Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Reclaiming Mystery

To retain the mystery of one's faith is what keeps it faith. As humans, we want to know and understand things. WHY did that happen, WHAT did I just see, WHEN is it going to be? But truth be told we'll never know everything. We can't. Even if we uncover and understand everything in our current universe something else would crop up for which we have no explanation,

And this is GOOD.

Things happen and we look to logic and reason to make sense of it. And many times, with diligence, we find that sense. That accepted explanation. But oh the times we can't. What then? Give in to those who discredit, who refuse to believe anything intangible? Who mock ones who, through personal experience, have walked with stars?

Some things are better left unsaid. At least in word by word commentary. This is the power of Story. To take those things, those experiences for which we have no name, no scientific category, and mold a world around them.

The power of Story is the freedom of fiction. Not a telling of lies in the guise of literature. No. It's the communication of truth through its most ancient of mediums.

***


Happy Banned Book Week everyone! Pick up a book you wouldn't normally read this week. Grab one off that "forbidden" list. Like Guy Montag, discover why books ARE so dangerous and why we so desperately need them. Need the Power of Story. NEED the Freedom of Fiction. Not the Prison of Fear in the sheep's clothing of Protection.

Monday, September 21, 2015

In Praise of the Weekend


For the first time in six months I had a weekend off. Saturday. Sunday. All day, both days. I know, I know: a day off is a day off and it really doesn't matter which days you call your own. There is, however, something about weekends.

I'll admit I was raised in an old school family with a mother who stayed home and a father who worked Monday through Friday. I don't apologize for that. In fact, I'm thankful for that. When I was a child it was commonplace. Now that I'm an adult I realize it was a gift and a rare one at that.

Weekends were sacred. My sister and I were up with the sun, tiptoeing out to the den to watch cartoons. If it was summer, we'd wait impatiently in our bathing suits for Mom or Dad to wake up so we could FINALLY go swimming. Outside or in, we'd play until Dad announced breakfast was ready. Not that we needed that announcement. The smell of sizzling bacon called us from the furthest reaches of the back yard. On school days we ate cereal or toast. On Saturdays we had a feast!

We LIVED outside! Dad and Mom would garden and do yard work while we played house in the small blue cottage beneath the far back pines. We slew demons while Dad sliced weeds and took tea with dragons while Mom plucked lemon balm from the burgeoning herb garden. Lunch was lazy: sandwiches munched on the porch or at the breakfast table amid ongoing projects that usually consisted of fabric scraps, dried herbs or beeswax.

Those crafts and more occupied our time when the crisp autumn winds blew in or the winter kept us by the hearth. For dinner we cooked out or fired up the cast iron griddle inside. There were hotdogs and mac-n-cheese while the Braves played baseball on the tiny TV.  There was meatloaf and biscuits, gravy and chicken at the dinner table. Bills and paperwork, craft projects and math books cleaned off, shifted to another counter so we could gather together and say Grace.

Sunday was church day, grandparent's day, lazy day. The smell of coffee warned it was time to get up, eat eggs and grits and put on dresses and polished, patent shoes. There were ruffles on our socks and embroidery on our sweaters. Sunday school smelled like clean carpets, wood shelves, and dust complemented by butter cookies and punch. The sanctuary was Gothic, complete with the requisite pipe organ and stained glass. I still remember watching the light shift through the hour-long service, spilling rainbows over the backs of the heads of little old ladies in front of us. Robes and choirs and Gloria Patri, thank you all for coming, God bless you, Amen.

Mawmaw had roast and potatoes and green beans. Nanny had cakes of half inch layers, crunchy icing between each and everyone. We explored gardens and pecan trees and cried when we had to leave, unless, of course, it was summer and we knew the pool waited.

Sunset brought lightening bugs or cold winds. We'd take baths and eat ice cream and watch movies or Halloween specials. Christmas movies and Murder, She Wrote colored our dreams depending on what time of year it was. Of course we hated that Monday meant school but it also meant five more days until Saturday morning. Five more days before the next, blissful weekend.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Daily Rituals


I don't know about you, but I have been guilty of beating myself up if I go one day without writing. Then, when I do write, I'll beat myself up if I don't write ALL DAY. And true, there are some people out there who can write all day, every day. That's wonderful for you. Really. But there are others of us who simply can't.

I'm not talking about jobs or families or outside obligations. I'm stating a fact that I have learned and have recently accepted about myself. I cannot write all day, every day. What I can do is short spurts of several hours where the words flow or the editing is spot on. Suddenly, without warning, usually at a very good stopping point, the flow ends and I simply stop.

The End for the day.

I'll confess that used to bother me. Aren't we supposed to be Writers with a capital "W"? Aren't we supposed to sacrifice all for the art? No. No we're not.

I just finished this wonderful book called Daily Rituals: How Artists Work by Mason Currey. The book is a collection of the daily creative rituals of a whole slew of writers, artists, composers, scientists, philosophers, etc. It's a massive selection of the creative practices of some of the most brilliant minds in the creative fields. I checked it out from the library thinking, "Hey, maybe I can pick up a few tips from the masters and figure out how I can force myself to work harder and longer at my craft." Surprise, surprise. That's NOT what I learned!

