Holistic Writing Pt.1

“General Systems Theory, a related modern concept [to holism], says that each variable in any system interacts with the other variables so thoroughly that cause and effect cannot be separated. A simple variable can be both cause and effect. Reality will not be still. And it cannot be taken apart! You cannot understand a cell, a rat, a brain structure, a family, a culture if you isolate it from its context. Relationship is everything.”

– Marilyn Ferguson
The Aquarian Conspiracy

I’ve finally found a way to explain how I view writing: In an interview for Suspense Magazine, Shannon Raab asked me about my writing style. For whatever reason, it struck me then, that in addition to being what I consider an elemental writer, I’m holistic in my approach to fiction. Well, and writing in general. Take, for instance, the titles of my blog posts and the addition of a quote (normally) at the beginning of each one. The titles are usually taken from the end somewhere … this post being an exception since I’m talking about a general concept. This is a good example of looking at something as a whole, instead of piece by piece.

And with that simple admission, I realized more about myself as a story-teller, as a Fantasist, than I have through the reading of countless books on the mechanics of writing, the creative self or on the craft of fiction.

What is a Holistic Writer? Well, considering that after googling it, I came up with nothing (save some bits on quantifying English-as-a-second-language students), I suppose the burden rests with me to define it. So here’s the world according to Garp … er … Chancellor …

Five Key Aspects of a Holistic Writer

1. A Holistic Writer views a story from the outside in; not chapter by chapter, or line by line, but first as a whole. Like Holistic medicine, everything is integral. Everything works together. Visualizing your fiction in a completed state, even before you begin, is no different than visualizing the brain/body connection.

2. A whole is the sum of its parts. Sentence structure, cadence, plotting, characterization, even if all of these things are mastered on their own, they are nothing unless you know how to use them all at once. Each is a cog in a machine, and without perfect timing, you’ve just got a bunch of really pretty, yet utterly useless, gears. As the saying goes, ‘You can teach me how to write, but you can’t teach me what to say.’

3. A Holistic Writer, when he/she does look at the individual parts, he/she looks at them in relation to how they work within the system. For example: If something feels off in your characterization, it helps to look at how the other variables are affecting your ability to properly work with those characters. Is your plotting rushing your characters’ needs to develop naturally? If your cadence is off, could your sentence structure be the cause of the discordant rhythms in your prose? If you continuously run into plot holes, instead of immediately reworking your entire plot, check your dialog and see if the problem isn’t how your characters see the plot, and therefore how they’ve conveyed it to the reader … the problem could be perception.

4. There is more to being a Holistic Writer than just how you write, or how you view your writing. It also encompasses how you relate to your work on a personal level. Your personal life and emotional well-being will affect how productive your are, how in-tune you are with your fiction, and how easily you will address issues when they come up. Your eating habits, what you feed your body and brain, will also correlate to your level of ability. Yeah, sometimes a writing binge will follow on the tails of a night of heavy-drinking, or staying up for several nights in a row … but remember, we’re looking at this as a large picture. Even Hemingway reportedly wrote while sober.

5. Speaking of notoriously disturbed, brilliant authors … does it seem like the most skilled authors were/are connected to their writing in ways that the hobbyist isn’t? This is what I’m talking about. A Holistic Writer, is never not a writer. At the grocery store, he/she takes note of the tantrum of the five year old in front of them because it relates to a hissy fit thrown by Jane Doe in WIP#45. The Holistic Writer doesn’t take off, or compartmentalize their life, in the same way that a gymnast is always a gymnast because what they eat, how they sleep, what they do in their off time, and how they organize their schedule, all affect performance. And don’t be mistaken … as an author, Holistic or not, you are performing. We have an audience, a stage, and a whole cast of characters. The only difference is that as an author, you’re the stage manager, the actor, the playwright, the costume designer … you get the drift.

