Are you experiencing the winter doldrums, as your New Year’s Resolutions quickly fade from the forefront of your consciousness? You’re not alone. Yet as writers, we must constantly discover new ways to hone our craft.
One approach is to find new inspiration from old sources. Challenge yourself with exercises or prompts that may only yield a learning experience, as opposed to a shiny new novel. The shiny new novel will come later.
This winter, I have chosen to find new inspiration from two rather old sources. First, I am reading Anna Karenina. Why? Well..
- Tolstoy was ahead of his time, writing a novel with a flawed, female protagonist. According to Britanica.com: Tolstoy molds together thoughtful discussions on love, pain, and family in Russian society with a sizable cast of characters regarded for their realistic humanity. The novel was especially revolutionary in its treatment of women, depicting prejudices and social hardships of the time with vivid emotion.
- There are lots of famous quotes. It of course begins with the classic, “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Chapters are only around three to four pages long, and you’re likely to find at least one good quote per chapter. That’s roughly 200 quotes!
- It will give me perspective. Most people assume that Anna Karenina is a love story, and it is–sort of. But more than that, it’s a story about life, and our search for happiness. There are multiple major characters, each with their own internal struggles and conflicts. And even though it was written around 150 years in Russia, modern readers connect with it, and find new wisdom about their own lives.
- It’s beautifully written. Tolstoy’s description of settings, his layered characterizations, and his social commentary about Russian society leave many readers stunned.
- Reading Anna Karenina might make me a better writer. I want to know how Tolstoy created a family drama that was popular, serialized fiction in his day, and turned it into something so epic, that apparently comes close to pinning down the meaning of life. Reading it is the only way to figure it out, and if I do, maybe I can transfer that to my own work.
- Anna Karenina is at the very top of many of those “Best Novels Ever Written” lists. I like checking items off of lists. Plus, I’ll be able to brag about having read it.
My other source of inspiration is writing haikus. Now, I am not a poet. Fiction is my genre of choice, but I’ll write plays or creative nonfiction from time to time. Poetry? Not so much. However, this is why I’ve decided to start writing haikus:
- It’s good practice at developing my observation skills…
- Which leads to paying attention to sensory details and imagery.
- I can make strong connections with very few words…
- And use powerful words to convey emotion.
- This forces me to be creative…
- And, most importantly, to become an editing badass.
You might be thinking: No way do I want to read an endless Russian novel AND write haikus. She’s crazy!
You could be right. But here’s the twist. The haikus I’m going to write? They’re all about Anna Karenina. I’ve decided to write one (or possibly two) haikus for every chapter of the novel. Here are a few examples:
Part 2, chapter 27: Levin is lonely on his farm
My pretend wife loves
Everything I love, like cows.
But who will she be?
Part 2, chapter 33: Bedtime at Anna and Alexey’s house
A good, honest man.
But sex with Alexey? Eww.
I burn for Vronsky.
Part 3, chapter 10. Anna and Alexey’s marriage is altered
We seem the same, yet…
She’s turned evil. Deceitful.
I’m an ox, head bent.
Yeah, okay, I never said my haikus would be any good. I realize haikus are supposed to be about nature and nearly spiritual in nature. But I’m loving this exercise, because for each chapter, I can wittle it down to its seventeen syllable essence, while using the voice of the primary point of view character. By the time I’m done, I hope to have a deep understanding of Tolstoy’s classic, but more importantly, I aim to be able to look at my own writing and nail down what each chapter is about, and what the primary characters are trying to say.
If you’d like to see more of my progress on Anna Karenina haikus, visit my All About Anna Karenina page.
And as you pursue your own writing goals this year, don’t be afraid to try something a little crazy. Good luck and have fun!