Phone Finds: Leaving

My phone storage is full due to my incessant note-taking…although I carry a notebook on me constantly, I somehow still find bits of poetry, philosophical musings, and novel brain-showers caught beneath the screen. Here’s one from my final morning in Scotland last summer:

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Non-Writing Writer

I was inspired this morning as I walked to practice piano for an upcoming recital… this would have been great, had I been inspired to practice. Rather, I was inspired to set the opening of Wordsworth’s The Prelude to music. 

My roommate (bless her) stopped me just in time: “Ryanne, if you write a melody and add lyrics, you’ll also want to add harmony and piano. You don’t have time!” 

Valid. 

But I felt strongly the annoyance of being unable to create due to the pressures of my ordinary, required pursuits. 

So I wrote a little rhyme to vent: 

A non writing writer’s a monster they say:

A little too frazzled and nearly insane.

She lives in an enchanted, storybook world 

Yet can’t venture in, for life is a whirl.

One single word leads to many and two-

Well, they multiply to be more than a few. 

And should she dare to compose a small line 

She risks the danger of falling behind;

The everyday life has no cares for the muse,

Though the poet’s soul, she hardly did choose. 

So cursed with a mind that brews up ideas 

And a heart that ever ceaselessly feels,

She stumbles about with a businesslike stride 

And forces her little brainchildren to hide

And wait for a time when life will relax 

It’s grip made of boring and ord’nary tasks-

So she might finally write them all down,

These inkling ideas that, impatient, abound. 

Ray Bradbury: a reflection 

Yesterday was the birthday of renouned American author, Ray Bradbury. Three more years and we can celebrate his 100th birthday. But even in 2017, Bradbury’s birthday is special to me because his stories provided the kick-in-the-pants I needed to take my writing seriously. 

Before entering high school, my family and I made a trip to the bookstore. Barnes and Noble was having a sale on its classics (when is it not?) and I picked out two with ease. But when searching for a third (buy two get one), I was at a loss. 

“How about this one?” my mom asked, holding up the book I found least attractive. It was red with planets orbiting on it. Ew, Sci-fi.

“Um…” 

“It’s good!” she persisted. “When I was teaching English, I would read aloud a short story from this book every Friday!” 

Oh great, I was thinking. Science fiction and short stories. 

Poor little me. I was so fixated on reading thick Austen or Bronte novels in an effort to seem impressive that I felt I was above fanciful scribblings about space. 

The irony…now I cannot help writing such scribblings myself.

Not wanting to argue any longer and urged on my my brother, who was worried we would miss our movie, I surrendered. I purchased my selections and let the Ray Bradbury collection thud like a rocket into the bag, forcing its way between the indignant British classics. 

That night, after the movie, I lay awake. Perhaps the movie had not satisfied my desire for a good story. Perhaps I had just eaten too many candies during it. For whatever reason, though, I found myself flipping open the red tome. 

“Let’s see if you live up to your reviews,” I might have whispered into its crisp pages, which fell open with all the grace and crunch of snowflakes. 

Minutes later, I was buried in an avalanche of words that fell so beautifully from Bradbury’s mind to pen to page that I could not dig my way back out had Jane Austen herself called for me.

Hours later, I was several stories in and near tears with that delight that only true bookworms know- the inexplicable thrill of having found writing that transcends mere ink and paper, writing that is instead made of the same substance as dreams. 

I devoured The Illustrated Man and made dessert of The Golden Apples of the Sun. It was with great self-control that I rationed out The Martian Chronicles for a later year when I was in need of escape. 

And, as this diet of “words, words, words” digested, it fueled ideas. 

And soon, these ideas begged for a form. Or did they beget a form? (Alas, Plato…your philosophy is not wanted just now.) 

As my ideas grew on those of Bradbury, I sought advice on how to bring them from the abstract brainstorm into croncrete being. 

Write a short story every week. It’s not possible to write 52 bad short stories in a row.” 

Bradbury’s words came to me (possibly via Pinterest) and away I flew.

I definitely did not write 52 stories. 

I definitely did not write more than a couple semi-decent ones.

But I was writing and that was enough.

(Not that I hadn’t been writing before. My memory boxes are stuffed full of the “newspapers” written in crayon and “manuscripts” typed on the family computer with my mom as my editor.)

