Our Mission Statement:

The mission of Pens & Pages Writers Guild is to facilitate and encourage writers of all genres, to share resources and tips about the writing process and, most of all, to provide a positive and productive forum that will encourage and support each writer in his or her creative endeavors.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Is it stopping you?

Some of you may know that I attended university, majoring in Speech with a minor in Theatre, and was one class -- three credit hours -- shy of graduating. That was seventeen years ago! My catalogue has long since changed and in order to get my sheepskin at this point, I'd have to make up about a year and a half's worth of classes, at this point... Which is a topic for another blog -- namely not this one ;-) but serves to introduce the topic I'd like to blather on about in this post.

Most of the teachers and professors in Ole Miss's Theatre department had all, to some varying degree, been professionals in the field either before, during and/or after their tenure at the U of M and most of them recited a mantra on a regular basis that stuck with me, in me and went through me during my time as a ...ahem... scholar there. This mantra shaped everything about professional theatre that I still, lo these many years, believe to my core... This mantra was the very reason I suffered depression, battled hopelessness and ultimately why I, to this day, do not pursue a career in professional theatre.

That mantra was this: If there is anything -- ANYthing -- you can do and be happy in this great big world other than theatre? Do it. Leave the acting to those who simply cannot do anything else.

I knew there was a love, a passion lurking in the backstage (see what I did there? hee) of my heart... a desire much deeper and longer standing than any other that came before and, save for my husband and two children, still trumps anything else in scope or magnitude in my view.

That thing? Writing. (of course, you knew I was going to say that!)

At the FiW this year, I was reminded of that oft-repeated mantra of my former theatre professors and teachers because -- and don't ask me who, because I can't remember -- someone said it. They said, "If you can do anything other than write, do it, because you probably aren't going to make a living at it."

Now, in university, my reaction to this identical statement was, as I said, depression, hopelessness, and the sure knowlege that I'd never be a professional actor.

My reaction when I heard that mantra repeated at the writer's conference? "Pfft. I write because I HAVE to...doesn't matter if I ever make any money at it."

I hated that mantra in school -- it stripped me of my future (oh, so the drama!) and I bristled at hearing it repeated at the FiW...until I realized, Heh. It had no power over me anymore.

So...I'm not going to repeat that mantra to you today. Instead, I'm going to ask this question... When you read "If you can do ANYthing other than write and be happy, do it."

Is it stopping you?

Friday, August 21, 2009

Driven To Distraction By Deadlines

Oh Gosh! Is it my turn to write the blog? Did I miss the deadline? We were just talking about meeting deadlines (or not) earlier this week as we gathered around the kitchen table at GrandMary's place for our evening meeting of Pens & Pages.

That very descriptive word "deadline" was born in the POW camps of the Civil War. Just a few feet inside the outer fence surrounding the camp, a line was drawn. When a prisoner stepped a foot or even just a toe across that line, the guards patrolling the outer fence assumed this prisoner was making a break for it and he was immediately shot dead, no questions asked. Thus the dreaded DEADLINE.

I don't know at what point the term morphed into being the final moment in time when something must be completed. As writers, we are now most familiar with it being the time after which a written document can no longer be accepted for publication. In the old newspaper days of melted lead type and linotype operators, it was when the backshop foreman in his ink blackened apron would stick his head through the door to the font office and yell, "Sorry Kiddo! I had to kill that story you turned in late. Not enough room anyway." So the story you had worked so hard to finish was just as dead as the fellow trying to escape from the POW camp.

At Monday's P & P meeting we pondered why our best writing is most often produced when we're working against a deadline, hurrying to finish up in time to turn it in. We had weeks to prepare but dawdled away the time, while the germ of an idea sort of tippy-toed around in the nether regions of our brains. Then with a final burst of creative energy, a lot of stress, a lot of self-reproach, a lot of coffee or something stronger --- Voila! The masterpiece!

Why do we put ourselves through this? Does anyone know a good psychologist who would attend our P & P meetings and offer free therapy for one and all?

