I relate to the predicament of Doug Heffernan in one of the scenes from an episode of The King of Queens sitcom. Doug is lost in the woods, but he comes across a bridge that will take him to civilization. Problem is it's a flimsy, swinging bridge over a deep gorge, and as he crosses he feels insecure. At one point when it seems like the bridge may break, he hollers to his wife standing on the other side something like, "Helicopter now!" The bridge feels unsafe, insecure, not good for him and he wants immediate rescue back to solid ground. He even contemplates retreating back the way he came from, back into the woods.
I relate because I feel like I'm in transition in my life, have been for a while, and I want security. I want the helicopter to rescue me from uncertainty and having to try new paths. I want solid stuff to stand on. I want to be able to count on getting what I need when I need it. And I want important people in my life to stay, not disappear for various reasons.
Here Today, Gone Tomorrow
I think it might be human nature to long for stability and constancy, but it doesn't seem like we get it much, at least not right now. The whole world is in gigantic transition, and we can't get back to the Disneyland we thought we lived in. There is no president or king or queen or CEO who takes care of us all and makes sure the world is safe and secure, a place where we can live our lives in peace and harmony and prosperity. There are no sure things. There is no template for success because things are changing so quickly. There is no longer the promise of a job for life with a pension at retirement. There is no longer the promise of owning a home that grows in value. Change has always been the way of things but the speed of change has accelerated to a rate that it feels like I'm living one long transition.
Transition is apparent in my work as a writer, too. It's harder for a freelance writer to find work that pays well. In the great recession, freelance budgets were cut and in many cases eliminated. And for romance novel writers, the world of publishing has been in flux for a while. Whether we survive and prosper or not might depend on how we manage transition.
Getting from Here to There
It amazes me that creating the life I want, my new world, can plunge me into discomfort. Surprise! Change prompts transition. Personally I don't find it very comfortable to try to navigate transitions. It sounds exciting, "I'm in a process of transitioning from the old to the new. I welcome the new." However, change doesn't necessarily happen the way I expect and it doesn't necessarily occur rapidly and effortlessly. It doesn't feel good to be in the in-between. It can feel like nowhere with nothing to stand on. The confusion can engender different survival tactics. Nancy K. Schlossberg, Ed.D writes in Psychology Today about the ability for transitions to move us to take action, any kind of action, to relieve the anxiety.
"Transitions waiting to happen include uncertainty, ambiguity, and loss of control. The future is always uncertain and ambiguous and according to Daniel Gilbert, author of Stumbling On Happiness, we are poor predictors of the future. In addition, we imagine different scenarios but cannot control all the variables."
In the midst of a changing landscape, we can see various survival tactics employed among authors. Some are venturing out with gusto to try new things and trusting the ground will be there when they need it. They may be brave and confident as well as in denial of their true feelings of fear and loss—but as long as they don't look down "Everything is fine." Others may batten down the hatches and try to insist that the best way to weather change is to follow familiar paths and hope for the best. This is a terribly simplified description of ways to deal with transition, but I relate to both. I don’t want to look down—feel the fear of the unknown and contemplate failure—when I'm trying new things and I want to follow the same path, because typically familiar, though maybe ineffective, is comfortable.
In her article Schlossberg writes that transitions can feel like life is on hold, and she lists typical ways people cope during transitions, like during illness and when losing old friends. Her list of coping strategies includes rehearsing for the future, going to Plan-B and acknowledging the transition.
"Living a life on hold is not easy. There are no end points in sight, yet it is a transition that many men and women face."
I think being aware of what I'm feeling is one way to weather transition, but it's not easy. In our culture we've been taught if you're not happy it's time to get out of Dodge or go to Disneyland (whatever that may mean in the moment—eat a cookie, change jobs, leave old friends). I'm not picking on Disneyland. It's a metaphor for avoiding what's real and maybe scary and painful, escaping the crappy present moment we're going through. But sometimes we need to consider waiting, pausing, sitting with what is and not judging. Letting other writers do what they need to do to weather their changes and be there for them in the way we can. Take care of our health, get out in nature, sit with the dog or cat and chill. Transition is going to happen, so being aware of its nature and what we're going through can relieve the pressure of trying to control things we can't. Then we might be better able to make transition.
OK, now I sound like Obi-Wan Kenobi. But it's what I believe I've learned as I've been in transition in many ways. Transitions offer possibilities and at the same time can feel like crap for a while. Acknowledge them and be open.
