Description by Christine Duncan

After supper tonight, I went to the grocery. Ostensibly, I was picking up a few items we needed. What I was really doing was writing.
I needed concrete descriptions of summer–something fresher than that sweaty, energy zapping feeling of breath taking heat after a run. I went to feel the chill of air conditioning on my heated skin. I went to see the skinny, tall teen in the way too big red shorts, and to smell-taste the sweetness of ripe strawberries and melon.
I keep a journal of description for each time of year, but sometimes, I just want something fresher. I still don’t have exactly what I need, but I do have some things to enter in that journal, if not my work in progress. I have no place for that feeling of skin tight with dried sweat but it will be there waiting when I need it I hope, even if I’m writing in the dead of winter.

The Season

I love books that can evoke the feelings of a season. For example, The Go-Between, with it’s portrayal of one glorious summer, or Wind In The Willows, with it’s perfect descriptions of a lazy spring day, or a chill winter evening. I think one of the reasons I like the Famous Five books so much is they make me feel like I’m in one long hot endless beautiful summer. In fact, I just bought a book based solely on the fact it supposed to evoke a long ago hot summer. (Month in the Country by J Carr, and it did, and I enjoyed it)

The weather is important in books, I think. It can be a reflection of a characters mood, or a sign of the plot. Thunderstorms are always a good indicator of things going wrong. It can move the plot along. In Persuasion, the rain in Bath is constantly causing meetings as people shelter.

Besides, I love the feeling. It’s wonderful, on a miserable damp day, to open a book and be sent back to summer, and warmth and sunshine.

It’s more than a case of saying ‘it was hot’. Describing a season needs beautiful prose, poetic prose that stirs the feelings. And it’s not just the weather that needs describing, but the way people react to it, the things they do, the clothes they wear, the work they do, even the scent of the air – all of these are defined by season, especially in the countryside.

It’s summer here now. But I know if I read the right book ( let’s say, Christmas Carol), I could feel a cold winter breeze. And when it’s winter, I’ll dig out all those summer books. I love a season in a book.

It’s not that easy!

I read a quote from an author who said he liked writing books because you just had to work a couple of hours in the morning then play golf all afternoon. I’ve been told that any idiot can write a screenplay. Someone recently said it should be easy to knock out something like Harry Potter.

As someone who is currently exhausted from a day of writing extra scenes to insert to clear things up and stretch out a book and put out a few hints, I can say it is not easy. But you try telling people it’s hard work. ‘It’s just writing’ they say. ‘That’s easy.’

Well, yes. But there’s the thinking. And the plotting. And the characters – all of which have to be original and real. And you can’t have any plot holes, that has to be watertight. There’s the research, which has to be to a very high level and absolutely correct.

Then there’s the changes your agent wants. Then the changes your editor wants. Then the next set of changes. Then the changes any other editors wants. The there’s the copy editor’s changes. Then the proof reader. Then someone will bring up at least one question no-one’s thought of before, and may have to change everything. And that’s all before the book comes out, and you have to publicise it. And once that’s all over, you’ve got the next book….

Quite frankly I’m worn out. I enjoy doing it, but this is hard work. And if one more person tells me it’s easy – well, let’s just say they’ll be lucky to get away unscathed.

More Time to Write? by Christine Duncan

What if you didn’t have to worry about a mortgage?  Would you spend more time writing?

Wouldn’t you love to find out?

A Detroit non-profit named Write a House is giving houses to writers.  The idea is to renovate vacant houses and revitalize neighborhoods in a city that needs both of those things AND to pump up its literary community.  It’s a win-win for the writers, and the city.

I think the whole idea is a writer’s dream.  If the roof over your head was provided for, couldn’t you not only write, but contribute to the writer’s community in your area? I’ve always wanted  to talk at schools about writing, telling kids not only about the fun of creating new worlds in your head, but also about the realities of writing–no money, no money, no money. Title? “Keep  Your Day Jobs, Sweeties.”

