Category Archives: Tools to Help You Get Started
For the last two weeks I’ve been doing Flamenco. As a dance style it has always been one of my favourites. It’s fiery, passionate, rhythmical, powerful, sexy, and as much about the music as the steps and movements. The last time I did Spanish dancing was at Art School thirty years ago and I missed it a lot when I matriculated and ended up in a classical ballet company. Don’t get me wrong, I love my ballet, but there’s something about Flamenco that stirs that ancient part of man that feels and desires and recognises earthy rhythms!
Now, it’s extremely difficult to do Flamenco if you aren’t musical. The time signatures, the syncopations, the pauses, silent beats, co-ordination of body, skirt, and castanets has to be flawless in order to do Flamenco well. Fortunately, I was born musical; I hear rhythms very easily. I started my dancing career as a tapper at the age of 5 so it’s part of me. It’s different to the intricacies of classical music; the rhythms and phrasing in Flamenco can get pretty complicated. But once I allow myself to become engrossed with the sounds and beats and nuances then it takes over my movements and I am led by it rather than trying to manipulate the music to follow me.
It is the same with writing. Finding the rhythm of my writing, the ebb and flow, the cadence of the story, is vital to the creative process and the development of the story, especially in the beginning. When I allow the story (music) to take control of me then the words (steps) become easy and the story tells itself.
When you watch a professional Flamenco dancer, she doesn’t count her music 1-2-3-4, but rather the music weaves around her and she becomes one with it and in so doing tells her story effortlessly, drawing her audience in, creating emotion and passion and excitement with every step, every twirl of her skirt, the undulation of her hands, arms, and body, the beats of her castanets, the emotion on her face.
As a writer I have to use my words, the core energy of the story – its passions, colours, visualisations, characters, environment – to captivate the reader and draw him in. And to do so effectively I have to have the perfect rhythm, a rhythm that doesn’t break or stop or become annoying or disturbing because of an unnatural style which the reader will sense instinctively.
Just as a dancer has to create movements that are effortless and as close to perfection as possible so as to hypnotise her audience, so, too, does a writer.
Ebb and flow, rhythmic perfection, minimising mistakes in language, grammar, punctuation, and style, is how the writer creates the performance his readers will applaud!
As a more experienced writer, after three published novels and a short story, I still have to work hard every day to perfect my style and rhythm. While I edit I ‘listen’ to my story, sometimes reading it out loud, to hear if there is a break, something that will distract the reader and pull him out of his trance. The goal, dear Writer, is to keep the reader entranced from page one. Do nothing to disturb the rhythm of your story or you will lose him to discordance.
What are your thoughts on writing style and rhythm? I love reading your thoughts. Please share!
Last image courtesy of Billy Alexander
What a week!!! What with finishing NaNoWriMo before the deadline, and then chaos erupting in my life as though it was waiting in the shadows for days, watching and preparing for an all-out assault, it didn’t get me down when it finally attacked! Instead, it showed me that no matter how tough things appear they’re not really so bad. All I have to do is stop and breathe.
Since last week Wednesday, when we had an insane storm with hail the size of tennis balls sending Joburg into chaos, hubby and I experienced the added fun of the following: first, his hard drive decided it was done with life and shut down permanently, therefore we had to fork out money for another; secondly, our internet went down and knowing how notoriously slow our phone company is we phoned them with pretty low expectations. And our fears were justified when, five days later, we finally got the internet back only to be told that we now need a new modem because they’d upgraded our line to make it faster and the old one was no longer compatible! Aaarrgh! Another lot of money gone just before Christmas!! Then, (I think this is fourthly?!!) our outside drain decided to get blocked and our delightfully friendly chairlady of the Body Corporate told us it was our drain and at first she wasn’t prepared to do anything about it and basically told us to sort it out ourselves. That is until I got all huffy (hubby is way too nice!) and explained why it couldn’t be our drain as it was spewing out huge amounts of toilet paper, brown water, which smelled a lot like sewage, and cigarette buts – but we don’t smoke, she does!!! Eventually, she called out the complex’s plumber, who quickly discovered that the blockage was being caused by roots and he sorted it out at cost to the complex not us! Hallelujah!!