Or as Obi-Wan would say, and did in Star Wars: Rest easy, son. You've had a busy day. You're fortunate to be all in one piece.
"Learning is a treasure that will follow its owner everywhere." - Chinese Proverb
The back-to-school hype energizes me. There are new clothing styles, new backpack styles, and new color schemes and items for students to decorate their abodes. Companies come out with all sorts of new gadgets and gizmos for students. Office supply stores offer great deals on things writers love: pens, paper, filing supplies, colored index cards, and post-it notes, to name a few.
There’s more to the back-to-school hype than just material things. For me, the hype conjures up renewed excitement for learning. When I was younger, I wanted to be a professional student. Good grades came easy to me and I didn’t have to study hard. Alright, I lied - math and chemistry kicked my butt. Story problems? I could cheerfully strangle whoever came up with that idea! But overall, I loved school. I loved learning.
As a writer, I’m privileged to continue my education every day: reading, writing, editing, and rewriting. Practice makes perfect, or so they say. I’m not sure a writer ever stops learning.
Every writer is different, but basics like characterization, setting, plot, conflict, and point of view don’t change. They are all intrinsic to fiction. Optional Learning Methods
Learning by doing goes along with being a pantser. I have more writing reference books than I’ll ever read cover to cover, but I often refer to them when I’m struggling with any one area of writing. The benefit to checking more than one reference is the gist of each explanation may be the same, but each book offers a different angle from which to approach the problem. Since not every writer is the same, one explanation may make more sense than another.
Writing exercises allow us to step away from what we are writing, to free our minds and let our creativity flow. Many reference books suggest writing exercises pertinent to the subject discussed.
Workshops and classes are great resources for writers. Various organizations offer courses on just about any subject you want to know more about.
Read voraciously. Take notes when you read. What did the author do that you liked? What did the author do that you disliked? Study how the author engaged you in the story.
Try rewriting a scene from an alternative point of view. Which character has the most to gain or lose? Sometimes writing from an alternate point of view reveals something about our character we didn’t know.
Setting can be a character in itself. Don’t be afraid to use local color to populate your setting. What crops or animals are common to your setting? What festivals or celebrations are held? How can you incorporate these things into your manuscript to make it more realistic?
Be a sponge and soak up as much as you can. Learn from each experience you have. You never know what you might discover!
The larger the island of knowledge, the longer the shoreline of wonder. - Ralph W. Sockman
As I continue my education this fall, my writing curriculum includes reading for craft, rewriting to improve characterization and setting, and to increase conflict. Overall, I plan to tighten my prose.
Back years ago, a joke of a pick-up line recited by men and women went like this, "What's your sign?" But that line more often than not just turned off the person addressed. It was a line that sounded clichéd and shallow.
Maybe you remember some bad lines from your dating days and maybe you're in your dating years now so you're presently going through that interesting/obnoxious experience. I remember one particularly terrible line a date said to me when I was newly divorced: "When I was first divorced all I wanted to do was have sex. Are you like that now?" Needless to say I was glad I had insisted on driving myself to meet this guy for the date.
Lines can get really bad, as evidenced by the list of Top 10 Bad Pick Up Lines at Ask Men. Number eight on the list is pretty dreadful: “Hey girl, what’s up? Guess what? It’s your lucky day. Out of all the girls here, I picked you to talk to.” Number one is just sad: "Do you come here often?" While a bad line can sink possibilities for a new relationship, a good line defies identification as a "line." It communicates genuine interest and a degree of thoughtfulness, as in spent some time thinking before opening mouth. In the same way a good introductory line is engaging and can offer possibilities, a good line in a novel is rewarding to read.
Reading a good book is a very rich and absorbing experience, but there's nothing like a good line from a novel for bringing satisfaction of some sort. Those well thought out sentences are pieces of brilliance that can touch a reader's heart. They can influence our perception of life. They can shape us. They stay with us and remain memorable. They can make us smile, laugh, fume, and cry. A good line from a novel can resonate with our own life experiences and help us understand our feelings. A good line can make us fall in love again with a well-crafted sentence. A good line can draw us to our center and refuel our hope, simply because it was well written.
From Charles Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities we got: "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…" I first read that sentiment in the book when I was in grade school, but even today it remains a pertinent frame to life. From The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery we got the beautiful line, "It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye." From the Lord of the Rings trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien we got, "Not all who wander are lost." From Madeleine L' Engle's A Wrinkle in Time we got, "Some of the most brilliant battles have been won by the most unlikely warriors."
