New Year’s Day And the Hero’s Decision

New Year’s Day and the Hero’s Decision. No other day of the year exemplifies the hero’s decision the way that New Year’s Day does. People come to the new year full of hope, wishful thinking, determination and the desire to change their circumstance. Many want to lose weight. Others want to find themselves in a relationship. More want have more money, read more books, create more works of art, build more bridges, dig more fence post holes, sew more stitches, save more time, rescue more kittens, throw out less trash, recycle more, compost more, change their oil more regularly, rotate the cans on the shelf, finally clear the clutter…

New Year’s Day As a New Beginning

Every story starts with a beginning. New Year’s Day draws a line. The old year, and all of its mistakes and glories, is over. Today, everything starts fresh.

Each of us is the hero of our own story. Sometimes these stories are inspiring:

Malala Yousafzai who is a young Pakistani woman who was shot in the face. She is an activist for the education of women and the youngest Nobel Prize laureate.

Daryl Davis who is a blues musician who befriends members of the Ku Klux Klan. He is a black man and his message of friendship has caused approximately 200 Klansmen to give up their robes.

Ron Finley who is a self-styled gangsta gardener in South Central Los Angeles creating food in a food desert.

Joanne Rowling who as a single mom living on benefits wrote the Harry Potter series.

Geoff Lawton a permaculturist who has brought green growth to the Wadi Rum desert in Jordan.

While these stories make the news and may inspire us, our everyday existence defines our personal stories. These may not be dramatic, but they are ours and only we know what effort they require. We bring home a paycheck and make certain the bills are paid. Conquering the laundry mountain at the end of the bed is no small thing. We finally learn how to make a decent gluten free loaf of bread. We read for an hour or exercise for 30 minutes every day. All of these achievements start with a thought and a decision. And each New Year’s Day can start a new chapter or a whole new story.

Every Moment A Decision

Heroes make decisions. And each of us is making decisions at every moment whether they are conscious decisions or unconscious decisions. It is very easy to bump along, go to the job that pays the bills, flick through the channels on the television every night, eat the pre-packaged food advertised as convenient, win social approval, read the best sellers, and go about life like floating down a river in an inner tube. It can be pleasant. And this is fine if you are happy and your purpose is to live life in this manner. Actually, there is much to be grateful for in this expression of life. And your life is your story.

However, if you are living your life as described in the previous paragraph and it is not a conscious decision or you have no real purpose of your own, it is quite easy to have your life given over to someone else’s aim. You can be manipulated for all sorts of tomfoolery, skullduggery, and fiendishness.

In addition, life may be lived like a leaf on the wind. If the wind blows gentle and the sun shines warm, it’s a beautiful day. Perhaps someone paid you a compliment or payday arrived. But what about when the wind blows chill, like -15 degrees Fahrenheit? Or it is raining? What about when you are fired from the bump along job? And the roof is leaking? And you burned your grilled cheese after spilling coffee on your white shirt? Do you feel lost?

Our Own Hero

At moments of failure, we learn who we are. We have to fail to be able to dig deep within ourselves and find meaning—how badly we want something, how much an aspect of living is important to us, who is important to us, how we will express ourselves, and what the story of our lives will be. The only way to be aware/awake is to ask questions:

  • Who am I? How am I unique?
  • What will be my epitaph? What will I be remembered for?
  • How do I want to contribute to the world?
  • How will I express myself?
  • Who is important to me?
  • What will I fight for?
  • What do I love?
  • How can I express love?
  • What is my “why”?

 

We, as heroes, make the decisions that start our journeys. What journey will you be on in 2018? How will you make the year your best ever?

Pretty Good vs. Great and Hopefully More Sellable Writing

I have been frustrated with my fiction writing for quite some time and recently wrote about the Fearless Act of Writing in another blog post. A few weeks ago I was reading an article in The Writer titled “Create Your Own MFA in 5 Steps” by Rachel Eddey. I have repeatedly thought about applying for a masters of fine arts program in creative writing because I enjoy academic settings, would like the time to focus exclusively on my writing, might enjoy teaching writing which an MFA in writing would qualify me to do, etc. However, the cost of taking an MFA program causes me to pause. Also I have concern over the idea of MFA programs because while it gives the student a chance to focus on the writing and make contacts and has many other benefits, it is no guarantee of being published and there is no promise that a teaching job will be available at the end of the course.

I liked the way that Eddey in her article presented the idea of creating a program of self study so I began working on my own writing self study program. It includes the following components:

1. I write daily. Sometimes it is only a post on this blog. Sometimes it is only poetry. Sometimes it is a character study. It does not matter. The point of this is to just get comfortable and in the habit of writing something daily.

2. I read. I have been reading and studying a novel by Graham Greene titled “The Heart of the Matter.” Greene was a master and as I am reading I am both enjoying the book and analyzing his methods of characterization, subtext, and scene setting. I have also been reading short stories and last month one of my writing groups discussed two short stories to identify what made them work. One was by Nancy Kress titled “Act One.” I learned a great deal from reading and thinking about “Act One.”

3. I specifically read books on writing, consider elements of fiction, and study various aspects of how to construct a good piece of writing beyond mere mechanics.

Today a friend of mine posted on a forum that I belong to a link to a post titled “Pretty Good v. Great–and Sellable” written by Carrie Vaughn. In this post she discusses that she believes that three areas that a writer must engage with to make the fiction better are: structure, voice, and having something to say. I agree with her that these things are important elements and Vaughn’s blog post made me stop and consider what I think of these elements.

In regards to structure, I have been struggling with ideas of plot. I have been studying the hero’s journey and considering the 3 act structure. I have been thinking about questions to ask myself to make all the plot elements in a story fit together in the best possible way to concisely relay the story and have the structure add to the meaning of a story. For instance, a story can be unfurled in a chronological order or it can be done in a series of flashbacks. A story can be told from the first person point of view or from the deep third person. Either of these decisions make a difference in how the plot elements will fit together. I also think that stories where the plot unfolds very naturally from the decisions that the characters within the story make makes the story feel more effortless and anytime that a story is a struggle the reader is pulled out of the story and this diminishes the story.

What Vaughn in her blog post calls “voice”, I call word choice. I think some writers do have their own distinctive voice and this can be cool. Roald Dahl always sounds like Roald Dahl. I see word choice as making every word count and be the right word– true to conjuring the feel of the story, adding to the subtext, relaying a character’s voice, etc. I drive myself nuts with this. Words are relative to one another and this fascinates me.

I have debated with other writers about whether or not it is a good idea to have a theme in mind when writing a story so that the theme will come out. I don’t think it is a good idea to preach on a soap box. I do think that ambiguity and having many possible views on a theme is a good thing. I try to include a relevant idea/commentary in the stories that I write that does come through. I think stories that make an impact and are remembered are those that risk stating a position and also let the reader think through the aspects of it for themselves. That may seem contradictory, but I think that it is possible to entertain people by challenging them with ideas and letting them think things through for themselves. The very act of putting the relevant sides of an issue with some depth in a story is presenting a theme.

I will continue to think on writing and will probably post some of my ideas from time to time. Both Eddey’s article in the February issue of The Writer and Vaughn’s blog post at: http://www.genreality.net/pretty-good-v-great-and-sellable are worth checking out just for stimulating thoughts.