Annie On Writing

October 22, 2014

What Lego has taught me about writing.

mini London

Lego is one of those ubiquitous childhood toys which tends to breed underfoot when your feet are bare and tender and vanish when you need that last particular piece to complete a project. You may be surprised to learn that playtime with Lego has many opportunities for a writer to hone their skills, so perhaps its time to pull down the dusty box those little red pieces have been hiding in and scrutinize what secrets it may be hiding from you.

The word “Lego” is derived from a Danish phrase “leg godt” which means to “play well”. Also meant to be loosely interpreted in Latin, the word Lego is  “I put together”. Keeping these meanings in mind, its not a huge jump for the writer to put their work in progress and the model they are building out of Lego into the same metaphoric box. Writing, in its most basic form, is simply putting words together. Playing and having fun is also ‘supposed’ to be part of the deal when writing.

As a rookie writer / first time builder, when you build the foundation of your story the bricks of the story may press together easily, while construction tends to be rapid fire and passionate. Suddenly, you look across the table and spy a window frame/ character, which, before you had seen it, was not featured in your Lego/story masterpiece. But now that you’ve seen it, it seems impossible to build it without its inclusion.Therein lays the dilemma of a first draft. You are left with the quandary of pulling it completely apart and rebuilding, in a different tense, from a different point of view, in a different colored brick? Do you carry on, attempting to ignore that perfect Lego piece/ character, telling yourself you’ll pick it up and put it somewhere else along the line but secretly knowing that it only has one place, somewhere in your work  hours ago?

R2D2

Planning and evaluating problems is part of both the Lego and writing process which many fail to recognize as being integral to the ultimate success of the project. There are few people who can construct a simple design without a degree of forethought, planning and goal building. Even the most casual ‘pantser’ will have a vague overall outcome in mind for their story. A successful ‘pantser’ isolates challenges as they present themselves, evaluates and integrates or discards them as they appear. A planner will generally evaluate discrepancies after the first draft is completed and implement changes afterwards.  Without upsetting the pantser vs. planner debate too much, there is value in staring at the raw materials of your build/story and just building / writing until you reach a point where some planning and evaluation will ensure that you don’t waste too much time when going forward. I’m a big believer that there is space and value for both methods. The value of being a Lego builder as a writer is to see that unusual and beautiful things can be accidentally created even when the plan wasn’t followed.

Lego teaches problem solving, organization, and planning by construction — skills which are invaluable to the writer.  The problems a writer faces are similar in some instances to that of a Lego builder. A writer spends inordinate amounts of time thinking, searching for the right word, researching a specific detail, getting distracted on the internet, discovering new pieces of information which must be included somewhere in the story and then hours staring into space, working out ways to introduce, solve or tighten new plot twists and characters. A builder spends inordinate amounts of time searching for the exact piece, getting distracted by new pieces and then spends more time attempting to fit these pieces in someplace.

Writing, like Lego, is a solitary pursuit. It can capture the time and imagination of people of all ages, where hours disappear under the scribble, tapping or rattle of the tools of their trade. Though writing and Lego can be enjoyed as a group or paired activity, it takes a special environment and range of personalities for this to ultimately work without it ending in egotistical tears, tantrums and shattered friendships.

Lego teaches builders to recognize and duplicate complex patterns, encouraging them to alter and make their own patterns. Writing is based on recognizing patterns within human behavior, replicating and altering certain events to be molded into a specific storyline. Writing also requires authors to utilize the complex patterns of language, grammar and genre specific idiosyncrasies. The more you both observe and practice duplicating increasingly complex patterns, the more mastery you will have.

If you want to improve your writing experience, spill that Lego box out in front of you and start to build something. It will quickly become evident whether you are a ‘pantser’ or a ‘planner’; whilst both have merits for both Lego construction and story writing, the important thing is to build. Just write. Have a goal. Be flexible and “Leg Godt”.

Photos are from a recent visit to Legoland in Windsor, UK; where Annie was unashamedly a big kid for the entire day.

This article first appeared over at Todays Author

October 15, 2014

An interview with Ron Estrada – Writer in the Spotlight

Filed under: Interview with Author — Annie Evett @ 12:01 am

RonE

Ron Estrada is a writer from Elmhurst, Illinois, just west of Chicago.  A husband to one woman and a father to two boys, 3 and 1, he’ll say yes to garlic, the Oxford comma and bebop but no to glitter, dark chocolate and water snakes.

TITLE OF LATEST WORK

“Reborn” is my novel-in-progress.  

What was the initial motivation for this work? 

