The Message and the Medium

What form should your work take screenplay, novel, essay, short story, poem, etc. Its said that form follows function. But the form that your project should take may not necessarily be obvious. What you think may be a novel my work better as a play.

 

By learning and studying the strengths and weakness of the various mediums you can see how best to leverage that into your project.

 

If you are working on a project there the major characters move the narrative along mostly through conversation, dialogue you may want to scope out the project as a play (think “Waiting for Godot”). What you intend as a short story may in fact grow organically while you are writing. Suddenly you are surrounded with the landscape of a sweeping epic.

 

Or perhaps the main point that you are trying to get across could best be illustrated by a short form. A short story or essay would be a good selection for communicating a moment of change.

The short form is more of a close up. It focuses the reader on the moment of change in things, people, relationships.

 

Let’s take a look at some of the mediums –

 

Taken from Wikipedia (THE authority on all things wiki) Creative writing incorporates all these mediums:

  •    Autobiography/Memoir
  •    Creative non-fiction (Personal & Journalistic Essays)
  •    Epic
  •    Flash fiction
  •    Novel
  •    Novella
  •    Playwriting/Dramatic writing
  •    Poetry
  •    Screenwriting
  •    Short story
  •    Songwriting
  •    Bibliography
  •    Stream of consciousness (narrative mode)

 

In “Bang the keys” Jill Dearman highlights the various strengths and weakness of the forms. As she points out, it all comes down to your idea and how you can best develop and express that idea.

 

Exercises:

Select a couple of different mediums and write a paragraph synopsis of your story. See what feels natural for your story.

 

For each medium write a paragraph detailing the pros and con’s of that medium relative to your particular idea. Don’t hesitate to look at your project with new eyes.

Jill Dearman "Bang the Keys

Jill Dearman “Bang the Keys”

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Meditation and the Writing Mind

If I had a nickel for every time someone said we needed to unplug from this increasingly wired world, well, I would have a whole bunch of nickels. At least enough to get lunch. We’re wired, we’re connected, information comes at us twenty four seven and there really isn’t anything wrong with that. Its fine. This whole issue of information overload is nonsense.

 

It’s become a cottage industry in this country to blame all sorts of ills on information overload. They say that we are so disconnected on this digital world, we come home and plop in front of a computer to avoid interacting with the people around us. Well, in the old days we used to avoid these people by just reading the newspaper and plopping in front of the TV. Don’t blame the internet if you find the people around you boring… They would be just as boring if you didn’t have a computer.

 

You don’t interact with them because you choose not to interact with them. Whether you avoid them with the newspapers or newsgroups it’s a problem that’s always been there. To blame it on the computer is not fair. And I think it’s also, displacement. But enough on this rant.

 

As I’ve mentioned, I’m reading through Jill Dearman’s book ‘Bang the Keys’ and in chapter six she writes about the need to disconnect from our digital world and reconnect with our tangible selves. Through meditative practice we can quiet the outside noise that bombards us, and reconnect with our ‘authentic’ feelings. It is from this quiet space where writing can emerge from.

 

She cites several examples where her meditation serves to quiet her mind. It is from this place of stillness in the mind where she can access thoughts and impressions that she uses as a creative impetus. She discusses different types of meditations and different authors as who have different experiences quieting the outside world (Stephen King in his book ‘On Writing’ says that he blasts AC/DC) and reflecting on their work.

 

Exercises that she recommends for writers is to jump in with both feet:

  • Sit – comfortably
  • Count – from 1 to 5 on your right hand, then 5 to 1 on your left hand. You’re getting your finger ready to ‘bang those keys’
  • Surf – let your thoughts and impressions, phrases and images, drift through you… as you see one that interest you, grab hold and focus on it
  • Question – she suggests a mantra, as you are tapping those fingers from 1 to 5 and then 5 to 1, replace the numbers with the 5 ‘W’s of journalism; Who, What, Where, When, Why
  • Write! – after spending five minutes on these warm-ups, write for five minutes on what comes out of it.

And writing is the best advice for any sort of exercise

Jill Dearman "Bang the Keys

Jill Dearman “Bang the Keys”

 

Channeling Authors

When writing a novel a writer should create living people; people not characters. A character is a caricature.

