Sunday, September 25, 2011

Why I Write

There is only one true reason I write – because I have to. There are other reasons that I will list, but at the base of it all is the driving need to write, to get something down on paper or some lasting form.

I’ve thought about that a lot. Why do I have to write? Well, in part, I believe it’s to prove I exist. Sure, I can touch my face or I can see my fingers flitting over the keyboard, but that doesn’t prove there is a mind beyond those movements. The very fact that my body exists doesn’t prove that I exist. Only my thoughts, feelings and imaginings prove that there is a mind behind the movement, the physical being.

I love to see my name in print – as a byline or author credit. It’s not an ego thing, although I do derive pleasure that can only be attributed to my ego. It’s oddly like a headstone or graffiti on a bathroom wall. I was here. I am here now, but later it will prove I was here.

Writing always relieves my internal angst. I can only let go of a problem or idea if I write it down, otherwise there will be no rest. I will not sleep until I’ve done at the very least a scribbled note about the idea or issue.

With the ideas, it’s as if I’m afraid I may wake up mentally blank – a great and desperate fear of mine. For a creative, is there nothing more terrifying than the looming danger of losing one’s mind – as in Alzheimer’s?

With the troubles, it’s a matter of laying them down to rest beside me and luckily they are often solved in my sleep. The writing has saved my sanity. When I’ve teetered on the edge of despair, it was lack of writing that pushed me over.

I’m a perpetually cheerful person, so I’m surprised at the darkness this post represents. But perhaps that’s why I’m able to live in the light, because writing takes away the gloom.

I also write for the pure joy of it. My heart literally soars when I've put down a phrase, paragraph or article that sings. There is no greater high for me.

So, as you see – I write because I have to.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Character-Driven Plotting Versus Outlining

There’s probably an official name for the kind of writing I do, but I’m going to call it character-driven. What I mean by that is I start with a character and a situation and then let the character take me through the story. I am always making notes and lists as I go along of things that need to be added into the story somewhere along the way, so that my protagonist doesn’t lull me into forgetting that the reader doesn’t know always what the she is thinking, even if I do.

In fact, I use Excel to track the notes and plot points as I go along. I number and re-number them, then sort by the numbers, to make sure they fall into the right slot in the tale. I suppose this could be an outline, of sorts, but it’s a living document that changes every time I sit down to write.

There are very strong proponents of outlining your entire story before you even begin to write. I’m not knocking it. I just can’t imagine it. My characters say and do things I hadn’t planned on and often they are the best parts of the story. They literally take over and it’s not only a great help to my writing, but it feels absolutely wonderful when it happens. I am transported into the story, happily, and begin to feel it happening around me.

This may be why I find it very hard to write a dark story. I don’t like being inside that sinister place, which I believe exists in all of us. In fact, I will happily abandon a movie that gets too dark for me (literally, I couldn’t finish the second and third Lord of the Rings movies because of it) or close the covers of a book which dwells for more than a few minutes at a time in the ugliness of life. I’m a lightweight. I just can’t take it.

Anyway, back to the outline concept. I’ve tried several types of outlining. When I was screenwriting, I did the index card thing – covering an entire wall with color-coded cards with scenes on them. Outlining by chapter in a very general, overall way, worked best for me, but my characters always managed to break out of the mold I had created anyway.

So, how do you do it? What’s your approach?

Saturday, September 10, 2011

What Does Writing Feel Like to You?

I always wonder what it feels like for other writers when they are in the actual process of putting thoughts or storylines down on paper or computer. Here’s why.

I’ve had many interesting experiences after finishing up a writing session. For instance, I often don’t remember the piece at all when I sit down to read it. Or I’ll realize, after the fact that I’ve written something that I dreamt about the night before.

During the process, I’ve more often than not, struggled until a certain rhythm takes over. Once, when I was screenwriting, I typed (on a real typewriter) for an hour or so and as I did I saw the story unfolding on the white wall behind the typewriter – actually saw it happening. I just wrote down what I saw. I called it writing “in the zone” like Joe Montana used to talk about some of his phenomenal football plays.

Now, since finding a certain voice, I can describe my creative state as true bliss. I told a friend recently that when I write it feels like my best friend is sitting beside me and I’m just putting down what she says. In other words, I feel outside myself but accompanied – and I feel strongly that this sense of an entity is what people call the muse. Additionally, it feels divine. Not to imply that my writing is divine, but the inspiration is beyond me somehow. I feel a part of things – the Universe – as the thoughts flow.

