Wednesday, January 27, 2010

My Great Uncle Horace

As I am writing to you, I am wearing my metaphorical sweatbands, dolphin shorts, and even leg warmers. Metaphorical leg warmers. I wonder if those look any stupider than real leg warmers do...but I digress.

I'm talking about exercising friends. Exercising our writing muscles.

Why do doughy middle-aged men, who have NO business wearing them, put on spandex bicycle shorts and pound the bike trails on the weekends? Why do 60 year old women turn on their 60 year old copy of "Sweatin' to the Oldies" volume 2 tapes every morning? Why do I park myself in front of a treadmill for thirty minutes everyday though I'd much rather be watching old episodes of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" on Hulu?

The belabored answer to this belabored question: Because its good exercise.

Writing a novel in and of itself is an amazing exercise. It is the workout world's equivalent to a marathon. And sure, anyone could stand at the starting line of a marathon. And almost anyone, whether it be 5 hours later or five days later, can cross the finish line. But what about the exercise we do to get up to that point?

Short writing is great exercise. These silly, insanely narcissistic blog posts are great exercise for my thinking bones. I've even taken up journal writing as good practice, though I shudder for my progeny who will someday have to read it. So while the marathon of writing a novel may be as outlandish as my great uncle Horace with a game leg making up Mount Everest, jotting down thoughts you have every now and then is doable. And even sometimes a little fun.

And I'm sorry Great Uncle Horace, but you and I both know you ain't making it up the side of any moutain anytime soon.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Guts

I found a Sylvia Plath quote on the internet while I was researching ways to break through "writers block" (quick note: nothing great has been said on the subject. I thought I'd save you some time).
She said, "Everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it." I immediately copied, pasted, and printed it out. It's hanging on my wall as we speak. I love that she used the word guts.

Putting pen to paper is scary. It takes, well, guts. But there is something even scarier. Giving your fledgling writing to someone to read. As an aspiring author, the only thing that I can compare it to would be to running down the street naked while all your worst enemies from high school hold up signs signifying how much fatter you are now than you were in ninth grade.

Sharing your writing with someone, even someone you trust, can make you feel bare naked. It's uncomfortable because it's the most vulnerable part of you, especially when you are new at it. Heck, for all you know, your work could suck. So you start to sweat and wonder whatever made you start writing in the first place because obviously you can't write! Who do you think you are, huh?

Whoa, I'm getting away from myself.

But getting your writing out there, even if it is terrifying is the price you have to pay to get better. Gut it out. Get the feedback. Get better.

Plath ends by saying, "The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt." Well, that and all your high school enemies commenting on your fat butt.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Dirty, Rotten Writing

Not many people can claim to have learned a life lesson from the 1988 film, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. But I have.

In the scene, Lawrence Jamieson (Michael Caine) is talking to Freddy (Steve Martin) about life. Lawrence says, “Freddy, as a younger man, I was a sculptor, a painter, and a musician. There was just one problem: I wasn't very good. As a matter of fact, I was dreadful.”

Pause scene there. Back to my life-

In college, I wanted to be artist. I wanted so badly to be deep and mysterious. Don't we all want that in college? I went so far as to even submit a portfolio of "art" to my university in hopes of being accepted to their prestigious visual arts program. Of course I was summarily turned down. I could almost hear the Dean laughing from his ivory tower as he glanced over my "body of work". I didn't blame him. It was well, dreadful.

Back to the movie-

Lawrence Jamieson goes on to say, "Freddy, what I am saying is: know your limitations. You are a moron."

I learned very quickly, and painfully, that the world of visual arts would never include me. I'm an artistic moron. Maybe that's why writing gives me so much pleasure. It's an artistic outlet that has nothing to do with apertures, canvas, charcoal or shading. It’s word-smithing, something anyone can do, though we all do it with varying success.

So here’s to hoping that although I am an artistic moron, let’s hope I fare just a little better in the writing world.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Really, really crappy writing

The great Earnest Hemingway once said, "The first draft of anything is (insert expletive here)."

