Mokelumne Hill

Words (Between the Lines of Age) by Neil Young (click to play)

Guileless imposter crashes the writing party.

This was the Six-Word Bio that I wrote to introduce myself at the Gold Rush Writers Conference I attended last weekend. Thirty months into playing this game and I still feel like a rookie on the bench trying to make the team. The Sons of Anarchy bikers that roared up the main drag of Mokelumne Hill belonged at this retreat more than me, some pseudo-sophisticate suburb-dwelling wannabe. I continue to question: why do I want to rack myself with this angst-filled ambition? I didn’t grow up with the conviction that I was born to write – it just seemed like a fun thing to do with the second half of my life. Fun indeed.

There is one conviction I’ve acquired on this bumpy ride: Write a Book is not merely something to put on a bucket list and blithely check off after penning a prize-winning novel. Writing is an unsettling, self-loathing obsession. The more I learn, the more disoriented yet determined I become. Without fanfare, the salt-of-the-earth Calaveras County writing community pulled me off the bench and pushed me into the game to catch some tangible nuggets of truth about this complex craft. The ghost of Mark Twain would be tipping his cigar.

Cut the crap. I’ve been choking on words, gagging myself with unnecessary frippery. Just tell the story – plain and simple – so said the flash fiction teacher who challenged us to write a he-said-she-said dialogue, snap. For someone who loves to gab, flowing dialogue feels strangely elusive, but perhaps I’m making too much of it. Maybe good writing is like a well-made bed: wash the sheets so they smell like a summer breeze, tuck the corners in nice and neat, fluff the pillows a bit, and smooth a soft blanket on top. If it’s piled up with fancy cushions and quilts, it’s too much work just to crawl under the covers let alone sleep in it.

Leave the heavy lifting to the pros. I had scarcely embraced the mantra of brevity when along came a Jesus in glasses and brown blazer extolling the genius of Flaubert’s page-long sentences. What?? Turns out Jesus is a brilliant novelist and witty professor that made me want to go back to college and become a disciple of literature. Christian Kiefer showed us how richly-descriptive settings add dimension to the plot. He can get away with existential prose because he earned his Ph.D. in American Lit and because he’s one of those gifted artist souls – but most of us mere mortals cannot.

Even creativity needs a plan. I thought I would be one of those authors who does some research, sits down with a character, and starts writing to discover what kind of trouble their protagonist is going to get into. Then in waltzed a writing professor who taught us that an outline moves the story along much more efficiently than letting the characters dictate our telling. The clever author of  “Women of Ill Fame” altered my creative process when she put us on the spot to spend twenty minutes scribbling an outline for our novel. Oh no, I’m not ready! I assumed the research needed to come first, but voilà – a bona fide foundation for my story miraculously unfolded under pressure. Create the plan and the juices will flow while the research fills in the blanks.

Less is plenty. Enough is a mouthful. Let grandeur bubble forth from the sea of simplicity. And never fear if my blog appearances are sporadic – I’m just splashing around in a setting-plot-dialogue swamp, swimming to shore on occasion to catch my breath and spit out some choice words.

4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Tom Roueché
    May 07, 2014 @ 22:10:12

    This read looks like the writing retreat was a success! Harmonious word smithing Miss Jana


  2. Jacqi Roueche
    May 08, 2014 @ 02:07:39

    I’m happy just reading your beautiful posts – anything more will be icing on the cake.


  3. terismyth
    May 12, 2014 @ 12:14:48

    You brighten my day with your extraordinary posts. The guy in the picture could possibly be one of my relatives or at least one of my dad’s groupies in his earlier days. Your writing inspires me to write more frequently in my own blog
    . It does take courage to put yourself out there, but I’m game if you are.


  4. Sharon Burke
    May 13, 2014 @ 03:19:49

    Sounds like a great time, Jana dearest and very well described by you.


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