Category Archives: Craft

Writing Is Like Cooking

It’s been too long since I celebrated Déjà vu Thursday; consider this post me bringing the tradition back. I love to cook (and to eat) and today, while it’s cold and blowy out, the urge to fill the house with comforting smells and heat is stronger than ever. Enjoy!
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. . . writing is like cooking is like painting is like sculpture is like music is like gardening is like tying flies is like carving is like making bread is like making wine is like singing is like dancing is like cooking is like writing . . .

I’ve been thinking a lot about creative endeavours as a whole lately—thoughts sparked, I’m sure, by two gallery openings I got to attend (Noreen Spence’s took my breath away), but kindled into full flame by Laura Best’s great post on the same topic, my summer gallivants to the local farmer’s market and all the cooking I’ve been doing lately.

I love writing more than almost anything, playing with words, fighting with words, praying with words, crying and bleeding in words, loving through words, and yet—

When I cook, particularly when I’ve using fresh good ingredients, a feeling kindred to what I experience when I write wells up in me.

In concocting the perfect meal, there’s the same search for just the right bits and just the right balance of those bits—too much spice overpowers, diminishing/desensitizing the tastes buds, and flavour is actually lost, not enhanced. Too little seasoning and there’s no interest, no pizzazz.

And to cook well, you have to be brave, willing to experiment, not afraid to fail . . .

But you also have to build on prior knowledge—yours and others. Cooking is a pleasure and an art. It is also darn hard (and hot!) work sometimes. And there will always be those who don’t appreciate what you have to offer.

What you put into your work always counts. You can wreck quality ingredients, but it is hard to totally ruin them. On the other hand, however, if you start with crap—processed, chemically enhanced, super sugary, high fat junk—well, people might ingest it, might even think they like it, but for how long? That kind of meal does nothing for a person over the long term, has no lasting satisfaction and makes you feel empty sooner than later.

Good meals take time to prepare and they can be labour intensive, but the subtle flavours, complex layers and textures, the sensuous details—they give something to you that lasts far after you’ve finished the last bite. They become a part of your overall health and well-being. They create a feeling of abundance and community, and even if the taste was bittersweet, you’re better off for having experienced it.

Cooking and writing. I’ve yet to find better forms of nourishment. How about you? Is there something else that you do in life that echoes the joy and satisfaction that writing gives you?

p.s. My extended metaphor may have been a little over top for some of you (especially if cooking is your nemesis), but if you enjoyed it—or want a different analogy altogether—check out Jen Brubacher’s rather brilliant comparison between writing and building a house. It’s fun and very apt!

p.p.s. I’ve talked about cooking here before, if you’re interested in souping it up . . . :)


It’s all rock ‘n’ roll to me.

Digital image, Copyright 2011 Marriah Bishop, used with permission.

My daughter has started painting. She also takes a lot of photos (digital and old school 35mm). Lately, I’ve been struck by the contrast between her two arts—and how those differences relate to writing.

Photographers strive to capture images of what’s already visible in the world and focus in on it, with the goal of revealing what exists—what is tangible, what is right there in front of us—in a new way, making people see.

And, of course, most artists wielding a camera hope to make us feel—to invoke peace, hope, or joy showing the lovely things that exist all around us. To stir up empathy or make us angry (thus, hopefully, motivated to do something about whatever issue riled us up). To kindle awe or understanding about the world around us. To make us laugh. To make us cry. But they attempt to do that by showing us what already exists.

Painters, or the ones whose work I relate to most anyway, seem to approach their work the opposite way. They start with reaction (emotion) triggered by something real and try to express how feeling looks. The results on the canvas may be realistic and identifiable—a brook, a tree, a face . . . but they just as easily might be abstract colours and shapes and form, or some combination thereof. The final piece creates something real, yet isn’t fact-based or often a literal representation.

For me, those visual processes are close cousins to writing—non-fiction is like photography. I write about what really exists, for a variety of reasons—to create a record, to encourage, to challenge, to entertain, to inform. . . .

