Archives for category: writing

This article is an old book and old movie lover’s dream. Names like Woolf, Dickens, Forster, and Bronte are scattered throughout, like beautiful, slow burning leaves flavoring autumn with their timeless scent. Their related books are the crispness in the air. Mr. Rochester and Jane Eyre, Mrs. Ramsey, her family and their guests, Mr. Wilcox and his younger bride overshadowed by his late wife…these are the people of some of my favorite literary treasures. They all leave their footprints preserved in this article, along with the houses that serve, in their way, as characters as well. Some of the houses that inspired stories like Howards End, Rebecca, and Jane Eyre are described in a way that brings back memories of reading the novels and wanting to read them again. My favorite segment is about Talland House that inspired Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse. There’s a black and white picture of the actual house that makes me wish I was in Cornwall, so I could photograph it myself and perhaps look to the lighthouse from the garden. Some of the article’s descriptions evoke imagery from the books or scenes from screen adaptations. Reading it is a mental tour through cherished places brought to life by authors with often surprising connections to their characters’ homes. 

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2017/jul/29/pemberley-manderley-howards-end-real-building-fictional-houses?CMP=twt_gu

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I’m at the proofreading stage of my new novella, and find bits of writing help echoing in my mind. Some I can actually put to use. It’s scattered all over the internet, but most is like the writing world is sewing empty hulls, instead of viable seeds. 

Here are 3 actually helpful tips.

1. One of the best ones I’ve come across is this: “That” is usually unnecessary. 

As I proofread, I’m struck by just how much I use it, without thinking. Removing it not only makes the piece read a little more smoothly, it also cuts the word count quite a bit. Especially in larger manuscripts. I’m becoming more aware of it, which may mean I’ll eventually be able to mentally cut it just before my fingers can get it typed. 

2. Tightening is always good, as long as you know when to stop. 

This one is always in the back of my mind, particularly when I’m writing a screenplay. There I can often do it mentally as I go, but that doesn’t mean the tightening is over when “Fade out” is typed. While good tight fiction is desirable, a tight script is essential in a squeeze-the-last-word-out-that-you-can kind of way. That last bit is the kind of thing that makes me stop and ponder the “that” situations above. I write largely by instinct. It’s often on the fly, with pauses to figure out if something is right or wrong, depending on how it sounds or more elusively feels. So, I dithered over the “that” I eventually committed to. But it’s getting easier to get rid of the ones that I don’t need. (Did you spot the unnecessary “that” there?)

3. “That” is far from the only often unnecessary word.

Or sentence

Or, heaven help me, paragraph right on into page. 

The actual tip is a succinct and painful “Kill your darlings.” 

This may be the most difficult piece of writing help to take not only to heart, but also to pen. Or delete key. This is the one I’ve found almost impossible to implement. It took a lot of experience to grow the wisdom needed to even begin to learn to ruthlessly slash and burn my way through a manuscript. It comes down to finding the honesty deep down beneath the euphoria born of writing a beautiful description. The crucial question to self is this: Will the story still stand without this part I love so much? If I delete it, will the story be less, in any way but word count? Often the answer is to hit the delete key. Sometimes, when I can’t quite let those darlings go, I start a file called (Story Title) Bits where I save the deleted parts, just in case I can convince myself I was wrong and justify putting something back in. I can’t actually recall a time when I put something back, except in my imagination. Do I take out everything that needs to be killed? Of course not! My writing tends toward literary, even when it’s genres where the style can be a bit startling. Deciding what should be eliminated can be a struggle, though as I write more and more I learn to use the brief amount of time that passes between formed thought and typed prose to decide before a problem spot has been actually written. It’s easier since I added /screenwriter to my self-description. It’s even fun sometimes, when I’m in just the right mood, to go all scorched earth on a   script that needs a page count pruning. 

These are the tips that help me most. If you have the patience to strain out all the nonsense that muddies the cyberwaters, there are more bits of useful information lurking. 

Oh. There’s one more tip right at the top of all things helpful. This one hovers above all others, is the most necessary, and means the most.

Believe in yourself. Always.

My mom died a year ago today. I’ve been trying to think of how to best mark this sad anniversary here. It’s tempting to devote this post to how wonderful she was. Remarkably. How much I miss her. Terribly. How there’s a hole in my life that will be with me forever. How I’ve managed to stumble and stagger my way back into my writing life, eventually writing every day for  almost three months to finish a brand new novella. How proud she’d be of me for that and for intending to live the best life I can in honor of her steadfast faith in my dreams and ambitions, and the unconditional love she gave me every day of my life.