I’d love to spend time polishing my stuff before sending it out–not playing this game of waiting that I do now.  “Okay, now, I have to work a little extra this week, and the holiday is coming, so all I can do today is polish chapter three but I might be able to do a better edit, week after next.”  Am I the only one who does this?

Write a House is up front about the fact that they can not give you a day job to provide the bread and butter on your table.  So you had better have a great job skill and some savings to be able to survive.  But they do say the houses, though small,  are near schools and not far from downtown.  And they will help introduce you to the city and to a network of other professionals.

I have to say, I think it sounds like a dream.

Nothing New Under The Sun

I was made to realise this week that there is no such thing as a completely original idea.

You can come up with something you believe is utterly unique, totally different from anything that has come before, entirely new, but someone somewhere will have done it.

Not exactly the same as you’ve done it. A different angle, perhaps, a different style of writing, a different setting, a different treatment of characters. But, something in that will be the same as your brilliant idea.

It’s very frustrating. It’s also very annoying when you’ve put a lot of work into an idea you believe is original only to find someone else got there before you. But…that doesn’t have to be the end.

I think I read somewhere there are only seven tales in the world (or is it three?) but the difference comes in the way you tell it. That’s where I think the originality has to come. It has to come in your style of writing, or the way you treat the idea, or an entirely new angle.

You don’t have to tell a new story. It’s alright to tell an old story if you tell it differently.

Writing–An Honest Profession? by Christine Duncan

I know I have said this before, but I can’t help noticing how much is written to sell something.  I am not talking about advertisements, but articles in magazines, and on the internet appear to have one thing in common.  They want to persuade you to buy into something.

Sometimes the selling bias is evident: “The Five Top Skin Care Creams You Need,” or “Why a Kettlebell Will Help You Get Fit Faster.”  Sometimes the sales pitch is more subtle, “The Hyperloop, L.A. to San Francisco in half an hour.”

I prefer the out and out advertisements.  At least, I know they are trying to sell me something.  Whether the idea is light rail in my area or rapid transit trains ferrying people and goods across vast distances, when they are mentioning all the advantages and wonderful ecological benefits, I automatically love the ideas without taking the time to think, “Hey, wait a minute.  What about all the land that will require?  How will they get that?  And what if I can get from L.A. to San Francisco in 30 minutes?  How long will it take me to get from where ever they drop me off to where ever in the city I’m actually going?  And how much will all of that cost?”

And it’s not just transportation.  The articles can be as diverse as fashion ( you know you really need that outfit or pair of shoes) or health and nutrition (kelp has more vitamins than plain old lettuce)  or even a craft article (use natural wool for that luxurious feel.) There seem to be more and more agendas.

Labeling something an ad brings out our natural skepticism.  Putting it in an article and prettying it up is … dishonest.  I’m starting to feel that most of media is dishonest anymore.  Everything has an agenda.  And that makes the writer in me feel just a little sleazy.

The Joy

I’m getting better, but it’s very slow. I’m still too tired to do much, still in pain, still with difficulties. As someone who is used to – and likes – being independent and active, this is all very frustrating. The worst thing is, it all beginning to make me a bit depressed. I’m a bit miserable, I have to admit. There have been crying sessions.

Apparently this is normal for someone in my position, and I’ve had counselling and anti-depressants suggested to me – but I have a better way.

You see, two weeks ago, something finally happened. I felt ready to write again. I have some editing to do – lots of editing to do, for both my agent and my editor, and I was ready to do it.

It’s only when you don’t write for a while that you forget the utter joy of it. I was utterly excited when I opened up my computer, and started those first few edits. I felt enormous pleasure in feeling my mind work again, and my imagination stretch, and my fingers flying across the keyboard.

I felt better when writing. If I was in pain, I forgot it. The exhaustion went away. The depression disappeared entirely. When I stopped, the pain and exhaustion came back, but I stayed happy. I sat back, worn out, but repeating to myself ‘I wrote today’.

Writing can be difficult and frustrating and tiring sometimes. Sometimes I just don’t want to do it. But in the end, it always brings me immense joy, and I must never forget that.