Slumping and Pleaping

What’s the opposite of a slump? This blogger needs to know. Because for the past month, I’ve been in a Reading Slump, but a Writing – something else. The opposite. I looked up antonyms for “slump” but it wasn’t helpful: ascent, increase, rise, success, blessing… none of them work.

So, in order to say what I want to say, I’m hereby inventing a new word. If it’s good enough for Shakespeare, it’s good enough for me. From this moment onwards, the opposite of “slump” shall be “pleap” (peak level of enthusiasm and productivity). There. Problem solved.

Now, on with this post. Friends, I have been in a reading slump. In the entire month of September, I read two and a half books. TWO. AND A HALF. If you’re interested, here they are, with my ratings.


This was the half. I started it in August and finished in September. I enjoyed it quite a lot. ⭐⭐⭐⭐




I read all of this one. Inspiring, especially the photographs. ⭐⭐⭐⭐1/2

Miles Vorkosigan is always entertaining. ⭐⭐⭐⭐

As you can see, there was noting wrong with the books. There just weren’t very many of them. I seldom felt like reading. But here’s the thing: I edited over 30, 000 words of my novel. 30,000. To a state I’m finally happy with. A writing pleap if there ever was one. I do not believe these things are unconnected.

It’s a ratio (or a see-saw): the more I write, the less I read. Looking back over the past year, this seems to hold true every month. My most productive reading times are my least productive writing times. It seems there is a limit to the number of words I want to engage with over a period of time. When I reach that limit, either reading or writing, a slump occurs.

So, what to do? Ration my reading and writing time until they balance nicely, neither of them slumping nor pleaping? Everything in me cries out against this logical, but bland approach.

I want to pleap. I need to pleap. I love pleaping. And at the moment, I’m especially loving my writing pleap.

Sorry, reading. I’m afraid you’ll have to wait in the wings for now. You’ve had many a year of pleaping in the past, after all.

Now, it’s writing’s turn to shine.

Pleap on, fellow readers/writers!

#WIPpet Wednesday – September 18, 2019

This week I’m joining WIPpet Wednesday again. WIPpet Wednesday is a blog hop wherein writers share an excerpt from their current WIP (Work in Progress) that somehow relates to the date.



What I’m sharing today

I have two WIPs going right now. I’m making final revisions to the first one, a medieval portal fantasy called Greenhaelan. That’s where my excerpt is coming from today.

As it’s the 18th day of the 9th month, I’ll be sharing 18 sentences from Chapter 9.

The final man was slim and dressed in black. His hand rested lightly on the hilt of a half-drawn sword. He looked Kelan over and grinned, sliding the sword back into its sheath.
“Put up your arms, friends. It’s only a little mouse hiding in the hay.” His voice was an amused drawl.
The other three obeyed him, but their expressions were still wary. They obviously didn’t share their companion’s sense of humour. The older man in particular was scowling like a bulldog.
The one in black stepped closer. “What’s your name, little mouse?”
After everything Kelan had gone through this morning, this was too much. It was one thing to be attacked or even killed; it was quite another to be laughed at and called a mouse. He knew he might be in danger, but he didn’t care. He lifted his chin and glared at the man.
“What’s yours?”
The stranger laughed. “So, the mouse has teeth.”

Kelan is only a secondary character in this novel, but he’ll be getting his own book later. From my point of view, he’s both the easiest character to write about and also the most fun. Seems like somewhere inside this middle-aged woman, a teenage boy is struggling to get out and be heard. Patience, Kelan. Your turn will come.

Mini Experiment: Eavesdropping in Cafes

I’ve been hearing quite a bit recently about a technique to help writers improve their ear for dialogue and gather a plethora of shiny new ideas for stories at the same time: eavesdrop on private conversations in public places.

Now, the first thing I want to make clear to you is that this whole idea goes against all my natural instincts. When I’m alone in a public place, I would prefer not to be able to hear other people at all. If there was such a thing as a portable cone of silence, it would be tucked away in my handbag right now. My usual first move when entering a cafe is to look for the table that is as far from the nearest actual human beings as possible. I don’t want my valuable coffee-drinking/reading/ writing/Twittering time interrupted by random bursts of conversation that have nothing to do with me.

