Sunday, October 31, 2010

National Novel Writing Month

As I write, National Novel Writing Month or Nanowrimo has already begun in some parts of the world. During this month (November) writers of all types, ages and sizes, professional, amateur and beginner, will sit down at their computers and try to pound out 50,000 words - aka 1 complete draft of a novel. They will not edit, back track, add in things or strive to produce the perfect piece of writing. Instead, they will strive steadily onward towards their goal leaving spelling mistakes for later and making notes in the margins. They will do this despite work, family and other obligations and will have various strategies to get through the month; some will lock themselves in a room while others plan write-ins with other nanoers, go to coffee shops, sit in hotel rooms or keep notebooks beside them 24/7 to jot down those all important ideas to type up later. And each week, in an attempt to keep the energy flowing, pep talks from various well known authors will arrive by email in an attempt to spur everyone on. These are always a joy to read. 

I did nanowrimo in 2008 and met my goal of 50,000 words. That novel, The Trade Off, still sits in my drawer as I wrestle to find the time to revise and edit it. As a completed draft the plot and characters are there, but it's sails are full of drafty holes in need of mending. The novel as a whole needs to be fleshed out, trimmed and polished before it can vibrantly come to life as something I can set on a course to be (hopefully) published. However, The Trade Off would not be the same book if I'd pounded it out in a year or two instead of in a month and that would be sad because then I might not have met Dee. 

Dee is my favourite character in that novel and she was a surprise. She's a petite, strawberry blonde with a degree in economics and absolutely no common sense (and I mean none). She comes into the novel on a canoe trip with one of the main characters, Mira. During the trip we find out she's pregnant and asks for Mira's help in providing a place to stay while she sorts out her life. This puts Mira in the predicament; she must decide whether to be truthful or supportive about this. That aside, Dee didn't come to life for me until halfway through the book when Miguel, another main character, meets her at the coffee shop where he works. Miguel's having a rough day, no one else has shown up to work and he's frustratedly trying to be pleasant about it. While he's wiping up tables after the 10 o'clock coffee rush Dee strikes up a conversation with him and offers to help out. At this point Dee literally takes over (and becomes her own character) and Miguel dubs her 'teashine' on account of her hair and the fact that no matter how busy the shop is she can somehow manage to take care of customers, bus tables, organize things AND polish off a pot of tea (when no one is looking). However, despite the need to revise this story I find myself once again entering the Nano site. 

This November I'm will work on my Young Adult novel. I think it's the many Words of the Day which are half buried in it's nondescript pile that made me decide now was the time to begin it. Words like Labyrinthine (which refers to it's structure and possibly a piece of the plot), masks and fly (both figuratively and in the form of concrete nouns) and now Osier Alley. I chose to use Osier Alley in the novel as a piece of the setting this morning as a result of what Healthbird has told me about the Basket Willows, how they come to be and what they are used for. 

This novel was, in it's birth, going to be a short story for my children. After the first 750 or so words I stopped, unsure where I was going with it or rather where it was going as it had abruptly turned into a very dark piece. And even though I've now learned more about the story and have an idea of what I'm doing with it and where it's going, much of the book still remains a shroud of rags in my head as I await its complete form. 

But, this time, as I take up my keys to begin nanowrimo I'm not going to follow the 'no edit' rule. I want my work this month to be a solid, vibrantly coloured, draft firm enough to continue to build upon in the coming months. I have no expectation of 'finishing' the novel during this month, but instead have challenged myself to see how much I can get done. I will keep updating my word count as I go and watch the colour spread across the progress bar as it creeps towards the end and it will be a bonus if I reach the tipping point where my writing picks up so much momentum I can't type fast enough to keep up. In 'The Trade Off', this happened when I hit 40,000 words; it will be interesting to see at what point this phenomenon happens again. 

