This Hunted Story

Am I late, am I late, for a very important date?

If not, as long as I tell myself I run that risk, motivation survives, at least for something I already feel compelled in a deeper way to do—writing. So before it IS too late, it’s time to journal about my Jabberwock novel, a story of Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There from the Jabberwock perspective. Time to muse upon the fickle nature of the Muse. Time to log, on the Web, my thoughts about this story-making process, the state of this art. Time to blog about novel writing.

My hope in doing so is that it will help me get a handle, by November 1st at midnight, on my story outline so I can hit the ground running as NaNoWriMo 2016 kicks off. The goal of National Novel Writing Month is to “write with reckless abandon,” and as a planner (as opposed to a pantser), I’ll feel readier to do that if I have a sound story structure to populate with all that compelling characterization, magical description, and sparkling dialogue. * sigh *

Prompted by S of JS Mawdsley to write fanfic “so [S] wouldn’t be the only one” doing that for Camp NaNoWriMo this past July, I showed up at a write-in early in the month and started listing the fiction I’m a fan of. Not long into the exercise, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass popped up and led to my premise.

In a reversal, or extension (depending on your viewpoint), of the situation in Looking-Glass Land, I set up the Jabberwock as the story’s hero and the Red and White Nobles as the antagonists in their world of giant chessboard squares. Alice retains a position resembling her protagonist role in the original stories, entering the grand game of chess in book two in order to become queen by reaching the Eighth Square.

Simple, right?

So . . . I’ve been working on this intermittently since July and figured there’s plenty to write in November, too. Although I don’t exhibit the discipline JS Mawdsley do/es, which leads to such awe-inspiring story-writing productivity, it’s been a victory for me to remain interested in my story even after each, sometimes long, hiatus.

I’m intrigued enough by the concept, along with the outlining, mind mapping and analyzing I’ve done of it so far, and the handful of scenes I’ve written in full, that I feel confident I won’t lose interest any time soon, let alone halfway through NaNoWriMo.

The magic has come from seeing themes, symbols, and character relationships periodically connect in unexpected ways, from discovering that the ideas that bubble up work with the overall concept instead of against it. It gives me hope that the unity of the story can be preserved, assuming I can build it into a cohesive whole in the first place. This is the year, baby!

Still, it is by no means simple. The plot has been quite the code to crack. For me, that’s typical, but this one poses the extra challenges to work within the original story structure, use pre-existing characters, and figure out how the heck to weave in the new story.

If I have bitten off more than I can chew, by gum, at least I’m still chewing on it and my jaw hasn’t yet broken or frozen.

I confess to adding the pressure of creating something brilliant and eminently publishable out of a timeless classic that’s been thoroughly studied, adapted, spoofed, and spun off in every direction for over a hundred years. Otherwise, why spend all this time on it? But I’m fighting that tendency, too. I’m making a point of not reading the spin-off books and of not watching any more versions of the movie than I have already seen. I’m trying to let love lead. Love of Lewis Carroll’s work.

In addition, S made the point that because Looking-Glass is the less well-known of the pair of Alice stories, it will be wise to borrow characters from Adventures for this re-telling, to add reader interest. I’ll try not to make that issue a major priority; it, too, presumes publication.

The saving grace may be that, if a tangible end result ever does come, and whether or not it’s any good, at least it will have been one hell of a writing experiment that prepared me for success on simpler projects. Oh, if only I knew how to go simple. To do the work, day after day, without imploding under the weight of expectation.

Although I may not blog liberally about the intricacies of the Jabberwock story puzzle, I’ll try to use both blogging and private journaling to keep up my momentum through the exciting upcoming month of story stress, construction, and socializing.

A couple of days ago, I chose a title that took entirely too much time to think of: Hunted Song of Looking-Glass Land. Song is my main character, the teenage Jabberwock heroine who, in partnership with the younger human Alice, fights the good fight against the establishment. This much I know.

Hunted Song is my first fantasy story, first fan fiction (sort of, if we don’t count the one about Shakespeare’s mistress), and possibly first happy ending compared to my two most recent stories, which I actually finished drafting. There’s so much to look forward to, and the fact that I started this story well before November reassures me of my stamina to see it through to whatever moment declares itself the end.

Perhaps it’s fitting that this is my topic in the year of the 150th anniversary of the first book’s publication. These splashes of newness and flashes of specialness are keeping my eye on the prize, to follow through to create a good story that I can call mine.

What’s your story?

Join me and half a million other people worldwide this year in the storytelling adventure called NaNoWriMo. No experience necessary. No Plot? No Problem. No judgment. Just start writing. Ready. Set. Novel!. Also, check out the NaNoWriMo Blog.


