Why We Dodge Writing Those Difficult Scenes

I might have posted this pic before, but I recently put my screensaver on slide show and I saw this one from a couple of years ago go by. Kind of fun to see your own photograph and think it’s cool. It’s appropriate, too, because we had a rainy weekend. Very unusual for us, especially given the severe drought in the desert Southwest, but we’ve been socked in since Friday, with rain coming and going. The woman at the gym (not the Crazy Gym Lady – she is thankfully long gone) said it’s to be sunny tomorrow and how she’s looking forward to it. About three people jumped on her saying “We need the rain!”

Like we don’t have an average of 325 days of sunshine a year. She can’t give up a few to have some much-needed rain?

~Deep Cleansing Breaths~

I might have been a little sulky this weekend, because I received my developmental edits for Platinum. I know – that was fast! And they really aren’t bad at all, except Editor Deb asked me to write two scenes that I “dodged.”

She did this to me on Rogue’s Pawn, too – pushing me to write this one scene I just SO didn’t want to write. She said

On Platinum, though, I really thought I’d made a considered decision not to write those scenes. I’d kind of had them in my head all along, but when I got to that point in the story, they just didn’t seem to FIT. I mentioned this to her in an email and she replied:

Any time you try to dodge writing something, you should ask yourself why, and try to push through it and make yourself write it anyway. Writing through tougher scenes may often reveal something about your characters, helping you dig further to uncover some truth about them or the story. Whereas avoiding them will often leave readers feeling a bit cheated. They might not be able to put their finger on exactly why or what, but they may sense that a good story could have been great.

I know this. Right?

And this is part of why I really value having an editor like her, because she does push me to write a great book. Left to my own devices, I’d likely allow myself the dodge.

Because it didn’t feel like dodging at the time. I suspect all avoidance techniques are like this. We kid ourselves that we’re not really procrastinating, we’re Doing Research! Oh, I’m not being lazy about getting my wordcount in today, I’m giving myself a break! I’m not avoiding that friend who was a cow to me, I’m just really busy.

It takes a good, hard look in the mirror to parse some of these out. With emotional stuff, that’s why it’s often good to see a counselor, an objective third party who can point out your behavioral dodges. Sometimes your friends can do it, like your critique partners can. But often it takes a professional to hold your hand to the flame and tell you to do better.

Whether it’s easy or not.

Playing with the New Toys

 

One of the best parts of Christmas as a kid was playing with the new toys.

It didn’t really matter what you got or how much. It was the thrill of a new thing and the free time to play with it. I remember riding my bike around the cul-de-sac one particularly sunny Denver Christmas. Or spending the day setting up my dollhouse. Yesterday, I got to play with my telephoto lens.

It’s super cool. Isabel from quite a ways off, wondering why this thing is pointed at her.

And here’s this mountain range,

with the telephoto.

Isn’t the detail amazing?

I also have this stack of brand new books staring at me here…

One Great Novel

This is actually the same sunset that I posted on the blog November 3, but with a different camera and settings. In case any of you are as geeky as I am and like to compare.

Come on, you like it, you know you do.

I don’t typically read a lot of writing craft books these days. I have my favorites on the shelf and occasionally look up a particularly good quote – usually to share with someone else. Last night, though, I saw in the Kindle store (most invidious marketing tool EVER) that one of my all-time favorite writers, Ann Patchett, had a little book up on writing. I saw it because I was debating whether to buy her new book, State of Wonder. The story doesn’t look all that interesting to me, but who am I kidding? Ann Patchett is one of those writers who writes so beautifully that I don’t care what the story is. But then they want $12.99 for it, which I think is too much for an eBook. So I was wavering and I spotted this: The Getaway Car: A Practical Memoir About Writing and Life.

At last! Ann is going to explain to me How She Does It.

It’s short – only 45 pages – and it looks like she self-pubbed it. Which means she should get most of the money for it. Which I also like.

And it’s lovely.

There’s this great story in there that I just have to share with you all. Long time blog-gobblers will understand why I like it so much.

