Of Freedom

“Freedom has its life in the hearts, the actions, the spirit of men and so it must be daily earned and refreshed – else like a flower cut from its life-giving roots, it will wither and die.” 
~Dwight D. Eisenhower

“There are two freedoms – the false, where a man is free to do what he likes; the true, where he is free to do what he ought.” 
~Charles Kingsley



“Inspiration is wonderful when it happens, but the writer must develop an approach for the rest of the time…the wait is simply too long.” ~Leonard S. Bernstein

I write in mountains. Don't you?

Inspiration is the great provider to us lowly writers. Prometheus, if you will. The problem is that inspiration is never a constant. While months and years may go in its passionate embrace, there will be those days–inevitable and infuriating–where inspiration withdraws into the shadows, to leave us cold and alone.

The question this leaves us to face is thus: do we press on without it, or wait for its return?

Some people wait. Personally, I’ve always found it silly. Growth happens regardless of whether or not you’re “in the zone,” and I daresay that if you find yourself, in that lonely forward push, stumbling through the writing, that as frustrating as it may be, it’s good for you. Failure reminds us we’re human. It also pushes us more forcefully toward self-improvement, in a way that success–or the appearance of success–never could.

Writing, as any skill, must be honed through constant practice. If we start taking large swathes of time off simply because we don’t “quite feel it,” we have the temptation to get lazy, and the writing itself could suffer. Do you want sloppy prose to be what you greet inspiration’s return with? Seems like a terrible welcome to me. Besides, there is the fact that inspiration could actually be summoned by your writing, rather than needing your writing to be summoned by inspiration. Immersing yourself in the world, in the characters, in the poem, what have you, could draw back inspiration as quickly as anything.

The other side of this, of course, is that if you don’t get a part just right, if you press through the numb of non-inspiration and end with a few thousand words that don’t quite capture the personality you know it needs, you’re not doing yourself justice. That is the beauty of writing: editing is a key part of the process. If you’re not going back and re-reading yourself anyway, you’re doing it wrong. When inspiration comes knocking again, return to any points you were concerned about, look over it with that newly stirred creative eye, and adjust accordingly. It’s not hard.

And don’t tell me “the moment is lost” if you must go back and do that. How many edits do you make at the end of a product your creative spirit told you was gold in the first place? Your editor?

Just write. Outline. Create something. Writing is not a one shot game. It’s many layers of writing and rewriting, editing and editing again. Breathe. Everything will be okay.

The Divine Detail

Hello all – happy New Year and all that cheerful stuff. Hope the days ahead are bright, the weather snow free (unless that’s what you’re into), and your pen swift.

Here at the Waking Den, we like to kick weeks off with a few words for thought, and so this week, at the beginning of the new year, we’re following suit with a detail I find key, especially in fantasy works:

“Caress the detail, the divine detail.” ~Vladimir Nabokov

Detail. Now, I know this is one some folks will quirk an eyebrow at. Purveyors of the more Hemingway style of writing will tell you minimalism is key – too much detail washes out the story, drums it away from the personalities that make it. While I agree it can be a valid style in many situations, I would say for my own preferred style (fantasy, if you didn’t catch that), such is not the case.

Fantasy, after all, is largely about taking us away to new locations, new worlds, new realms of thought. What is society like? What is the land like? What are the people like? The magic, for Tolkien‘s sake? While it’s easy to overdo it, and overload readers with detail, the fact is we need description to aid that mighty “suspension of disbelief,” or to simply pain the picture of the world for us. It is divine in its way, for are we not crafting a whole new place to lodge our existence, however temporarily? There’s just so much to learn, so much to see…one should bare the soul of those places to our readers’ eyes, and let us drink it in.

This is not to say, give me 15 pages on that fellow’s eyeball over there. No, it takes creativity. A mix of subtlety and timing. There are places for longer descriptions, to be sure, but the more you can weave flawlessly into the moment, into the scene, into the action…the more you will captivate.

Mile Markers on the Writing Trail

In one week, a work I have put the last two years of my life into will finally be out of my hands. No more editing. No more non-writing details to fret over. No more questioning–well, alright, I’m almost certainly still going to be questioning myself. Too engrained in my nature. Even so, the whole affair’s a bit surreal, when I stop to think on it. One week until countless hours of body, mind, and soul are bound between two covers and slapped together for any eye to see–online, in print, close to home, or nations away. The mind whirls. Drifts.

What do I do, the mind asks. What do I do now?

Marketing demands a certain level of attention, to be sure, but it’s not the same. The writer swoons. Twitches. A moment of panic blossoms. Then comes the simple answer: I keep writing.

Next week will mark a culmination of one stage of my life – a part I dare dub the beginning.

Not the beginning of writing, certainly. Not the beginning of living – I’ve plenty of mountains out here that would attest I’ve been at that one for a goodly while. The soul of the individual remains as is. What this marks is completion. The end of the beginning, in proving the ability to commit. It’s an important stage for any writer, for it is the conquering of one’s fears, one’s uncertainties – but also the conquering of good facets of life as well: of hopes, of dreams. It is making writing not just a part of one’s spirit, but of one’s life.

