Writers and Practicing

  • August 31, 2015
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Everyone knows that musicians and dancers devote years to practicing their art before performing professionally. And professionals continue to practice and grow in their art even after they’ve “made it.”

Why are writers considered different? Is it because we all learn to read and write in school and everyone can do it? Do we devalue the art of writing as a result?

Whether people do or not, it does not absolve us from the work. Practice, practice, practice! Because Ms. L’Engle is correct. If we don’t practice, we’ll be lousy writers.

Each time I put pen to paper (or fingers on keyboard), there’s a certain amount of practice involved. Not every story idea works. Sometimes a character doesn’t fit. Rather than force it, I’ll stop and try it again. Or make something different out of it. Or admit that despite my best efforts, it’s not working and I should start over.

I’ll be honest. It’s not possible for me to write every day. But if I go too long without trying, when I do start again, my efforts are stale. Repetitive. Unimaginative.

That’s when it’s important to continue. To put in the time. And it gets better, the warm-up that leads to a smooth passage or transition that makes a story work. But without the practice (which is often garbage writing that deserves to be trashed), the good stuff wouldn’t be there.

Practice! It’s the mark of a professional.

 

 

A New Horror Novel to Read

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One of my favorite classic novels is Dracula. It’s (obviously) from another time period, where the buildup is slow and measured. The long road of events lets us travel along and immerse ourselves in a time and place of grays and blacks.

And yet, if you ask me, I’ll tell you that I don’t read horror. What I mean is that I’m not into blood and gore and axe-hacking. No, if I’m going to read horror, it’s going to be the Dracula kind, the rich tapestry kind that weaves into normalcy and turns it inside out. Just don’t ask me to read it at night.

When Carrie Vaccaro Nelkin began reading Snare to our writers’ group, the Penheads, uncomfortable chills prickled my skin. I didn’t want to be there on that deliberate, insidious ride that frankly creeped me the hell out.

And when we got to one scene—well, I looked at her in disbelief. She wrote that? If she hadn’t been a friend and I hadn’t known it was fiction, I would have clobbered her one.

It is what it is. A twisted road on streets I know very well in my city. A road that travels along evil lines and asks us to follow along. Or drags us into the Pit. You’ll have to decide.

You can find it at: http://permutedpress.com/books/snare

 

 

 

Writing and Cameras

When I began writing a blog, I understood the benefit of using photographs. The fear of using someone’s work without permission drove me to find stock photos that allow free use as long as I attribute the work to the photographer, which I’m happy to do.

But there are times I want to create something of my own. As a result, some of the photos at my website are mine, taken while hiking or on vacation. I’ve even discovered that my photos inspire me to write. (Always a plus!)

I’m still a newbie, though. I use my Pentax digital SLR with its most basic settings and bemoan my inability to take night shots or indoor pictures without flash.

 

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I don’t have Photoshop, although I do have Gimp sitting unused on my computer. The one time I tried to use it I had turned a photograph into a frightening mess of yellows and browns.

Two drawbacks to a DSLR camera are its bulk and weight. It’s not something I can just slip into a pocket. It’s always a conscious effort to pack it, and the longer the day goes, the heavier it feels.

Point-and shoot-cameras have evolved to being light and compact, and most even offer zoom capacity. I also eyed the latest version of Apple’s iTouch. My old one held music comfortably but didn’t include a camera, and I knew Apple’s iPhone took good photos.

But I wanted something that didn’t multitask. Right or wrong, I feel that multitaskers end up sacrificing functions that standalones would have. So my decision was to go with a point-and-shoot camera. That would be easy to buy, right?

 

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Okay, okay. How was I to know how much the market had changed since the old Instamatics? My DSLR was the only camera I paid attention to. Thanks to a good friend (thanks, Jeff!), I was brought up to (basic) speed and made a list of what I needed.

  1. A budget of $200 (but preferably less).
  2. Good picture quality, including night photos.
  3. Zoom capacity.
  4. Wifi and video were not important.

I finally decided on the Samsung WB35F Smart Digital Camera ($109 at bandh.com). Here, I used a penny for scale:

 

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Of course, there are added costs. A mini SD card and spare battery added to the total but still kept everything significantly lower than my top price.

I’ve barely tested it out but so far have been pleased. And now the camera will go with me everywhere unless I feel the DSLR would work better.

Duck everybody, I’m armed!

 

Note: The photos of each camera were taken in Auto setting and cropped. Like I said, still a newbie. 🙂

* Image courtesy of Photokanok at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

Writing All Over Again

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Do not go where the path may lead, go instead

where there is no path and leave a trail.    

–Ralph Waldo Emerson

 

There’s no one road to writing a story. No matter how many books an author writes, each time is still the first time. The only time. The beginning of a new journey.

That’s what’s so scary about this profession. Each time a book (or short story or poem or any other form) is finished, ultimately it comes down to this:

 

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A blank page is once again staring me in the face.

And I’m supposed to fill it.

It doesn’t matter that I wrote 300-plus pages of a novel that’s waiting in the wings to launch. That was the past. This is now.

There are plenty of ways to avoid it. More research perhaps, or chores to do. Days and weeks of not thinking about it. That blank page hovers, but with enough effort it can be relegated to the very back of my mind. Because what if when I sit down to try my hand at it again, nothing happens? What if that page remains blank?

It’s possible. But if I don’t try, it will be inevitable. Right now there’s a wisp of a story idea floating around and if I want it to become solid, there’s only one way to make it happen. I need to start again.

So I’m going to stare that page down and fill it. And then the next page and the page after that. It’s scary and exhilarating. It’s writing. It’s work and joy and terror. Is there anything better?

 

 

* Image courtesy of nuttakit at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

 

What Do Your Books Say About You?

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I once had a bunch of writer friends come for lunch and the first thing they did was swarm all over the bookcase in my living room. It was 6 feet tall, 3 1/2 feet wide and stuffed with books.

As they roamed the shelves, pulling out books and pointing to titles, I was completely unprepared to feel as naked as I did. I’d no idea how much my books showed who I was.

These days my bookcases are all in one space (not the living room), and I looked them over before sitting down to write this, wondering what they said about me now.

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Some definitely speak of the past—the time I spent trying to write a thriller, for example. I kept the books on weapons and poisons and autopsy tales because I still enjoy dipping into them from time to time. (I remember being amused as I read one of those books while sitting on the train at rush hour. The train was packed with people but no one stood in front of me.)

Some are a mix of past and present. I love to reread books so there are many treasured favorites even while I’m always on the hunt for new ones. I have shelves stuffed with westerns, mysteries, scifi/fantasy, cookbooks, craft books, and a host of others. Each book, each category, adds another facet that reveals who I am.

And I wonder if, aesthetics aside, that’s another reason why my books are tucked away in a space people rarely get to see. Is it the reason house design magazines rarely, if ever, display books? Are they afraid they might inadvertently bare something personal about themselves or the home they’re showcasing?

I used to look at home decorating magazines and feel frustration. Where were the books? Where did they fit inside that beautiful décor? Aren’t books beautiful? Don’t they inspire interest and communication?

Maybe it’s time to show them off. A little at a time, just as we show different faces of ourselves to the world in different situations. Maybe I should leave a book or two in the living room—not just the coffee table book, but my battered paperback copies.

What do your books say about you?

 

 

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