Monday, September 29, 2014

Eyes and Ears

It is an item of startlingly good fortune that Tyler-Rose and I found each other.  You probably already knew that, unless you're a new visitor to this blog (hi!) or you're exceptionally unobservant.  But it's true. 

Not only is she a wonderful human being and friend, and hilariously funny, and a writer like me, etc. etc... but she's also a very different writer than I am. 

Tyler-Rose is a pantser.  I'm a plotter. 

Tyler-Rose tends to deal with streamlined plots.  I gravitate toward subplot-heavy, multiple-POV stories. 

Tyler-Rose writes with her eyes.  I write with my ears. 

Beagle is pictured with its ears fanned out in the air.

I am trying to think of a better way to say that.  I am not coming up with one.  So allow me to explain: 

When I'm tired or being lazy, I write mostly dialogue.  The thing basically becomes a screenplay.  This is not because I don't want to use all the other resources available to a novelist, but rather because words are easiest for me when they're coming out of imaginary people's mouths. 

Tyler-Rose, on the other hand, has told me that when she is low on writing energy, she writes long, lavish chunks of description.  That is where the words flow most easily for her. 

In contrast, even my most final drafts tend to be deficient in description.  Tyler-Rose pointed this out to me, and you can see me beginning to work out the problem in posts from our early blog days:  "Defeating the Vacuum" parts One, Two, and Three

I haven't read much of Tyler-Rose's work yet, but interestingly, I hear her talk a lot about improvements she needs to make in her dialogue. 

Black and white dog with huge eyes sticks out its tongue.
Tyler-Rose observing nature.

Needless to say, it is REALLY helpful to have a writer-friend who complements your weaknesses.  This became particularly clear to me recently, when Tyler-Rose was working on a project for her graphic design class.  She had to design a book cover, and, to my utmost joy and flatterment, decided to make one for my as-yet-unpublished work in progress. 

It was a fine and dandy thing until she started asking me what things looked like.  I gave her a couple wrong answers, or at least some wildly imprecise answers, to start--and then realized after seeing her mock-ups that I had never really pinned down the visual features of certain important items in the story. 

Because Tyler-Rose is a true friend and a patient human being, this ended with me dragging precise descriptions out of my brain, image and word by belabored image and word, while she sketched what I was telling her and erased what I found to be not-quite-right once I saw it on paper. 

It was so good for me.  So difficult.  So not the way I am used to thinking.  (Thank you again, Tyler-Rose, from the bottom of my heart and the depths of my now-deeper imagination.) 

Excellent as that was, and for all that Tyler-Rose and I help each other, you don't need an uncannily complementary writer-friend to work on your weaknesses.  Low on description?  Take a drawing class.  Not best friends with dialogue?  Try Donald Maass's "Stripping Down Dialogue" exercise on page 78 of The Fire in Fiction.  (I saw Tyler-Rose battle through that one.  She looked much the way I looked when I had to describe my villain's minions to her in enough detail for her to drawn them.) 

And of course, important as it is to work on your weaknesses, having a tendency like this isn't a bad thing.  I think my writing really does have its highest impact at verbal moments.  And thinking back to the last thing I read of Tyler-Rose's, she created an atmosphere that is still vivid to me, a person who tends not to remember images.  The important thing is to be aware of your strengths and weaknesses, so that you can build up the latter and hone the former to the level of a precise and obedient tool. 

Monday, September 22, 2014

On Not Writing

 I have something to confess. The previous sentence is the first non school or work related thing I've written in at least two weeks. When I returned to school at the end of the summer I had all sorts of grand plans to get up early and do my writing for an hour every morning before my classes start.


Oh, I still get up early. I just haven't been writing. I've been doing my homework. Because I have evening classes almost every week day. And that would be okay, except that I have morning classes too.

I know. I, too, am stunned by my brilliant schedule making skillz.

And I know this sometimes happens. Sometimes life gets in the way. Whether it is over-work, illness, or emotional crisis, sometimes we simply cannot write.

And for a few days it's okay. Maybe even for a week. Then . . . Then a certain feeling starts to settle in. I know Susan feels this too, because we've talked about it. This feeling isn't merely anxiety about my career (though, God knows, I feel that). It's more of a sort of shiftless discomfort. A restlessness that doesn't allow me to settle in contentment on any one task. I am discontent with my life, with the world, with those around me. It is too empty, too grey. The brilliant colors start to leach slowly out of the fall leaves, until they also are grey and in the rush of things to be done and tasks to be checked off my list, I forget that I should notice them.

One day this summer I went to lunch with one of my non-writing, extroverted friends and tried to explain this feeling to her. Her concerned response was: "Oh my God, do you think you've become addicted to it?!"

I think I was too stunned by this utter breakdown in communication to be able to say anything coherent for a minute or two. Then I muttered something about "being pretty sure that wasn't it" and changed the subject, still entirely befuddled as to how that could have been what she got out of my description of the passion I have for my art. I still don't know. She's a very practical person. I love her anyway.

It wasn't till later (this may be why I'm a writer an not a public speaker) that I was able to articulate what exactly I should have told her. What I should have said is this:

"No, it's not an addiction. But, having gained my sight, I don't wish to return to blindness."

When you write, you have to take each moment slowly. Each new setting must be acutely observed so that the reader can see what you see. So you must know what you see. You must stop and look and decide what is important. I find that this practice extends to the rest of my life. I see the colors vibrantly because I'm thinking about what they are and how I would write them.

Over the summer I had the pleasure to read Still Writing by Dani Shapiro. It's part memoir and part thoughtful guide to the writing life. In this book she often discusses the "Discipline" of a writing or artistic life. Not just a schedule or a word count goal. A Discipline. Some amount of work you do every day even when you don't feel like it to keep your mind and writing muscles continually in practice and ready for the Work. That's how she talks about it. The Work.

I've heard other people talk like this. Mostly they were great painters, martial artists, and monastics.  

With my time full of little tasks, sometimes I forget that I am not only trying to write a book, but trying to shape my life. I want a writing life. I need one. Because without it everything is grey and I forget to look for what is wonderful on this earth.

Writing isn't optional for me. It's how I breathe.

So, I guess I know what I'll be doing tomorrow morning.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Update: Blog Schedule

The "blog schedule" is not something we tend to do here at The Feather and the Rose. 

We're both trying to finish writing projects this year, however, so streamlining the blog seemed like a good idea. 

Tyler-Rose and I will post on alternating Mondays.*  Hope to see you then! 

On an unrelated note, I just discovered the zillion variations of "Keep calm and carry on" that the internet has to offer, and some of them are hilarious.  Like this one: 

*nods knowingly*  Next time I fail to keep calm, I will blame my heritage.

Look for us on Mondays!


*Which means, roughly, that if you like footnotes, you should visit on the Mondays Tyler-Rose posts, and if you like lists, you should visit on the Mondays I post.  But I just used a footnote, so maybe it's best if you stop by on all Mondays indiscriminately.