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Progress June 23, 2017

I know, I know, I’ve been a bad girl and didn’t post last week. In my defense, it’s been a pretty busy month. My paid work has been trying to take over my life, and until this week I wasn’t able to do much writing!

Happily that has changed, however, and I did manage to write a flash fiction story this week, work on the revision to The Wolf & the Bear, and get a bit of music written. Pretty productive! I was also able to get some writing-related things finished last week, so now I just have one more tiny thing to get sorted out before I unveil my surprise! If all goes well, you’ll have my announcement next Friday.

So, let’s see about an excerpt, shall we?

Hm… it’s been a while since we had anything from The Wolf & the Bear, and I did just finish some work on the first two chapters. Have a bit of a scene from that:

The round, full moon stood sentry over the small long house. Wudurose, sitting in the branches of a nearby tree, watched the smoke rising through the vent in the roof. The Snow Moon was appropriately white this year. Soon the ice on the riveer would begin to crack, and she would again be fishing for meat rather than trying to hunt small game.

She sighed and wished that Fæder would return. It was long since the day he had promised to be back. She wondered what was keeping him.

Footsteps crunched loudly in the snow, and Rose turned her head swiftly to mark the passage of a male figure through the trees.

It had been a full month since Wulf had brought them Bera to tend, and he visited them twice weekly, bringing larger game to supplement the small animals Wudurose was able to provide her family. She was torn between gratefulness for his generosity and resentment that he could do something for her mother and sister that she couldn’t.

She sighed and turned to climb silently down from her perch in the tree.

Planning

This week I was able to start another story, but I didn’t finish it yet and I wasn’t able to get any other writing done. That’s okay though; the next week should be better.

My surprise is stalled but I hope to have it ready to go soon. Just one small hitch in the execution.

Planning is one of the ways I procrastinate. However, it’s a lot of fun and I usually plan things like when to work on which projects.

I put all of my ideas into a Writing Timeline spreadsheet I created in Excel and I track my progress in it. The stats:

242 ideas
49 finished stories and compositions (to final draft)
3 published pieces
167 in first draft
21 in revision
3 in edits
1 waiting to be finalized

It’s a great process for me, and it helps me stay focused when I need to.

How do you organize your ideas and stay focused on your work?

My Process: Composition

I have been working on school things and work things all week, so I haven’t been able to do much in the way of writing. As such, I thought I’d let you into my musical world a little bit.

A big part of my BMus was about finding my voice as a composer. I actually didn’t go to university intending to study composition, but near the end of first year I realized that I was definitely not cut out to be a performance major (I love to play but practicing has always been a challenge). I hated music history and I didn’t want to be a band teacher, but I did enjoy the little bit of composition I’d done as part of my first-year theory courses.

Now, to be clear, I do not think in chords and I am really bad at musical analysis. I can’t easily distinguish parts of musical pieces, though I can create my own harmony line while singing. I can identify instruments and have been known to call out “English horn!” in the middle of a movie (because yes, I can tell the difference between that and an oboe, thank you very much). This is basically why I suck at music history: the listening component killed me because I literally could not tell the difference between similar pieces. When we studied Gregorian chant, my friends told me to listen for the bass line, and I was left wondering what part was the bass line because I couldn’t pick it out at all. I’ve since learned that this is part of how my ADHD affects me: I have difficulty paying attention to the correct auditory information, so listening to things is really hard. (Yet I also recently discovered that I mostly play by ear, so go figure that one out.) Of course, when I was in university we didn’t even suspect that I had ADHD, so there’s no way I could have been accommodated for my difficulties.

Anyway, like I said, I enjoyed writing music. I really liked learning the rules and when and how you could break them, and I loved discovering new sounds and learning different techniques for writing music.

I tend to approach writing music as a more academic activity than a creative one. There are several stages to writing a piece, and I’m going to outline them briefly below. Please note that this is my process, and other composers probably don’t follow my method at all.

The first thing is to figure out what I’m writing. Is it a solo piece? Is there accompaniment? Maybe it’s for a chamber ensemble of some kind. Do I have a particular mood in mind, or an idea that I want to convey, or am I mostly concerned with getting notes on the page?

Next I get my main theme/melody sorted out. Sometimes I do this with an instrument, sometimes I do it in MuseScore on my computer, but mostly I just write notes by hand on manuscript paper. I’ll pick a key and time signature before I start, and depending on the project I might do more than one staff (e.g., for the clarinet quartet piece I’m writing it in four-part harmony by hand and I’ll put it into MuseScore with separate staves when it’s done).

The next stage involves a matrix and little cells with their retrogrades and inversions. Sometimes I do rhythmic matrices as well, because that can be fun. This is all paper work, and I have a notebook that I use to work these things out. I also do some math to figure out how long the piece is supposed to be (assuming there’s a required length), and I’ll sketch out the form of the piece with key changes and so on if it’s got a particular format (e.g., a fugue).

Now I harmonize. For this, I write out all the chords in the key and the basic chord progression (14736251), and I consider all of my options for each measure and each note, as well as each voice. Sometimes I do this on the computer, sometimes I do it by hand. Either way, it’s an academic process for me: what notes go in the chord I want there, and which voices should play which notes?

Once the music is in the computer, I listen to it and assess each chord and measure as I listen. I try different arrangements for sections that don’t work. Eventually I get something that works for me.

And then, finally, I go through and put in articulations and dynamics. Some articulations will have been there from the start, but often I don’t decide where staccatos and slurs go until near the end of the process. Same with dynamics. My secret about dynamics is that I actually don’t worry about them at all and really only put them in where it’s important to me that a particular part be played at a particular volume. I suppose that’s horrible of me, but what it means in practice is that I trust the musicians to interpret the music appropriately, and that if there are dynamics marked they actually matter to the piece.

And that is my basic process for writing music.

Progress May 19, 2017

This week I got some more themes written, and I started the next step in revising The Wolf & the Bear. I’m hoping to have that finished by the end of the month. I’m also making progress on a special project I hope to unveil next Friday, so stay tuned!

Your excerpt this week is a computer-generated recording of a bit of a short piece I wrote for beginner clarinet, with piano accompaniment. It’s not very long, but I hope you like it!

Progress May 12, 2017

This week has been pretty good. I am nearly finished collecting themes for my music project (just 18 to go). I’ve also made good progress on my clarinet quartet piece.

I was not able to start working on that new revision stage for The Wolf & the Bear, but I did acquire the items needed to do it. I also was able to finish another flash fiction.

This week’s excerpt is from that flash fiction. I’m just giving you the opening, and I hope you enjoy it!

Daniel hoisted himself up over the windowsill of the kitchen window and crawled through. It had taken about 15 minutes to get the screen off, but the effort was worth it.

He crawled over the counter and dropped lightly to the floor, then padded softly to the door.

Sam and Jake were still standing under the window when he opened the door. “You guys!” he hissed. “Get over here!”

The trio made their way through the kitchen into the living room. It was well-appointed and looked lived-in. There were framed photographs on the mantel and the walls, of a pretty woman with long brown hair and a little boy with bright blue eyes.

“This is just a normal living room,” Daniel said. “We should just go. Peter saw us go in, we won the bet.”

Sam shook his head. “No way!” he replied. “He said to get a head, so we’re getting a head!”

head?!? What are these boys doing? Where are they?

You’ll have to wait and read the finished story to find out.