So, in that brief paragraph, I gave in to the temptation. And now I’m going to tell a story that incorporates several she told me many times. Some of her favorite memories that show just how cool she was.

I’ve written about her older brother Earl here before. When she was a young woman, he would find her jobs in Memphis and take her there to live with his family while she worked, until the needs of her parents or just plain homesickness would pull her back to the family farm. Before that she would go for extended visits, so as they all grew up his children felt almost like siblings. 

She was especially close with her oldest nephew, Paige. Having grown up very near the airport (You can see the airport behind his back yard in the picture below), he loved planes. One might say he had flying in his blood. As soon as he was old enough, he took lessons and then took to the skies. 

Since one of her jobs was as a waitress at a little restaurant at the airport, my mom was very familiar with and comfortable around airplanes, especially as part of her job was loading meals into the galleys in preflight prep. Uncle Earl arranged for her to go up with his pilot friends on occasion, and she loved it. She leapt at every opportunity to leave the ground and soar over the Mississippi Delta.

Her favorite pilot was, of course, Paige. When she was living back at home, on occasion she would be awakened in the early morning by the roaring engine of a small plane coming in for a landing in the pasture behind the house. She would hurry to get dressed and join her parents in the rush outside to greet their visiting pilot. 

“Sarah! I have to go get refueled. Wanna come?” She was always eager to climb aboard and join him. They would fly away to the nearest town that had the fuel he needed, enjoying their time together in the early morning sky. She took great pleasure in his willingness to fly low and buzz the homes of her girlfriends. I always wondered if those girls were envious and/or a little in awe of their friend zooming over their heads, waving to them when they went outside to look up. I also wonder if it registered with them how brave and cool she was.

One particular flight must have tested her bravery, though when she spoke about it there was no trace of lingering fear. Just the thrill of adventure and faith in her pilot. As they neared their landing field that was literally a field, Paige took his attention briefly from the controls. “Sarah, I don’t want you to be scared, but I have to tell you there’s a problem with the plane. I’ve got to bring us down anyway. We’ll be okay. I promise.” She must have been scared, but she was also too courageous to fall apart as many people would. “I know we will!” And   they ended up safely back on the ground, just as she knew they would. My mom had an amazing capacity for rock solid faith in the people she loved during treacherous times. It was not only his tremendous piloting skills that brought them down safely that day, but that he also flew on the faith in him radiating from his passenger. I know, because I flew through every day of my life on the wings of that same unshakeable faith.

When I call his piloting skills tremendous, it’s not merely as a cousin who has always hero worshipped Paige, though we never met. He never, ever lost his love of flying, went on to become an Air Force jet fighter pilot, and was eventually awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. He was critically burned in 1956, when the flaming F-89D Scorpion he was piloting crashed into the same Mississippi River he’d flown near as a young man, though his final flight was over Minnesota. One of his two engines exploded. He died from his injuries the next day. There was nothing he could have done…but he did anyway. He stayed with his fighter to guide it away from a densely populated residential area. I grew up so very proud to have such a hero in my family. Some say that as we die we see our life flash before our eyes. If that’s true, among the memories of his wife and young son, parents, siblings, and extended family, there was his whole great flying life before him, like a cherished dream. Among the wings and clouds and blue skies, was the green grass of a pasture landing field and the echoing words “We’ll be okay. I promise.” “I know we will.”

(Photograph that ran with his obituary)

I honestly don’t know what exactly comes after death. But for right this moment I know what I want it to be for my mom and her beloved Paige. So I’m imagining them sitting together on the highest cloud, swinging their feet as I’m sure they did fishing with Grandaddy as children, then a smile, a nod, a whisper of wings, as they take flight together once again.

When she told Paige that she worried about the danger he was in as a fighter jet pilot, his answer told its own story of the kind of man he’d grown up to become.

“Don’t worry about me, Sarah. If I die flying, I’ll have died doing what I love to do.”

​After struggling to regain my writer’s equilibrium, first due to the escalating crisis as my mom’s life slowly wound to its close and then this painful, disorienting year in the aftermath of her death, I’m finally getting back to my writing life. In a previous post I wrote about deciding to try writing on my tablet, as a way to get back into regular writing. I can now say unequivocally that it was a smart move. 

I had been working on a story a little (a very little) at a time, but just couldn’t manage to emerge from the fog of grief long enough to make consistent progress. The need to write was there, but it lay half buried in the past, a past both near to the present and spread out over my mom’s near century long life that I knew as if it was my own from her stories. For a time, though I remembered, it felt lost to me, just out of reach, elusive yet tantalizingly near to my heart. 

