Monday, June 15, 2009

Dig Deep to Find Your Own Vein of Gold

"The greatest explorer on this earth never takes voyages as long as those of the man who descends to the depth of his heart." ~Julien Green

As I sifted through the comments and suggestions offered up my editor the last few months, one truth stood out. Learning to write is a lifelong process. The reason is two-fold. First is simple common sense. Just as muscles are trained to respond in sports (this is called 'muscle memory') and musicians train fingers and ears to automatically pick out the right notes, so does each writer develop a sense of how to write with clarity and skill.

This part is arduous mostly because in the beginning our eyes pass over mistakes which after a book or two become glaringly obvious. Writers need thick-skins right from the start as we discover our 'perfect prose' is not a marble sculpture but clay that needs to be shaped and molded repeatedly until our masterpiece is complete.

The second reason writing is a lifelong process of learning is much more intriguing.

Writing is a Path of Self-Discovery. Both a craft and an art. We learn to rework the words and clarify our intent with our minds. We learn to create a story with our hearts and our souls.

"The man who views the world at fifty the same as he did at twenty has wasted thirty years of his life." ~Muhammad Ali

The first time a critique partner wrote: this isn't clear to me, I had to dig deeper. Again, back to the first step—how to clarify our intent. One tip for beginning writers I can offer is from my own experience. An author may know what the story is but the reader doesn't. We must ground the reader in our setting.

Staring at the computer monitor, the writer perched in her padded desk chair. On the wood bookcase beside her desk, the antique Victorian clock ticked off the seconds. The last remnants of cold tea in her cup, she pecked away at the keyboard, occasionally glancing out the window as sunshine warmed her front yard.

Next we must remember that while the action seems obvious to us, we truly do need to spell it out for our readers. The author knows the character's motivation and where the story is going. Because of this, we may unintentionally leave bits out because our brain has filled in the blanks. Our reader doesn't have the same crib notes, so while at first it will feel as if we're spelling out the obvious the scenes will flow much more smoothly.

Yet 'digging deeper' is not just about setting, description and action. We must take risks. We must bare our soul. We must surprise ourselves if we hope to surprise others.

"No one remains quite what he was when he recognizes himself." -Thomas Mann

"Life is a process of becoming, a combination of states we have to go through. Where people fail is that they wish to elect a state and remain in it. This is a kind of death." ~Anaïs Nin

There are writers who compose stories without ever feeling they've 'discovered' anything new, in themselves or in their writing. There are songwriters who can whip out catchy little tunes without much reflection as well. Then there's John Lennon, a composer who dug deep into his soul and searched his heart for truth. His journey is reflected in his music, and these songs still strike chords within our hearts today. Since this week's theme is about 'digging deep', it's time to reflect on which story you wish to write. In my view, the choice is based on the stories you most enjoy reading.

I just finished a lovely book by Linda LaRoque, titled, My Heart Will Find Yours. At the end, I sighed with satisfaction and said, "Now that's a love story." Why? Because the characters I grew to love touched my heart, and their journey towards love, healing and self-awareness became my journey as well.

My own upcoming release, Sidekicks, features a wanna-be 'leading lady' who believes the only way to rise above her current stature (feeling like an extra in her own movie) is to snag the ultimate leading man. While I wrote the story, I had to walk in her footsteps and dig deep to understand her world. Her quest had to resonate within my own heart in order to pen a tale that would click with my readers.

"When you re-read a classic you do not see in the book more than you did before. You see more in you than there was before." ~Clifton Fadiman

Many a writer struggles with squeezing in precious minutes to write or struggles with fear disguised as procrastination. Ironically, though the process of digging deep may seem to require the perfect setting, the endless hours or a complete lack of fear, the opposite is true. Often times we pull away because, truth be told, writing is a heck of a lot of work. It's much easier to watch television shows that a friend of mine fondly described as "chewing gum for the mind" or play card games on the computer. Shut-up! I have to win at least ONE game before I write!! *grin*

Those writers we envy, the ones who whip out an impossible number of pages regularly (Allison Brennan, I'm talking to YOU!), do so because they're pumped about their story. They're excited because digging deep is sparking something within them. The enthusiasm carries over in their work.

So what to do when you only have an hour a day? Write. Allison did just that, carving out time between raising a family and working full-time (she's since given up her day job). She's now a NY Times best-selling author. She dug deep not only to find the stories but to find the perseverance and determination to make her dream come true.

"To the question of your life you are the answer, and to the problems of your life you are the solution." ~Joe Cordare

As I wrap up this essay, my intention to explore this topic led to some unexpected realizations. Digging deep is about reaching down into our souls to create stories and much more. Pushing ourselves to write when we only have a few moments and persevering through the endless rewrites (those veins of gold are rarely visible with one strike of the pick-axe) or tossing out hopeful queries is perhaps the most vital quest of all. Self-discovery is much more than a sparkling epiphany. Self-discovery is finding out who you are and exactly what you can accomplish. Today, an essay. Perhaps tomorrow, the world!