I’m not done writing about this … it’s a concept I’ve only begun to explore, and it fascinates me. But, it’s late and I’ve had the most productive writing day I’ve had in YEARS. So, needless to say, I’m wiped out. But, those are the top five components of being a Holistic Writer. Here they are again, summed up this time. A Holistic Writer …

1. Sees their work from the outside in.

2. Understands their work as the sum of its parts.

3. Sees those parts only in relation to each other and the whole.

4. Sees their fiction in relation to their person.

5. Cannot separate their writing life and their everyday life, because they are one and the same.

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Any Way But Lightly

“Success isn’t a result of spontaneous combustion.  You must set yourself on fire.”  ~Arnold H. Glasow

No matter how you measure it, writing has to be done on a regular basis. Like any other art, it has to be practiced. Yeah, you already know this. It wasn’t news to me either, but for one reason or another, my motivation has been lagging ever since I signed my first book deal.

So, a decision was made today and I figured hell, why not share it with you guys?

The picture to your right is my bulletin board. I added the calendar on the bottom. If you look at it closely, you’ll see stars. I’ve decided that each day I write, I’ll mark the day with a color-coded star (beginning today). At the end of the month, they will all get tallied up and however much money I’ve earned will go into my little “writer” savings account. What do the stars mean?

Gold = 3,500 words or more   $5.00
Silver = 3,000 words                 $2.50
Purple = 2,000 words                $1.00
Green = 1,000 words                 $0
Red = <1,000 words                  $0

Dumb … yeah, sure. I should be self-motivated. I write full time, why is there this ridiculous need for an accountability chart? No clue. Maybe it’s the lack of a schedule. Maybe all those hours writing through lunch breaks and after work conditioned my creative brain like Pavlov’s dogs to a bell. Who knows. But, I’m not going to sit around and wait for inspiration. Oh, and editing won’t count toward stars … only new material. Revision might in the case of added scenes, but only in those instances. So, we’ll see how it goes.

Now, you didn’t think I’d just end this post here did you? No, this got me pondering about other writers and their habits—how they manage their time. I’ve often heard the, ‘thousand words a day’ thing tossed around. Here are some famous authors and their particulars:

Stephen King: In his book On Writing, he said that he writes 10 pages a day, even on holidays. If you average 350 words per page, that’s about 3500 a day.

Ernest Hemingway: He wrote 500 words a day, no more, no less. It’s also been said that he only wrote in the morning and never wrote drunk. One fact might beget the other.

Here is a GREAT post on writers and their rooms of choice, weapons of choice, and times of choice. Really, really, it’s a post worth reading so do yourself the favor and read it.

Finally, I’ll leave you with a  quote from King himself on the act of writing: “You can approach the act of writing with nervousness, excitement, hopefulness, or even despair–the sense that you can never completely put on the page what’s in your mind and heart. You can come to the act with your fists clenched and your eyes narrowed, ready to kick ass and take down names. You can come to it because you want a girl to marry you or because you want to change the world. Come to it any way but lightly. Let me say it again: you must not come lightly to the blank page.”

I Do …

I’ve read plenty of commentary on the dread middle, that no man’s land section of a novel that sits down in the center of the map and refuses to be anything of value. I’ve tread there. It’s rocky terrain. It’s also not what’s irritating me right now.

The map is drawn. The plot hath been plotted. I’m seeing the finish line. In fact, I’ve already planned the victory party (If you’re fond of cigars, then you are automatically on the guest list). I’ve written the next to last scene for Nightshade and plotted out the last few chapters for Icarus. Both works are absurdly close to being finished (first draft). So why can’t I finish them? Because…well…same reason the psychic runner that knows how the race will end, has trouble getting motivated to run. Absurd analogy, but I’m going stir crazy in my non-writerlyness…how’s that for a new word? Blog posts this week are no problem whatsoever. Prose? Utter disaster. And it’s all because I didn’t take my bi-annual week of solitude in December.

