Heirloom Poetry

“Through this toilsome world, alas!

Once and only once I pass;

If a kindness I may show,

If a good deed I may do

To a suffering fellow man,

Let me do it while I can.

No delay, for it is plain

I shall not pass this way again.”

“I Shall Not Pass This Way Again”-Author Unknown

After nearly two weeks at my parents’ house, I’m finally home. I know my posting has been erratic, but it should stabilize now. Before I left, my mom wanted to go through the bookcase with me and send me away with their classics. I’m talking Huckleberry FinnGulliver’s TravelsArabian Nights, etc. It’s pretty cool. Although now I have a box of books that don’t fit on my already too-small bookshelves. She also gave me a book of poetry.

This isn’t just any book of poetry. It’s a family keepsake, handed-down book of poetry. It’s called The Best Loved Poems of the American People, and was compiled by an editor of the The New York Times Book Review. My mom got it from her grandmother, Daisy, and now she’s handing it down to me. There’s a handwritten inscription inside the cover: This book was presented to Mrs. Daisy Wilkins by her sister Mrs. Mina McAnally on May 24th, 1952 while in Mary Sherman Hospital.

1952! It smells musty, and there’s a little water damage on the cover, but I think it’s beautiful. My family doesn’t have much in the way of heirlooms, but I couldn’t have asked for a better one than a book.


Writing Amidst Distractions

I used to require absolute silence to write. No music, no TV, no people, absolutely nothing. And then, if my concentration was broken, the day was lost. I could never get back into my story. Once that distraction came, my productivity was shot.

I still prefer to write in silence. There’s something about shutting out the entire world and getting completely wrapped up in my project that just helps my story to flow. But I don’t require it anymore. More importantly, I don’t find it much anymore.

At the moment, I’m sitting at my parents’ dining room table while my nieces and nephew (ages 7, 4, & 2) run around and play with my dog and scream at each other and wait for Grandma to make them grilled cheese sandwiches. Granted, I was balancing my checkbook and now I’m writing a post, I’m not involved in my novel, but the concept still applies. While the kids are here, I don’t get perfect silence. But I’m learning to keep them in the periphery. I can’t shut them out completely, because I need to intervene if someone cries or gets knocked over by the dog or whatever else comes up that needs my attention. But I can think over the noise.

I don’t get perfect silence at home, either. I prefer to write in the morning, when I can, but it doesn’t always happen that way. The problem with that is, my husband is home in the mornings. He works second shift, so he’s always available to interrupt and invade the living room and ask me questions and bang stuff around in the kitchen. He also plays a lot of video games in one of our bedrooms, and the music typically drifts down the hallway and into my brain. Sometimes, when we haven’t seen each other much, I’ve even taken my laptop into the bedroom and sat on the floor while he played. That’s a bit harder to do, because I have a tendency to watch him play instead of focusing on my own work, but at least a little gets done.

The whole point being, if I were to wait for complete silence to write then I would rarely get things done. At least, I wouldn’t get them done when I wanted to get them done. My house is pretty quiet late at night, but I don’t think well that late and would much rather get my work done earlier in the day. Keeping my focus is a mindset, one I’ve struggled to cultivate so that I can work through the noise, buckle down, and get the work done.

Talk to me in the comments. How do you fare working in distracting environments? How do you keep your focus?

Switching To Scrivener

Apologies for the extended time between posts. As I mentioned previously, I’m visiting family for two weeks, and my laptop hasn’t gotten a lot of love.

Today I want to talk about writing software. When I first set out to write a novel, I went with the tried and true Microsoft Word. There’s nothing wrong with Word, and it has its uses, but I struggled significantly with it. I had some formatting issues, but mostly my struggle was mental. My story was a huge document, I had to scroll through it to find my chapter headings, and it was difficult to remember what was taking place when. I remember sitting down with my (old, slow, college) laptop and staring at my Word document and being completely intimidated.

When I began Origins, I found it much easier to write by hand. The entirety of that story is contained in a series of notebooks, with random sheets folded in from when I didn’t have the current notebook handy (like at work, shh!). I really enjoy writing by hand, but my hand doesn’t write nearly as fast as my brain moves. It was a slow process, impeded by the need for transcription. Every couple of chapters I would break, and take several hours to transfer the new work into the Word document. It was handy, because I made small corrections and edits as I went, but very time-consuming and frustrating.

When I began my new fantasy project, I started out writing it by hand, but I quickly grew tired of it and knew it would take me a long time to do this story the same way I did the other. I knew I wanted to be a serious writer, so I discussed it with my husband and we agreed that I needed to buy a new work laptop. The one I have now I bought in January, and I absolutely love it. At the same time, I began researching my options for writing software. I didn’t know if I could get over my difficulty writing directly to a computer screen, but Word wasn’t working and I had to try something new.

I don’t remember what all programs I looked at, but Scrivener stuck in my mind and refused to budge. It was incredibly affordable; the license only cost me $40. For that price, it was worth it to find out if it was what I’d been searching for.

There’s a learning curve to Scrivener. I know very little outside of the basic day-to-day things I use it for, but whenever I need to learn something I just google it and usually find step-by-step instructions or sometimes a video. My first few days I spent transcribing the few chapters I’d completed and adding in my note pages. I’m not a fan of outlining, but I did have many notebook pages listing out the rules for my fantasy world and what plotlines my characters were going to follow. It was a lot of content, but I think that information is safer now than it was written out on pages that I’d flipped through so many times they were falling out of the notebook.

Things I love about Scrivener: Each chapter is its own separate document. There’s a box on the left side called the binder where all of the chapters are listed out, so it’s easy to switch back and forth between them. You can even split the screen and view two chapters (or an outline and a chapter) at the same time. There are digital index cards, where you can write a  brief description of what happens in each chapter. There’s a screen where all of these cards are pictured and you can easily track your plot. Both cards and listed chapters can be drug at will and re-ordered.

