How I begin writing

There are many ways people go about firing up the creative impulse and coming up with solid ideas or even the beginnings of a writing project.  I wish I had some foolproof method for beginning that flowed progressively forward through completion of a written work.  I don’t.  Just a couple of days ago, I tried to just do a simple exercise, and although I put a few things down, I would probably have been better served getting some sleep or trying to draw.  My brain adamantly refused to process verbally.

Normally though, I can usually flip the switch and actually do something simple at the least.  To that end, I use a number of very basic methods to “try” to get into the writing frame of mind and to “try” to get inspired.  Below is a straight copy and paste from the same text file where I’ve done a few quick exercises over a couple of days.  I’ll break them down.

The first part was from a few days ago.  I had the word minstrel pop into my head and immediately starting thinking of a scene where a minstrel played for a small group of people in a tavern.  I wrote the first word down and then jotted down the remaining words as I thought about the scene.

Minstrel
Onus
Lamplight
Dawn
Walls

As I thought about it, I expanded the visual image to include a walled city in the early dawn.  Yes, I know that my recent infatuation with that time of day is getting a little out of hand, but that’s also the way it goes when you spend a lot of time thinking about something while revising other work.  And I have no idea where Onus came from, but I put it down regardless.

Anyway, after only a few seconds, I had a short list, but I also had a visual image in my head of a scene.  So I wrote the first line below.  From there I followed the progression of what the light would do as it played across the stone walls and wrote the second line.  Then I brought the minstrel in and completed the stanza with a rhyming fourth verse that fit with the dynamic scene I had evolving in my mind’s eye.

The dying sun casts fitful rays at the cold stone walls of the keep.
Shadows grow in cracks and bowls among that flinty face.
Minstrels tune the lute and lyre in preparation for the night.
Chandlers with their waxy wands spread light about the place.

I don’t know if I’ll ever do anything more with this, but it has at least a little potential as the beginning of a poem that tells a story.  You’ll also notice that I consciously shifted away from dawn toward dusk, which changed my mindset but also fit the feeling of a beginning of a long evening rather than the closing of one.

Later in the same day, I was thinking about my unborn child.  I’ve always been a little distractible, so it shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone who knows me that I was randomly daydreaming about a child six months from birth.  During my imaginings, I thought about the fact that this is my first child, and that although I’ve been around and helped rear many children of both family and friends, this will be the first time when I have real weight behind what I say and do when I raise my child.  So I thought about what I would tell him or her.  The quick list of thoughts that follow is the result.

Letter to my unborn child

I hope you are better than me. That is my wish, my greatest desire. I want you to understand the benefit of hard work better and much sooner than I did. I want you understand kindness and selflessness without having to endure the worst of those lessons. I want you to be a person to inspire others. I want you to be judged and scrutinized by everyone and never be found lacking. I want you to be successful.

These are tiny little sentences that wrap up huge moments in my life.  I think it likely I will tell my child all the truth I can muster as he or she grows, and so I stopped writing this exercise because I realized the futility of trying to wrangle that kind of scope into even a grand volume, so much experience to mete out.  Yet, I also stopped because I realized that the little bit I wrote could be used to start countless other things as I expounded upon the events I learned from growing up.

Then earlier today I was working on the Early Dawn draft and playing with verses that were thematically similar.  I started with a mental image of early dawn and hit upon the following bit of verse:

Fitful traces of radiance draw forth form
From the erstwhile edges or deepest night
Depths resolve to surrender themselves
To the inevitable advance of invasive light

This verse doesn’t work with the other stanzas in Early Dawn, so I left it alone and moved on to the verse that I did include in the previous post.  I like some of this short stanza, and although it didn’t work as originally intended, it stimulated me enough to write the additional stanza.  Maybe I’ll come back to this at some point or incorporate it.

And the last bit is some simple verse I jotted down after seeing the word “stirrings” in the Early Dawn draft stanza I had written.  I thought about the word and started putting down some verse.

A stirring is felt within.
It is not something of the mind,
But of the soul.
How dare I speak of the soul,
Yet dismiss it as fantasy or mythology.
How and why and what are questioned,
And where are answers to be found.

It wasn’t meant to be thematic or even cohesive, but as one verse led to another, I started to tie them together more.  Again, this is just an exercise.  I’ll probably not use any of this, but if looking back on it another time, I find myself inspired, then it is a success as a writing exercise.

