Thursday, April 19, 2012

Picture Me Nodding Emphatically

"Emily, why do you want to write?" [asked Mr. Carpenter] "Give me your reason."

"I want to be famous and rich," said Emily coolly.

"Everybody does. Is that all?"

"No. I just love to write."

"A better reason--but not enough--not enough. Tell me this--if you knew you would be poor as a churchmouse all your life--if you knew you'd never have a line published--would you still go on writing--would you?"

"Of course I would," said Emily disdainfully. "Why, I have to write--I can't help it... I've just got to."

~Emily of New Moon by L. M. Montgomery

Monday, April 16, 2012

Just Pull Off the Band-Aid

"I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It's when you know you're licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what."
-Atticus Finch, To Kill a Mockingbird

July 2011 was the month that slammed me with the knowledge that I would never be a writer. Never, never, never never never. I read Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird that month (in less than 48 hours) and the book left me feeling depressed. Not because of the story (which was amazing) not because of its length (only wish it had been longer) and not because of the characters (loved them!) but because of the way it was written. I finished TKAM and decided then and there that I would never, ever be able to write as well as Harper Lee, and I might as well stop trying.

Ah, melodrama.

I felt the same way in seventh grade, when I finished The Bronze Bow by Elizabeth George Speare. For nearly a week, I didn't even touch my journal because I felt it was useless to write anything. A few days later, my resolve broke and I wrote a stormy, dramatic passage in my diary about how much I wanted to be a writer and how that was never going to happen. Then, of course, in due time I completely forgot about all that and went back to scribbling.

I'd like to say that was the only time I ever got discouraged about writing. I could say that, but I'd be laughing too hard at the sheer idiocy of such a statement. I get discouraged about writing almost every week, resolving almost every time to put aside my pen forever. (Sad violin music, please, maestro.)

But then... but then... I did something completely different, in November 2011. In the past I had always come up with an idea for something, scribbled (or typed) a few pages of it, then promptly forgot about the whole thing or else lost interest. Sometimes I'd begin writing something that I was sure would be good--whether it be a short story, the Great American Novel, or a lowly blog post--and would give it up before it was half over because I couldn't think of anything else to say. And then came NaNoWriMo.

When I participated in National Novel Writing Month this November, I was hesitant at first. I didn't think I could really write 50,000 words in 26 days. (It's supposed to be 30 days, but I didn't write Sundays, so I ended up doing it in 26). I started writing, found to my surprise that it wasn't as hard as it looked, and joyfully flew through the first two weeks of writing. Words, characters and dialogue came to me faster than I could write them down, and I was thoroughly enjoying myself.

Then came the third week, and I hit rock bottom. Suddenly everything seemed dry. My story was going nowhere. There was no plot, no driving force, nothing to get this pitiful little not-even-a-novel off the ground. Then I got a cut on my forearm.

That last sentence probably struck you as odd and out of place, but bear with me. I put a Band-Aid on the cut along with some Neosporin and let it heal for a day or two. After a little while, the Band-Aid started to curl at the edges and get damp from soap and water, so I decided to take it off. Naturally, it was one of those super-sticky ones that cling to your skin like a baby koala. (Off topic, but haven't you always wanted to hold a baby koala?) Anyway, after some gentle tugging, I finally closed my eyes, counted to three, and ripped off the Band-Aid in one motion.

It hurt for a couple of seconds, and then the stinging was gone and I put on a fresh Band-Aid. Within minutes, I'd forgotten any discomfort. But some of the analogist (it means someone who likes to make analogies; yes, I made it up) in me was thinking, "Hey, this would make a great illustration."

Because maybe writing is something like pulling off a Band-Aid. Sometimes it's necessary to do it gently and slowly. Sometimes you have to sit back and ponder. But then there are other times when you just need to rip off the Band-Aid... or pour out a couple of pages' worth of words without thinking about it. There are times when you need to just stop quibbling and write. Just write. Maybe it'll sting a little at first, maybe you'll look back later and think, "Ew, did I write that?" But then maybe, just maybe, you'll land at the end of a whirlwind month with two hundred pages in your hands. Two hundred pages that you are actually proud of. (And maybe you'll even look back and say, "Whoa, did I actually write that?")

Who knows? Maybe Harper Lee couldn't decide what to name Scout. Maybe Jane Austen wrestled with dialogue in the Netherfield ball scene. Maybe Charles Dickens had trouble deciding whether he would kill off Miss Havisham or not. This is all speculation, but the fact is that Lee, Austen and Dickens didn't give up. They wrote. They stuck with their stories. They saw them through to the end.

Even if it stung a little sometimes.