But now something clicked within me and I could not seem to stop writing. This blog testifies to that; not every post gets likes, some poems are feeble in hindsight, and only a few stories turn out to be keepers. But just like Bradbury’s short stories, it is impossible to have a year’s worth of bad posts, right? 

Don’t answer that. 😉 

Back to Bradbury. He inspired me to write (especially speculative fiction) and continues to make me fall more and more in love with literature every time I read his writing. 

For instance, just a few days ago I finished reading Herman Melville’s Moby Dick and then watched the 1956 movie for which Bradbury wrote the screenplay. It was quite possibly the most flawless book-to-screen transition yet. Bradbury perfectly portrayed the central themes of MD in under two hours. (Whereas the book took…well, a long time, to read.) 

He also wrote Leviathan 99, which is dedicated to Melville and is essentially Moby Dick in space. This stunning novella portrays the same themes of MD in a completely different setting, yet does so with such mastery that I believe Melville would be proud. (Also, pro-tip: if you don’t have time to read MB, just read Leviathan 99.

Reading Leviathan 99, I was filled with the same joy and wonder that I felt when first reading “The Veldt,” the first story in The Illustrated Man. Reader, do your mind a favor and listen when your English teacher mother encourages you to purchase a Ray Bradbury collection.

Although Ray Bradbury is sadly no longer with us in body, we are still able to celebrate his legacy on his birthday. He has left his readers deeper in love with literature and filled with awe at the power of writing. 

He has, also, left us a little bit lost on Mars. 

Kirkyard Clan

Once again, a graveyard has inspired poetry. This time, it was the historic Greyfriar’s Kirkyard. It was once the post of a loyal dog (Greyfriar’s Bobby) and now is rumored to be haunted by a malevolent poltergeist. It also features several tombstones with names that JK Rowling used as Harry Potter characters! Needless to say, it is a place overflowing with creative inspiration…and wildflowers. Enjoy! 

“Kirkyard Clan”

.

Tombstones sprout among 

and tower over you 

But you care only for 

the shady homes they strew.

.
And though graves lie beneath 

the crumbling, grassy ground,

You care not for the chill

 but joy in fertile found. 

.

That ghostly wind that blows 

can’t scare with screaming howls;

You care not for wuth’ring, 

though larger stems it bows. 

.

Though sun but rarely shines- 

even he hides his gaze-

What you care for are clouds, 

which white, reflect your face. 

.

Toil not, nor spin in strife 

for that’s a desert path. 

You care for torrent rain 

that to you is a bath. 

.

Though haunts may rumor’d be 

and others leave at night.

You care for quiet gloom 

that leaves you to bloom bright. 

.

The daisies short still stand, 

a clan that does not care

For dark decay and death 

that withers others there.

Reflections on Writing a Novel Draft

During my journey home from Italy, I was super bored and, thus, my brain went crazy and came up with a novel idea that I am ridiculously excited about. Thankfully, I hit 50,000 words on my other novel draft, so I was able to set that one aside without too much guilt to begin this next project. While I am writing like mad to make sure I don’t forget my initial ideas, I have been trying to write more mindfully as well, meaning that I am writing with intentionality and observation. Basically, I am noting the quirks and tendencies I have as a writer, along with the surprises and mistakes.

For instance…

I have a knack for writing characters like me. This sounds like a bad thing, but it is not! Yes, I have written characters who resemble me in their appearance, fashion taste, sense of humor, hobbies, etc. and I need to steer clear of doing this too often or risk becoming predictable as an author. However, I have found that I also write characters who teach me about myself. For example, a cynical and morbid actor may not sound like me, but this particular character revealed to me some darker aspects of my own mind. (Don’t be scared; he’s not a bad guy.) Characters who I have tried to make unlike me have ended up like me in ways I did not intend, displaying through their traits and stories parts of myself that I did not even realize existed: apathy, romance, ambition, etc. all revealed themselves to me in my characters.

Continuing on, I have discovered that my life bleeds over into my fictional writing. I cannot control it. A barista from a coffee shop, a quirky house, a childhood friend, an overheard sentence, have all ended up in various stories of mine. I’m sorry if you read of a character that resembles you closely someday; I can’t really help it. I’ve found that I “collect” real-life characters and place them in fictional stories. As Sherlock Holmes once said, “life is infinitely stranger than anything the mind of man could invent.” I believe using aspects and people from the real world creates greater detail and intrigue in the fictional realm. 

