I can’t believe how quickly this year flew by! It seems like just a few days ago I was sitting here plotting out a year of blog posts and looking forward to some great creative projects. While I faced some unexpected challenges this year, I also learned a lot. It seems that my lessons always come disguised as what feel like catastrophes and this year was no different. An unexpected pregnancy, the promise of a new home and its subsequent loss, a little one off to school, family members moving across the pond; 2015 took a lot of getting used to. But my goal this year was to embrace the chaos (since it comes anyway) and I am really pleased with the outcomes of that approach. I feel like I am heading into the New Year with more confidence, a new set of skills/tools, and a better plan for what I want my writing to look like. I can’t wait to see what opportunities present themselves this year and I hope you are here to be a part of them with me. To 2016 and a year of possibilities!
Long time friend and flash fiction writing buddy, Jamie Henshaw is on the blog today to tell you all about the pursuit of the “right” words and his fresh take on them. Enjoy!
Sometimes I feel like I’m chasing after magic words, the right words, THE words. It’s not just me, I should think. After all, doesn’t a painter aim for the perfect blend of purple, indigo, red, and yellow to capture the beauty of a lilac as the sun sets? Doesn’t a musician tinker over the same bars for hours until it sounds like the trill in their soul? I mean, maybe it’s the old part of me – the one that used to write poems with a Petrarchan rhyme scheme, with Shakespeare’s well-known Iambic Pentameter, or with the recycling of words in a Sestina. Or even free verse where all bets are off… but it still needs to be just so.
I’ve smiled at the wit of a sentence, hit Ctrl+S after a tremendous idea, and whooped out loud after a great twist. I’ve also gone and deleted the whole lot because it didn’t help the story. I’ve Googled words that seem in my head to be the right one to write, a subtle unconscious voice whispering things buried deep in my memory, but worry that it’s not right word to read. I’m the guy that sits there with a massive road block in my brain trying to figure out a character’s name. Nothing can move forward without finding the name. The perfect name. The magic name.
I try to chase words. Sometimes it’s successful. But that’s not how it works. The color is in the artist’s eye. The notes are in the musician’s ear. The words are in the writer’s fingertips. Our mission is to unearth the thoughts and feelings that dance within, or plague, us. After all is said and done, our minds resemble an excavation site; sometimes unearthing ancient ruins, sometimes hitting a water main.
And so here’s what works for me. Sitting with my eyes closed, people watching the characters I’ve created, eavesdropping on their secrets, setting up obstacles and watching them wend their way through the Minotaur’s Labyrinth. (Really, I did that once.) Because the truth is, they know better than I do. They’ve taught me things I haven’t experienced myself. They’ve given me advice that I needed to hear. They’ve gone through the challenges in life that I’m not strong enough for. When all is said and done, it’s my privilege to share all of these things with others.
It’s not a search for “Magic Words.” I don’t think there is such a thing; no, not really. The words find us. They find us when we write and read, fail and thrive, love and lose – everything in between and without a moment’s notice.
The truth is, it’s not the power of magic words.
The truth is, it’s the power of words that is magic.
Walking the stacks in a library, dragging your fingers across the spines – it’s hard not to feel the presence of sleeping spirits.” Robin Sloan
My first real job, if you don’t count babysitting, was as a page at the Geneva Public Library in western New York. I was 17 and spent hours pushing a squeaking cart through the reference stacks, reshelving the returns I’d brought up from the main floor. I memorized the Dewey Decimal system, I sneaked in short reads when the floor was empty, I lovingly straightened the spines of all my bound buddies. I had always loved reading, even as a kid, and this job only solidified that love even deeper. It was my favorite job. I even got to branch out into other departments, inter-library loan, main desk circulation, book binding. I’m getting all excited just remembering all the awesome things I was able to do while working there! And from the very first day, I knew what I wanted to be when I grew up.
Librarians to me are the keepers of the flame of knowledge. When I was growing up, the librarian in my local library looked like a meek little old lady, but after you spent some time with her, you realized she was Athena with a sword, a wise and wonderful repository of wisdom.” Jane Stanton Hitchcock
The dream is still there, though I’ve had to take a few breaks (kids, amiright?), and I’m looking to head back to school in the near future to pursue that end. I can’t imagine spending too much time away, especially since that job shaped me in so many ways. One of the greatest things it gave me was the desire to write. I was reading and reading and the words went deep. Suddenly, they wanted out again, only they weren’t the same, they had changed and so had I. That’s the power of words. They have minds of their own. The author sends them out, you take them in, and then they leave you and each time they mean something else. They mean what you need them to mean. They are healers and helpers and enlighteners and you can find them all in the library.