Saturday, April 14, 2012


All my best thoughts were stolen by the ancients. 
 ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

Welcome to The Quest for Stories, the place where I'm going to keep my nonsensical conglomeration of words.  I'm Amy, aka Miss Dashwood, and my main blog is Yet Another Period Drama Blog (which, for your information, will be abbreviated as YAPDB when I write on here.  I overuse acronyms.  You'll learn that soon enough).   I used to post occasionally about writing on YAPDB, but I was recently inspired by my dear blogging friend Alexandra to start a new blog, devoted solely to my scribblings-- and here it is.  The name for this blog was inspired by the quote you may observe under the title.  Writing is my passion, and finding the right stories to write has become a consuming interest for me.  (Characters are fun, dialogue is a blast, but as for the real story, with something resembling a plot?  That's where I meet my Waterloo.  I'm working on that.)

I learned to read at the tender age of four and a half, and since then a rare day has passed that hasn't seen me with my nose in a book.  When I was seven, I determined that when I grew up I would write books, so that I would never run out of good things to read.  Since then, my ambition to become an author has never wavered.  I've learned a lot in the ten years since I first decided to pursue writing, but I'm still hopping on one foot at the bottom of the hill, gazing wistfully up at the Austens and Gaskells and Dickens and Wodehouses basking in the sunlight at the top.   Someday, I want to climb the hill-- but I can't go anywhere unless I begin.

Writing isn't easy, it isn't all strawberries and cream, it isn't even always fun, but it's something I couldn't do without.  So here I am, filling my paper with the breathings of my heart, as Wordsworth would say.  I am quite frequently not at all in a humor for writing, but like my beloved Miss Austen, I must write on until I am.  Which means starting now.  Will you join me? 

Oh, and I quote my favorite authors (and other people whose works I haven't read, but who have written good quotes) with embarrassing frequency.  I just thought I'd let you know that.  Consider yourself warned.  

Friday, April 13, 2012

Snippets of Story - April 2012

Time for Snippets of Story again.  I'm getting way too much fun out of this--and I can't wait to read all of your snippets too! Don't forget to stop by Katie's blog, Whisperings of the Pen, to link up.

(The Very Astute among you may guess that the last three snippets, all from my currently untitled Work In Progress, all come from the same scene.  This is because that scene is one of only two that I've written so far for that story, and the said scene amuses me so immensely that I couldn't help sharing, well, a lot of it.)

“I have never been employed before,” said Elizabeth.
“No?” Mrs. Leopold’s caterpillar-like eyebrows drew together in a disapproving frown. “Dear Eloise recommended you highly. I had thought perhaps you had previously been dear Lavinia’s governess. Though I must admit your extreme youth has caused me to retract THAT opinion.”
Elizabeth did not feel that her youth was extreme, or that any measure of youth was a monstrous crime against humanity, but she prudently said nothing. 
~Only a Novel

Elizabeth cast about in her mind as to whether it would be simpler to sit upon the dress to hide it or put the nearby bowl of potatoes on top of it. Neither seemed a practical solution, and besides Rodney must have noticed the dress by now. Indeed, he looked as if he were on the point of making a remark about it. She could only hope that he could be prevailed upon not to mention the dress to Mercy.
“Much obliged. What’s this on the table? Hmmm. I should have known what would happen if Mrs. Ingle left you in charge of supper, Jenny. This—” he lifted one sleeve—“will be delicious with buttered potatoes. Indubitably.” 
~Only a Novel

The dress looked even lovelier when she spread it out on the bed. In Lavinia’s gorgeously decorated bedroom it had been just another conglomeration of velvet and lace, but here in the starkness of Elizabeth’s room it fairly shone in contrast. The crimson of the skirt was such a comforting color that Elizabeth thought it might almost be warm to the touch. She touched it. It wasn’t.
~Only a Novel

“When you cook with onions, it’s like using a silent E,” said Maeve. “You know it’s there, but it doesn’t assert itself. It just strengthens the sound—or the taste—and gives the word—uh, dish—a new… a new… taste.”
“Poetic,” said Ismelda.
“Thank you.”
~It's Thursday Again

“Piffle,” said Lavinia. “It will do you no harm to have a few nice dresses. And I beg you, Lizzie, don’t talk of such vulgar things as cost. I care not how much I pay for a dress, so long as it is good quality, and if I choose to make you a present of a dress, what business is it of yours?”
But Elizabeth won in the end, and Lavinia sighed. “I do not know what to do with you,” she said. “You are certainly the most trying friend I have ever known. If I didn’t think you were the dearest girl in the world, I would have nothing to do with you, you know, Lizzie.”
Elizabeth knew. 
“Ah, well,” said Lavinia. “How do you think this color would look on me? If I cannot make you a present out of this dress, I am resolved not to be cheated out of the pleasure of buying it for myself, at least.”
~Only a Novel

