Writing from Guatemala

My last post was in January. Since then, my husband and I have moved entirely to Panajachel, Guatemala. For more on our life and routine in our new location, see my Coming Down the Mountain blog. I never post here as often as I do there since people sign up via email to my website, and I don’t want to inundate reader emails with constant updates.

268But seriously, I figured after six months, the author website is due for an update.

What am I doing in Guatemala? Besides enjoying a complete change of environment, food and culture, I am writing, writing, writing. I have two books in the works and another one planned. This move has been very good for my creative life.

My husband gave me this awesome little book for my birthday. A man sells them on Calle Santander.  He makes them by hand, with pages made from banana leaves, dried and pressed. In this little journal goes my ideas for books.IMG_1100

The novel will be first. I finished the rough first draft and am gearing up for revisions. To encourage myself at this stage (because it is when the writing is appallingly bad) I like to read motivational books on writing, and to revisit the inspirational writing quotes I’ve collected through the years.

I currently have two helpful books close at hand: If You Want to Write by Brenda Ueland and The Anatomy of a Story by John Truby. Both of them are fabulous, with Ueland’s writing strictly inspirational and Truby’s more “how-to.”  I need the different aspects of each book. When I start to falter, I pick up one or the other and get recharged in purpose and focus.

Further inspiration comes from reading about writers I admire. Like this interview with Joyce Carol Oates in The Paris Review.

Today, however, the particular writing quote that speaks to me is one I have on my page of Writerly Quotes:

“Novels are never about what they are about; that is, there is always deeper, or more general, significance. The author may not be aware of this til he is pretty far along with it. A novel’s whole pattern is rarely apparent at the outset of writing, or even at the end; that is when the writer finds out what a novel is about, and the job becomes one of understanding and deepening or sharpening what is already written. That is finding the theme.” –Diane Johnson

That’s where I am in my work. After completing over 40,000 words of absolute crap, I finally know what this book is about. And now I can write.

IMG_1101(Another photo of my cute little ideas journal)

15 thoughts on “Writing from Guatemala

  1. karenjonesgowen Post author

    Hi Alex, It’s been 2 years since my last novel. The cookbook came out last year, as a sort of break from novel writing. 🙂 I usually can get the theme after my first draft revision. It’s hard for me to move ahead at all until I do.

    Reply
  2. mirkabreen

    You have joined the venerable company of ex-pat writers… e.e. cummings, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, and now Karen J. Gowen!

    Reply
      1. karenjonesgowen Post author

        Well, not really. Nobody wants another Great Depression or World War, but there was some amazing literature that came out of those 2 decades prior to the war.

  3. Jan Morrison

    Hi Karen – really we have such a lot in common – you went south to warmth, I went north to cold, but we both went! I have three blogs that I now serve (yes – you heard me! serve!) – my first one is Jan Morrison, this crazy writing life ; the second is the one that morphed from that one that is about my various obsessions besides writing – called Living the Complicated Simple Life and finally the one I created here in Labrador called Sojourner. I don’t have many people that go to all three and sometimes I’d like to draw them back into one – but compartmentalizing is something I do to keep my wits about me. So my writing one might have things in common with the other two but always as they refer back to my writing. I’m so glad to hear you are working on a novel and I do agree with the theme arising outside of our awareness – like a dream. I’m finishing a chunk of revision today and sending it off to be read. I hope it is as together as I imagine though it hardly ever is – actually it is hardly ever as good or bad as I imagine!
    I’m going back to Nova Scotia for two months and then back here to the north – I was saying to my fella that I’m looking forward to it but nothing will ever be like this last year – such newness, such huge hits of the beauty of this place, my own loneliness and struggles. Next year I’ll know and I’m sadder for that! sorry to ramble so long…but I’m glad to find this site – thanks!

    Reply
  4. catemasters

    Guatemala sounds like writer’s heaven! Lovely photo too. What a cool little book! The artist should set up a shop on Etsy, he’d make a killing.

    Reply
    1. karenjonesgowen Post author

      Cate, Yes, totally agreed! He wouldn’t be able to make the books fast enough. The problem is the shipping I think. It’s difficult to ship from here but maybe I should look into it for him.

      Reply
  5. Nicki Elson

    It’s so good that you’ve been writing so much! That journal is so, so cool. What a perfect use for it.

    I’ve been mentally muddling through a new plot and the other day while driving I told my daughter that I found the theme. Then I told her what it was, and she asked, “Why do books always have to have a theme? Why can’t it just be a story?” And so I told her I don’t mean for my stories to have a theme—it just sort of happens. I think God puts them there. No, I know that He does. 🙂

    Reply
    1. karenjonesgowen Post author

      Nicki, I think kids get burned out on theme talk because of how they teach literature in school. You just want to enjoy a story and the teacher is always saying But what’s the THEME?

      Reply
  6. Hilary

    Hi Karen – that’s great that the move has allowed your creativity to flow .. and gosh six months already .. I love the idea journal .. such a wonderful natural organic book full of ideas .. and filling fast ..

    I’m so pleased for you .. cheers Hilary

    Reply
  7. Lisa M

    Glad you’re settled in and writing again. Love that “you’ve completed over 40,000 words of absolute crap and finally know what this book is about.” That gives hope to an aspiring writer!

    Reply
  8. storyteller5

    Hi Karen,

    I love that moving has helped your creative life. Congrats on your book–I know what a great feeling it is to wake up inspired each day. What is it about living in your new home that inspires you, do you know?

    Thanks for writing!

    Reply

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