Sunday, March 22, 2009

Quoteskimming

On the difference between motivation and inspiration.

Lisa Schroeder's post about motivation and inspiration, and whether they are the same thing or not, was interesting to me. Here's some of what said:

To me, motivation is what keeps you going - it's the force that keeps you moving forward.

When I'm writing a book, most of the time, there is motivation enough from inside of me to finish it. I love that feeling of accomplishment. I WANT to finish it. When we start out writing a novel, we have to be motivated enough to sit down and put words to the page consistently almost every day. And I think it is important to understand where your motivation comes from.

Now that I'm published, I'm motivated by having editors who want to see other things from me. And I'm motivated by wanting my career to grow.

Inspiration is more about the act of creating. When I talked about praying and hoping for inspiration, what I'm looking for are nuggets of experiences that speak to my heart and soul. That move me in such a way that I, in turn, want to work hard to move others with my words.

. . .

So, I look for things that touch me. That MOVE me. You know what I'm talking about here. It's that sunrise that takes your breath away. It's a music video like this one ["How to Save a Life" by The Fray.] It's holding a precious baby and watching as he reaches up and touches your face. It's watching a movie that moves you to tears. And then I take those feelings of joy/sorrow/regret/pain and try my best to drop them into my story.

On finding satisfaction in the writing alone

The ginormously talented Justine Larbalestier wrote a post the other day entitled "Make it the best book you can", in which she picked up on some of what Elizabeth Gilbert said in her TED speech, which I quoteskimmed in February. I commend Justine's entire post to you. (Hell, I commend her entire blog to you, but that's not the point.) Here, however, is the bit I quoteskimmed:

You can only control the book you write.

You can’t control whether you sell it. You can’t control how big the advance is if you sell it. You can’t control how much is spent promoting it. You can’t control how many copies Barnes & Noble takes or whether they take it at all. You can’t control whether punters buy it when it finally appears on the shelves. You can’t control the reviews. You can’t control the award committees.

Spending time and energy angsting about any of that stuff will only do your head in.

All you can do is write the very best book you can.

It will get published or it won’t. It will find its market or it won’t. It will sell or it won’t. It will win awards or it won’t. None of that matters if you’ve written the best book you can.

Books with huge advances and the biggest marketing and publicity budget in the world sink like a stone. Books with nary a sheckle spent on them take off out of nowhere. Books you think are terrible do great; books you worship sell fewer than a thousand copies. There’s no rhyme or reason to any of it. Do not let it do your head in.

On understanding your characters

First up, a post from , who found writing advice in an inspirational email:

I receive daily inspirational emails from tut.com. This morning, one of the comments in the email was "Sometimes, understanding their fears, Julia, helps you to understand their actions, as well as their pain."

I know what that means on a personal level, as far as people with whom I interact - but, it hit me (since I'm in the middle of revisions) that understanding my characters' fears (from protagonist to antagonist) will help me to make sure that the actions I assign to them are in accord with the fear and pain (or desire to avoid pain.)

As a writer, I know the reason for the character's action. But, in writing down those actions, it's not enough to just write 1) a cool scene, 2) move the plot along, 3) get to 70K, etc. - there has to be a valid basis in the psyche of my character for anything they do. And, I have to give my reader enough information that they will understand why that particular character acts in that way.

For example, it's necessary to be aware that I can't suddenly having someone run screaming from a clown, if I haven't set up their fear. Perhaps at a first grade party a clown trick went bad and scared them half to death. The motivational reveal doesn't need to be more than perhaps a sentence or a comment from another character - like, "Yeah, remember when that bozo dumped the whole ant farm on her? She itched for a week."

Fears and Actions and Pain... intimately intertwined.

