The past several days I've been busily keeping up with my word count goals for the April Camp NaNoWriMo. For those of you unfamiliar, this is a light version of the November event, National Novel Writing Month, that requires 50,000 words to "win."
At camp we set our own goals, and chat with cabin mates late at night by the light of our flashlights. Marvelous fun!
I set my goal ridiculously low and have mostly exceeded it daily. Nothing like the sweet smell of success to keep me motivated!! But I'm not sure what I'll have when May rolls around. An eighth of a novel? A character study for my first book? Something for the bottom drawer? Or worse, the recycle bin?
The purpose of the word count goal is to keep you going, while ignoring the inner critic(s). This can be, and has been, very freeing. It has also, however, revealed my lazy lazy tendency to use "be" verbs, boring verbiage, and cliche. I'm learning much about myself and my writing acumen, and I'm not sure I like what I see.
Alas, it is said writing is rewriting. And I'll have nothing to rewrite unless I write. So I press on, perpetually forgiving myself and intoning "oh well" with every drab word choice. It is just summer camp, intended to be fun. It should be all about mischief and marshmallows--and the tippy-tap-tapping of fingers to keyboard.
A major stumbling block in my writing is point of view (POV). I remember high school English class lessons about writing in the first person, third person and omniscient points of view, but evidently there is more to it than that. This became very clear to me when I volunteered to submit the first page of a story to a Thick-skinned critique session run by two well-known authors several years ago. I knew the section had problems—maybe a dull hook, insufficient sense of place, a lack of emotional investment—certainly something! But the main comment was confusion of POV. Because mine was the last sample, there was no time to elaborate. I left very confused, with the page in my hand and a big red POV in the upper right margin.
I read it over and over then and over the months that followed and could not find the problem. I still don't know what it was. The section has been reworked so many times in my half-crazed efforts to fix what I didn't see, that I can't go back to it and see if I've grown enough as a writer to figure it out. But my confidence had been shaken. I bought books on POV, read every blog that mentions it, and my inner critic especially loves to whisper in my ear, "Yesssss but have you checked the POV!?"
Off the page, however, point of view is becoming clearer and clearer. The writing concept is an exceptional tool for viewing interpersonal relationships. Hubby and I often discuss books we are reading, and I am always pointing out the obvious violations of POV standards. Move that into real life, apply it to real living breathing people, and there is much to learn.
Attributing feelings and thoughts to others is now so commonplace, but is not always obvious. Think about story POV and it is more easily revealed; in a written story, we would think "He couldn't possibly know that." My own inner dialogue often totally violates point-of-view when I make an assumption about what another is thinking--about me, about others, about politics--even about God. We box people up in a stereotype, tie a bow on it, and limit our capacity to listen and understand.
The greatest peace this has brought me is the ability to see when somebody has "head-hopped" into my head and applied a label. Hello there, fella, "You can't possibly know that." And it isn't true...
Maybe someday I'll be confident about POV in my writing. But for now, this is good bonus insight.
This short note is in celebration of the discovery of a new word. Co-locating. My son used it last week descriptive of a cellular activity, and though I was pretty sure I knew what it was, I decided risk the appearance of ignorance, and ask.Yes, indeed. Co-locating is the process of two or more objects coming to the same place. Am I the only one who has never heard this word before?
A little research (very little) shows the word as having use for communications satellites and business web servers. And certainly Science Son is using it for technical reasons also. But I see all sorts of possibilities.
I don’t know why, but this word makes me smile, especially the seriousness in which it is used relative to movement of cellular structures. After all, one might just as easily say these structures moved together, or these structures are now in the same place. But how elegant to say they co-located, and how graceful, how purposeful, they seem when they co-locate.
This is what I’m talking about. The simple way the language can enrich our lives. Sure, it can provide “Just the facts, ma’am,” holding content for the simple transmission of information. Or it can tickle us with its form and feel, as well as function. How much more fun!
And hot off the press:
We just heard that the Federal government may be requiring banks to call the police when anybody withdraws $5,000 or more. Since we are planning to move our funds from a California bank to a North Carolina bank, requiring a withdrawal of considerably more than that amount so that we might co-locate with our money, we could be subject to such investigation. I am so excited to find a real use in real life for the word co-locate!
"Honestly officers, we just wanted our money to co-locate with us!"
There are several benchmarks indicating you are a writer, at least as far as I can glean from the Know-all-See-all internet, various blogs, and casual writerly conversations. The first, of course, is that you write. But I'm talking about being a capital 'w' Writer. These benchmarks are indicated by certain statements that sound something like this-
I can not NOT write!
