…..something I’d always done up until about seven years ago, when I switched entirely to writing my novels and scripts directly onto a Word or Final Draft document. This was in large part due to a trauma that affected me in such a way that writing in long-hand felt too intimately connected to my brain. It would take three novels and a stage script before I found my way back to using pen on lined paper again.
I think it would be fair to say that the project that drew me back to writing in long-hand was, perhaps, a little ironic. The setting of the story is in the 1920s, decades before computers would replace the typewriter, a time when pencil or pen was also a more commonly used method to write down ideas, create poetry, stories and develop essays. This particular story is about passion, sensuality and love between two people, a particularly intimate story that has presented many challenges.
And that’s how writing long-hand is to me – an act of pure intimacy between the mind and the page. I love watching as the ink swirls across the page, forming words or shapes or quick sketches of horses. It’s almost never planned, those words or images – I often allow myself to go into a kind of trance and allow my subconscious to go where it wills. There’s something hypnotic about the way my pen feels in my hand, pressed against paper, as I try to keep up with the story playing out in my imagination.
…….and you’re stuck in place, unsure of which direction to go in. It’s a frustrating and often suffocating feeling, not knowing what to do next. Your creative project sits on your desk, silent and accusing, waiting for you to come back to it.
This is a familiar situation for me, and one that every creative experiences. You’re not alone in this – always remember that.
When I’m stuck on a project, I like to travel. Well, okay, thinking about traveling. There are places I want to visit and just sit and be, soaking in the scenery, the sounds, the colors and feelings it brings up. While I can’t travel to some places (yet), there are locations that are closer and more feasible to get to and enjoy.
However, sometimes I don’t even need that to jump-start my inspiration and creativity.
Here’s a creative challenge for you:
Pick a city anywhere in the world. It can be in Romania and have as its neighbor the castle of one of the most ruthless leaders of all time (Vlad Tsepes, aka the Impaler). Or it can be an ancient temple in Greece, overlooking a beautiful beach and deep blue oceans. Or…..
Well, you get the idea.
Pick a city that pulls you into it, that inspires you to use all five of your senses, quickens those creative juices that pulse through you, makes you smile. Even if you’ve never been there, you can utilize your own experiences to fill in the blanks.
For example – Secrets & Howls is set in a coastal village three hours north of San Francisco. For various reasons, the closest I’ve ever been able to get is Morro Bay. No two coastal villages are the same, as each town has its own unique personality. However, the important elements are the same – the sounds of seagulls, seals, the ocean and harbor. From this, I was able to build my own fictional coastal village, complete with lighthouse and jutting cliffs.
Utilizing all five of your senses and the creative medium you’re most comfortable with, pick a city and interpret it as best you can. What comes up may serve your current project or inspire a new one altogether or both. You never can tell.
……while working on my first round of notes from my editor, I had the conscious thought that Novel Now Finished would be a life changer. At the time, I thought it would center around picking up a book contract from a publisher (and it may well do).
However, as I’m working on incorporating changes based on my editor’s note, I’ve been slowly coming around to the idea that there is a deeper meaning to my original thought.
One of my editor’s most constant notes to me is about giving my Narrator more agency in her own story. To have her make smarter choices and decisions, to have a more active role in the events that surround her. To not rely on someone else to get her out of a situation or give up her identity in the process. In essence, I was being asked to give her the opportunity to own her life and see what happens.
Whether it’s moving home (Secrets & Howls), dealing with trauma (The Pike Horse) or even being open to true love (Much Ado Over Murder), I’ve noticed that I’m often working on stories that reflect what has happened or is currently occurring in my own life. I often won’t recognize these elements until much later, but I’m not surprised that Novel Now Finished is following this trend.
I’ve described Novel Now Finished as being about a woman who comes out of the shadows and not only reclaims her power, but embraces it.
Guess what’s going on in my own life, right this minute?
……where I can jot down every idea and thought related to it. That journal goes with me as I go about my day – you never know when that illuminating idea will strike. And I enjoy this process because it allows me to keep everything in one place and readily accessible. I’ve got at least three journals for Novel Now Finished and I expect that it will be the same for the sequel. Most of my novels (in progress or finished) have more than one journal to document my journey, from inception to completion.