  • Ernest Hemingway

 

Talent is cheaper than table salt. What separates the talented individual from the successful one is a lot of hard work.

  • Stephen King

 

As you might recall, I’ve been going through Jill Dearman s book “Bang the Keys”. In the fifth chapter she discusses an interesting concept. She starts out be noting that as a writer with a project you may be struck with a bout of self-doubt that the project you’re working on may not be right for right now and you want to do a different one.

 

She uses an analogy of a burning need to put out a manifesto essay. But really it could be any other project that seeks to divert our attention. How do we know that the project we are working on is the right one for right now? In our multi-tasking world with a myriad of sensory input and ideas bursting all around us should we be working on some other project, or are we just avoiding the work needed to complete our current piece.

 

Are we already surrounded by half-finished things?

 

Ms. Dearman suggests looking to your literary heroes. What would your favorite author advise you to do? Write it down. Actually work through this exercise manually. Perhaps in your project journal. But focus on what that author would say to you. And use their words… How would they encourage you and really, what would they say.

 

She provided several examples in the book of writers working on projects and how they answers this question. Some of them really do capture the voice of different authors. In one example john McCaffrey answers the question by imagining what Tolstoy would say, and it’s a fairly lengthy response. Then there’s Seems Srivastava’s example using just a simple quote from Oscar Wilde.

 

But she goes on to say that if you, as a writer, do feel this urgent need to put your current work on hold and pursue a much more pressing project, then do so. But be honest, if you are right back I. This position of having another burning ‘must do’ project next month and feel ambivalent about this hot new current project, perhaps the issue isn’t the project, but you.

 

What I learned going through this exercise, is that I don’t know too many authors. I have been reading ‘On Writing’ by Stephen King, and I’ve watched some YouTube videos that were biographical videos about him. But I find myself wanting to know more about the biography of Hemingway, and Rex Stout, and a couple of others. Reading helps your writing.

 

I would like to indulge in this exercise, but I feel as if I’m lacking the author’s voice. So, until I learn more about my literary ‘heroes’, I’ll have to just settle on the quotes.

Then it strike me, I sure don’t know too many authors.

So that’s my homework. I need to get to know some, at least read up on them at Wikipedia

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A Tale of Two Journals

The fan whirs near the column but the clogged screen covering it seems to prevent any air movement at all. The computer terminals are silent at this time of night. The radio sounds like background music and all the folks working here are so quiet with a half hour left to go in the shift. Somewhere off in the distance a printer quickly taps out the last of its work. Radios, fans, and papers rustling are all that’s heard in the air right now. The click of high heels and the thumps of sneakers signal the movement of people. A wave and a smile, I’m at a corner desk observing the traffic.

 

That tall fan, with its dull, lifeless, gray metal appears ageless. It’s as if it’s been here as long as the column which keeps it company.

 

Bonnie is behind me standing at a cart working with some papers and talking to Helen. Janet’s working quietly at her desk, and Bill I guess is gone for the night.

 

Ivory, our lead, is lumbering back into our unit. Debbie from the clerical unit with here now orange hair, sad smile, and attractively shaped body, slowly walks by on her way to the canteen for a soda.

 

Greg is biting his nails, Macie’s come through the loading dock door, I’m writing all this, and our little unit only has nine people in it. “I’ve had the time of my life” is playing on the radio, my soda can is half empty, or half full, and I’m surprised that I’m not asleep. Mr. Bassler isn’t here and Debbie slowly walks back. Ivory slowly walks to the copier… words to Janet… words from Janet… Ivory, Janet, words back and forth. I guess they’re having a conversation. It may not be go-home time, but at least its clean-up time.

 

What’s John doing in the back? Muttering about how people count. Tall with yellow short-sleeve shirt. Just standing back there muttering… poor thing.

 

And such is a snapshot from 1988. A long time ago. I know this because I keep a journal.

 

It used to be that most of my entries where a play by play account of events, which is useful, or laundry lists of things to do. Many entries are the type you might find in any little girl’s diary about what I did that day. Now however, I tend to focus more on one event, my detailed reactions to that event. I try to examine motive thoughts feelings perspectives. I write entries with an eye for writing.

