Friday, November 16, 2012

The Forest … Or The Trees?


Barbara: I was chatting with a friend the other day—she’s one of those wellsprings of knowledge, highly intelligent, astute, straight-shooting, the kind of person I wish I could have on speed-dial for succinct answers to my ever-wondering questions. I mentioned to her that I was taking a creative writing class that was dedicated to developing our novels as a whole before we started writing the nuts and bolts, so we could have “a blueprint” first. I explained to her that I had, in fact, already written the novel, but needed an overview in order to do my next re-write. I had found that I’d come too close to my work and couldn’t see the forest for the trees.

My friend pointed out that this was common for women. Now let me stress that my friend is not the least bit sexist nor is she a random generalizer: but she had an interesting point (and she made it far more succinctly and elegantly than I will here, so bear with me!). If we look back to our tribal beginnings, men had to hone their broad awareness instincts—they had to see the whole of the forest (or plain, or savannah, or what-have-you) because that killer could come at him from any direction. He had to possess a fundamental and pervasive knowing of what was around him at all times. If not, he risked his own life and the lives and wellbeing of his tribe.

But our ancestral women-folk were back at the village, gathering. They needed to have a finely-tuned awareness of every seed, berry, fruit, and nut, in short, every vegetation food source that was hiding (but probably not about to kill her) in the thick foliage of those trees, bushes, and grasses. She had to observe details with precision and accuracy in order to feed her family a—let’s face it—balanced diet and so keep them alive.

And these two primitive conditioners are engrained into our DNA because for tens of thousands of years, they worked! We survived and developed and evolved into the fascinating and complex creatures you see before you now.

Of course, I believe that many of us have developed past this divider between the sexes (yes, there are women who have broad vision and men who are great with details). I also believe that we’re able to develop our awareness outside the primitive boxes we may naturally incline towards. But I really appreciated this a-ha moment of seeing this particular forest for its trees.

And not only was it an interesting eye-opener, or light-shiner, but, as these kinds of epiphanies often do, it suddenly empowered me. If I know my weakness—and, even better, if I can blame my weakness on genetics!—I can consciously work to improve it.

Yeah, sure, I had already signed up for that overview creative writing class, and, yes, I had already realized that for this particular project, I certainly needed to improve my ability to see the big picture. But now I know that the skills I build in reviewing and rewriting this particular project will also need to be skills I carry forward with me to all my other projects.

I aim to be a nurturer of trees, but also a Park Ranger of forests. Not just in writing, but in life.
Beyond the full outline overview, which I did both in paper Post-its and on the computer (because my handwriting is virtually illegible, even to me), I also decided to tackle a rewrite of a scene by printing out all the relevant pages, cutting out all the detritus, and then layering what was left into a general, cohesive single scene.

Deb:  I have always loved this expression as it covers so much in life. An elegant saying indeed. I think you have found the perfect balance for your book, Barbara, in this theory.

Sometimes that which is right in front of us is painful. Sometimes it’s scary and sometimes it requires us to do things we are not ready to do. I find for me, I have always been able to see the forest despite the sometimes huge growth of trees, but am often reluctant to venture in.

38 comments:

  1. Barbara, I too use the cut to pieces, then reassemble method. Actually, in the Literature Department here, we call it the Frankenstein Method. Very useful and fun!
    All I can think to add to today's post is that there would be no forest without the trees...

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    1. Oh, I LOVE "Frankenstein Method"! This is the first time I've done it and it was sooo useful. I'd been pulling my hair out trying to keep all the elements I wanted to put in the scene straight in my head, and then I realized what a simple this solution would be -- because I would see it all right there, in black and white. As for coping strategies, that one's a keeper! And PS your last line is perfection, thank you.

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    2. Oh yes. LOVE the Frankenstein Method. I use it for various papers that I have to write for my classes and it helps so much. Really forces you to look at the little things as well as the whole picture. Wonderful method for writing and revising.

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  2. Hmmm... I am pretty sure you were not around yesterday when I talked to a friend about the same era. She was wondering why men taste more bitter stuff and women more sweet. I also corrected her about the falseness of tongue map. I told her that in my mind women taste and like sweet more because we had to collect berries when men were hunting. Well I spoke in more detail, but I am at the airport to travel home, so I am using just my smartphone for writing. Calgary here I come for few hours.

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    1. Hilarious! Maybe I was "energy-eavesdropping".... I do think I try to stay away from dividing the sexes too much as far as traits go, but sometimes it turns out to be so fundamental that it turns out to be interesting to explore. Like the sweets theory. Which also makes sense to me.

      Happy and safe travels today, Kasku!!

