Thursday, May 30, 2013

Dig deep when you're writing

A tough childhood is pay dirt to a writer.  Mine it!  This will be your commitment to dig and a step toward liberation. 

We don't always like the stories we're given to tell.  We don't always like the subjects that choose us.

If we dig to the depths of our souls, we're on the right track.   We're on center.  Let go and put your fingers on the keyboard.  Proceed without caution.

catherine@catherinealexander.net

Friday, May 24, 2013

Fear of Writing

If we wait until the fear of writing goes away, we will never write.

If we wait until the fear of self-exposure goes away, we will never publish.

If we wait until the fear of failure can be somehow managed, we will never attempt anything.

If we wait until the fear of being laughed at goes away, we will indeed stall out.


   --   Walking on Alligators by Susan Shaughnessy

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Writing Group Openings in the Seattle Area

There are still some spots open in the Northgate writing group.  A comfortable mix of new and established writers with an instructor present.  Contact catherine@catherinealexander.net for details.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Tips on Writing and Why do I Write?


 

Use loneliness.  Writing can be very lonely.  Lead yourself out of it by thinking of someone and wanting to express your life to that person.  Reach out in your writing to another lonely soul.  Loneliness creates an aching urgency to reconnect with the world.  Take that aching and use it to propel you deeper into your need for expression – to speak, to say who you are and how you care or don’t care about life and what’s happened to you.

Think of sharing your need to talk with someone else when you write.  Reach out of the deep chasm of loneliness and express yourself to another human being. 

 

Stuck?  Write about what you eat.  If you find you are having trouble writing and nothing seems real, just write about food.  Write about the foods you love most.  Be specific.  Give details.  Where did you eat it, with whom and what season was it in?  What was the best meal you had last week?  Maybe it’s just the banana you had in your cold kitchen on Tuesday morning.  From the table, the cheese, the old friend across from you, the glasses of water, the striped tablecloth, fork, knife, thick white plate, green salad, butter, you can extend yourself out in memory, time and space.  Okay, you’ve never had a good meal in your life.  Simply begin with the last stale cheese sandwich you had in that empty apartment on First Avenue.  It’s your life, begin from it.

 

No limits.  When you accept writing as what you are going to do, after you’ve tried everything else – marriage, traveling, living in Houston or Billings – there’s finally no place else to go.  So matter how big the resistance, there is one day that you write.  It doesn’t go smoothly.  One day you have trouble putting pen to paper, the next you can’t stop.  Continue under all circumstances.  You’ll feel momentary flashes of enlightenment, but the nitty-gritty of everyday life, the memories, the deep longings and the suffering are what propels us across the page.  Break through the resistance in your own mind and never limit yourself.

 

Keep a notebook. The really important things people have said are probably engraved somewhere in your memory.  Write these in your notebook.  Perhaps the following will give you a trigger to open the box. Think about who might have said:

 

I do.* You’re fired. * I never did really love you. * I’m sorry, I’ve met someone else. It was nothing, just a one-night stand. * Would you like to go steady? * Have you ever thought about marrying me? * You will never forgive me, will you? *  I’m leaving for New York.*  I’m not sure what I’m looking for, but I know it’s not you.*  Have you put on a few pounds?  * We’ll see each other again, I promise. * You got what you deserved. * You’ll be sorry one day when I’m not around. * You couldn’t have hurt me more if you had plunged a dagger in my heart. * Either you follow the rules in this house or you leave.

 

Show don’t tell.  If you want your readers to see the quaintness of the town, show us the barber pole, the brick streets, the benches in front of the bank where people sit.   Introduce them to the shoemaker who wears a leather apron and repairs saddles as well as your Mary Janes.  Let the reader experience the situation with you:  I was appalled by the clutter:  the chair spitting its stuffing, a couch stacked with outdated newspapers, Chinese take-out cartons caked with dried soy sauce, five cats sleeping on the mattress on the floor. Order an egg cream at the drugstore.

 

WHY DO I WRITE?

 

It’s a good question.  Ask it of yourself every once in a while.  No answer will make you stop writing, and over time you will find that you have given every response.

1.        Because I’m a jerk.

2.        No one listens to me when I speak.

3.        So I can start a revolution.

4.        In order to write the Great American Novel and make a zillion bucks.

5.        Because I’m crazy.

6.        To keep me from going crazy.

7.        Because I am channeled by William Shakespeare.

8.        Because I have something to say.

9.        Because I have nothing to say.

10.      Life is temporary, writing lasts.

 

Why do I write?  I write because I’ve kept my mouth shut all my life and it’s time for me to speak out.  I am always facing that creeping agony that all this will pass.  The truth is I have a way with words.  I can make the terrible wonderful, the unspoken spoken.