 

I’ve been working though Jill Dearman’s book “Bank the Keys”. It’s a book geared toward teaching the budding writer steps to a lifelong writing practice. In the fourth chapter, she discusses maintaining two journals. I know, crazy isn’t it. Most people I know don’t bother keeping any journal at all. But you know what they say about the unexamined life. Having a journal goes a long way in helping you see yourself.

 

The first journal is a journal in a traditional sense. The entries would be written from your first person direct experience. Your journal should focus your attention on your reactions and feeling to the things happening. Get wordy with it. This is a great opportunity for you to expand your vocabulary and hone your grammar. By focusing how your emotional side, you will have a ready source of insights to draw upon in the future.

 

This sort of journal will build your confidence in communicating at an emotional level. By practice, practice, practice, you will develop the skills. By examining your own situations, you will be better able to communicate through the characters you develop.

 

The second journal you will want to maintain is a project journal. This is a journal about your current work in progress. Its a centralized place to jot down and story all those great ideas about the current project as you need it. A great though pops up… Jot it down. Overhear an interesting price of dialogue… Jot it down. Notice a place that looks interesting… Describe it in as much detail as you want, right there in your project.

 

Now, if you were to ask me what I do as far as the project journal is concerned, well, I often have different projects going, so instead I maintain different project journal files in my OneNote app running on the tablet, smartphone, laptop, and desktop. Though I will say that for jotting down those quick ideas as they come, I often do that using the smartphone.

 

So, as far as the journals go, I am a full-fledged fan. I have found that through my own journaling, working on these blog posts has been easier. Journaling has greatly improved my focus and not necessarily in a linear way. I can focus on the sequential order of thoughts when needed, but I am also quicker at exploring an expanding web of interconnected and disjointed thoughts, feelings, impressions. So I would recommend picking up a pen and a notebook or two or three, but if you’re like me, busy busy busy… try a tablet. But either way you choose, just get busy writing!

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Writing Time

I’ve noticed that the days are getting shorter. Summer is at its end and autumn has crept up on my like a thief of the calendar. I don’t mind. I actually like the cooler temperatures of autumn to the heat and humidity of august. The shorter days though… I don’t know. I do like having plenty of sunshine around. Im waking up these days to a dark apartment and I prefer that it be lighter when I wake. But such are the seasons… each one in turn its blessings and its drawbacks. And the grand arc of time moves forward.

 

It’s about time, writing time that is. Time to put pen to paper, if people still physically write things out. As I’ve mentioned, I’ve been going through Jill Dearman’s book “Bang the Keys”. Her second chapter discusses the ‘calendar effect’. There are two main points that she makes here.

 

The first thing, time-wise, to consider with your writing is to make it tangible. By that I mean set firm goals. Make goals that are measurable. In this case, if you have completed the work from her first chapter, and have an idea or project to work on, scope it out with a time estimate and circle that calendar of yours. Make a commitment. Spill a little ink and mark up that pristine white calendar with some hard firm dates.

 

If you have your eyes on a large project, a novel, or a trilogy, or an anthology of shorter pieces, take the time to plot several milestones on that calendar. Don’t forget to check in with it as you go. With milestones you need to check in with them periodically to make sure you are still on course.

 

When it comes to marking up my calendar, I recall the words of an old professor of mine. He always said to us “don’t write in red, mark in red… it’s a bloody color.” So, I use a bright red sharpie pen to mark the milestones in my calendar. Now, if you are living ‘la vita electronica’, you are not exempt from this commitment. Your outlook still keeps track of dates. Nearly every electronic device has some calendar functions in it.

 

The second major point in this chapter of writing time is scheduling the time to write. This again is a way of making a tangible commitment to ourselves. We are often not doing this for other people. Right now we are still in the realm of ‘private practice’. Working on honing our craft before opening ourselves to the critics. So we need to carve out a piece of time for ourselves. Ms. Dearman suggests three two hour blocks or two three hour blocks per week for six weeks to build a ‘writing habit’. Other authors that I’ve red have used other measures. I recall one suggesting the your start with fifteen minutes a day every day, and then expand that time as the weeks progress. Stephen King, in his book “On Writing” mentions that the writer should be writing daily.