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    2. Thank you! Now few more hours at Calgary and then I bid my adjo and fly to Amsterdam :) Winnipeg is really pretty place.

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    3. It is! I shot a pilot for a series there a few years ago. The people are great too.

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  3. Barbara-

    I just sat here for a minute eating my breakfast and having the loveliest daydream for you. I imagined you getting an agent. I imagined your agent calling you with the news that your novel was being published. I imagined you holding the galley in your hands for the first time. I imagined you seeing the hardbacks of your novel on the bookstore shelf for the first time. I imagined you doing book signings on a long trip doing a tour of bookstores. I imagined your agent calling you about how much the movie rights to your novel had sold for and that it was in the contract that you and Deb were going to be the ones to write the screenplay from the novel. I imagined the paperback printing of you novel coming out. And, I imagined you sitting in a movie theater and seeing the movie, with you and Deb and Colin also having had roles!

    A happy breakfast daydream for you!

    p.s. Stefanie custom designed gowns for you and Deb to wear to the movie premier.

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    1. Okay, I know I'm supposed to "not care about such things" but the truth is, this totally made me cry. Thanks, sweetie. From your lips to the universe's ear. xoxo

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    2. Exactly! I for one will def. want a copy of this book when it's published! It will have a very special spot in my personal library.

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    3. Sending extra positive HAPPY THOUGHT RECOMMENDATIONS TO the universe to do this FAST!!!!

      Yep...signed copy...and autographs...

      I can totally see you guys on the red carpet... Ohhh and Rigel what do you think about giving it the Oscar??? I say HELL YES! ;) Dream big baby....dream big!!!

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    4. Novel = NYT Best Sellers List
      Movie = Academy Award for Writing (Adapted Screeplay)

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    5. p.s. Shalaka -- Accompanied, of course, by Colin and Phil in snazzy tuxedos! :)

      Yes, and, the Oscars would give Stefanie reason to design another pair of gowns for them! AND, when all the red carpet paparazzi screamed, "Who're you wearing? Who're you wearing?," they'd both answer back, "Stefanie Ayoub!" And, then, Stefanie's career would be launched into outer space! :)

      Oh, and, OF COURSE, Luke will have had a hand in the making of the movie!

      AH! A THOUGHT! Book cover design? Michele!

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    6. AAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!! SHALAKA!!!!!!! Colin on the Oscar's red carpet with Deb ---- wearing his shiny tuxedo from the charity fashion show they did! LOLOLOLOLOL!!!!!!!!!!!!!

      Shiny! (literally, and Firefly!)

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    7. OOooo!!! Oooo!!! Barbara, the elegant, charming author, being interviewed on C-Span on Book TV! :) :) :)

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    8. Souzan Rezai from Vancouver, BCNovember 16, 2012 at 2:24 PM

      I've been busy and away from the blog, and every time I come back I always have the same thought (not just about Deb and Barb, but all of you...)
      YOU GUYS ARE SO GREAT! I wish I could give high-fives to Rigel and Shalaka!

      I hope that you get to add the MTV Award for best on screen kiss to that list. Granted, Barb, I don't know if there is any kissing in your novel, but if anyone can bump vampires and werewolves off the pedestal, it's Colin, am I right?

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    9. Ofcourse Luke will have had a hand in the movie...HE'S AWESOME!
      I can see Colin, Phil and LUKE in tuxedos.. and Luke's girl in an elegant dress (again...designed by Stefanie)

      And We'll go to yell "Who're you wearing? YOU LOOK FABULOUS!" too right??? Ahhhhh People yelling for autographs...and pictures...hugging Barb and saying how much her book meant to them.. (that includes me btw..I'll be mushy...the moment you step on the red carpet)

      Ohhh yes! Michele....for book cover design!!!!!


      Aahhhhhhhhhh Colin wearing a gorgeous tux an Deb wearing a gorgeous green coloured gown (that matches her eye colour) OHHHH!!!! And we're here...watching all of it...and YELLING AT the top of our voices when they declare the oscar....OHHHHH YEAH!!!!!!!!

      Ohhhhhhh yes Barb being interviewed!!! OHHH OHH OHH!!! AND.....

      They'll be at Madame Tussauds soon...OBVIOUSLY!! To get their wax models made...and then Fly back to LA for the obvious "footprints in cement"..and then they WILL be a part of the hollywood walk of fame ;)

      Ahhhhhh I can soo dream about this FOREVER! (Barb, youve got 2 positive minded girls shooting rockets of desires to the universe. This is gonna happen sooo sooon!)

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    10. OHHH!!!! Colin and Deb getting a BEST KISS award from Mtv!!!!!!! OMG WHY DIDNT I THINK OF THAT?!!?!?!?! Love you Souzan!!!!!!!!!!!

