inasmuch as it concerns Scales And Arpeggios:
Stretching the fingers, widening the vocabulary, and stimulating the imagination.
this fictionette forgot that writing doesn't prompt itself
- 1,022 wds. long
The Friday Fictionette release for December 15 is up and available for your perusal. It's called "The Youth Fairy." Here's the ebook and audiobook links for $1/month and $3/month patrons, respectively; here's a little teaser for the rest of everybody.
This one began as a response to a Magic Realism Bot tweet, "An opera singer makes a fortune trading in adolescence." Only I skipped right past the literal idea of adolescence and went instead after the more general fantasy trope of someone who sells youth. How do they manage that? Well, they must be some kind of supernatural being, a fairy or suchlike. Where do they get it from? Well... probably from people who don't want it: young people who are in a hurry to grow up. "Youth is wasted on the young," the fictionette begins, and it goes from there.
Writing from prompts is something I always assumed everyone who was a writer did, because it's an exercise that all my writing teachers going back to elementary school would assign me. Not everyone did it, I knew that, but everyone knew how to do it. Right? Only that's putting it too strongly, know how to do. That phrase implies a skill that you have to learn and practice, like knitting or calligraphy or touch-typing. Writing from a prompt, that's just something you do. Right?
Well, I've had roller derby trainers who thought that things like keeping your eye on the jammer or staying near your teammates wasn't so much a skill you learned as just something you did if you weren't totally stupid. And they couldn't understand why, in my very first few months after passing my skills and safety assessments and being allowed to play the actual game, I didn't just do it. And they got impatient with me, and I felt stupid.
But as it turns out, pack awareness is an actual skill. Teaching it is tricky; it's not like a skating skill where you can demonstrate the individual motions that make up the maneuver. But it's still a skill that one has to learn and practice and develop. Kind of like, oh, defensive driving. In both cases, you've got a list of things to be aware of and stay aware of, simultaneously, at any given moment, and you've got to be able to process that data and make split-second decisions because of it. Teaching it might involve things like, oh, periodically redirecting the student's attention by asking them questions during the activity ("What color is the car in your rearview mirror?" "Where did the opposing jammer position themselves before the whistle?"). And, safety permitting, the trainer needs to give the student a bit of mental space in which to work out how best to wrap their personal brain around the challenge. I mean, it's their brain and all. They know best how to operate it.
So different individual brains will process the skill differently. And some brains will glom onto the skill more readily than other brains will. But it's still a skill, not an instinct that you just magically have waiting within you that you can tap when the time comes, just by virtue of having a brain. It's a skill. You have to spend time learning how to do it before you can be expected to do it.
Same with writing skills. There are skills I've been practicing so long that I've forgotten that they are skills, but they are. Writing from prompts is a skill that can be taught and learned and practiced and developed. And clearly there is an audience who want to learn, or else there wouldn't be so many articles online purporting to teach it. Heck, here's a wikiHow about it.
For me, in my own personal practice, there are three basic steps to working with a prompt.
Choose a prompt. Depending on the prompt, I might choose one or several. A common "spread" might be a couple random words (watchout4snakes is a good source) and one image (e.g. tarot card, InspiroBot poster). Or one Magic Realism Bot tweet, which tends to be just complex enough to stand alone.
Give the brain space to respond. The first minute or two isn't for conscious, directed thought, and it's certainly not for passing judgment. It's for watching the brain bubble. Whatever passes through my brain goes directly onto the page. It's somewhere between free association and automatic writing.
Ask and answer follow-up questions. Questions will arise, either in response to the initial brain bubbles or in direct response to the prompt itself. "An opera singer..." Why an opera singer? Which part do they sing? Buying and selling youth... OK, how do you even do that? What price do you set on youth? Who sells it to you in the first place? What's the effect of selling youth to someone--does their driver's license actually show a more recent birth year, or is it just a physical appearance thing?
These questions are, more or less, new prompts; the brain bubbles up answers in response. And those answers spawn new questions. Questions! Questions are, arguably, the atom-unit of story. Why did they do that? How will the other character respond? And then what happened?
There's actually a fourth step: Then write a scene. This step is sort of like "And then a miracle occurs." At some point, the prompts and the bubbles and the questions coalesce into story. The trick is recognizing that moment and then getting out of my own way and letting it happen. Sometimes it happens very early, the first sentence writing itself in direct response to the prompt. Writing down that sentence and continuing on to the next one is a kind of leap of faith. But the moment I'm starting to get even a little narration, it's time to stop babbling, bubbling, and free associating and just start writing.