In fiction, I start with an idea or emotion or question and explore it through story—sometimes realistic, sometimes absolutely fantastic. Every time, with the hope of stirring the fears, concerns, rages—and the dreams, worries, and hopes—of the reader. I’m not concerned with the factual at all.

Whether the setting is a modern high school classroom, the moon, or a castle in a land of fairies, what I want is for people to feel—to recognise that emotional truths exist separate from literal events, times and places. After all, there’s something surreal about being human—there’s our physical reality, but then again, something so, so much more than that, in which we live and move and have our being.

Poetry and music are like what mixed-media is to visual arts—seeking to express what almost defies expression, to give substance to what is invisible yet is also somehow the crux of existence. Oxygen to plant life.

I read a comment on a blog recently that said that “real” writers don’t write blogs. (The irony that the comment was made on a blog, by a writer made me smile—and in a large part helped fuel this slightly odd post. As much as I see differences within the forms, mostly I see connections and related pathways between all modes of artistic and creative output. I’m not sure there’s any definitive definition for a writer—except that he or she writes. And although it’s interesting and fun (perhaps even helpful, occasionally) to wax poetic on the purpose and function of various forms of writing, I don’t know if it really matters how or why or what a person writes.

What about you? Do you write in a variety forms? Are you a writer and another type of artist as well? If yes, how do your processes/intentions differ according to the craft? If no, any specific reason why not?


Can a writer (or should a writer) ever really go it alone?

If you have other things in your life—family, friends, good productive day work—these can interact with your writing and the sum will be all the richer.  ~ David Brin

Last night I met with the Northwords Writers’ Camp writers and presented on how the Internet fits into/enhances my writing life.  I mentioned how it’s a great resource for:

  • Support, Inspiration, Community
  • Education, Practice
  • Writing markets, Publishers
  • Marketing, Communicating and building relationships with readers

I also delivered the reminder that we all apparently need to hear on on occasion. Just like any super hero has their kryptonite, the Internet has a side that can cripple even the most stalwart writer. It’s called TIME SUCKAGE. Only writing is writing.

And I touched on a few other things to beware of online (in blogs or public forums):

  • Nothing is private
  • Nothing goes away
  • Published online (even “just” on your blog) is published.

But feeling that the pros of getting involved in the Internet writing community (how it can help one grow in and enjoy his/her writing life) far outweigh any small cons, I encouraged each attendee to start their own blog and we spent the rest of our time talking about Do’s and Don’ts of great blogs and did some writing exercise to per chance get us started.

As ever I was blown away by people’s creativity and how unique and highly individual each person’s results were, even with exercises as specific and guided as the ones we did together were. It reminded me yet again of why I write, why I readto share, to learn, to grow.  To think, to laugh and sometimes, though definitely not last night, to cry.

It also reminded me of how good it is to get together with other writers (in person, live!) and talk craft. The Internet is awesome and I’m incredibly grateful for it, but it doesn’t replace the value and importance (and fun :)) of getting together in real-time with flesh and blood people who share your interests. (We talked about that too.)

If you’ve been writing in solitary confinement (as is, of course, the necessity and norm)or perhaps are feeling that you’re not getting enough alone time with your wordsre-read the quote I opened this post with. It’s good to have people and other activities in our lives. They refill the well.

Yes, only writing is writing, but sometimes to keep on track with our writing (in a way that brings joy, refreshes our inspiration, soothes our fears, etc) connection with other kindred soulsonline or face-to-faceis just what the Dr ordered.

What do you think? Can any writer truly go it alone?


Sex, violence, morality and other Scintillating-somewhat-scary stuff . . .

Déjà vu Thursday – In light of my last post, I thought I share one in a similar vein, written way back on October 12, 2009. Enjoy and as ever, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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I spent a lovely morning reading and contemplating various writing blogs. Kathy Chung (of Kathy – Rambling—a new blog I will now frequent) wrote about questions of morality that she’s been pondering because of one of her characters.

Joseph Grinton (Writing about modern romance), also newly frequented by me, had thought-provoking words in How To Write Sex Scenes.