For more about how my current story’s journey started, check out this summer’s post Packing for Camp.

jabberwocky

Featured image: Illustration of the Jabberwocky by John Tenniel, original artist for both Alice books.

 

Last Week of Camp: Ready to Start

This month, in addition to reading, writing and revising poetry, I’ve been learning story craft as a way of participating in Camp NaNoWriMo, April’s more relaxed version of the annual National Novel Writing Month program. (Camp is also held in July.) In this post, I explore some of what I’ve been doing and learning as I ponder the mysteries of motivation.


The more relaxed approach that is Camp NaNoWriMo suits me fine since I’m just now fleshing out my story outline, and with less than a week before the “event” technically ends. I count this as an accomplishment for one who has never considered herself much of a storyteller and who is new to the practice of novel writing.

It certainly helped to have fewer of us participating in write-ins in person and to be a host for some of them each week–more pressure to make progress, I guess.

The pace of completion of this detailed outlining step in particular makes me impressed with myself, mainly because I tend to second-guess the value of the stories I think of telling. By outlining my intentions, I’ve given weight and form to a story that has not even been written yet.

Why should such a small step impress me? Why does being “impressed” matter?

It’s true that November’s NaNoWriMo more thoroughly facilitates the steady, somewhat high-paced push of “writing with reckless abandon” for thirty days straight than do her spring and summer cousin events. Camp is also flexible in terms of content, genre, form, purpose, and word count, whereas November’s goal is always 50,000 words by midnight on December 1.

Camp-Nanowrimo-No-Sign-300px-RGB2_400x400In both cases, “winning” is a formality and having some semblance of a recognizable tale when you reach the 50K happens only by the honor system.

No one reads the final product you upload for official validation to be classed among the winners. It’s all self driven.

In this way, for me at least, being “impressed” with myself or feeling good about my progress is crucial to furthering it.

My approach to Camp has been to study how stories are formed: brainstorming, researching theories, story structures, tools, and techniques, then outlining, profiling main characters, and then expanding that outline into a full, novel-length set of plot points.

It’s this last step that I was able to start and finish in one four-hour sitting, yesterday during our region’s Sunday write-in at Panera.

Now that I’ve reached this milestone, I am much more excited to move forward with composition of the story itself. I know what story I’m trying to tell, and I know the frame work within which I must work. I even know some of the symbolism, foreshadowing, irony and other literary elements I want to incorporate, and am starting to see exactly how I can accomplish them.

In other words, the fact that Camp NaNoWriMo is ending has less of a subduing effect on me than it has at the end of the last several Novembers. It’s easy to lose steam as the holidays approach, and I felt rather lulled into passivity by the achievement of “winning” NaNoWriMo each time. My stories became less important in themselves, so abandoning them was no great tragedy.

Still, it is a let-down. Some people are “pantsers,” writing by the seat of their pants without much forethought or planning, and certainly no outlining. I have tried that approach and found it unsatisfactory, so this Camp I used as a stepping stone toward becoming a bona fide “planner” of stories (who also happens to write them).

Aided also by regularly blogging and committing to taking my poetry more seriously, I may not even need something like Camp in order to finish this new story. But if I do, July awaits. . . .

I’ve always been better at planning than doing in many ways, so I was reluctant to begin my experience during my first NaNoWriMo in 2011 with too much planning.

Truth be told, I couldn’t help indulging in excessive research on the front end the first year. I found the subject of the Native Americans and particularly the Salish language quite fascinating as I prepared starting in September to write, during November, a story about a white teen raised by ranchers in Montana who comes across a mysterious wolf mask carving on her recently deceased parents’ ranch and begins her adventure. (I wonder what ever happened to that first novel’s protagonist, Emily. Perhaps I’ll return to the text of What the Wolf Knows some day and find out . . . by finishing the story.)

Whichever approach I take, though, I find that it’s practice and experience–and just going for it–that ultimately propel my development as a story writer.

So, although in some ways, my structured approach to a story beginning was rather formulaic, it served as its own kind of “going for it.” I’d never outlined a story so thoroughly before, after all. And it was only after writing a few rough novels, all four of which remain effectively incomplete stories today, that I had the confidence and motivation to teach myself how to plan them well and thoroughly, too.

I’m still in the process of planning the story, but after yesterday, I’m better prepared to write the story I planned. I had already begun some composition of the back story, but now I’m ready to charge ahead to write the main plot.

When you’re not in school formally and you don’t work at, with, or for an organization with a built-in structure for your work, i.e., when you’re a writer out there essentially on your own (albeit with a local support community and the Internet’s bounty), it’s helpful to have events like NaNoWriMo and its Camp cousins to assist with each new aspect of the creative project’s undertaking.