On crafting villains

I've been listening to U2's new album, "No Line on the Horizon" in extremely heavy rotation whilst in my minivan. Great album, solid start-to-finish, plus it comes with excellent liner notes (I'm sick of opening those CD booklets to find nothing but photos, sometimes not even good photos - U2 provides lyrics and information about who did what on each track. Happy day!) My favorite tracks are 1 ("No Line on the Horizon"), 2 ("Magnificent" - as you probably guessed if you've read my "Music" line in posts this week), 3 ("Moment of Surrender"), 6 ("Get on Your Boots") & 9 ("White as Snow", the tune of which is based on O Come O Come Emanuel), if you care. That said, this bit at the end of the final track, "Cedars of Lebanon", caught my ear as potential writing advice:

Choose your enemies carefully 'cos they will define you
Make them interesting 'cos in some ways they will mind you
They’re not there in the beginning but when your story ends
Gonna last with you longer than your friend

On balancing craft and mass appeal, and on "boy books"

My friend put up a post earlier this week in which he quoted an answer he gave to a newspaper interviewer (whether the full answer ran in the publication is beside the point, as I believe you'll agree). Here's what David's post said:

I got a chance to really think about the art of balancing craft and mass appeal recently, when I was doing a newspaper interview and encountered this as the first question:

"The recent publishing trend in boys' books has incorporated toilet humor, blood and gore in an effort to gain boys' reading attention. Your Weenies series incorporates this type of humor. Despite what critics say, do you believe that these kinds of books have a place in reading today? If so, why?"

Yikers. That seemed to be a bit loaded, but here's my response:

My first story collection appeared in 1996, so I think I'm safely ahead of the bandwagon. I guess I'm ahead of the meat wagon, too, since there's actually very little blood and gore in my work. The stories have been called "Twilight Zone for kids," by more than one reviewer. While I do have some shocking endings, I tend to pull the camera away before things get graphic. I use some bathroom humor. I also use a bathroom. To deny this part of our existence seems a bit Puritanical. It's definitely not an either/or situation. I might have a story where a kid drops his pants and sits on a photocopier, but I have another that pays homage to Kafka's "Metamorphosis," and one that explores Zeno's paradox. I sneak a lot of philosophy into my work, in an attempt to justify the four years I spent getting a degree in it. The bottom line is that I've had countless teachers and parents tell me that one of my books turned a nonreader into a reader. As for the issue of quality, one of my stories was voted the best young-adult magazine story of 2005 by the Association of Educational Publishers . Others have been reprinted in textbooks. Teachers all over the country are using my story, "Predators," from The Curse of the Campfire Weenies and Other Warped and Creepy Tales, to teach Internet safety. I suspect that many of the critics haven't done anything more than glance at the covers. Admittedly, the Weenie theme suggests a certain level of frivolity. But while the cover gets a kid to pick up the book, it's the stories that hold the reader. And they do this not by virtue of the occasional splash of body fluid or whiff of gas, but by a richness of plot and wealth of ideas.



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Friday, March 20, 2009

An Echo from Willowwood by Christina Rossetti - a Poetry Friday post

Christina Rossetti was remarkable. The poem I'm featuring today was sent to me by one of my dearest friends a while back. I think it's another example of her exceeding her brother's talent. It's thematically similar to some of the Willowwood sonnets crafted by her brother, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, following the death of a woman named Lizzie Siddal, his wife, who died from an addiction to laudanum, and over whom Dante felt grief and guilt. Lizzie left several sketches of herself and Dante looking into water (pools and fountains), and Dante wrote several poems using that as an image, some of which were fairly baroque and overwrought (including one in which the poet meets the reflection of his lost love in a pool). Christina, however, delivered a more finely nuanced poem than her brother, perhaps because it was slightly less personal to her (or perhaps because, as I've noted before, she was the finer artist).

An Echo From Willow-wood
by Christina Dante Rossetti

"O ye, all ye that walk in willow-wood." (D.G. Rossetti)

Two gazed into a pool, he gazed and she,
  Not hand in hand, yet heart in heart, I think,
  Pale and reluctant on the water's brink
As on the brink of parting which must be.
Each eyed the other's aspect, she and he,
  Each felt one hungering heart leap up and sink,
  Each tasted bitterness which both must drink,
There on the brink of life's dividing sea.
Lilies upon the surface, deep below
  Two wistful faces craving each for each,
    Resolute and reluctant without speech: —
A sudden ripple made the faces flow
  One moment joined, to vanish out of reach:
    So those hearts joined, and ah! were parted so.


