S – Smooth Over the Sand

“I was sand, I was snow—written on, rewritten, smoothed over.”
― Margaret Atwood, The Blind Assassin

I love the metaphors in the above quote, in part because of the way they convey this idea of starting over: Change that can be implemented with the swipe of a hand. New chances.

As I presume is the case with many writers, my own writing life is closely linked to the other parts—the mundane, the repetitive, the adventurous, the change. Big changes have transpired for me in the last year, and I have felt in numerous ways like a blank sheet. Like sand or snow. Ready for new words. My personal and professional lives have made giant leaps and I am hoping to propel my writing life forward using the same momentum to work on my novel, which means I need to try to make something more solid of my words.

I frequently fail to write without rewriting (at least in draft one), a task that is, unfortunately for me, quite crucial to actually completing a novel. Hence why I spend more time these days thinking about writing instead of actually doing it.

But still, I suppose I am taking small steps into the sand, leaving a footprint here on this blog. One word at a time. Written on, rewritten.

Smoothed over.

Here to stay.

Anything you’re writing or rewriting you would care to share? How do you fight your inner-editor?

O – Writing is an Opportunity

“How much I missed, simply because I was afraid of missing it.” 
Paulo Coelho 

As the old cliché goes: life is full of opportunities. And the same is true of writing. I’ve been thinking about this lately, as I try to convince myself to sit down and work on my novel. Each time we go to draft or to journal or to create with words, we are granted an opportunity to delve into other worlds, to meet and think as different people, and to practice and refine a craft. The opportunity only grows from there when we try to get published or to find other outlets for our ideas.

I talk sometimes quite negatively about my writing life, but writing itself has opened doors for me in a lot of various ways. As a product manager, I was required to write product specs and to articulate ideas to different parties who didn’t all speak the same “language.” As an editor, I was made better by paying attention to how other people wrote. For my master’s I got to think more critically of the process we take to reach a final, meaningful piece. And, last but not least, writing has always been the means by which I make sense of a chaotic world and express myself.

It’s no secret that I have a dislike of writing bad words. I know this, and I know I need to write badly first before I can hope to write well. But my own perfectionism has been a driving force in the way I approach my own writing, and because of it, I sometimes wonder if I’ve missed out. If I were braver about submitting my work, would I be published more already? If I were less afraid to write poorly, would I already have finished my novel? Am I losing opportunities this way?

I try to remind myself that fear of failure is not an excuse to forego potential opportunities. Failing even to fail is a missed opportunity itself. And in writing I think it’s more important than ever to fail, and to fail well. Otherwise nothing changes.

So what do you think? Have you ever felt like you’ve missed an opportunity?

M – Writers in Motion

“I write only because
There is a voice within me
That will not be still”

― Sylvia PlathLetters Home

I have chosen the oft-quoted Sylvia Plath as the driving force of my post today. If you don’t have a copy of The Unabridged Diaries of Sylvia Plath (I don’t know if that quote is actually in that book), then I highly recommend it. In the late-night (more like very early morning) hours, especially in winter for some reason, I enjoy delving into some other writer’s broken brain for a while. It makes me feel slightly less alone on a lot of cold, dark nights. Also, slightly less broken. Mostly, though, what I like about reading diaries or these more introspective personal works by famous authors is that they are windows into the people within the words. And what I’ve found most interesting is that many writers share a common sort of psychological need for motion: the motion of passing moments into meaning, and meaning into something more enduring. This often indescribable need to set words free.

Each time I ponder Sylvia Plath’s words above, I think of the voice—the Voice—within myself that has always driven me to write. Not the conversations that go on in my head sometimes between characters while I’m walking down the street, or even the words I’m writing in my mind on the bus about the passing scenery or one lone passerby on the sidewalk. No, though these are all part of the thing in me that is writing, these are not what moves me to write. What truly moves me into putting words down is this feeling—this intense urge—that if I don’t write, I will shatter. The crack starts out small, but it grows and grows and grows. Before I know it, I’m breaking open in words.

My relationship with words has always been a tenuous love affair. Though I cannot imagine a life without language, I often feel as if words dictate me rather than the other way around. I can go weeks sometimes without writing anything emotionally substantial, but the Voice circles and circles and becomes almost too heavy to carry; all those words I’ve stored up start to push back. And then BAM, I crack. Before I know it, I’m back at the computer or paper and away I go, back in motion, exhaling the Voice, releasing the words, so that I can, however briefly, come to a standstill.

As Dorothy Parker has said: “I hate writing, I love having written.”

