Friday, February 25, 2011

And yet again

Hi, everyone,

I just checked the blog for the first time since you all were so kind, leaving me your messages.  I want to thank you so much for that.

It is really nice to know you are all out there, doing what you do, and yet willing to take time to send me good wishes.

I have been in a lot of pain in the last while. Usually, I can get out of it by reading something wonderful.  There's a book I've owned for at least thirty years and never actually read, but I have now.  It's called "The Owl Service" by Alan Garner, and it's about the power of the past and the power of personal choice in the present.  Welsh valley like a mythological power vacuum, characters really in need of saving, and incredible suspense.  I think you might like it.

This is a picture I thought I'd share with you, from our wedding in Victoria several years ago.  Greg wrote a song about it later -- it's quite hilarious.  Victoria, for those who don't know, is usually the balmiest part of Canada in winter.  Greg and I flew in to Victoria in a blizzard, couldn't even rent a car with tires that had any treads, and the roads were so bad we got stuck in our bed and breakfast watching endless reruns of CSI Miami instead of spending time with our daughters.  Ah, romance.  But as you can see, it all worked out in the end...

Meanwhile, hope you're all well and happy, and that you are all doing the kind of writing and illustrating you like the best.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Back. Sort of.

I'm so sore.  I've got a multiple factorial stenosis of the lumbar spine.  And I've just moved.  Boxing Day lasted from end of November and is still going on.  Literally.  I live with boxes, and pain.  I'll be popping in now and then, or maybe oozing in, depending on state of back.  Missed you Ls&Gs.

Hope you all had a great holiday even if I couldn't!

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Sunday, November 21, 2010

What IS this Blog? What ISN'T it?

You know, I had no idea until the latest responses to Atom's comments and mine to him/her, that so many people were confused about what this blog is all about.  Deb, for instance, says:

"Another way to get more feedback on posts is to have something in your post that can be commented on or discussed immediately. Some bloggers routinely add a question for discussion at the end of their post to get comments flowing.

Often your tips include assignments that take some time to complete, so people don't have a lot they can say immediately."

And Quenby says, 

I have to say I'm a little confused. I wasn't aware that the Minority Report posts were part of the project we signed up for. I wrote a long analysis for Jessica when she posted her work, and then I thought the project was on hold until you, Welwyn, got better. That makes me feel like I've epic failed. To be honest, I love Minority Report. 'Tis one of my favourite science fiction movies, but anything written by Philip K. Dick tends to be. Not to mention, I absolutely love analyzing popular culture, but couldn't find the time to devote to saying anything worthwhile.

Is it just me or do you see that we have major UNCLARITY here?  

Okay, straight for the clear!  Here's what this blog is about:

(a) it's about writing in general, and what I think you might want to know about it

(b) it's about writing in general, and what you tell me you want to know about it.

(c) it's about a Workshop, which is about your own specific writing and art, though mostly about your writing.  You write, we all read, your colleagues comment to me, I comment to you.  This worked very well, at least with Jessica's posted chapter.  The only thing that didn't happen was a public exchange of questions from Jessica and a public response from me, and (now that I know what you would and would not do to another writer), from anyone else who wanted to join in.  (I've run live fiction workshops where talented writers slice and dice each other to bloody shreds all over their manuscripts, and I end up being more of a lion tamer than workshop leader.  In writing only to me their responses to Jessica's work, I got a composite of opinion that connected strongly with what I believed Jessica would like to know about her work.  She knew it had been a painless way to get ten opinions.   I was really pleased with the level of writing and thinking I saw in the participants' private thoughts written to me, and their overall kindness.  Ideally, the next time at Question Period answers would include your colleagues' individual comments where they were pertinent to Jessica's questions, or you could have just answered her questions at the time, participating fully in the give and take of the workshop.  But we didn't get that far.  However, after I had to put the Workshop on temporary hold, I did exchange emails with Jessica myself, so she did get a chance to put forward questions and her own opinions.

(d) The Workshop was only ever supposed to be a small  part  of the blog.  I had been working on the blog  for more than a month before I even thought of the Workshop.  Even after we started, I made it clear that each new post would go up at the beginning of the month (except for Jessica, who volunteered).  Deb had volunteered to be next, but it hasn't happened yet, because  of that fateful doctor's appointment.

