musings, thoughts, and writings of Barbara W. Klaser


July 4, 2007

Critiques

Reenie got me thinking about critiques today, specifically peer critiques of fiction.

As a technical writer and editor, I used to give and take strong, pointed, and mind-numbingly detailed critiques. That made sense, because what my coworkers and I wrote sometimes involved life or death safety procedures, or processes in which expensive equipment could be damaged if something wasn’t done right. We had to be precise, and could not leave room for interpretation or confuse anyone. There was no gray area. So I steeled myself and went through the review process. I found I could keep my emotions completely out of it, because I knew what was at stake, and it wasn’t about me. I always learned something.

Fiction is different — except that part about always learning something. (more…)

— Barbara @ rudimentary 4:17 pm PST, 07/04/07

April 13, 2007

Paper to digital

Has it been more than a week already since I posted? I lost track of time during my panic of the past few days. The other night, after a glitch occurred when I ran my backup program, I thought I’d lost all my files for my current book in progress. Panic ensued, while I scrambled to find and undelete the files. I spent almost 24 hours straight on that, with little sleep, piecing together fragmented files, hoping I still had a complete book there. Finally I came across the directory on the backup computer where my backup program had stored a complete second archive of everything — perfectly intact and up to date, including every last minute of my work on the book.

All that panic because I was too dumb to know my backup program stored an archive of deleted files, and because I had allowed too much other garbage to backlog on my hard drive. (The glitch occurred when that particular hard drive filled up.)

I could sit here and ask why me, or rather ask why I do this to myself, but I’m too busy getting back to normal and on with work. Still, it seems that I go through this sort of panic on a regular basis. It happened two years ago when my old laptop gave out and I lost work that I hadn’t yet backed up. This time it resulted from the backup process itself.

Once I’m finished with this book and it’s off getting a look by some agents, I plan to spend a few weeks getting my life in better order, including both paper and digital files, to prevent future panic episodes.

But one thing I noticed during all of this was that I don’t tend to print out what I’ve written as often as I used to. In spite of what might’ve been lost, overall I consider that a good thing, a good sign that I’m making my personal transition from paper to a digital world.

I admit to some affection for the paper world. It’s what I grew up with, and where I found my love of books and the written word. There is still something sensual to me about the feeling of pen and paper or a book in my hands. I like the shape of the book, the weight of it, the toothy or smooth texture of paper, even the smell of ink, paper, and binding materials. I still recall with nostalgia the particular smell of the book I was handed in third or fourth grade when we studied the culture and geography of Japan. Ever since, I’ve looked for similar qualities each time I open a new book. All these things make letting go of the paper world a clingy process.

At the same time, I love trees. Because of that, I’ve always been troubled that my chosen form of expression — writing — has a history of felling so many trees. So when I went through my computer files and some paper files over the past few days, I was pleased to realize that I recently have less tendency to print as I write. I used to feel a need to print out what I’d written more frequently, to edit or proofread on paper rather than onscreen, or just to get a sense of what the printed story would look like.

Maybe it’s so many years of writing on a computer that’s changed this. Maybe it’s the laptop’s portability and reduced glare being easier on my eyes. Maybe it’s no longer having a job that requires me to stare at a screen all day and then do the same all my evenings and weekends for my fiction writing.

Maybe it’s blogging. The immediacy of blogging tends to encourage me to edit onscreen. My blog is even set up now so I can view what I write in two or three different fonts before I post it, which I think aids the onscreen editing and proofreading process.

Maybe it’s a combination of all those factors. It’s interesting to note that more publishing venues have opened up to electronic submissions just since the CRT monitor has begun to vanish. Hopefully the less glaring monitors that are replacing them will be much easier on all our eyes, and continue to save more trees.

I still write a good half of my personal journal pages by hand, and I still use handwriting to jump-start or unblock my writing process. This blog post is in fact a segue from my morning pages. But my journal pages don’t get reproduced, except by typing them into a digital format, and they’re unlikely ever to be published in book form. The paper is eventually recycled if they do become digital, so I’m not as concerned about my journal pages killing trees. At least that’s what I like to tell myself.

Now if we can get the ebook technology to the point where fewer paper books have to be printed, at least for popular fiction, then we’ll have made real progress in taking publishing from deforestation for profit to a more pure form of edification, expression, and entertainment. Of course there will always be uses for paper. I can’t think of a better way to keep certain legal documents or accounting records, right now, though that’s not a world I work or have much expertise in. There are also some types of books that just work better, for now, on paper. One that comes to mind is the coffee table variety, with color plates of artwork or photography. But the less trees cut down for paper and books, the better.

