Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Explorations in Story

I'm finally getting to read the new quilt books I picked up over Black Friday weekend, and really loving Design Explorations for the Creative Quilter, a fascinating how-to book by quilt artist Katie Pasquini Masopust that teaches you the basic steps of making art quilts. Art quilts are different from traditional quilts as they usually aren't made to be used as bedding but are hung or displayed like artwork. If you've ever wanted to make an art quilt but aren't sure how to tackle the project, this is definitely a book to check out.

To me the only difference between a painting and an art quilt are the materials used to create them (and often art quilts are painted, too, so that line blurs regularly.) I began dabbling in art quilts a few years ago to forge a connection between my own painting and my needlework. To me every quilt is a work of art, but I've always made quilts to serve their basic purpose, so it was a a bit of a jump for me to make something that wouldn't be used to keep someone warm and comfortable. But art quilts, I discovered, warm the soul.

I've often compared writing to quilting, but always from a practical approach: design it, plan it, make it, finish it, give/keep/sell it. While reading Ms. Masopust's book I realized that from the moment I begin a new story, I've usually got my eye on that last step -- selling it. Marketability is the primary determining factor for what I do during step one and all the other steps, and I don't apologize for that. As a pro, I have to write something that I at least have a chance to sell.

But not everything I write is for sale. Sometimes I write just to get something out of my head, or test out a new idea, or simply recharge my batteries. Joining in NaNoWriMo gave me a chance to write a book that was just for me, just for fun. Generally I only have time to do that with a couple of scenes or a short story, so to give myself permission to write an entire novel that had no price tags attached to it was terrific. Even after producing almost 60K in thirty days I feel so turbo-charged I'm now flying through everything else on the schedule. Whether I sell my NaNoNovel or not, the payoff has been pretty astounding.

As writers we're so focused on dealing with the biz that I think we sometimes forget that for us it's supposed to be about the story. We make so many concessions and compromises in order to sell that we can lose touch with why we do this. For me it's always been about exploring, not just what I can do but what I can do for others through story. Finding ways to understand and work out my vision of a story only strengthens my bond with my craft. Those bonds should never feel like chains, and when they start dragging at me I do go off exploring. November simply taught me that I need to do more of that.

You writers out there, how are you exploring story? Is there anything you've found that helps you get out of the writing rut and rejuvenate? Let us know in comments.


  1. It's hard if you're "pre-published" :)

    There's so little time for writing, that it's possible to write oneself into a very constricted space.

    Just taking a break and working on all those niggling real-world tasks can be good for restoring faith in what I'm working on - had that with WIP, where I got bogged down in worldbuilding and lost the flow. Came back fresh and thought, Wow. I can do this.

    Outlining a new novel also works, since the creativity seems to flow best when the brush strokes are the broadest.

  2. Sometimes giving the kitchen floor a wash on my hands and knees with a scrub brush is what it takes to push me out of a writing rut. Other times it's working on a painting. And sometimes the only thing that helps is a brownie.

  3. Anonymous2:08 PM

    It is a dark, cold dreary day and reading this post just gave my day sunshine!

  4. Some weapons of choice for derutting (yes, I make these up as I go), in no particular order:

    Sports (doing, not watching)
    Turning to other art forms: cinema, theater, fine art or popular…
    Mommy mode (it’s hard to ignore milk or spaghetti on your floor)
    Writing or reading something totally different from what I’m working on
    Switching to another language (may sound odd but it is the equivalent of putting on a fresh pair of brains)

    I wish I had an aptitude for arts and crafts or tailoring. My sowing looks like the handiwork of one Victor Frankenstein.

    OAN, may I say I’m glad I found you? There, said it. You truly are a gift that keeps on giving.

    Happy Holidays, Lynn!

  5. Well, I'm planning on writing a science fiction novella in the near future. I don't write science fiction, and most of the science parts of it will probably be off, but that's why the novella is for me only. It's like taking a break from the intense novel-writing and doing something just for fun.

    I'm planning on revising and rewriting it when it's done until it's as perfect as it can be, but that's for fun, too. I like revision. :P