the odd forbidden fruit thrown in. A true cornucopia of flavors, a kaleidoscope of topics for writers, storytellers and lovers of books. Five writers who since starting this blog have become close friends, sharing with each other and the rest of the world, should people care to read our blog, whatever is on our mind about writing, reading, books, or simply about life.

Yes, we write about life too.

So much has happened to each of us since we pledged to keep this blog alive. Happy things and sad things, and all shades in between. We sold houses, moved to different parts of the city even to a different country, lost pets, got new pets, had surgeries, changed lifestyles, gained new families, became step-parents or grandparents, faced challenges in relationships, travelled to some awesome places, and sadly, dealt and are still dealing, with a serious illness. All part of the package.

But none of that has deterred any of the 5 intrepid writers to throw in the towel. Sure, we had a hiatus once in a while, but if one of us wasn’t able to post for a week or two, the others stepped up to the plate and kept on blogging and entertaining our followers.

And what, you may ask, have we achieved in terms of writing novels since starting the blog? After all, writing novels is at the heart of this blog.

5 W’sIP

While none of our manuscripts are at the stage of publishing, we have five excellent Works in Progress. Not all at the same stage of completion, but they are out there, growing, being worked on. Not necessarily in terms of producing a set number of pages every day, but making headway all the same. Progress may come in the middle of the night during a sleepless hour or two, or researching a topic in the library, and yes, sometimes even sitting down and working that keyboard as if possessed by demons.

And just like the diversity of our blog posts, our novels couldn’t be more different. We write in different genres (well, more or less, though all share a certain element of ‘suspense’), different time periods from pre-WWII to the present, different settings from North America to Asia, Holland, Austria, Hawaii to name a few, and our protagonists come from all walks of life and demographics.

Modesty aside, all five of us have completed or almost finished books waiting for another round of edits. I have two such completed manuscripts (one, my first project, co-written with writer friend Paula), then a partly completed sequel and one languishing when I just couldn’t get my protagonist to come to life. So I am hoping that with all the writing past and present, this, my current WIP will make it to a satisfying ‘The End’.

A hearty ‘Thank You’ to all of you out there in blogosphere for following us and for your thoughtful comments over the years. You are our community and we love you.

If-you-hear-a-voice-within-you-say-you-cannot-paint-then-by-all-means-paint-and-that-voice-will-be-silenced-Vincent-Van-Gogh

Achievements of a writer – reflections of my 100th blog post

Karalee’s Post #100

 

Ha! This is my one hundredth post since the birth of the 5Writer’s blog in September 2012. It’s a milestone that in essence describes what writers really are:

 

 

 

 

 

1. We are counters.

  • Word counters: To date our 5Writer’s group has written 577 blog posts. Based on a low estimate of 750 words/blog, this equates to 432,750 words, which further equates to the length of 5 novels of 86,500 words each! Go 5Writers!
  • Writers also are notorious for setting daily word counts for productivity such as 500 words/day. Based on that we’ve been writing this blog for 865.5 days.
  • Writing is a lonely business and setting word count goals provide incentive to keep going as well as having a timeline to a finished product. We all need goals!

2. We are organized.

  • All writers have to have some sort of organization that works for them. Some of us use outlines, others use mind mapping, while others jot down ideas before starting a manuscript and keep side notes for ideas, characters, settings, etc. as they go along. Even the very few that can keep everything in their heads as they write have an amazing internal skill to keep their stories and characters organized within.

3. We are creative.

  • All writers have creative skills. Imagination fuels our intellect and opens doors to our stories that our life experiences enhance with added color and flare. The basis though, is an amazing creative mind.

4. We have drive.

  • To go from an inkling of an idea to a finished manuscript, all writers that get to The End have the willpower and drive to get there.
  • Blog post #100 is a great achievement too!

If you are a writer, do you keep count and are you organized, creative, and driven? I am–I just wrote my 100th blog post!

Happy Writing!