Libraries store the energy that fuels the imagination. They open up windows to the world and inspire us to explore and achieve, and contribute to improving our quality of life. Libraries change lives for the better. Sidney Sheldon
My life was changed for the better from spending time at the library. How about you; any favorite library memories?
“The most important things are the hardest to say. They are the things you get ashamed of, because words diminish them — words shrink things that seemed limitless when they were in your head to no more than living size when they’re brought out. But it’s more than that, isn’t it? The most important things lie too close to wherever your secret heart is buried, like landmarks to a treasure your enemies would love to steal away. And you may make revelations that cost you dearly only to have people look at you in a funny way, not understanding what you’ve said at all, or why you thought it was so important that you almost cried while you were saying it. That’s the worst, I think. When the secret stays locked within not for want of a teller but for want of an understanding ear.” S. King, Different Seasons
You may have noticed that today is Wednesday and that my posts usually come out on Tuesday. You are very observant. That is true. The problem is that I have been experiencing some road blocks to my word count and I’ve been avoiding telling you because then, I don’t have to admit it to myself. But, if I’m going to be honest, the going is HARD right now. I won’t call it writer’s block because I have a ton of scenarios and conversations buzzing around inside my head, I just can’t get them into any cohesive being. On top of that, I have a lot of emotions running wild because I’d left things sit for too long and am just now attempting to deal with them. In the long run, this overabundance of information and detail and character is better, because I will have more to pull from, but right now, in the thick of it and with everything else going on, I am overwhelmed. So what do I do? That’s right, you smarty pants, I procrastinate.
You might be thinking (I can tell you’re a thinker) “What’s the big deal? Why the struggle? Why not just write down all the things and go from there?” And in a way, you’re right. I do need to get it all down, even if it’s jumbled, just so I have it. But there is something about writing that is so much more than “just writing.” I know that sounds really weird but there is a part of me that goes into each line, each phrase, each paragraph. And I’m overwhelmed. Which means the writing is overwhelmed; hence the abundance of information that just won’t jive together. My sentences are stilted and hesitating as I try to say just enough to express a feeling without giving away the motivation. There isn’t that flow that comes when your mind and heart are working together. It’s just words on a page, and that isn’t ever what I want.
So I have to convince myself to keep going, to keep writing, to continue through the brainstorm even though the new idea just negated the three days of outlining I’ve already done, to let the characters bumble around and try out their new disguises until everyone is comfortable and ready to go on. Because fiction is truth. It’s truer than most anything in the world and it has the power to change how we see ourselves. That is why I face the days of just getting the words on the page, that’s why I keep going when I want to give up, that’s why I tell you what is really going on. So I can craft a truth that resonates with us, separately but together.
Ok, let’s be honest, no one in the history of ever likes dealing with rejection. It’s not just about publication, it’s something so much more personal and painful. As artists, we pour ourselves into everything we do and getting a rejection letter feels like failure because it isn’t just a story or a poem or a painting, it’s us. We are being rejected. And that is hard. It’s hard to realize that the publishers aren’t actually rejecting us, just the work. And maybe not even forever. I’ve gotten multiple rejections which encouraged me to submit again, after polishing my work. In fact, when I got my first rejection letter it had a little note at the bottom that said,
We can tell that you are really excited about your stories but they feel rushed. Take some time to create some depth and please submit again.
I couldn’t see the good in that little note (though I’ve been told that any additional notes added to rejections are really great things). All I could do was close the computer and walk away with tears in my eyes because I had really thought that collection of short stories was the best I could do. I shelved the stories and left them for all of last year. When I pulled them out last month and read through them, I instantly knew what that editor meant. He was right. They were rushed. So now, I work on pacing. Adding in more details, slowing down, taking my time. It’s not a race to the finish. It’s about the feeling of the story.
In case you think this means I’ve come to terms with rejection, I haven’t. It still hurts each and every time I get an email or a postcard. But there are some super positive things that come out of rejection and those are the things I will choose to focus on.
1. I wrote something through to completion. It might not have been perfect, maybe it needs some tweaking, but I finished it.
2. I put myself out there. I took this living, breathing, meaningful brain baby and I sent it out into the world to see if it could stand on its own two feet. So it couldn’t, that isn’t the point. The point is that I risked, and that is a huge success.
3. I didn’t stop because I was rejected. I can’t let a rejection keep me from writing because I have to write. It’s what makes me happy so I’m going to keep trying until I get it right.
The next time you’re facing that rejection letter, remind yourself that you finished something, and sent it bravely into the world. Remind yourself that you are courageous and a damn good writer…and then write some more!