I didn’t come across a blog post that opined on how much detail should be given in depicting violent acts, or discussed how to write violent scenes realistically, or tackled realism versus gratuity, but somehow (and not just because I think Sex, Violence and Morality makes a grabbing title) the three things seemed linked in my mind. Writing about them (and similar high-octane subjects) demands a certain bravery.

In the early days of my fiction, I realized that I was guilty of writing in the same manner that I watched scary movies as a kid. Scary music cues something Awful about to happen—swoop, blanket over my eyes. Smack, hands over my ears to tune out screaming and howling . . . I’d actually ask, “Is it over yet?” and wait for confirmation that the most horrible bits had passed before I’d peek again.

In writing that avoidance technique looked like this: Write a hook or some great invocative scene that foreshadows emotional or physical (or better, both at once) danger to character. Insert # # # to show that time has elapsed. New scene starts immediately after Event deemed too violent, too sexy, too something-scary to delve into comfortably. Often, since the reader needed to have some knowledge of the ordeal, I would do some sort of recounting, usually in the form of a conversation between the sufferer of the atrocity and his/her close friend.

“I can’t believe you went through that.”

“I can’t believe it either. I thought I would die when Joe pulled that knife on me and proceeded to—”

“It must’ve been even more terrifying because it probably triggered childhood memories of watching your own mom be killed in front of you . . . ”

“It did—but I managed to summon the will to fight, because I pictured my own daughter Macy’s little innocent face—I want her to grow up strong, to not feel like being a victim is inevitable the way I always did . . . ”

(Okay, please, please note, my writing was never really that bad—or Gah, I hope it wasn’t! But if a person avoids showing events as they happen, unnatural, stilted summary scenes become necessary—and if you’re even thinking, “My summary scenes aren’t stilted. They’re graceful and elegant,” go slap yourself and delete/rewrite the scene!)

I’m still working through what I feel is a good balance between portraying life as it is really experienced and what is too much—a completely subjective line, I realize. And I still battle with self-consciousness and worry. What will people think of me when they see the things that make up my head? What will people close to me say if my stories don’t line up with their ideas of morality? GAH—I write sex scenes and have children who read—awkward! I keep returning to the fact that to avoid writing something because it makes me (or someone else) uncomfortable is stupid and goes against the very reasons I write: to explore the world I live in, to figure out what I think, to yell into space: I am here, trying to figure things out . . . And in the end, if I offend or make someone close to me feel awkward? Well, they don’t have to read me.

So how about you? Are there topics you “don’t go”? What scenes are (were) your Kryptonite? Have you found ways to overcome your inhibitions? Should writers even try to overcome a shyness? Maybe some boundaries are good things . . .


Love – It’s in the Details

I had a terrible day a few weeks ago. When I finally crawled into bed, my husband was already asleep. That was great with me because I really didn’t want to talk about it anymore. I tucked myself up into a ball and rolled up against the mighty wall of his thick-muscled back as tightly as I could.

As I listened to his heartbeat and to the rumble-not-quite-snore of his dreaming, I was slowly comforted. No matter what days come, I thought, I have this.

And then something struck me so hard I literally jolted, causing him to pat my leg absentmindedly (no doubt thinking, Shh, shh, let me sleep—don’t wake me up . . .). What I realized was this: There are other people who, when they feel bad, sneak onto their side of the bed without making a sound and lie there, silent in their misery, alone—the body beside them being the last person they would—or could—seek comfort/solace/respite in.

And because I’m a freak and can never totally escape my inner writer, I had to turn this sweet moment of gratefulness into a craft lesson. I thought about the writing rule, “Show don’t tell,” and how in general, the way a couple positioned themselves in bed at the end of a bad day would be a powerful indicator of how they related to each other.

What I did says something about me. What my husband did (in not rolling away and burrowing his head under a pillow when I’m sure having my knees jammed against his back and me sniffling and flinching wasn’t exactly a big pleasure) says something about him.