What's the worst that can happen? I can get stuck. No big deal. Getting stuck generally happens because I ran into some questions I didn't have answers to. So I stop a minute and ask those questions and throw some answers at the wall and see what sticks.
The important thing in a timed freewriting session is not to interpret getting stuck as a reason to stop writing. I have to write until the timer goes off. When the timer goes off, I stop. Or maybe I keep going. Maybe I can see the whole rest of the scene and I want to get it down. So I do. And then I stop, reluctantly, and mark the session as "To-Do." Those are the sessions that turn into flash fiction, fictionettes, and full-length short stories.
And there you have it: How a writing prompt becomes a story inside my personal brain. Your brain may vary. Void where prohibited. Please do try this at home.
this fictionette is good practice and also not to blame
- 1,013 wds. long
Good evening! It is Friday; here is a Fictionette. "How Grief Transforms You" (ebook, audiobook) juxtaposes a bereft parent, obnoxious gossipy neighbors, and a mysterious phenomenon causing nightly havoc in the forest. It went more or less according to schedule, so it was not the reason I didn't go to the yoga class I was contemplating. That choice is better attributed to how very attractive the idea of a night spent at home was. Introvert, remember? Yeah. So, maybe next week with the yoga.
The Friday Fictionette project is having an unexpected beneficial effect. It's giving me a lot of practice at turning concept into outline into draft. I often have to start the week by writing an outline just because the base text--a freewriting exercise from the previous month--is such a rambling, incoherent mess. This is good. Because you know where else I need to be able to turn concept into outline and then outline into draft? Novel writing.
I have all these novel notes from last year that haven't get been turned into manuscript because, frankly, I'm kind of terrified of commitment. A scrivener document full of brainstorming, worldbuilding, and vague notes toward plot is a thing full of joyous potential. But writing the manuscript means making choices, committing to certain possibilities and rejecting others. It means closing doors and hemming myself in. (It also means writing a shitty first draft, which sucks because it means that the first time I read this novel it will be a shitty first draft. It's an unavoidable step in the process but I really wish it wasn't.)
So practicing this concept to outline to draft conversion in the short form every week will theoretically help make it No Big Deal when it's time to do it in the long form for a novel. Hooray for practice!
On the other hand, I hope to produce fewer rambling, incoherent messes going forward, as I'm trying to hold my freewriting sessions to the beginning-middle-end standard that I mentioned the other day. That way I can skip the outline phase entirely, or, at the very least, have already done the outline phase by the time I sit down to turn the piece into a Friday Fictionette.
This morning's freewriting, by the way, produced the first draft of the next story in what I'm calling the Posthuman Just So Stories series. (cf.) This one involves a faithful dog and a prankster rabbit. It possibly wears on its sleeve the influence of my frequently rereading Watership Down. On revision that factor will either become less noticeable or will look more like I did it on purpose all artful-like an' stuff.
the game i'm supposed to be playing
- Friday Fictionettes
- Industrious Thoughts
- Profitable Hackery
- Scales And Arpeggios
- Selling My Soul
- 3,330 wds. long
So apparently it takes me another, what, three hours? THREE HOURS to get what ought to have been a simple Hugo Awards 101 blog post done. Seriously, it is not worth it. I need to be able to prioritize, and, when priorities are low, turn the exhaustive perfectionist dial wayyyyy down.
But speaking of priorities, I have modified my must-dos for the workday mornings. To date, I've required of myself three things to start each workday:
- Morning Pages (mental morning hygiene)
- 25 minutes of freewriting (scales and arpeggios)
- and 25 minutes working on the next Friday Fictionette (getting it done a little at a time, rather than all at the last minute).
Recently I looked at my timesheet template and realized that there was one line I was consistently failing to visit: "Submissions Procedures." Also, I had a rejection letter in my email that I still needed to log a month after I received it. So I've added...
- 25 minutes of Submissions Procedures
...to my morning gottas.
What do I do with that session?
Log submissions and responses. If I send off a manuscript, if I receive a response to a submission, I've got to log that. I keep such records in a personal database that's hosted at this domain (it feeds the "Recently Published" block on the front page and the "Works Progressing" list here on the blog). I also make note of them in the Diabolical Plots Submission Grinder, which does a lot more with my data than I've programmed my own database to do. It does things with my data that benefit other writers, too, mostly to do with market statistics. Anyway, communications regarding submitted manuscripts go there.
