Monday, January 27, 2014

The Quest for Imperfection . . .

or "Getting Our Wabi-Sabi On" 

A quilting buddy told me that 2014 was going to be her year of wabi-sabi.

I had never heard the term. She said it meant you let go of the quest for perfection and celebrate the perfection that already exists. Since she was laughing and feeling less stressed, I thought she meant something more than that little green ball of hotness you mix in with your shoyu sauce when eating sushi.

I jumped online to learn wabi-sabi is a deeply held Japanese philosophy that is at the very core of Japanese esthetics.

For example, consider just one aspect of the very formal Japanese tea ritual which involves the host selecting precisely the right cup for the guests. The most treasured cup may have some sort of imperfection, a roughness in shape or design. The cup that is the most humble, that does not draw attention to itself, honors the guest as well as the art of tea-making and tea-drinking.

According to Richard Powell, “[Wabi-sabi] nurtures all that is authentic by acknowledging three simple realities: nothing lasts, nothing is finished, and nothing is perfect” (1).

As I look at my ROW80 goals for 2014, I felt a knot of tension unwind. For while I do not truly understand this very complicated philosophy that stems from medieval Japanese thought, and that, yes, has been both appreciated and commercialized here in the states, these were words I needed to hear.

Nothing lasts. Nothing is finished. Nothing is perfect.

Nothing lasts. It doesn’t matter if we are twenty, forty, or seventy. The very impermanence of our lives means our writing — product or process — or any other commitment we make — will not last. We live in this moment, the now. In this sense of stepping away from the awareness of time, outside the flow of past and future, we choose to value our precious time, the ‘now’, by our actions and affirmations. A contradiction: I am a writer, yet I write, knowing that nothing lasts.

Nothing is finished. How well I know this in my bones. I cannot read a page of anything I’ve ever written, whether poetry or fiction, without wanting to change a word or question a scene. The tipping point is that I can let go of the quest for perfection. We know this tipping point is different for every writer. But the discipline of revision, at least for me, requires multiple readings and endless changes at micro and structural levels. So I finish projects and yet, they remain unfinished because . . .

Nothing is perfect. Not my writing. Not me. I can celebrate what I write in a very private moment that says “Aha! That’s it! Exactly!” A turn of a phrase. An insight into a character. A scene that builds seamlessly on theme. A fierce emotion that emerges out of the simplest of words. But we writers know how quickly that moment fades. For nothing is perfect.

It is enough that we write to create that moment — for ourselves and our readers. We may write our fictions for a variety of purposes — to entertain, to amuse, to escape, to persuade, or to teach. Our words celebrate our characters, their conflicts, their imperfections, and their quests. In doing so, we persevere. We challenge our own imperfections, and we continue our personal quests.

Sometimes we do not know why we write. In our darkest moments, in the midst of writer’s block, despite the nastiest of self-doubt, we write.

Perhaps for us all, writing is a form of meditation. And that brings us full circle back to the essence of wabi-sabi, this philosophy influenced by Buddhism.

As we begin Round One of ROW80, this year, I can accept imperfection and incompleteness. For these words, this day, I can write my stories. I am accountable. My hope is that even for a moment, this idea of wabi-sabi will help you trounce the devils of perfection, that you will go forth into 2014 to celebrate your own writing voice.

Today's post is a guest post I wrote for A Round of Words for 80 Days, an online community of writers led by Kait Nolan. We set weekly goals and report progress throughout the 'round' of 80 days. Join us! The meme comes from Vicki, my quilting buddy.

Richard R. Powell, Wabi-Sabi Simple (Adams Media, 2004). Quoted in Wikipedia.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

What'cha reading?

I've always been a bookworm. There's something about trolling the aisles at a bookstore or library to find just an outstanding read.

Before Kindle, I carried a book everywhere. After all, you never know when you might have to stand in line. My first date with my husband-to-be took me to a library. The rest, as they say, is history. Now I carry my Kindle -- over 100 books with me at all times.

I'm pretty much an omnivorous reader in fiction. My likes range from literary fiction to historical fiction, fantasy/science fiction, and genre fiction (thrillers and, yes, romance). I can always tell when stress heats up my life, for I grab light reading like it's chocolate.

