To Dream: 2020 Distractions and Intentions

Dreamy word cloud from my current novel-in-progress created at wordclouds.com

Remember daydreaming? That old creativity-inducing distraction? I do–if just barely.

Now, even our distractions are automated and customized and curated by an algorithm that seems to know what we should be daydreaming about before we can even get to it. What’s more, the rabbit holes we find ourselves distractedly falling down end not in a constructively weird place–but all too often in a place that might be weird but probably will cost us money. So, a destination that leaves us both distracted and poorer. Happy 2020! From a fun piece by Kathryn Schulz from 2015 in The New Yorker. She saw it coming:

How did “rabbit hole,” which started its figurative life as a conduit to a fantastical land [in Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland], evolve into a metaphor for extreme distraction? One obvious culprit is the Internet, which has altered to an indescribable degree the ways that we distract ourselves.

Thank you for Internet-ing right here, this Monday morning, when there are so many rabbit holes clambering for us, desiring to drive us to distraction–to forget our intentions, our destinations, our worth, even ourselves.

Can I tell you I’ve been distracted?

While others have been setting down their 2020 resolutions, and even committing them to blog post (and, as such, according to the court of blog, making them treaties never to be broken!), I’ve been distracted. While others have been new-decade-to-do-ing and vision-boarding, I’ve been distracted.

Two weeks of 2020 in the crapper already, and I’ve made a word cloud. (See above.) Well, not me, but a website. OK, I plopped in the words–from my novel-in-progress–and out came a word cloud. I did pick the shape and the color scheme: blue.

Here’s another thing: I found a website, literature-map, that will show me (in an attractive visual-thesaurus web sort of way) which authors are most like my faves. A new-to-me fave:

If only I could pick the color scheme…

Hold up! You haven’t visited the visual thesaurus? Inconceivable! Here:

Which reminds me of The Princess Bride. What a movie. Inconceivable! Who was that actor? He’s still alive, right?

You see what I mean? This exercise in rabbit-holing isn’t to say that there’s anything wrong with distractions, or daydreams, but that I might be better served by being a little more intentional. You know: dreaming with intention, design, volition, even, dare I say, a goal.

So, I’m goal-setting-lite, meaning with enough wiggle room for constructive rabbit holes and even breaks. (Like, “intention” comes from the Latin intentus, meaning “a stretching out,” also “a leaning toward, a strain.” I mean, that sounds like exercise, which is never supposed to be easy, right?)

I’m reading with intention–right now Elena Ferrante’s My Brilliant Friend, the first of the Neapolitan quartet of novels by the highly-acclaimed Italian author–to inform my historical novel about an Italian family in WWII America. And I’m back over at Goodreads, where I’m going to try to keep better track of what I’ve read–outside of Rust Belt authors.

I’ve also been taking some lovely reading detours–having read over the last month a children’s book, a literary thriller, and a sci-fi screenplay–for friends and fellow bloggers who are highly-acclaimed in my eyes. And reading thinker-blogposts, like this one “On Breaks and Connections.” And next up on the ol’ TBR is a book of poetry–because poetry is the best kind of distraction.

Writing? OK, I didn’t use my Christmas break to gain great headway on my novel-in-progress (outside of the groovy word cloud)–what with Christmas and Christmas carols, cookies, and more cookies. However, I did get another chapter down. And then, in response to a call from a journal I admire, I wrote a thing–a creative nonfiction piece about Ordinary Time and ordinary time and making the everyday a holiday worth singing about and feasting over; and finding the blissfully mundane in a holiday. It’s a working rabbit hole, anyway. And the novel draft will be out of my brain and on paper, come June (wish me luck).

And editing. I wore that hat a lot over at Parhelion Literary Magazine, last year. My 2019 saw me shepherd three book reviews, five essays, and an author interview into the world, plus I conducted two interviews, and penned a piece on finding “twin skin” and solace in the essays of Randon Billings Noble. I adore this PLM gig and hope you’ll check me out over there, too. More good stuff to come in 2020.