(e) The original plan was that it would be a full month between each of your posts.  Why?  Because I do have a life now and then; and because the Workshop is highly labour intensive for me (BTW, I'm going to be using Canadian spellings from now on, e.g. labour instead of labor); but mostly because there are only ten people in the Workshop, and my stats tell me there are still people visiting at least twice each from all over the world.  Nothing like Rettakat's amazing following, but still enough that I felt I should be doing something for them, and for you too, because let's face it, once you've sent me your email on Jessica's work, you basically would have had nothing to do until the next month.  I figured if you wanted to be in a workshop to improve your writing, you were serious writers, and that meant you would appreciate some tips on writing, and some suggestions about things to do. 

(f) So that's how it started.  While working on Jessica's Chapter, I would post something for you every few days.  Nothing I posted was ever called an assignment, or golly, I surely hope it wasn't.  I always meant to give it to you as something useful, if you wanted to do it.  The title of each blog usually contained the word "Tip".  In Great Britain a tip is a garbage dump; I hope my tips aren't that!  I give you what works for me, and you can do it or you can not do it.  It's all fine.  You won't learn as much if you don't do anything between workshop posts, but if you already think you know enough to finish your novel, that should be okay.  A  tip is just a pointer to a way to do a thing, if you happen to want to.  I picked topics out of the air, more or less, for reasons we've already discussed.  I thought that that too was going to have to stop after that stunning (literally) doctor's visit.  But then I felt I was letting you down, and that this blog which had begun so slowly and built up so nicely would be back down to zero when I was finally well enough to come back to it again.  I also missed you.   And I can't see the neurosurgeon for about ten months.  And that's why I'm posting fairly regularly again, and will, for a while.  

Questions from people like Karen were a godsend, but on the whole there weren't enough to use as a blog base.  And so I used some of my tried and true tips.  One was a set of exercises that would help you find your own style, your "voice" as a writer, by rewriting other peoples' work.  I suggested that you do it, but it wasn't an assignment.  It was really hard and frankly I expected most of the visitors to the blog wouldn't do it.  Those who did, wow,and I mean that, it's a real wow, and I'm amazed and proud of you.   I maybe didn't provide very many obvious things that could be commented on immediately.  I did wonder why no one ever asked: "Why do you want us to do this weird thing?"
So then I asked you to watch Minority Report.  It's a flawed movie, and I suggested you remind me to discuss what they might have done in the movie to prevent the flaw.  That was badly put.  What I should have said was, "If you'd been the director, how would you have prevented this flaw of having a major character introduced so late in the movie?" 
That would have helped provide some give and take.  

I do really cringe at the word "assignment", in the context of this blog.  I would so much rather see the word "suggestion".  But since you didn't know that's how I saw it, and it was so precise a series of activities, I can certainly see why you'd think of it as an assignment.  But Quenby, you haven't epic failed, or even failed at all.  You signed up for the workshop.  Only that was a commitment.  The rest, for a grad student with deadlines and so so much to do, (and for all of you, who are just as busy) are just things to do if you have the time and want to become a better writer.  They are just tips.

I thought you'd enjoy watching the Minority Report movie.  I think I told you to watch it twice.  I didn't tell you why.  (You could have asked, right?  I can't bite you through the ethernet.  *grin*  Ask.  Please ask.  Otherwise, I don't know if you want to do it, or need to have a reason to watch it twice.  I'm wordy enough.  I don't want to give you reasons for things if you don't need them.)

I knew what question I was going to ask about it, and I knew how hard it was to find the answer in that movie.  Once you get that answer, you know how to create something like it in every novel (and possibly short story) you write.  Once you know that, you can just figure out your whole novel.  Really.  You can.  And so if I actually did order you to watch it twice in a row, well, I did it for a good reason.

I appreciated the responses I got to the question.  I really did.  There could have been more of them, but I figured the reason there weren't was because people hadn't actually watched the movie twice in a row, which was their right. Who has four hours to sit through the same movie twice?  Who wants to? You already know the ending, right?

This is where we are now in the blog.  I got sidetracked by Atom's question, but it was a useful question because it made me remember why I was in this blog, and what I wanted from it that wasn't yet here. 

Here's what I wanted from it that isn't yet here.  An example.  Minority Report.  You say, "Hey Welwyn, why should I sit down and watch a movie twice in a row?"   I would answer, "Because I want you to find the one moment in the whole movie where things are the scariest/worst/seem the most impossible to solve for both main characters."  Then you'd say, "The two main characters?  Do you mean the girl in the pool, the one who didn't see a man about to murder his wife?"  (That would have been a hard question for me to answer.)  I'd likely have said something like this.  "She's important, in the way that she represents the PROBLEM that underlies this whole movie, but she's not the second major character."  "Why not?" you'd say.  And on it would go.  And so we both would learn.