But we don't have to look at just the classics to find beautiful lines:
"It is a blessing as well as a burden to love so much that you can hurt so badly when love is gone." Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness
"How frequently do we search for a song of guidance that can only come from inside us?" The Awakening by Kelley Armstrong
"Tucci stared at me, uncomprehending. A not-uncommon reaction when I open my mouth." Tales of the Otherworld by Kelley Armstrong
"Yet the world still looks for black and white. In me, supernaturals want to see a meddler or a savior. I am neither, so I disappoint." Personal Demon by Kelley Armstrong
"I've never given much thought to how I would die—though I'd had reason enough in the last few months—but even if I had, I would not have imagined it like this." Twilight by Stephenie Meyer
Obviously from these examples you can see that I enjoy reading paranormal, but there are many lovely and fun and interesting and engaging lines in all types of books. What are some lines and phrases you've read in books that have had a lasting effect on you?
“Words are, of course, the most powerful drug used by mankind.”
- Rudyard Kipling
One of the most powerful tools in a writer’s arsenal is his or her ability to wield words.
At an early age, words become important to us. We learn our language with a spin of slang from the region in which we are raised. We learn which words get us what we want, and which ones don’t. Many of us also learn a second language, broadening our capacity for communication.
Words enable us to communicate.
We exchange niceties with acquaintances; we share news and offer words of support and encouragement to others during difficult times. We teach with words and actions. We use words as passwords, code words, and keywords. We write lyrics and put them to music. Words give voice to our opinions, to our thoughts and our dreams.
Words – so innocent and powerless as they are, as standing in a dictionary, how potent for good and evil they become in the hands of one who knows how to combine them.
- Nathaniel Hawthorne
Because of our differences, words sometimes become weapons. Remember that old childhood adage? Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me. For most of us, it’s not really true. Words have the power to bruise our hearts. A range of emotions can cause us to lash out, releasing a stream of hurtful words - words we can’t take back. Often, we wish we could. They hang in the air, coloring our perceptions of others, as well as ourselves.
I was recently on the receiving end of some very hurtful words. I doubt I will ever forget the tone of voice, or the way those words made me feel. But what hurt the most was recognizing the truth behind the words.
Remember, your words have an impact on those around you, but your choice of words could determine what kind of impact.
I love writing. I love the swirl and swing of words as they tangle with human emotions.
- James Michener
Are your written words organized for maximum effect?
Readers crave well-written books: believable characters, realistic motivations, and strong conflicts. But it’s more than that. Readers want to escape. Readers want to relate to the characters in the books they read. If they can’t relate in some way, they lose interest.
Descriptive words can immerse the reader in the story. I love feeling as if I’m right there with the characters, experiencing their emotional highs and lows, and not simply being told about them. Use your senses to entice readers. Your heroine can’t wait to leave this town. Why? Describe the dilapidated, run down buildings of downtown, the smell of factory smoke, the noise of trains carrying finished products out of town. Your reader will understand why she wants to leave and root for her to succeed. Such details can be unique to your setting; they add flavor and authenticity to your story. Local flowers and crops, animals and weather can all add color as well.
Words can be used to enhance differences in characters. For some people, the smell of home cooking conjures up memories of holidays, warmth, and being surrounded by family. But not everyone had the same upbringing. Maybe your hero grew up in a foster home where the mother only cooked big meals when things were bad, otherwise leaving the kids to fend for themselves. Your hero would associate home cooking with bad things - beatings or possibly another child coming or going from the home. Remember that his upbringing would color his thoughts, actions, and words if you write him into a home-cooking scene. But these feelings could be in direct contrast to his future goals.
Dialogue can be used to reveal character differences. Someone from Boston is going to speak very differently than someone from Montana. Slang terms can be an important characterization technique in writing. A character who curses frequently most likely has a rougher background than a character who doesn’t, but not necessarily. Maybe the character chooses to curse frequently because he is pretending to be someone other than himself.
Words do two major things: They provide food for the mind and create light for understanding and awareness.
- Jim Rohn
I am addicted to words. I want my words to create opportunities, to offer hope and encouragement, to provide an escape to someone who needs it. I want to give back to others the pleasure I have found in reading.
I am a fledgling photographer. I love my digital camera. It allows me to take tons of pictures - often of the same subject - and play with light, distance, and angles in order to get the best shot. Nature inspires me. Maybe it will inspire you, too.