“Finish. The difference between being a writer and being a person of talent is the discipline it takes to apply the seat of your pants to the seat of your chair and finish. Don’t talk about doing it. Do it. Finish.”
~E. L. Konigsburg

Yet in spite of this culmination, one must always be wary of contentment. Something like this is not an end. Writing is…well, as E. L. Doctorow once said:

“Writing is an exploration. You start from nothing and learn as you go.”
~E. L. Doctorow

And yes, I found two different people whose names begin with the same initials for today’s quotes. Want to fight about it? No? Good. Because that would have been silly.

But the point is this: publishing is an accomplishment. It is a moment in time a writer can sit back and smile at themselves (in spite of all the chaos of promotion and the like). Yet it is merely a step. For a writer, writing will always beckon. You never finish. You merely stop long enough to admire the scenery, and dive back in…

Writing – Wit, Soul, and Taste

For the writer, there is nothing quite like the sensation of writing. Of crafting a world full of character and stories. The type doesn’t matter. It is the sensation, the craft that stirs us – and so it is only fitting that learn of writing from the beautiful words of other writers:

“To me, the greatest pleasure of writing is not what it’s about, but the inner music the words make.”
Truman Capote

“Writing well is at one and the same time good thinking, good feeling, and good expression; it is having wit, soul, and taste, all together.”

“Take away the art of writing from this world, and you will probably take away its glory.”

A few words on love

Victor Hugo, image care of Wikimedia Commons.

“The supreme happiness of life is the conviction that we are loved – loved for ourselves, or rather, loved in spite of ourselves.” 
~Victor Hugo

“Love doesn’t sit there like a stone, it has to be made, like bread; remade all of the time, made new.” 
~Ursula K. Le Guin

Lovely Quotes of the Week

Welcome, one and all, to that heart-shaped dose of holiday action the world seems to have taken to calling “St. Valentine’s Day.” In honor of that special little holiday, for lovers and romantics and couples and (insert rant about corporate interests here) that sponsor them, I leave you this week with a handful of quotes that cover the more romantic side of life. Enjoy!

“Love is life. All, everything I understand, I understand only because I love.”
~Leo Tolstoy

“At the touch of love, everyone becomes a poet.

“Come live with me, and be my love,
And we will some new pleasures prove
Of golden sands, and crystal brooks,
With silken lines, and silver hooks.
~John Donne

“We’ve got this gift of love, but love is like a precious plant. You can’t just accept it and leave it in the cupboard or just think it’s going to get on by itself. You’ve got to keep watering it. You’ve got to really look after it and nurture it.
~John Lennon

And one, (excuse the more melancholy portion of this segment) I think sums up well enough my own place among this holiday, though I say that still wishing all of you that do have that special someone well, and a wonderful day:

“I don’t wish to be everything to everyone, but I would like to be something to someone.”
~Javan (Steven Javan Jones)

For the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Portrait of MLK Jr, by Betsy Reyneau, care of Wikimedia Commons.

I’ve been bad. I know I have. You see that “Quote of the Week” section on the blog and you think, “Hey, that Chris guy, he gives us great quotes each week…” But I’ve not been keeping up. The poems have been flowing, but each week when the time comes around to drop the weekly quotes, they seem to slip right out of my remembering. Bad Chris.

Well this week I’m getting back into the habit, and what better day to do that with than Martin Luther King Day?

MLK is a tragic and inspirational tale for us all – a man that pushed society to the brink, moved a nation with his words, and gave hope where before there had been little. He was but one face and voice in a movement crowded with them, but his is the one we most often hear echoing through the halls of time – reminding, humbling. A clergyman, activist, and leader in the stylings of Mahatma Gandhi, King was a Nobel Peace Prize recipient. Born on January 15, 1929, he energized the civil rights movement both before and after his assassination on April 4, 1968, at just 39-years-old. He was a Christian man, and a colorblind one; he opposed war, and fought to end poverty.

The man, the inspiration, the paragon of peace and advancement that was Martin Luther King Jr. was a master orator, and writer, and so today, I would like to share with you a few of his words. At the bottom you will also find a video of his legendary speech: “I have a Dream,” as well as the news broadcast from CBS’s Walter Cronkite that aired on the night of his murder. I can only imagine what it must have been like to be sitting there that night and suddenly be greeted with such a thing…even if King himself had predicted it. Even if he’d known.

So please, as this day passes you by, take some time to reflect on what this man once said, and on the messages he preached, which still ring as true today as they ever did, and ever shall, so long as man draws breath upon this earth.

“Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars…Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”

“I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. That is why right, temporarily defeated, is stronger than evil triumphant.”

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

“Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. This is the interrelated structure of reality.”

Give Me Liberty…

“No man can put a chain about the ankle of his fellow man without at last finding the other end fastened about his own neck.” ~Frederick Douglass

“Freedom is not worth having if it does not connote freedom to err. It passes my comprehension how human beings, be they ever so experienced and able, can delight in depriving other human beings of that precious right.” ~Mahatma Gandhi

“Those who desire to give up freedom in order to gain security will not have, nor do they deserve, either one.” ~Benjamin Franklin

“There is no easy walk to freedom anywhere, and many of us will have to pass through the valley of the shadow of death again and again before we reach the mountaintop of our desires.” ~Nelson Mandela