Friday, January 29, 2010

Three stages of creativity: inspiried, uninspired, re-inspired

Friday afternoon and my writing day is winding down--I didn't get nearly as much done today or this week as I wanted to, so I'm promising myself that this weekend and next week I'll do better and work harder at sticking with it.  My March 1st deadline is creeping up on me; I spent January in such a fog that it kind of passed me by.  Cute husband and I are finally going to see Crazy Heart this evening, a movie we've been dying to see (but we live in a place where movies take a long time to get here), so I'm hoping it will be a chance to enjoy a really great story and will re-inspire me for some writing time tomorrow.  I love the movie's tag line: "The harder the life, the sweeter the song."  I also highly recommend looking into the music of Ryan Bingham (yes, odd coincidence that he has the same name as the main character of another great movie, Up in the Air) who wrote some of the tunes for the movie.  The link to Crazy Heart above takes you to a website that plays one of his songs for you.  Corey gave me two of his albums for Christmas and we really love them.

Rumor has it there's snow in the forecast for tomorrow, and what's more romantic than sipping a cup of tea and working on your story while the windows darken with snow.  Sounds pretty nice to me.

But speaking of being re-inspired, wanted to share with you this card from my mom that arrived in the mail yesterday:

Yep, so true.  And much needed at this juncture.  Thanks Mom.

Have a happy weekend all.  Find a little thing that inspires you and just run with it.  See where it takes you, it might be a nice place.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Important conversations and a radioactive computer

Yesterday cute husband and I were out for an evening walk to our favorite store--Trader Joe's--when I asked him what he thought of my story.

Let me be frank with you.  While I'm thrilled to be writing again and thrilled to finally have a real project going--something I'm waking up each day knowing I need to work on--it's also been an extremely tense and sometimes depressing few weeks.  It's so easy for me to lose my confidence and even easier for me to avoid my computer all day, some days literally not writing a word, walking past my desk all day long with my head turned away like the computer is radioactive or might eat me.  I know I've told you this before and I hope it doesn't sound too much like complaining, but things are just extremely uncertain right now--not just for me, but for Corey too--and I can't help but put a ton of pressure on myself to make my story great, get into a writing program, write a bestselling novel and ride off into the sunset.

That said, I always try and stop myself from saying the sentence, "Things will be perfect when..." to myself because that's never the way it works out.  I remember hearing once that our bad habit of playing "what if" with ourselves (what if I'd taken that job in New York City, what if I'd gotten a degree in photography instead of accounting, and on and ON) is not only an exercise in futility because we can't go back again, but also because even if we could there'd still be so many things that could go wrong in that alternate reality.  E.g. you move to New York City for the job but move into a crappy apartment there (because it's all you can afford) and the building collapses, trapping you for days and causing a concussion that erases your short term memory.  Or you get that photography degree but doing so takes you out of Accounting 202, where you met your husband or your-best-friend-to-this-day, et cetera.  But to get off my meandering path and come back to the point: while things are little bit less than ideal right now, I know that it's all part of the journey (no, let's call it a trip) we're on.

So all of that explained, let me get back to our walk yesterday.  When I asked Corey what he thought of my story, he said he loved it.  He gave me compliments and said how much he'd missed reading my writing.  Then, he paused.  "But can I give you a few points to focus on," he said.  And then he dropped the bomb: "Get out of your comfort zone.  I love how you write but when you describe your characters it sounds like you talking, and it needs to sound like them talking."   I said, "Okay," thinking the pain was over.  He continued: "And I know this goes against everything you believe, but you need to make an outline or something of what's going to happen.  You need to plot everything out and then make it happen."  He paused again.  "And don't put your entire life into this story--like if it doesn't come together you can't apply to a program.  You can start again on something new or start on something new in the middle of writing this one."

My head was reeling as we wandered through Trader Joe's--usually I scan the shelves obsessively looking for new items I might want to try, but yesterday I just grabbed 2 green peppers, a tub of hummus, and a bag of oranges.  Internal monologue went something like this: I'm no good.  Even my biggest fan, second only to my mom, thinks I'm no good.  He's trying to find a polite way to tell his wife, you might not have what it takes, move on to something else.  My characters aren't even characters then, if they just sound like me.  "What are we having for dinner, though?" Cute husband asked.  "Don't know," I said, making a dash for the cash register. "I guess we're just going to forage tonight," I said.  Forage is our polite way of saying "leftovers."

Needless to say it was a quiet walk home, but by the time the oranges were in the fruit bowl I realized that it was the best conversation I'd had in a long time about my writing.  That sometimes you need someone to tell you--Be bolder!  Take all the little stuff you're really good at and blow it up!  And when I opened up my story last night I was reading it over in a whole new way and suddenly thinking about all of the directions I could take it in because it was as though someone had finally given me the permission to do so.

But it doesn't end there...

