Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Writerly angst (what else is new?)

The problem with blogs is that once you put stuff out there, you can't really take it back.  Furthermore, you're forced to look at your own bad writing while attempting to try and write a post that you can at the very least call decent.  I'm sick of writing about how tough writing is and I bet you're kind of sick of reading about it.

Here's an article that reminds us to appreciate the overwhelming power of words--their ability to satisfy, sustain, and take the place of other things we once deemed essential.  It also happens to be the story of a very special person by the name of Roger Ebert.  It's one of those things that upon reading will fill you with gratitude and awe.

And as far as my self-imposed writing deadlines go, I am reminded of the great Douglas Adams:

I love deadlines.  I like the whooshing sound they make as they go by.
And while we're on the subject of Douglas Adams, I just looked him up and found this quote, which made me feel all the better about everything:

The fact that we live at the bottom of a deep gravity well, on the surface of a gas covered planet going around a nuclear fireball 90 million miles away and think this to be normal is obviously some indication of how skewed our perspective tends to be.
I'm still here.  I'm writing, but not as much as I should be.  My stories keep getting muddled, the characters so clear to me in one sentence and in the next they've escaped my dark chamber of a story, they're out walking in the sunshine laughing because they fooled me.  My expectations for myself keep getting higher, and the higher they get the harder it is to type.  Truly, my fingers bunch up and my knuckles suddenly ache and it's an excuse to walk into the other room and open a book--during the reading of which I recite to myself, I'll never be able to write something this long or this good--or eat a muffin (I'm now baking health-food muffins because I end up eating too many muffins) or resign myself to a day of despair and internal recitations of "I'll try again tomorrow," but with no intention of actually doing the things I say to myself I. will. do.

But I see words floating between the blood and muscle and ligaments of my fingers...worry, evidence, regret, cry, dark, blue, sky.  There's a switch that will release them, and all these bad days constitute my stumbling search for the switch in the dark.  If I can find it, flip it, and allow the words--using the speed of my own racing pulse--to reach, at long last, their perfect place, then I am a writer again.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Writing diet

I'm going to take the advice of a few different people and start another story.  I've got the seed of an idea in my head--it popped in last night during my second glass of wine.  I won't share it yet because every time I talk about an idea it somewhat jinxes it for me--ruins the act of discovery that is writing.  Not giving up on the Christmas story as a submission piece, just trying to keep my options open.  And I'm going to go about this one differently.  Starting today and ending next Friday, with Saturday & Sunday as editing days, I must write 3 pages a day.  Three pages per day for 8 days is 24 pages and that's long enough for a submission piece.  And there's not going to be any excuses.  I MUST WRITE 3 PAGES...NO MATTER WHAT.  I can't obsess that they're not perfect or decide to call it quits because I'm having a bad brain day.  I've just got to get a story on paper.  After it's on paper, I can go into obsession mode while I try to fix it up.

To clear my head, I'm off to take a shooting walk (where I just go outside and take a long stroll with camera in hand) in the beautiful dusk light.  Then, two pages still to go for today.

I'll update you daily on my progress.  And feel free to leave nasty comments if you sense I'm getting off task.  Time for some tough love.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

How the pros do it

Today was a major writer's block day.  I was so desperate that I did a Google search for "novel ideas" (I'd worked myself into a frenzy and decided to give up on the short story and start a novel.  Don't worry, that didn't really last).

But my Google search found a very cool page via NPR where established writers describe their cures for writers block, where their motivation to write comes from, et cetera. 

It helped me to read that famous writers get writer's block too and that they set a 5 page goal for the day and come midnight only have 3 paragraphs.  And that they go on too long letting certain characters ruminate only to realize after about 10 pages that nothing has happened in the story.  Obviously, they've been able to overcome these things, and it gives me a little flicker of hope that I can too.

Peruse a few: Novel Ideas.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Meditations on Six Feet Under

As the time approaches 5pm on this Monday, I think it's probably obvious to you that I've been a real procrastinator today.  I'm really trying to get back on my blogging regimen and post 3-4 times a week, religiously.  But so much of sitting down to write is consumed by: "What the heck am I going to write about today?"  At times it feels like a bit of a cop out to just pull something out of the air and go with it, but I also realize that that's sort of what writing is.  The good stuff can only emerge by exploring all the possibilities out there.

So pardon me if this seems a little random.

Corey and I have been watching a new TV on DVD--you may have heard of it--called Six Feet Under.  This is an HBO show that began in 2001 (the year cute husband and I started college) and ran until 2006.  I actually rented the first season from Blockbuster one summer when I was home from school and after about three episodes decided I wasn't that interested.  So imagine my mixed emotions when I opened up the complete series from cute husband on Christmas Day.  He could tell I was less than thrilled...  But the man is going to be a lawyer--he's very convincing.  Let's just say we started season one about three weeks ago and we're now about to start season five (the final season).  In short: we can't get enough of it and though I won't make this official until we finish season five, I can comfortably say that it's my favorite television show ever.

I'm not posting about it here so much to recommend it to all of you (while of course I do recommend it, I know it's different strokes for different folks and I know TV on DVD can consume a lot of time) but just to have some sort of discussion with myself about what makes it great from a writing standpoint.  I took a screenwriting course in college and found that style of writing to be incredibly limiting and difficult, but that hasn't stopped me from having involved daydreams about converting my novel into a screenplay and winning an Oscar.

So these are things I love about SFU.

I love that the writers have dared to give us weird characters--not weird as in fetishes and obsessions, but weird in the way that most of us and most of the people we know are weird.  Everyone has little strangenesses about them and it's those things that are most intriguing; it's those things that draw us to one another.  It's our weird hangups--the things that bother us and press our buttons and excite us for no good reason--that color our relationships with everyone we know.

I love that the strangeness of the characters makes for a strange family (the show focuses entirely on a family of funeral directors), but not so strange that they can't function and love one another.  All families are dysfunctional in some way, but only in rare cases does this mean that there's no love there.  In my experience, most movies, television shows, even books want to give us the rarer story and forget to tell us about the truth of most "normal" families--yes we're weird, but it just makes things interesting.

I love the portrayal of gay and minority characters as real people.  What a novel idea!  The most normal couple in the show is the gay couple.

I love that the writers let us hear whole conversations--long meditations between two people or several members of the Fisher family really hashing it out, saying what they mean, letting things out that they've been holding in for a long time.  Being mean to one another. 

I love how the characters go through marked ups and downs.  They can be on the right track for months at a time.  Life is going well, there's a modicum of contentment each night before they fall asleep.  And yet restlessness always returns.  They re-examine things and upset the apple cart again. 

I love the relationships that exist between each of the children and their mother.  All three are like her in some way, and though she drives them crazy, they all love her more than they could ever express.  Though their father is dead--he comes back in the form of a ghost--I love that all of the characters still seek his approval for so many things: not just congratulations on a triumph, but permission to be sad or angry, or to move on.

I love that the show is willing to discuss death in a matter-of-fact way.  Not in a religious or mystical sense, but as something that happens to all of us.  And I love that it has no opinion about life after death.  We just know that in some way the dead visit us again, whether in our own minds or in some ghostly way, we don't ever really know.  But does it matter?  Either way, they are speaking to us.

It's fun to think about what makes something you love so good.  My hope is that some of these bullet points will seep into my work.
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