Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Killing Time Productively

"Killing time" is an awful waste, especially for those of us who are passionate about our art, in my case, writing. The last thing I want to do is waste time. Time is a precious commodity (Is it a commodity? It certainly can't be bought and sold. It can't be saved up or stored for the future; oh, my, if we could do that.... I suppose Einstein might have something to say about that, but he's not here. At least, I can't stretch or contract time. It is a constant; it's always in the background, and sometimes in the foreground, of my life).

How to best use time? Yet, I can't work every second of every day. I must give myself to other activities at least some of the time--actually, most of the time. Overall, I give very little time to actually writing. And the past couple of years, it's been a struggle to get any writing done. Sometimes, it's a battle within myself as well as a battle with the "elements of life."

Yesterday I was at my opthamologist's office and had to kill some time. I didn't know how long I'd be waiting for my appointment, but it seemed to be taking awhile. I wished I had brought my notebook, or a novel, or some of my manuscript with me to work on while I waited, but I hadn't. I did have a pen with me, but no paper. I wanted to do something. Then I saw a painting on the wall, one of a European town I think. I got the bright idea of describing the picture I saw in words. I picked up a medical leaflet like you find in doctors' offices and wrote on it.

So here is what I came up with:

I walked down the brown cobbled street that glistened after the 3 p.m. rain shower. The awnings along the storefronts cast downward shadows that cut the glare. The tall narrow buildings overlooked the river with shining windows decorated with brown and yellow curtains. The alleyways between the buildings were blocked by whitewashed brick walls with locked wooden doors. I wondered what kinds of people lived behind those closed doors, occupied the narrow buildings. What did they see when they looked out the windows at the street and river below? Did they see what I saw? Did they see the crisp quaintness of their little town, or had that faded from view and now all they saw was a familiar sameness that didn't register--that passed through their minds like wind through a window?

The one thing I learned from this excercise was that I couldn't just describe what I saw. I had to interpret it. I had to give it meaning, or see the meaning within it, but the meaning I saw was what it meant to me.

Was this a useful way to kill time? I think so. I surprised myself by seeing the beauty right before my eyes.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Answering the call from Falling For Fiction

I saw this post from FFF and decided to answer the call. I've sent them the first two chapters of my work in progress. I'm excited and eager to see what these ladies have to say. They might be sorry they asked for it, because I just might send them the entire ms over time. I want them to make me write a bestseller. I know they can do it. Give it your best shot girls.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Genre Fiction: Is this the way to success?

I have to be honest. I've been toying off and on for years with trying to find a genre that I like enough to want to write for it. I started a P.I. type novel that I grew bored with after a few chapters. I've wondered if Westerns would be something I'd like. No. I like Western movies, but not books. The Thriller is big today. The novel of suspense, I think. Some of these are so closely related and overlap that they could fall into more than one genre. But, whatever the genre--vampires, paranormal, sci-fi/dystopian--that's what sells today (that makes the NY Times bestseller list). Sure you have the occasional The Help. But they are really far and few between.

So, I ask myself over and over again: am I missing the boat? The only thing I write that even hints of genre is Historical Fiction. And I don't consider myself a Historical Fiction writer. I just happened to write a contemporary novel back in the 1970s that, by its evolving offshoot stories, moved back in time to WWI, The Great Depression, and WWII. And because it was never published until I self-pubbed one of the offshoots (Only The Lonely) until 2011, my 'contemporary' novel by default became an Historical novel, I guess. I don't think I've seen a true Historical novel on the best-seller list in a very long time. It's almost all genre fiction.

So, again, I ask myself: am I missing the boat? I majored in English in college. I grew to love Shakespeare, Hawthorne, Melville, Hemingway, Joyce, Yeats, Keats, Shelley, Thomas, and so on. I love great writing. I just came to realize one day quite a few years ago that I'm not a great writer. If I were, I'm sure I would have been published a long time ago. So, I'm just an average Joe of a writer. So why can't I find a genre to write in? Why is it so difficult? It's enough to make me want to scream sometimes. I guess I'll just continue on with what I've been doing. My books will never show up on the best seller list, assuming I can get published by one of the big six anyway (and being that I don't write for one of the well-known genres, that's not likely to happen either).

Do I care? Obviously, I do care. I wouldn't be writing this and pouring out my heart and soul like this if I didn't. The problem is how to find happiness in an unhappy world. The happiness comes in doing what you love irregardless of the outcome. If you love a certain genre and write in it, then you have a better chance of reaching the heights. Otherwise, you just have to be happy being yourself. And that isn't so bad, is it?