Query long-delayed submissions. This is what I did next after I logged that pending rejection email. I had a couple submissions out since early 2014 with no response logged. I sent emails to both markets asking after those submissions' statuses, and, when one of them got back to me (and resent the rejection letter I'd missed in my spam last year), I logged that too.
Resubmit rejected manuscripts to new markets. I did this Friday! "It's For You" had returned with a rejection letter back in December. It was about time I sent it out again. Off it went to meet the staff of a different magazine, hopeful and full of energy!
Research markets for future submissions. Here's where being on the clock becomes absolutely essential. I can spend hours doing this--reading the stories published by professional markets, deciding whether any of my existing stories would fit well in a table of contents with them, reading my colleagues' reported experiences with those markets, plugging the stats for my unpublished stories into the Submission Grinder search form to find even more markets, reading all their submission guidelines... But because I'm on a 25-minute timer, I try to stay focused.
Today I spent my Submission Procedures session pruning a handful of browser tabs open to various submission guidelines. With one exception, I discarded non-paying markets. Then I discarded the ones I'm honestly unlikely to come up with suitable material for any time soon. Of the ones that remained, I chose two whose current submission period ended on or about July 31 and decided what I was going to send them. In both cases, I chose unpublished drabbles that could be expanded into flash or full-length short stories this week and next. Then I made note of a couple other tabs open to markets whose next submission period opens in August. I've existing pieces I could send them as-is with a clean conscience.
Making this a daily ritual has got me back in the game. I mean, I've sent off a piece to a pro-paying market! For the first time in months! That's huge! But it's also valuable as a regular reminder of what I'm supposed to be doing in the first place. Things like Friday Fictionettes and Examiner blog posts can feel like such an accomplishment when I finish them that it's easy to forget that they're not my main gig. My main gig is writing fiction for love and getting it published for money. So now, every workday, I take time on the clock to plan or enact the next step required to play that gig.
That way, even if I don't manage to spend the bulk of the working day on fiction for professional publication, even if I throw most of my hours down the black hole of FIND ALL THE PERFECT LINKS FOR THIS BLOG POST, I've at least spent half an hour with my head in the right game, so I don't forget which game I'm supposed to be playing.
musing on hours allotment at the late-night office
- 1,699 wds. long
Today's blog post comes to you live from Breaker's Grill in downtown Longmont. Breaker's Grill supports the Boulder County Bombers, so we support them back. At this late hour, all the activity is centering around the bar and the many billiards tables. The table seating area is entirely deserted. It is also separated from the bar-and-billiards area by an opaque partition. So although I can hear loud voices and pool balls going click, I'm effectively isolated: all alone in a room full of empty tables, just me and my laptop and what's left of my dinner.
It's perfect. I've spent two hours finishing up the rewrite of the snow-glue-from-space story ("Anything For a Laugh" isn't quite right, but I haven't come up with a new title yet), and now here I am writing this blog post.
As anticipated, today was totally a Wednesday. Which is to say, in addition to being Wednesday, it suffered from all the distractions and delays to which a Wednesday workday is prone. Only I can't blame roller derby practice or volunteer reading. I sort of overslept. By sort of a lot. (Why? I don't know. It can't possibly have to do with staying up until 2:30 playing 2048.) Thus my late start in the afternoon. Thus my needing to log another two and a half hours of writing after roller derby practice.
Now that I'm reaching the five-hour mark more regularly, I'm beginning to feel that five hours isn't enough. But I'm not quite trusting that feeling. On the one hand, I don't think it should have taken three days to rewrite a 2,300-word story. That it's taken me so long has to do with splitting my five hours each day between short story revision, content writing, and the "scales and arpeggios" stuff like freewriting and morning pages and so on. On the other hand, I know I don't actually function well when I do the same thing for five hours straight. I work best when I vary my tasks throughout the day.
What's to do? Experiment, I guess. Try spending more time tomorrow on short story revision ("Snowflakes" is waiting for me to return to it) and defer Examiner or Demand Media Studios to another day--like I did today, I guess. Definitely get started earlier in the day--especially considering Thursday is another day that ends in roller derby practice. Maybe log extra time beyond the five hours, breaking it up into reasonable chunks, and see how that feels.
