Monday, May 17, 2010
Wednesday, March 24, 2010
I wuz here
Tuesday, March 23, 2010
I hit my flashlight again, hoping against hope that the batteries would reconsider; that they would decide that they would, after all, keep working. At least for a little while longer. I couldn't let it die.
My heartbeat quickened as I stumbled through the field. I had no idea where I was, or even worse, where the next piece of civilization was. My heart felt like it would beat right through my chest as the batteries languished and died, their last breath of light fading away.
The last thing I had heard on the radio before my car gave out flashed through my mind once again and I quickened my footsteps, though I could no longer see them.
A hurricane was coming. It was coming soon. It was coming here. My rational thoughts died out on me—I began to run. In the black darkness of the night, my mind was seeing horrible things, which quickened and blurred until my mind, too, was running.
My legs stopped, but my upper body kept going—I flew over some object and landed on my face and hands. I groaned, felt out what it was I had tripped over. I fumbled, feeling the metal, the strange shape of it. It took me a few minutes, while my mind slowed down and thoughts returned.
I began to laugh slowly. I laughed harder and harder until I was afraid that I had lost my mind. I had tripped over a lawn mower. I got up finally and started calling out in all directions, hoping somebody owned this and somebody lived nearby.
I shouted into the distance and I heard a low rumble of thunder answer me as rain drops began to prick my skin.
Tuesday, March 2, 2010
Sunday, February 28, 2010
How to Begin Writing
Sometimes when I sit down to write, it is because I already have a snippet or a phrase floating around in my head. It is usually either inspired by a real or misheard song lyric, or it pops up, fully formed, from some random part of my brain as I brush my teeth or put away laundry. I rush to finish the task at hand as quickly as possible, repeating the phrase over and over in my head, so I don't lose it. Then I rush to the computer or a scrap of paper, and jot it down. Sometimes this leads to a writing session; sometimes I decide to come back to it later.
But when I start out writing with a blank screen or piece of paper, without any preconceived notion of what to write (which is the majority of the time for me), than I set my eyes on the keyboard and run my fingertips over the keys, ever-so-lightly. I am searching for
the perfect letter,
to begin the perfect word,
to begin the perfect phrase
and then sentence,
that will become my beginning.
My eyes will scan the various letters, and certain words pop up in my head—Random, Wily, Opening, Forgotten—and I search around for one that sticks out—shining—offering up worlds of possibilities. And I pick that one. Naturally, the perfect first word has at least a phrase, if not the rest of the sentence, that automatically follows on the page.
Then, once the writing has begun, I stop and look at the sentence—or, if it really has been a perfect sentence, then another sentence flows out to follow it, and so on, until it stops. Whenever that is, I go back, and re-read what I've written. Given that I usually have very little (conscious) say in the whole matter, I have to spend a minute or two trying to determine what it could mean.
“Underneath the diamond bridge...”
What in the world does that mean? Is it literal? Is it a fantasy story? Or is it metaphorical, or a dream, or someone's imagining? What could be sitting under that diamond bridge? And so on.
But this is where it gets tricky. If I think about and analyze it too much, then the story dies, right then and there. I'm already sick of the first sentence, and if that's all there is, there is nothing to come and redeem it. On the other hand, if I go over it too lightly or not at all, and just continue finding beautiful letters with beautiful sentences to follow, then I am in serious danger of making absolutely no sense whatsoever. That 'diamond bridge' thing? That's what happened to that writing—it became one big, confused, tangled mess, couldn't find its way toward making sense, gave a big sigh—and died. It still haunts my hard drive, as all my writing does. I go and pay my respects from time-to-time...but it's a depressing place to go.
I build my scenes of my stories, and poems for that matter, block by block. Once some of the blocks are in place, I begin to see a shape that sets the scene. The rest of the scene appears clearly in my head, and there's a sigh of relief. Certain word choices lead me to make certain conclusions that I either feel I need to follow through with, or defy. Whether I want to defy what I think readers' expectations will be (which I know I give too much credit), or conventional narrative choices, I do tend to lean toward the method of defiance, unless the character(s) really want to go there, or the image of the scene in my head assures me that, no, this man really is only in his 30's, no older.
