Tag Archives: notepad

Sep 29

“Taking Liberties” by Mary Deal

Taking Liberties

Encouragement for novella writers.

Take liberties with your writing process. I did. You can too. No matter what people said I couldn’t do, I knew what I wanted to accomplish and did it.
The seed for the novella, Caught in a Rip, which is the second story in my novel The Tropics, germinated ages ago when I first read Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea. At that time, I asked myself why I couldn’t write a story like that. Yeah, sure, I wasn’t seriously writing then. Yeah, sure, I finally said. Me, write like Ernest Hemingway?
My flaw was in thinking that I had to emulate Hemingway’s style. That concept didn’t come to me till after I had written my first novel and found my own style.
All those years, I toyed with the idea of writing a sea story, one where the protagonist faces her devils alone. Yes, a female protagonist, after all. I knew it would have to be a serious story, because I didn’t excel at humor. I wasn’t sure what kind of story to write about a woman in a dire situation, but in the interim, I read Hemingway’s book again because that’s from where my first inspiration came.
After finishing my first novel manuscript, I decided to take some time off to better learn the art of manuscript submission. I could take a sabbatical from writing, study the “how to” submission manuals I’d accumulated and do my conjuring on the beaches of Kauai. Why live here if you never get into the ocean, right? I really had been immersed in my writing instead.
During one of my all-day outings to Ke`e Beach on the North Shore, I discovered those huge docile green sea turtles. I just happened to have my camera along. I spent more than two hours bobbing and diving around the deep side of the reef photographing when I realized I was exhausted. When I tried to haul myself back to the reef, I could barely fight the outbound tide. I nearly panicked.
Yet, at that very moment, the story of a woman in danger jelled in my mind. I would write about a woman photographing turtles and who gets caught in a rip current and swept out to sea.
At that very moment nothing could keep me from getting back to the beach and to my pen and notepad.
I thought I had a short story. I wrote for days. By the time I had polished the manuscript (or so I thought) I had a novella. At that time, I had no idea what to do with stories this length. Never mind that books like Hemingway’s and John Steinbeck’s The Pearl are only a couple hundred pages as completed publications. People said, “No one takes novellas anymore.” I just didn’t know what to do with a novella. So I posted it in an online workshop hoping to get a clue.
In the meantime, I was so jazzed at having written Caught in a Rip that I decided to lengthen another of my short stories languishing with no direction. At best, I might be able to publish a book of three to four novellas.
Then reviews began coming in from other novella writers in the workshop. So if the novella was a dying writing form, why were all these people writing them? I received reviews from mild comments to graciously picking my story apart. But everyone’s final comment was that Caught in a Rip was a great story, full of emotion, pain and epiphany and worthy of the 10-star ratings. Then I knew I needed to see it published. Why, it even had humor—in the last paragraph!
I formulated a plan. If incidences in both novellas written so far were similar, why not make my separate protagonists know one another? All that was left would be to decide which story came first. That led me to the fact that the two stories still did not make a “good” length for a whole book. I decided to rewrite both stories, leaving some clues dangling in each. Both my protagonists would then be brought together and all foreshadowing wrapped up in a third story—an ongoing time line with characters progressing through each story. A trilogy of sorts. That sounded right even though further comments told me no one publishes trilogies anymore.
By the time I finished the third story, I had a solid body of work with positive comments from everyone who read the manuscript.
In the end, I had taken liberties with progressive protagonists and time line. One of the most difficult aspects was wrapping up each story so that each could stand on its own and still leave some mystery to wrap up in the third and final story. Each of the three stories, if published separately, would be the size of Hemingway’s or Steinbeck’s books mentioned above. And so, three novellas comprise my novel entitled, The Tropics: Child of a Storm – Caught in a Rip – Hurricane Secret.
Liberties. Take them. Your Muse will respond and you will free your writing. Read More

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Mar 31

Mary Deal Talks about “Writing in the Dark”

Many people have asked for a way to catch that spark of creativity as they wake from sleep.

History is full of writers and people of science and other fields, who have said they receive inspiration in the wee hours of the morning. Some of my most creative moments were when I woke in the middle of the night, so I decided to emulate these great people.

In the past, I lost a lot of sudden inspiration by allowing myself to toss and turn with an idea before returning to sleep, thinking I’d remember it in the morning. History teaches us that we should write down insights and creative flashes on the spot. So I placed a pen and pad on the nightstand. Still, turning on the lights felt like robbing me of sleep.