The simultaneous advantage and drawback of working for yourself on your own schedule is that there's no one forcing you into a particular work-a-day rhythm. You get to work at the pace that serves you best. But first you have to figure out what pace serves you best.
In any case, one sure conclusion is this: don't wait until the week the story is due to start its rewrite! Right? Right. For what it does me now, anyway.
three pages of longhand navel-gazing with a fountain pen: totally worth it
So what's the point of doing something called "morning pages" when it's nine o'clock at night, anyway? This is something I ask myself when I have days like yesterday. I also periodically ask myself why I still do Morning Pages at all. It's good to reevaluate a long-standing daily ritual, the way you might reevaluate whether some keepsake still belongs on the mantelpiece after all these years. Is it still there for a reason, or is it just there because no one's taken it down? Is this habit still useful, or am I just doing it because I've always done it?
A quick review: Morning Pages is a practice popularized by Julia Cameron in her book The Artist's Way. The book is a twelve-week course in creativity and identity. As the reader works their way through the chapters, they gradually build a new toolbox full of tips, tricks, exercises and inspiration. Morning Pages is the very first tool that Cameron puts in the reader's hand.
Simply put, it's three pages of longhand writing which you do all at once, without pausing for interruption or thought. You just splat your brain down on the page. Whatever thought crosses your mind, deep or petty, banal or beautiful, you write it down from beginning to end. Then you move on to the next thought.
Cameron has a particular warning for writers: Don't "write" your Morning Pages. Just do them. This is not meant to be an act of deathless or even competent prose.
When my kind and generous husband first agreed that I could leave the nine-to-five world and take my writing full time, I made gleeful plans for what my writing day would look like. I would start with Morning Pages, of course. I would then do timed writing exercises, at least three sessions of fifteen minutes each, to really get the juices flowing for the day. And then--
"And how much of your day will be left after you've done all this noodling around?" said one of the self-assigned gurus in the online writing community I frequented at that time. "My advice to you is, don't waste your time. Just write."
This was ten years ago. I was, well, younger and more impressionable and more easily made to feel ashamed then than I am now. Admittedly, we're not talking "college freshman" levels of young and impressionable--I quit my full time job just before my 28th birthday--but "young and impressionable" comes in waves. It's amazing how easy it can be to poison someone else's innocent enthusiasm, no matter what their age.
So I bowed to my unasked-for advisor's wisdom and did the newsgroup version of shuffling my feet in embarrassment, and I shut my mouth. And I abandoned for a while the activities that he disparaged, because every time I thought about doing them, I heard his words in my head again: "How much of your time are you willing to waste with these things?" For months I couldn't even pick up Natalie Goldberg's Writing Down the Bones without feeling ashamed.
Oddly enough, the daily routine my correspondent shamed me into abandoning then is very similar to the one I try to adhere to now. I begin with Morning Pages, and I try to include a 25-minute freewriting session early in the working day. These two things combined take up about an hour, tops, and it's an hour well-spent.
More about freewriting another time, I think. Suffice it to say that my unasked-for advisor might as usefully have told a pianist not to waste her precious time with scales and arpeggios, or a roller derby player not to waste her time warming up and stretching.
"My advice to you is, just play."
How about no?
Anyway. One reason I still do Morning Pages is because they help me focus my mind on the day ahead. I tend to describe to myself what I want to do with my writing time. I also mention other to-do items I don't want to forget. It helps me keep from floating passively from whim to whim. It gives me direction.
More generally, Morning Pages is where I meet myself on the page. I take stock of what's in my head. Maybe I don't want to actually face everything that's in my head, maybe I'm not going to write the crappy stuff down, maybe I'm just going to say, "There's a thing that came up yesterday that I don't want to think about and so I'm not gonna," but even that much is more "facing it" than I'd do without the pen moving across the page.
If I've got a story revision in progress, I sometimes end up brainstorming on it during Morning Pages. "Brainstorming" might be overstating things. I talk to myself on the page. I ask myself questions. I don't always have answers, but it helps to know what the questions are. As previously observed, "How do I find space to include Backstory Point A in this scene?" is much more useful than "How do I get started when rewrites are clearly IMPOSSIBLE?"
Midway through Morning Pages, I sometimes surprise myself by remembering a piece of the previous night's dream. When that happens, I'll pause whatever thought I'm on, maybe start a new paragraph or make a free-floating text block off to the side, and I'll write down whatever dream memory just occurred to me. Then I'll draw a little crescent moon in the margin so I can find it later when I've got a moment to put it into my dream journal.
