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.

The Utility of Tangents

Monster in the Tub--Roadio Arts

I like to think that there is a place in my mind—a waiting room of sorts, where all of the stories that I’ll pen, are mulling around, interacting with one another—perhaps arguing about whose turn it is and why it shouldn’t be so. Some are allowed out in pairs, some are solitary. Oh, I know that there are a multitude of things that I (as an author—and occasionally a human being), will encounter that will inspire me.

You see, that’s what decides the order in which these stories are imagined. It’s like the number they assign you at the DMV. You wait your turn until you see your number, in little red lights, pop up on the box. If you miss your turn, they’ll continue to call you for a set amount of time, and then that chance will be given to someone new. My stories all have numbers—I don’t know what they are. But, I’ve learned a valuable lesson this week: I have no say in their distribution.

That’s not to say that I don’t sometimes believe that I do. I argue with myself quite a bit, on one story’s progression or another. But in the end, they all have turns and it’s of no consequence how hard I might try to force one in another’s place. They don’t stand in single file lines, as I’d like them to. They stand like five year olds, perpetually asking absurd questions or fighting with whoever happens to be in front of them (and in some rare instances whoever is behind them). What brought all of this to mind, is the apparent story that I was accusing quite literally of being in the wrong room. It appeared with number in hand, excited, and all I could say was:

“I’m very sorry for the inconvenience, but I’m afraid you’re mistaken. I don’t write romance novels that don’t have some element of the supernatural in them.”

“But, I have a number.”

“Yes, I can see that. But as I said, I’m simply not who you are looking for. And I can’t imagine how you wound up here. I’ll have to get with the frontal lobe about that. What time did you arrive here yesterday?”

“I didn’t. I’ve been here. And I have a number.”

“You couldn’t have been here long, I would have at least suspected you might be approaching the front of the line. Now, let’s talk about the last place you were before you were here and maybe that will help me figure out where to send you.”

“I’ve already told you…I’ve been here. And how do you know that there isn’t anything supernatural involved? I’ll tell you what, lets just sit for a moment. I won’t take up much of your time—I swear. I have a story to tell you.”

So, 38,000 words later—I have a very conceited romance novel in the works (There’s nothing worse than a story running around saying, ‘I told you so’). Perhaps there is utility in tangents—in those wayward stories that wind up somehow wandering into our brains and picking up a number somebody else dropped. I’ve discussed this in depth with several portions of my left brain and that’s the only logical conclusion we can come up with. Either that or someone’s getting fired. Not to mention how loudly Nightshade and Icarus are complaining that it’s still their turn. There isn’t much you can say to soothe stories like those. They’re impatient to begin with, being single volumes and all.

I suspect there is a slight element of the supernatural—though it appears arguably as my main character’s brain and not the ghost of his dead sister, who is whispering cryptic hints in his dreams about the killer’s identity. The story is also refusing to identify itself with a title, so for now I’ve lovingly dubbed it, ‘Not a Novel.’ It doesn’t appear to appreciate this much, but that’s what it gets for being so damn close-lipped.

Oh, and just to add insult to injury, the story let it slip that there are more than a couple horror stories hanging out in the billiards room (of course my brain has a billiards room).

“Oops, did I say that out loud? I meant to say that there are some stories of ‘undetermined genre’, wrecking the pool table.”

“Self-righteous son of a…”

Writer’s Conferences, Ravens and Writing Desks

Our trip was restful and rejuvenating. I am sleeping well and while I am not fully where I’d like to be on my current projects, there is at least a little more hope on the horizon. I found myself looking up writer’s conferences today, along with low residency MFA’a in popular fiction…only to find myself at a loss as far as where I fit into all of this ‘professional’ writing business. See, I don’t write short stories and with great frustration I found that MOST endeavors require them to be in your portfolio–if you are to attain any level of serious respect, as an author, anyway. Hmmm. I simply don’t manage ‘brevity’ well. I write epic level, worlds at war, kind of stuff. It doesn’t occur to me to write in short order.

Oak Mountain 2009

Oak Mountain 2009

So, after flipping through one non-encouraging blog after another, reading all of the necessities to become a successful full time writer, I decided that I should do something wholly non-official and unproductive (professionally speaking, of course)…I signed up for NANOWRIMO (or National Novel Writing Month). Now, before you laugh or condemn me to hell, let me explain why I don’t give a damn about your opinion on this either. See, I’m not doing it for you, I’m doing it for me. And I’m fairly prolific anyway, so 50,000 words in a month doesn’t sound like any big whoop–considering that I can easily crank out 30,000 in a week if I don’t have anything else (much) going on. Yes, dear, I realize that quality is more important than quantity…but talk to Asimov (actually, I think he’s deceased) and King (whose status among the living has been debated since the publication of ‘The Stand’) if you want reasons for why being prolific doesn’t mean you’re a naffin at your craft. But, there are MULTITUDES of bloggers, experienced writers and generally recognized nit-wits out there who loathe this whole idea and spend an absurd amount of time whining about its existence in the universe. That might also be the other reason I have decided to devote November to this endeavor. You say it is ridiculous and a waste of time and will likely produce nothing but drivel…well, ‘swell’ I say. I wasn’t producing much more than that these last few weeks anyway.

So, in November, I will ideally begin work on a novel loosely titled “Ravenwood” and leave all of my other projects on a shelf till I have at least 50,000 words down (which if success is to be mine, will be the end of said month). I’ve drafted the characters and have a general idea of where the novel will go–it deals with warlocks and whatnot, since I’m all vamped out for the time being (what with playing vampire wars on facebook and all…*sigh*). So, wish me luck–or laugh at me, whatever fits your fancy. Why did I title this blog this way? Well, just why is a raven like a writing desk?

Enjoying the process, and the art of writing

Enjoy the process.  If you are destined to be a published writer, the months and years spent working on early manuscripts may be the last time you ever have the luxury of writing for the love of it at your own speed.  As soon as you sell, things like deadlines, the sales department’s mindless prejudices, the editor’s input, and so on become a part of your work.  You will, trust me on this, look back with nostalgia on the days when the only person you had to please was yourself. ”  Vivian Beck

I read this earlier, and appreciate her candor. She is a literary agent who spends a great amount of time giving good solid advice to writers. Why? Because she is an author. There is possibly no better person to have as an agent than one who knows what we go through. I’ve listed her page to the right, please go check it out. You’ll be glad that you did.

The great and necessary solitude

What is it that beckons that inner voice? When the hours draw long and still, and the world quiets to merely a whisper, then it comes. Peace. A deeper solitude than can be found in any writing book, or literary commentary or within the tawdry lines of any blog. There is no price high enough to place on this state of mind to equal its worth.
I spent a long weekend at Oak Mountain, enjoying the crisp fall air and the smell of a campfire. I had originally intended on getting a fair amount of writing done, but found instead that the simple enjoyment of true rest was more beneficial. After a day of getting adjusted back to the monotony of city life, I am ready to write again. Its funny how much can be figured out by listening only to the silence.

For two years a question has hovered over my current project, reeking havoc on my concentration and muddying my plot lines. After listening. Really listening. I now have my answer, and it was there all along.
Tonight, I write!