I guess I’d have to say I have two overall approaches to getting inspired.  The first and most common for me is through visual imagery, be it a mental image I construct of a scene or event or something I witness first hand.  Based on the vision, I create action or observation that I then feel compelled to put down on paper.  The second approach is verbal.  Hearing or thinking about a word or phrase is often the stimulus that causes me to want to write it down.  Once I have put something down, my mind naturally wants to toy with it and see if there is more to be coaxed from the words.

I’m not trying to espouse any method of divining inspiration, as I truly believe it’s a personal thing that has to be found out.  In all honesty, this post is more about self exploration than about sharing my experience.  If you find it useful or at least interesting, that’s just a bonus.

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Early Dawn – Second Draft

This is actually less a second draft than it is a bit of content with a question.  The question is how should I proceed?  I was thinking of some of the imagery of the late night/early morning, and I started writing some verse.  I like much of the new stanza, but it very obviously doesn’t fit at the end of the poem where it was originally tacked on.  The original three stanzas are much more cohesive–likely because they were written together on the same day, so it’s hard to split them as they flow together well.  Part of the problem is that the new material, while in line with the theme, does not fit conveniently anywhere with regard to the timing of the coming of dawn.

The lack of cohesion was strong enough that I stopped working on another stanza to try to find a way forward.  I think from this point I could go many directions: I could omit the stanza and try to create new verse that fits the earlier draft, I could revise and/or reposition the stanza to try to make it mesh more with the original material, or I could possibly create more verse that would smooth the transition.

I settled on trying option two and three.  I moved the stanza around, and it fits best at the top, but needs revision to change the feel.  There also needs to be at least one more stanza after it to smooth the transition to the appearance of the light.  So as of now, that’s the answer to my question.  I’ll work on that for now and see where it goes.

Waking creatures announce themselves,
With fitful stirrings of leaf and frond.
Roiling water marks piscine play,
On the mirrored surface of crystal pond.
Chitter and click of darkness fades,
As faithless denizens of the night abscond;
Nocturnal beasts retreat silently,
Through fields and woods and the hills beyond

Cool grey predawn catches fire,
Burns ever brighter as the sun ascends;
Radiant warmth fights silently,
Against the crisply coursing autumn wind.
Trees and grasses shiver and sough,
Hum tenuous tones on sway and bend;
Chanting songbirds lend melody,
The ethereal chorus of twilights end.

Hill and swale coalesce in form,
Awash with mornings first tentative rays.
Mounting dawn coaxes color forth,
Drawing vibrant hues from the muted haze.
Golden tones color Fall’s last leaves,
Sharing final splendor in dying days.
Deep violet skies flee fleetly west,
Seeking refuge once more as night decays.

Long shadows creep across the land,
False strength that falters as day grows bright.
Earth and stone sit stolid and cold,
Unavailing resistance to warming light;
Crystaline dew breaks free from bonds,
Restlessly stirring, grasps the wind and takes flight.
Eternal sun dances onward up,
An overarching orb empowering life.

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Funny disconnect with the wife.

I thought I’d post this funny tidbit.  I was telling my wife that I really needed to do something “artistic” since it has been a while since I’d drawn or painted, and I’m not that good to begin with, so I need the practice.  She then says that I should draw her something.  I asked her what she would like me to draw her, and I got no response.  I thought she had decided to ruminate on the idea, and that she would get back to me when she had a more concrete idea of what I could do specifically for her.

Well, since I was actually allowing the creative impulse to drive me to open the sketch book and sharpen the pencils, I knew I was actually motivated enough to overcome my general laziness when it comes to breaking out the supplies and actually making some marks.  And since she hadn’t offered up a subject, I turned to a website meant for artists to study and/or practice called the Drawing Script.  It’s located here: http://lovecastle.org/draw/.

It’s a website that will display a configurable selection of images, either in a click-to-advance or automated slideshow.  The subject material is somewhat configurable, but lends itself to figure drawing.  You can view nude or clothes figures or a few body parts such as hands or heads.  I found the site through http://www.ctrlpaint.com/, which is a very cool website with a lot of free digital art instruction.

I elected to draw a simple posed hand since I seriously haven’t drawn anything in many months, and I am by no means a master of any media.  So, I check the Hands checkbox, set it to not advance so I could pick an image myself, and clicked the Draw! button.  To my delight, the first image that popped up was–in my estimation–pretty cool and had some elements that I thought would be fun to try to draw.  So I did.  This is the result:

Drawing of a hand holding a knife

Hand with a Dagger

The entire drawing process was great.  I was dialed in spatially, I was making good marks, I was getting good contrast and detail, and I wasn’t having to correct the image much at all.  I was ecstatic!  Granted, I know that’s not going to beat most middleschoolers with talent, but for me, that’s a really good result after not having drawn in so long.