I agree my form of leaving people things to think about isn't exactly like other bloggers' final questions.  My hope is that you will look deeply and feel free to ask why.  I do give you plenty of things to think about, but they are hidden in the "tip" instead of being stated clearly.  I tell you there are two main characters of the movie, and the questions are hidden.  Who are they?  Why are they the major characters?  I believe someone actually did ask something like that, though right now my brain is going to mush.  I think I answered that I meant the husband and the wife, because their separation from really the beginning of the movie is the flaw.  I think I was glad that I didn't have to explain why the girl in the pool wasn't. 

The thing is, I'm really not into giving out questions for people to think about.  If they don't think about them, they may not be ready for that kind of detail just yet.  There are plenty of things for you to ask me about, and it'd be great if you did.  People are sometimes uncertain about how much they're "allowed" to contradict or challenge or even just ask, in any given situation.  So here is my rule:
YOU ARE ALLOWED TO CONTRADICT ME, CHALLENGE ME, AND ASK ME ANY QUESTION THAT SEEMS TO YOU NOT TO MAKE SENSE, AT ANY TIME.  And I'm allowed to offer you advice that might seem stupid, because writers have to learn to think very deeply about everything, including why they are being asked to do seemingly stupid things.

It is the only way we can turn this blog into a diablog. 
Now I just want to end this on a little statement from Quenby, which is about why she, a student and not intending to be a writer, comes to the blog:

I find these discussions fascinating because reading and analysis are my bread and butter. How writers do what they do is so, well, freakin' awesome, and I love just reading through the posts to see how everyone comes to understand their talents, their strengths and weaknesses, and their capacity to grow.

Let's do it together, okay?  Let's find our capacity to grow!

Clarity (I hope) From Welwyn-on-books

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Wise Words to All of Us

At 20 November, 2010 , Blogger Rettakat said...

At first I was stumped, not understanding. But after reading the exchange here in comments, I think I can see better what you are saying, Welwyn.

To be honest, I'm still hoping more of the people that signed up for the project would feel like jumping in, and joining the "conversations." Maybe they didn't know that's just what one is supposed to do??! You are right... the joy of this kind of thing IS the give and take, not just the "take".

I write a blog on a totally different topic. There are 195 people who signed up to "follow". But only a very small handful actually participate by way of comments. I love that exchange, and have made quite a few friends. And I have come to learn that it is the norm to have lots of quiet readers, and a few that not only take away, but give back by commenting. We are all soooo busy, so I appreciate those few!

People who don't write a blog have no idea how much work it is. And when you are dealing with a physical challenge, like you are, that makes it even MORE of a challenge. I don't think people realize that the best way to show their appreciation is to join the conversation. They don't mean to be ungrateful... they just don't always know. I know before I started my blog, I didn't get it, either.

Sounds like this question from Atom has opened up a whole can of worms.. and that might be a GOOD thing. Because it will help clarify what you had in mind, and help us understand better and maybe others will feel encouraged to jump in, too.



My answer : What do I get out of it?

Atom asked me: "What are you getting out of writing this blog"?

Yesterday, I came to an interesting point in my thinking. I realized that I wanted the non-participating people in this blog to value what I was doing.  But they were, weren't they, by coming at all.  It may not even be their fault if they are incapable of involving themselves in other ways. Some came from foreign countries.  Possibly they were shy about expressing themselves in English.  A lot of people can read English but not so many can write it idiomatically, the way we were doing.  If it wasn't that, it could just be self-consciousness.  It could be people didn't know I would value their input.  When I was young, I didn't have many friends, and when a girl said that she was inviting all the girls in our grade five class to her birthday party, I had to ask her if she really meant me.  That confession is one I have never told anyone until today.  I didn't have the self-esteem to think I would be wanted at that party.  Other people could have those same kind of self-esteem issues. If one of you is reading this, please know that I'm inviting you to this party, and I will like you and enjoy your presence, and that a comment once in a while is all the "presents" I hope for from you.

A cynic could say, I suppose, that those who feel they can't contribute to our blog in other ways could maybe buy my books. Atom, you've ordered three.  That was really nice of you.  It's a great gift, it shows you value what I have done, and it completely makes me aware that you, sitting there quietly without commenting, have understood how hard it was that I worked, and wanted to thank me by buying my books.  I appreciate that very much.  I give all the money the books make to my web-master.  It's his payment.  But I got the present of your appreciation, which is very much appreciated by me in return. 