Currently I'm reading Elizabeth Lowell's Dangerous Refuge (I read somewhere she's written 50 books and has 30 MILLION copies in print). One example of her prose from Dangerous Refuge -- which I love for its sheer insight into the character and appropriateness for the genre:

It's called a homicide investigation, Tanner reminded his impatient self. Suck it up. Impatience is a rookie mistake. 

But reading tastes aside, sampling brings a new issue. Before Amazon's "look inside" feature, I would give potential books the 'acid test'. Pick up the book IF the title, author, or cover appeals to you. Read the blurb. If that's OK, crack the book to somewhere in the middle at random. Read a page or two. If the story grabs you, it's a keeper.

On Amazon, I sample. Don't you?

Editors tell writers that those first few pages are critical, and even more so in this digital age of self-publishing. Yet, some stories start slow; they require settling in, getting acclimated to the world this writer is creating. For example, Carsten Jensen's We, The Drowned (678 pages!), an unforgettable A+ read that I recommend to nearly everyone.

Which brings me back to today's advice:  Impatience is a rookie mistake.

We self-published writers are stretched in every direction, well beyond the round of drafting, writing, revising, and editing. We now challenge ourself to publish (cover design, digital formats), and market our books. We may go slowly, make mistakes, but take courage! We will persevere and publish and find our readers.

So, what'cha reading?

More about Carsten Jensen and Elizabeth Lowell.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Making a Book Video Trailer . . . on the cheap!

I did it! The video trailer. A visual way to introduce my forthcoming book, Standing Stones. My budget is zero, so here's the trailer AND my journey of roughly 10 hours (at no cost at all).

How-to make a truly cheap video trailer that might be OK.

Map out your text and images. Concentrate on trailer/teaser, not plot summary. Use PowerPoint to draft content until you're happy. Now you're ready for the techie stuff.

  1. Draft text for slide show, gather images (I used photos I took in Scotland and one public domain image). 
  2. Work in PowerPoint until the presentation looks pretty complete (I'm using the 2007 version. The 2010 version of PowerPoint has an automatic save to movie format).
  3. Save PowerPoint and then using a different name, save the slide show as JPEG File Interchange Format.
  1. Go to, login to your account, and upload files.
  2. Use youtube's UPLOAD page and select SLIDESHOW CREATOR.
  3. Upload your JPEG files. Rearrange them, following steps in Youtube's Slideshow Creator to add music, descriptions, tags, and settings. NOTE: To save time, you can preview music selections by going to youtube's Creator Tools before you upload your slide show.

Voila! Save and share! Your video is now live and ready for your BETA viewers.
Here's my 45-second video for Standing Stones. Just click on that PLAY button to see the trailer, I hope you enjoy. And, if YOU are reading this far, be a beta viewer please, and leave a comment!

Sunday, January 05, 2014

Writing . . . and that other thing . . . e-publishing!

I haven't been writing so much these last two weeks.

But I have been busy working on the more technical side to get Standing Stones ready for publication. Hah! First real hurdle was the cover. Bless CreateSpace for encouraging me to jump right into the arms of an unknown graphic designer, Angie at pro_ebookcovers through a site that several self-publishing writers have recommended -- fiverr.

I'm thrilled with the result (see left) AND my new cover is happily uploaded to CreateSpace.

Now for the next, even more exacting phase. To use the words of Create Space, the next step is to prepare the "interior" of the book for publication. So I've spent the last three years researching, writing, and revising -- to create an "interior"!

I'm going to publish through CreateSpace for the paperback and Kindle and Smashwords for the e-book.

The first step to getting the paperback ready involved downloading the appropriate template for fiction (5.25" x 8"), and then squishing my historical fiction saga into the template.

As my mother would say, "Ooofta!"

Did I realize that every time I changed the gutter (after reviewing the file online), that the page numbers would change, necessitating a revision of the table of contents? Every time? And when I adjusted the headings so they were consistent throughout, that also changed the page numbers? And the table of contents again?

CreateSpace kindly encourages would-be self-publishers to review their books three times. First for format (headers, page numbers, footers, and margins). Second for images (I'm guessing overall clarity and placement, perhaps descriptors). And third for the inevitable typos and possible grammatical errors.

I kid you not. Three times. Seems more like 300. So I did use the 'free' online review file to check and edit format and images, but I'll order a review copy for a final, final, final read through before launching Standing Stones.

And that's my New Year's Whoopee!  May your 2014 writing and reading go well.