 

But whichever approach you want to take, the scheduling if time during the week (first approach), or the daily writing routine (second approach), choose the path that works best for your particular circumstances. The important part, with either approach, is consistency. It’s from the seeds of consistency that the tree of habit grows. Now you can cut and paste that on to a cute picture of a kitten and make it a meme of your own.

 

These two points, marking the calendar, and committing to setting aside time to write, work together. take a moment to look at your project. Is it a novel with a couple of milestones? Then the ‘fifteen minutes a day’ approach should have you completing that project at about the same time that the east side access tunnel gets done. If your goal is a piece of flash fiction, your goal should be reached so much sooner.

East Side Access Project MTA - NYC

East Side Access Project MTA – NYC

The BIG Idea

I’m sitting in a quiet cafe. A hot cup of coffee with a little cream sits on its saucer patiently waiting. The saucer, as well as the cup, are those white China ones with the single thin ring of gold around them. The traffic out the window is sparse on an early Sunday morning. The city that never sleeps does tend to spend it’s Sunday mornings leisurely in bed, and often with the Sunday Times. There’s a paper which could keep you in to bed reading till sometime late Tuesday.

 

As I watched a passerby’s pass by, I was reminded that there are eight million stories in the naked city. That iconic line was delivered back in 1948 when the city’s population was really only seven million eight hundred thousand. We only reach eight million souls officially in the year 2000. Today, penning these thoughts we’ve gained an additional four hundred thousand. But, as I’ve allude to… you couldn’t tell it from the quietness with which the city slowly rises on a Sunday morning. Yes, us early birds have our pick of the perches well into the eleven A.M. hour. I swear, New York is the only place I know where the Sunday morning brunch starts at one in the afternoon at many places. Ah, but I digress…

 

 

I’ve been reading of late, Jill Dearman’s writing advice book “Bang the Keys”. She has an interesting approach to fleshing out ideas. As I mentioned previously, I believe that ideas themselves are abundant. I do not subscribe to the scarcity mentality. That being said, we need to be able to evaluate ideas. We need a practical roadmap for decision making, before we drown in our own perceived brilliance.

 

 

Interrogation

 

Initially, you need to take hold of your idea, or ideas, and examine them. The Ms. Dearman uses the analogy of treating your idea like a suspect in an interrogation. Grill the idea, finding reasons to suspect it of being a really good idea. Then turn the tables and grill the idea again. This time you’re tearing it to shreds to find the reasons that its a bad idea. Your idea will probably come with a host of reasons for you to write. But don’t skip this process. Really dealing into the pros and con’s of each idea will help to develops that idea.

 

 

Intangible unique

 

So, you have this idea. You think it’s a great idea. You come running into the cafe to tell me all about it. Grabbing a chair and turning it around to sir in your usual position you lean over it and talk right to me in that low, conspiratory voice of yours.

“Bill, it’s a great idea. It’s a story about a girl,” you start as I put my listening face on.

“OK, sounds kind of thin so far,” I reply, taking a fortifying sip of coffee. I know that I’m a captive at this point.

“Well she falls for this guy, but this guy ain’t no guy… Wait for it,” you say relishing the moment of reveal. “He’s a three hundred year old vampire that looks just like a teenager.”

“OK, and he’s a vampire teenager…”

“Yeah, yeah, and these vampires.. Get this… They shimmer!” You say with that big beaming smile of expectation.

“OK… And you wouldn’t be thinking of calling this story of yours… Twilight by any chance? Just remember what I always tell you. Make sure your great idea is a great idea of yours” I say offering you a piece of fresh bagel.

Exit stage left… Which brings me to another thing to consider when you are examining your idea. Consider the message within its medium. Suppose you want to tell an epic ‘man versus nature’ heroic tale. Think about your unique concept. Does the communication work better as a novel, a short story an epic ode? Perhaps it’s more visual and you should tell the story in a play.