See what I get for skipping my routine? Madness ensues. I’ve brainstormed a lot these last few days and while it’s been fun, it isn’t what my heart wants. I want, no—I need to finish the other two works and I really need to get through the last few chapters of the second draft of book two in the Fable trilogy. Which means I need to get away from everything for a few days and force myself through the sludge. And believe me when I tell you, writing on anything right now feels like mucking barefoot through a derelict horse stall. Loads of shit…

I’m okay tuning everything out while I am working on a project, right up to this point in the process. Here, is where I’m no longer rushing to the story in order to hear what it has to say, because I know already. The honeymoon is over, we made it through the seven year itch and are complacently settled somewhere between midlife crisis and retirement. We’ve put a down payment on the camper for God’s sake.

It’s time to renew our vows. And so, with any luck, I’ll go hide away somewhere for a few days (soon!) and return triumphant, suffering the writing hangover to beat all hangovers.

Rinse and Repeat

Ophelia

“Sometimes you have to go on when you don’t feel like it, and sometimes you’re doing good work when it feels like all you’re managing is to shovel shit from a sitting position.”
-Stephen King

I watched a movie the other night that felt like a startlingly accurate portrayal of a writer’s life. I mean this in the daily, mundane, trite sense of the term. Which movie? Deadline, starring the late Brittany Murphy. For those who haven’t seen it, I won’t ruin it for you—there is a rather decent twist at the end. What I will tell you is that her time spent in solitude felt very much like what I experience on a daily basis. Well, minus most of the apparitions and at least half of the gruesome occurrences.

This won’t be the case for those of you who don’t write full time. If you have a 9-5, you’ve likely got something remotely resembling a schedule and while you may produce the same or higher volume than those of us left to our own devices, it all comes about in a very different way. The case is also different for authors who have a bulldog’s determination when it comes to the allocation of their time.

I have neither gainful employment nor any reasonable respect for the use of my time.

Alice, Brittany’s character in Deadline, staggers out of bed at an absurdly late hour after staying up to work on her script till the wee hours of the morning. She drags her ass to soak in the tub upon waking because she isn’t awake to do much of anything else. She forces herself downstairs to drink coffee and work some more: This consists of a lot of staring and leads to searching around the attic, the equivelant of which would be my googling whatever strange things pop into my mind at 4 0′ clock in the afternoon. Later in the evening, still sitting in front of the same blank page she sat in front of hours earlier, she pours a glass (or two) of wine and continues to plug away. Several pairs of comfy pants, flip flops, raggedy shirts and a gaggle of loose screws later, she emerges with a full manuscript—though the reader never actually sees her making much progress.

Aside from how clever I found the ending to be, I smiled because it felt like an autobiographical moment. I do that every day—I mope, I talk to the dogs, the wall and occasionally Stabler on SVU…and yet, for all the ‘not-writing’ I do, I manage to do an awful lot of writing. Sometimes I feel productive and other times, as Stephen King so aptly put it, I feel as though I’m shoveling shit from a sitting position. I’ll screw with a coma at noon and take it out all together by midnight. I’ve determined (probably later than I should have) that there is a great deal of creation that goes on in the stillness of a writer’s heart. Why else would we bolt awake from dreams with images so real they could have been shown right alongside Avatar?

You’ve probably known this for decades and should pity me for being so late in the game. I’m just glad I don’t have to continue flogging myself for waking up at 1:00 pm or remaining in my pajamas until company arrives. Now, this is not the usual for days when I am not working. When I’m officially ‘off’ the clock, I at least make the effort to seem outwardly presentable to the UPS delivery person.

This means that I’ve just recanted everything I said in an earlier post on how to become a successful freelancer. Those tips I gave you lasted a grand total of two days. They were a productive and miserable pair. So what about you? If you write from home and manage to look like a human at 4pm, do tell…

That First Step

 

 

I’ve already referenced myself twice concerning my thoughts on world building, but I am drawn to say it a third time for the benefit of a dear friend of mine–another author, who is at the edge of a tremendous undertaking.