People reveal themselves—their passions, their fears, their insecurities, their hopes, their strengths, their vices—in a million ways in little moments everyday. And often, because none of us are perfect or completely consistent, even with ourselves, there are tiny contradictions that may (rightfully or wrongfully) colour our interpretations of people.

A relationship might seem rocky or strained when couple snipes at each other in public—but that falls away, or at least loses weight, when they hold hands when no one else is around and he opens the car door for her or she gets him his favourite snack. And vice-versa, Shakespeare’s famous line, “The lady doth protest too much, methinks,” can apply in a negative way to romantic love too. If a couple is too sugary-sweet and all over each other all the time in public (and they’re older than nineteen), I confess I’m a little sceptical about the strength of the tie that binds them . . . (But than again, maybe not—maybe they’re genuinely more touchy-feely and I’m just an old curmudgeon!)

Now how about you . . . Do you consciously consider little “throwaway” moments that reveal your characters’ relationships with themselves, their mates, their kids, their friends, etc? Do you notice what, if any, contradictions exist between what they say and how they act? Is it harder, in your opinion, to show nuances of love or nuances of trouble brewing . . .


Because I love words* . . .

Anyone who values language, strives for just the right word and believes that having a whaphappening vocabulary is crucial to communication will adore this informational link.

Dictionary

You’re welcome.

:) Ev

*Alternate title: I want my own dictionary

p.s. Is anything better than Strongbad and Homestarrunner except, possibly, Teen Girl Squad? No, nothing is. It’s true. Every so often I forget–and then I remember and then . . . . I lose hours! The creators are sawesome–and zawesome, actually. Freaks–I love them.


Where Stories Come From

People frequently ask me where I get ideas from and I’ve even blogged about this topic before in “Ye Olde Idea Shoppe.” While I occasionally have a clear connection between input and my vision for output (Oh, for “Such and Such” I was sitting under a bridge when X, Y and Z happened and Bam! I was hit with the story idea), I generally stumble through some lame mumble: Well, I don’t really know exactly. Ideas are everywhere.

Today, however, I’m happy to share a concrete bit of knowledge—including pictures—about where some of my ideas come from.

This weekend I was garage saling with my aunt and suddenly this crazy handcrafted basket made of twigs and burlap and leather appeared from out of nowhere.

“It’s a witch’s basket!” my aunt proclaimed with a small cackle. Indeed, it is Someone Interesting’s basket. I do not know what ideas exactly are coming from the basket, but there are many and I’m interested to see which ones I try to put to paper.

How about you? In the mood for a writing exercise? Here’s the basket—in three locations for your imagining pleasure. Write a scene or a short that features it or its owner, be he/she a long time keeper of the basket or someone who has just stumbled upon it.

If you do write something about this basket and want to share, I’d love to read what you come up with: just point me to the place!

Happy writing,
Ev


Writing is Like Cooking

. . . writing is like cooking is like painting is like sculpture is like music is like gardening is like tying flies is like carving is like making bread is like making wine is like singing is like dancing is like cooking is like writing . . .

I’ve been thinking a lot about creative endeavours as a whole lately—thoughts sparked, I’m sure, by two gallery openings I got to attend (Noreen Spence’s took my breath away), but kindled into full flame by Laura Best’s great post on the same topic, my summer gallivants to the local farmer’s market and all the cooking I’ve been doing lately.

I love writing more than almost anything, playing with words, fighting with words, praying with words, crying and bleeding in words, loving through words, and yet—

When I cook, particularly when I’ve using fresh good ingredients, a feeling kindred to what I experience when I write wells up in me.

In concocting the perfect meal, there’s the same search for just the right bits and just the right balance of those bits—too much spice overpowers, diminishing/desensitizing the tastes buds, and flavour is actually lost, not enhanced. Too little seasoning and there’s no interest, no pizzazz.

And to cook well, you have to be brave, willing to experiment, not afraid to fail . . .

But you also have to build on prior knowledge—yours and others. Cooking is a pleasure and an art. It is also darn hard (and hot!) work sometimes. And there will always be those who don’t appreciate what you have to offer.

