Sunday, March 15, 2009

Rosina Lippi on the White Flow

Rosina Lippi, aka Sara Donati, author of eight novels in print including the masterful Tied to the Tracks, which didn't get the love I think it deserved, sent me this wonderful piece about the White Flow, and the moments before it -

This is what it's like: it’s like walking through a very dark room that you think you know but you’re not really sure about; you move slowly, arms extended, sweeping the space before you for obstacles, so that the air stirs and a familiar smell comes to you -- something from another room you passed through earlier, something that won't quite take form in the dark. You move in small steps in the direction of the windows, or at least, where you believe -- where you hope -- the windows are. The floorboards creak underfoot. A draft from an unexpected direction. A door you forgot about? There's that smell again, a little lemony, and what now? You might stop where you are. Just where you are. You could sit right down and let your blindness nail you to the floor.

Instead you take another step with your arms stretched out in front of you, head turned to one side -- partly to help you hear (the two you're looking for are nearby, you know they are, and maybe they have found a way to talk to each other) -- and partly because you’d rather not run into a wall with your nose.

And there’s a glimmer, very faint. It's appeared so gradually you’re not sure how long you’ve been seeing it. Now it's a faint line in the darkness, and then, more slowly, intersecting that line, another one. A corner. A window? A door?

You hope for a window because you could pull open the curtains and look out into the world that’s been contorting and heaving into continents in the back of your mind. Then again it may look out onto a brick wall or an airshaft. Like the one outside your bedroom window on Lincoln Avenue when you were a little girl, a high rectangle of stagnant space full of hazy light and other people's curtained windows. Or it may be a door that opens into another room in this maze of rooms.

Then it's there. The window’s there, it really is, and the curtains slide easily when you take great handfuls and push them out of your way.

And that's when you see them, your characters. The two who have been avoiding each other, too afraid to talk, uncomfortable with their anger, each of them unaware of you watching from the window because, just now, they are far more real than you ever were or could be. You are as close as you can get, at this window as these two feel their way toward each other in small, tentative steps, half phrases, courtesies like stones, perfectly round and plain, to pave the way.

You see things you weren't expecting: a table covered with a cloth, and the way the embroidery along the edge of the linen shines in the sun. A pitcher of lemonade.The hat trailing a pale green ribbon that flutters in the breeze. The part in his hair, very precise. And her shoulders. They are so white through the thin fabric of her dress, why is it you never noticed that before?

Because he has.

He sees her pale shoulders and he’s touched by the slope of them, the curve where they meet her neck, the faint tracing of veins. You see it on his face, what he's feeling; he's touched and aroused and frantic with wanting to protect her, because he’s failed at that once too often. So you follow the line of her shoulders and that’s the start.

It’s like that.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Elizabeth Gilbert on Creativity

Okay, it's not quite White Flow, but it's well worth the 18 minutes to see this presentation by Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love. She talks about creativity, whether you are a genius or have one, and other items in the creative process. I especially love the descriptions of poems rolling like lightning across the landscape, looking for poets to write them...

And then later, "...I showed up for my part of the job..." about 15:27 in.

Totally, totally awesome.

Hat tip Kim Haas at Creative Fallout.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Leonard Bishop on The Alchemy of Writing

Back in 1988, versatile writer Leonard Bishop wrote a book called Dare to be a Great Writer. It's a collection of 329 mini-essays on subjects significant to a writer, such as "Necessary Delusions" and "Never Marry Another Writer".

Here's a quote from the section called "The Alchemy of Writing" -

None of what you are writing makes sense, right? The characters have the depth of cellophane. The story staggers like a convulsive drunk. The plot line lacks logic, there is just no point in going on. Becoming a professional writer is just a delusionary dream.

Good. Now you are really into your writing. Now you are about to reach the ability you have not touched before. You are into the dark, almost arcane dimension of the writing process that no one can explain. But before you can grow as a writer, you must touch this unexplainable dimension.

This is where the character of the writer is tried.

It is in this dimension that the alchemy of writing happens. Just as the alchemists of old labored to transmute lead into gold, and could not, so the writer labors to turn tripe into treasure. The alchemist fails-- the writer succeeds.

And here's the White Flow -

All of a sudden, in time no quicker than a toad's blink, your writing changes. It is marvelous, exactly what you wanted. But why does it take this suddenness so long to happen? The reason eludes analysis, but the method of achieving it is comprehensible. It is the writer's tenacity, his persistence, his faith.