I wrote in an earlier blog;
“We musn’t tell them everything. Some things, certainly, but not everything. I mean this as no excuse for poor detail or fractured narrative. What I mean is this; know it, inside and out, every detail: The peoples, long since faded from memory that once thrived where your hero now treads; animals that will never wander in your protagonist’s path and ruins that are too covered with centuries of stories to be seen. Every rock, village, tide and turn. This is the foundation upon which worlds are built. These are the underpinnings of much greater things. Like steel beams in a modern building, it holds…it structures the fabric of your imagination.
Because after all, it is the utterance of a thing that makes it what it is. As an author, you will always (without fail) know more about your worlds than can be shared with your readers. Your acknowledgement of it is enough. If it is strong, it will carry through your prose and filter into the minds of those who dare dive deep enough. Those are the worlds that leave us dreaming long after the last page has been turned. Like the never ending story, some worlds will never die.”

As authors, we have at our disposal legions of excuses and perfectly rational reasons to not sit, alone in our chair, submerged in our own head for hours on end. I mean–what sane person would? But here’s the thing–and the reason I brought up the world building thing again…you’ve gotta take that first step. Writing is exercise and if you don’t do it religiously, you’ll feel out of shape. Which means, don’t expect to run a marathon on your first try. Take it slow and set a word count each day, or if you are more comfortable–each week. I find that per day is better, simply because I am the queen of procrastination. Case in point, I have two Adairondak chairs sitting in my office because I have been putting off water-proofing them. You’d think two giant, awkward wooden objects obstructing the path to my desk, would encourage me to get it done. Nope. I just step right over them–well, okay, I stumble right over them. Whatever–you get my point here. Take a deep breath and dive in, because nothing feels more amazing than holding in your hand a finished, ideally polished, novel.

I’ve encountered fear and discouragement in different ways and at different times in the last few years, in regards to writing. The hardest block I’ve ever run into was at the completion of the third book in the Fable trilogy. I hadn’t bothered editing the first two books ( I wrote straight through to 370,000 words), I realized suddenly how massive the undertaking was before me and froze. I didn’t write more than damn it for nearly three months. It took the iron clad deadline of a prepaid freelance editor for me to go back to the unbelievably shitty first draft.

So Matt, November 15th. Mark your calendar. No excuses, no apologies and no whining! I expect at least 10,000 words. Totally doable if you break it down by a five day writing week. =) You’ll thank me for this later–it might be when we’re 80, but still…you’ll appreciate my obnoxious meddling eventually.

For everyone else, If you are on facebook and feel like commenting (which I love and greatly appreciate), please remember to do so at the actual blog post : http://www.jschancellor.wordpress.com.

 

Nature’s First Green is Gold

Oak Mountain 2008

Oak Mountain 2008

I am a Fall and Winter child. Nothing touches my soul quite like those two seasons. The yellow, red and orange leaves paired with the chill in the air, somehow inspire me. Maybe it’s the northern girl in me. I’ve spent most of my life in the south, but it’s no different from being born in Ireland and then moving to LA. You’re still Irish.

All of this seasonal chit chat got me thinking about my writing rituals. (You’ve already blogged about this! You scream…yeah, yeah. And I’m blogging about it again.) I have a hard time writing in the summer months. Serious trouble. I don’t know what it is about the heat that bothers me, but it stifles my creative chi. Spring can be just as bad down here, though not as miserable. I like to be cold, near frigid. I love a hot cup of coffee or hot tea (usually the former) and something to munch on. And there are three scents of candles that I burn on a regular basis, regardless of the time of year; mistletoe, harvest wreath and pumpkin spice. Awesome. I also tend to write better late at night.

We have a camping trip planned for next weekend, as long as it doesn’t pour on us. We try to go every year about this time. I need some peace and quiet. I REALLY need some time away from the internet. I love freelance writing, but this has been hard on my fantasy projects. But, I persist. I have been polishing the second book of Fable and I’m really close to being able to wrap it up and start the final edits on book three. I can’t tell you how much I am looking forward to putting the first trilogy away and starting work on the second. I’ve still got Icarus and Nightshade to finish too, though those both are only a handful of chapters away from being done (first draft anyway–we won’t discuss edits for those yet. It’s always best to shelve a project for at least a month or two before going back and editing.)