The poem is a sonnet, written in iambic pentameter (five iambic feet per line - an iamb says "i AM" or "ta-DUM" - so, ta-DUM ta-DUM ta-DUM ta-DUM ta-DUM), although she occasionally uses a foot that's not an iamb. It is an Italian or Petrarchan sonnet. From now until the end of March 2009, you can read my article about Italian sonnets over at Kid Magazine Writers.com (and then, it goes away and is replaced with an article by my co-Meter Reader, Laura Purdie Salas). It uses the following rhyme pattern: ABBAABBACDDCDC. Being a sonnet, it contains a volta or a "turn", which occurs here in the ninth line, when she shifts to the "lilies upon the surface", and in doing so shifts from talking about the feelings of the two lovers to the items and images in the water.

There's something a heartbreaking about this poem, with all that yearning and wanting and parting, and it kinda makes me swoon a bit. (But perhaps I am simply prone to swoon.) What say you?

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Tuesday, March 17, 2009

After - an original poem

When I took Lee Bennett Hopkins's Poetry Master Class at the LA SCBWI Conference in 2007, one of the folks I met was Judy Fisk Lucas, who is putting together an ambitious project to raise funds in order to help construct a Patch Adams hospital in West Virginia. Back on February 8th, I got an email from her about the project, for which she is collection 1,000 poems about peace, which will be put into a book and sold as a fundraiser. I immediately told her I'd send her a poem for her Peace Project. Here's the poem I sent Judy last week:

After
by Kelly R. Fineman

    I've got peace like a river,
    I've got peace like a river,
    I've got peace like a river in my soul.— African American spiritual


After the storm,
hissing, roiling waters burst through
sandbag levees; the river
brings no peace at all.
Waters carry death and carnage,
waters carry stories and belongings,
waters carry worry and fear,
hope and need and new beginnings.

After the flood,
after waters recede, settling between
banks, whispering of dreams and desires,
even before debris can be cleared,
shoots spring up from sated earth
skyward; like hope, eternal.
New-washed land shows signs of life.
Et in terra pax.*


*"And on earth, peace."

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Friday, March 13, 2009

"Venta" by Jane Austen - a Poetry Friday post

One of the things it may surprise you to know (because it surprised me when I learned it) is that Jane Austen wrote poetry on occasion. Mostly doggerel, although she wrote a panegyric to a dead friend at one point in time.

Jane Austen died on July 17, 1817 in Winchester, England. She had gone to Winchester to seek better medical attention than was available to her at Chawton, where she was then living, but she was doubtless fully aware that she was dying, having written her will back in April on the sly. Nevertheless, three days before her death, she picked up her pen and wrote this poem about the Winchester races, which took place on July 15th of each year on what was, historically, St. Swithin's day. The Winchester races were often interrupted by rain. Austen called the poem "Venta", the old name for Winchester dating from Roman times.

The poem, which is written in cross-rhymed quatrains, was initially suppressed by her Victorian-era family, and later released in edited versions that changed words and punctuation (including one version that altered the word "dead" to "gone". They thought that joking about St. Swithin and horse racing and death would be dimly viewed by the public. It was entirely in keeping with Austen's personality, however, in a time when many illnesses had no decent medical treatment and death was seen as a commonplace event that was not always discussed seriously. For instance, she relayed news of a neighbor's stillbirth to her sister as follows: "Mrs. Hill of Sherborne, was brought to bed yesterday of a dead child, some weeks before she expected, owing to a fright. I suppose she happened unawares to look at her husband."

Here, the last known piece of Jane Austen's writing.

Venta
by Jane Austen

When Winchester races first took their beginning
It is said the good people forgot their old Saint
Not applying at all for the leave of St. Swithin
And that William of Wykham's approval was faint.

The races however were fix'd and determined
The company met & the weather was charming
The Lords & the Ladies were sattin'd & ermin'd
And nobody saw any future alarming.

But when the old Saint was inform'd of these doings
He made but one spring from his shrine to the roof
Of the Palace which now lies so sadly in ruins
And thus he address'd them all standing aloof.