Monday, August 17, 2009

Writing When You Can't Write

Her chest was tight and her breathing difficult. Breathe. Relax. Go back to sleep.... She coaxed herself to be calm. It was no good. Anne hugged her stomach. She felt like throwing up. The clock said 3 a.m.. She needed rest, but the exhaustion that first allowed her to sleep was gone. She wouldn't rest anymore... not until fear wore her out enough for fatigue to again release her.
What is Anne afraid of, cancer, a new job, foreclosure, a stalker? I don't know about Anne, but sending my son off to college this week terrifies me! So I get up and read a book until I can't resist sleep any longer, and the next morning I capture all my feelings in a journal entry for later use.

Times of change bring stress. Life careens out of control--much like entering a curve too fast. All you can do is deal with the moment and hold on. Such times often devastate our writing intentions, but they can be a foundation for better writing in the future. The key is to focus on the type of writing that can best be done in the situation, rather than to give up writing all together.

For me, the busyness and stress of sending a son off to college drove out the time and the motivation to do my mystery rewrite or romance rough draft. I don't have time to remember where I am in a story, let alone focus on it. Will I lose days, or weeks of writing, until the crisis is past? When life interrupts my writing goals, journaling keeps me from being unproductive. By journaling in times of crisis, I capture the tension of those times. I step into my writing mindset and examine my feelings. What better time to grapple with describing what it is like to be uncertain, terrified, or harried than when we are feeling that way ourselves?

Life's interruptions can be a writer's road block, or they can be our on-the-job training. Learning to communicate the intensity of difficult moments will bring our writing to life. So step back, observe, write, and maybe, just maybe, you will manage to preserve your sanity in the process. Sane or insane, you will have made the most of the moment as a writer.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

The Short Story

It occurred to me as I was composing my first "serious" short story that perhaps I should see what I could find out about writing a good short story. How does it differ from a full length novel?
"Well, duh", you say, "It's shorter".
"Yes", I respond.

But are there differences, and is there some "secret ingredient" to being a successful short story writer?
Anyway, I googled "writing a short story" and found many useful sites. I even learned a new word--you serious, seasoned writers will laugh, but I had never heard of "denouement". I figured it meant something about resolution to the plot by the way it was used. And sure enough, it's a French word meaning a final revelation or occurrence clarifying the outcome of the plot.

No, I didn't find that there is a "secret ingredient", but I did learn that one should have a "narrow subject line" with a clearly understood point (theme) with not more than three characters. Also, one should make every word count while making "rich" believable characters.

And I loved what one site stated: Writers should "Put a man up a tree. Throw stones at him. Get him down."

Other advice I loved about writing in general. When writing a rough draft, don't continually censor. It's easy to mentally project "our mothers or other relatives looking over our shoulders."

So just write--ok?


Saturday, August 1, 2009

A Day Late and a Dollar Short...

The statement that stands out to me from the PPW conference was said in a session lead by DaWanna Pace. She said, "How do you know when to quit?" After she asked the question she paused and said, "Only YOU can decide when to quit (trying to be published.)" She told us that Madeleine L'Engle finally sold her first book to the 29th editor that she approached and said, "What if she'd quit at the 28th?" She said if we wanted to be writers then nothing should make us want to quit...we should keep doing it.

I liked the positive outlook of her statements, and the fact that here was this very successful writer encouraging other aspiring writers to keep up the good fight. I tend to not care for published authors who abjure aspirants to "do anything other than write, if you can." It seems to me they're just trying to clear out the competition. I much prefer my icons be those who reach the summit...

And then throw down a rope.

I got an email from the founder of the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) reminding all former participants of the impending count down to NaNoWriMo '09 in 96 days. Goodness! That's only three months away! (This year has gone by sooo fast.

I'm not into high pressure sales or anything...but I will again encourage all my PnP buddies to at least think about participating in the NaNo '09. I'd like to testify, that even when I didn't "win" the NaNo '07, my participation in it yielded me a third of a novel (which garnered me an honorable mention in the PPW FiW contest) and showed me that I could structure a story and invent characters and have something real on which to work. The lessons I learned and the encouragement I received participating gave me the courage to try again in '08, and I DID "win" that year!

I've already got two characters and a rough storyline sketched out for this years NaNo -- I'm highly motivated after my "success" of last year -- so y'all will have to bust a move to catch up with me ;-). But I see no reason why anyone in our group can't try their hand at NaNo. And really...isn't it just practice?
Well, that's my mixed-bag blog post. email me if you want the link to the NaNoWriMo homepage...but whatever you do? Get your pen to the paper, pals.