The advice given by numerous authors to “write the book you want to read” is 150% valid. (please don’t attribute that quote to a single author; I’m pretty sure literally every successful writer has said something along those lines.) You know why assigned essays are not usually fun? Because 9 times out of 10, nobody wants to read your five paragraph essay on your three favorite foods. Actually, make that 10 times out of 10. Nobody cares. BUT, if you think of an idea that you wish to read about, why not write it yourself? When I find a book that fascinates me, I can’t stop reading. When I’ve thought of a story idea that fascinates me, the same principle is in place: I can’t stop writing. 

Despite being the author, I don’t know where every part of the story will go and I am as surprised by its twists and turns as I hope readers will be one day. It’s frustrating when plot points won’t connect or the timeline does not line up or characters decide to be fundamentally unlikeable. However, all of the struggles are forgotten the moment a character develops naturally or a plot twist generates itself or even when a particularly good bit of imagery paints itself. Writing is a constant adventure.

That about wraps up my reflections for now…oh wait! I have a couple more little tidbits that I have discovered over the past few days of writing:

  1. Writing time is like Narnia time in reverse; one minute of writing might actually be three hours of regular time. This can get out of hand very quickly.
  2. I feel guilty but a little bit cool every time I write a swear word, even if it is an edgy character saying it and not me. We’ll see if I let those stay in later drafts
  3. I have a morbid mind. Don’t ask. If this book makes it through publishing, you’ll see what I mean.
  4. It is possible to have a crush on your own character. The problem is if that character is based off a real person. (Not this time, though.)
  5. Netflix and writing go surprisingly well together. I managed to re-watch a season of Parks and Recreation and write 10,000 words in the same day. (Blame jet-lag for my laziness…)
  6. I get so enthusiastic about my ideas that I fear it borders on annoying. Sorry, everyone I’ve talked to in the past three days. If this ever gets published, you can have a free copy to read or burn depending on how obnoxious you found me.
  7. Coffee is writer fuel. One shot of espresso generates roughly 2,000 words. I’m open to donations of coffee money. The more coffee, the sooner this draft is finished.
  8. I write because I have to. I mean, I have no idea if anyone actually reads my blog posts regularly but I cannot help writing them. Words just build up inside my brain and if I don’t string them together into written sentences, I go crazy.

That’s all for now! If you read all the way to the end of this, do me a favor and like or comment or send me an appreciative message via carrier pigeon since I’d like to get an estimate as to how many people/who actually read(s) to the end of my articles. (See extra realization number 8) Thanks!

Okay bye for reals! Back to frantically typing my draft!

#WriterGoals by Homer, Odysseus, and Ryanne

Yes, my title is a hashtag. Sometimes I like to break the trend of ordinary prose. Sorry not sorry. Ironically, however, this post is based on writing standards set waaaaaaaay back in the days of Homer. In reading through The Odyssey for my university’s honors institute, I realized two things: First, listening to Chopin’s nocturnes whilst reading makes even the most boring of passages intensely moving. For real, I felt tears coming when Odysseus’ men were turned into pigs. Thanks, Chopin. Secondly, although Homer (whether of not you believe in him or think he was a group of poets or whatever new conspiracy is floating around in the literary community) does tend to be a bit- well- wordy in his accounts of first the Trojan War and then the homecoming journey of Odysseus, he is a master at his craft and the fact that philosophers and students alike have been studying his epics for thousands of years ought to be proof of that. Further evidence for this mastery is in his recognition of the key components of good writing/story-telling: truth, reason, and beauty.

He says in Book XI lines 363-369:

“‘Odysseus, we as we look upon you do not imagine

that you are a deceptive or thievish man, the sort that the black earth

breeds in great numbers, people who wander widely, making up

lying stories, from which no one could learn anything. You have

a grace upon your words, and there is sound sense within them,

and expertly, as a singer would do, you have told the story

of the dismal sorrows befallen yourself and all of the Argives.'”

