musings, thoughts, and writings of Barbara W. Klaser


July 5, 2007

Critiques II

I decided to answer your comments in a new post, since some of my responses are lengthy. You’ve given me a lot to think about and helped me reconsider my feelings about critiques. Even though I disagree with some points, as they relate to my writing at this time, you all shared wisdom that deserves attention. (more…)

— Barbara @ rudimentary 7:33 pm PST, 07/05/07

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

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

May 30, 2006

Writing for yourself

A comment discussion at Eric Mayer’s blog post, Putting Ourselves Out of Business, involved the idea of considering one’s writing just a hobby. I have a feeling that most fiction writers, published or not, feel to some degree as if they’re hobbyists these days. After all, there isn’t much money to be made in this business, except by a very few. But they also have to take it seriously in order to get far, it has to be an intense, obsessive sort of hobby.

Late in 1993, after a lot of discouraging experiences attempting to sell my fiction, I decided to “quit fiction writing for good” and I wrote nothing but personal journals and technical manuals for a year. I began writing fiction again early in 1995, but with a difference. I did it, as I’d begun as a girl, to please myself, primarily to complete a story I thought had to be written or it would drive me nuts. That story had been percolating inside me since I was seventeen. I surprised myself then by doing some of the best fiction writing I had in my life to that point. My decision at that point to please only myself with what I wrote carried me through a kind of barrier into a different way of looking at writing fiction. (more…)

— Barbara @ rudimentary 3:49 pm PST, 05/30/06

April 23, 2006

Which words count?

I’ve decided there are three kinds of writers when it comes to word count. Those who wind up with too few words, and those who wind up with too many. Then there are those fortunate souls who write just the right amount.

I’m in the second category. I’m a wordy writer, and it frustrates me to see how many extra words I write. If I’d been able to keep my words in check, the story surely wouldn’t have taken so long to come together. Or would it? Why this need to expand so much on what can be said with so many less words? (more…)

— Barbara @ rudimentary 4:05 pm PST, 04/23/06


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