Got my signed copy of Sandy Sugawara and Catiana Garcia Kilroy’s incredible photography book Show Me the Way to Go to Home (@showmethewaytogotohome) — An ambitious project that features stunning photographs of the US concentration camps where over 120,000 Japanese Americans were incarcerated during WWII. This is an important work that documents a shocking part of this country’s history, and evokes the vital need to preserve, study, share, and make sure we continue to learn and teach the hard lessons and impacts of this not-so-long-ago chapter. Highly recommend adding this book to your collection.
Text of the poem:
I sought to seed the barren earth
And make wild beauty take
Firm root, but how could I have known
The waiting long would shake
Me inwardly, until I dared
Not say what would be gain
From such untimely planting, or
What flower worth the pain?
— Toyo Suyemoto
Check out the Concentrational Poetic Resonance project to read more poems like this and learn about the poetry of the Japanese American World War II concentration camp experience.
The word that comes to mind when reading Matt Bell’s Refuse to Be Done is “Rigorous.” His book goes into great detail about taking a novel through the drafting process — specifically three drafts. There are strategies and tips through each draft stage, and Bell does a great job of providing insights into how to take a rather large body of work, and all the complexities of story/theme/plot/character/descriptions/style/tense therein, and use revision and rewriting to get the novel completed in its finest form. What I enjoyed and respected most was that the tenor of the book wasn’t — see how easy all this is, now that I’ve revealed my techniques, but rather — prepare to work hard and be diligent, and just when you think you are done, nope, get back in there and revise and rework some more. Yes, anyone can write a novel. And sure, that means anyone can write a good or even great novel — IF they put the hard work in. This book makes that case very well, and is packed with excellent concepts, strategies and very specific pointers on how to bring that kind of rigorousness to the process of writing and revising a novel. I appreciated the thoroughness and the writer’s writer insights, and most of all, the reality check on how challenging — and rewarding — it is to take the novel writing process to true completion.
This was an early days project, a zine about marketing and promoting your independent project. As I reflect upon it now, all these years later, I feel that it is both very earnest, but also, a reminder that so much of the foundation of how I approach publishing as a profession is bound up in what I learned from making zines. There is so much functional wonder and problem-solving in the DIY approach of every aspect of zine-making — from the writing to the design to the production to the distribution and promotion — it lets you truly feel the creative process in your core every step of the way. Seeing pages you made fly out of a photocopier, the utter satisfaction of pushing down a stapler and feeling the physical mechanics of bonding your work, sealing up the finished product in an envelope and dropping it off in the mail to a very specific person. There is a completeness to it, a cycle of creation that is pure and wonderful. Earnest? Yes. In the best of ways. It’s good to occasionally be reminded of and to embrace earnestness, especially from the early days.
A hushed cityscape
under a blanket of snow
gift from unseen moon
NYC is on track to break the record for the longest stretch without snow.
This is unsettling, and so disappointing. There’s nothing like a winter wonderland in the city, especially when it reaches snow day level measurements. You get to hunker down, breathe a little easier, be grateful for the the cozy warmth of shelter, cook up a feast of soup, or chili, or whatever else may take a good long time on top of the stove, and drink an excessive amount of coffee in the morning / wine late into the evening. It’s a day for reading, watching a classic movie, sitting in front of the window and watching the soft landing of snowflakes. The length of the day relaxes and stretches itself, allowing you to embrace the slow tick of the minutes — and when the middle of the night finally arrives, you get to witness the light of the unseen moon reflect off the snow, illuminating the hushed cityscape for as far as the eye can see. Bring on the snow, and let the snow days roll!
Haiku is a form of poetry I return to again and again. Deceptively simple to write, I enjoy the challenge. I’ve written hundreds — maybe thousands. Most are… just okay, if not downright terrible. Some are, well, not bad, but not really hitting the mark. A rare few, if I dare say so myself, are meaningful and resonant. Haiku need to deliver a startling image and an emotional wallop in just a few beats. I’m not a stickler for the 5/7/5 syllable form, but do consider it a helpful and challenging framework to work within.
I swing into the habit of writing haiku as part of my routine — it helps me get started not just with putting something down on paper, but taking an emotional concept or image and describing it with words. The brevity of this particular poetic form helps me distill what I am trying to convey through story, whether that be a chapter in a novel or a longer form poem.
The above images are from Yone Noguchi’s Japanese Hokkus, published in 1920. Noguchi was the first Japanese-born writer to publish poetry in English, and is credited with introducing haiku to America, influencing the Imagist poets of the early 20th century. Here’s a great essay on Noguchi posted at the The Huntington library’s website: “Yone Noguchi and Haiku in the United States.”
Reading Noguchi’s “hokkus” and writing this short entry has inspired me to get back into haiku, as part of a daily creative ritual. Stay tuned!
I’ve hit some walls with the writing. I’m not short on ideas, but very much lacking in the discipline of writing, as well as feeling out of sorts with the writing process — being able to go from idea to pages in a way that feels like it’s working. Also, I had a tarot reading in which I was told that my same old, go-to methods and strategies are not working anymore, that I need to blow things up and start anew. This unnerved me.
I don’t have any answers yet, and this isn’t a comprehensive explainer on how I solved this personal writing challenge. But I’ve found some very helpful resources, and already I feel some of that flow coming back to me.
Let me share one right now:
Save the Cat — a popular method originated by Blake Snyder in the screenwriting world — structures the narrative through 15 beats. It essentially distills the necessary plot components and story arc that will drive your characters and concept from the opening scene to the credits. It was developed for scriptwriting, but it can be applied to novels as well — any story, really. To wrap your head around the method, it’s fun to analyze films you know very, very well, and see how the 15 beat structure adheres to those films. For example, try it with The Karate Kid, or Star Wars. It’s also fun to put it through the paces on a film like Mulholland Drive, which is more of a plot puzzle and very esoteric in the way the story unfolds. And yet… You can find the beats in there.
Here’s a beat sheet for Point Break featured at the Save the Cat website to bring it home for you. I mean, you’ve seen Point Break at least ten times or more, right? And doing this exercise is a fantastic excuse to fire up the movie and give it yet another watch. There is no breaking point with a film like that. It’s a forever thrill ride — “Utah! Get me two!“
I’ve read some great summaries on the Save the Cat method, and played around with the Save the Cat beat sheet guide/template on past and current writing projects. I’ve also watched a couple of very informative videos — one that workshops the framework, and another that explains the beats, making sure to note that each beat does not equal one scene in a movie — some beats are just a scene, while others are sections that include multiple scenes. Very helpful to know.
Here’s a great overview and workshopping video from Reedsy on the Save the Cat method:
And here’s a Film Courage video drilling deeper into each of the 15 beats that features Naomi Beaty, a screenwriting teacher and screenplay consultant, as well as a Save the Cat instructor.
I’m taking all this in to help create better story arc and plot structure. Just running through the beat sheet on some of my past projects, as well as trying to make it work for my current project, is inspiring new ideas and interesting approaches. I’m also in the process of reading and marking up my copy of the Save the Cat book.
Are my blocks unblocked? Not really. But I consider all this progress.