Oh subject rebellious, Oh Venta depraved!
When once we are buried you think we are dead
But behold me Immortal. — By vice you're enslaved
You have sinn'd and must suffer. — Then further he said

These races & revels & dissolute measures
With which you're debasing a neighbourly Plain
Let them stand — you shall meet with a curse in your pleasures
Set off for your course, I'll pursue with my rain.

Ye cannot but know my command in July.
Henceforward I'll triumph in shewing my powers,
Shift your race as you will it shall never be dry
The curse upon Venta is July in showers.


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Thursday, March 12, 2009

Princess of the Midnight Ball by Jessica Day George

Today, I purchased my very own copy of PRINCESS OF THE MIDNIGHT BALL by Jessica Day George. I finished reading the library's copy last night, and I liked it so well that I wanted my very own copy to hold and love and call George. And now I have one, to go onto my "damn, I wish I'd written that book" shelf. And yes, I have such a book shelf.

Princess of the Midnight Ball is a retelling of The Twelve Dancing Princesses*. On the one hand, it's a faithful retelling, and on the other, it's a highly creative one. You see, Jessica Day George's creative angle comes from telling the story in third person, but closely following the character of Galen, the undergardener who proves to be the hero. At first he's merely a soldier on his way to Bruch after the end of the war, but it rapidly becomes clear that he is both kind (in sharing what he has with an old woman along the way) and on his way to great adventure (judging by the advice given to him by that same woman - who knows his name without being told it and gives him an invisibility cloak). Jessica Day George, you had me at hello.

Galen (great name, btw) arrives in town where he seeks out his only living relatives, and scores a job working for his uncle in the royal garden, where he quickly becomes fond of the eldest princess, named Rose, after startling her into (and fishing her out of) a fountain. He quickly befriends Walter, an old, peg-legged gardener who is not quite what he appears to be. And he starts to worry about the poor princesses, who keep wearing out their dancing shoes. He worries about all of them, but especially about Rose, who spent a great deal of time being terribly ill, and he sets out to determine what's going on, and to save them. Along the way, he deals with King Gregor (Gregor! Again! I know!), and with the evil Bishop (and, in fairness, with the good one, too), and oh yeah - with the King Under Stone and his twelve sons.

All the while, Galen spends time knitting. Not like Madame Defarge, either, but in a quiet, heroic sort of way. There's even an afterword with notes on men knitting, along with two knitting patterns and a handy-dandy pronunciation guide. I loved Galen and Rose and several of the other princesses, particularly Pansy and Lily, and Walter the gardener and the mystical old lady and bewildered, beleaguered King Gregor and the kind Dr. Kelling and Bishop Schelker and I completely despised the evil Bishop Angier and the awful, tricksy King Under Stone. And I am altogether charmed and in love with this book and intending to learn how to knit. I'll be rereading this one soon to see how Ms George worked her magic.

*My favorite version of The Twelve Dancing Princesses is by Marianna Mayer, although my real love comes from my adoration of the illustrations by Kinuko Y. Craft, in case you were wondering.

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Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Mouse was Mad by Linda Urban

It's not every day that one of your best friends has their first picture book hit stores. And technically, this book was scheduled to turn up in, like, May. But there it was today in all its splendor, so I bought a copy. I am giving you the biggest cover image I could find online, so that you can properly appreciate the anger on the face of the wee mousie.



MOUSE WAS MAD was written by the lovely and talented Linda Urban, and illustrated by Henry Cole. And it is adorable, although don't tell Mouse I said so, because I am fairly certain that being told one is adorable when one is angry is cause for still more rage. And Mouse begins the story angry and becomes madder still as all of his various expressions of anger are outdone by specialists in various fields (and he repeatedly lands in mucky puddles). Hare hops better, Bear stomps better, Bobcat screams better, and Hedgehog rolls around on the ground better. But none of them can outdo what Mouse does when he gets "really, really, really, really mad" no matter how they try.

Go out and buy this book. Yes, you. You will adore it from the animals on the cover to its mac & cheese endpapers in the front (blue in back) to its clever text that simply begs to be read aloud. The official birthday for this book isn't for a while, still, but I have a hunch that if it's in stock here in New Jersey, it's quite likely findable other places as well. And you're going to want it. You don't want to make Mouse mad again, do you?