Today at around noon, Mom called.  I hadn't mentioned any of this to her, but somehow--it actually has been determined that she has ESP--she seemed to know that I was struggling and for about twenty minutes, under the guise of just talking to me about some good books she'd read recently, said, about fifteen times, "You can do it.  I really believe you'll do this."

And lo and behold after the application of several scientific testing instruments, my computer shows no trace of radioactivity.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Write to the music

Today I purchased a CD by one of my favorite musical artists: Patty Griffin's Downtown Church.  Patty is a folksinger, but with bits of rock and bluegrass mixed in, and I've loved her since college when I heard her song "Moses."  Since then I've bought every new album on the day it's released.  Just in case you might be in the market for some new music, Downtown Church is Patty's adaptation of several gospel classics, all of which were recorded in the basement of a Presbyterian church.  After two listens, I can promise you it will be money well spent--very beautiful interpretations of beautiful old songs.

I bring this up because I've been using music these last few weeks to inspire my writing.  So much of writing is getting into a rhythm--just sort of finding the flow so you can really start to let loose for a little while and, like I've mentioned before, find the more organic elements of your story, instead of trying to manufacture every little thing.  I know that other writers do this because often in the acknowledgments they thank Bob Dylan or The Rolling Stones, etc., saying, for example, "thank you for your music, which got me through the long, dark hours of writing this book."  And it makes sense: music is a powerful tool for doing anything that requires motivation.  I read just recently that good music is integral to a successful running routine because there are certain rhythms and beats that actually trigger a psychological response that makes you want to get up and move.  (Thus, dancing.)

As for music's role in writing, I actually think there is also an element of feeling like you've got a fellow artist looking over your shoulder as you write.  Yes, you get lost in the music and as you begin to write the melody supports your own ability to find a narrative "melody" and cadence, but it's also nice to know that you're listening to something that had to be written first.  Whether it's Mozart or Bob Dylan or Shakira (yes, sometimes she is my drug of choice, I admit it), it all had to be conceived of first, and reworked, and put back together.  And like anything else, it's comforting to know someone who's been through it before is there helping you do it for the first time.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Monday musings on practice makes perfect

Hi old friends.  I'm so sorry I've abandoned you these last few weeks.  For some reason I've been in a blogging rut--very little to say, other than, yep, still writing, still struggling.  That Christmas story I started back in December has become something of an obsession, as I've decided to try and make it my submission piece for the writing program.  In a way this has relieved some stress because I no longer have to feel like I've got no ideas, but at the same time the pressure is twenty-fold because I know I must make this really good.  It's such an internal mind game with me: I know that I can do this, I know that if I got into this program I would flourish there and learn valuable things that would help propel me to the next level of my writing capabilities (maybe a novel?), and yet there are many moments in the day where I truly lose sight of all that, and start thinking about working at Talbots again.

But enough of the melodramatics...  That's where things stand.

So all of that stuff said, I've really missed blogging and the ability to write what I'm feeling on any given day or sometimes go off into strange territory just writing about some aspect of life I've been thinking about lately.  So I apologize, and I'm back.  Sorry everyone, but the beginning of the new year is always a tough time for me.

I think I mentioned to all of you back in December that I was loving a book of short stories by Maile Meloy (who, I've since found out is the sister of Colin Meloy of the Decemberists! what a talented family!) called Both Ways is the Only Way I Want It.  No doubt I've been trying to channel her as I write my own short story.  The truth is, the only way to get better at writing is to read read read and then write write write.  The summer before I went away to college, I remember reading 35 books (in a three month period).  (Thanks to my dad for letting me read while I worked at his office.)  It was interesting to then go back and look and the stuff I'd written before that reading binge and compare it to the stuff written immediately after.  In so many ways, grasping the nature of a strong narrative has to become internalized--something you're not so much thinking about as just naturally producing like tears, or saliva.  Furthermore, it's interesting to examine what I imagine as the "rungs" of my writing life.  With each new piece of writing I climb a little higher and complicate things a little more.  With each new story you're adding one more thing you want to try and perfect on the paper and ultimately I imagine that you're able to hold in your brain a million different worries about what you're doing and work to avoid mistakes.  But this philosophy can be hard to live by.  My tendency is to look at every story like it should be good, polished, something I'd be willing to submit for publication.  But in reality even the crappy stuff can be helpful--sometimes the best way to avoid going wrong is to examine what happens when things do go wrong so you can right yourself when all hell breaks loose.  Yep, it's a lot like working for NASA.

So as I grow more frustrated by the day, I have to remember to trust myself.  To have faith that even if I mess something up while I'm writing, there is this magical thing waiting in the wings called editing, where I'll force myself to be critical and find the missing pieces that, contrary to popular belief, are not gone forever.

See you tomorrow.  I promise.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

An attempt to...not write

Hi friends.  Still writing away over here, believe it or not, but have picked up a new hobby to relieve some of my writing-related stress.  Hope you'll join me for a touch of whimsy on my new photography blog, Bread & Bottle.  And don't worry, Promise to Write is still my main game (it won't suffer the fate of wrenthen).
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