If you notice the ‘posted by’ at the top, you’ll see it was done by our own marvelous Toni Anderson and not by me. That’s because I’m not here – I’m in Paris (yes, that Paris!) celebrating a wonderful, romantic tenth wedding anniversary with The Husband. A Captain in the Navy Reserve, he was activated last year for the fourth time in eight years and posted to Germany. He was very upset that we would be spending our wedding anniversary apart. Again.
Me: It’s okay, honey, it’s not the first anniversary you’ve missed.
The Husband: But the tenth is special, so you’ll just have to come over and we’ll go to Paris.
Me, gulping : Okay!
So that’s wonderful for me, but how does that tie in with writing?
Simple. EVERYTHING ties in with writing, from a romantic trip to Paris to getting your tires rotated.
I used to have a sweatshirt that said “Nothing bad ever happens to writers –it’s all research.” Oh, so true! The sweatshirt finally dissolved from pure age, but the saying is still as meaningful as ever.
Whatever is happening is grist for your mill. Even if you aren’t conscious of doing it, your brain is constantly absorbing little bits of information – smells, sights, sounds. Occasionally, simple curiosity will drive you ask a question, even if you don’t have an exact usage for it at the time. For example, I was having my tires rotated when I asked a somewhat bemused mechanic how to make sure a car would crash. Luckily he has known me for the many years we’ve patronized that station, so instead of calling the police he patiently explained several very nifty ways to ensure a spectacular smash-up. There’s one involving a block of wood and some glue that I can’t wait to use… in a story, just in a story…
One of the benefits of being a writer is that there is so much you can claim as a business-related deduction. Books. Movies. Parts of some trips. A home office. Lunches with fellow writers. Conferences. Workshops. Classes. Postage. Mileage. Some writers even claim a portion of their home for an office and a portion of their internet fees. You need to check with the tax code or a good accountant well versed in writerly deductions to see if everything you’ve claimed is legal and justifiable. You also need to keep impeccable records and receipts. The minutiae of that, however, is fodder for a post by someone more gifted with numbers and laws than I.
I am trying to make the point that everything in your life affects your writing. When you smell the first roses of spring, it doesn’t mean that you have to put them in your current work; it does mean that when you need a fresh, springlike odor or even a reference, there is the memory of those first, dewy roses just waiting in the back of your mind. Same thing with other, less pleasant events/ideas/odors/sights/emotions.
Whatever affects you can also affect your readers. Good writing invokes nuance and texture. Instead of just telling your readers there is a coat on the chair, let them know what kind of coat it is. Lush fur? Ratty denim? Cashmere, freshly cleaned or down-at-the-heels grubby? Plaid or plain? Pristine or torn? Whatever that coat is gives us an insight into the owner. For example, “The jacket had originally been dark indigo, but time and wear had faded the denim to a pale blue with streaks of white around the edges. One of the pockets had been torn and carefully mended with thread that didn’t quite match, but it was clean and had been neatly pressed.” That not only describes the physical coat, but also says a lot about its owner.
That does not mean you have to go into a detailed treatise on fabrics, coat manufacture or dry cleaning processes. A great indigestible lump of information is as bad as none at all, and sometimes worse. Readers have sparks, gems, archetypes in their minds, too. As writers it is our job to activate them.
Too many of us wander around in the fog of the immediate (our minds concentrated on what to serve for supper tonight, who is going to take the kids to soccer practice, when the roast should come out of the oven) for us to acknowledge the real world around us. Life, the tiny little gems of life, are passing us by and we haven’t even noticed.
One of the purposes of fiction is to take the reader to a different world; if we don’t notice these gems, how can we pass them on to our readers? How can we create a complete and believable world? Oh, it can be done, but without those gems of the senses the end product is usually flat and sterile and does nothing for the reader. It says nothing good about the writer, either.
So, while I am in Paris I shall be looking at the magnificent buildings and listening to the accents and tasting the food, but when I come home I shall be just as assiduous in noting the play of light through the grapevines on the pergola roof and the strange whine coming from my car’s newly aligned tires and smelling the heat of a drowsy spring afternoon, all so I can use them accurately in my work. My readers deserve nothing less.
Tout allors, ma cheres – c’est finit! My space – and my French – are just about finished, so I will close with the promise to tell you about April in Paris in my next entry. (May 23.) À bientôt!