Skywriting

by Alice Winston Carney


Alice for bio 3Writing is like being in the pilot’s seat of my single engine airplane, trying to recover from a stall, the ground rushing faster and faster towards me.

The flying lesson starts well. I am in the pilot’s seat; Eric, my instructor, beside me.  I taxi onto the runway, call the tower, “8330X-ray, ready for take off”, loving the sound of my confident, female voice.

I give the engine full power, pull back on the controls when the speed reaches 70 knots. The little plane rises off the runway into the clear California sky. I level the plane, execute a smooth turn, reporting to the tower, “8330X-ray at 1500 feet, turning right, heading towards Tahoe.”

Below us the green and yellow agricultural fields checker their way across the great San Joaquin Valley, bisected by the American and Sacramento Rivers. All the world is blue, gold, and deep green as we head towards the foothills, Folsom Lake a sparkling dot below us.

Then Eric says, “Reduce power to engine, pull back on the controls,” two acts that go against logic when you are 2000 feet above the ground in a small tin can.

“Time to practice stalls.”

My pounding heart overpowers all sound, color drains from around me. “No!” I want out of this airplane.

But I am training as a pilot. I must learn to fly in all situations. I cut power to the engine. We float through the sky in an eerie quiet. My hands sweating, I pull back on the controls, raising the nose of the airplane until all I can see is sky. The nose goes up, up, then gives a dip down. A warning buzzer goes off. I have put us into a stall.

“Push the controls in, fast,” commands Eric. This is the third, most illogical step. Pushing the controls in, away from me, aims us towards the ground, causes the airplane to gather speed, dive, straight at the tree tops and rocks.

“Push, push,” Eric, yells. “Keep the wings level.”

As I write this, many years later, my fingers quiver on the keyboard, my breathing is shallow, and my stomach lurches. I remember the fear as I pushed the controls fully forward, forcing the plane faster and faster towards the earth. All I wanted to do was let go, to have Eric take over, to be out of there.

To quit.

But I stayed with the airplane. As our speed increased, Eric said, “Pull back, nose up. Watch the wings. Give it full power.” I did. And there we were, flying level, the engine purring, the wings lifted by a cushion of air and motion, Folsom Lake blinking its blue eye up at us. Only then did I feel the dampness on the back of my shirt, the sweat flowing down my sides. Only then did I breathe.

This is how I feel about writing some days: that I can’t write; that I don’t know how to write; that if I do write, the words will fly out of control and I will be hurtling towards the earth; that I want out of the desire to write.

I have learned that if I hold on, keep writing through that fear, I will level out again, I will go to a place that teaches me lessons about myself and fear. Writing is the lift under my wings, navigates me through the huge blue sky to where I want to go. Writing can make me as proud as I was when I became a pilot.


Cowgirl cover72Alice Winston Carney is director of Hermit’s Peak Press, which publishes original voices of Northern New Mexico. In 2010, she published A Cowgirl in Search of a Horse, a memoir of growing up in Las Vegas, New Mexico. Along with the authors Gerald and Loretta Hausman, Alice runs the annual Green River Writers Workshop in Las Vegas. You can visit Alice at greenriverwritersworkshop.com and on her Facebook page: greenriverwritersworkshop.


This article was originally published in the August 2013 issue of SouthWest Sage and is reprinted here by permission of the author.

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Handling Writing Rejection

RejectedStamp2Freelance writer and storyteller Peter D. Mallett recently stated that everyone identifies with three things: failure, hard times, and rejection. The response to his post “Receiving and Rising above Rejection” was greater than any article he’s written for his website Writing in Color and demonstrates how deeply we all identify with being rejected. For a two-part followup to that post, Peter asked four writers, including myself, specific questions about the topic as it pertains to our writing projects.

In part one of “Rejection Revisited,” Erica Hayes, a copywriter, and Deanne Schultz, a freelance writer, were asked how they push through the fear of rejection and how they handle rejection when it does come. Their wise and practical advice shows why they’re successful professionals in their field.

In part two, Jillian Lisa Pearl, a writer working on her debut novel, addresses the issue of depersonalizing rejection and her positive plan to deal with it. For my part, I was asked: Even today, what is your first gut reaction when you receive a rejection? What happens next, and how do you move forward? My response to handling rejection almost always involves copious amounts of Cheetos, peanuts, and ice cream.