What I took away from this book is something very quietly profound. Almost all of the writers highlighted in this book only wrote for a few hours a day. Most averaged about 3-4 hours in the morning (some in the evening) and then they went on about their lives. The majority of the daily goings on recorded in this book talk about daily walks, dinner with family and friends, the smoking of a favorite pipe, the visiting a favorite museum or symphony. Swimming, playing with children, reading in bed: all of these simple things were the brunt of these geniuses' days.

I was dumbstruck. Really? You mean George Sands didn't shut herself up for 12 hours a day to work? Flaubert wasn't chained to his desk from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday? No. A big fat no to both and to all.

And yes, there were those writers and artists who DID work a full 8 hours a day and longer. But most of them didn't. Some of them even had outside jobs that they kept long after their classic works were published.

Here's the Thing: YOU have to find out what works for YOU. If you can manage a full 8 hours (and there are days we all get those bursts of the Muse) then by all means GO FOR IT! If, however, you're like me (and 97% of the rest of the writers highlighted in this book), and all you can manage are 3-4 hours of labored writing/typing where half the time you're getting up and wandering around the house, puttering in the garden, and washing 3 dishes, then so be it. Do what works for YOU. One writer said (and I'll have to reread the book to get specific quotes and references): even if I write one page a day, that's 365 pages a year and that's a good bulk of work.

Tell me: Have YOU found a ritual that works for you? Do you write every day or are you a writer who works in spurts, who has to walk away from the keyboard or notebook and do something else? What keeps you grounded in your work and your life?

***

Speaking of rituals, I start a new job today, kids! I bid a sad farewell to the Kitchen Boutique Monday to go back into the Herbal and Natural Health industry. My schedule will allow me mornings and weekends and I'll be rediscovering what works best for my creative endeavors. Here's to the rest of the week, for finding our footing, and for adding as many words as we can to our WIPs!

***

As for WIPs: my current project is rambling on. I discovered I need ANOTHER draft in order to reacquaint myself with my main character's true self. There was an element to the story I took out in the second draft but realize now that it needs to be there. No worries! Looks like I'll be clacking away on Draft #3 starting tomorrow!

I JUST finished the second draft of a horror story!!! Gonna let that one simmer for a bit and then I'm going to take up the keyboard for one more round of drafting. It's a doozy and it takes a lot out of me BUT I really, really LOVE this story. Scares the mess out of me every time I work on it! And my cat always chooses THIS story to creep around the house uncharacteristically...evil minion..

Happy Writing!


Saturday, September 12, 2015

When your characters want one more draft



The idea I'm currently working on fleshed itself out in book form over a year ago. I think it was last May. I wrote the entire first draft in seven days. How very Hemingway of me :). I then put it aside and sat on it until last month.

After a year and a half I thought I was ready to tackle that second draft. I had a better idea of who the characters were, where they needed to go and how they needed to get there. The meat of the story is still true but the direction, the road was under heavy fog.

For a month I've been working tirelessly on the second draft. Thursday I was at the point I thought I was ready to plow through to the very end.

Then...

Something tugged at the back of my mind. It was a concept I'd put in the original draft, a concept I thought needed to be taken away, to streamline things. The problem is that concept won't leave me alone. It seems to be a very integral part of my character. It makes her more interesting, more grounded, much more three dimensional and, quite frankly, waaaay less Mary Jane.

The problem is that it will require a draft I wasn't planning on. This draft, number two, was to be the one before my Crit Partner Draft, you know, the one you send out to those trusted souls who put up with your ramblings and agree to help you edit. Well, that is not to be.

I could let this part of my character go but I fear if I do she won't be who she wants to be, who she needs to be for this story to carry itself to those fabled words The End. Not only that, this book sets up a second story - unconnected - that needs its roots to be firmly founded here and now. Though the stories aren't a series, the subject matter is similar and is required for a third book that will bring these two full circle.

Sounds confusing, yes?

Maybe it is, but that's the way my stories come to me. Confusing and cyclical.

Always cyclical.

Let me ask you: how important is it to YOU as a writer to take as much time as you need to make the characters who they WANT to be as opposed to fleshing out the story in the quickest and (for you) easiest way possible? I don't want to cop out and I'm not talking about laziness. I'm just curious. I know what I have to do (write more drafts!). Have you ever had this problem?

Happy weekend everyone!

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Keep moving forward



The rain has been coming down in sheets all morning and afternoon. It's been like that all summer long. Odd, really. Summer in Savannah is supposed to be all oppressive heat and searing sunlight.

Not this year. This year it's been different.

Fitting. This year my life has been different.

One year ago, yesterday to be exact, I got a phone call that changed our lives. I told the biggest lie of my life and - whoosh! - we sold almost everything we owned, found a place to live, and moved in three weeks time to a city that captured our hearts ten years ago.

A city we've been wanting to move to for those ten years.

But, of course, it didn't go the way we planned. I honestly don't believe that things ever do.

