KaBooM WritersKaBooM Writers

Welcome to the online presence of KaBooM, a writing group that has sustained the creative lives of a diverse group of women for over a decade. We hope that getting to know us will inspire you, too!Welcome to the online presence of KaBooM, a writing group that has sustained the creative lives of a diverse group of women for over a decade. We hope that getting to know us will inspire you, too!

Welcome to the online presence of KaBooM, a writing group that has sustained the creative lives of a diverse group of women for over a decade. We hope that getting to know us will inspire you, too!

The KaBooM Writers Notebook: Our Blog

Finishing a Novel

We’re about six weeks away from the next installment of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). Are you trying to decide whether to participate? Perhaps you’ve got a great character in mind. Perhaps you’ve already imagined a breathtaking opening scene.

Your problem, as you often confess to your writing friends, is that your life seems to be full of starts but skimpy on finishes. And truth be told, once that breathtaking opening scene is written, you don’t have any idea where you’re going next.

I just finished a novel. While I didn’t finish it in a month, I did reach the end of a draft in just under three years. Considering this is the first novel I’ve finished, I’ve set a world’s record for me. Now I want to figure out what I’ve learned, with the hope of next time beating my personal best.

Narrative arc. If that phrase makes you nervous, take heart. It was important for me to realize that narrative arc was something I could pay attention to after I had a narrative. Instead of predetermining plot, I relied on those aforementioned great characters to lead the way. I put them in contact with one another and watched the scenes unfold one by one, or “bird by bird” if you will.

Write by hand. It sounds practically pathological to suggest greeting something as intense as NaNoWriMo armed with nothing more than your writer’s notebook and favorite pen. However, I found this process useful. I needed to slow my brain so I could envision the scene, hear characters speak, and set it down on paper. Writing by hand let me overhear the undertones of conversations and envision actions. The eventual typing of scenes got tedious at times, but never so tedious that I switched to composing on the computer. The slow paying of attention yielded too large a payoff.

Attend writing classes, writing group meetings, and writing workshops. All  offered ideas that kept me going. The trick is to manipulate any assignment you receive so it meets your needs. For example, if the workshop leader brings a plastic bag filled with paint chips with exotic names (Fire on the Mountain?), imagine the conversation your character might have about that chip and where and how such a scene might fit into your narrative. Does it reveal character? Advance the action? Provide a much-needed concrete detail? Once you’ve got a project going, make writing workshops work for you. I can’t imagine any workshop leader not applauding such a practical and necessary ownership. Check out the opportunities at the Carnegie Center. Writing Practice is a flexible way to push ahead.

Recently one of my students, a retired police officer who is finishing his own book, reminded me of this E.L. Doctorow quotation: “Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”

And pulling into your final destination is every bit as sweet.

Paying Attention

Diane Ackerman signing books following her talk at the Kentucky Women Writers Conference, Sept. 11, 2010

In her recent talk as part of the Kentucky Women Writers Conference, Diane Ackerman shared with her audience the value she has found in paying close attention. It’s clear that her books grow out of her keen observation of the natural world. But she spoke also of the solace she finds in nature, when she can “loll in wonder’s swaying hammock.”

She described finding moments of transcendence during her husband’s illness at those times when she was able to bring her attention to the natural world. When fully present to some aspect of nature, the weight of other concerns eased. Even nature found in “the manicured wilderness of the city” offers such an escape. It takes us outside of ourselves.

Our work, our careers, our lives are shaped in large part by where we place our attention. Noticing the wonder of the world we inhabit is an ability that grows from both freedom and discipline. We need the liberty that allows our perception and thoughts to wander, absorbing the beauty and drama of this amazing earth. Yet when we are caught up in our individual lives, it takes strength and discipline to look beyond ourselves.  Curiosity and openness put us in touch with the world, while focus and discipline allow us to engage deeply with it so that we can create work and offer something back to the world.

Ackerman’s talk was a reminder that the skills of observation we rely on as writers are the same skills that refresh and strengthen us in the midst of living. The ability to be present, to really pay attention, to notice the life unfolding all around us, is the way toward “the satisfying state of mind we sometimes call joy.” The writing life teaches us a rich and rewarding approach to living.

Then there is the work of writing about what has engaged us. Ackerman described her own process of beginning new work as the task of picking something to focus on, then thinking of something, anything, to say about her subject. A process she described as “trying to get the goose of creativity to lay a golden egg.” Her method, however, is workmanlike: Write a sentence. Then write another about that sentence. And so on.

Inspiration is everywhere, but the work of writing is always specifically here, in this particular place, with this subject, on this page, with these words. Attention focused outwards will lead us to our work. Attention focused on the work will lead us to accomplish it.

On inspiration that makes you more yourself…

This year’s Kentucky Women Writer’s Conference begins with the Gypsy poetry slam tomorrow night.  Workshops follow on the weekend.

KY WWConference

At last year’s conference, we at KaBooM had just launched our book, When the Bough Breaks.  We led a panel discussion that was well attended, well received, and really fired us up for a season of selling the book and making ourselves available to other writers.  It was a wonderful, busy, exhilarating time, a very “put yourself out there” time.

Just prior to the conference, this week I’ve been re-discovering singer-songwriter Emily Haines, whose musical work spans many groups and moods.  For example, she’s appeared with the Canadian band Metric on David Letterman, and has a solo album of her own called “Knives Don’t Have Your Back.”  I’ve been enjoying her pure voice accompanied often only by her piano playing.  And then there’s a Youtube video that captures her reflections on how much she needed a writing retreat in Buenos Aires.

The tone of that video is completely affirming.  And I’m remembering a line from an interview she gave in 2007.  When asked about role models, she said: “everybody needs people to inspire them. The most valuable make you want to be more yourself, not more like them.”

So at this year’s KWWC,  I’m in a very different place, and am looking for …. well…  I’m not exactly sure what I’m looking for.  But since that’s the great thing about a conference,  my plan is to be open to the deep, warm-hearted, generous, creative people who make themselves available to complete writing strangers, for just this eye blink of time that a two-day conference represents.  In my imagination, I’m polishing a tuning fork when I write these words,  thinking of the satisfying hummmmm that reverberates when a tone is adjusted and reaches that instant it’s in tune.

The two notes echo back and forth off each other and vibrate out into the wider air, moving out of the essential “tuning” period and out into the larger world.