What you put into your work always counts. You can wreck quality ingredients, but it is hard to totally ruin them. On the other hand, however, if you start with crap—processed, chemically enhanced, super sugary, high fat junk—well, people might ingest it, might even think they like it, but for how long? That kind of meal does nothing for a person over the long term, has no lasting satisfaction and makes you feel empty sooner than later.

Good meals take time to prepare and they can be labour intensive, but the subtle flavours, complex layers and textures, the sensuous details—they give something to you that lasts far after you’ve finished the last bite. They become a part of your overall health and well-being. They create a feeling of abundance and community, and even if the taste was bittersweet, you’re better off for having experienced it.

Cooking and writing. I’ve yet to find better forms of nourishment. How about you? Is there something else that you do in life that echoes the joy and satisfaction that writing gives you?

p.s. My extended metaphor may have been a little over top for some of you (especially if cooking is your nemesis), but if you enjoyed it—or want a different analogy altogether—check out Jen Brubacher’s rather brilliant comparison between writing and building a house. It’s fun and very apt!

p.p.s. I’ve talked about cooking here before, if you’re interested in souping it up . . . :)


Going Through Changes

I started a new job April 27 and as I was driving home from work the first Friday, reflecting on the week’s training, the thought occurred to me: I’m not a kid anymore.

It was a happy thought, triggered by the realization that I’m, for the most part, free of the obsessive worry to please that plagued me in younger years. I have confidence. Or at least far more than I used to

I attribute this change to a myriad of ongoing experiences. Running my own business has shown me that I’m competent in a variety of areas. Writing has given me a safe place to vent and to explore, while providing a sense of fulfillment that makes “job satisfaction” less critical to me. I want to do well at work, because that’s my personality type, but my job is a job, not my life. Aging itself, which has lent perspective about what to concern myself about.

This “not a kid anymore” strain of thought was lovely and apropos as it occurred on the eve of my 38th birthday and coincided with the realizations my main character has made lately.

I’m fascinated by how changes in our personalities or general approach to life can sneak up on us, catching us almost unawares—like until we’re put into a position where our personality/beliefs, etc are tested, we’d never know they’d deviated.

While my change in self-perception/outlook was positive, sometimes these sneaking deviations from formerly held views and approaches to life are negative. The person who wakes up on his 30th wedding anniversary and realizes he doesn’t love his spouse (or that she has never loved him). The person of religious faith who, after years of devotion, worries that their faith is baseless. The fifty-year-old who realizes now that their children are fully grown that they’d made the same serious mistakes raising them that their own parents did . . .

The most powerful part of these inner revelations is not the actual change in our thinking, but the awareness of our change and what we go on to do in light of it—how it affects the way we live and the way we relate to people in our lives.

The most interesting novels to me show characters grow and develop (and regress!) over time—they explore the twisty path of human experience, not just event.

I hope your characters have pivotal moments—large and small—in their interior lives, perhaps kindled by action happening in the story, perhaps intrinsic to, thus feeding the story. It doesn’t matter which comes first—the plot, then the characters’ change and growth or a character’s change that leads to some explosive plot, but inner change has to be there.

We shouldn’t create static characters, because humans aren’t static. Even in the silliest, most simple ways they change, grow, discover—and are changed by noticing that they do.

So what do you think? Do your characters change in big and small ways through your story or series? Do you agree that it’s important?


“On the Wall” will be up at everydayfiction.com tomorrow!

I’ve been writing a fair amount of short stories lately–very short, like under 1000 words. These little tales are fun to write and also beneficial from a craft point-of-view. (I usually write them as a form of exercise, practicing something specific in each one.) Then, as more “exercise,” I’ve been taking the stories a few steps further–through an edit and polish and then submission (when I like what I’ve come up with that is. I don’t rework/submit every one).

Tomorrow (Friday, May 7) one of my short stories will be the story of the day at Every Day Fiction Magazine.Please go and read it and leave a comment: “On the Wall” by Ev Bishop. I’d love to receive responses!

Happy writing and reading this week, everyone!

~Ev


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