To find out more about how the four of us deal with rejection in our writing life, please check out Writing in Color and Peter D. Mallett’s articles on the subject.

How do you handle rejection or the fear of it?

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Image “Rejected Stamp” courtesy of cooldesign / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

10 Things I Learned From WANA Con 2014

WANAConFeb2014-300x162WANA (We Are Not Alone) is an organization started by Kristen Lamb as a way for creative people to connect with each other to serve and support one another. WANA Con, their annual online two-day writing conference (in February), offered plenty of encouragement, as well as classes that focused on topics ranging from character development, scene structure, and self editing to social media and website building – all at a cost far less than a “real” conference, and much more convenient.

I attended WANA Con 2014 wearing sweats and slippers, with a bowl of popcorn and a cold soda within reach, expecting it to be a good experience. But it ended up being a great one. Here are ten of the best take-aways from this year’s online conference:

1. Jami Gold: An Introvert’s Guide to Twitter
“First, let’s accept publishing guru Dan Blank’s challenge to not define ourselves as an introvert simply for a blanket excuse to avoid being social. As he points out, we can respect the ways we’re introverted while still taking social actions. Our introversion is a starting point for finding methods that work for us, not an excuse to avoid all social activities.”

2. Marcy Kennedy: Put Your Inner Editor to Work: Self-Editing for Fiction Writers
A main character must be interesting and likeable – but just because you’ve written an interesting character doesn’t mean you’ve written a likeable one. “Your main character needs to be interesting enough that a reader wants to spend 10+ hours with them…The reader also needs to like them OR pity them OR want to see them get what they deserve.”

3. Marcy Kennedy: Put Your Inner Editor to Work: Self-Editing for Fiction Writers
A story needs an antagonist, but the antagonist is not necessarily a villain. “A villain is evil. An antagonist is just someone who’s standing in the way of your main character achieving their goal. You must have an antagonist. A villain is optional.”

4. Gilbert Clay and Stacy Brewer: PDMI Editorial Presentation
Writers have long been advised to know the rules before they break them. We also need to have good reasons to do so. Know the following before breaking the rules: what effect it will have on the story; if it will help tell a better story; how will it affect the reader’s experience. Just because a well-known author breaks the rules, doesn’t mean all writers should.

5. Ellie Ann Soderstrom: Collaboration Station
If you’re working with others to produce your book, it’s not a good thing to “defend your manuscript the way a mother bear defends her cubs. Your book is a gift, not a baby. If you want to write for yourself then keep it to yourself. If you want to write for others then give it to a trusted editor.”

6. Julie Duffy and Gabriela Pereira: Rock Your Revision
Rocking your revision starts with Character as Cornerstone – “get your character in place and trigger the domino effect.” Keys to a strong central character: an ordinary person who becomes extraordinary; a defining characteristic; the most interesting character in the story; must want something and need something (not necessarily the same thing).

7. Lisa Hall-Wilson: Beyond Basics: How to Write Effective Inner Dialogue
Internal dialogue is an indirect method of description. “That is, the writer does not directly describe a person, scene or event, but rather processes the description through the character’s consciousness. Once we enter a character’s internal world, we must consider how the character’s consciousness filters the description and shapes the telling of the tale.” ~ Word Painting

8. Shirley Jump: Writing the Compelling Scene
There are two types of scene goals:
♦ The Author’s Goal • What do you want to accomplish in this scene? • How will doing this change your reader’s perception of your character? • How will doing this increase the tension? • How can you accomplish your goals while showing (not telling) and using action instead of passive events?
♦ The Character’s Goal • What does the point of view character want in this scene? • What is so important about achieving this goal? • What will the POV character sacrifice in order to obtain this goal? • What actions will the POV character take to achieve this goal?

