Thursday, March 14, 2013

When it rains or Sometimes life throws you a bone

I mentioned before that I hadn't written since June last year.

But recently, Life stepped up to bring back out the writer in me. Mummy turned 60 on Sunday, and they're having a big to-do on Saturday. I can't be there because I have to work. The school year in Japan, and other parts of the Far East, ends in March, so it's Graduation season. And as a teacher, you kind of can't skip Graduation.

For all the misunderstanding that my family and friends can do, everybody knows I'm a writer. And a linguist. You need something written or translated, Claire's your girl. I guess it all started with Granny's funeral. I wrote 2 poems. The funeral home made one into a bookmark, and I read the other at the service. And then, somehow, I got into the dubious business of writing funeral poems...

So my brother asked me to write a poem.

I made him no promises. After all, it's been 9 months since I've written. I mean I was pretty sure I still had IT. I just wasn't sure where IT was. So I sat down with pen and paper. And with my keyboard. A couple of times. Nothing happened.

And then Mummy was all like, "Write me a poem, and I'll make bookmarks for the party."

And I was like, "Ick!" I couldn't guarantee anything. But the thing is, when your mother asks you to do something on her 60th birthday, you pretty much have to try.

I stopped trying to write for a while and just let the ideas float around my mind. Today was the graduation ceremony at Junior High. It was my last graduation as a teacher at that school. I was determined not to cry. So, I pulled out my Italian notebook, and started to scribble to distract myself.


And then it just flowed. I wrote that poem. Then another. Then another.

And then I wrote a super-specific poem. One of my trademarks - a poem that makes everyone in the room go, "Yep, that's that person, all right."

And then, I wrote my very first poem IN JAPANESE.

Seriously, that's how much of a roll I was on. When it rains, it pours.

I'm still up to my ears in Japanese study. And I'm now trying to reclaim my French as well. I want to complete my TEFL, since it's paid-for. And I still have a very full social plate. So it's not like I'm miraculously going to start dedicated every waking minute to the literary craft.

But I'm getting back to being a writer. And I'm beginning to find the balance between that and everything else.

It will only get better from here.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Pixar's 22

Mid last year, Emma Coats, Pixar storyboard artist and director, offered these 22 nuggets of advice on the art called story. Obviously, they're meant for film, but story is story, and certain things are universal.

PBJ Publishing produced a nice graphic to show these rules.

But I'll write them out for you as well.

#1: You admire a character for trying more than for their successes.
#2: You gotta keep in mind what's interesting to you as an audience, not what's fun to do as a writer. They can be v. different.
#3: Trying for theme is important, but you won't see what the story is actually about til you're at the end of it. Now rewrite.
#4: Once upon a time there was ___. Every day, ___. One day ___. Because of that, ___. Because of that, ___. Until finally ___.
#5: Simplify. Focus. Combine characters. Hop over detours. You'll feel like you're losing valuable stuff but it sets you free.
#6: What is your character good at, comfortable with? Throw the polar opposite at them. Challenge them. How do they deal?
#7: Come up with your ending before you figure out your middle. Seriously. Endings are hard, get yours working up front.
#8: Finish your story, let go even if it's not perfect. In an ideal world you have both, but move on. Do better next time.
#9: When you're stuck, make a list of what WOULDN'T happen next. Lots of times the material to get you unstuck will show up.
#10: Pull apart the stories you like. What you like in them is a part of you; you've got to recognize it before you can use it.
#11: Putting it on paper lets you start fixing it. If it stays in your head, a perfect idea, you'll never share it with anyone.
#12: Discount the 1st thing that comes to mind. And the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th – get the obvious out of the way. Surprise yourself.
#13: Give your characters opinions. Passive/malleable might seem likable to you as you write, but it's poison to the audience.
#14: Why must you tell THIS story? What's the belief burning within you that your story feeds off of? That's the heart of it.
#15: If you were your character, in this situation, how would you feel? Honesty lends credibility to unbelievable situations.
#16: What are the stakes? Give us reason to root for the character. What happens if they don't succeed? Stack the odds against.
#17: No work is ever wasted. If it's not working, let go and move on - it'll come back around to be useful later.
#18: You have to know yourself: the difference between doing your best & fussing. Story is testing, not refining.
#19: Coincidences to get characters into trouble are great; coincidences to get them out of it are cheating.
#20: Exercise: take the building blocks of a movie you dislike. How d'you rearrange them into what you DO like?
#21: You gotta identify with your situation/characters, can't just write ‘cool'. What would make YOU act that way?
#22: What's the essence of your story? Most economical telling of it? If you know that, you can build out from there.

Do you agree with all of them? Are there any you feel particularly passionate about?

It's a lot to digest in one sitting, huh?  That's why I'll be going over them (most, if not all) in their own individual posts. Hope you enjoy!

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

One thing

One of the reasons I used to be so good about this blog is because I WAS a writer. I don't mean that I'm not a writer now. I'm pretty sure I will always be a writer. But back then, I defined myself as a writer. Being a writer was the essence of my very soul. Or something like that.

So it's not hard to imagine, when you place that much importance on something, that it's easy to focus completely on it. I wrote a lot. Blogged a lot. Tweeted a lot. Made lots of writer friends. It was great.

But it's not all I am.

Even longer than I've defined myself as a writer, I've been calling myself a linguist. In university I double majored in French and Spanish. At my university, all Faculty of Humanities students had to take at least basic foreign language courses. Bi- and tri-linguists were nothing impressive. But in the regular world, people are really impressed with speaking multiple languages. Even moreso now I've clawed my way up to 5 languages.

But I couldn't be a linguist and a writer too. Ironically, it's a problem that drives me crazy about Japan. I always say that in Japan, you are only allowed One Thing. Like me reggae-crew friends. Their cars are decorated in reggae colours, they always play reggae CDs, they pretty much only go to reggae events. Life = Reggae.

That's not me.

All my life I've been interested in many things. And all my life, I've tried to tame that in favour of the old prevailing school of thought. You know, the one where you pick something, master it, spend 33 1/3 years doing it and then retire and spend your days cruising Alaska.

For years I fought to pick one thing. And then I did. I was a writer. I was lining all my little duckies up for my great writing future. Until I decided to stay in Japan. Which, in my books, meant being fluent in Japanese. Which, at my level (of Japanese ability and obsessiveness), meant 6-8 hours of study at least 5 days a week. In addition to all that periferal stuff, like work. There wasn't any room for writing. I was a linguist. I WAS A LINGUIST.

After almost a year of burying myself in foreign languages, my writer soul is beginning to surface. And I'm beginning to understand that I don't need to be one thing. I can be a linguist and a writer. And any number of other things I choose to be. Sure, I don't want to go off the deep end and dilute my efforts so much that I don't make any progress in any of my endeavours. And for now, I'm still concentrating more on the linguistic side than the writing side. But I'm still determined to write again.

Forgive me. It's all new. I struggle a lot with not fitting the mold. And now, I'm trying to accept that I won't ever. It means that this blog may won't be the same as it's been before. And right now, I can't say exactly what it will be. Or what my writing future holds.

But this I know for sure:

I am not one thing.