That’s what it feels like for me. But I’ve observed others who seem so disturbed by their gift, so determined to always get it right or wait until the right moment. I can remember feeling that way too, but wish for them that they would get to this place where writing is truly joyful.

One technique for getting there is something I learned quite a few years back. I call it dumping. Rather than trying to actually say anything, I just sit at the computer and let whatever pops into my head out through my fingers. At first it’s total tripe but then something magical happens. From the soup of meaningless drivel comes a nugget, no a kernel, of something that begins to grow all on its own. And before you know it, I’m writing. It may not be on the intended project, but usually when I switch to the project the feeling continues.

You might give dumping a try. In the meantime, I’d really love to hear you describe how you feel when you write.

Monday, September 5, 2011

A Study in Characterization

It is my task here to describe a transformation in character without giving anything away. Let’s see how good I am.

I just finished reading The Geronimo Breach (more on that in a minute) by Russell Blake, who was one of the first people I started following on my first day on Twitter, July 1.

In fact, one of his other books, Fatal Exchange, was the second Kindle book I bought. It convinced me that there are Indie authors that are quite good. While I’m not a huge thriller reader, I was pulled into the story by a strong, captivating female protagonist and just general good writing.

So, when my reading schedule freed up, I bought The Geronimo Breach and cozied up with my Kindle. About six pages in I was astonished, revolted even, by the character, Al Ross, who I hoped with all my heart wasn’t the protagonist. It isn’t giving anything away to tell you, his first impression on me, and those in his fictional world, was of a drunken, selfish, no-account loser. I wondered what in the world Blake had in mind, but the story was interesting and I trusted him as a writer so I kept plugging along, never really changing my mind about Al.

And then I did. After careful consideration, I’ve figured out the turning point, at least for me, when I began to care what happened to Al. Suffice it to say, I cannot reveal what happened to change my mind – no, my heart – or I’d give part of the plot away.

Somewhere in the last third of the book, I no longer just cared a little about Al - I was suddenly rooting for him. Blake had accomplished the toughest part about writing even when you have a likable main character – making the reader care what happens to him or her – and he did it in spite of starting out with a reprehensible human being. Al is ultimately redeemed, but in keeping with Blake’s style, not in an overly sentimental way. He doesn’t experience a gigantic epiphany and suddenly become good. He does what normal people do. He changes slowly.

I firmly believe Russell Blake will become a literary force, like Elmore Leonard or Walter Mosley. In the meantime, I’ll support him by purchasing his books and, as a writer, I will pay attention to his skill. It’s massive.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Having a Split Personality

All week I’ve been noticing a strange phenomenon. When I log onto Twitter as WritingGroove I say totally different things and react to dissimilar tweets than I do as RedMojoMama. Likewise, I’m not nearly as funny on this blog as I tend to be on Red Mojo Mama Musings. Writer gal is perhaps witty, but more serious.

Although, it was my intention to have two different agendas, I am so totally surprised at the reality of it. I created the two separate monikers because I wanted to be able to express writer stuff to other writers and the stuff of life to everyone else, including writers. I knew I had a separate message for writers than the general Twitterworld and wanted to detach the two so as not to bore the non-writers completely (which I have a tendency to do in real life if I go on and on about writing.)

So, I intentionally created my split personality. Yet, it feels a little odd sometimes. I can almost feel myself mentally putting on my imaginary writer’s outfit – granny skirt, Indian print tunic and my dangliest earrings – when on this side. WritingGroove is much more philosophical than RMM and interested in how creating is going, both on Twitter and on this blog.

Now, Red Mojo Mama wears flashy clothes in bright colors, often red. She wears dangly earrings, too, but they are more about sparkle that artistry. She’s always up for a joke, lives life ferociously within her means to do so and has more energy than WritingGroove. RMM is obviously the author of the character, Lydia, who is RMM in the book by the same name.

If truth be known, Lydia “Red” Talbot is everything the author wants to be. She’s brave, feisty, kick-ass and strong. I, WritingGroove, admire her, too, but I’m more cerebral. If that last sentence seemed a little strange, it is and that’s what I’m talking about. I belief the split is now complete.

Soon, I’ll be launching a third personality to support a business I’m jumping into. I haven’t thought up a name yet and she’ll be completely invisible to my current friends on Twitter as well as locally based. Still, I worry that with the impending three-way split, I’ll further divide and begin to act distinctly different out in the real world.

Ah, well, that is in the future. For now, I’m still me – complete and whole – when I log off. I think.