…my husband had told her I was a novelist. Regrettably, I admitted this was the case. That was when she told me that everyone had at least one great novel in them.

I have learned the hard way not to tell strangers what I do for a living. Frequently, no matter how often I ask him not to, my husband does it for me. Ordinarily, in a circumstance like this one, in the Masonic Lodge in Preston, Mississippi, I would have just agreed with this woman and sidled off (One great novel, yes, of course, absolutely everyone), but I was tired and bored and there was nowhere to sidle to except the field. We happened to be standing next to the name-tag table. On that table was a towering assortment of wildflowers stuck into a clear glass vase. “Does everyone have one great floral arrangement in them?” I asked her.

“No,” she said.

I remember that her gray hair was thick and cropped short and that she looked at me directly, not glancing over at the flowers.

“One algebraic proof?”

She shook her head.

“One Hail Mary pass? One five-minute mile?”

“One great novel,” she said.

“But why a novel?” I asked, having lost for the moment the good sense to let it go. “Why a great one?”

“Because we each have the story of our life to tell,” she said. It was her trump card, her indisputable piece of evidence. She took my silence as confirmation of victory, and so I was able to excuse myself.

I couldn’t stop thinking about this woman, not later that same day, not five years later. Was it possible that, in everybody’s lymph system, a nascent novel is knocking around? A few errant cells that, if given the proper encouragement, cigarettes and gin, the requisite number of bad affairs, could turn into something serious? Living a life is not the same as writing a book, and it got me thinking about the relationship between what we know and what we can put on paper.

So now I’m thinking about that, too.

Seeing Through the Fog


Overnight, all those overcast skies that have haunted us dropped down into the valley. I think this is a better photograph, more dramatic. I used the telephoto lens to show you how really neat it looks.

But that perspective is a bit misleading. Here’s how it looks with my other lens, that I usually use for landscapes.

Now it looks a bit less like the fog is billowing up for attack. But you also lose some of the sense of it. This is how our eyes – and brains – are still superior to cameras. I can look out and see both aspects at once. Not even as switching back and forth, but in combination with each other.

I think about this kind of thing a lot.

It seems that writing is a constant decision-process on which lens to use. Do I want to focus on the complex politics of my Twelve Kingdoms? On my heroine’s private pain? When do I back up and give a glimpse of all the tiers of people who make up life in the castle? When my hero and heroine are finally alone, do I leave the room? (It turns out that no, I am apparently incapable of leaving the room.)

There’s all sorts of rules for creating close point-of-view (POV), so the reader feels very involved in the story, but I seldom see advice on when to pan back. When to let the reader see the bigger picture. And yet, from these kinds of choices, extraordinary scenes are created. Sometimes you just have to follow your instincts, I suppose.

Or cheat, and show both.

Road Trip!

We went on a road trip on Sunday.

Headed for parts unknown, but desertish.

One has to be careful with those unknown desertish parts, because here there be dinosaurs.
And something that I first thought to be the Easter Bunny, influenced perhaps by the Easter Sunday stuff all over the car radio. On second thought…. no, I’m not really sure what it is.
But you can buy a lot of petrified wood. Just in case you wanted to.
We escaped the dinosaurs, weird monuments and petrified wood lots and dropped down out of the mountains.
First sign of warmer weather? Saguaros!
Followed by palm trees!
The view from our balcony. Yes, it’s a gorgeous warm evening. Lovely.

Missing the Moon

I missed the moon this month.

Back in September, I promised to do a post each month on the full moon. I’ve hit them all until this month. I don’t really know what happened. The Planter’s Moon rose on schedule Sunday night. At first I was too early to catch it, then I was too late. I tried to photograph it setting in the morning, but the light was wrong. Here’s one of the landscape shots I took while trying to capture the faint moon at dawn.

Some months it’s just not meant to be.