And the truth is, that I don't really care about what I make as a writer.  I used to make a lot, but it was awfully hard work, and I could have made much, much more every year by teaching math for a living. I wrote books because I loved writing. 

So here I am, back where Atom started.  Why do I write this blog?  What do I get out of it?

What I get out of this blog is the kindness of strangers who care about what happens to me when I'm sick.

What I get out of this blog is the sense that a few people who were complete strangers are becoming friends.

What I get out of this blog is the awareness that I'm really and truly doing my best to help other people do something they want to do.  That is important, to know you've done and are doing your best.

And since my last post,  I got some wonderful responses from Deb and Karen and finally Loretta.  Deb and Karen were stunned, I think, and responded as if I had meant them, which I never did, though of course I was advising them on writing issues, and they couldn't see how they could advise me on such issues.  Once I understood that I hadn't clarified  that that was not  what I wanted in this blog at all, I answered them. I always knew that there would be a "teaching element" in this blog.  I spent a quarter century as a professional writer and you,mostly, haven't.  So how could I start this blog as a writer who wanted to give back, and not expect to teach?

In any case, I never meant them.  The reason I never was unhappy with them (the EXACT opposite was true) was because they commented.  They asked questions.  They made it so easy for me.  I particularly like it when someone doesn't quite understand something I've said and writes to me about it.  I immediately have a topic to use in the blog the next day.  I won't embarrass the one who told me how seriously she took this blog, in that she was going back over all the posts and trying to figure out everything from the beginning, but it was wonderful to me to hear that.  For me, that should have been my immediate answer to Atom.  Giving and receiving were always in balance with the people who commented.  The "giving" from the people making comments on my blog comes from the serious attention to my words (imperfect as they are),  that made them want to make comments.  I think Atom phrased his or her question a bit harshly, making me feel almost as if I had to defend myself for writing the blog in the first place.  "What do YOU get out of it?"  Atom, I'm sure you didn't mean that, but that's how it comes across.  It's one of the reasons this kind of communication is so hard.  People can't hear the laughter or the gentleness or the kindness in the words.  The words have to do it all, and even professional writers fail time and time again at making their own personal words do that.

I would like to post the responses I received from Deb, Karen, and my responses back to them, but that would take up a lot of space.  You should read them, if you are interested, because it shows how badly I expressed myself, and how easy it is to take offense when it isn't meant or aimed at you.  I will post the response I got from Rettakat because she waited, so wise to wait, and she read the whole exchange, and then she came up with a comment that says exactly what it was that I wanted from this blog that I had to look at in the light of Atom's comment. Loretta put it in the context of her own experience and made it a perfect clarification of why I wasn't perfectly able to say that I was getting all I wanted out of this blog.  So please read the next blog.  It's all my blog friend Loretta's words -- and I say again, Loretta, that you could really be a writer professionally, as well as an artist, if you chose.  Picture books?  There are so few people who can both write them and illustrate them.  You might be one.

Pondering What Atom Asked

Atom asked me in my last post what I get out of writing this blog.

First, Atom, I would like to thank you for the gift of a question that hasn't got anything to do with how to write. You are the first person, I believe, in this blog, ever to ask me anything that wasn't related to something I'd already said in the blog somewhere.  I don't blame the core group who appear pretty much every day.  Loretta gave me a banner, and she and a couple of others have honestly tried to do what I ask, in this role that has somehow descended on me, of becoming a teacher.  But you have maybe noted in my sidebar that appears beside every post that I didn't want to become a teacher again, and that in this blog I hoped to be part of a conversation about writing (all the people who visit my blog providing me things to answer, and vice versa). I've done the vice versa but it has become a big job for me, since there was nothing for me to say in answer to anything.  I probably should have quit trying, and just let the blog die, while I waited for a "melody for me to riff on".  I didn't do that.  There were a few people who commented, and for their sakes I tried to give all I could about being a writer, whether it was what they wanted to know or not.  I became a teacher, exactly what I didn't want to be.

You mentioned a motto someone said, an important philosophical teaching of the East that I believe in.  "Giving and Receiving must be in balance."

Here, with a few exceptions, it's "I give, they take."

I think I'll post something every day until I feel I know the answer to your question fully.  What am I getting out of this blog?