27 January 2005 by Published in: writing 1 comment

Writing group was great! I had a lot of fun, and I came home way too late. There were a lot of people there, many of whom had written really engaging things to share. I read the opening scene of “Yonder Wicket Gate, Yonder Shining Light” and got some nice compliments and some useful advice on several minor things. A couple of people said it reminded them of A Canticle for Leibowitz which I acknowledged as a distant source of inspiration and am taking as a good thing. I chickened out of reading “Loyal Companion” which is probably what I should have read, since I’m sure it needs a lot of work, and I am planning to have Yonder overhauled at Viable Paradise (if I am accepted, of course) so I don’t necessarily need to have it looked over right now. Everyone present at the writing group was friendly and supportive. The group was a good mix of ages, ethnicities, and encompassed a variety of writing genres. No one was writing a genealogy (which was a definite downside of my attendance at the previous writer’s group). Most importantly, they were happy (and made me happy) for everyone’s attempts and for people’s successes. I sensed no jealousy or rancor. I will definitely be going back to WUTA, probably next week. I’m not sure what to do about the first writing group I went to. I’d like to stick with them, but I’m not sure what they can offer me, and it’d just be for what I think I might be able to offer them. They’re all about the encouragement and the approval, and frankly, I don’t need that right now. I need useful feedback, not just smiles and “oh, that’s nice, you’re expressing yourself”. They treat each other with kid gloves over there, and that’s no way to improve. There’s a point at which everyone needs a cheering section, and there are many days that I still need one, but I have that already, and I don’t want it from my writing group. On the other hand, if I’m very careful about how I give my critiques, then maybe I can help some of them gently move away from needing the cheering section on over into wanting the brutal dissection of their words. It’s only once a month which doesn’t seem like too extreme a martyrdom for the sake of giving back. Not that I’m overflowing with free time to pitter about to twenty different writing groups. I don’t know. I’m sure I’ll over think it and eventually decide something or other, probably not to go, because that’s easily accomplished through inertia. So, to summarize: new writing group is great and useful and goes way into the night. So way into the night that yesterday I dragged through the day, tired from having stayed out so late, and my writing suffered accordingly. I am not any kind of a night owl and my brain needs its beauty sleep.

I am mentally reworking “Loyal Companion”. I deliberately left in some vagueness as I wrote it because I thought I’d leave what was happening open to interpretation, but I realize now that I know exactly what is happening, and that I need to represent exactly what is happening for clarity’s sake in the story. It is, I am starting to understand now, a skeleton of a story, and it needs meat and skin. I hope I get some time for a rewrite this weekend, so that I can read it (or part of it) next week at WUTA. It’s the first thing I’ve felt really strongly needs an overhaul. Not just cutting words and scenes or adding words and scenes. Stuff needs to be changed to make it work. I think I have a handle on which stuff, and we’ll see how it goes. I’m actually pleased that I have a clear image as to what can change in the story. Sometimes when I write things out, it’s almost as if they become etched and fixed, and while I can adjust them, it’s normally very hard for me to see a way to change them radically. This is probably an editing handicap, and I’m glad to see myself getting around it, at least in this instance. Then again, that could just be an indicator as to how bad the story actually is. Terrible and I could only appreciate it with such a distance of time. Still, terrible but salvageable (which I think it is) is far better than just terrible.

I’ve also had a friend read over “Egghead Kingdom” and it needs work too, work that I wouldn’t have seen it needed, I think. So that’s on my plate as well. I’m not sure where this little piece is going, if anywhere, but I’m going to try to follow the recommendations I’ve been given and see where they take me. It’s quite a lot of work, all this thinking about the stories and working on rewriting them. It’s good work, but it’s still work.

I want to be working on “Yonder Wicket Gate, Yonder Shining Light” but I haven’t the focus and concentration to do so this morning. I have the fixes for the first part to do as suggested by my writing group, and the continuing writing of the current part, but my mind is flitting about from subject to subject, primarily filled with all the topics I’ve been intending to blog about for some time now and haven’t gotten to yet. William Gibson was right! The blogging is getting in the way of the writing! Well, actually it’s my errant mind that is getting in the way of the writing and I’m just using the blog as a convenient place to eject all those distracting thoughts so I can focus. So maybe the blog is helping. I don’t know. Jury still out, only time will tell, and all that.

I have a few more things to say about writing. Back in December, in one of those link following things a person sometimes does, I came across a story by a new author, who has spent almost two years now seriously working on her craft and doing submissions and reporting about it. She’s just made a pro sale to Strange Horizons but is close enough to being a total newbie that I find her writings on the subject of her writing incredibly helpful. I read what she had on her site, and followed some links to some of her online publications, including one to a story called “Reparations“. It’s an incredible story. It literally took my breath away. Go read it now and give her feedback, especially if you like it. (If you don’t, be constructive and if you can’t be constructive, be silent). At any rate, I wrote to the author, Merrie Haskell, to let her know how wonderful I thought her story was, and she wrote me back, and has been very encouraging about starting out on this journey. At any rate, her progress speaks to me of how much time and work this thing will take, and I am happy to have someone who is ahead of me on the road, but not so far ahead that she’s already crossed over into Professional Writer Land, if you know what I mean. Through her, I can see that if I just keep walking and walking and walking, that I am on the road to where publication is, and that I will eventually get there. It’s a long, long way, but she told me she’s available for an email pep talk, so there’s no need for me to be disheartened as I proceed. Thanks, Merrie.