However, never let it be said that I am not willing to suffer for my art. And therefore, I embarked upon another Writing Mini-Experiment this week, with the aim of visiting two cafes, listening to as many random conversations as possible and scribbling any interesting bits down. Here are my results.

DAY 1

The cafe: busy, old-fashioned, comfy, not the least bit trendy or edgy, but good service and a nice view of the park.

The time: 3.45pm

The order: Warm and Spicy Tea (apple, orange peel, rosehip, hibiscus, cornflower, clove, cinnamon, anise, pepper)

Notes: I chose a table between two already-occupied ones and almost immediately realised I had made a newbie error. Whitney Houston was warbling from a nearby speaker, asking me how she’d know if he really loved her. She was getting quite worked up about her dilemma and hers was the only voice I could make out clearly. I strained my ears and hoped the next selection would be a soft ballad, but alas, Dolly Parton seemed determined to put her case to someone named Jolene, and she wasn’t being quiet about it. I had also sited myself too close to both the kitchen and the coffee machine. Sounds were emanating from both.

While I waited for my tea, one of the grey-haired ladies at the table to my left momentarily raised her voice:

The hardest year I ever had was my first year here, and I kept thinking, I’ve been teaching for ten years, why is this so hard?

Teachers. I know all about teachers, having been one myself for decades. Nothing new for me to work with there.

I drank my pretty pink tea from my pretty floral cup (delicious, by the way, good choice) and kept my ears open, trying to tune into the conversation at the table to my right, which was occupied by a teenage girl in a school uniform sitting opposite two women (mother and aunt, perhaps?)

During a blessed break in the music, the teenager said, clear as a bell,

I’ve noticed when I’m feeling really nervous , really scared, you know, my feet cramp up.

Well, it was an interesting bit of information, but did it take me anywhere?

The music started again just as one of the two women answered her phone. She raised her voice slightly and I listened avidly to what seemed a promising beginning. Unfortunately, she lowered the volume again and all I caught were short snippets between lengthy pauses.

…why would he even say that?… why not just let me have a go and … awful place to be … it all comes back to … and then why did he lie to me … and then he said … I’ll stand back and …”

Now this sounded like the real deal – who was “he”? What had he lied about? Where was the “awful place”?

Could I do anything with this? Sadly, I concluded I could not.

And now Leo Sayer was declaring that I made him feel like dancing. I finished my second cup of tea and left him to it.

Result: disappointed but still hopeful about tomorrow’s foray.

DAY 2

The cafe: quirky, arty, a slightly younger, professional crowd.

The time: 10.30 am

The order: a Flat White Coffee on Almond Milk and a late breakfast of Zucchini and Haloumi Fritters with Labneh (hey, it’s for science, all right?)

Notes: This was more like it. I settled onto a banquette seat in a corner, surrounded by closely packed tables, three already occupied. The music was appropriately subdued and the kitchen and coffee machine were far, far away.

A man and a woman in their thirties were chatting right in front of me and I could hear every word. I took out my notebook. The man was speaking.

When they get into that situation, don’t get me wrong about this, the thing is, like, that’s the thing, you know, that happens.”

Okay, real dialogue, unscripted, sure. But not otherwise terribly useful. I stopped taking notes and kept listening. They were work colleagues,  having  a conversation about arranging shifts, rosters and break times. And yes, it was every bit as boring as that sounds.

I turned my attention to a second couple, middle-aged, wearing workout gear. They were talking animatedly, in tones too low for me to hear a single word. Why did people have to be so considerate of others, I thought with irritation. Where were the colourful loudmouths when you needed them?

My order arrived. The fritters looked a little overdone, but in fact weren’t. They were delightfully crispy on the outside, moist and tasty inside. Sharp, garlicky labneh, perfectly oozy poached egg, delicate sprinkling of dukkah… but I digress.

Work-out gear woman stood and walked out. Had they had an argument? Or  was she simply on her way to do a little shopping? I would never know. Casually glancing over my shoulder, I saw her erstwhile companion take out his phone and begin scrolling.