I can say that it’s been ferociously windy lately and so I haven’t been lingering outside. It’s a good thing we haven’t been planting, because the 40- and 50-mile per hour gusts would have ripped the seeds from our hands. Springtime here is windy. I think of it like lake turnover – all that cold air warming up and rising, a turbulent transition. It will settle soon.

In promise of that, this morning is gorgeous warm and still. Everyone is loving it.

Besides, it’s not like any of you called me on it. The full moon. All the blogging advice says you have to keep these contracts, to satisfy your readers. “They” also say you have to keep the same schedule. Then there are the massive exceptions like Allie Brosh at Hyperbole and a Half. She has only posted three times so far in 2011. Her third post, which went up last night, already has over six hundred comments. The love is not lagging.

Instead of the exception proving the rule (how I hate that line), the exceptions prove there are no rules, I think.

And that, every once in a while, it’s okay to miss the moon.

It’s a Bird! It’s a Plane! It’s…



Supermoon!

Which sounds way better than Worm Moon. Poor Worm Moon, superseded by our current love of all things supersized.

In case you live under a rock, this particular full moon was to appear 14% bigger than the “regular” sized moon, because of the moon’s proximity to earth. That’s a decent amount of moon supersizing. From the left to the right is a 14% increase.

Several people commented they tried to photograph the Supermoon. It doesn’t come out right, does it? It’s because the cameras still aren’t as good as our eyes. This goes back to the “we photograph light” thing. The great big full moon is so bright against the dark sky, that it ends up being just this blob of a spotlight to the camera. No picking up the subtle shadows of the Sea of Tranquility. No gentle smile of the rising moon.

You’ll notice the best photographs are the ones where the sky is still pretty light, so there’s less extreme contrast. Or, like this one, where a few clouds mute the brightness, allowing for something less than glare.

At any rate, hopefully you got to see it. Lots of people had clouds. Even if you didn’t, it was really the same gorgeous moon we see come and go every night and day. The Worm Moon is for the advent of robins and the worms they eat. The soil is warming and thawing. The birds are singing. Yesterday was also the Spring Equinox.

I forgot to mention last month that the Chinese Year of the Rabbit that we just kicked into is also the year of the moon. Here’s a neat bit I found:

According to Chinese tradition, the Rabbit brings a year in which you can catch your breath and calm your nerves. Not many people know that the Rabbit is the symbol of the Moon, while the Peacock is the symbol of the Sun, and that together, these two animal signs signify the start of day and night, represent the Yin and Yang of life. It is said that anyone making supplications for wishes to be fulfilled are certain to get what they want… and in the Year of the Rabbit, the wish-granting aspect of the Sun and the Moon combined is multiplied. The Moon is YIN and this is the Yin of Heaven, signifying magic. Thus on each of the Full Moon nights of this year, go out into your garden to gaze into the Full Moon and visualize plenty of Moon dust and Moon glow flowing into you, filling your whole body with bright white light and granting you fearlessness, love and courage. This will not only strengthen your inner “Chi” energy, it will also bring wisdom into your life.

So, go make your wishes on the moon. Catch your breath. Calm your nerves.

Fill yourself with moon dust and moon glow.

Go be fearless and wise.

Supermoon!

Sunsets, Lenses and Second Opinions

This is the same sunset that I posted a picture of on Tuesday. I took the two photos only minutes apart, but with different lenses.

I would say that I was being a good kitty and practicing to see what different lenses would do, but in truth, I forgot the telephoto lens was on there instead of the broader landscape lens. Some of the difference is that the telephoto lens focused in on a smaller part of the sky. But you can also see that the longer focal length (shorter focal length? My college physics professor is shaking his head) changes the perspective so that different shapes and colors predominate.

It’s common advice these days to always obtain a second opinion on medical diagnoses. In fact, articles recommend that, if your doctor doesn’t like the idea of you getting a second opinion, then that’s a big red flag. Patients can be misdiagnosed 25 to 50% of the time, depending on whose numbers you look at. Is this because 25 to to 50% of doctors are idiots? Well… Okay, no no no, it’s not. It’s because everyone brings a different lens to the table. Where one person sees the whole sky, another sees just one peak against a wash of crimson.