After a while, I gave up the idea of writing on a pad and decided to go directly to my computer since keying is faster than handwriting. That required waking even more and I found that fully waking sent my muse fleeing. Too, walking to another room, half asleep, and waiting for the computer to boot, I’d forget why I was there!

Handwriting in the dark proved the best way. I got used to the idea of not turning on the lamp or waking fully, and to sitting in bed under the warm covers. The best ideas came and were easily captured when I was only partially awake. Once the notes were jotted, I went back to sleep or lie back to wait for more inspiration.

When writing, the shape of the white paper shown by moonlight, or by the dim light of the street lamps filtering in through the window. Never mind trying to follow those barely discernable blue lines on the paper. I never saw them. All I saw was the shape of my hand moving across the area of white, and my pen, depending on its color. I just wrote.

In the beginning, it helped to imagine each letter of each word. It kept me focused just enough to keep from falling asleep while sitting up. It also helped me write legibly. The tendency—and I’ve heard this from other night writers—is to write hurriedly and the letters and words end up being only partially formed. The writing is difficult to decipher when re-reading later. I soon learned how to write readable letters and words without having to concentrate on each. I didn’t write small. In fact, it was best that I wrote large and got the idea on paper legibly enough to read in the morning.

And forget about hand printing notes. The following morning all you may see will look like chicken scratching! Not only were my printed separate letters haphazard on the paper, but the individual parts of each letter were disjointed and scattered. So, deciding to write only in script, the problem left was how not to write on top of what was already written.

It’s easy to add more notes, not knowing where on the page you left off. You’ll most likely end up writing over what was already there. In the morning, if you wish to keep the valuable information you took the time to jot, you’ll had no choice but to try to decipher the over-writing. So at the moment you’ve finished writing one thought, even if you used only a portion of the paper, turn the page. If more notes are added later, they won’t be written over earlier inspiration.

Another way of avoiding over-writing when finished writing one line across the page: Place the opposite hand over what was just written. Cover each line as they are added and that takes care of that problem.

When stopping writing for a while, attach the pen to the edge of the next blank page. When fumbling for the notepad in the dark, the pen allows a fresh start on a clean page.

Always use a bound notebook. I tried loose pages once but that was short-lived when, in the dark, everything fell to the floor and I didn’t know what was written on and what was not. What a mess! Not to mention being totally distracted and losing my brainstorm!

Any bound notebook will do. You can also punch holes in computer paper used only on one side and put it in a binder. It’s a very thrifty idea. When I run proof copies of my stories and edit, then go back into the computer to make changes, I am left with pages of paper used on one side. Nocturnal note taking can make fullest use of that paper before it’s finally discarded.

Writing on both sides of the page is difficult to do, depending on how each sheet folds backwards. If you use a pre-made notebook, once you reach the last page, and certainly if you need to keep writing, close the book and turn it over. Begin again from the back of the book by writing on the backsides of the pages you have already used.

Sitting up in the dark to write seemed arduous at first. Inspiration can be easily discouraged by the need to sleep. To accomplish what you wish in your writing career, accept creativity whenever your muse presents it. It’s a matter of dedication.

Most practiced writers I know who wake during the night say these techniques have proven invaluable. But the one quality that everyone must have in order to make these techniques work is incentive. It is one thing to wake with glorious information and marvel at the wonders of our minds, then return to sleep. It’s another to want to record some of the best ideas our own brilliance has produced. We must have the incentive to sit up and write in the dark and persevere till we’ve developed the easy habit of doing so.

When I get those great bits of information now, I seem to sit up even before I begin to awaken. I jot my ideas till I think I’ve said what I needed to. Sometimes I merely write the skimpiest of notes and sometimes complete sentences because we all know how fickle the muse is. Recapturing an idea is never the same if we are forced to try to remember details hours later. After writing everything I need to, I lay down knowing I’ve not lost anything and I can sleep in peace.

Only to wake again.

And again.



A common practice to remembering information that fades upon awakening is to do what dream therapists suggest for those wishing to remember dreams.

Assume the same position you lay in when you woke. Place your arms, legs and head where they were. If you were laying on your side, back or stomach, stay in or turn to that same exact position. The dream or that brilliant idea will usually reappear as you relax.

Please visit Mary Deal’s website for more wonderful articles like this one: Write Any Genre.
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