A lot of my writing happens because I “feel it out” as I go. I get images in my head of what I want to describe, or people's expressions, and I begin to enact it: either with my hands, my facial expressions, or the physical feeling the character may be experiencing. Often, I try to pretty much shape the perfect words out of thin air with my hands. It helps, too. It allows me, sometimes, to see in front of me what it is I want to describe.
When I'm looking for a word—say I see the face of a character, getting so surprised and offended that he can barely spit out any words. He can feel the anger building up in his chest, and his words start sticking there, but he has to say something to the other character, has to force it past his throat. (Even as I am trying to describe this to you, my hands come out in gestures, and I put myself in the place of the character—where is the anger building, where do I feel it? And I feel the tightness in my chest, so that is where it is for him.) And there is a word for what he is doing, as the words force themselves through his throat and his cheeks puff, his mouth opening and closing like a fish with air bubbles: he is...blustering, I find. Not only does the meaning of the word fit, but also the shape and feel of it. Blustering reminds me of blowing bubbles, of helplessly trying something, of puffy cheeks. Go ahead, say it out loud and see how it feels in your mouth.
But my writing tends to be on the side of the subtle (far too much, I am told sometimes), and I don't think the reader needs to know all that, because if I describe everything that is happening to the character, that makes the situation a bigger deal than it really is for him. It is not a tragic and life-threatening insult that he suffers, after all. Though he may be feeling everything I described, the reader will take it much too much to heart if I write it all down. Besides, this is a comedy. So what does it become?
“You fool,” he spluttered, and I drew back, offended.
“I AM the Pope!” he blustered.
So what happens next? Is always the question. Largely, it comes from—and here's that word again—Inspiration: unquantifiable, untraceable, and rarely understood. Scenes form in my mind, and I follow them where they go. They have a somewhat natural flow that they follow, and even if I'm struggling with figuring out what will happen next, the scene seems to have a place where it feels—with a sigh of relief—like a temporary ending. This part is over, but the story is not. When it isn't coming naturally, What Happens Next has to do, for once, with a very logical process: What makes sense? What should she do about that? How would this character react in this situation? If there are easy answers for these, then wonderful. If not, I probably need to know more about my character or the situation. Unfortunately, I often learn about my characters through the story as I write, the decisions they make, the reactions they have. So, it becomes a bit of a cycle. I'm still working on that one, though sometimes filling out character sheets helps me determine their motivation and background, which allows me to go back to the story and figure out what should happen next. I'm just learning how to do this. I still have a long way to go.
You may have noticed a lot of 'sometimes' and 'maybe' and 'usually' in here. I'm still learning how this all (me, writing, and the relationship between the two of us) works best. So these are just ruminations on how different times have worked best for me...well, how it has worked, when it has worked, really.
Setting Up for Writing
When I finally get myself to the place where I am ready to start writing, I settle myself (usually) either in my desk chair or on the couch in the living room, facing my computer. I suppose I take a deep breath or two, preparing myself for the beginning of—what? Something. Junk, seeds of great ideas, an interesting story. Sometimes I make sure to have a glass of water nearby, just in case I get thirsty. I know a lot of people like to get set up with a cup of coffee or tea or something, but if I do that, there is the distinct possibility (probability, really) that I will forget all about it while I write. So there's really no point. Unless an idea is trying to hurriedly rush out, I make sure I'm sitting comfortably. If I'm really excited and prepared to sit down for a good writing session, and other people are around, I try to give them warning.
“I'm going to write,” I say, or shout down the hall, and they know that I really don't want to be interrupted for anything less than an emergency. It is important business.