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Publishing Demands/Jody Hedlund, D. Garrett

Just a short post. I urge you to go to Jody Hedlund's blog today. Besides being a timely post, the video of David Garrett playing Vivaldi's "Summer" from the Four Seasons is phenomenal.
David Garrett playing "Summer" from The Four Seasons

Friday, June 8, 2012

How To Increase Your Intelligence At Any Age (1)

Would you like to grow smarter? Would you like to know more, remember it longer, and access it quicker? I know I would.

I do not think of old age as a time to shrivel up and die. It's the golden opportunity many of us feel we missed out on in our lives. You do not need to have a million dollars in the bank, although I don't think it would hurt. You can get everything you need at your local library. The books and resources there are amazing, and they're there for free.

But, here's the deal. You have to work. There's no magic pill or food or hocus pocus. Just plain old work. Is it fun? I don't think you classify this as fun. Is it painful? Well, how do you define pain? Is it satisfying? How do you define satisfaction? I don't think of learning as fun, but I do find it satisfying. There's something inherently satisfying in expanding our consciousness and our knowledge. There seem to be no limits to our mental capacity. The neuroplasticity of our brains seems to be practically unlimited. I think our minds are actually hungry for knowledge. The more we feed it, the happier it  becomes.

Some of this is learning (working our brains) for the sake of it. It's work. And yes we can become tired and need to know when to quit. But the work is satisfying; I think our brains get a certain enjoyment out of working. Look at elementary school-age kids at work. You see something that is fascinating. You see happiness and eagerness to do more of it.

But the real questions are: Is it worth it? What's in it for me?

Monday, June 4, 2012

The Power of Sleep

Sleep is a vital component of living; without adequate sleep, we remain tired and grumpy, perhaps even lethargic and/or depressed.

 It appears that adequate sleep can be different for different people, but I'll assume the tried-and-true 8 hours per night is adequate. The key word is "adequate". Being a person who suffers from sleep apnea and uses a cpap machine to get adequate sleep, I have experience with the problem of lack of adequate sleep. Before I was diagnosed with sleep apnea, perhaps 15 years ago, a 12-hour night of sleep left me exhausted and practically unable to function. I fell asleep at work more often than I want to admit. Fortunately, I had understanding co-workers and didn't get fired. I still need about 10 hours of sleep per night to feel alert. So, just to function in a busy and chaotic world, we need adequate sleep.

But adequate sleep has other benefits than just keeping our energy level high. For the creative writer, it may be an important component of our creativity. An article in the April 23, 2012 Time magazine "Shhh! Genius at Work" discusses the importance of sleep to creativity. Several scientific studies support the connection between sleep and creativity (and problem solving). The article mentions that Mary Shelley came up with the idea for her novel Frankenstein from a dream.

I think most writers can attest to the power of sleep for our writing. I see on blogs a lot of talk about sleep. Mostly complaints about not getting enough sleep, even complaints of coming up with ideas in sleep and waking up. But, really, this is a positive effect of sleeping well. Our minds are free from the restraints of our awake consciousness. This freedom of the mind to try out different solutions to problems while we're sleeping allows for more options: greater creativity. Many, many times I've awoken in the middle of the night with the solution to a problem in a story I was working on, mainly problems of plot. I've always valued ideas generated when I was asleep. I've written dialogue, even entire scenes in my mind while asleep, woke up, and wrote it all down at 2 a.m.

This tremendous benefit of sleeping may actually become a liability for many writers. And I think this is the primary problem for many of us. This waking up in the middle of the night causes us to be tired during the day when we have to work at our full time jobs. It helps make our workday unhappy, and this causes dilemmas for us. It probably kills more writing careers than anything. We just can't do both, write well and consistently when we're tired. Time management also becomes a big issue. But that's another topic. (This also goes for stay-at-home moms, who are also writers, with young children to care for.) The obstacles to writing are so great for both that many just give up.

But the full time writer, especially without children to care for, who can sleep as late as she wants, can reap tremendous rewards from waking up in the middle of the night to write down her inspirations. It's just too bad the vast majority of us can't live without a full time job. Most of us don't want to live in poverty, especially if we have families. Plus, in the USA, our jobs are our source for health insurance: no job, no insurance (not good). Unfortunately, we opt for our jobs, security, and suffer the unhappy consequences of hating our jobs.