Even if what this Guardian Unlimited article says is true, that planting more trees in temperate latitudes won’t help assuage global warming, it also states that destroying more trees isn’t the answer, that the greater need, and indeed our motivation for attempting to slow global warming, is to preserve ecosystems, including but certainly not limited to our own.

Perhaps my panic over my files had some value. It got me not only to change what I file away on my computer and how I back it up, but also to take a hard look at how I use paper, to keep heading along the road I’ve started down, of conserving wherever it’s reasonable, and wherever I can.

— Barbara @ rudimentary 2:16 pm PST, 04/13/07

March 7, 2007

Words and weeds

Why is it that seeds I plant never sprout and grow the same way weeds do? They’ve sprung up since our last few rains, and the yard is now lush with their greenery. Yesterday I went out and murdered some weeds to keep the foxtails and other burrs from developing and spreading even more. I barely made a difference. I thought how my words sometimes grow the way weeds do, with wild abandon, and then have to be trimmed, uprooted, rearranged, or killed on the page, so the flowers can show through, get their piece of sunlight, and be seen by anyone but me. Sometimes both Mother Nature and I are too creative.

— Barbara @ rudimentary 11:53 am PST, 03/07/07

February 25, 2007

More poetry

Aside from the novel, I’ve been reading, writing, learning about, and pretty much immersing myself in poetry. I’ve posted some bits and pieces, mostly practice and works in progress, over at Spirit Blooms in the Poetry Sketchbook category. Feel free to drop by there if you’re curious. Though I’ve taken creative writing workshops in the past, I’ve never taken a poetry workshop, and I think I have a lot to learn before I go even that far. Right now I’m refreshing my memory with basics that I learned when I was young but are now a bit fuzzy.

Beverly Jackson has been an inspiration with her poetry posts, (not to mention her abstract paintings — wow!). She recently shared her experiences at the Winter Poetry & Prose Getaway – Cape May N.J. and the Palm Beach Poetry Festival on her blog. She also provided examples and book recommendations she got from poets there. Dig into her January archive to read the first of those posts, beginning here.

Right now I’m reading Mary Oliver’s A Poetry Handbook, which I mentioned in a previous post.

HW Longfellow Postage Stamp

My renewed interest in poetry arrives just in time for Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s bicentennial, which the United States Postal Service is commemorating with a special stamp — the second to bear his likeness. Longfellow is one of only two writers to be immortalized on more than one US postage stamp. Herman Melville was the other, a distinction he earned, in my estimation, with The Encantadas alone — his sketchbook about the Galapagos Islands.

The stamp displays a portrait of Longfellow, as well as a depiction of Paul Revere’s famous ride. The Smithsonian Magazine’s online biography, Famous Once Again provides lots of interesting details about Longfellow’s life. I never knew, for instance, that he was proficient in so many languages — ten altogether, at one point in his life. He’s considered the “uncrowned poet laureate” of the 19th-century US, and February 27 will be his 200th birthday.

I’m out of touch with today’s curriculums, but when I was young, just hearing or reading the first line, “Listen my children and you shall hear,” could set the cadence of Paul Revere’s Ride beating in my mind. Do kids still learn Longfellow in school? I was older when I read Evangeline, but the first verse is just as deeply embedded in my mind. I’ve since gone back for a taste, drawn in by the same first lines:

THIS is the forest primeval. The murmuring pines and the hemlocks,
Bearded with moss, and in garments green, indistinct in the twilight,
Stand like Druids of eld, with voices sad and prophetic,
Stand like harpers hoar, with beards that rest on their bosoms.
Loud from its rocky caverns, the deep-voiced neighboring ocean
Speaks, and in accents disconsolate answers the wail of the forest.
This is the forest primeval; but where are the hearts that beneath it
Leaped like the roe, when he hears in the woodland the voice of the huntsman?
Where is the thatch-roofed village, the home of Acadian farmers –
Men whose lives glided on like rivers that water the woodlands,
Darkened by shadows of earth, but reflecting an image of heaven?
(read poem)

I had no idea what a Druid was when I first read that, but the poet drew me into that forest and I was hooked. I wanted to know everything about it. I wanted to know what happened to the Acadians who once lived there.