Morning Pages is where I practice my handwriting. I would like to have nice handwriting.
Morning Pages is a chance to play with fountain pens filled with ink in fun colors. I like Sheaffer pens with fine-tipped nibs and refillable converters. I like saffron orange, peacock blue, foggy gray, purple. Sometimes the ink gets all over my fingers, an indelible reminder all the rest of that day that I Am A Writer.
Morning Pages, even when I don't get to them until nine o'clock at night, is a task I know I can accomplish. There is no question of not being able to finish. And on a day when I get nothing done until that late at night, I need to experience achievement. I need to remind myself that I am capable of finishing a thing I start. You know how one of the benefits of short story writing is that it lets you practice story endings more frequently than novel writing does? Morning Pages lets me practice feeling accomplished.
In the end, there's a sort of faithfulness that happens in Morning Pages. That rendezvous with myself on the page is a matter of trust and self-care. Doing it every day, no matter how late, is a way of reinforcing the assertion that I'm worth trusting, I'm worth treating well, I'm not a lost cause to give up on. (These are assertions I need reaffirmed from time to time. I sometimes catch myself doubting them.) Also that my brain's a worthwhile place to spend time in.
Doing Morning Pages even when it's gone nine o'clock at night is a way of holding that faith up against all the disparagements of the world, the rejection letters we all must face and the dismissiveness we shouldn't have to, all the naysaying, all the temptation to hopelessness, and saying, "No. It's never too late to begin."
So that's why I still do it after all these years.
back in high school and it's ok
This week an errant internet discussion reminded me that I have Ursula K. LeGuin's Steering the Craft on my bookshelf and have not yet read it nor worked through it. This struck me as unfortunate, an oversight to be corrected straightaway.
When I got to the first exercise, I remembered why I bounced off of it previously. LeGuin takes writers through the basic building blocks of the craft; accordingly, the exercises are themselves fairly basic. Here's the very first exercise:
Being Gorgeous: Write a paragraph to a page (150-300 words) of narrative that's meant to be read aloud. Use onomatopoeia, alliteration, repetition, rhythmic effects, made-up words or names, dialect--any kind of sound-effect you like--but NOT rhyme or meter.
I think my past reaction to this sort of thing was, "Please. I'm not in high school anymore."
Which I admit sounds pretty darn arrogant of me. In my defense, I suspect a non-trivial portion of that response was my old adversary, Resistance-To-Writing, in disguise and looking for any excuse to keep me and the blank page apart.
To whatever extent arrogance and resistance played a part, and in which proportion each had a hand, this week I'm making amends. Tuesday I darn well sat down with "Being Gorgeous" and my 25-minute timer and I wrote the beginnings of a really silly ghost story. Wednesday, I fed the next exercise to my freewriting session--a paragraph of 150-350 words without any punctuation--and the results were a sort of eerie musing on the breakneck pace of the unrequited striving that is the human condition.
Now, 150-350 words isn't going to take 25 minutes to write, not even if I think hard about each sentence. So after I'd done the exercise, I considered the questions and thoughts LeGuin follows up the exercises with and babbled about them on the page. And--what do you know?--by doing this faithfully, by genuinely engaging in the exercise, by not deciding ahead of time that I was way beyond this stuff--I came to some unexpected understandings of my process and my relationship to the elements I was obliged to use.
The punctuation-free exercise brought me to these observations:
- Take away my syntactical pauses, and my tendency will be to try to write as fast as I can! I had to dial that back a bit so I could think about what I was creating.
- Next my tendency was to try to express my having run out of ideas by means of a stop or a pause. To break out of that, I had to think up some words that lent themselves to forward motion rather than to pausing, and to pushing the idea to its next possible permutation.
- "Words that lend themselves to forward motion" in practice meant choosing words that complete or continue a clause begun by the previous couple words, such that rather than having a string of clauses clumsily glued together by conjunctions, I was trying for a series of overlapping clauses.
- The piece began in first person plural ("Then we started..."), but the moment an imperative snuck in ("quick quick jump up higher and higher and reach a bit more just a bit"), I naturally slipped into second person singular ("and you know you'll never get there but you're incapable of ceasing...."). It's a good thing I seem to be able to get away with second person narratives, because it seems to be one of my default storytelling modes.