Problem is that my pregnant wife thought I was intending to draw something for her.  So by not giving me direction earlier, she was giving me freedom to come up with a wonderful idea of something nice for her rather than free rein to just draw whatever.  I go into the bedroom feeling good about myself, wake up my pregnancy-napping wife, and show her a picture of a hand holding a knife.  First impression was not great!

After a measure of understanding drizzled in, I explained the disconnect and how funny it was.  I don’t think she agreed.  I must now learn to draw flowers, possibly inside of an apology card.

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Vacation is nearly over . . .

Well, my wife and I returned home tonight after a long weekend of visiting relatives for a Christmas get together.  It was fun, and since we are still newlyweds, and it was her family we were visiting, it was another good chance for me to spend time with them.  They are much more spread out as a group than my entire mile-or-so-apart–parents-to-third-cousins–mass of family in the country.  We had a great time sans driving six hours.

Sadly, though, I’m now down to only tomorrow as my last day of vacation from work, then it’s back to the job.  That might not be a bad thing for the writing however, since I often spend a little time on lunch breaks writing this and that.  I’ll try to post more diligently.

I just this very moment realized that I didn’t make any New Years Resolutions last night.  I was lying in bed watching a movie in a hotel room while my pregnant wife snoozed next to me (yep, that’s exactly how I get down–HOLLA!).  So I’ll make the same standard resolutions including getting in better shape, making more money/spending less/being smarter with it, and doing the best I can at all I do.  Beyond that however, I will make a few legitimate, “FOCUS” resolutions:

  1. Be the best husband I can, which at this point includes a lot of catering to my wife as she brings forth my progeny.
  2. Be the best father I can, so that my child might have a chance to know a little of what I had growing up.
  3. And continue to write and write more prolifically including, if at all possible, completing a manuscript and sending it off to a publisher.

That seems like plenty of work, and I hereby reserve the right to wuss out on resolution three if resolution two owns me for a while, which is very likely.

(I used what is very likely the most highly experimental punctuation above.  Feel free to let me know if you would present my family situation more eloquently.  Thanks!)

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Update

Well, I’m in the midst of the holiday hustle and bustle.  I’m writing more content for the blog, specifically a couple of exercises and another Early Dawn draft.  I think I’ll try to finish the next part of the Magic Murder Mystery as I call it to myself.  I just need to pull it together and post it, which is where a lot of my work sits.  As much as I’d like to just write it out and post it as a draft, I have to do at least a little bit of editing, or it makes me crazy.  I’ve at least gotten to the point that I can actually write a draft and start a new one rather than continually editing the first draft down to the final.

I’ve also been working on a novel I have had going for a while.  I have an outline and chapter notes/descriptions/synopses but I’ve only written three or four of the chapters out.  I’m trying to get that information and content organized.  To facilitate that, I’m trying out yWriter5 from www.spacejock.com.  It’s a highly organizational writing software with options for adding almost any kind of content.  It also has a number of options for exporting the work or notes or the outline.  It’s very robust.  I’m enjoying my experience so far, but I’m only a little way into it.

Hopefully by the end of the week I’ll have another post or two.  I’ve got a project at work I’m trying to move forward, so I’ve been focused on that.  I should find some time in the evenings to at least do some exercises.

Duke

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Early Dawn – First Draft

This is the first draft of a poem based on the Early Dawn quick exercise I did.  I started to play with some of the verse and thought I might like to write a rhyming poem.  I realized I hadn’t done much of that in a while, so I decided to give it a try.  I used to write everything in rhyming verse, but fell away from that.  I find I still love to do it as the added challenge of both the rhyme and the meter make the process more rewarding in a way.

This is just a first draft, but I like some of the thoughts here.  I think I’d like to add at least a couple more stanzas and probably do some reordering to see how it plays out.

Cool grey predawn catches fire,
Burns ever brighter as the sun ascends;
Radiant warmth fights silently,
Against the crisply coursing autumn wind.
Trees and grasses shiver and sough,
Hum tenuous tones on sway and bend;
Chanting songbirds lend melody,
The ethereal chorus of twilights end.

Hill and swale coalesce in form,
Awash with mornings first tentative rays.
Mounting dawn coaxes color forth,
Drawing vibrant hues from the muted haze.
Golden tones color Fall’s last leaves,
Sharing final splendor in dying days.
Deep violet skies flee fleetly west,
Seeking refuge once more as night decays.