This is why having a writing group or multiple critique partners can be very important. It’s not that half of them could be flat wrong. (Well, depends on the CP, eh?) It’s more that each reader sees the story through a different lens. What’s a glaring problem to one, another breezes right past. It’s important to carefully consider the feedback a reader gives you, just as you would a medical diagnosis, but it’s equally important to evaluate it in context of how other readers see it.

I was in a writers group for many years where one member would change every single thing anyone criticized about her story. We worked mainly short stories and essays in that group, so the revision process was fairly fast. She brought the same story back to the group several times, looking for that perfect, thumbs-up moment. Finally, on somewhere around the fourth time she brought it to the group, someone pointed out that, as a critique group, someone would always find something for her to fix. This idea she had in her head that at some point we would declare it scintillatingly perfect would never occur. That only she could decide when it was done.

In the end, only one perspective is the definitive one: whichever sings to you.

Wolf Moon

I’d like to take you all on a little Santa Fe vacation today. Come sit on my porch. It’s a bit chilly, but we have a heater. Here, you can sit next to it.


Sit with me and watch the full Wolf Moon rise.


I made sure to check the time and paid attention to where the moon rose the night before. Still, at first I wondered if I had it right. Then the sky began to lighten with that silver blue light that can be only moon.

Finally a sliver of moon peeked above the hillside.

This part seems to happen so much more quickly. Even though I know in my head that we are turning faster than it’s moving, it still seems like the moon hurries.

Full of light, it brightens the hills.

And the clouds above.

Nearly free of the hills.

And here is where I didn’t do so well. Hopefully you’re not feeling moonrisus interruptus. See how the focus is already blurring? The moon was so very bright, it took over the lens. All subsequent photographs look like a big white circle in a field of black.

Too bad, because my eyes could see so much more – the subtle shadows of the face of the moon.

I’ll get better at this, I swear.

Why I like writing? If, in the morning, the ending looks unfocused – I can always fix it.

The Pain Box

I love the intensity of the color in these begonias, though it’s hard to capture. An ongoing effort to replicate what my eyes see.

In photography class, though, I learned that we can never make photographs that come close to what our eyes see, because our eyes are so much more sensitive and sophisticated. I suppose I knew that, but it’s important to keep in mind.

I was talking with a writer-friend yesterday about writers groups and people who’ve come and gone in our lives. She mentioned a gal who’d been in her group and had quit writing when she was “thisclose” to getting an agent.

I said I think that’s the most difficult time.

It reminds me of a scene in Dune, Frank Herbert’s classic science fiction novel. It’s been a while since I read it, so forgive me if I get the details wrong. As a test, the young hero has to place his hand inside of a box. He’s told he’ll experience excruciating pain in his hand, but if he can withstand the pain and keep his hand in the box, he’ll receive a reward he’s seeking (I forget what). If however, he tries to pull his hand out, a blade will slice his hand off at the wrist.

Most people can’t take the pain and give in to the desire to pull their hand out, losing it forever. Our hero, naturally, overcomes the fear that his hand is being destroyed as it feels, and emerges victorious.

It’s one of those scenes that makes the reader feel good about ourselves. We like to think we’d be like the hero. We would know that our hand is okay and why would you give in and yank it out, if the certainty is losing your hand? And yet, deep down, we all know how really hard it is to persevere when fear and pain become overwhelming.

This is why the “thisclose” is so difficult.

The proximity of great reward somehow makes the pain of rejections and setbacks just that much worse. It’s really difficult to stay there, with your hand in the box. At some point, losing the hand altogether, so you don’t have to wait and suffer a moment more starts to look really attractive.

That’s why people quit a lot of things. And yes, giving up on a dream is a lot like losing a hand. Oh, you’ll live, but you’ll be missing a vital piece of yourself. Something you could have used to do something special.

To all of us with our hands still in the box? Cheers and steady-on.