Jennifer Neri's Blog

Back of every creation, supporting it like an arch, is faith. Enthusiasm is nothing: it comes and goes. But if one believes, then miracles occur. Henry Miller


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A birthday and a first time at budokon yoga

I’ve been bogged down by edits this last while, and I’m feeling a little expressive this morning, so here goes a little free flow:

 

mom baby yoga

Today I lay flat on my belly and wiggle myself across the wooden floor like a caterpillar.

My muscles strain, my lungs expand, and I giggle as I finish the movement, feeling like a child. Feeling like you.

Seven years ago you came and have inhabited my focus ever since, imprinted on my soul. Today, I take the day to contemplate me. For a birthdate is as important for the bearer as to the one being born. I wonder —  what metamorphosis have I undergone in this time?

Seven years ago I walked until me feet bled, readying my body to release you, and two hours later you were here.

Today, I wiggle, ready to release myself. What will I be? Will my wings be red, emerald, turquoise, fuchsia? Perhaps they will never settle into one colour, but will shift and tremble with each passing mood.

My metamorphosis would have been very different had you not come into my life. Your smile, laughter, they are contagious, seeds scattered in the wind, spreading wide. Your endless thrive for experience, for life, your desire to share, your interpretations and wonder. You. All of you. Thank you for you teaching me, for showing me, how full of joy life can be, how much fun it can be.

Happy birthday, daughter.


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Spring Resolution

 

Champagne

 

New Year’s eve is supposed to be the day we declare a life changing resolution. We’re supposed to raise our glass of creamy bubbly champagne, smile, and reveal a promise to do something–something momentous, something we need to do that will change us for the better–that we’ve been waiting for just the right moment to endure. And in return, those who we share New Year’s Eve with us will reveal their own resolutions.

Or catastrophes.

Who decided that January 1 was the best date to begin that resolution? Who??? Well, whoever it was certainly doesn’t live in the northern hemisphere, where it’s windy and cold and for many of us snowy. Where the day light hours are reduced to a bare minimum. And all we want to do is hibernate and eat carbs. And it certainly wasn’t someone in the southern hemisphere who is perspiring from the peak of heat, and who just wants to sit indoors and be cool eating watermelon and drinking lemon water. Whoever it was certainly didn’t take any of this into consideration!

Now spring–the time of rebirth, regeneration–wouldn’t that be perfect time for a resolution? We’re coming out of our cubby, stretching, yawning, looking around, and seeing things fresh, including ourselves.

Outside are bikers, joggers, skaters, even though they have to wear a coat and hat, they’re out there. And loving it. People are walking around eating apples, talking to each other, laughing–and yes, this is city life I’m talking about, not commune.

Everyone wants to do something new, something fresh–not because they have to, but because they want to feel good.

Including me: I became a member of a gym and a yoga studio because I’m becoming too inactive and I want to get moving before it catches up to me. I’ve been buying more fresh produce, especially greens, and me and my family are devouring them. And I’ve been experimenting more with super foods, remembering what it means to eat for energy.

I’ve also been more positive towards my work–sitting down to write and giving myself a little inner speech, about what I want to accomplish and that I will accomplish it. And do you know what? It’s working! :)

Am I sounding a little hokey? I think I am–but I’ll allow it.

It’s spring!

So, come on, raise a glass of green smoothie, and declare your resolution!

green smoothie

 PS. My in-laws are preparing for winter in South Africa, as are some of you way down there–happy hibernating. That feeling of slowing down, getting out the thick sweaters, it’s one of my favourites :)

 


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Attitude check please

We are all writers (well most of us anyway) here, so I can be perfectly candid when I speak of the love/hate relationship that seems to come with the creative territory.

Those exhilarating moments when we just know–know–that we are doing what we were meant to be doing. When we sit, and are overtaken, and the story pours forth. Those moments when we are high, soaring, and nothing can pull us down.

And bam–we fall. And it hurts. And we want to go and hide in the dark and rip our manuscript into shreds after taking a big fat sharpy and blackening out every horrible word. And then, slowly, we begin to rub our behind, and think, okay, I can do this. Why am I being so hard on myself? There’s always a solution, a way out. I can fix my manuscript, I can make it work.

