creative ramblings & reverie

Friday, December 23, 2011

Writing Spaces

Writing Christmas cards.  Writing always fraught with whatever the year has given or taken.

Clearing the deck—or desk—for Janus, god of beginnings and ends, passages of whatever sort.  Looking behind; looking ahead.  Writing on the threshold of two years, in that shivery liminal space smelling of old woodsmoke and cardamom where everything again for just a night or two seems possible.

image:  While I was writing Christmas cards, Blue Is Bleu

Christmas Lists

What I would like for Christmas:

. an old Jaguar MK2—so I could hang a jaunty wreath from the hood ornament
. a pure soprano voice, with which to join the university church choir
. stripy legwarmers and slouch socks
. an autumn in Mallorca, to see the saffron crocuses in bloom
. to give our cottage passive solar heat
. a half a dozen Yorkshire curd tarts
. shade trees, or even one, in which to hang a temple bell
. to find a long, newsy letter from Shakespeare tucked into an old book
. to be imperturbable
. to be unfailingly kind
. joy, oh joy, for all the world


Friday, December 16, 2011

Writing Spaces

Natural objects that can just as happily be the subject of writing as its medium.  Feathers and shells and pigments, clay and bone.

image:  The Scriptorium

Writing Exercises

When Stuck

Gail Sher, One Continuous Mistake

• Write the same scene every day for two weeks.

Getting at Your Character(s)

Marguerite Duras, The Lover (shifting times, voices)

• Write about the same event in first person, third person, and first person looking back from a later time in life.
• Have three other characters in their own voices respond/react to something your character does.
• Write down the first three abstract terms that come to mind (well-being, thievery, chance, e.g.), and then explore what specific personal associations those have for your character(s).  Elaborate anything promising into a scene.

Cataclysmic Events

Or unbearable emotions—how to write about them.
Very big
Very small
Removals in time, distance, voice (humor, irony)

Vikram Seth, An Equal Music (big)
Marguerite Duras, The Lover (distancing)
Vladimir Nabokov, Bend Sinister (small)
N. Scott Momaday, House Made of Dawn (big)
Gail Sher, One Continuous Mistake (small)
Michael Ondaatje, Anil’s Ghost (rock carvings) (big)
Michael Ondaatje, The English Patient (Kip, Katharine) (big)
Harriet Doerr, Stones for Ibarra (distancing)

• Try writing the same painful scene (or immediate reaction to it) both very big and very small.
• Distance your character in time or space or tone from the event or emotions.


Harriet Doerr, Consider This, Señora (colors, formality)
Marguerite Duras, The Lover
N. Scott Momaday, House Made of Dawn (foreshadowing scene)
Vikram Seth, The Golden Gate
Derek Wolcott, Tiepolo’s Hound

• Experiment with different tones:  poetic, grand, biblical, melodramatic, journalistic, gothic, cinematic.  Write the same scene in at least two distinctive tones.
• Try the key elements of the scene as a sonnet, a haiku, blank verse.

Windows on the World

Factual or whimsical entr’actes, opening everything out.
Natural history

N. Scott Momaday, House Made of Dawn (myths)
Peter Matthiessen, At Play in the Fields of the Lord (moths)
Michael Ondaatje, Anil’s Ghost (atlas, rock carvings)
Michael Ondaatje, The English Patient (winds, maps, Herodotus)
Susan Brind Morrow, The Names of Things (language, animals)

• List a few intriguing windows which might be appropriate in your novel.  Write a paragraph for each, doing research if necessary.


Michael Ondaatje, The English Patient (the white goat)

• Choose three meaningful objects from three different times of your character’s life.  Write a paragraph about each.


Michael Ondaatje, The English Patient
Michael Ondaatje, Anil’s Ghost
Dorian Llywelyn

• Map your character’s life (or mental/emotional life).  Important features, landmarks, distances, boundaries, etc.
• Describe a physical map that somehow illuminates your novel.

The Meta-story

Stepping outside the story (or appearing suddenly in the story as author, stage manager, puppeteer, god) to achieve some effect.  What does it do to the novel?  What do you risk?

John Cheever, Oh What a Paradise It Seems
Marguerite Duras, The Lover

• Experiment with one or more of these devices.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Writing Spaces

The allure of books—no less today, for some of us, despite Kindles and iPads and the rest.

image:  Books, flypapertextures


She lay alone, only the aged beekeepers on the mountain.  And the god whose temple Nikos once uncovered there.  Fitting for her to end where he’d begun.  Fallen over one of his old stones.  At eighty, finally getting to them.  Understanding what he’d offered her.  This mountain and sky.  The ancient sage.  Too late.  Herself.


Friday, December 2, 2011

Writing Spaces

 Simplicity itself.  And clear of clutter—what a concept!

image:  Plzeň, former Franciscan monastery, scriptorium (early 14th Century), Jan Sokol


Some offerings in a minor key—

months passing—
yellow acacia faded,
and this playbill too

after the storm,
old trees huddled around
a broken branch of pine

boats washed ashore,
and a “tide of bodies,”
after the tsunami

a bit of orange peel,
color and fragrance
all but disappeared

drowned villages,
bells tolling on and on