Writers a funny breed – we observe, we document, we report on our findings, whether it’s fiction or non-fiction. I even keep a story idea box, which has become the repository of random items I find in my daily travels. And I keep everything – from scraps of old news clippings to a broken pair of glasses, that box is chock full of potential stories.
The more I write and read, the more I’ve learned to discern the voices of other writers. What does that mean? Well, if I listen to particular composer’s music often enough, I can find his (or her) musical signature in other compositions. Same with a particular writer – their ‘voice’ and writing patterns become familiar and within a few seconds of reading, I’ll know who penned that particular piece of writing.
This is all a part of my education as a writer – the more I read, the more I enrich my writing. And the more I journal the process, the better chance I have of either skipping a step that didn’t work previously or taking it in a new direction.
…..and have knocked out more than thirteen chapters (and leaving approximately thirty more to go). Things are changing, words are being cut (sometimes whole paragraphs) and so far, I’ve removed more than 5000 words (which is about 22 or 23 pages). I don’t delete these random sentences or passages – I keep them. I put them on a separate Word document, in case there’s a gem of an idea for a scene, either in this story or the next one.
You just never know.
Sometimes the notes from my editor are simple enough for me to make the necessary changes without a lot of thought. I dive in, make changes that not only clean up the scenes, but bring in a richer feel, as well. Other times, it’s like pulling teeth and I’m staring at the computer screen, with my eyes glazing over.
You know. Like this:
One of the things I’m hoping to incorporate into the Narrator are the aspects of someone who is on the autism spectrum, specifically, Asperger’s Syndrome. This was a personal decision, one I had posed to my editor. I’m an Aspie, myself, and I’ve never been shy about explaining this to the people around me.  As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, being frank about it helps me to navigate the world.
As for my story, I’d been considering writing about an Aspie character and in many ways, the Narrator in Novel Now Finished fits the bill perfectly.
Am I comfortable cannibalizing elements of my life for a story? Of course I am. There are things from my life that I’ve put into my stories that demanded to be there. The more I resisted adding personal bits, the more they wound themselves into it. So, in they went.
And as I go through Novel Now Finished, I’ll be looking for places to accentuate her Asperger’s characteristics, whether it’s her speech or her focused attention on a particular goal. I’m also going to look at my own particular habits and peculiarities, in order to flesh the Narrator out a little more, ground her in reality.
It should be interesting.
Writing usually is.
 I make sure to identify my Aspie-ness in a moment that seems ideal, usually, when the conversation has gone from superficial politeness to an actual conversation, where the other person and I are getting to know each other a little better. Most of the time, this engenders an acceptance from the other person. Most of the time.
…..and here’s how it manifests in me – it’s like navigating the world with a paint pallet, but with half the colors. This means I will miss some social cues and over-analyze every word and encounter until my head hurts. The knowledge that I’m (unofficially) an Asperger’s has been enlightening – finally, as I look back on my life, things started to make sense. My unofficial diagnosis occurred in 2009, when three separate counselors in two different cities within a six-week period asked me if I was Asperger’s. Never having heard of it before, the answer was naturally “No”. Being officially diagnosed is on my List of Things to Do, and it wasn’t until recently that I’ve been able to find sources that would help (one is in Los Angeles).
How did I survive all this time?
Well, as it turns out, theater probably saved me in a way nothing else could have. I got involved with theater at the age of three and eventually joined and several local theater troupes, as well as acting classes in college. This gave me a safe way to explore relationships within context and having a script is really helpful.  Theater is about trust and collaboration – if you didn’t trust your fellow thespians and techies, then there was a problem. In this scenario, I had to learn who I could trust so I could work with them. 
Outside of theater, I tended to be on my own. I liked being with my friends and doing stuff with them, but it also takes a LOT of energy to just be ‘normal’ enough to interact with people and social situations. I’m also an empath, so I can feel what everyone else is feeling at any given time. For example, while I might not be able to pick up on physical behaviors when someone is lying to me, I can definitely feel it when it happens.
What does it feel like to be lied to? That’s a really good question and I’m sure it’s different for everyone. For me, it’s like being sucker-punched so hard, that I’m knocked out of the situation for a few seconds. When that feeling passes, I’m no longer able to view things as they had been. Everything feels fragile – too bright, too dark, too uncertain. Unreal. I’m unable to know for certain that what I’d been experiencing before the lie was true or if it was also a lie. So I will go quiet and shrink back into myself and observe.