Of course, it’s publishing that’s considered to be the big win, the brass ring, the dream destination for us writer-types. The agent querying continues, but I did have a couple short stories published last year in journals I love. And, lest I forget that this writing thing is about the path, and not the destination, I read this post for a different kind of “Resolution,” today.

Goals. I’ll get on it. I will. Right now, you’re here and I’m here, which means we’re in the very same rabbit hole (#bloggoals), if for only a few minutes–and that’s a win these days. As was being nominated for the Bloggers Recognition Award by one of my favorite blogging friends, Silvia, from Italian Goodness, who, when I told her I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to hop on the nomination train, said these wise words: “Life is busy. Family comes first. Never stop dreaming, but prioritizing is the secret of happiness.” Truer words, folks… Thank you, Silvia! (And go make one her Italian recipes and make yourself so happy.)

Here’s to more connecting and dream-making in 2020–by a little luck and a pinch of intention.

Have you recovered from the Christmas cookie coma? New Year’s resolution-failure guilt getting to you, or is that just me?

Care to social media rabbit-hole together? You can find me at FB, on Twitter and IG @MoonRuark, and at Goodreads, where it appears as if I’m just getting the hang of this whole literary thing.

Revising is the opposite of cake

20180613_020002-1

Editing is veritable cake.

Editing ourselves might mean a trip to the hairdresser; editing our lifestyle might mean getting to bed on time; editing our house might take a can of paint. Editing a WIP means re-tooling, re-telling, and finding and following the right style guide.

But revising–really re-seeing–ourselves, our places and lifestyles, and, by extension, the stories we tell, takes much more time, energy, and lobotomy-level introspection.

Revising is the opposite of cake: not at all light and fluffy. Maybe something more like swamp muck, quicksand, or even asphalt.

Revising a WIP? My condolences. You’re in the muck of re-seeing and re-forming, struggling, hopefully, to once again resurface. Only then can you can catch your breath  to dig in again.

Me, I’m in the last, surface-y editing stage of one project and the first-draft stage of another–the former like frosting, the latter all discovery and flashes of light. (And here’s where the pastry analogy has worn thin, become too tough–ha.)

OK, back to the poor, unfortunate revising soul: to revise a WIP is an act of soul-searching, on the part of the author and the author’s characters. To revise a memoir must be a frightening process of destroying and remaking again and again one’s own image on paper. Bless you, memoirists; you are a brave lot.

I’ll lump the late Jefferson Davis in here–with memoirists, but not with the blessing. If you missed my recent post, I was reading Varina by author Charles Frazier of Cold Mountain fame. (Varina was Mrs. Jefferson Davis, first lady of the false country of the Confederate States of America during the U.S. Civil War.) In this historical novel, which explores the lives of real historical figures, there is a wonderful description of what it means to write and revise, provided by the character of Sara Dorsey.

Dorsey had been something of a writer, herself, and it’s at her home where Jefferson Davis is writing his memoirs (which, after his death, his wife ultimately revised). Dorsey describes the arduous task of writing memoirs this way:

…sitting still at a table draining memory dry to fill blank pages with strong words.

Tough enough. But then she describes revising–on the page but also on the page of history that found Jefferson Davis clearly on the side of the wrong:

…the joy of revising…which unlike life allows you to go back and rethink and make yourself better than you really are. … Even if the work comes to nothing, he will have these days to shape the past, make sense of how the runes fell against him.

Runes or no, what’s your favorite part of revising? Least favorite?

*above photo of a house seen and re-seen all at once, provided by Bill Moon of Port Clinton, Ohio–thanks, Dad!

 

 

Me, my selves, and Mel Brooks

Every human being has hundreds of separate people living under his skin. The talent of a writer is his ability to give them their separate names, identities, and personalities, and have them relate to other characters living with him.

Mel Brooks

Amen, Mel. (Ahem, with the addition of “her skin,” “her ability,” and “with her,” thank you very much.)

Ever have one of those weeks (or months) when you feel like you’re juggling too many balls–but also too many names, identities, and personalities? And not only on the page.