I realize each task can be useful if I know–that is, if I establish for myself–its purpose and see where it can lead me. Because I understand that writing is a multi-part process that is often cyclical in nature, I know that I may alter the plan just as I re-write some of the story.

As I often tell the students I tutor, each phase or step of the writing process holds importance and something to teach, just as each writer has a story inside waiting to be told.

There is hope, then, that eventually I, too, will bring all the pieces together and not only tell but also share my stories.

Every active writer has self-developed approaches, processes, and unique needs to stay motivated and be productive. This has simply been a slice of what mine look like right now.

“Stories matter.”  #CampNaNoWriMo2016

Happy writing.

On Process: Verse Writing, Part IV: Reflection

ICYMI:

My previous post, On Process: Verse Writing, Part III: Home Stretch and Final Draft, dealt with the last phases of my verse writing process toward a complete elegy for Leonard Nimoy. It also contains excerpts from the finished product. This time, for my final post of the series, I reflect upon both process and product, sharing my self-evaluation and how I’ve grown as a writer.

Update: I decided that reading the poem aloud was an important final step, which led to a few more revisions, and I feel more satisfied with the results than when I last thought the poem was finished. Next comes peer feedback at writing group.

You’re welcome to comment or tweet @Carrielt37.


The Verse Writing Process, Part IV: Reflection

Milestones reached

The goals I had when I started this process of discussing the verse writing process were:check-mark_red_pencil_red

  1. Remember, and say something in memory and support of, Leonard Nimoy.
  2. Create a fitting tribute by carefully attending to emotion, detail, and quality.
  3. Finish The Daily Post‘s Writing 201: Poetry, Day 5 task: elegy, fog, metaphor.
  4. Learn about the features and models of elegies, and apply lessons to the work.
  5. Chronicle the process I go through and assess how it affects the poetry and me.
  6. Share my poem and journey with poets, writers, poetry lovers, loved ones, all.

As of this post, I believe I have reached goals 1-5 and some of 6. The skill with which I did so is another matter. I know the poem is not perfect, the posts about it are not perfect, and I expect no acclaim for either. I only hope for reader enjoyment and some degree of acknowledgement, some day.

How did I do all this?: Lessons learned

Beats me! Well, no, that’s disingenuous. But seriously, I was pleasantly surprised by the results, but I guess it shouldn’t be so surprising. With all the structure, rules, procedures, and restrictions I applied, I doubted my ability to tap into my creative side effectively at the same time. However, I am an experienced verse writer, though not yet published; I do possess some skills that deliver. Being accountable to my blog followers doesn’t hurt either!

The thing that helped most was probably my determination to celebrate Leonard Nimoy. Passion for the subject and, thus, the project is a great motivator. In a way, I didn’t want to let him down. Losing the man was sad enough without also losing a cohesive, coherent, tangible expression of that loss. Choosing to write an elegy really commits you to it in a unique fashion.

I think it worked fairly well, too, because I intentionally toggled between roles throughout: from writer to my own beta reader, from creative to reductive, artist to analyst, right brain to left and back. It helped that I opened myself to a new process.

Image credit: Bernard Goldbach, Creative Commons.

Image credit: Bernard Goldbach, Creative Commons.

This time, to let the art live and breathe, I let the ideas and feelings flow on and on for a substantial period before I even started thinking about poetic form. I added the missing ingredient of idea development to my verse writing process. When it was time to craft poetry, the parameters no longer seemed so restrictive.

Remaining questions

Still, I wonder, now that I’ve judged the work to be done, whether or not the form and structures I imposed squeezed the life out of the art, making the poem feel choppy, seem forced, or come off as boring. Using the shorter tetrameter line (four units of one stressed and one unstressed syllable each within the same line) compared to the traditional hexameter-pentameter alternating lines of the elegy might have helped the squeezing along.

The formal, archaic language I tend to gravitate toward may also be a contemporary reader turn-off, but that’s kind of its own conundrum, a larger issue across much of my verse. I guess I’m just old fashioned.

The point is, I know I still have a lot to learn. This was my first elegy, and I am extremely proud of the results for never having attempted this kind of poem before. I felt comfortable using meter, rhythm, rhyme, alliteration, enjambment, punctuation, syntactical inversion, and the other specific devices I applied. But I realize there are other considerations besides the minute details. See Poetry Foundation’s Glossary Terms for more information about poetic devices.

creativity-is-a-habit

Image credit: Creative Commons via launchyourgenius.com

A vital turning point

This time, in a real, significant way, it was the bigger picture, the thematic and tonal journey within the poem, that I learned more about how to execute. That might have something to do with my experience participating in National Novel Writing Month for the past 4 years. I have become more comfortable with longer forms of creative writing.

