A Writer & Her Pencil

FullSizeRender-1This page, which is in an over-sized art book, 11 x 14, is one of two pages plus a bit more. The numbers in circles are for chapters, and the squiggles in the clumps represent events from each chapter. I made columns, I suppose, because I like lists, and it’s in pencil, the writer’s friend. I use a pen for almost all of my writing, but this project is, for me, a sketch, a thing likely to be erased and moved. Who doesn’t love that successful push-pull of an eraser on the page. Ziiiiip. Gone in the dust.

My goal here was to keep the analytical part of my brain awake and attending to editorial needs, such as character development, loose ends gone astray, mood shifts, and more. I also wanted a way to SEE the book. In the old days – does anyone do it any longer? – I’d take pages of a long piece and spread them on the floor in a circle of cake-walk numbers so I could glance at the big picture by walking around and then sit and scoot along. It helped me view the order of things, pace how the piece was unfolding – just see the whole visual! Our friends, the computers, show us half a page at a time or two pages, with some effort, but that’s not much. I’m amazed at how accustomed I am to that limit and reminded again of the reasons to write by hand, on sheets that can be separated and laid in a circle.

But this book’s on the computer (I printed the whole thing, but that’s for another day.) The Post-its signal omissions, because even when I consider a piece finished, it apparently occupies a well-lit room in my brain where the thing is still under discussion, and a few of the little participating voices make it into my consciousness to suggest improvements.

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The Perfect Day

Browsing The New York Times online this morning, this small-sized headline popped up.

No corrections appeared in print on Monday, February 16, 2015.

Envy surged. Really? Not a single error in an entire multi-paged, 140,000- give-or-take words publication. My eyes glazed green, since I could list several goofs without even reviewing the previous day’s “Sent E-mails.”

Had I been too bold in that suggestion about dealing with a numb-skulled co-worker?
Did I run on too long when describing why I’m hooked on the British Bake-off Show?
Did I confess too much — or more than X cared about — when recalling an error-riddled old work document?
Was I brusque to my mother when I listed the tasks of the week?

Then–let’s turn to fiction. A new beginning for the novel that has become an entire fleet of albatrosses woke me early and kept me that way. Can a teen-ager see an explosion, hear screams, smell burning flesh, and then move on to chapter 2? Not so easily. Corrections will be needed.

And since “possibly better versions” seem to occupy a large portion of my mind, the revisions will be many and absorb more hours than I can imagine.

I expect never to live a “no corrections needed” day, but since my real passion is solving problems, I’m probably in the correct business.

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Snowless in the Capital

Six to 12 inches was the prediction two hours ago. And this is the National Weather Service I’m quoting. If I were to run my hand over a few car windows that I can see from my balcony, I may be able to make a snowball. Maybe.

I think the Snow Queen may be punishing the city for naming the storm the Snowquester. Enough with the threats and the abuse of verbs. It is also possible that the weather personnel — some of them go by the nickname of the Capital Weather Gang (cuteness) — may need to sign up for a few continuing education credits. It is 35 degrees at 5 am. Hmmm. The people predicting that number predict numbers rising even higher in the coming hours. Numbers like 36 and 37. I want to be the first to note that if snow starts collecting to the tune of multiple inches when it is 37 degrees, we have on our hands a new climate change issue.

Meanwhile, the snow people note that the largest accumulations may occur west of 495. I like a safe prediction. West goes a long way and includes places like Kentucky and Illinois and the Rocky Mountains.

When first predicted, this storm was to be over by 3 am, but I just checked a couple of webpages and learned that the snow is to arrive here all day. So back to the numbers — 36, 37. I may have to eat my numbers. If so, they can be snow numerals with a remoulade of horseradish and cranberries. Pic to be added, of course.

Stay tuned.

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Base 2

We’re drawing to the end of base 2 dates for this year — 12/11/2011. We have a few left, but I’ll be sad to see them go. In my daybook, I stack them, and they appear to hold some mystery of intent:

The simplicity calls for a quick addition, or it makes me want to reread a wonderful post at garlikov.com on teaching 3rd graders base 2 math entirely through the Socratic method. Actually, it’s here and it’s fun: http://www.garlikov.com/Soc_Meth.html Mostly it’s a breezy transcript, but it will probably occupy ten minutes of your reading day and then more minutes of thought over the coming years.

The limits and potential of base 2 are not unlike the growing number of websites or technologies that allow only so many letters or characters, and that takes us back to haiku and its 17 syllables and other restricted forms of poetry. Then there are the books based on the website that invites autobiographies in six words.

Restrictions can be a fun engine for creativity. The novel Gadsby has no occurrences of the letter e. I once wrote a short story based on Chopin’s Minute Waltz — every syllable matched to a note. By no stretch were they lyrics, but the idea of reading the whole story in a minute was definitely attractive. Hmmm. Maybe that’s another website.

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Pushing Character/s

Sometimes you have a character who must take a difficult action. In fact, we need characters to take those actions as part of the development of the story. Say your character learns that an old friend is dying, and the character knows she must call the dying woman’s brother. It’s messy. They haven’t spoken in years. The character knows that despite all resolve, she will cry during this telephone call, in fact, start crying as soon as she says hello. The veil of formality and any hope of hiding her feelings will dissolve. The outcome of the call may or may not matter, but pushing the character to take a breath and follow through on dialing the number is how the story moves on.

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Feeding the Background

Somewhere long ago, I learned that Willa Cather read the Bible each day before she began writing. She was not a religious woman, so she was not reading for spiritual enlightenment. Rather, it was the language. Something about the language of the text tapped into her mind where her own stories were produced. She does not obviously write with Old Testament cadences, but those long-ago-laid-down words inspired the rhythms in her own language.

So it is, sort of, that I signed up for a class in sculpting clay. I have been researching a 19th Century woman who sculpted medallions, busts, and full figures of people, and the clay class seemed like a way to understand more about her. The easy part is that I have no expectations for creating something wonderful or even recognizable. I want only to learn what it is like to make the effort, push at the stiff, cold clay, and somehow gain some feeling of the art.

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My Stupid Morning

My hard drive crashed. Second one this year. Replaced it and purchased Backblaze back-up services somewhere in the ether.

I devoted an hour this morning to following instructions on how to transfer “saved” photos into my computer’s photo program. Failure.

I use Scrivener for writing. The files are on the computer, but they are not in Scrivener. I have to dig out each one and then open it. THEN it is attached to the program.

There is something not right with back-up programs. A file drawer for papers and a box for photos has great appeal just now.

This morning I told a friend that I’d rather clean the stove for an hour than go through this process. At least the hour would conclude with visible results.

I should add that even having a terrible draft, which seems like a waste of time, is infinitely better than no draft, which is the equivalent of my stupid morning.

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