 

Alone at my desk, I discover what has passed through me when I write.  I write because I am crazy, schizophrenic, neurotic, obsessive, compulsive and suffer from Post Traumatic Stress.  I know it, accept it and I have to do something with it other than go to the loony bin.

 

I write because there are stories that people have forgotten or are too scared to tell. I write because I am a woman trying to stand up for myself. I write because I dare to tell what happened and make it art.  I write so that I can face my own life.  I write because I run deep and my soul aches.

 

I write out of joy. I write out of hurt.  I write to make myself strong and to come home to myself.

 

Endings


Sometimes the last lines of the story are the hardest to write.  An ending has to illuminate all that has gone before.  There needs to be a closure or the story has a weak effect.  There’s the long downhill glide and then you’ve landed, maybe not perfectly, but the ride is over.
 
Using a different metaphor, we must weave all the strands together.  After the “great moment” has happened where nothing will be the same, then we can wrap it up.  In other words, sew up the threads and cut all loose ends.

 It’s hard to know, sometimes, how to end a story.  Maybe we throw in a big surprise or clever twist, leaving the reader feeling manipulated.  Or we keep going with a summarizing paragraph explaining the lessons learned, or with an epilogue showing where the characters are five years later.
 
A quiet ending with a suggestive statement will give the reader the message.  Something like:


          I sat at the table with a fresh cup of coffee.  I had never known those things about my mother.  Now I realize that she was just another person searching for love.  She had managed to give me just little more than she got.  And maybe that’s okay.

 
An open-ended story is one where the “resolution” is not dramatically conclusive.  The reader is left with an impression of life rather than with a “satisfying” conclusion.  Yet it must leave the reader satisfied.   There is an understanding that all that can be said has been said.  For example:
       
          A man and a woman have been canoeing on a river.  Something has gone wrong with their relationship.  They’re not paying attention to where they have drifted or how long they’ve been out on the river.  They aren’t particularly experienced with canoes in general and with rivers in particular.  Now night in coming on and the wind is cold.  Suddenly they find themselves shivering in the dark.  The increasing sound of rapids can be heard.  In an open-ended story, there should be no need to carry them into the perilous rapids.  The story is what happened between the two that led to this dangerous moment.  The story could end this way:

           He heard the roar of water.  The river for the last two hours had been a whisper.   Now it rose like soldiers shouting and running towards the enemy.

We’ll never know what happened to the couple.  But if the writer has told us everything we need to know about them, we won’t require a life and death struggle in the rapids.

A closed-ended story is conclusive, often in broad, unsubtle strokes.   Perhaps a problem or mystery has been solved.   The reader knows exactly what happens to mark the end of the story.

Open-ended and closed-ended stories are equally valuable.  The point is to choose which ending is appropriate.  By the time the story gets to the end, the writer can sense the best way to finish it off.  However, don’t rush the ending.  Often we’re tired and want the story to hurry up and be done already.  Let the piece flow to the end.  A sense of timing and “rightness” will close a story successfully.  Have patience for the right ending to present itself.

 

 

 

 

Right Brain/Left Brain


Right Brain/Left Brain

 

The tendency to lean in one direction or the other is fundamental to the human condition.  The right brain appears to control the functions of the left side of the body (more liberal, change-oriented); the left side of the brain appears to control the functions of the body’s right side (conservative).

 

In writing, we can relate the right brain to scene and the left brain to summary.

 

Here are some opposites that fall under each heading:

 

The Left Side                   The Right Side

 

Linear                                                            Non-linear

Logical                                                          Intuitive

Verbal                                                            Visual

Traditional                                                    Unconventional

Detailed                                                         Abstract

Technical/mathematical                              Artistic

Orderly                                                          Spontaneous

Extreme – too little movement, rigid          Extreme – too much movement, chaos

 

As writers, our task is to integrate these two sides of the brain.  In the same manner, we intersperse our stories with scene and summary.

catherine@catherinealexander.net

 

 

 

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Publishing News

Zest Literary Journal has accepted one of my new stories. This makes 29 works in print and online. Thank you, Zest! catherine@catherinealexander.net

Best Submission Rejection Ever

"Catherine, at this time, we don't handle projects with swearing in them."