      I am a Twihard...but COLIN BEATS EVERYONE!! Plus it'll be Colin....AND DEB???? OMG!!! OFF THE CHARTS AWESOME!!! Best kiss, best couple they'll bag EVERY AWARD!!! And Barb will be WRITING IT!!! OMG this is soo delicious I'm hyperventilating!!!!!!


      ohh and virtual *HIGH-FIVE*!!!! AND BIG HUG (for pitching in...and adding the kiss award)

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    11. Ohhh and how about this...They'll get SOOO many awards....that they'll NAME after Colin and Deb....and one after Barb!!!!!!! Her books and the movies...will be the next "HARRY POTTER" series... bestsellers of ALL TIME!!!!

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    12. Oh, wow, you guys are KILLING me!! This is at once fantastical and wonderful. Love you all for playing!! xoxo

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  4. Hmm, I wanted to say something about this, but words aren't forming. At least not comprehensible ones. I must be staring too hard at the ants on the trees.

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    1. Thanks for the laugh, Eileen! Much needed!

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  5. I love your expression of the forest through the trees. Sometimes it takes someone else to point out what we can't always see and then Ah HA it works and points the way. That is what friends are for.

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    1. So true! And not just friends -- sometimes you get that epiphany from a seemingly random comment made in passing. They come from all over!

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    2. I once found my favorite quote, which is from a THEOLOGIAN, in a FASHION article in a magazine? :)

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    3. Yes, that kind of thing! Love that.

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  6. Interesting! You are right...an eye-opener indeed. Especially when someone as open minded as you are comes in knowing of their strong points and not so strong...its always an eye opener. And it is interesting isnt it?
    For me...when I realize about something like this...its kind of an evidence than I have to come into alignment a little more, that I'm not allowing the energy to flow as much as I can right now...or in other words...refine my skills and talents. And its always a great opportunity to do that isnt it? And dont you just LOOOOOOOVE "AHA" moments??? They are soo delicious! They always remind us that our ideas get to evolve and change and morph into something even more beautiful!

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    1. Also I love that feeling of expanding knowledge. I could never be an "ignorance is bliss" kind of person (although I do often see the appeal, believe me!)

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    2. Oh yes...sometimes ignorance IS BLISS. If it doesnt please you....then by all means PLEASE IGNORE IT! Its not worth spending our thoughts on!

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    3. lol I meant that in a general sense...and lovingly....the capslock is kinda... loud SOMETIMES :P

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  7. I tend to think literally, so while reading this whole post I just kept invisioning you putting the papers together and making your own little forest out of them! Paper comes from treese so I saw your papes as the trees and you completed them to make a whole little forest! I know this had nothing to do with the point but that is how I think :) Good luck with your writing class!

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    1. Ha! A literal mind is great! This just paints such an adorable image in my mind... (mustn't get distracted...)

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  8. Interesting link between gender and our ways of seeing the world. I wonder how true it is? But I've never considered myself a particularly feminine woman, so maybe I can discount the gender thing a bit.
    It's funny - when I'm writing I'm great at figuring out the big picture but wish someone else would fill it in for me, but in other things I'm the opposite. For example, as I'm travelling I despair of ever being able to capture the beauty of the scenery - no one picture can realize the essence of the place - so I focus on tiny details like a single flower with a city in the background, or a tiny red beetle on a leaf rather than be overwhelmed with getting the perfect big picture shot.

    PS - Deb, I had a nightmare that reminded me of yours - me teaching a class, completely unprepared, with no lesson plan or objective, trying to get the students to listen to me but not sure what I was going to say. And it's ridiculous, because I have been a teacher and would never walk into a class blind without objectives or plans. I'm much more likely to plan the forest and forget to organize the trees in that case.

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    1. Ooh, great connection between today's topic and Wednesday's. Gold star for you! Yeah, like I said, I do have trouble drawing divider lines because they fall apart so easily. But in a very general way, this one made sense to me. That said, I also love your strategy to cope with what you find an onerous task (how to capture aaaallll the beauty) into a do-able one (truly noticing the details). Divine.

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  9. I'm currently stuck in the trees, tripping over roots with twigs and branches slapping me in the face. I hate Christmas shopping with crowds. #Frustrated

    I'm not working with many brain cells at the moment, too busy looking and reordering/replacing social security cards for me and my daughter. She got her first job! AND, we just got the proofs of her senior pictures. And yet she was still very excited to get a spirograph today. Lots of goings on!

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    1. HA! Best "trees" analogy ever! It's what I'm going to imagine now when I hit those hoards. Congrats to your daughter!!! And I remember Spirograph -- a worthy distraction.

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