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Sunday, March 08, 2009

Quoteskimming

On writing

First up, something skimmed from the lovely and talented Cassandra, who attended the Asilomar conference a week or so ago. She reports having heard Jim Averbeck say this, and I have to say that the longer I work at being a writer, the more I understand the truth of this remark:

"You have to love writing, but more importantly, you have to love learning to write better."

On taking risks in your writing

Laurie Halse Anderson, whose new novel, Wintergirls, comes out in about 10 days' time, took time to answer some reader questions earlier this week. I know her blog is named "Mad Woman in the Forest", but I find nothing crazy at all about most of her posts. She talked about taking risks with her writing, and somewhere in the middle of her wonderful blog post, she said this:

"There is no way you can please everyone. Neither can you write a book that will appeal to everyone's tastes. First and foremost, you need to write the book that is in your heart."

And then, in closing, she said this:

"We cannot control how people react to our books. Our job is to write; write honestly, write with passion and compassion, write the true."

On reading poetry

I was fortunate to catch not one, but two, John Green live chats this week. On March 4, 2009 at about 11:53 p.m. ET, while in the midst of reading some poetry selections to his viewers, John said this, which is, I think as good a reason to read poetry as any other:

"One of the things I like best about poetry is that it allows us to be quiet and contemplative."

On what to write about
The next evening, John hosted a vlog featuring poet extraordinaire Katrina Vandenberg, whose debut poetry collection, Atlas, appears to be out of print, but I will nevertheless persevere and track one down, based on the loveliness of the poems I've heard John Green, and now Katrina herself, read. During the live interview/reading, Katrina read a poem about records (of the vinyl persuasion), the title of which I cannot recall. Afterwards, in conversation with John, she said:

"I like writing about things you can't get back to – [writing about] the thing that you get rid of, and you later wish you hadn't."

It occurs to me that a lot of us write about just such a thing, whether it's a feeling or an object or a person, and whether we write fiction or poetry or memoir or songs, or whether we make visual art.

On the life of a writer

Last night, I read a novel entitled Gods Behaving Badly, which I found extremely diverting. It was witty and clever and amusing, and I liked the way the author, Marie Phillips, envisioned the Greek gods in their modern-day incarnations: Artemis is a dog walker, Aphrodite runs a phone-sex line, Athena is an academic, and Apollo is trying his hand at television psychic. At the end of the paperback edition of the book (which is what I purchased), there is "book group" material, including an essay by the author called "Marie Phillips on her approach to writing fiction". I commend the entire essay to you for its entertainment value and its truth, but here is a quoteskimmed version:

When I meet people at parties and I tell them that I'm a writer, the first question is always the same. "Are you very disciplined?" "Oh yes," I say. . . . And it's almost true – about the discipline, I mean. My approach to writing is like improvised acting: I lose myself in my characters and let them do all the work. So I can write large amounts over long stretches of the day. However, I try as far as possible to avoid conscious thought while I'm writing, because it interrupts the flow and pulls me out of my characters. Before I start on a novel I have to do a huge amount of thinking, for months on end, without writing a word. I don't like to begin until I have a destination in mind and at least a vague idea of how I'm going to get there, otherwise I am liable to write around in circles.

I'm not a comfortable thinker, however. What am I supposed to look at while I'm thinking? What should I do with my hands? Research is my favorite way to think, as it gives me something tangible to do. I like spending the entire day reading, and then sounding like a harassed intellectual to friends in the pub ("God, I've been reading all day, I'm knackered").

. . . But reading is ultimately distracting as I'm dealing with other people's thoughts, so sometimes I have to put the books down and just think. I think in the shower, doing the shopping, tidying the house, and I get vast amounts of thinking done on the bus. I think in bed, last thing at night and first thing in the morning, because being half asleep pushes open the door to my subconscious just that little bit wider. Mostly, though, I lie on the sofa and think (I have a special sofa in my study for this purpose – chosen by stretching out on all the sofas in Ikea to find out which one was the thinkiest). This causes untold problems in the pub ("God, I've been lying on the sofa all day, I'm knackered").

