A Sense of Place

I’m reading an interesting book titled “This is Where You Belong” by Melody Warnick. The title of the book struck me one day as I walked past a New Selections stand at my local library. She writes about loving where you live (and how to learn to, if you don’t). It’s as if she wrote the first chapter just for me. I know I’ve blogged about all the moving around this country I’ve done, in search of a connection, of a place to call home. She presents an enormous amount of research in a readable (and often humorous) way and includes checklists at the end of every chapter so you too can go out and learn to love where you live. (Many of which are quite doable and actually sound like fun.)

While still new to the area (13 months ago), I went to a reputable psychic reader for some guidance. One of the first things she said to me was, “you know California’s not your home, right?” I felt like someone had punched me in the chest and knocked the air out of my lungs. Did I seriously just spend 11 days on yet another (my fourth and hopefully final) cross country road trip, to end up in a place where I don’t belong? Story of my life, it seems. Perhaps she was wrong (since our futures are not written in stone and we change directions on a whim), and I can learn to fit in here instead of always trying to find the “right” place for me. Perhaps I’ve had it wrong all this time and I need to fit in before a place can fit me.

Moving offered absolution for whatever failures I’d amassed in my present town: the disappointing friendships, the inescapable, guilt-inducing commitments, the taunting list of unfinished home renovation projects. Each time the moving truck pulled away from the curb, these petty vexations and regrets vanished. Thus freed and forgiven, I’d relish the prospect of beginning again in the next city. Things would definitely be better this time. I would be better in Blacksburg. I believed so thoroughly in the healing power of geography that I didn’t bother to make plans for how these changes would occur. By stirring up the better angels of my nature, the right place would simply complete me.

A new city presses the reset button, forcing you to at least temporarily abandon old patterns of thought and environmental triggers. The Melody I was in Virginia would not, fingers crossed, turn out to be the Melody I was in Texas.

Ouch. Sound familiar to you? Certainly does to me. The right place would simply complete me has been my reigning affirmation – up until now. I have to participate in loving where I live? Who’d a thunk it!

Does where you live affect or inspire your writing? Think about it: the conversations overhead at the local cafe, in line at your bank (if you ever bother to go there in person), or when passing people on the street. I find myself listening to the conversations and watching the behaviors of people around me here, perhaps in an attempt to connect to the (my) community. And sometimes what I witness makes it into one of my stories, whether it be a conversation or a particular way someone dressed. But by reading this book I have realized that no one place can complete me. No, I must learn to love where I live, let it in and allow that love to filter through my fingers and into my stories. Because my stories are an expression of me and my life experiences – and they are what complete me, giving me a sense of place within myself and in my community.

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Research: The Monster Over My Shoulder

I finally got some writing “juice” this past week and worked on a fiction novel that’s been sitting untouched on my computer for some time. While adding pages to the second chapter, I realized that certain pieces of information were beyond my grasp until I did some research on the subject at hand. Then I stopped writing.

Research – it’s a lurking monster for me, since I tend to procrastinate until the end of the book to begin the necessary research, filling in the many [bracketed words/phrases/ideas] peppered throughout the story. It’s where pertinent pieces of information need to be inserted – like details on the type of plane used in an aerial shooting, embezzling schemes and how they work (or fall apart), or researching the appropriate lingo used to describe a fire scene. The brackets are notes to myself to go back and finish that thought, get more information on that process, or add a character description. I complete an idea or part of the story best I can, add some brackets where more information/detail is needed, and move on. Most of the time.

Granted, the Internet makes research much easier and more accessible, on most topics. There are, however, still some areas of expertise best shared by experts in that field (for example, the type of plane used in an aerial shooting scene, how it flies, the gears, size of the engine, etc.). This is where I get lazy and it’s probably why some parts of my fiction works could use a little “lift” from more detailed descriptions.

How do you approach research? Do you research as you write? Do you begin your research before you start the story? Do you hire an intern? (Nice to be able to afford that option!) Let us know!

Part of it is I have a bad habit of convincing myself that the experts won’t talk to me, because my work hasn’t made it to the NY Times Bestseller List. I have to get out of my own way and learn to approach the research with as much gusto as I do the rest of the story.

After all, the devil is in the details, eh?

“If you don’t know where you are going, you’ll end up someplace else.” Yogi Berra

Inspiration in the New Year: Simplicity

Now that the holidays are (finally) over, we writers can get back to work (or at least I can, since I seem to have taken too long a holiday from it). As a result of busily working two jobs for the last several months, my writing outside of this blog has all but disappeared and I madly desire to get back on track. My imagination craves an outlet for the myriad scenarios running amok in my mind. But first I need to whittle it all down to a doable list of projects.

That new nutrition book, for example; you know, the one with the first few chapters already completed? Probably going to make its way to the Recycle Bin on my laptop; it was one of the works I referenced in Lay Your Past to Rest. I’ve decided there are already some excellent books out on that very topic, so why try to compete with them? They’re written by successful colleagues with more than twenty-five years of practice under each of their belts (I have less than twelve). What could I possibly say that they haven’t? What would you do?

I’m even re-vamping my workshop. I decided a fresh approach is needed to draw more people in for the all-day class. What’s my inspiration? Boredom, mostly, with the “same-old, same-old”. Time to breathe new life into a stagnant one. Throw out the old, bring in the new, right?

Has your writing become a bit stale as of late? With a whole new year upon us, perhaps it’s time to take a writing inventory to decide what’s still working and what’s not. I like writing nonfiction, but I realized I prefer fiction – more freedom of expression, which to me, is far better (and more fun).

“When it is obvious that the goals cannot be reached, don’t adjust the goals, adjust the action steps.” ~ Confucius

Where to find inspiration for our writing this new year? With a new presidency almost upon us, I feel we will not be lacking for parody material…it’s as if the situation demands it. There’s a lot going on out there in our big world. How can we be heard? How can we stand out? As always, we must create in a way that is best for each of us, not in a way that someone else thinks is right. Which is why I’m cutting back on following various groups on LinkedIn (and other sites) – it’s information overload. In this new year I wish to simplify my life a bit more. Avoiding frivolous junk news will surely increase the amount (and quality) of work I produce, simply because there will be less interference from trivial events that have no bearing on my life.

Perhaps in this new year we writers can decide to live more simply to create more fully. With less interruptions, we can better focus on what’s important: telling our stories.

“Writing is an escape from a world that crowds me. I like being alone in a room. It’s almost a form of meditation- an investigation of my own life. It has nothing to do with – I’ve got to get another play.” ~ Neil Simon