Some clichés are oft repeated because they hold wisdom and truth. Time does heal wounds, even those so deep that they sear a scar across our personal landscape. Slash and burn, new growth, fresh and tender, eventual layers of the past buried like treasure beneath the feet that tread the surface. It takes time for those left behind by the death of a loved one to be able to probe the depths of memory to mine the comfort to be found there. For a writer those depths call out to be probed and touched and cherished, even before the ability to do so appears.

The key to my return to the writing life came with the spontaneity of being able to pick up a tablet, turn it on, and be writing as the impulse hit. There was an immediacy that’s  just unobtainable with the bootup process of my laptop. The wait to begin writing was killing the impulse, making it a chore instead of the usual pleasure writing is for me. 

The result of my decision to write on my tablet was a streak that began the process of bringing me back to myself, from a loss that started over the long years of struggle to get my mom and myself through the end of her life. Alzheimer’s is a relentless foe. It pillages, plunders, burns lives to the proverbial ground, and leaves a path of profound loss in its wake. Losing my mother as I’d known and adored her for my entire life, long before I lost those last treasured hugs, was the most life emptying loss I’d ever experienced. No wonder I had trouble writing.

Once I began experimenting with my tablet, I found myself writing every day. Every. Single. Day. Sometimes it was two sentences, but that was two sentences I didn’t have the day before. Often it was much more. A laptop chunk stitched together from many struggling attempts laid the groundwork. Once I started on my tablet, I wrote daily from April 10th to July 4th to finish it as a novella. When I typed the final words, I decided to pretend for a moment that all the fireworks were for my own personal celebration of the return of not only my creativity, but also the discipline that serves as the backbone of finished projects.

Of course I haven’t stopped missing my mom. That will never happen. But I have stopped missing the routine of my writing life. A step back toward normality, accompanied by the pleasure that comes from weaving words together, into a cloth of wonder and worlds and dreams.

The rapid rise in development of artificial intelligence and all its ramifications is fascinating. The potential for the betterment of mankind in its many advancements is boundless. But everything has to start somewhere. 

As a longtime user of smart devices, I’ve been feeling I have a front row seat in the entertaining horror show that is autocorrect.  Emails, tweets, blog posts…they all are enhanced by or fall victim to this oh so useful tool of the technological age. Sometimes I fear the cyberworld at large will think I suffer from some heretofore unknown form of illiteracy. Or worse. At times it could seem a gibbering idiot has gotten loose and launched into an undecipherable tweet storm. 

Yes, I do proofread. With autocorrect diligence is immaterial. I’m noticing more and more that that handy dandy ubiquitous tool has gone behind my back and made “corrections” after I’ve finished with a sentence. By finished with I mean already corrected autocorrect and moved on. Only after I need to go back for some reason to reread a sentence do I find bizarre gibberish that has nothing to do with what I think I’ve written. This can be particularly annoying as a writer, because it drags me way, way out of whatever world be it dark dystopian or fairy and unicorn otherworldliness I happen to be inhabiting at that moment. Try regaining your train of thought, after coming across half a sentence that looks like it was written by the dreaded BEM. 

While for a long time this whole thing was a minor annoyance of infrequent occurrence, I’ve become much more acutely aware of it this past month, since I started writing a story on my tablet. I was having trouble writing, after my mom’s death. Eventually, I thought it might help to be able to just pick up my tablet any time the urge struck and write whatever was willing to come out. That’s turned out to be a really great idea. I can be writing that way, while I would still be waiting for my laptop to be ready to go. I’ve kept up a steady stream of writing every day since April 10th. Even though I’m a little worried about taking the formatting to my laptop when I’m finished with the first draft, hopefully the fact that I managed it in an early experiment means it won’t be too horrible a format wrangling quagmire, even for Glitcherella.

The only real problem is the word processor app’s autocorrect. It has an unusually aggressive tendency to over correct. I know, I know they all do. This one, though, is extremely eager to help, changing words after I think its shenanigans have been reined in. On a particular problem area, anyway. Sometimes precious plotting on the fly seconds are lost, while I try to decipher what I’d originally written. At times there is zero resemblance to my own word or words, and I may not be able to even recall what I’d actually written, if enough wordage has passed. This is not good in Writerworld.

The most bizarre instance has to be when I recently typed the word wonderful. I went back to check something and found this: worth knob fearful! What? Literally. Not just a flip exclamation, but a sincerely confused, shocked, and frustrated cry to the writing gods for enlightenment. I knew I had not typed such a meaningless clutch of words. I didn’t remember on the spot what I had typed, and had to find context so I could reconstruct the sentence. Time wasted. Head briefly exploded. Regather former train of thought. Move on.