Ben, my husband, has had tremendous luck doing his part-time cop stuff this past weekend and he scored a long term part-time  job yesterday. That’s exciting. He loves his job and really enjoys doing stuff on the side. Today and last night he got paid to eat free food and hang out at a football game. I mean, I realize that if the stuff hits the fan, he’s there with taser and gun in hand, but more often than not, nothing happens. We’re getting adjusted to me being at home and I am finding my comfort zone with Demand Studios, as far as how many articles a week I can handle. I put a bid in for a few significant projects, which I realize I am woefully under qualified for, but what is there to lose? I have to start somewhere and I’ve finished over 45 or so articles for Demand Studios, so I have enough of a portfolio now to get some exposure. I also recently put in for Trails.com, which I am more qualified for since I love the outdoors so much. The titles in that arena are much more in my area of expertise. We’ll see how that goes.

So, I am going to spend the rest of the day and this evening, working on my own projects. Maybe that will encourage me to crank out a few more articles for pay tomorrow.

Long time no speak…

n55716324_35424739_3118I wish I could tell you I’ve come back here to suffer through a writing hang-over with like-minded company. Alas, I have accomplished no such thing. I could give myself a little credit for having forced myself into some edits for book two. That’s worth half a cookie at least. Okay, a crumb. I’ll take what I can get.
This is my favorite time of year. I can’t say for sure if it is the chill in the air, the quiet frosted nights or just my love of the holidays, but for whatever reason, I love this season. I am, for better or worse, a winter girl. Yes, I know it isn’t officially winter yet. Hush, my mind isn’t aware of that. Anything in Georgia that feels below 70 degrees, is winter. Right now it is a frigid 40 something. Wonderful.
With all the banal pleasantries out of the way, let me get down to business. I have found lately that every time I spend more than a few minutes on the blogs and websites of agents, and industry “experts” that my muse all but vanishes. Its an amazing little act, no doubt…but not one I’m very fond of. Like the life that fuels my writing, so these mechanical formulas are like the ever present ‘Old Age’ that slows down youth and carelessness. The joints and bone and sinew have slowed till each stroke of the pen is like an inevitable broken bone or slip or fall. Leaning on the ‘Right Way’ to do things in some cases may be likened to living in a Retirement Community–Assisted Living.
I want to be careless again, near wreck-less in my ventures. Who cares what the market is right now? Who cares about the odds? I certainly wasted no time considering these things when I first started writing…what has changed to make this…creature…so important now?
Nothing. Plain and simple. Yes, query letters are important. Yes, form is important. But, I am letting the directions get in the way of the path.
So, while this little blog is still in fledgling posts, let me ask you. Why do you write? What warms your bones and fuels your muse?

Really…how much coffee does it take?

I am on my third cup this morning. I also wonder why I can’t sleep at night. hmmm.
I suppose during this part of the process I should refrain from caffeine, but where is the fun in that? This brings to mind questions as to what things other writers find necessary for their craft. Where do you write your best? Are there any rituals you go through before beginning for the day?
For reasons even I cannot fathom, I like the scent of mistletoe year round. No, I’m not kidding.  I have two or three Yankee candles that are either said scent, or pumpkin spice, that I burn when I write. Coffee is another needful thing. I have a favorite place (lake cabin), though I can only go there on the weekend. My writing room at the house takes its place during the week. It seems too that I am at my best when its late. Darkness leads to less distractions, I suppose. Everyone is asleep, and the world outside of my door is quiet. I listen to music most of the time, only refraining when I am in the outline stage of a project.
What do I listen to? Musical scores mostly, and trailer music. (Movie previews, ass…not trailor park music. You should get out more often)
So what do you do? I realize this blog is scarcely read right now, but I have to start it somewhere.