Monday, February 20, 2012

Becoming the Background

Blending Into the Background, Cecilia Paredes
Photo Credit: Illusion

I am buzzing with excitement. Finally, a topic that makes my blood boil in all the best ways. I continue to read Jack London's words about writing, and they move me, inspire me, challenge me, and impress me. I find myself thinking, I love this guy. I haven't felt an affection for an historical figure in this sweet way since I fell madly for King George III.

Here, London is talking with a friend and aspiring writer, Cloudesley Johns, about a manuscript called "Philosophy of the Road," which Johns sent him to critique:

Books On The Floor
Photo Credit: Tumblr

"As it seems to me, you are too dry....You are handling stirring life, romance, things of human life and death, humor and pathos, etc. But God, man, handle them as they should be. Don't you tell the reader the philosophy of the road (except where you are actually there as a participant in the first person). Don't you tell the reader. Don't. Don't. Don't. But HAVE YOUR CHARACTERS TELL IT BY THEIR DEEDS, ACTIONS, TALK, ETC. Then, and not until then, are you writing fiction and not a sociological paper upon a certain sub-stratum of society."

It is in this statement that we find the great tenet of any creative work: Whenever possible, show rather than tell. This lesson from London is whispering an echo of one of the greatest lessons I've learned from my Writer's Room coach and fearless leader: As writers we must show, not tell. I am practicing. Sometimes, the best thing I can do is to stop writing and begin transcribing what I'm seeing in my mind's eye. It is often here that my stories develop, with very little help from me. This leads directly to the next paragraph London writes to his protege:

Seamless Blending, Cecilia Paredes
Photo Credit: My Modern Met

He goes on: "And get the atmosphere. Get the breadth and thickness to your stories, and not only the length (which is the mere narration). The reader, since it is fiction, doesn't want your dissertations on the subject, your observations, your knowledge as your knowledge, your thoughts about it, your ideas--BUT PUT ALL THOSE THINGS WHICH ARE YOURS INTO THE STORIES, INTO THE TALES, ELIMINATING YOURSELF (except when in the first person as participant). AND THIS WILL BE THE ATMOSPHERE, AND THIS ATMOSPHERE WILL BE YOU, DON'T YOU UNDERSTAND, YOU! YOU! And for this, and for this only, will the critics praise you, and the public appreciate you, and your work be art."

A variation on the theme, London urges me to dissolve into the background and give my characters center stage. And this is what I aspire to achieve: The mastery of eliminating myself from my story. In many ways, I've been practicing this my whole life. However, most recently I've found myself compelled by crippling thoughts: I want to be known, to be celebrated; I want what I will have before I deserve to have it. Now that I've stopped listening to such destructive thoughts, I have systematically started to eliminate myself from my work. If you catch me letting myself back in, please let me know. I need all the help I can get.

Until next time,

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

A Change of Pace

Obsessive Readers
Photo Credit: Analyfe
If you're familiar with the history of my blog, then you know I have a habit of starting down a track and suddenly deciding to switch gears. I have done my best to keep you apprised of these abrupt changes, and thankfully it doesn't seem to deter too many of you. Here's to hoping you won't give up on me now.

After several weeks of frustrating research and writing, netting only this one mediocre post on the betrothal jewelry customs of Ancient Rome, I'm terribly concerned that this direction is lacking the punch and verve I'm accustomed to delivering from this venue. In the meantime, I'm spending copious amounts of time compiling information for a book I'm planning to write, reading all about writing for publication, preparing to accommodate some paying clients (yeah!), and working on my brand new blog about the Crown Jewels of Europe, which I hope to debut within the next few weeks.

Crazy Bookshelf
Photo Credit: Book Love

This scenario elicits a tremendous amount of angst and pressure, which my mind handles much like the spin cycle on a washing machine. Thankfully, I think the washing machine has finally come to a halt on this load. I have finally come to rest on an idea that is oh, so compelling. Sometimes, the stroke of genius comes at the perfect time, perhaps not always in the perfect place. I will confess that this particular idea came to me while I was using the toilet. I know, not the most glamorous place and possibly TMI, but I bet many a stroke of your genius has also been found on the only throne most of you have in your homes.

My brilliant plan is to write about the vintage marriage between reading and writing. Since I am going to be writing about jewelry for a paying client, and since my book project will include a compilation and completion of the topics I have previously covered here at Vintage Betrothal, these subjects will naturally emerge as I write about this classic marriage. Rest assured, if you have been reading merely for the topical content, you will still be able to count on finding links and excerpts from other articles and book chapters I will be writing in tandem with this blog. And if you come primarily to find out how I am interacting with my topics, I assure you that you will not be disappointed.

A Writer's Room
Photo Credit: Pigtails and Combat Boots

To get us started, I offer you this quote from one of the books I'm currently reading, Jack London: No Mentor But Myself. "I am always studying....Never a night (whether I have gone out or not), but the last several hours are spent in bed with my books. All things interest me--the world is so very good. Principal studies are, scientific, sociological, and ethical--these, of course, including biology, economics, psychology, physiology, history, etc., etc.,, without end."

This quote moves me, because I believe that secretly every writer is really just a passionate reader who at some point or another has to expel some of the old material in order to allow room for more. Jack and I have a lot in common, it seems, although I read in my favorite corner of the couch rather than in my bed. Besides this collection of essays by Mr. London, today's reading list includes a novel written by Kurt Vonnegut (which I haven't started), a collection of short stories written by Hunter S. Thompson (which I did not enjoy), a novel written by Anne Lamott (which I am enjoying immensely), a book called "No More Rejections" (which is very well written and informative on the topic), and numerous samples of books about quantum mechanics and string theory (for my Kindle).

Yes, indeed, this will be a topic of great enjoyment for me. I hope you enjoy it with me.


Friday, February 3, 2012

Where Does The Time Go?

Photo Credit: Teaching High School Psychology

Here we are, two weeks have passed since my last post. Time is a strange friend. I'm wondering if you're wondering the same thing I am...

Where does the time go?

Mafia Wedding Reception
Photo Credit: Zara-Zoo

I really did not mean to let last week go by without telling you why, in the past, Italian men customarily danced with their suit jackets open at Italian wedding receptions. And the answer is:

It was considered impolite to dance with concealed weapons. Many of them carried sawed-off shotguns or other such weapons, just going about the business of the day, I suppose.

Well, I'm researching my little heart out and have a very special post planned for next time. Hopefully, it won't take as long as two weeks. You know me, when I'm researching I sometimes forget to write.

Photo Credit: Zara-Zoo

Here's another question for you to chew on a bit for next week...Who is your favorite Italian engagement ring designer? Let me know, and your favorite might be mentioned in a future post.