Long shadows creep across the land,
False strength that falters as day grows bright.
Earth and stone sit stolid and cold,
Unavailing resistance to warming light;
Crystaline dew breaks free from bonds,
Restlessly stirring, grasps the wind and takes flight.
Eternal sun dances onward,
An overarching orb empowering life.

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Early Dawn Exercise

This is another quick poetry exercise to get some imagery down on paper.  I was down at my family home this weekend, which is in the country, and while outside it occurred to me a number of times how much the feeling of the place affects me.  I thought I’d jot down some ideas and work to expand that.

Crisp wind buffetting the land
Cool grey pre-dawn catching fire,
Burning ever brighter as the sun ascends
Waking from dreams meant to lull and control
Breathing deeply, slowly drawing idyllic scents
Memories and substance awaken
Unable to recapture a perfect essence
Yet overwhelmed and inundated.

For decades I drank of that pastoral landscape
Sights and sounds innumerable and eclectic
Permeate every and all things
Sticks and mud, stone and tree, air and water
All subjects of the masterwork

Verdant and breathy, it pulsates to a deep rythme
My heart beats with it.
An awakening seldom priveleged
It stirs the depth of incomprehension
But comforts with familiarity.

So grand a vision

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Old Age – Fourth Draft

I finally got around to working on another draft of this poem.  I pulled a little material from the first rethinking and made some pretty heavy modification.  This is much closer to what I had originally intended, but I think it was good to explore some of the other aspects of the various drafts.  I think I want to keep actual memories out of the work so that it stays in the moment, and the poem continues to be about the occurrence of the character being mistreated unintentionally.  I’m hopeful that I can produce a final draft from this.

Surrounded,
Honored for longevity with proximity,
He sits central among them as they natter,
A clamorous homage to his perceived widsom.

It has been long since they were afforded
An opportunity, such as this,
To sit and regale each other,
Fervently summarize the intervals,
Spanning days, weeks, and years
Of increasingly important lives,
Judge successes and failures
Against a familiar tapestry.

He listens as though hearing fails,
The tellings filtered through a gauze,
Time wrapped about his mind.
He nods and smiles in affirmations
So important to them.
Memory is dear to him.
He walks the shadowed lanes of the past,
Fearful of what has been lost.

They break his reverie.
Sharply annunciated questions,
Near screams,
Force his attention.
His nods and mechanical smiles
Greet the patting of his arm and leg,
Pawing to ensure his attention,
On the moment . . . not the past.

Winks and knowing looks
Pass back and forth,
An acknowledgement of wit
And delicacy, and tact so necessary
For dealing with the aged and enfeebled,
An affront to a strong mind
In a worn shell.

Used up, he lingers on,
Weighted with emotion, bound by sensation,
Overwhelmed and long suffering,
Yet calm and knowing.

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New Beginnings – First Draft

I haven’t had much time to work on the Old Age poem, which I’d really like to finish.  I did work on a short new poem as a bit of an exercise.

I stand exultant yet mute,
Vexed by prudent secrecy.
Wistful longing forcefully abated;
Utterances shuttered . . . silenced.
Wondrous revelations swallowed,
Forcibly restrained, tethered and chained
Open to so few.

Hidden for mere moments;
Sufferingly long moments;
Interminable moments.
Withstanding the ebb and flow,
Of temultuous, undulating restraints.
Waiting time will wither.
Rejoicing in revelation,
All joyous and unrestrained,
New beginnings emerge and change.

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Wizard Detective Story Intro Chapter – First Draft

I intend to write out a good portion of what might eventually become novel length book. This is the rough draft of the first chapter only lightly edited as I typed it out. I don’t really have an outline. I think I’ll just wing it. I haven’t written any prose of any real length for a while, so it was interesting to see how much I stuttered as I started. I’m sure there are a hundred gramatical errors in there, and I included next to no real description, but I think it’s a decent draft. I’m actually thinking I might try to figure out how to write at a YA level, so I kept the language in this a little simple. On the other hand, I think even the descriptions of the body may be a little heavy for a true YA book.  Not sure yet.  I’ll keep plugging away.

Cyrus Greyson stood looking down on a dead body as he had often done. The young woman was burned and splayed on the floor of a dingy hovel in the lower city. She was positioned face up as fluids wept from the cracks in what had once been her skin and pooled around her.  Her body was blackened and mangled from feet to neck, arms and legs bent and twisted into unnatural positions. More unnatural was her face. It was untouched. While her body was broken and burned, her face was spared even the slightest blemish. Yet that was not the most disturbing element of the grisly scene. Her eyes were frozen open wide in fear and her gaping mouth looked as though the sounds of her screams should still be audible.