Done.

It’s not easy, however, to completely stop the boggling of mind whenever I think of it. I mean, that particular instance of autocorrect insanity is relatively innocuous. No harm done. But what about the future? Robotics is rapidly becoming a major part of our world. Will we be able to overcome the frustrations and foibles of an auto corrected life? Or do we face something much more concerning? Will our future be worth knob fearful?

​I woke up this morning to the news that author Colin Dexter has died. His career has the distinction of leading me to a favorite author I’ve never read. I intend to remedy that at some point, because he was the creator of a most wonderful character…Inspector Morse. 

Morse is the kind of character who makes you roll your eyes, even as you wait breathlessly for him to do something brilliant, whether it be professionally or personally. The man has layers. Many, many of them. Among the deepest is a kind, compassionate, and even romantic heart. A keen detective, the prickly bachelor works diligently to keep Oxford safe from an alarming number of murders. His difficult nature is softened by his love of literature and the classical music he blasts gleefully while flying along the narrow twists and turns of British life in his classic Jag. 

Morse is a Renaissance man wrapped in a curmudgeon, and viewers who fall in love with him despite his glaringly obvious shortcomings owe their devotion to two people. One is the uniquely talented  actor who portrayed him, John Thaw. The other is his creator Colin Dexter. Sometimes author and character and actor meet in a way that causes magic to spring forth from the TV screen. Morse is a wonderful, if unlikely, example of this feat. 

At first I was devastated by the final episode of the series, The Remorseful Day, wishing desperately it had ended earlier, when Morse went up the hotel steps, arm in arm with love at last. He’d waited so long for true, joyous love, why couldn’t he have ridden off into the sunset, as it were? Because, along with the heartbreak of that remorseful day, we finally got to truly see the depth of the sweetness, loyalty, and, yes, even love, he is capable of, in his final moments with his long suffering sergeant, Lewis. We also learned the secret he’d been carrying for far too long, when the extent of that innate loyalty extended toward a friend and colleague was finally revealed. What a man he was. And what a writer was Colin Dexter!

My favorite moment from the entire series:

Inspector Morse, The Remorseful Day, Ensanguining the Skies Scene

​I was minding my own business, channel flipping my way through an afternoon lull in any hope for productivity, when I got captured in the gossamer steel storytelling of a Grey’s Anatomy rerun. Even though I never became a regular viewer, somehow I managed to come across some of the most touching and poignant episodes of this show made up of heat, hate, and heart. Today, it was the one where George died.

So now I’m crying. 

Even coming in partway through. 

I think it’s the way they don’t know for so long. Caring for a brutally devastated dying anonymous John Doe is one thing. That he is a selfless hero is another entirely. Eventually, heartbreakingly discovering he is a colleague, a friend, a beloved essential part of your life, depending on who you are is something different and all but unbearable. And that’s just the characters.

For viewers both casual and devoted, this level of storytelling is devastating too. Even when you aren’t extremely invested in, or even familiar with, the characters involved, it feels like a personal attack on a gamut of emotions. How can we be so torn and shredded by images and words and actions carried out by people we don’t even know? People who aren’t even real? How is it possible for us to find ourselves crying over mere figments of imagination that ride into our hearts and souls and minds on bits of ink and flickering light that glitter along with our tears? It all comes down to talented writers and actors gifted with the ability to elicit emotion in a brief time, often with only a word, a gesture…a tear.

When the weeping viewer is also a writer and/or screenwriter, there’s a part of that person watching and feeling from the sidelines, awed and aspiring. This is the top tier of storytelling. The level where it’s not just the characters being moved and touched and made to cry beyond their own will, but the people who become involved in story. I’m sure this level is produced by the best storytellers. Often and well. I also think lesser beings achieve it sometimes. It is infinitely possible. 

That’s why it’s so important for people who love to write to keep writing. Even when it seems the writing is for a party of one. Every word written is part of the path, the growth, and the wonder that comes from creating something with your mind. If it happens to be that you, the writer, are the only one moved to tears over your stories and novels and scripts, so be it. It’s a beautiful thing that is a gift to be experienced. 

Izzie saying George would give it all, when asked about organ donation, then weeping by his bedside, holding his ruined hand is going to haunt me for the rest of the day. That’s another level of storytelling. Haunting  readers and viewers. It’s something Grey’s Anatomy does almost too well. But only almost.

Izzie says goodbye