And that short quote, my friends, has always made me feel better. It also makes me wonder at a real writer's process. Not mine. I admittedly don't know what I'm doing. But I just can't imagine the likes of Hemingway doing what we see so often in cartoons and sitcoms- sitting there with a ream of paper, scribbling something, then balling the paper up and tossing it into the trash can. Can you see Shakespeare doing that? Of course not. From God's mouth to Shakespeare's pen, right? Or wrong?

Maybe in Shakespeare's first draft, Juliet started out as Sally, the plucky, somewhat overweight short order cook for the Capulets. Hey, it's a possibility.

I think what separates the writer from the non-writer is this. A writer puts pen to paper (which can be terrifying in and of itself), writes crap, but then has the hutspah to work with the crap until it is something much more presentable.

Because even if the first draft is *&$%@, it doesn't mean your final draft will be.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Blood from Turnips

Blood from a turnip, blood from a stone...no matter from what you are metaphorically trying to squeeze blood, sometimes it just ain't gonna happen.

I've felt like this sometimes. I put my kid in his jogging stroller, grab my ipod and jogging shoes, and hit the trails ready to be inspired, or to at least get some ideas for the next chapter. But recently, nothing has been coming to me. Nothing. Blood from a turnip.

So I've learned the importance of fallowing. I'm not an English major, so I don't know if putting an -ing on the end of the word fallow is correct, but lets just say for our purposes it is.

The definition of Fallow brought to you by my good friends at dictionary.com-
Land that has undergone plowing and harrowing and has been left unseeded for one or more growing seasons.

Farmers sometimes let plots of land fallow or rest for a season. Overworked land produces poor crops. An overworked mind produces crappy writing. I think of my brain as a field sometimes, and not just because it's full of dirt and bugs. But the field of my head sometimes needs to rest. Sometimes I've squeezed everything out of it. I need to fallow.

During the writing process, I've learned to trust myself enough to walk away, to let my head rest. Let the characters marinate in my brain. When I come back after my season of fallowing, I find that my brain is no longer a turnip, but a field ready to give an excellent growing season.

Inspiration

Recently, I was talking to a very accomplished author who is now a "book doctor" (though she calls herself something that sounds a lot more fancy) about the process of writing. She said what most authors say, which is "read everything you can". And of course I agree with that. But, I haven't found many mainstream authors who say, "watch all the tv you can". That would just sound stupid coming from an author, wouldn't it? Good thing I'm anonymous!

So kids, watch some good tv.

This is going to sound like a non-sequiter, but bear with me. Lady Gaga. See, I told you. Still bearing with me? I was in the middle of trying to write one of my female characters. I'd first written her as just plain evil, but she was coming off very one-dimensional. And then, Lady Gaga happened. First let me say, I'm not a huge fan of hers. I'm not even sure I've ever seen her without something elaborate stuck to her face. Is anyone sure what she even looks like? Anyway, she was on either the Mtv music or movie awards and did a performance that was so outlandish, so strange and creepy, it was inspirational. I loved the desperation and even craziness that dripped out of her. She helped me write this flat character as something much more multi-faceted.

So watch tv, movies, plays. Yes, of course read everything you can. But if you ask me, there ain't nothin' wrong with a little tv time when you are trying to write.

I'm writing a Book

"I'm writing a book."
How often do we hear this from someone we just met? It's like when the 250 pound woman we meet at a party says "I'm training for a marathon" or that stoner we knew from high school says "I'm going to go to medical school". Sure you are. So we nod and smile and worry about their the state of their brain matter that led to these delusions of grandeur.

It seems that most people go through a creative period in their lives when they fancy themselves an author, though it usually doesn't amount to much, excuse my pessimism.

So on that note friends, I am writing a book. Feel free to roll your eyes. If I were one of my friends or family members, I sure would. But here is where I will collect what I have learned, what I have done right, and what I have done terribly, terribly wrong.

Welcome to the show.