— Barbara @ rudimentary 6:23 pm PST, 02/25/07

January 16, 2007

Pages to Paragraphs: conquering inflated word count

My weakness as a writer is wordiness. I’m painfully aware of it, and it still plagues me after years of working to improve my fiction. This is a serious problem. No one in the business will consider a manuscript over a certain length, let alone publish it, from a first-time writer. My self-published efforts don’t count. I’m a new writer to them. Printing costs money, and the greater the page count, the greater that cost — aside from causing more deaths of innocent trees. A thick book is intimidating to readers. The authors of Gone With the Wind, Moby Dick, or The Grapes of Wrath might’ve gotten away with it, but not a modern-day unknown.

Experts say that, over time and with practice, one unconsciously learns to write to length. It didn’t happen to me. I’m either word-count learning disabled, or I haven’t done enough of the right kind of writing. I never wrote for a newspaper or for magazines. My technical writing was nuts and bolts, cut-and-dried stuff, with no opportunity to be wordy. I learned a lot about deadlines, organization, and proofreading doing that, but not about writing a creative project to length. Cutting to length after the fact is time consuming.

One solution I plan to employ in the future is to write more poetry. I love it, and I can’t think of a better training process to conquer my wordiness. Poetry requires sparseness, the selection of the best word to express a thought. I plan to write more short fiction and essays, too.

In the meantime, on this project, I outlined between drafts, to help ensure the story was staying on track. I’m also employing a method that my quasi-personal-editor (husband) came up with while we got Shadows Fall ready to self publish. We call it Pages to Paragraphs. It doesn’t prevent bulk, but it helps reduce my writing to something manageable after the fact. (more…)

— Barbara @ rudimentary 8:44 pm PST, 01/16/07

January 3, 2007

Creativity as order from chaos

My sister emailed me about my post, Interconnections, parallels, and epiphany. She got me to thinking about how individually we process things that happen in our personal lives through our writing and artwork. (Aside from teaching yoga, Helen creates paintings and collages.)

Working with people in non-fiction-related activities has fed into my fiction quite a lot. That was especially true when I worked in an office. I don’t mean anything as obvious as basing a character on a real person. I don’t think I’ve ever done that. Working with people helped me understand better how we interact, provided observations about life, and helped me train my ear for how people talk. In fact everything I experience while away from creative activity tends to feed into it. This includes all the trials, lessons, emotions both powerful and subtle, and all other information and events that life sends my way. In creative expression we have the opportunity to turn dross into riches, or one form of richness into another.

I think perhaps creativity is 50% input and 50% output, or maybe it’s a form of breath, inhaling one thing, processing it, then exhaling something different. The inhalation has to take place, or . . . you run out of air, you suffocate. It follows that the exhalation must also take place, which may be why people who experience trauma sometimes wind up with post-traumatic stress (PTSD). They have no opportunity or ability to process, honor, and exhale what that trauma creates inside them. We can get stuck in grief, too, whether it be grief for a loved one who’s died, or something else in our lives that has moved on or faded away.

Of course what we breathe in is critical to the process. But fiction and art are so eclectic, almost anything will feed them, depending on our willingness to shape the product of our creativity to fit what must be expressed.

There are times when we attempt to create but haven’t gone through enough inhalation to sustain the process. I suspect that’s the cause of many blocks we experience, except when they’re caused by our unwillingness to face whatever in us we must face to fully process it as creative product.

Now that I spend more time at home, even a walk or a drive to the grocery store and talking to the clerks or people in line can be part of that inhalation process. The same goes for reading, listening to music, poetry, interacting with neighbors or my pets.

Fiction or art — or any creative activity — is where we can take in the confusion and chaos that the world dishes out and make sense and order out of it. Creativity doesn’t have to be engaged in with the hope of making money. Perhaps in many ways it’s more satisfying when it’s not. Many people enjoy needlework, cooking, gardening, decorating, woodwork, or photography. Even self-grooming and assembling a wardrobe can provide an important outlet. I don’t think of that as vain, I think instead of hunter-gatherer clans in which self-decoration is a primary creative endeavor.

I put my own peculiar stamp on whatever I take in before returning it to the world. We all do. We might as well do so creatively, constructively, lovingly. It could be that we need this as much as the air we breathe.

— Barbara @ rudimentary 5:05 pm PST, 01/03/07

October 8, 2006

Outing my secret love

Or should I say, let me take you on an outing with my secret love.

“Who?” you ask.

“Poetry,” I whisper.

