Archive for October, 2009

“A New Frame, A New Perspective”

Posted in Crafting with tags on October 25, 2009 by Lizzie

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Markus Zusak’s idea for his novel, The Book Thief, intrigues me.  I haven’t read the book (although now there’s a post-it note by my desk reminding me to pick it up the next time I swing by a bookstore), and I really just tripped across the interview accidently.  The story is about young Liesel Meminger, a foster child growing up in Nazi Germany, a landscape most of us are all well familiar with thanks to Night and other gripping Holocaust accounts.  But this one is different: Zusak elicits Death to tell the story.

Zusak’s Death doesn’t wear a hood or carry a blade but gets a kick out of the idea.  And while humans pale at the slightest mention of him, he is just as afraid of them.  What an unusual voice.

In my writing, I often start out with one voice and continue with it until I get tired of the story and trash it.  But what if I skewed the narrative’s perspective just like Zusak did with The Book Thief?  A room often looks so different when you get down on your hands and knees or hang upside down off the bed, so why not do the same thing with writing?  Play with the perspective of a story, and it just may lead to something greater.  And if it doesn’t, no one is the wiser.

Check out the Markus Zusak clip for the story behind his curious choice of narrator.

A Writer’s Adventures in Wonderland

Posted in The Science of It All on October 16, 2009 by Lizzie

While reading Roger Rosenblatt’s essay on the tragic William Manchester, I found a curious description of the writer’s mind:

The writer’s mind, when it works, is like Alice’s rabbit, leading quickly, almost recklessly, to mysterious, yet attractive, places. The animal is fretful because it has to find and display something at the same time. A writer writes to discover what he or she thinks. Take a single sentence. Take a sentence of William Manchester’s — this sentence about Churchill’s funeral: “When his flag-draped coffin moved slowly across the old capital, drawn by naval ratings and bare-headed Londoners stood trembling in the cold, they mourned, not only him and all he had meant, but all they had been and no longer were, and would never be again.” Most likely, Manchester had only the scantiest idea where that sentence would end when he began it. Only when he caught up with it could he know. But then, there was another sentence running ahead of him. There was always another sentence.

Is this how it works?  Do all writers have furry woodland animals running down nerves and neurons in their brains?

What an image.  A thought in disguise of Lewis Carroll’s caffeinated creature.  But this is what it feels like.  One word on a billboard can erupt into a billion stinging ideas for a novel, and before you know it, you’re careening off into a ditch while trying to write down all the possible plots and characters and scenes  into a worn notebook.  And, of course, the white rabbit of thought can disappear just as suddenly as it popped up from its hole.  One minute your mind is on fire, and the next, the bunny decides to stop for tea, affectionately known as writer’s block. 

This description seems an accurate portrayal of my scattered mind.  I sit down at the computer to write, not to plan.  An outline of my story, my article, my essay is sure to be the kiss of death.  You cannot plan for what you don’t yet know. 

This concept is exactly what makes writing so intoxicating.  Writers love to read, and writing is just another form of turning pages in anticipation of what’s to come.  The mind is the storyteller, and the writer is left under the covers with the flashlight.   I write to discover more about my characters.  I write to glimpse what will happen to each of them in the end.  It’s detective work of the most thrilling kind.

Get acquainted with your own white rabbit.  After all, he’ll be around for quite a while.

Environmental Motivation

Posted in The Writing Climate on October 14, 2009 by Lizzie

Like it or not, serious writing involves some amount of routine (a taboo word in my vocabulary, too).  If you write only when you feel like writing or only when you have the time to dedicate to it, you’ll never get closer to that best-selling novel you’ve been dreaming about since the third grade.  You know you have to buckle down every day, give yourself a goal word count, and actually stick to it, but it’s difficult to do, right?

Not with the right environment.  If I settled down to write the next great American novel in my room with fluorescent lighting, piles of unfolded laundry, and a radio screaming U2’s Joshua Tree, I wouldn’t last a minute (c’mon, who can write when belting out lyrics with Bono?).  And I’d never get anything written.

I need a quiet place.  A room with soft lighting.  Candles.  My favorite books at hand.  The largest mug of coffee known to humanity.  CHOCOLATE.  This sounds like an oasis to me.  It will undoubtedly be cluttered and messy, but it will be my space.  If you can’t bring yourself to write everyday, make your writing environment an oasis where you’ll want to escape.  Whatever that looks like to you.  Wherever you find inspiration.  Although the image of the poet scratching away with quill and ink in a dusty attic or dank dungeon sounds romantic, I’d probably spend more time shivering than writing.  Find that atmosphere that works for you, and write.

Check out The Guardian‘s series: Writer’s Rooms.