Photos: Top - taken in Baked CafĂ©. Left - Main Street, Whitehorse, YT. Bottom - Old dock pilings left from where the steamboats used to dock to collect passengers and wood at the turn of the century. Whitehorse, YT.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Word Ponderings

I find I am still pondering several of the Word of the Day suggestions and they have become more than just food for thought as I consider possibilities for writing and how I relate to them. Words, like people, can have many facets and with "masks" and "labyrinthine" especially it's hard to decide on which facet I want to focus. Of course, I should probably just sit down and write instead of falling into the trap of over thinking things, but sometimes I find the mountains of possibilities which my pondering produces eventually grow into the many layers that fill my pieces and make the story unique. The only drawback being that it is takes more time to process them them into a piece that conveys the huge picture of everything I want to portray; it is this considering which I have been doing lately.

First there was the word "masks." People can wear masks both in the concrete and figurative sense; we don't always show everything about ourselves to everyone. The characters in my stories wear masks and the story along with the more subtle subtext work together to provide the overall picture. In this case one might say the concrete masks the more abstract subtext which necessary for a more accurate understanding of what's happening and why.

Then there is "labyrinthine." This word speaks to something which is labyrinth or maze like. It is key to the YA novel which I have been working on for years now. This complex piece of work is much like a labyrinth under construction. There are many pieces and subplots (including full length shorts) woven into one overall story which makes it a little like a puzzle. However, I suspect there is an actual labyrinth (and a mask) in there somewhere too - I just won't fully see or understand it and it's significance to the story until I get there in my writing.

And so I consider and weigh each of the aspects of these two words and ideas continue to grow, which is the exciting part of writing. Learning about the characters and their stories, I purposely work with the words, story and materials until the heart of the story becomes clear and the synergy this produces as it all comes together explodes into light and I'm awe inspired with the result.

Note: both of the above photos were taken at Banff Centre for the Arts, Fall 2009.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

The Art-Writing Connection: Part 1

I spent this summer immersed in teaching children the process of creating art. I taught them how to observe the things around them and work with different materials and imagination through a series of steps to produce their own unique visual art. The projects has now specific "end" product as the activities were open ended allowing the children to create pieces which were truly theirs, but the process was what took them from beginning to end.

I began drawing around the same time I began writing, around the age of 7, and soon began experimenting with creating things in 3D as well as dabbling in paint. But drawing was always at the centre. In the past few years as I've begun getting back into creative visual pieces (very slowly)I have noticed that the different use of my creativity spills over into my writing and kind of spurs it forward a little. However, it wasn't until I took a workshop with Maria Lousia through the LLAMA Project that I began from her description of process to wonder if artists, like writer's get epiphanies about their work and what that looked like. Click here for the post I wrote about my experience.

This summer, even though I myself created little work as I taught and worked with the children attending my program, Adventures in Art. I began to get a glimpse of this epiphany because I gave leash to myself to explore without bounds what I could do and I'd have to say the most exciting epiphany I got was from a shirt I created for someone else that took on a second and third layer of meaning which related to culture and stories.

This shirt was to be a gift for a baby one of my partner's co-workers had given birth to. He told me he wanted it to be dyed black and orange and to have some kind of print on it - the suggestion was hockey sticks. My response to that was that I would dye the shirt and if I was printing it I wanted a design I was going to use again. So I got out all my dyes, tied it and died it - imagining in my head how the colours may turn out. Then I got out the block cutters and the vinyl printing blocks and draw a design of a young Raven, or it was supposed to be. Then it hit me. Black, orange, Raven, Sun. The shirt, if it turned out would be "How Raven Stole the Sun," which is a very well known aboriginal story told in the Yukon. I was on air. The shirt, like all first attempts needs some work, but the process was a journey I'll never forget.

About the pictures: Top - I began this one almost 3 years ago and am slowly working on it. It hasn't really spoken to me about what it's about yet - I have a few ideas that's all. My mother asked if it was a self portrait and it might be.... Bottom - the experimental shirt. I'm still trying to find a way to make the printing ink adhere better so it's darker and there are many other flaws I'm not happy with, but that's what happens... it's all part of the process :)