In this instance, a king is praising the eloquence and clarity of Odysseus’ account of his journey, but more significantly, Homer is, through this character, identifying the essential components of writing worthy of enduring esteem. Such writing, first of all, must feature truth. When Odysseus concludes his tale, the first remark that the king makes is regarding the verity of Odysseus’ words; they are not fantasy, at least in the context of this epic, and thus deserving of serious consideration. But does all writing need to be true then in order to be great? The Harry Potter geek within me screams “NO!” in answer to this and, actually, the fangirl part of me is correct. C.S. Lewis believed strongly in fiction because of its seemingly paradoxical ability to convey truth. Take his most famous series, The Chronicles of Narnia, for instance. In any given library, these would be shelved with other works of fiction and probably even among children’s fiction. However, it is impossible to read these wonderful books without coming away having learned from them lessons of sacrifice, morality, family, forgiveness, and, consequently, truth. Good fiction always centers on truth.  Whether this truth is found in the form of a universal theme such as what it means to be a man or even a real event such as the an ancient war, if you dig deep enough as a reader or write well enough as an author, some aspect of truth will always be found at the core of a truly great piece of literature.

Continuing on, the king praises the sensible nature of Odysseus’ words; he does not use more than necessary. Bored readers might argue that Homer is not exactly concise, but when one considers the vast amount of mythology, culture, character descriptions, interactions, geographical courses, and rituals that are woven together to create the intricate tapestry of this epic, it becomes a wonder that such a magnificent story could be consolidated into a mere twenty-four book poem. This often unappreciated conciseness is vital to truly great writing. Of course, as the saying goes, “even Homer nods”, and some passages, such as the listings of over 600 Achaian ships in The Iliad are arguably a bit much, but considering the wealth of information and the overall complexity, this is certainly excusable.

Finally, Odysseus’ (and Homer’s) words are revered as beautiful. Being originally poetry sung by roaming bards, it is probably a no-brainer that The Iliad and The Odyssey are considered among the most beautiful pieces of literature. In this passage, great writing is described as having “a grace” and being crafted “expertly, as a singer would do.” Both poetry and prose must have a flow, a grace like the one here described. In music performed by a singer, every note, every inflection of the voice, every tiny breathe and consonant must be purposefully employed in order to convey the message of the song. In the same manner, a great writer must choose his or her words with purpose; not a “jot or tittle” is thrown in carelessly in attempt to meet a word count or appear more intelligent to the ignorant reader, but rather, each phrase is composed like a line of music, thus appealing to the reader’s deepest sense of beauty. Of course, one might debate that “beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” but regardless of personal opinions of individual readers, by combining intentionality with artistry, a level of universal beauty, such as that achieved by the enduring works of literature, can be achieved.

To summarize: Many truths. Very clear. Much beauty. (Sorry, breaking the flow of my prose again. At least it was not a hashtag this time.) This passage in The Odyssey was one of those passages that make me gasp “Ah-ha!” aloud in the middle of the library. It made me race to the nearest computer to jot down my thoughts and publish them to my blog in the unlikely case that one of my readers may find inspiration in them as I did. This passage made me take a step back and reevaluate myself as a writer, but it also gave me a renewed passion as it guided me toward the path of truly great writing, that which is truth-centered, focused, and beautiful.

To answer “How is your writing going?”

People often ask, “How is your writing going?” or some such question. Well, to answer that…

What I think: 

My novel is sadly forsaken but I think if it all the time and also I need to change the entire perspective so I am rewriting it even though I was 50,000 words in and also I have about forty short story ideas that are rotting in my brain since I have not the time to plant them on paper. Oh, did I mention that I run a blog and do not post regularly? Yeah that’s cool too. HEY NOW I HAVE ANOTHER IDEA! YOU HAVE INSPIRED ME! THANK YOU! Did I just shout that? Whoops. Do you have a pen? I need to write this thought down. By the way, I met my perfect man but I forgot to mention that he is a character in my novel and he is too wonderfully flawed- a real Byronic hero- so I think I might have to kill him off… Where were we? Oh, how is my writing going? I need caffeine. Did you know each espresso shot translates to roughly 4,000 additional words? Anyways, can I make you into a background character? Too late, I already did. Oh snap!!! I missed a comma in chapter 58! Guess it’s not a big deal because I’ll never be published anyway. Wait, yes I will! I have confidence! Plus this is all practice, so I suppose I’m doing pretty well for myself.

What I say aloud:  

“Pretty good, thanks for asking.”