Sometimes I don't want to write on my computer, but I want to fill up my current notebook. I get ready in a similar manner, but it feels more...personal, somehow. I usually prefer writing poems by hand. Depending on the time of day, I may get comfy in bed and curl up with my notebook and pen. For me, it feels like getting curled up with some hot chocolate in front of a fire.
I absolutely cannot have music playing while I write. It has far too great of an influence on me. I find my story becomes about the songs and I may even accidentally slip in some lyrics. No good. I did try writing to Beethoven once, to see what would come out—complicated symphonic strains without any lyrics to blatantly guide me—and I ended up with a mysterious romance in a grand ballroom and a pining man looking for flowers. As you can tell, the Beethoven I was playing was not his most intense composition. So, that was that. No more music.
I like to have relative quiet around me when I write. While I can let the animals in and out or get a glass of water without distracting me (I keep my mind in my story and continue writing even as I do other things), I cannot have conversations nearby. Usually, while I am searching for appropriate words, gestures, intentions, my mind feels—open, ready to absorb new thoughts and inspiration to be channeled onto the page. I'm not looking for inspiration from my surroundings necessarily, but it helps to keep my mind open, to—receive messages from my muse, let's say. So, having people talk around me, even if it isn't directed at me, bothers me because my open mind readily absorbs the chatter and refocuses. I am able to write in a public space, but it is always more of a struggle, because I effectively have to shut out the outside world, which means closing myself off. It is something like writing in a tunnel: it is still possible and not acutely restrictive, but it feels a bit cramped.
Getting to the Desk
The hardest part for me is getting myself to sit down and write. I have yet to find a tried-and-true, works-every-time method. So my explanations should be taken with a grain of salt. Bear with me as I try to enumerate how I write, when I'm just barely beginning to figure it out for myself.
The most exasperating advice, and irritatingly, often the most accurate, is this: just sit down and write. Have writer's block? Sit down and write. Put one word in front of the other, just like learning to walk, and eventually you'll be striding confidently along. This was advice given during the pep talks of NaNoWriMo, which actually helped me quite a bit. It doesn't matter if you go back and erase or edit most of it. The point is, you got past the writer's block by sheer force of will. It's quite a feeling of accomplishment. Okay, yes, but since we both know that it takes more than that, how do I actually get myself to sit down and write?
Sometimes, it's inspiration. I have an idea, or just an itch that tells me that I want to and need to write. It's a tingly, jumpy feeling, mixed with a bit of dreaminess, and I love it.
Sometimes, people ask me about my writing, which makes me think of it, which leads me to sit down and try it out.
Sometimes I've been reading something wonderful and I just want those beautiful words to have come from me, and it leads to the above-mentioned tingly feeling of inspiration. I have to be careful with this one, though, because if I've been too immersed in a certain author, that author's voice tends to come out. You should have seen me after I finished reading Catcher in the Rye.
Sometimes I'm bumming around on the computer, and either happen upon some of my writing, or a mention of writing online. This leads to the inspiring feeling of I-could-be-writing! And sometimes I even try it out.
Helpful so far? Probably not. So I will tell you this:
When I scold myself for not writing, and actually manage to force myself to do it, I rarely end up writing much, if anything, and rarely anything good.
When I realize that I could be writing, that I could use this time to create new worlds, new people, and I face the excitement of delving into new stories and ideas without knowing what is going to happen, and I have the time and ability to sit down and write, that is when fun things happen.
I'm learning that, as it turns out, getting myself to write seems to largely be about word choice, just like writing is. Once again, writing and life seem to go hand-in-hand. I love it when that happens. That realization also helps.
The realization that writing matters, that my words and stories can make a difference, that writing can be, often is, an intimate reflection of life, and a vehicle for learning about it...it reminds me why my dreams are not silly, and petty, and inconsequential to the rest of the world. As far-fetched as it may be, I have to be reminded that I May Have An Effect On The World. That is very important in making myself write. So if something brings that back to mind, it refuels the fire of my determination, and it can (less abstractly) lead me straight to my desk.