When I was a kid I was always making up stories.
I find story ideas everywhere!
These are indeed all wonderful indicators, but the lack of such does not reveal a non-Writer. You guessed it. I don't have a high score on any of these. In fact, I can easily NOT write; I can do the dishes, walk the dog, call a friend, browse catalogues, trim my nails, paint, check Facebook, trim my nails again . . . It is quite easy to not write.
I have to search hard for stories, scribblings of which show up later on scraps of paper, in my iPhone notes app, in a file called Fodder in Scrivener, generally leaving no clue as to what I was thinking or, at most, providing a couple of raggedy sentences of content. Yes, ideas may be everywhere. Good ideas? Meh. Not so much.
I did make up stories as a kid. More along the lines of, "I didn't do it!" Is that the same thing? Hmmmm. Didn't think so.
So my score is low and, if you are reading this, I suspect you have a low score, too, and are assailed by the same doubts. Especially when other writers' blogs or bios lay claim to these and other indicators. Will I let that stop me?
Will you let that stop you?
I've signed up to go to camp this April. Camp NaNoWriMo! So, even though it is a virtual camp, I thought, well, I should have a camp name.
I had two choices: Peanut or Raven. Peanut comes from my uncle, who thought that's what I looked like when I was a baby(!). Raven is from a friend, who felt I was like the ravens who fed Elijah when he was at the brook Cherith. I kinda liked that one, and when I asked the spouse which he preferred, he immediately said Raven. I guess I've outgrown Peanut.
So I did a little research on ravens, and though they eat carrion, they do have some other more redeeming qualities. And though there is a comic book character named Raven with a spotty past and some demonic leanings, I thought I could provide some other more redeeming qualities. Finally, when I tried to sign up for camp with that name, not only was it already taken, but it had been used by a spammer. A spammer!
Well, that's that. I've lost interest, make no claim to the name, and release it, as the bird it is, back into the netherworld of the cloud from whence it came. Perhaps Elijah's ravens were an anomaly.
So I've been thinking how important a name is. A rose by any other name may still smell as sweet, but if I don't see or smell the rose and you are trying to identify it without the proper name, I'm just not going to get it. Call it the red flower with lots of petals; I might think of a geranium. Tell me it smells good, and I might think gardenia. Tell me it has thorns, I might think of gorse. Call me Raven and someone might think of a carrion-eating, half-human half-demon empathy who can teleport her soul-self away from her physical body. Yikes!
Ahem. So. A name is important for communicating the exact item/species/character/etc. Which is why I felt angst-y when a local pastor announced that Allah is the same God as the God of the Bible. I would love to believe that. Wouldn't it be great it we could all just call Him what we want, and attribute to Him only those characteristics of which we approve? But it just isn't that way. God's name describes who He is: I AM. The self-existent one. And the name Jesus (Yeshua), describes who He is to us: Salvation.
I still don't have a camp name. I'm open to suggestions (be nice). But I'm going to be very choosy; it's a weighty thing to take on a new appellation. For now I'll be at Camp NaNoWriMo with the simple camp name, c.e.lerner, tying word macramé in the craft cabin, and tripping over roots and gerunds while snipe hunting with a gunny sack and flashlight.
Speaking of sentences and the Great American Sentence Contest, there is a topic that has been long on my heart and mind and somewhat dear to me, at least slightly more than the best brand of wild bird seed or the current snow pack of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. The topic is ... the long sentence.
I became a proponent of the long sentence under the tutelage of Professor Brooks Landon of the University of Iowa. OK, so it was through a course on CD from The Teaching Company. Nonetheless, I also happen to have enjoyed many long sentences throughout my reading life. So why is this an issue for me?
It came up in a writing critique group quite a while back. Many of my sentences are longer than those of others, and one member of our group said, “You are only allowed one fifteen word sentence per chapter.” Like, that is the longest a sentence could be, and, like, you are only allowed one. Per chapter.
So I asked a publishing professional what he thought. He thought he might use this as a topic for his blog some time in the future, but in the meantime he wrote, “I'll offer my short answer to you privately: Nonsense.”
What counts is not brevity, but clarity, and a well-turned sentence that provides clarity of expression and beauty of rhythm is far more effective and enjoyable for both reader and writer alike, no matter what the length.
Thirty-eight words, that one. Was it clear?