Those of you who’ve read Shadows Fall have probably guessed that I’m a huge fan of William Wordsworth and Emily Brontë. I’m a poetry fan, all the way around. I love dead poets, old poets, young poets, and poets yet to be born. While writing that novel, I feared that I’d bore all the non-poetry fans with my unrelenting references to poems. I held back as best I could. For instance, I wanted to quote the entire body of Wordsworth’s “Daffodils,” and the entire portion I was then familiar with of Emily Brontë’s “The Prisoner.” Which reminds me, until recently I was only aware of five stanzas of that Brontë poem, beginning with:

He comes with Western winds, with evening’s wandering airs,
With that clear dusk of heaven that brings the thickest stars
:”
(more…)

— Barbara @ rudimentary 6:04 pm PST, 10/08/06

September 29, 2006

When reading is impossible

I’m in what I hope is my next to final re-read of my novel before I start submitting it. I’m attempting to just read, without editing, to get a feel for how the reader will receive it.

I loved to read, as a girl and a young adult. I still do, but I often wish I could read the same way I did back then. Once you’ve been a writer, editor, or proofreader (and I’ve been all of those), it becomes nearly impossible to just read, without editing or analyzing or noticing parts of speech. I can barely make it through almost anyone else’s writing anymore without wanting to stop and edit, or at least correct a typo here and there, or think about some aspect of it besides the story being told, the information or advice being relayed. Plot structure, characterization. Wondering why the author did that, or admiring a description rather than staying in the story.

It’s even worse with my own writing. No matter how many times I’ve been through it, no matter how good anyone else thinks it is, I find it impossible to just read what I’ve written. I’ve heard that near the end of his life Ernest Hemmingway could barely compose a single sentence, he’d become such a perfectionist about his writing. But, I wonder, how was he at reading? That’s the thing that kills me.

It’s a mad dance with myself, trying to read this book. But I hope that as I read through this draft, if I can distance myself enough from it, I’ll see it more the way other readers will. I also hope to come to a final decision about a title for this book. Finally I hope to see the big picture of the story, and notice any gaping flaws or errors in logic, rather than the little nit-picky things I’ll focus on the final time through.

— Barbara @ rudimentary 12:55 pm PST, 09/29/06

August 31, 2006

Oops! Almost missed World Blog Day

I just learned, via How to Save the World, today is World Blog Day, and I almost missed it. Figures.

I’m not sure what else I get done on all the days that I don’t blog, as opposed to days that I do. My day sometimes just speeds past and before I know it it’s over and I’m left attempting to assess where it went. That happens more during summer than in other seasons. My brain and sense of time become sluggish or warped when it’s warm out. I’m convinced, too, that blogging requires a different part of my brain than I’m accustomed to using. My thoughts can stay light or go deep, and I’m comfortable in both places, but expressing myself in a story or in hard facts, or even a personal journal (where I don’t even need to worry whether I understand, let alone whether anyone else does) turns out to be much different than the kind of writing I do here, clarifying my thoughts and ideas, or reviewing life events. Nevertheless, regular blogging is a good exercise. It’s like strengthening a muscle you rarely use, such as the one that bends your pinky when holding a teacup, or the one that lifts one eyebrow. It’s not necessary, but it’s a nice, sometimes elegant, ability to have. Besides, blogging helps me feel in touch during periods of writing isolation or silence.

Speaking of silence, Streams of Silence, by Bruce at Wordswimmer, takes a profound look at the silences we all face, particularly writers. An appropriate topic for me to ponder today.

Happy World Blog Day!

— Barbara @ rudimentary 4:40 pm PST, 08/31/06

July 11, 2006

Order and chaos

The cat’s litter box is clean. That mundane detail isn’t your favorite sentence I’ve ever written, I’m sure. Mine either. But my day often seems to revolve around whether that task has been accomplished, and what comes after it. I go through a list of chores, on the days I think to make one, eventually reaching the line that has to do with writing, after checking off a lot of other stuff. Today writing comes after important things like the cat’s box, which is of utmost importance to her, though slightly less to us except through our affection for her, since we don’t use it and it’s out in the garage, easy for us to forget. Vacuuming comes next, mostly pet hair this time of year. That task must be accomplished while the day is still cool enough to have windows open, or not at all. A late-in-the-day shower will be in order, after all the creepy stuff on the list is done. (Bear with me, I do have a point here, this isn’t merely a run-through of my chores.) (more…)

— Barbara @ rudimentary 10:57 am PST, 07/11/06


Recent Comments