I thought of listing some of the things I accomplished this year, but depending on how you look at it, it either sounded like a brag, or not a big deal.
One brilliant thing that happened this year was that I began to get used to being unemployed. My identity of being a competent and useful worker bee took a serious hit when I first left work, and it began to feel too late to accomplish anything with my creative work.
It was brilliant, when bit by bit, I began to realize there were positives. I didn’t have to stick to what I had been doing. I could look at things I really wanted to do when I ten, or 20, or 30. I love making abstract paintings, but when I was a kid, I really wanted to make realistic drawings in intense detail. I went back to my sketchbook, and forward to digital work. I didn’t stick to any one medium or any one style. I explored it all and my plan is to continue doing so.
I spent the whole of 2019 in revision hell. Some writers love to revise, but I don’t—didn’t. I like it a whole lot better now. I revised two novels and a novella and managed only one short story of new material.
I found a little book called Writing into the Dark, by Dean Wesley Smith, and man, that book made a difference to my confidence as a writer. It felt so good to hear that someone else writes as I do. As though they are reading a story. I’d never heard anyone else describe how it was for me, and I’ve read a zillion writing books. My first drafts were what is usually called ‘shitty’. Which is what made the revision so trying. I have some new tools to deal with that now. It’s called cycling. Write about 500 words, revise, continue. How is it I didn’t know that many writers do that?
I’m contented. For me it was a very good year. It was best when I didn’t listen to the news too much, though even that eventually boiled down to a bit of perspective.
Take the long views, my dears, and go forth with courage. Happy 2020.
I don’t often talk about writing on this blog. I have nothing to tell you about writing and the process of writing that others don’t do better. I have a certain sense of confidence in regards to my visual art, confidence that generally eludes me in writing.
Nevertheless, I’m going to offer you a scene from The Chronos Project today. The Chronos Project is a time travel story. Young Ethics Enforcer, Anna Wasser shifts into 1940 Germany to apprehended a suspected cross-time art thief. When Anna first shifts into 1940 Berlin she is aided by Christoph Mueller, a troubled writer.
This is Christoph’s first scene. The tone is important to me in setting the scene and developing character.
Berlin, Germany, 1940, Christoph Mueller
Light came reluctantly through the grimy pane of the door at street level and picked out the edges of each step, all six of them, to the floor of the room Christoph called home. It laid a pallid patch on the rag rug at the bottom where his boots stood, side-by-side, their tops listing toward each other. If Christoph had not set them so carefully on the mat, if he had tossed them carelessly or just let them fall as they will, the holes in the soles would have been evident along with the cracks and breaks in the much-polished leather tops.
As though the struggle had already been too much the daylight petered out, not offering more of Christoph’s dwelling to the eye. It didn’t matter much. There wasn’t much more to see: a narrow iron bed in one corner, and a dresser he’d bought for a few Gröschen from a man standing ready with a sledgehammer to knock it into kindling. It slanted badly to the right and the drawers stuck until Christoph found a small block of wood to stand it on a more even keel.
Beside the dresser was his table. It held his pens, his notebook and a battered Stoewar typewriter, its ribbon so old it made ghosts of his words. He needed to buy a new ribbon. He’d meant to last week, but the editor had shorted him on a story because he’d submitted it handwritten.
Christoph sat on the edge of his bed and pulled his blanket tight around his shoulders. The recent spate of cold weather enjoyed his damp little cellar. He took his cane from the end of his bed, rose and took the few steps to the table, where he fumbled for his box of matches and lit the tiny paraffin stove, next to it. Only an inch of paraffin remained in its reservoir. So, what would it be, paraffin or a new typewriter ribbon? He sighed. It would have to be paraffin. His lame leg could not bear the cold and he could not give up his morning cup of tea.
He shook his kettle—there was water enough—and set it onto the stove then pushed on to the small water closet at the other side of the stairs.
The mirror, inexplicably, was fastened to the wall over the toilet and Christoph stared at his shadowed face as he released his bladder. A shock of over-long hair fell over his forehead obscuring one worry smudge eye. He shook himself dry, took the half step to the basin, filled it with the frigid water that came reluctantly from the spigot, gritted his teeth and splashed handfuls of the icy stuff over his face and hair. Blind, he groped for the thin towel hanging on a hook beside the sink and rubbed his face and head. When he looked again into the mirror a fresh colour disguised the pallor of his skin and livened his eyes.
He set his tea to steep, limped over to the door, picked up his shoes, made his way back to his bed and before sitting heavily on its edge, pulled his trouser from beneath the mattress and pulled them on. Christoph lifted his weak leg and swung it over his good knee, pulled on yesterdays socks and reached for his boot. He’d have to replace the paper in the sole tonight. It would be worn through by the end of the day, especially if it rained again. Foot encased in his shoe he reached for the steel and leather brace hanging at the foot of his bed. He placed the metal bit under the arch of his shoe and fastened the first set of leather straps at his ankle. A steel shaft came up on either side of his leg, hinging at the knee and extended to mid-thigh. Christoph stood, and buckled another set of straps just below the knee, and pull his trouser leg high, buckled the last at the thigh. Not bothering with his other boot, he walked in a short jerky motion to the table and poured a cup of tea.