The occupant of the table diagonally opposite me was alone and typing on his laptop. A fellow writer perhaps. I wished him well, but he was useless to me.

Ah, now, someone was being led to the final unoccupied table in our little enclave. An elderly man. Perhaps he was waiting for someone. Perhaps his advancing years had resulted in partial deafness and they would both have to shout. But no. He gave his order to the server and unfolded a newspaper. I may have sighed.

I finished my food and drank my coffee, both excellent, and my only consolation for another fruitless hour.

Result: an even more promising start, but in the end a washout.

 

CONCLUSIONS

1.Overhearing other people’s private conversations is harder than you might expect

2. Even when you can hear them, they are mostly boring

3. In the unlikely case they are even slightly interesting, you won’t be able to hear them properly

4. Warm and Spicy Tea is the bomb and Zucchini and Haloumi Fritters are an outstanding choice for breakfast

RECOMMENDATIONS FOR FURTHER ACTION

When visiting cafes alone in the future, embrace previously preferred option of sitting in splendid isolation and pretending no other humans are present. Alternatively, invent portable cone of silence.

Names and Labels

I’ve taken the title of this post from one of the chapters of Madeleine L’Engle’s book Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art.

L’Engle makes a distinction between naming something or someone, and labelling them. Naming, she says, gives us wholeness and freedom to be who we are; labelling reduces us, controls us, limits us. “If we are pigeonholed and labelled we are unnamed.”

It is a profound chapter in a thoughtful and inspiring book and it got me thinking about naming. Or, rather Naming. The capital letter is important. The first story I ever read about this kind of Naming, what you might call true Naming, was The Riddle-Master of Hed by Patricia A. McKillip, way back in the 1970s when it first came out. I absolutely adored the idea that if you know the true name of someone or something, you fully understand it. Or, to put it another way, if you fully understand it, you already know its true name. Then I read A Wizard of Earthsea by the wonderful Ursula Le Guin. Written even earlier, it took the concept to a whole new level. I’ve read many other fantasy stories based around the idea of true names having power in the decades since then. Every one of them has brought me joy. Another exceptional one, of course, is The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss.

I like to think that when God tasked Adam with naming the animals, it was this kind of naming. He Named them truly, because he saw and understood them as they really were, fully themselves, in a way none of us have ever been able to do since. Somehow I doubt he gave them labels such as pest or livestock or invasive species.

So what does all this have to do with writing? Back to L’Engle:

To write a story is an act of Naming; in reading about a protagonist I can grow along with, I myself am more Named.

As writers, if we want to truly Name our characters, we need to know them. Not just their appearance, their personality or their abilities, but their deepest hopes and fears, their strongest motivations, the values at the very heart of them. This takes time and work, as our characters slowly reveal themselves and their stories to us. But it’s essential work if we want our readers to fully engage, to “grow along with them”, as L’Engle says. And it’s deeply satisfying work, too, I might add.

The opposite of this is to simply label the people who make up our stories: the Hero, the Villain, the Love Interest, the Comic Relief. These labels are useful shorthand when we’re thinking about the broader sweep of our tales, but if we reduce our characters merely to their labels, if they’re not real, true, living, breathing, fully formed people to us, their creators, they won’t move and transport our readers, either.

A final word from L’Engle:

Stories are able to help us to become more whole, to become Named. And Naming is one of the impulses behind all art; to give a name to the cosmos we see despite all the chaos.

As a writer, I want to Name each and every one of my characters, even the minor ones, because they don’t know they’re minor. And as a reader, I want the characters whose worlds I enter to be fully Named by their creators, too, so that as I grow along with them, I too will be more Named.

#WIPpet Wednesday – July 24, 2019

This week I’m joining WIPpet Wednesday for the first time. WIPpet Wednesday is a blog hop wherein writers share an excerpt from their current WIP (Work in Progress) that somehow relates to the date.

What I’m sharing today

I have two WIPs going right now. I’m making final revisions to the first one, a medieval portal fantasy called Green Haelan. I’m also writing a first draft of the sequel, Skal Singer.

I’m going to share an excerpt from Green Haelan. Today is the 24th day of the 7th month so I’ll be sharing 24 sentences from Chapter 7.