Prior to that period, my poetry felt stuck or trapped, without clear purpose, clear meaning, or a sense of satisfying completeness. This effect may be why, though I have always loved reading and writing in verse, I only wrote a poem or two every six months for several years.

The elegy‘s big picture, for instance, is that it has three main “movements,” if you will: lament, praise of the departed, and acceptance. A condensed version of the psychological stages of grief you may be familiar with. Fortunately for me, by this time in history, the rules beyond that structure have very much loosened or fallen away.

They already had cut me some slack, so I cut myself that same slack when it was time to assess my results. As a self-proclaimed recovering perfectionist, I’m also proud of doing that. Ultimately, good enough was good enough.

We all have to do that for ourselves, just as much as we need to work with diligent care in our writing. It’s what makes public expression possible, that final letting-go.

Note that I have no immediate plans to publish my whole elegy, so, clearly, I have yet to embrace fully, to trust an audience with, such a release. Of course, that’s not just a personal issue; writing in general, and poetry writing in particular, can be a poor way to earn an income. The trick is to find some value in publishing it despite the deterrents.

Now that I can see, for the first time in years, that I am developing in my craft, I can also see that next stop approaching, the point of full sharing, of unfettered expression. And I am more ready for it now than ever.

Oh so meta: a new awareness

Thinking about the verse writing process in a holistic sense–thinking and writing about my writing process for a specific project with clear goals–gave me a new kind and level of structure within which to create. It helped me maintain a balanced approach and perspective on how things were going. I saw my work through my reader’s eyes in a more real way, and I recognized more clearly my limits and potential. Accountability met confidence and led to productivity. It’s very encouraging.

Best of all and towardA Leap of Faith 1_Goldfish_small_to_large_bowl that point, I am teaching myself how to live without fear, repeating the refrain of carpe diem even as I experience it.

As I say in the last stanza of the poem, in essence, for ourselves and on behalf of those who’ve gone, we the living, so privileged, must press on. We must act in gratitude for every remaining moment to choose freely our own way. Some day, that freedom will end, and so will we.

Carpe punctum. Seize the moment.

I have cherished these moments remembering Leonard Nimoy and his celebrated character Spock. In a way, I’d almost rather not finish working on the poem because it’s like a final good-bye, but at least now I have it to come back to, along with access to most records of his life and achievements. Thank you for spending some of your moments with me as well.


? What are your thoughts on this series or on verse writing?  I welcome your comments or tweets @Carrielt37.

If you’re just joining me and would like to read about how this project began, go to On Process: Verse Writing, Introduction and Part I: Motivation and follow the bread crumbs from there.

Thanks again for following me on this journey of writing–and thinking about the process of writing–in a new poetic form, the elegy. I wish you all the best in your own creative endeavors.

Classic Learning

I’m still looking for that trick or key technique to make quick reading a habit. In my library–which is really a jumble of cheap, over-stuffed book cases scattered about the place–sits a copy of an old book called Rapid Reading in 5 Days designed to help me with this very goal. A book I never finished.

This is not to say I fail to finish most books I pick up; maybe about 35 percent? Okay, 40. I think I may be a strong candidate for needing a formerly sci-fi, soon-to-be true science neurotech implant capable of uploading and instantaneously processing those Matrix-style digital files. A raging inferno of super, bionic brain activity for Kindles, Nooks, and USB drives to feed.

There’s just so much to be read, so much that seems to need reading. Says the die-hard idealist buried in the back of this East Coast-educated brain who believes that learning these important things will somehow lead to doing something that “makes a difference,” an impact for the good. And why? For my glory? For the good’s own sake? Out of love for humanity? Poppycock. (Well, maybe a bit of all three, actually.)

   So many windmills, so little time.

Don Quixote, current reading status: page 436 of 1050. Due Feb. 4. Hey, I’ve made better progress this week than any time since early December! Despite having had double the amount of time in which to read (a full two months), I guess I want credit for small victories.

I need that. Because it’s looking very much as though I’m not going to finish Don Quixote by the time my classics book club meets. Is that so bad? In and of itself, no. Not every member finishes every book every month anyway, and I’m sure I won’t be alone this month. It is a 1,000-pager, after all.

Unfortunately, though, the existence of a deadline I know I probably won’t make signals yet another unfinished reading of the classics, of a novel, of a long-form piece of fiction. Another finish line uncrossed. Another incident imprinting on me a sense of personal and professional failure. Failure to fulfill my promise as a scholar, writer, teacher, and citizen.

Then again, I could just need a new eyeglasses prescription and to focus more squarely on whatever makes me happiest. The truth is often a complicated mixture. And that is, oh, so classic.