So, folks, I’m crawling out of my deep dark hole, and as I was mixing my granola–yes, I homemake it, there’s almost nothing that pleases me more than the scent of cinnamon, oats, and vanilla–a sure way to tantalize me out of hibernation, I realized that one of the things I like most about writing is the fact that the learning never ends. That I can be an eternal student. I will never ever get bored, because there will always be something more.

Yes, I’m having to replot a large portion of my manuscript–which is the event that send me hiding in my deep dark hole–but I see the problem. Now I will find a solution.

I have learned.

And this, my creative friends, is nothing to wallow in self-pity about.

 

 


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Structure

I’ve been writing on and off for close to eight years.

Does it sound like a long time to you?

It does to me. But, really, it hasn’t been.

In that time I’ve written about ten or so shorts, won a few awards for some, had a few published, wrote for an award-winning magazine for some time. I’ve also drafted two novels, of which I’m editing one right now.

Is it an accomplishment? Depends how you look at it. Some days, I think, wow, I did all that, while having three babies, and never ever having more than a few hours a week to write, and taking a whole year of hiatus more than once. But other days, I think: eight years! Really! That’s it???

As you can most likely tell from my recent post I’ve been in the second place lately more than the first.

One of the difficulties I’m having is getting a grip on structure. I thought I had a tight handle on it: I have my three acts firm in hand. My set-up, my catalyst, my in-limbo time when we wait for the MC to make her decision to act, launching her into act two where we follow her journey, through her false high at midpoint, and into the resolution of act three.

My problem now lies in scene structure, and in making sure each element is in place within each scene.

This morning I’ve drafted a checklist for my self:

  1. Scene setting
  2. Scene goal stated
  3. Scene structure (beginning, middle, end)
  4. Is it clear how I want my character to appear in this scene and does the dialogue, action, monologue reflect this (ie. Weak, strong, frustrated, alert)
  5. Emotional arc
  6. Delivery of info in proper order
  7. Conflict and stakes apparent
  8. Check for order of stimulus : response (something that I get backwards often–weird!!!!)
  9. Resolution and new situation at end of scene (unless is moving into scene sequel)
I’ll print it out once it’s complete and go through each scene making sure that I can tick off each of these items.
How about you: How do you handle structure of your WIP? 
Is there anything you would add to this list?


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It’s Alive!

Writing is solitary. We enter the world, look around, and something grabs hold of us, demands that we tell its story. We sit, and we write. We read what we wrote, we write some more. Sometimes, we think we have reached perfection, or near to it, other times we think that the story, the way we are writing it, the way we are telling it, is not coming to life. So, we read books, we go on-line, and we try to do better.

I learn in bursts. My grasp of the craft is not incremental, it’s stepwise. I learn best by spending time with my work, reading it, asking questions about it. I’m very satisfied with where my current project is headed, I see what it will be, I see how to make it that way. What I did not see was the beginning, where it began. I have learned over the last two weeks that I was attacking it in the wrong way, but I will save that post for another day.

Writing is solitary.

But, it is only after my last round of brainstorming with my writing group that my opening is finally manifesting in my mind — it’s coming to life. Without that discussion, the volleying of ideas, the bantering, the rebuttals, the encouragement, I would still be reading a scene that didn’t do what I wanted it to do. Now, I am letting my subconscious build. It sends me reflections that I mold and manipulate, and then send back down for another round, until it will be ready for me to put down on paper.

Writing is solitary, but thank goodness I don’t have to do it alone.

 

 


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keeping up with myself.

Have you ever read something that made you re-consider all you thought you knew about writing?

Ok, maybe that’s a little too dramatic, a little too overwhelming to even consider, but what about reading a book that seems to break all the rules, and yet reads beautifully?

The book that got all this churning is Tiger’s Wife, by Tea Obreht.

I’ve read the reviews, and it seems some people don’t agree with me that Obreht’s book is great, but enough do that she’s won some awards and been nominated for others, and she’s certainly generated a buzz.

In reality, I think she mainly only broke one rule: her novel reads like short stories that were squeezed into one entity. The book consists of stories and various characters, and we move ominously (and often omnisciently)  in and out of them. I can see that it can be confusing and odd, but I left myself go with it and it grabbed me.