I became interested in the processing of tragedy, I don’t know when this happened.  Maybe it was small deaths of people close to me and then, the biggest to date, my grandmother in 2004.  My father was, is, a musician and I often spent weekends with my grandmother playing poker and cooking bread, sausage and peppers, spaghetti “gravy,” as we, my family, and many other local Italians, call it.  Anyhow, my grandmother and I were awfully close, always.  She smoked and died from cancer and it all happened pretty quickly.  It was a big acceptance and still is at times.  Even young I thought about the approach of death when it wasn’t necessarily immediate and I missed people before they were gone.  My new story explores the taking of tragedy and the then handling of it.

Is your main character a recurring one in your writing?

No.  Though it sometimes feels like it because I’ve been thinking about this character for quite a long time, this man dealing with the death of his wife. (There’s no mystery she’s dead; it’s introduced right away in the story.)  I feel that way with a lot of my characters because I think they’ve been living in cubby holes in my psyche, like recipes we pick up along the way and don’t know the full taste of until we put the saucepan on the stove and add coriander.  I don’t think my protagonist will live on in any other stories.  I like to let them live on in their own privacy after we part.

What message or feeling did you want to leave with your audience?

I don’t really know.  I don’t like the cliched sound of “life is fragile” and “live for today” but I can see that being a message that might come across, even though I have no interest in this book being a motivational poster.  Though maybe it will be to some.  And that’s fine, of course.  I’m interested in the story that becomes the story for the reader.  I do hope for an emotional dive.  I hope the sad parts come across as sad.  I hope the joyous parts come across as so.  I mostly want to introduce the reader to a character who is meeting life, a part of life that he doesn’t really want though, if he wants to live, has to face.  I think that happens all the time.  Perhaps it’ll be insightful watching someone else, a different one of us, experience it.  

What sorts of challenges or insights have you had writing this?

My writing is very stream-of-conscience.  My wife says it’s “left-branching,” though tells me that suggest something negative.  (She doesn’t think so.)  Anyhow, there’s a glide to it that I need to balance well with the story I want to tell and not just in how I want to tell it.  This is a general challenge.  It’s something I give my attention to, maybe mostly in the editing or rewriting process.  With this book, with what my main character is working through, there are times when he’s absent from his own world, pedestrian in his own life.  The story needs these moments but the flow thickens at these times.  It can be a challenge to make things interesting when things aren’t interesting to your characters.  

What sort of research might you do before you begin writing?

I’ve revisited writers who’ve written about loss (C.S. Lewis, Joan Didion, etc.) and talked to everyday folk about their being widows or widowers, not interviewing them but, more, just listening to the things they chose to share.  But we’ve all lost and will continue to lose those we love.  Because of that I think that readers will find much that feels familiar, even if it’s on a different scale.  It can be hard writing all of this, to face it; my heart often hurts.  

What sort of stories do you normally write? (Is this story a break from your norm?)

I’ve always written much shorter pieces than I’m writing now.  When I first started writing seriously, and probably reading seriously, much of what I read and wrote was short fiction.  For me there was no surprise that once reflected the other.  Raymond Carver was a big influence stylistically.  I love many of his stories.  He wrote about being a short story writer, “Get in, get out.  Don’t linger.”  That was comforting to me.  Something much longer felt impossible to scale as a young writer.  I feel more comfortable with it now.  It feels more necessary.

Are you a member of a writing group – either online or a physical one?

I’m not part of anything formally organized right now.  Well, I contribute to Today’s Author and there is shared advice and tips and that’s well organized so maybe I am.  But nothing like a workshop or specific meeting date with a specific group of writers.  I have before signed up for workshop classes at a local college, which I think is a good thing.  Like-minded folks and structure can be helpful.  And often there’s a class at night, which plays well with anyone who has a regular, straight job like me.  I think it’s important to have a community to call on, writer friends or reader friends you trust.  Someone you can lump a manuscript on their laps without much pushback.  I’m not really a genre writer but I know there are many genre-specific groups around.  

What advice or tips do you have for writers who feel they are stuck or have “writers block”?

Well, we suffer over our writing; that’s natural and fine and, hopefully, part of being a serious writer.  I think that once a writer starts to focus on the “block” then they lose focus on the writing.  It’s okay if things aren’t gushing out.  Be patient and allow yourself some grace.  Pay attention to how you write/read/think and how that results in a complete story/novel/poem.  If that means you’re stuck with where a story wants to go, let it simmer, but continuously be a part of it.  If you get frustrated and words aren’t coming, maybe go on to something else where the words are, write something different.  

How can others follow your journey? 

I started a blog a few years ago to have a forum to publish some short, reflective essays on all sorts of topics that grab me.  They’re usually about 600 words, I think.  Not very long.  I don’t talk about my novel on my site.  I guess I feel it may prompt an interaction that I’m not ready to have yet.  I want the relationship right now to just be between me and story.  Who knows, though.  Maybe a shared novel journal will sound pleasing in the future.  Or I’ll just share some bites, a teaser trailer of sorts.  I’m going to think about that. 

My website, by the way, is: 8.187  and I can be followed on Twitter

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