Elizabeth looked around the stateroom. There was a bed, firmly attached to the wall. There was a table, firmly secured to the floor. There were a washbasin and pitcher, which were not attached to anything at all. Elizabeth imagined a stormy night, the wind-tossed ship, the bowl and pitcher clattering off the table and onto her head as she lay shivering in the bed—
“Is there a great deal of—er, motion during storms?” she asked in a small voice. Then she reproached herself for asking such a childish question. Of course the ship would toss about in a gale. She was not in a solid building, after all.
~Only a Novel

“I have never been to a ball,” said Elizabeth. She was not sure if she would like it or not, but she could not help being excited. Grandmother had never let her go to balls.
“Hush,” scolded Lavinia. “My dear Lizzie, you must not speak so loudly of your misfortunes. People will think you are no better than a guttersnipe.” 
“My dearest creature, of course I do not think you are a guttersnipe, but Lady Judith Meriwether Fagles may if you do not take care. Now, as it is nearly eight and we are requested to come at eight, we must be on our way.”
~Only a Novel

“What’s wrong with you?” Maeve demanded. 
“Everything,” said Ismelda, kicking at a harmless rock.
“What do you mean, everything?”
“Well, to say that every thing is wrong is just as much a lie as to say that nothing is wrong. And you may as well be hung for an everything as a nothing.”
“I think it’s going to rain,” said Freddie, who had stopped listening five minutes ago.
~It's Thursday Again

“Heartless villains are so run-of-the-mill,” said Phoebe, chewing the end of her pencil the way she always told Freddie not to. 
~It's Thursday Again

Where Lady Fagles was all harrumphing and supercilious camel-like expressions of the face, Mrs. Wakenshaw was all chirping and twittering and fluttering feathers.
 “Miss Bancroft, don’t you think Miss Markette will like Lieutenant Scarborough? He is quite distinguished—soon to be promoted, we hope—and he is not married,” she hastened to add.
 Lavinia gave Elizabeth another eloquent look. Apparently these ladies were not at all subtle in their attempts to marry off this Lieutenant Scarborough.
 “I am sure Miss Markette will like Lieutenant Scarborough,” Mrs. Wakenshaw persisted hopefully.
~Only a Novel

“Well, then, why, please?” Emily was not to be distracted by string beans.
Mr. Rochester handed Alice the pepper. “Because I see absolutely no purpose in teenage girls going out on so-called dates with teenage boys. Especially when neither party is old enough to drive or possess a car. Which, I might add, is the case with you and Frank Whittaker. Moreover, teenage boys are, in general, idiots and I do not care to have my daughter keeping company with an idiot. Which, I might add—but shall not for fear of offending—might be an apt way to describe the young man in question—i.e., Frank Whittaker.”
“Why Daddy, you said just last week that you thought Frank was a very nice boy.”
“I do not deny it. However, idiocy and niceness are not necessarily isolated characteristics—as life will teach you all too quickly, I fear.” Mr. Rochester gave a sad, solemn shake of his head. He was enjoying himself immensely.
~Untitled W.I.P.

“Daddy, do you mean that I need to wait four years to go to the movies with Frank? I’ll be nineteen!”
“Movies will be obsolete by the time Em’s nineteen,” put in Mark, snickering. “We’ll all be going to supersonic atom-blasting theaters that project the story right into viewers’ heads.”
Emily kicked him under the table and looked to her father.
“A fine and sensible age,” said Mr. Rochester, ignoring Mark’s comment. “Yes, nineteen is a splendid age. Almost out of the danger zone, though of course not quite. Your Uncle Ned broke his right arm at the age of nineteen after riding his bicycle backward down our driveway with his eyes shut. An excellent example of my previous point regarding the mental capacity of teenage boys. Alice, these mashed potatoes are superb. Are these our own chives?”
~Untitled W.I.P.

“Then I suppose I’ll have to tell Frank I can’t go.” Emily, who was (as aforementioned) not the drippy type, was also not the type to bewail her losses. She took a pragmatic sip of milk.
“I suppose you shall,” agreed Mr. Rochester, “but if you care to pull a Bartleby the Scrivener and would prefer not to, I will be happy to perform the hated task myself. Do you think that I might look more harsh and forbidding and properly like a stern guardian if I wore my horn-rimmed spectacles during my little chat with Frank, the hopeful suitor? I believe they’re in the attic somewhere—I can easily fish them out if you think they’ll aid me in the part.”
~Untitled W.I.P.