The scene centres on one of my secondary POV (Point of View) characters, Kelan, a teenage boy who knows less about the world than he thinks he does (imagine that😉) and is also not quite as skilful as he judges himself to be. In this scene, he’s fallen into the hands of a band of thieves camping in the forest. But he has a cunning plan. While they’re all asleep, he’s going to steal one of their horses and escape. Everything goes smoothly right up to the point when he mounts the horse: it bolts. The excerpt begins at this point.

Excerpt

He fell forward onto the mare’s neck and banged his nose. His sweat-slick hands grabbed at her mane as they raced flat out down the track. He clenched the coarse hair tightly and hung on. His heart was thumping as if it would burst out of his chest. He had no way of slowing this stupid horse down. The rope was dangling loose, out of his reach, slapping against her legs and maddening her further. All he could do was stay low, hold on and pray it didn’t tangle around something and bring the mare crashing down, killing them both.
At least the bolting mare wasn’t trying to leave the track, but if she didn’t stop soon, they’d be out of the forest and onto the road. He held on with hands and legs, bracing himself as well as he could for whatever might happen next. Once out in the open, the horse might swerve suddenly to the right or left, or she might stop dead. There was no way to know. All he could do was hold on. He could see the road now, straight ahead. His fate would be decided in a few seconds.
Miraculously, his mount began to slow down. Suddenly there were no more trees and they were out on the broad road in the full moonlight. The mare trotted to a stop. She dropped her head, puffing and blowing. Kelan was panting, too. He forced his fingers open. Still lying prone, he reached down with a trembling hand for the dangling rope.
“Get down.” The voice was low and thick with anger.
Kelan whipped his head around to see Niall Crawley striding towards him, sword in hand.

So Kelan is in trouble, and it’s not the first or last time, either.

Mini Experiment: Early Morning Writing

I am a morning person. I always have been. This doesn’t mean that I leap out of bed with a cry of gladness at the sound of the alarm. Far from it.  But once I’m up, I’m up. And I am more productive in the morning, no doubt about it. My brain works faster and I’m more motivated to get things done. And yet, despite knowing all of this, I have never tried writing when I first get up. Never. Until this week.

It started like this: I noticed the hashtag #5amWritersClub appearing now and again on my Twitter feed. My first reaction was a natural one: “5 am? They have to be kidding.” But it began to intrigue me. Perhaps I could give this a try.

The advantages were obvious:

  1. I would be the only one awake in the house, meaning it would be quiet. And quiet is my favourite soundtrack when I’m writing.
  2. It would be dark outside. No distractions outside the window.
  3. No other chores would be calling to me. Nice.
  4. I could be finished by 7 am and still have the whole day in front of me. Even better.

Unfortunately, the possible disadvantages were just as obvious:

  1. It’s winter here in Australia. 5 am is a cold, dark, unfriendly sort of time. I’m not sure we’d get on with each other.
  2. I’d have to go to bed by 9pm at the latest in order to get enough sleep. I don’t know if I could discipline myself to do that. Even if I did, it would probably take me hours to fall asleep, rendering the whole effort pointless.
  3. Could I write anything good at 5am? Could I even think? Morning person, yes, but still…
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To Aesthetic or not to Aesthetic?

aesthetic a particular theory or conception of beauty or art a particular taste for or approach to what is pleasing to the senses and especially sight

https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/aesthetic

The dictionaries haven’t caught up yet, but I’ve been noticing a different usage of the noun, aesthetic, among the writing community. It refers to a particular object rather than a general theory or conception. Here’s an example:

Here’s another with a different feel:

I think this idea probably arose from Instagram but it seems to be taking off on Twitter, too, mainly among young writers. It’s a digital form of a mood board, a tool that has been used by designers for decades. Although it doesn’t have to be digital. You could go old school and fix actual pictures to a literal board:

For a writer, I can see that creating this kind of aesthetic and displaying it in your writing space could provide inspiration and keep you immersed in the world of your novel. However, it could also be an enormous time waster as you go down the aesthetic rabbit hole, spending hours finding just the right images, crafting the absolutely perfect design. The one that speaks to you. The one you’re proud to share on social media.

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