At one point reading Tiger’s Wife I thought to myself, this is how I would have written when I was in my early twenties if I had been writing then. This thought stopped me in my tracks. I realized that I was impressed with Obreht’s freedom of movement within her novel, and that in my twenties this freedom was innate in me. I scared by this thought: Was I being true to myself as a writer, or was I holding back, unknowingly following someone else’s standards?

Now, in my thirties, I’m more stuck in some sense, more fixed. And when I write, I follow rules. And I do think we all need to follow rules. It’s just that for each of us those rules need to be different, and evolving, and most likely different for each piece we work with.

I can’t write with the same movement I would have ten years ago. My movements now are big and vast, but they are taken with precision and aim. It doesn’t mean it’s better or worse, just different.

Part of writing is about writing who we are. Today. And this is the best freedom of all.


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Dominoes

When I began writing, I wrote a novel. Then I re-wrote it. And then I did it again. And again, all in all a total of about 11 times. I did it without coherence, knowing that it needed tending, but not knowing how or where to find the problems.

I think what I was doing was developing my voice, learning all about the craft of writing.

Recently, I’ve gone back to that novel and I re-wrote it again. This time, I’m learning about the craft of story telling. I’ve been learning about story telling over time, but never in such a concise form as I have these last 3 months.

What I’ve learnt is that sometimes writing is about not writing.

I speak to other writers, read your blogs, I know that for you many of you this is something that comes quite naturally for you. Not for me. I think of writing, and I need to write. I am not good at slowing, thinking, mulling things over. I see something I don’t like and I want to change it. immediately.

There are of course, big problems with this. A change very rarely is a change unto itself, there is always a domino effect, a ripple that one small change sends out into the whole novel. And what if that ripple leads to others, and others, which it often does, and I don’t like those changes, they don’t belong.

So, I’ve learned to still my hand, and keep files and journals where I write my thoughts. I analyze them, see the ripple effect of a change, and inevitably, I will adjust, often more than once. And only then once I have everything outlined and organized step by step will I implement the change. If I like it.

And the prose? Well that comes last now. At the very end. After everything is in its place, then I can play with the words, and enjoy the textures and sounds. Can you tell this is where my fondness lies? It comes to me naturally, in ease. The rest of it is work, fun work, frustrating at times, but very rewarding.

Wishing you all a happy New Year with lots of fruition, and may your writing go where you want to take it!

Happy Holidays!

 


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I’m doing it again.

Talking about my babies.

The baby turned 1 this past weekend. 1!

Quite possibly the oldest cliché of all – where did the time go?

With my first child, the first year was eternal. I was smothered by my own emotions, living for him. Nothing mattered but him. It was intense. It was brutal. It was painful. It was exhilarating, and peaceful, and joyful. It was the most of everything I had ever experienced, on top of it all being new.

The first year with my middle child was much of the same, but with more anger. I was tired, and hadn’t slept at all since my first was born, and I was walking into walls all the time. But the need to care, to protect, to cherish, to love, at all costs was still the strongest of all I was experiencing.

This baby, my third child. My healing baby. His middle name means ‘to life’.

For five hours we listened to his heart stop with each contraction when I was in labour. He was tangled up in his umbilical cord. I still don’t know how I managed to keep it together during that time. He was born, large, strong, and beautiful. With him, I’ve learned that parenting doesn’t have to be full of pain, anguish, and anger. Oh, there are moments of it, of course, suffering is part of it all, and perhaps that’s the difference now. I used to sit and stare at my first two, crying, imagining all the pain they would experience as they would grow. Now I know it’s part of what shapes us. It’s nothing to fear or run from. It’s part of learning coping mechanisms, and becoming good strong adults. After all, that’s my main job, is it not? Guiding them into being the best they can adults.

I have an ache in me when I look at him sometimes, yes, it’s still there at moments. He’ll grow, and I won’t have my 24/7 cuddle monster attached at my hip. He’ll join the rest of the world, and while it’s painful to leave that part of life behind, it excites me to see who he’s becoming. His enthusiasm, his love of outdoors and music, his ease and his joy.

Happy birthday baby boy! You’re 1!

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