Scrivener contains templates for indexing character sheets, locations and scenes, research, and plotlines. I don’t use most of them, but it’s cool that they’re there, and I do have regular documents inserted into the files so I can keep track of those things.

The most important thing: I can write into Scrivener. The individualized documents don’t feel so scary and imposing. I’m not setting out to write a 100,000+ word book; I’m sitting down and writing a 5,000 word chapter. It’s a much more manageable goal. Seeing the chapters always in view tells me exactly where I am, and my notes on the index card tell me what that chapter needs to accomplish. If I need to re-read something to refresh my memory on  a scene, it’s easy for me to find without scrolling through endless pages of flashing words. The bottom of the page also tracks my word count, so I know if I need to hurry up and conclude my thoughts or if I have room to stretch the scene out.

It’s possible that the ease of writing into Scrivener is simply a marker of my growth as a writer. Maybe if I switched back to Word I wouldn’t face the same issues I did the first time around. But I have no desire to test that theory. I like Scrivener, and it’s working for me, so why would I want to jeopardize that?

What writing software do you use, and why do you love it? Let me know in the comments!

Assassin’s Fate

I’ve been waiting for this book for a long time. Assassin’s Fate  by Robin Hobb (spoilers).  It’s the last book in The Fitz and the Fool Trilogy. If you’re familiar with Robin Hobb’s work, then you know this isn’t a stand-alone trilogy, either. It is in fact the third trilogy set in the Six Duchies and featuring FitzChivalry Farseer as the narrator and protagonist, the first being The Farseer Trilogy, followed by The Tawny Man Trilogy. Other series belong in this world as well, though they tell other stories, in The Liveship Traders Trilogy and The Rain Wild Chronicles.

I first began reading Robin Hobb a couple of years ago, and I immediately devoured the stories of the bastard prince turned assassin’s apprentice. The world of the Six Duchies captured and enthralled me. It was a surprise to discover the new series out, and endlessly frustrating to not be able to read it. See, I have a problem. I don’t like beginning a series if  I can’tread the entire thing straight through (I made that mistake with Game of Thrones, now I’m chomping at the bit for the next book). I vowed to wait until the trilogy was completed before I started it. Assassin’s Fate was released in May of this year, so I put it on hold and checked out the first two books, Fool’s Assassin and Fool’s Quest. I waited to hear that Assassin’s Fate was ready for me to pick up, but the email never came. That was when I learned something important about my new library system in the middle of nowhere. Our town library doesn’t carry Robin Hobb, so the request had to be sent to outside libraries for a loan. However, none of those libraries lend their books for the first six months after release. So there I was, two books down, dying to know what happens, and unable to secure book three.

Fast forward to now, when I finally have my hands on a copy. I’ve done little else for the past three days (I haven’t even been writing, it’s so hard to tear my mind away). I’m nearly 3/4 done, and I want to share my thoughts with you.

It’s difficult for me to see Fitz portrayed as an older man. We’re first introduced to him as a child, and we watch him grow into a man capable of anything. He’s trained by the king’s assassin, and develops skills and abilities that allow him to pass unnoticed, bend others to his will, and physically conquer any task. As this series begins, Fitz is living a comfortable life in the country with his family, and has lost his assassin’s edge. It’s a different Fitz than the one I fell in love with. He’s working hard to recover those lost skills, but it’s been an adjustment for me. The Fool is also not the man he used to be. His changes are not due to age, but rather the cruelty and the torture he has endured. The changes in both men strain their relationship, and it hurts me to see them at odds with each other.

This series also does something unique. The book isn’t told entirely from Fitz’s perspective. His little daughter, Bee, is added as a narrator. There’s value in this, and her story is important and fascinating, but it takes time away from telling Fitz’s tale. Fitz is the one I want to follow, and I miss him when I reading about Bee.

There’s significantly less magic used in this series. The Skill and The Wit, both inherited magics, play a huge role in developing Fitz’s character, and are thoroughly explored in The Farseer Trilogy. They were somewhat diminished in The Tawny Man Trilogy, and have nearly disappeared altogether. The characters talk about them some, but they are rarely used by Fitz anymore. I miss these as well. His use of the magics was an interesting aspect of his character, and their absence lessens him. Makes him more normal, but he has never been a normal man, and I don’t like the effort put into making him normal.

Many things about this series confuse me, and I believe that’s because Fitz and The Fool leave the Six Duchies and travel far. They interact with the liveship traders from Bingtown, the Pirate Isles, and the dragons in the Rain Wilds. I haven’t read these books, but I assume the people they meet and the tales they tell are contained in these books. The characters know (or at least know of) these new additions, but I’m left feeling lost. It’s my fault for not reading the other books, but I didn’t expect them to intersect in quite this way.

I also miss Nighteyes. He’s been gone since the beginning of The Tawny Man Trilogy, and with him any desire for Fitz to use his Wit. The wolf completed Fitz in ways that are now gaping, and his insights helped to hone Fitz’s skills. He was wise, and gentle, and fully embraced living in the moment. He saved Fitz’s life on multiple occasions and only enhanced the story. After building up Fitz’s Wit and bring Nighteyes into his life, I don’t understand why Robin Hobb would leave such a position unfilled. I get Nighteyes dying, logically. These books span decades, and a single wolf just cannot live through that. But why she allow Fitz to remain unpaired and his Wit to wither I just don’t know.

There are more things I could write. As I said, I love these books, and they’re so complicated and involved that I could never attempt to fully dissect them. If you’ve read them let me know your thoughts in the comments.