As a confession: Sometimes I truly hate writing. You know how it is, when you’re trying to build a habit. Not to write sporadically but to sit down every day and coerce the words onto the page. Sometimes, despite the insistence of the Voice, it’s a real fight. But I love the silence within me that arrives after having written. I love feeling, however briefly, that I’ve moved some part of myself forward in the process, and, in doing so, arrived at a crossroads where nothing moves at all.

Only when I reach this point do I actually appreciate writing, at least the act of it: when my Voice is sated and my words are still and I am totally silent.

What does your writing Voice tell you?

K – Write What You Don’t Know

People say to write about what you know. I’m here to tell you, no one wants to read that, cos you don’t know anything. So write about something you don’t know. And don’t be scared, ever.”

–Toni Morrison

I have written before on the idea of writing what I know. I’ve also written on my own fears of not knowing enough. Sometimes I get stuck halfway through a piece because there’s a niggling worry that I’m getting it all wrong or that my world is somehow incomplete.

Worldbuilding is, for me, a true pain. I want everything in place in my work. I want systems upon systems explained, if only in my head. But I don’t even know a fraction of anything about this everyday world outside my own head. Why, then, should I expect myself to know and understand every custom, culture, geographical region, etc, in my fiction?

I recently read an article called “Against Worldbuilding” in Electric Literature by Lincoln Michel about the way the concept of worldbuilding has gone from pertaining to a specific set of fiction (particularly fantasy and science fiction) to being widely applied to all genres, story types, and stories. Michel goes on to say that the concept of worldbuilding itself is a “counterproductive concept for most types of fiction” and offers the term “world conjouring” to use instead.

The idea of world conjouring is not to know everything in order to portray reality, but to give an illusion of a reality that can carry the reader forward. Rather than getting bogged down in the details, the writer instead conjours a world that a reader can believe in—even if not everything can be explained.

My ongoing struggle is finding a way to convince myself to conjour a world without knowing the systems or the build behind the illusion. In other words, I have trouble—in a lot of ways—of letting go of my own reality. But to write well, or to write a believable story, writers need to fall for their own illusions.

I hear characters in my head, so I guess I’m halfway there. Now I simply need to translate that world they see into one the reader can. And maybe, just maybe, I’ll find I know more than I thought.

Do you write what you know? What’s your take on worldbuilding?


I – The Intersection of Inspiration and Ideas in Writing


“Turning I would to I did is the grammar of growing up.”
― Anthony Marra, The Tsar of Love and Techno

I just returned from a Tommy Emmanuel concert, so I’m on a bit of an inspiration high. In fact, during his concert, in between managing a solo operation of bass and melodies and rhythms and that constant motion of music, he said: I think life itself is a pretty good source of inspiration. He went on, however, to explain that he gets inspiration from anywhere or anything, and then proceeded to play a song that was inspired by a movie he’d seen—and particularly a character within it.

I find it interesting how artists of all breeds manage to take the everyday idea and craft it into something artistic. This intersection of inspiration and life—of finding our ideas from the lives we live every day—eventually becomes the foundation of our characters’ inner worlds, the words on the page, the stories we long to tell. I also find it interesting that many creative pieces are founded not so much even on general life—but on the people living it.

On another note, I recently read Anthony Marra’s “The Tsar of Love and Techno,” a collection of interconnected short stories that thematically revolve around one painting and the way it and the place it portrays affect a handful of characters’ lives over the course of several decades, primarily in Siberia and Chechnya. The story weaves together time and place and people, binding them though many don’t realize how they’ve been bound, and I remember putting it down after reading the final page, thinking: Wow. We’ve come full circle.

I have a special fascination and appreciation for the connectedness of ideas, especially when an author can craft a story that casts this link like a subtly shifting shadow: it never quite leaves your vision, but when the sun hits it just right, you catch a clear, glimmering fragment of truth. You start to wonder how you never saw it before: the way it holds you still.

Life is like this. We see it all in fragments. Ideas are much the same way. Inspiration, too, is often a ghost. Occasionally seen, but always fleeting. We have to carve our own paths and make our own inspiration, and if by chance, we have one of those moments where the words are clear and the music is alive, we should jump on the chance to complete the process.

Everything comes full circle. We are inspired by life and we find shadows of ideas simply by living it. Hopefully, we write them down, and in doing so we turn our I woulds into I dids, creating pieces we can be proud of, connecting ideas and building systems to complete a concert others will long to return to again and again: for the characters, for the music. For the voice that will hold them still.

What inspires you to write?