"Many people miss opportunity because it came disguised in overalls." - Henry Ford

Speaking of self-discovery… one book that I felt 'changed my life' is Demian by Herman Hesse. Yet over the years I've found that even the silliest of movies (Groundhog Day comes to mind) can trigger new understanding. What do you consider to be an avenue of self-discovery? Then there are the qualities developed as a result of becoming a writer. The big one for me is perseverance. How about you?

"Life is not easy for any of us. But what of that? We must have perseverance and above all confidence in ourselves. We must believe that we are gifted for something and that this thing must be attained." --Marie Curie

Here's to a productive and inspired week. We shall persevere because We Are Writers. *grin* What do writers do? We write! Let's get to it. Go-go-GO!

Chiron O'Keefe

Also featured at Pop Culture Divas and Between The Lines.


Celia Yeary said...

CHIRON--Dig deep and deeper. Yes, that's the way, and it's not easy. Ernest Hemingway said, "Writing is rewriting." Have you used that quote? When a writer bares her soul, she's really baring her character's soul, I think--or maybe vice-versa. One problem I had with my second book was too little internal dialogue, that nebulous something that makes a chapter emotional. I hadn't pulled enough emotion from my character. (I read your excerpt, Very clever, cute and humorous.Loved it!)Celia

J Hali said...

Chiron, Sidekicks is wonderful. I can't wait for the whole story! WTG. Almost forgot, the post is really fab too *grins*

Anonymous said...

I can't wait for Sidekicks, either. Once again, you've done an excellent post, Chiron!


Anonymous said...

Sometimes (now moreso than ever) I write to get to a word count. It really drains the fun out of the process. This is a good reminder that with every page I tick off, every chapter I complete, I should say "now what did I learn?". I'm sure there's something I struggled with, investigated and figured out. Another check mark in the "lesson learned" category. Thanks for a great essay!

Sandy said...

Another wonderful post, Chiron. I could almost see Lee cracking the whip and saying dig deeper. lol

Persistance is another word that comes to mind along with determination.

Tiffany James said...


Eeek! You caught me - I've been playing computer games (and avoiding writing) for a week.

"What is going on?" I kept asking myself.."Why can't I write?"

I think you nailed it on the head. I'm letting fear (disguised as procrastination a la computer games) control me. What if I don't get it "right"? What if I'm not really cut out to be a writer? What if all this time I've been wrong about [fill in any various and sundry writing related subjects here]?

Instead I'm going to focus on this:

"We must believe that we are gifted for something and that this thing must be attained." --Marie Curie

And I'm going to write!

Thanks for your wonderful & motivating words!


Chiron said...

Hello Celia!

That's an excellent quote from Hemingway. At this point, I feel like I've used every quote a dozen times. Yet I always seem to find new ones.

I love how you put that about characters and writers baring their souls. At some point in our writing when we touch on truths that bring about an epiphany the lines separating writer from characters seems to blur. Truly if there is an 'a-ha' moment for us, there will be for our readers too. That's the goal, anyway. *smile*

Thanks about the excerpt!!


Chiron said...

Thanks, J!! *grin*

You're so sweet!!


Chiron said...

Thanks so much, Liena!!

What a lovely thing to hear. *blush*

You guys are the best!


Chiron said...

Hey Gem,

Boy, I hear you about the word count. That's when it really wears you down. Reaching for that sense of discovery is what changes our quest from obligation to adventure. Here's to keeping the flame of curiosity and self-discovery burning bright!


Chiron said...

Hi Sandy!

Yes, persistence and determination. Your own post on Royal Blush reflected that. Good one!

I've been blessed with not only a great editor but crit partners who always encourage me to 'dig deeper'. I doubt I would have had the courage to take on a suspense without that encouragement!

Thanks so much for stopping by.


Chiron said...

Hey Tiffany!

Whoo-boy, do I recognize the "one more game" syndrome. A couple of books back it got so bad I had to switch it around and tell myself I could ONLY play games when I met my page count. A reward rather than a tool of avoidance.

Fear is a nasty little virus that can infect the hardiest of writers. Yet faith is the eternal cure. We Can Do It!!

Go for it, Tiff!! I believe in you. Big hugs coming your way. *grin*


Linda LaRoque said...

So true, Chiron. MHWFY was very different for me, a learning experience, but I was so excited about the story the words flowed. Thank you, my friend, for your kind words about my story, Royce and Texanna.

I think "digging deep" is the same as writing outside the box, making yourself travel territory you think you can't tackle. A mentor once pushed me to do this. It was one of my greatest lessons as a writer. Now I must strive to travel farther.


Chiron said...

Hi Linda!

Oh, I loved Texanna and Royce's story. Really lovely.

Yes, pushing ourselves to tackle what we feel is beyond our capability is very good indeed. Although I had a similar experience with less positive results--being pushed to write what I didn't have any interest in because it was believed I was afraid to tackle it. It sounds like the advice you got was exactly the right kind. Excellent!

Thanks so much for visiting!