There's more that follows, well worth buying the book, or at least checking it out from the library.

The layout of the book is not perfect - in many of his example quotes, it's difficult to tell what part is a summary of what the example should be, and what part is actual demonstration of a technique. Also, I often find myself arguing with whether his technique achieves what he says it does, especially where he's demonstrating methods of head-hopping, and/or group dialogue in a single paragraph.

In any case, I highly recommend this book for beginning writers who don't know anything - read once then go practice for a year - and for intermediate writers who want some guidelines to struggle with and make their own - read, argue, decide, practice, repeat. The best feature is a handy index so you can quickly find his comments on any particular aspect of writing.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Stephen King on the White Flow

Stephen King's book On Writing contains lots of good stuff for the writer, if you don't mind the presence of gratuitous swearing. There wasn't any in these quotes, but I've reformatted them slightly for this blog and included context.

Here's his take on when it's working -

On some days [since King's accident and recovery] writing is a pretty grim slog.

On others -- more and more of them as my leg begins to heal and my mind reaccustoms itself to its old routine -- I feel that buzz of happiness, that sense of having found the right words and put them in a line. It's like lifting off in an airplane: you're on the ground, on the ground, on the ground... and then you're up, riding on a magical cushion of air and prince of all you survey. That makes me happy, because it's what I was made to do.

And the wrapup of the book.

The rest of [the book "On Writing"] -- and perhaps the best of it -- is a permission slip: you can, you should, and if you're brave enough to start, you will. Writing is magic, as much the water of life as any other creative art. The water is free. So Drink.

Drink and be filled up.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

White Flow from Rob C Rogers

White Flow from Rob C Rogers, whose 2008 debut novel Devil's Cape (review here) reimagined Louisiana in a dark and super-powered world:

For me, writing is kind of like trying to weave some kind of net in a cold forest in the dark. I meander. My line gets snagged. I stub my toe or bang my head. I can navigate through obstacles and pull things together and make it work, but it's slow going and often painfully hard. It makes me shiver. Every once in a while, though, I have a Eureka moment, and it's like a clear, warm beam of moonlight pointing my way. More often than not, that breakthrough comes from finding a way to tie two disparate strands of my narrative--my net--together in a way that I didn't see before. This plot point comes straight from that character's motive. This event sets up a domino effect leading to that one. This scene should belong to this character, not that one."

It's an unexpected connection that brings order and strength to the jumbled strands I've been working with. And when that moment hits me, I'm in the white flow, the zone. The ideas move faster than my fingertips do and the going is suddenly much, much easier. Until the next tangle, of course...

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Heidi the Hick on White Flow

Heidi the Hick recently logged some Zen observations over on Hick Chick:

All three of these activities - riding, writing, painting - require a willingness to let go of whatever is troubling your mind. Focus is not something that comes easily to me, and I need to consciously shed the noise. Look up, through the horse's ears at the track ahead, forget about anything on the other side of the fence, send my thoughts down to my legs and belly while thinking ahead to what I'll need to ask of the horse. Look in, look for the people who only exist in my head, forget about the publishing industry and the laundry and the dust bunnies, listen for the voices and sense the inner world. Look straight ahead, inches away, to the thick colour in the bristles, forget about the saws and nail guns on the other side of the wall, let my eyes soak up the new line of glistening paint covering the old.

Then push my leg against the horse's side and keep him moving, let my fingers fly and the keys click, the roller running over the wall and make everything new.

Things get rolling, running, flowing, moving, whichever way you look at it: progress, reward.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Putting It Together

The incomparable Steven Sondheim put together a number of songs in the musical "Sunday in the Park with George" that epitomize the artistic and creative processes. Unfortunately, each one also has subtexts that make it about something else as well. "Putting It Together" shows the process that artists have to go through to get the art made in the first place, through patrons and backers and corporate folk. The first one is closest to a White Flow item, but for Actors/Singers.

Here's three version of "Putting it Together" -

Carol Burnett (2000) from "Putting It Together" (A Sondheim review, with George Hearn, Ruthie Henshall, John Barrowman and Bronson Pinchot)


Barbra Streisand (1985) from "The Broadway Album"

Mandy Patinkin (1986) - from "Sunday in the Park with George"There's lots of dialog in this one, so I'm not sure how well it
translates if you haven't seen the play.

Okay, just for fun, here's a fourth just in case you haven't heard enough yet. This one reminds me of an old version of "Look What They've Done To My Song, Ma".

Kuh Ledesma (2007?) from "ACT II"