He had seen murders as violent and disturbing before, but this was different. Magic was in the air, so palpable it made the squalid chamber feel claustrophobic. It shouldn’t be here–not like this. Magic left traces. There was always a resonance where magic was used; that was normal. It should not resonate so strongly. It was enough to feel suffocating, and it definitely should not emanate from the corpse of a murdered woman. This was an act of evil and of incredible power. He had never seen anything like this–even in war.

“You have something, Cyrus?” Sir Valorian stood apart from him near the doorway, clad in light armor, nestling his visor in the crook of his arm. He normally gave Cyrus run of the scene until Cyrus felt he had examined everything fully. He must have sensed the tension Cyrus felt. It wasn’t like Valorian to interrupt him while he investigated a murder.

“I do, but I wish it were otherwise,” he replied to Valorian.

Valorian looked confused. “You’ll have to explain that. I fear I’m a little thick today.”

“No, my friend, you aren’t thick. The air is thick . . . with magic.”

“Magic? Here? You’ll definitely have to explain that.”

Cyrus motioned Valorian to move over to the body. When he approached, he got his first good look at the corpse. He was a keen observer with an acute eye for detail. Cyrus suspected that was why Valorian had been given the task of assisting him. He reported directly to the Lord’s Council. If a murderer was to be judged before them, they needed as much information as could be had. Valorian ensured they had that knowledge. He stepped up and Cyrus could hear him exhale a long soft breath. It was obvious that the death was unique, as obvious as the frightful snarl transcribed on the young woman’s face.

A piercing wail went up from the doorway. Cyrus had a spell half formed on his lips and Valorian had drawn sword before either realized there was no danger. A man was held at the door, supported by two Council Guardsmen Valorian had set to watch the entrance. The man trembled. The strength had left him, and he stared into the room at the body on the floor. Then he began to sob.

Cyrus approached the man. It was obvious he knew the woman. The guards holding the man lowered him to the ground.  The man merely slumped there in the doorway, staring and weeping. Cryus stooped and touched the man on the sholder. Contact allowed him to work his magic more easily. He uttered a simple incantation to soothe the distraught man and help him feel a small measure of peace.

“You know this woman, yes?” he asked.

The man nodded and breathed deeply. He seemed to pull himself together as the spell worked to calm him. He finally pulled his eyes off of the body and looked directly at Cyrus.

“She is my wife.”

Cyrus had assumed as much. “Can you tell me her name and yours?”

“I’m Maeric. My wife is Sabine”

Now that the man was looking at Cyrus, he couldn’t make himself look toward the body again. Cyrus continued to radiate calm at him. He needed more information.

“I’m sorry for your loss, Maeric. When did you last see her?”

“Nearly two weeks ago. I contracted with a local merchant to move goods to Merrion with a wagon caravan. I returned this very hour.” At that the man began to sob softly again.

Cyrus could not force calm on the man. It was not right. He needed little more for now. “Maeric, can you tell me the merchant’s name?”

“Rivenseal . . . Cassellius, Rivenseal.”

“Thank you, Maeric. I promise to do everything I can to find the person responsible and see him before the Council.” With that, Cyrus stood and stepped back toward Valorian.

Valorian leaned in toward Cyrus to be better heard. The husband had begun to sob more loudly as Cyrus let the effects of his spell dissipate.

“I’m guessing you don’t suspect the husband,” Valorian said sparing a glance for the distraught man.

“No, I feel certain he’s telling the truth. We’ll check with the merchant anyway. It won’t hurt to verify what he said so your report to the Council will be more thorough.”

“So what’s your plan for now, Cyrus?”

“I need answers. I’ll have to stay a bit longer with the body to test some things.”

“Test?”

“It will be unpleasant. I think it best if you remove the husband and yourselves. Take him to the healers. They should be able to soothe him further. We’ll need to question him again after he’s calmed some. Until then, it would be best to have him available. Now I need to find out what I can about the magic used here. The sooner the better.”

“As you wish. I’ll leave a guardsman posted beyond the door in case you need anything. I think I’ll also speak with the merchant after the husband is settled. We can meet at the hold after.”

Cyrus nodded assent and watched as Valorian led the guardsmen and the husband out and closed the door to the chamber. He took a deep breath and turned back to the body. He wasn’t looking forward to this.

I’ll try to post some further revision on some of the poetry next.  I thought I’d get this up first though.

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