This was again brought home to me recently when I discovered comments by Roy Peter Clark on Poynter. Of the following (beautiful!) long sentence, he says, “Great writers fear not the long sentence, and here is proof. If a short sentence speaks a gospel truth, then a long one takes us on a kind of journey.”
This private estate was far enough away from the explosion so that its bamboos, pines, laurel, and maples were still alive, and the green place invited refugees—partly because they believed that if the Americans came back, they would bomb only buildings; partly because the foliage seemed a center of coolness and life, and the estate’s exquisitely precise rock gardens, with their quiet pools and arching bridges, were very Japanese, normal, secure; and also partly (according to some who were there) because of an irresistible, atavistic urge to hide under leaves.
I love that--a short sentence speaks a gospel truth, a long one takes us on a kind of journey. And John Hersey has provided a very vivid journey here.
There are a lot of opinionated people in my world, both close and far away, friend and stranger, with varied and contradictory opinions one and all. I don't feel I'm all that opinionated, and I started thinking maybe I was an anomaly, someone with no opinions, or at most, minimal ones. But, no, I have them. I'm just not as (ahem) expressive about them as so many others. In fact, even as I hold some ideas precious and valued, and will wax eloquent and even pseudo-eloquent when given the opportunity, I mostly try to listen and absorb the thoughts and insights of others. I give them serious consideration. Internally. Quietly. Sometimes (sssshhhh) tossing them gently over my shoulder as needs be.
But of late it has just been the sheer volume of opinions--a veritable tidal wave of noise and clamor coming from all directions that has left me speechless.
There is also so much good stuff that I’ve been lost in BlogCandyLand, wherein I think, well, they said it so well, we’ll just leave it at that. Add that to the preponderance of opinions, rabid and often rude, and I think, well, we'll just leave it at that.
So I caught a bad case of blog silence.
Until I came across this:
The Great American Sentence: A Contest
Yes, yes. If you win you get double the prize money if you promote the contest. But that is not my motivation here (really. No, really!) I think this is worthy because it is right up our alley—it is what WordLine is all about. In fact, I wish I had thought of it first! (Pooh!)
So get your sentences out, brush them off, and toss a couple of them over onto Easy Street. I’m playing with some myself, here. Let me know if you come up with something that particularly gives you nachas.
I think this is going to get me started again. I think this is going to prime my pump.
Look out, World!
It's been almost five years since I first took up weaving. I've taken the class, read the books, and watched the videos. I thought I knew what I was getting into, but do we ever fully know? Having several projects under my belt (including my belt), I think it's time to be honest. Every time I warp* the loom, I swear. First, I swear at the tangles and broken strings, at the miscounted heddles, and the crossed warp threads. Then I swear I'm going to list the loom on Craig's List and be done with it.
With that in mind I attended the Spinner's and Weaver's Guild Open House, and purposed to ask my questions, which all boiled down to some variation of:
"Is this the way it's supposed to be?"
I cornered one happy weaver blithely tossing her shuttle back and forth between beautifully aligned warp threads that formed exquisite sheds wholly responsive to the movement of the heddles.(!) I explained my issues with warping, trying not to sound whiny, and without any indication that her answer might impact my future weaving career. The bottom line is, weaving is at least 4/5ths warping. It is the foundation, the task of weaving. Argh.
As in all those paint commercials where couples brighten a room in an afternoon, just rolling on a beautiful new color, without a hint that they had spent four days prior prepping the walls. And arguing. There is no way around it, it's all in the prep. As it is with weaving. As it is with life.
In spite of a former co-worker's claim that “friends don’t let friends go to Starbucks,” I do. I let my friends go, I go myself, and I go with friends. What I appreciate about Starbucks is the consistency of their products. Consistency in both ways: yes, they are yummy, but mostly because I always know what I’m getting.* Most of the time.
I asked Dear Husband (hereinafter refereed to as DH) to bring me out a salted caramel mocha while I watched over the dog outside. Soon we were sitting in the winter sun, basenji at our feet staring longingly toward our cups, sharing a moment with the blessing of caffeine.
My drink was definitely not salty enough. Nor carmelly enough. In fact, it tasted rather bland, and I was surprised how dull a salted caramel mocha was. Surprised and disappointed. I thought maybe the quality of service at this particular Starbucks had plummeted.
When I had half an inch left in my cup, DH tells me they didn’t have any sea salt, so what I was drinking was a plain mocha.
That makes sense.
But the odd thing about it was ...
Natural and Cultural History Interpreter, Storyteller. Delighting in words strung together.