I am a creative writer (“dang it,” she pounds fist on desk), but I am also a writer and editor for modest pay universities and etc. It is this latter personality that lately has taken precedence over the former (because the fruits of this personality can buy actual fruit, or veggies, or ice cream from the truck that smartly parks itself at our neighborhood pool.)

Fear not, one of two looming work deadlines met, I am seeing the light. (Sometime, I’m going to see how many myriad scads of mixed metaphors I can cram into a single post!) Back to my creative endeavors I WILL BE (soon-ish).

In the meantime, I enjoy my work that allows me to pick the brains of academics young and seasoned and learn things I’d never come to on my own, like the powers of biofilms, the miracles of flexible solar cells, what rotorcraft even is. Really, I remind myself, it’s all creative, right? Who knows, maybe this work will create burgeoning new identities in my fiction.

I talked in my last post about list-making, reining in those cows. (Another metaphor gone awry.) I’m trying to be better about writing it all down, so I see what I must do, and what I AM DOING. (Sleeping past 8am, now that the kids are out of school, for one. Big, big win!)

Creative right now:

Reading: A Gentleman in Moscow (read me gush about it on my FB page.); next up, Warlight

Listening to: Above Us Only Sky, audio novel by my uber-talented author friend from my MFA program days, Michele Young-Stone

Submitting: yesterday, a travel-ish short story of mine set in India to the literary travel mag, Nowhere; agent query submissions coming soon (see next line)

Editing: that last 40 pages of my historical novel manuscript–woo to the hoo!

How’s your creative list looking? What are you reading, writing, loving right now? Let me know here or at FB.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Darlings done in: May 20, 2018

banner-2748305__480

“In writing, you must kill all your darlings.”

William Faulkner

Yep, we got it, Will. Do those darlings in. What counts as darlings? The (flowery, purple or otherwise unnecessary) prose in our stories, poems, and blog posts we just can’t let go–but know we must.

On today’s editing room floor, as it were:

“He fantasized about how he would greet Kate after three days away. He would sweep his wife into his arms like one of her matinee idols might.”

Um. Fantasy–in my historical novel manuscript? If it’s not happening, it’s not staying. Cut!

Here’s another. (The trouble with writing a historical novel is that there’s just sooo much interesting history. But, one must remember that it’s a novel, not a textbook.)

“In the nineteenth century, coal was discovered in the hills, and easterners brought industry, almighty steel, to the west…”

Cut! (And that “almighty steel” might be a contender for “purple prose.”)

No one said revision and editing would be easy. If a section, paragraph, or phrase is especially dear to me, I will save it–in a file on my computer or in a jar where I keep actual slips of paper with cut phrases on them. (Sometimes fodder for story prompts, sometimes a good joke, sometimes both.)

In this way you can revive your darlings like writer K.M. Allan. Don’t fear when it’s time to slash and burn your way to a better manuscript. Happy revising!

What’s your favorite revising or editing tip?

 

 

a bit of writerly advice… for National Licorice Day

It’s like driving a car at night. You never see further than your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.E.L. Doctorow, novelist, essayist and professor best known for his works of historical fiction (who also maybe adored licorice).

Yep, doing something new here: A little writing advice chased by a little trivia (with a dash of speculation).

The headlights writing advice was provided to me (in response to my novel manuscript) by a former writing instructor and current friend, David L. Robbins, who has written about a million historical novels at this point. (Don’t know if he’s a licorice fan, but I’ll inquire.)

Why that advice?

Because, I admit it, I am a lover of the flashback. Sometimes called an analepsis (but not by me), a flashback is an interjected scene that takes the reader to a time before the current action. You know, backstory.

I’m a lover of the flashback within a flashback. (Though I know this is terribly wrong and something for which I should flog my writerly self.) Here we’re interrupting the forward moving action to talk about something in the past and then interrupting that something to talk about another past something. Whew!

And, heck, while we’re here, what’s wrong with a little flash-forward now and then?

What did Doctorow know?

A lot.

Sometimes the problem is we didn’t start the story in the right spot. If we’re constantly looking back, maybe that’s where the story should start. (Looking forward? Maybe we started too early in time.) Just don’t fall into the trap of turning backstory into dialogue for characters to deliver. Too much “remember the time…?” reads false.