And I do that a lot – observing. I watch how people behave with each other and if an action is confusing to me, I’ll find a way to ask about it. This is helpful both as an actor and as a writer, which is another thing that helps me survive, analyze and negotiate this world. As it turns out, I seem to have a pretty good grasp on seeing what’s going on around me. Interpretation is no longer out of the question. Case in point – about two years ago, I watched two people meet for the first time. There was nothing unusual about their meeting, nothing I could point my finger at with any conviction and say, “This was the catalyst.” But something pinged in my mind as I watched them and I remember thinking, This will develop into something, they will be a couple before the month is out. Lo, and behold, they were and still are.
More than one person has expressed to me that perhaps therapy would be the best way to learn social cues, to which I say, “Bullshit.” What could a therapist teach me that real life social interactions couldn’t? You don’t learn how to ride a horse in the classroom – you go out to the barn, hire an instructor and get in the fucking saddle. Same thing with driving a car – sure, there are some classroom stuff that you need to learn, but for practical experience, the only way to learn how to drive a car is to get in the driver’s seat.
Same thing with learning about people and social interactions, which is where theater has been an enormous help. At some point, you have to go out into the real world and deal with real life situations. You find and surround yourself with people you like and feel comfortable with, so that you have a safe way to experience things in a group.
And then you just go and do. Observe people and their actions and behaviors. Ask questions if you find something puzzling. Be honest about who you are and how you process information, if you think it will help create understanding. For me, I’ve found that, in most cases, being honest about my Asperger’s does help to alleviate any potential awkwardness. I don’t even have to go into a lot of detail.
But don’t ever let someone make their discomfort your responsibility. It’s an unfair position to be put in and one from which you might not be able to defend yourself. In those situations, the best way to handle it is to walk away and let them hold the bag for their own poor judgment and behavior.
You owe them nothing.
 I’ve tried improv and I cannot do it to save my life, nor do I enjoy it. Improv is too off-the-cuff and on-your-feet thinking for me. Having a script gives me a sense of structure, which enables me to then build and expand.
 Trust is essential in any aspect of life. However, I’ve also learned who I couldn’t trust. And that’s a separate post.
The Autistic Brain – Temple Grandin
The Complete Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome – Tony Attwood
…….adding snippets of information back into the story and taking a section that’s summarized and make it into a full-fledged scene. The snippets are back in, after a couple of tense hours of wrestling with phrasing and word placement. That was easy compared to what I now have to do with the summarized bit that needs to be a full on scene.
First, I had to print out the pages that contain all that summarizing. Why? Because it’s long enough that it actually requires its own scene. Therefore, it’s too long to remember it without hard copy to reference. Having a hard copy makes it easier to transform the summary into an active scene. I will most likely be writing this out in long-hand, in a hand dandy notebook that I keep in my backpack. I don’t like carrying my laptop around for something that I’ll most likely be spending more time thinking about than writing about.
It gets complicated.
How does it get complicated, you ask? It’s just a summarized form of the action, it should be easy to flesh out. You’ve got a pen, a notebook, the printed copy of the necessary pages. There are ideas swirling and creative juice going.
How is that complicated?
I’m glad you asked.
I still need to figure out who’s Point of View this is being told from. Is it the retired captain? The vagabond? The lovesick girl? The vampire in the basement? Professor Plum in the library with the knife?
……and it’s starting to take shape. I have a few potential clients and am creating a website designed for this purpose. My portfolio is beginning to look respectable and I’m excited to see where this will take me. Yes, it means taking time away from my own writing to help others shape theirs. However, by tackling issues in someone else’s work, it will help clarify similar ones that I’m having with my own work.
Most of my work will be focused on managing website content for local businesses. Keeping the information short, to the point and exciting helps direct traffic to their site and then to their business, which encourages cash flow. Marketing pamphlets and press releases will also fall under the umbrella of my business.
Will I be tackling manuscripts? Yes, and I’ve already got a couple of potential clients. My own experiences with my editor taught me a lot on what to look for and what to ask. My goal is to help the writer shape their work into the best possible story it can be. Beyond that, is up to the writer. Just like it’s up to me to push my work into published form.
As mentioned earlier, I’m excited to see where this business will take me. It involves words, I love words and it’s something I’m very good at.