The thing is, change is hard. Most of the time, it sucks. It comes at you - wham, BAM! - like a comic book fist and all you can do is block the blows, hope the assault ends soon. All I ever want to do is bury my head in the sand and wait for it to blow over, take the storm clouds with it.

Change, it seems, likes to hover about until you take notice of it. It hovers good and long like fog on the marsh. Thick, white, can't-see-your-hand-in-front-of-your-face.

One year and I'm still having a hard time seeing my hand in front of my face. Every now and then, however, I get glimmers of black water when the marsh clouds shift. In the reflections I discover job changes, novels coming together, and an assemblage of creative ideas long buried under pounds of sludge.

Despite these small rays of hope, there have been times I've wanted to pack it all in and go back. The only thing that gives me any consolation that we're here and we're RIGHT is my husbands job. It's perfect, he's happy, and that's a first in 11 years! That (and only that at times) is the only thing keeping me clinging on.

But here's the thing: even if that wasn't a major factor, there really is no going back. Sometimes doors are closed and no amount of banging or prying can get it open again. Truth is, I wouldn't want it to open. Going back can be good. If you need to make things right with a loved one or friend it's important to find your way back. Even if it's just for your own peace of mind. However, most of the time we have to keep going forward, even if it seems we're moving backwards.

Sometimes, especially when it seems we're moving backwards.

C.S. Lewis once said that sometimes a person has to take steps backwards in order to get back on the right path. In other words, if you are a mile down Path B but you really needed to go down Path A, you'll have to go backwards for a while in order to move forward. The truth, however, isn't that you're moving backwards at all. You're moving to the right path which will move you further in the direction you need to go.

Aim. Pull back the bow and shoot. If you miss, don't walk away. Go fetch the arrow. See where it landed. You may only need to look a bit further over another hill or bush to find the path you need. Or you may have to backtrack a bit to find it. Regardless, never, ever GO BACK. Move on, with purpose.

You'll make it.

And so will I.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

September 2015 IWSG

Welcome to the monthly gathering of the Insecure Writer's Support Group! We're a group of writers so that means we're neurotic, needy, moody, and prone to fits of rage, sobbing, and general malaise. Basically, we need to gather and hear from someone, anyone, that it's all OK and what we're doing does make a difference. The IWSG is about encouraging each other, letting our insecurities and fears out into the open so that they don't take control of us and cause us to cower from our gifts, our stories. Click HERE to read more (much more!) from all the talented members of this diverse group!



***

Well.

THAT was an unexpected but much needed hiatus. How ARE you? How was summer? I hope it treated you well.

My name's Jen and I used to blog at The Cup and Page. I also used to blog here, many, many moons ago.

I almost didn't come back for fear of rejection. For fear of past followers unfollowing and friends from The Cup and Page thinking "Uh-oh, here we go again!" And you know what? That's OK. Rejection is a part of life, especially the writer's life. We work hard, long, lonely hours, hoping our words will strike someones heart strings, someones soul shadow. There's no promise, no guarantee those words will ever reach beyond our crit partners.

Still, we write.

We write for hope because we know - KNOW! - our words are important. They are important to us and must be let out. We breathe story and with it the prayer words touch and resonate with a kindred somewhere.

That's why we blog.

We blog to reach out. It's a fumbling in the dark, linking arm in arm with others along the journey. We write differently, think differently but we're all headed towards that same pin-prick of light.

Fear not those who won't understand. Keep moving, keep saying "YES" to the steps that will move you forward to your North Star.

Readers come and go.

So do followers.

But keep your own quiet knowing, that silent confidence in every new story. Even if it takes a dozen drafts (or a dozen blog or job or genre changes) to do it.

I've missed you IWSG.
It's good to be home.


Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Resurrection

Returning to a blog is like resurrecting a cicada. It's big, cumbersome and you're convinced no one liked it to begin with so why bother. Not to mention it's ugly and a bit weird.

But you do it, you get it going. Its bugged eyes blink; its fat body wobbles over on spindly legs. It moves and it is alive!

Then the sun catches it and the body, so covered in dirt, is rinsed incandescent blue and green. It finds its wings. Not the rainbows of butterflies or stars of dragons. They, too, are cumbersome but also delicate as cobwebs shining with dew. With a buzz and a hum it takes off and - a miracle!!- it can fly.

Ever since I stopped blogging here I haven't been able to get this little blog out of my mind. That was two and a half years ago!

Change is hard. It's ugly and messy even when it's what you want. That year and a half has seen so much in my life. And now I'm writing amid more changes, more unexpected upheaval. Nothing bad, no, nothing tragic. Actually, it's just another step forward but one that (like so many others) came unsolicited and unsought except when opportunity grabbed me by the shoulders and started pulling.

And here I am, again. Full circle it seems. I started this blog just shy of five years ago. It has changed names, directions, moods. So have I! But that, as they say, is life.

If you used to follow me here, once upon a time, hello again! If you're new, hello and nice to meet you. Here's to the journey, eh? The journey of not just writing and crafting but of life and learning and enjoying the crazy twists and turns we all must navigate.

I look forward to seeing you here tomorrow for the Insecure Writers Support Group post! Have a marvelous evening and, as always,

Write on!