9. Sandra Brannan: Jumping Into Bed Between Explosions & A Firestorm of Bullets
Elements of plot can be found in CHOKE:
♦ Concern – Do I care? – Through belief in, and feelings for, the characters and understanding their conflicts.
Heighten Tension – The plot thickens: handicap your characters; aggravate, confuse, complicate; master the twists; readers need to be embroiled in conflict
Overload the Senses – Create crisis at the peak (“Oh, no!” and “Ah-ha!” moments), readers want to be surprised without feeling duped
Kill Switch – Explain the outcome (wind down the engine and let it cool off); readers want to see and feel the pieces being tied together, and suspension of unbelief but not the unbelievable
Ending – Tie up all the loose ends; readers should feel rewarded, satiated (best dinner date ever: good company, great food, didn’t overeat, no rush); leave readers craving the next book

10. J. E. Fishman – 8 Ways Nonfiction Colors Fiction
Research does not lend your story conflict, give your story structure, illustrate your protagonist’s moral dilemma, or shape your story arc (but fictional elements do). Nonfiction: Gives us a geography to borrow; Provides historical context; Provides social context; Leverages known stakes; Educates us and lends authority; Provides real-life characters to ground us; Reinforces theme; Builds a point of departure for real-life outcomes

WANA Con also offers attendees the chance to be credited for their conference fee through a giveaway. This year I was thrilled to be one of three people whose names were picked at random to receive this credit (which I promptly applied to other writerly odds and ends).

One of the best things about the conference was the reminder that I am not alone on this writer’s journey. I hope you’ll consider attending the next WANA Online Conference – I know I’ll be there.

Do you wanna be a part of WANA Tribes? Click here.

Have you attended a WANA Con before? If so, what did you learn?

Support Your Favorite Writer

Help and SupportIn honor of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) and all my fellow writers in the world, I want to make an appeal to those who know and/or love a writer – please be patient, kind, and supportive. Writing is hard work.

People on the outside think there’s something magical about writing. That you go up in the attic at midnight and cast the bones about and come down in the morning with a story. But it isn’t like that. You sit in the back with a typewriter and you work. That’s all there is to it. ~ Harlan Ellison

Fiction writing is a complicated endeavor that takes both logic and creativity. The logical bit of brain arranges sentences into paragraphs into chapters, evaluates consistency, studies and amasses research, edits and critiques. The creative part of the writer’s mind builds complicated plots and subplots, constructs believable characters and motives, creates whole new worlds or presents the known world in a whole new way, and produces flowing verse. Somehow everything fits together in the end and keeps the reader engaged.

I was working on the proof of one of my poems all the morning, and took out a comma. In the afternoon I put it back again. ~ Oscar Wilde

Non-writers may not know that their writer-friends sweat over nearly every word choice in their manuscripts. So many words, so many similar meanings. What will evoke the right emotion, set the desired mood? Too simple, too obscure, cliché? And then there’s the feel and the cadence of words strung together that must be considered.

Creative people are a lot like tigers. We do a lot of what looks like laying around and warming our bellies in the sunshine. Yet, what we’re really doing is powering up because, once we go after that first draft, those words can be more elusive than a gazelle that’s doping. ~ Kristen Lamb

The next time you observe your writer-spouse communing with the sky or lounging in bed longer than you think she should or staring at the computer screen without seeming to do anything in particular, realize creativity is still at work even when there’s no proof of it. Mulling over plot points, following a character through a scene, envisioning a setting or a world – these invisible story-building exercises engage a writer’s imagination long before the entire story makes it onto the page.

I think the writing journey is one of fits and starts . . . good days and bad days . . . times where you know you’ve nailed it and times when you wonder what ever made you think you can write. This is normal! This is why everyone always says it’s a tough road. Half the battle is dealing with your own mental and emotional responses to your situation. ~ Rachelle Gardner

Every writer I know, and many multi-published veterans I’ve heard speak, suffer from self-doubt to some degree regarding their writing. One writer might excel with setting and developing mood but struggles with character development. Another writes multi-faceted characters and awesome settings, yet he can’t come up with a storyline that goes the distance. Writers want their stories to shine, but the stories don’t always live up to a writer’s hopes and expectations. It could be a skewed perspective or perfectionism at work. It might be fear of failure. Or it could be that the writer simply needs to spend more time on his craft, or the current project, to reach that magical place of “It is Done.” Whatever the reason for doubt, the struggle is real.

The truth is, writing is hard work.

So please be kind to your writer friends and family members, especially those working on first drafts, whether under a self-imposed deadline like NaNoWriMo or that of a publisher. Encourage these writers when they doubt themselves and their abilities. Offer to help with errands. Bring them chocolate chip cookies for sustenance. And remember, supporting your local writer could mean the difference between ending up as a serial killer or a hero in her next novel.