He drank it while he continued to dress. He dunned his worn coat, tied a woollen muffler at his throat and put on the elegant leather gloves he’d been delighted to find among Frau Casal’s second-hand goods. Finally, he picked up the large envelope lying near the typewriter, opened it, perused the first few lines on the page, shook his head and pushed the papers back into the envelope. There was no time to rewrite and he doubted he could make it any better. With the envelope under his arm and cane in hand, he climbed the six steps to the door at street level.
The sun still shone, though it had abandoned his small window and moved on to accommodate other, more promising ones. Christoph sniffed. There was sunshine now, but there would be rain before days end.
The yeasty smell of freshly baked bread wafted across the street from Mme. Lemieux’s Boulangerie. His stomach growled and his mouth watered. Coffee and a fresh baked roll, what heaven that would be. He gave himself a shake. Not now. Maybe later, if there was anything left from his pay for this essay on the artistic merits of the new film by Liebeneiner.
He pulled up his collar and headed toward the city centre. It would take him almost an hour to walk there. By that time the offices of the Berliner Morgenpost would be open. Maybe he could talk that miserable editor, Kost, to read his essay right away. He entertained himself with the thought of having so much money that there would be enough for sausage to go with the roll. He would not order coffee. The tea was better. Food, paraffin and a new typewriter ribbon! What riches. So immersed was he in his daydream that he didn’t notice the group of brown-shirted youth crossing the street toward him.
I had a lovely holiday. Central California was cooler than normal but a whole lot warmer than the -30 C we’ve had in Saskatchewan for weeks and weeks. There are mutterings that this has been the coldest winter, here, in 80 years. Maybe it is, but it always feels that way in February.
After getting over some initial travel exhaustion I was excited to get back to my work. I started with a few more altered book pages. And today, I got back to revising my time travel novel, The Chronos Project.
While I was away, we visited the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. I was delighted to see some brilliant work. It made me want to paint large again. Will I? We’ll see. For the next week, I suspect I’ll continue with my sketchbook work.
Large paintings make a big impact, especially on huge white gallery walls, but there’s a lot to like about small paintings. They create a feeling of intimacy I like. I suspect that small works are considered ‘Women’s’ work, and that’s okay. It’s well past time to look at women’s work more carefully.
I’m not thinking of whether you outline, write your thesis sentence first, or how you develop your characters. What I’m considering is the physical process.
It’s interesting to hear about the processes writers employ. Many get up very early in the morning before any other family members are up, and in this early morning solitude they invite their characters to play, blithely typing away as they watch. Some only write late at night. Some write in coffee shops and so on.
It is said that Thomas Wolf wrote with a pencil on paper, using the top of his refridgerator as his desktop. And yes, he was tall, and refridgerators were shorter in those days.
I find that I have a more intimate connection to my story if I write longhand in a lined book. And it is easier on my back to sit in a recliner and write in a notebook than on my laptop. The problem is transcribing drives me crazy. Writing with a pen or pencil isn’t the hard thing. Reading handwritten narratives, is for me the hard thing. Tougher, still if you’re trying to type what you are reading, while you’re reading.
Recently, in a Joanna Penn podcast, her mother, Jacqui Penn, also a writer, described her writing process. She writes her stories longhand in a notebook, reads it into a recorder and let’s Dragon take care of the transcription. She then edits on her computer.
This sounds brilliant to me. Her reasons for working this way, is that she finds sitting at the keyboard for long periods of time very hard on her. Yes! Me too. Sore neck, sore back, sore wrists…
I know that people write longhand less and less often. Times change. Technologies come along and do a brilliant job, but I hear that longhand writing is actually very good for you brain. (Check this, and this) And Google Docs has a facility whereby you can dictate a document on your cellphone without an intervening software like Dragon. There are plenty of issues to be sure. You have to tell dragon your punctuation marks along with the words, and Google only understand things like period and comma, but hey, what’s another learning curve! I’m going to give it a try.
Yes, it was only a week ago that I moaned a little about the heat and the smoke and the lethargy of the dog days of summer. There were hints even then that things would change. The light was different, even on days when there was no smoke. The past few days have been overcast and cold. Yesterday didn’t warm up much over eleven degrees Celsius (about 52 Fahrenheit).
The end of summer always comes as a big shock to me. It’s not like I haven’t lived in this province for nearing seventy years, and yet, each time when the potato plants die, the ferns go yellow and the weather goes cold, it’s a big surprise to me. And it never fails that it’s cold and rainy when school starts.
For all that I love September. I get excited about buckling down and finishing projects that I’ve been working on in a lackadaisical manner during the summer. So today, right after my walk I got to work on the revision of The Chronos Project. And this afternoon I’m going to finish a drawing and start another.