I think until I can't bear it any longer and then I start writing, but it's never long enough. I get myself stuck and have to take weeks out in the middle of drafts just to think some more, and then I get furious with myself for "not doing any work," force myself back to the computer too soon, and end up with writer's block, which is basically just thinking plus self-loathing.

. . . What made sense when I was thinking can make no sense at all when I'm writing, as once I'm inside my characters' heads I discover that there is no way that they would behave in the way I have so carefully set up for them. So the writing takes me in a new direction and the thinking falls down like a game of Jenga after the rash removal of the wrong brick. And then it's back to the sofa to start over and build all my thoughts back up again.


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Friday, March 06, 2009

Waddle Kitty - an original poem for Poetry Friday

This one goes out to Mojo, the rather pear-shaped black cat currently sleeping across my ankles:



Waddle Kitty
by Kelly R. Fineman

I have a waddle kitty;
She’s as black as she is fat.
She could not be mistaken
For an undernourished cat.

She prowls about quite slowly
A parade of one – a float.
For “Judge’s Pick: Stout Kitty”
She would take home every vote.

It’s rare that she moves quickly
Since she mostly scoffs at speed
But she galumphs quite loudly
As she heads downstairs to feed.

You’d think she had a posse
Or was part of a large bunch,
Instead she’s a lone pussy
heading to her bowl to munch.

Whether waddling through the halls
Or thundering all around,
My fat, black Waddle Kitty
Makes a symphony of sound.

I wouldn’t want to change her,
wouldn’t want her to lose weight:
I love my Waddle Kitty:
Corpulent, perhaps, but great.



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Sunday, March 01, 2009

Quoteskimming

I had a lovely writing date this morning, got some encouragement from Pat Lewis about my double sestina, and went grocery shopping. Now I've got beets in the crock pot and chicken soup cooking on the stove while I wait for the storm to come in. It's a cozy sort of day, and I'm hoping you have time to cuddle up in a nook with a cup of tea for some quotes about reading and writing and whatnot. I've got lots of quotes today, so I'll be employing headings everywhere. I do hope that if you don't have time to read them all at once, you'll stop back.

About Reading

Last weekend, I finished reading The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett. It's a truly engaging novella in which the Queen of England decides to start reading books late in life. She progresses from reading a little to reading obsessively, and eventually, she decides to write as well. Here are a few quotes I particularly enjoyed.

". . . she felt about reading what some writers felt about writing: that it was impossible not to do it and that at this late stage of her life she had been chosen to read as others were chosen to write."

"And it occurred to her (as next day she wrote down) that reading was, among other things, a muscle . . . "

"She found, though, that when she had written something down, even if it was just an entry in her notebook, she was happy as once she would have been happy after doing some reading. And it came to her again that she did not want simply to be a reader. A reader was next door to being a spectator, whereas when she was writing she was doing, and doing was her duty."


About Books

"Lord! when you sell a man a book you don't sell just twelve ounces of paper and ink and glue - you sell him a whole new life. Love and friendship and humour and ships at sea by night - there's all heaven and earth in a book, a real book." ~Christopher Morley

About Writing

Specifically, about how to stymie yourself, from a post by Christine Kane entitled "7 Tried and True Ways to Stifle Your Creativity", which I found thanks to my friend Linda (). One that particularly resonated:

5. Require a Guarantee

Do this:

Sit down at your desk. (Or at your piano. Or in your studio.)

Roll up your sleeves.

Rub your hands together and say the following out loud:

“This had better be really good. In fact, this had better win a big huge award of some sort and make me really famous.”

Then begin.


On the Benefits of Support and Encouragement

Over at Alphabet Soup, Jama interviewed author/illustrator James Rumford. The full interview is great, but here's the part that really sang to me:

My father taught me a lot, not just about drawing and painting, but about learning. We were always looking things up in the Britannica encyclopedias that we had. From him I learned to love learning, and this concept I try to infuse in my books. Yes, my books are often an intellectual stretch, but that is how one learns -- by stretching and challenging one's mind. My mother was always there encouraging me. This type of encouragement can never be underestimated.