Now, it’s so easy when things like this happen in quick succession to think that life and everything about it sucks, but when we realised that what we got out of it was a new powerful hard drive, a new powerful modem and faster internet, and a clean drain at no cost, hubby and I were very grateful, indeed. Sure, we are out of a pocket a bit, but my in-laws helped us out with the modem so, fortunately, we managed financially better than expected. All good!
Drawing a lesson from this chaotic, unexpected week, if I viewed the bad days – the frustrations and slogging that writing and promoting and selling my books sometimes bring me – I can either choose to wallow in misery or I can use my irritation to rethink and refocus, even if it means taking a few days off from writing (something I hate to do); I can step back and view my situation from a fresh perspective with a clear head.
It’s important to recognise when you need to step back instead of focusing on what’s not working. The act of such intense focus on what you don’t want will bring down your mood and mess with your creativity and clarity of thought.
I’ve blogged about this before: rest is as vital to your writing process after weeks of intensive writing – like NaNoWriMo brought you. If you have that novel done, or even the start of one, then step back and take your time assessing what you did and rest from the insane, nonstop process to allow yourself to breathe and really see what you’ve created.
As the holidays approach, make time for yourself by going to a spa or for long walks or spending time with your family, who no doubt hardly saw you during November – if you did NaNo 🙂
I have the first draft The Sword Bearer’s Ascension: Book 4 to finish, and I’d like to do it before next year, but I’m not going to push too hard, not after I wrote most of Part 3 during NaNo and got pretty far. It’s the end of the story and it needs me to be fresh and clearheaded and excited and re-energised to write the ending of a powerful, incredible story that has taken me four years to write! I plan to do it slowly and to do it well, and I urge you to follow my example and rest, then approach it with love and respect and a fresh perspective that will enable you to finish another masterpiece 🙂
I love reading your thoughts! Please leave a comment and tell us about your creative process and if you agree with me or not about resting in order to produce better results.
You can find my works here! Great 5-star reviews for Books 1-3 and my sci-fi short story, The Door. Enjoy!
Feebledum and Feebledee
my brain it says to me,
“I’ve had no fun these past gone days,
to rant and rant and spree!”
I try not listen too much to brain
’cause I’m in pain, you see;
No cash to pay yon fickle hand
that reaches for its fee.
Learning how to change my thoughts
without the brain’s aware,
makes it a tricky, sticky thing
enlightenment to dare.
‘Believe in truth: you are a god!’
makes conscious brain a-freak!
“Such blasphemy I cannot take!”
is its constant tweet!
If I such power do possess,
new teachings reveal to me,
then how can this god make it work
when self-suff”ring’s all I see?
Here I sit all a-scare
’cause faith’s what makes all right;
but when one’s bills cry “Feed me now!”
my heart beats tight with fright.
Writing may my pleasure be
but tears bills do not get,
faith’s all good and glorious ‘t seems,
yet still no relief, not yet.
Blood and sweat and tears made book
and heart’s still filled with joy;
I wonder tho’ when faith will work
and reveal Universe’s real ploy.
If I am great then believe I must
for love and faith are real;
trust in god and God’s silent trust
in me to finally feel.
We’re great, you know, listen well,
all artists big and small,
if times tough are and seem unfair,
then listen to heart’s squall.
Feebledum and feebledee,
your brain might say to thee;
listen not to dark mumblings there
’cause power lies not in see.
Your power lies down in yon heart,
in trust in your deity;
make no mistake believe in faith (unseen)
and it will set you free!
Muse or God or god or self,
whate’er belief thou declare,
make sure your skill and talent divine
no suffering it ever bare.
by Monique Rockliffe
So, you can tell by this contemplative poem that my days of woe are many!!! Nah, being overly dramatic is all, but, boy, sometimes it’s tough when all I want to do is make a living writing and things seem like they’re just not working out. But, hey, those days come and, thank goodness, they go! Although today I’m in the ‘darkness’ at least it produced an amateurish poem that I hope gives you some hope (and even some amusement) if you’re facing a tough day or situation.
