Monday, May 13, 2013

Using every tool

The Craftsman is a bit of a perfectionist. You know the kind - he measures the wall from every conceivable angle before he hangs a picture. Me? I hold it up, decide whether or not it 'looks good', then drive home the nail. That's just one of many reasons why he makes beautiful furniture and I stick to words that can be changed, altered, or revised. 

That's not to say everything made by The Craftsman has come effortlessly. Quite the contrary. Once or twice I've seen him improvise and deviate from his original concept.

I try to remember this whenever I find myself at odds with a character or plot that isn't working the way I had envisioned. Believe me, I know how hard it can be to face that blank computer screen and pound those keys until you have something that flows and falls in line with what you had planned. All while keeping in mind that you also need to be flexible enough to be open to possibilities.

In other words, it takes work, YOUR work, to find the right path, to add a new plot twist, depth to the characters or emotion to the conflict. That's where the work really begins. It's actually quite easy to come up with an idea, a set of characters, conflict. The hard part is sustaining it through all the trials and tribulations that keep the reader turning pages.  

If you're as lucky as I am you have a terrific critique partner that will help you through these rough spots where you question your direction. If you're as lucky as I am, that critique partner will be honest and tell you what you need to do to improve the story.

I recently experienced this when I sent my last chapter to my critique partner. She was as supportive as always but she also didn't hesitate to tell me she thought a different approach to the last scene would be more powerful.

It would be easy to ignore her, after all these were MY characters, MY story idea. But I took a lesson from The Craftsman and looked at the project from another angle, measured all the components using different tools. And have a much more beautiful project as a result.

A writer uses every tool at her disposal.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Learning by doing

Last night I tugged the final stitch on the latest quilt. It was a good feeling, I have to admit, as life often got in the way of being as productive on the quilt as I would have liked.

I should probably qualify my part in this quilt by pointing out that I'm what I've been told is a 'topper'. What that means is I don't actually cut and piece together the squares, rectangles, triangles, strips, etc that come together to make the quilt. My good friend does that and she amazes me with her color choices, exacting assembly and devoted study to the art of quilting. What I do is the decorative stitching that not only adds to the design but also serves the purpose of binding the quilt together.

I'm completely self-taught. Mistakes have been made but also, hopefully, lessons have been learned.
It feels as if just about everything I'm learned in my life has been by the seat of my pants. By doing rather than studying.

When I decided to try my hand at quilting, did I study and learn the way my friend had? No. I simply took needle and thread to material. It appears I've learned as I've received a couple of ribbons for my stitching.

I've taken much the same approach to writing. Granted over the years I've taken classes, attended workshops, read instructional books. But for the most part, I've plunked my rear-end in the chair and wrote. Oh, the mistakes I've made! But I have also learned along the way. Well enough that I've won a few prestigious writing awards.

People have told me that I'm an 'instinctive' writer and I'm flattered by the compliment. Trust me there are many days when I wish I was one of those writers who compile detailed plots and character sketches. But it just doesn't come natural to me. So if I've learned nothing else, it's that writing by the seat of my pants is my process. 

What's your process?