The other notable writing thing I want to point out, which is a cool thing for both writerly and readerly types, is that I’ve been listening to they 2004 Cybercasts of the National Book Festival. There’s some really great stuff here. Neil Gaiman reads from his upcoming book Anansi Boys, making me especially eager for it to be published, for example. There’s lots of interesting speeches in lots of different areas of the written word to be enjoyed. But the best thing in there, as far as I’m concerned, is Lois McMaster Bujold‘s speech. She’s a genius, and I’ve been thinking long and hard about how to incorporate religion and spirituality into a book since reading how deftly she explores these territories in Curse of Chalion and Paladin of Souls. In some ways, “Yonder Wicket Gate, Yonder Shining Light” is a response to some of these impulses, though I am very well aware of how crude my approach is compared to hers. And just for the record, I have not read her take on Pilgrim’s Progress, Borders of Infinity, though I intend to. I am encouraged by her because she started out writing, walked away from it, and then picked it back up in her mid-thirties, as I am doing. She’s terrifically smart, and in case you don’t want to listen to all thirty-five minutes of her speech, I’m going to delineate some of the things she said that I think are particularly insightful.
She said three things that I want to address:

  1. “No one writes in a vacuum.”
  2. “A genre is a group of book in close conversation with one another.”
  3. “There seem to be two kinds of readers. Those who read as though they are watching a movie screen in their head. The prose is transparent to them. They never see the words. They see what’s happening – and I’m one of those readers – and then there turn out to be readers who are very, very word sensitive. …[They] see the words as well as, I presume, processing them into pictures.”

I don’t have anything to add about no one writing in a vacuum, and you can just look back at the entire post thus far to see my confirmation of this sentiment. However, I had never before thought about books in conversation quite that way. My view of books is as discrete entities. Still books are inter-related and this web can potentially extend further than just along genre lines. Her statement is an admission about the interconnectedness between the writing and reading worlds. It is not a one-way function. The author cannot just push out a book and close the door. Stories begin where others end or where they branch off from where the reader wanted the original story to go. Fanfic is probably the biggest indicator that authors cannot really own or seal off the worlds they create. Everything an author creates is appropriated from other places, and usually those places are books they’ve read. And yet, I love her characterization of this as a conversation, as a continuation of what was begun instead of, as is so often negatively portrayed, as plagiarism, theft, and lack of creative force. It implies respect from the reader upon turning their hand to writing.

I have been noticing, in the past couple of months, that many writers whom I’ve been reading lately are actually writing movies. I don’t mean they wish their piece was actually a movie, or that they are failing to make screenplays. What I mean is that their narrative is a determinedly visual narrative. They are spilling out a sequence of events, describing something that they are watching happen in their head. Sometimes they’ll throw in a nod to the other senses, but mostly they’re moving you along a story just as quickly as they can. This isn’t a bad thing, necessarily, but it is a thing I find slightly jarring, and just a little offputting, and until now I couldn’t put my finger on why. I think, after hearing Bujold speak, that this is because I am not a visual reader. I’m not that first category of people she describes, who don’t see the words. I see every word. I am obligated, in fact, to read every word, sometimes more than once. And, unlike her presumption, I don’t process those words into pictures. Or rather, let me say, I don’t have to process the words into pictures. Sometimes I do and sometimes I don’t. That’s a part of what reading is about for me, sometimes having a sense of passages without a direct visual correlation. Sometimes there are sounds in my mind, but often deeper things that are more visceral, and not easily nailed down into something as coherent as a picture. My mental pictures can be a part of my reading, but never the main thrust of it. It never occurred to me that stories might need to play out as pictures at all. This leads me to an understanding of why I’m such a slow reader. If one only absorbs a picture and then a picture and then another picture of what is going on, one can probably fly through prose relatively quickly. If you’re ruminating the words, however, you have to do it slowly. Looking at it in this way also helps me understand why I can enjoy books in which not much happens, whereas movies where nothing happens make me crazy (don’t get me started on Lost In Translation). And, until Bujold said it so explicitly, it had never occurred to me that other people might have a different way of reading than I do. It’s likely that this revelation has applications for my writing as well, but I haven’t worked those out yet.

And again, this has gone on for far too long. I apologize and I’ll try to keep things shorter, more web-readable, from now on.


Thu 27th Jan 2005 at 9:08 pm

I’ve been writing about reading for the last couple of days, too. I definitely look at the words, especially when the prose deserves it. In simpler books, especially children’s books, I get a mental movie, but it’s not common.

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