The bottom line is, don’t give up on your dreams or aspirations or goals, especially on the bleakest of days, because that’s when you need to keep your chin up and keep writing, or doing whatever makes your soul sing, with every bit of creative power you have. Whether it’s faith or love or the joy found in nature, a friendship or a pet, grab onto it, hold it close, and just keep going. Everything passes eventually, my friend. And you can always tell me about it if you feel like having a rant, and we can first mope and then get over it together. So drop me a line and share what’s up with you, even if it’s good news. It’ll lift my spirits and give me the encouragement I need to get through one of life’s tougher days.
I’ve just returned from another blissful break in the Drakensberg mountains, Kwa-zulu Natal, South Africa, and the feeling of peace and stillness within gives me the tools and energy to continue with Book 4 without a tired brain and feelings of “I don’t feel like doing this” getting in the way. That’s fatigue talking, and to a writer fatigue – brain, body, and will – is never a good thing. Creativity disappears and the will to go looking for it, or the desire to try to conjure it up from that deep place within, is too much like hard work.
Taking a break, and not feeling guilty about doing so, is as vital to your writing processes and creation abilities than sitting for hours hitting the keys in a frenzy of trance-like passion, finding that wonderful, unexplainable flow that nothing can stop. Just like your body, your brain needs rest and to be surrounded by tranquillity in order to rejuvenate and remain connected to the Source of your creation magic.
After just finishing The Sword Bearer’s Awakening: Book 3 and seeing to the final checks before printing goes ahead has been exhausting, to which I’m sure many of you can attest. Being who I am, I wanted to continue immediately with Book 4 and keep the flow of the story moving rapidly ahead because the final book in the tetralogy, The Sword Bearer’s Ascension, is jam-packed with action and great emotion and culminates years (in the writer’s life and that of her characters’) of awesome adventure across time and space, thrills, tears (again, the writer’s and her characters’), loss, love, great joy and great sorrow, and I didn’t want to have a break because I was absolutely convinced that if I stopped then I’d lose touch with the story and my characters.
But I was wrong.
We packed up – my laptop was my top priority, naturally – and when we arrived in this glorious setting I was fully prepared to spend a couple of hours each day writing.
But then a wonderful thing happened: nature took me over and the magic of the place infused me so completely that wonder replaced that constant urgency to get in front of my laptop. Instead, I allowed my surroundings to inspire me, and slowly, after giving in to the calm, I began to see different ways to make the final and most important book even more powerful and moving than the previous three. Instead of only seeing the one linear path I had decided to take, quite a few more options opened up. My mind began to play and enjoy the variations, tossing them about like a juggler would his colourful, hypnotic balls, and slowly I began to see the story and characters from many different angles and viewpoints, adjusting, rearranging, and approaching scenes from a fresher perspective rather than that single, linear train of thought I’d had before the holiday.
It was on the second day, after fighting hard to stay away from the laptop (gotta thank the hubby here for making me go on long walks), that this freshness of thought made me realised how stuck – visually and creatively – I’d truly been. The stunning views, the autumn smells, the birds, monkeys, buck, and even the feral cats wandering around the resort made me understand just how vital it is to find time to move away from my story, to escape the desperate clinginess (is that a word?) of my characters and, in fact, move away from the entire project to enable me see it so much better.
I urge you, dear writer, to find the time to distance yourself from your stories at least once a month and escape from your writing environment and from your current story, and fly away on the wings of nature, of tranquillity, of things that have nothing to do with writing, and once you are there to just breathe deeply, close your eyes, still your mind, and then, when you’ve achieved perfect peace, allow your story and characters to return, but view them, as it were, from afar so that you can be an observer and not a partaker for once, and perhaps genius and true revelation will find you!
I hope I inspired you to take it easy once in a while and not to fear letting go in order to find greater perspective and perhaps the answers to whatever has you stuck. Give your brain a break – it’ll thank you 🙂
What experiences have you had regarding this issue? Do you agree that having a break can only do your creative functions some good, or do you have to slog away, fiercely intense and inward-turned, until that first draft is done?
I love hearing your thoughts! Please share them with us.