 

Interview yourself

 

Finally, according to the points brought up in the ‘Bang the Keys’ book, Ms. Dearman says that you should interview yourself. Say for example that you have a couple of ideas and you’re trying to determine which one you should be pursuing now. Take some time to mull over these competing ideas. Are you the person to write this or that item? Is it the right time?

 

As she say, be tough, be fair. Most importantly, ask yourself the questions. Take the time to flesh out the stream of ideas bombarding you so that you can focus on bring the right project to completion at the right time. Oh, and think of all the half-finished projects you’ll avoid creating.

Second Stop Cafe - Williamsburg Brooklyn

Second Stop Cafe – Williamsburg Brooklyn

The Value of Ideas

I was in an old fashioned gentlemen’s club room in the city recently. The type of room with dark paneled wood and worn leather armchairs. It has a long mirrored glass behind the bar. There is a multicolored array of bottles in front of it. Working the narrow alley before them, Lloyd ambles back and forth among the few patrons perch at the bar. Hiss thinning black hair combed back sit atop his narrow pale face which always wear a calm, gentile smile. He’s a comforting fixture INA world of transitions. He’s been dispensing solace there for the better part of thirty some odd years.

 

“Lloyd, I’ll have a bourbon please,” I said ordering my usual.

 

“Yes sir,” he replies. I watch him grab a bottle off the rack and pour a generous two jiggers into a lead crystal old fashion glass and cap it with a splash of water. His movements fluid and practiced. He arms moving freely in a starched white shirt. He wears a black vest, black slacks, and red paisley tie and I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s the only outfit he owns. Yes, I can picture him with a closet full of white shirts and black vests, oh, and red paisley ties of course.

 

“Thank you Lloyd, I said. I collected my drink and headed over to a cluster of chairs where George and Patrick were already ensconced and focused on their discussion.

 

Lost in my own thoughts and enjoying the antiquated atmosphere, I grew attentive to their conversation. They had begun a discourse on the value of ideas when it comes to writing good fiction. Both had plenty to say as they are both quite boisterous bloviaters.

 

I can appreciate the thinking that goes into the school of thought that ideas are precious and need to be nurtured over a great period of time. I recall that in Stephen King s book ‘On Writing’, he mentions writing down thoughts, creative ideas, and letting them sit and stew. Possibly they even ferment. He says that if an idea is a good idea it will stand the time test. It would appear that he doesn’t come up with an idea and then run directly to the word processor.

 

These writers who subscribe to the one good thought at a time are those who are off led by their Muse. Then tend to steadfastly work on a project straight through they begin with ‘the idea’, and work nose to the grindstone all the way through to the end. It takes focus. A focus that I do admire as I do not process it. Perhaps I can develops it within myself but for now, today, it escapes me.

 

I tend to believe more in the second school of thought: ideas are cheap. There is always an idea or two coming at me. I can’t swing a cat by the tail without hitting two or three. I’ll trip over four or more just outside my door. You can tell from the stack of half completed pieces littering my desk, my hard drive, my head, that I am up to my proverbial eyeballs in ideas.

 

Granted, not all of them are good ideas, and some are even downright bad ideas. I just didn’t know they were bad at the time. Add to that, I am relatively new to writing fiction, and it’s hard to distinguish the good idea from the bad idea.

 

As my pile of half completed work demonstrates. It would behoove me to spend more time fleshing out the ideas, curating them. Perhaps, as Mr. King does, jot them down and let them settle. The good ideas should grow legs and crawl out to bite me. As it is now I do rather enjoy throwing myself into a new projects and spilling ink to see where it flows. Although I don’t think these characters flashing across the screen much count as ink.

 

But, as I’ve mentioned, I’m working at scraping the rust off of my wordsmithing sword. One of the ways I’m accomplishing this is in the daily word challenge. One thousand words. Its my short term goal these next few months to put out one thousand words per day.

 

Ideas are cheap, words are cheap, but the time these bad ideas consume, well, that isn’t cheap. I’ve convinced myself that is still early, and I’ve a long way to go on this journey of becoming a writer. The days do however, at some point, come to a close…

nyc_mens_lounge