So, in my novel-in-progress I killed my prologue because it took place years before the current action (and it was a prologue); and I’m doing my darnedest to drive by my headlights.

Do I promise to use no flashbacks, no flash-forwards?

No. Moderation in all things, as the Greeks said…those Greeks who called licorice “sweet root.” Did you think I’d forgotten what day it is?

Officially a weed, licorice has been prized for its health benefits for thousands of years, and is even said to have properties that may slow the effects of aging on the brain.

So, maybe have a piece of licorice to stimulate your writerly brain, turn on those headlights and get back to work.

I am…

 

 

 

 

The imagination in revision

 

20171204_091327.jpg

To revise.

If there are two words that stir dread in this writer, it’s these. I know, I know, I’m supposed to love to revise. (And I do, in the same way I “love” other things that are good for me, like yogurt and kale.) To revise is to make new–and hopefully better. Back to the drawing board. A new lease, blah, blah, blah.

Here’s the thing: revision requires imagination (Daily Prompt).

Revision demands that we unplug from everything but our WIP and allow the mind–and the plot and character and theme, etc.–to change. A WIP off course! Yes, this can–and even should–happen when we revise. Call it giving over control to the muse or your writer’s instinct or your better judgement, but it does require a loss of control.

Oh, we’ll be in control of our WIPs again. We just have to wait for the editing phase. Can’t rush these phases, though (so says my chapter three I’m currently re-seeing). The late, great Donald M. Murray tells us so, too:

We confuse revision, which is re-seeing, re-thinking, re-saying with editing which is making sure the facts are accurate, the words are spelled correctly, the rules of grammar and punctuation are followed.

–from Donald M. Murray‘s classic, The Craft of Revision

A tribute to Murray from a former writing student

*Photo taken from my village’s community pier. (Credit: Bill Moon. Thanks, Dad!) This foggy scene seemed right for this post, since working through a revision often feels like charting a course through thick fog!

Are you revising at the moment? Does it require a leap of the imagination for you? Weigh in here.

Hold up, wait a minute: Rust Belt Girl on ice

20180113_091524
Lake Erie, iced. One of the Lake Erie Islands (Green Island), is in the distance. (Thanks for the pic, Dad!)

Hold up, wait a minute. Hold up, wait a minute…

Nope, you haven’t stumbled on a 90s music blog (but if you now have that old club song in your head, you’re welcome!)

Here at Rust Belt Girl, I promised a new thread this new year: a journey into the terrifying abyss that is the world of book publishing. That’s agent querying, novel synopses, novel submitting, etc.

How’s it going so far?

Um. Yeah, that.

Let’s just say, like so much of the Rust Belt at present, this Rust Belt Girl is on ice–at least as far as that project.

What happened?

Shall I add another metaphor into the mix? Well, I got the cart before the horse (ie: the agent query letter, synopsis, etc.) before the manuscript itself. And, really, the horse is a little bit lame. Not so much that it has to be put down or even put out to pasture. (Yep, I’m just running with this metaphor.) But maybe re-shod, rested, exercised–certainly made stronger. Race horse strong.

Who says?

A former writing teacher of mine, an author and editor whose feedback I trust wholeheartedly.

What now?

Thaw out? Get back on the horse? (Can I stop talking about ice and horses?)

Really though, I’m revising my novel manuscript (yet again) because I only get one chance with agents, and I don’t want to blow it. I’m really trying to “re-see” this story that’s been with me for years; these characters that I’ve known longer than I’ve known my own kids, which is a little crazy. It’s not an easy task to really re-envision an 86,000-word manuscript, and so I can’t rush it.

“Time is a great editor,” said my editor friend.

So, bear with me if this thread takes its time.

I mean, there’s an order to things–like seasons and horse-drawn things, right?

In the meantime, more writing advice I pick up from experts along my way; more reading (and emulating!) great books; more author interviews.

And…in the publishing vein, more submitting short stories to journals and magazines. Keep your fingers crossed (and frost-bite free) for me.

Happy weekend! What’s on tap for yours? ~ Rebecca