On Keeping Going

Linda Urban also steered me to Woolgathering, the blog kept by artist Elizabeth Perry, in which she has posted a new drawing daily for years now. Not long ago, she reached her 1500th drawing and post. What she had to say:

Hmm. Mile markers, anniversaries, and birthdays are good. This year, my marriage turned 21 and I will turn 50. And signposts like those are worth celebrating, I think, even if they aren't really the point. I didn't get married in order to have anniversaries. I don't draw in order to have created a particular round number of drawings. After each celebration, I realize that over the long run, there's no particular magic number.

I breathe. I play. I love. I get to share things. I reflect. I find satisfaction in small moments.

Drawing teaches me to notice. To plunge in, regardless. To mess around. To make mistakes in public and keep going anyway.

"If a thing is worth doing," wrote G.K. Chesterton, "it's worth doing badly."

. . . what have I learned?

Will power doesn't count much. Delight does. Find something that delights you enough, and you will keep doing it anyway. Even on days when the biggest obstacles are your own expectations.

So my wish is to keep finding the delight. To have the chance to be present, slow down, and pay attention for a moment. Every day.

A small treat.

Another breath.

Another drawing.


On Not Caving in to the Expectations of Others

First, Miss Charlotte Brontë, responding to G.H. Lewes's request that in future writings (after Jane Eyre), she tone down the melodrama and write more like Jane Austen:

If I ever do write another book, I think I will have nothing of what you call 'melodrama;' I think so, but I am not sure. I think, too, I will endeavour to follow the counsel which shines out of Miss Austen's 'mild eyes,' to 'finish more and be more subdued;' but neither am I sure of that. When authors write best, or, at least, when they write most fluently, an influence seems to waken in them, which becomes their master--which will have its own way--putting out of view all behests but its own, dictating certain words, and insisting on their being used, whether vehement or measured in their nature; new-molding characters, giving unthought of turns to incidents, rejecting carefully-elaborated old ideas, and suddenly creating and adopting new ones.

Is it not so? And should we try to counteract this influence? Can we indeed counteract it?


And then, some similar thoughts from Jane Austen, who was responding to the Prince Regent's librarian, James Stanier Clarke after he requested that she consider writing a particular sort of story:

You are very kind in your hints as to the sort of composition which might recommend me at present, and I am fully sensible that an historical romance, founded on the House of Saxe Cobourg, might be much more to the purpose of profit or popularity than such pictures of domestic life in country villages as I deal in. But I could no more write a romance than an epic poem. I could not sit seriously down to write a serious romance under any other motive than to save my life; and if it were indispensable for me to keep it up and never relax into laughing at myself or other people, I am sure I should be hung before I had finished the first chapter. No, I must keep to my own style and go on in my own way; and though I may never succeed again in that, I am convinced that I should totally fail in any other.


About Scheduling

Earlier this week, I noticed that the tagline for Sara Lewis Holmes's blog, Read Write Believe, is this wonderful quote from E.B. White (yes, he of Charlotte's Web and The Elements of Style):

"I get up every morning determined both to change the world and to have one hell of a good time. This makes planning the day difficult."

About Writing Haiku

Michael J. Rosen stopped by at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast on Friday to discuss his new book, The Cuckoo's Haiku: And Other Birding Poems, which looks like a must-have book not just for my own poetry collection, but as a gift for my aunt the bird-lover as well. Here's a bit of what he had to say:

. . . for me, writing is always a way of regaining ground, of slowing down my racing thoughts. As Auden wrote of poetry, it’s ‘clear thinking about mixed feelings.’

The shortness of this form proved meditative. For being so brief, it is nevertheless very long in realizing its prismatic clarity. (It’s easy to be vague and cloudy, but time-consuming—at least for me—to hone those few words into something that reveals!) So I could take notes, create alternative versions, polish a line or two, and then hold that image or set of images in my head while walking or working. I could write and rewrite almost like reciting a calming, but evolving, mantra. And I could also move on to something else or to another attempt at a different haiku if I felt frustrated by a given poem. I could begin several in the same day, moving them like checker pieces across the board…making several plays with one haiku, leaving another to the side, shifting to a third in order to provide a little time or renewed perspective on the first one.


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