So these are the thoughts I start having when I give myself permission to just go back to high school already, what are you afraid of, scared you might learn something? Jeez.
PS. In Scrivener, these Daily Idea files got the label "Exercise," because that's what they were and that's how this works.
It's About Writing This Time
- 2,481 wds. long
As promised, this post is about writing. Actually Writing Blog: Does What It Says On The Tin. And I want you to appreciate this, because I'm on my way back from a fantastic roller derby event that I want to blog about So! Very! Much! But I will defer that pleasure for now, because I said my next post would be about writing. And so it shall be.
But it's not such a sacrifice as all that, because a mere three weeks or so before this I was at a fantastic writing event which I kept meaning to blog about. So now I get to do that.
Back in June, several of us from the Codex online writing group got together and had a writing retreat here in the Denver area. For me, this was a hugely needed thing. Like I've been saying, roller derby has been eating my life all up, bones and all. Stealing a week out of its hungry jaws and feeding those seven days to the poor starved writing beast was a matter of self-defense. It was a great big shove on the pendulum to encourage an eventual swing toward equilibrium.
Can I sorta-but-not-really interrupt myself here (of course you can, Niki; it's your blog) to mention that I now have proof positive that one can be a novelist and skate roller derby all in the same life? It's true! Exhibit A: Pamela Ribon, author of Going in Circles. Premise as I understand it, not having read it yet, is that a recently divorced woman joins a roller derby league to find and reinvent herself. I need to read it. Point is, Ribon is writing from life here. In second "Big Idea" guest post at John Scalzi's Whatever concerning her more recent novel You Take It From Here, she says she received the phone call that kicked off the new novel while she was sitting on the bleachers healing up from a derby injury.
I find Ribon's example immensely reassuring. It means my ongoing attempt to balance derby and writing isn't doomed to failure.
Anyway. Interruption over. Returning now to the writing retreat: A week in a house in remote Centennial. Surrounded by writers. Who are writing.
It wasn't just writing. All work and no play etc. There was also going out to eat (where we mostly talked about writing) and playing games (Dixit and Arkham Horror, both in their own ways appropriate for spec fic writers). But mostly it was writing, in the house or out at coffee shops. And critiquing each other's writing. And enjoying the very great privilege that was an afternoon's chat with local literary agent Sara Megibow. Mega awesome.
(Sorry about that.)
(Well, no, apparently I'm not, as I don't seem to be going back and erasing it.)
(I pun. Deal with it.)
The concrete good that I got out of this week of almost nothing but writing was to finally finish a draft of the current short story in progress. This required, as it turned out, not only the writing retreat environment but also finally getting WordPerfect 5.1 up and running on my computer again for the first time since Dell's customer service techs needlessly reinstalled Windows 7 on this machine. (I told them it was a hardware issue. They didn't believe me. They have a Process. But I told y'all this tale already.) Once I had the story up in WP51, it stopped feeling like a solid wall. I could think my way into the crevices and cracks where editing could take place. It was like magic. I swear, should WP51 ever get taken away from me for good and all, there'll be nothing for it but to customize my replacement word processor with a yellow system font on a blue background.
Anyway, the story is called "It's For You". It involves a phone that rings at odd hours from a mystery location, such that the protagonist is helpless to answer it; and a next-door neighbor with a more assertive outlook on life. Everyone at the retreat who critiqued it proclaimed it "surreal" and I suppose they're right. Anyway, this is now my main project: another rewrite followed by submitting it somewhere before the month is out.
This goal is complicated somewhat by a recent tendency for any random freewriting exercise to turn into a brand new story draft, complete with beginning, middle, and end. Which is... good? I think? One of the effects I was hoping the retreat would have on me? Probably? In any case, I now have enough new stories to keep me busy for the rest of the summer. (As though I didn't have enough older stories waiting for me to please revise and submit them, too.)
This ideas business. It's like, feast or famine all the time. But I guess that's what happens when you shove the pendulum writingward. I guess the real goal now is to take another stab at that "writing like it's my day job" thing. Because it is. Right? Right. Writer by day, Fleur de Beast on eight wheels by night. Then perhaps instead of feast or famine it'll be three well-balanced meals a day. With a modest roller derby dessert.
But I've only just gotten off a train in Denver and unpacked my suitcase in Boulder and done my Wednesday AINC reading shift. Now I gotta go view the video footage from our last home bout tonight with the rest of the Daisy Nukes. Then it's serious fun quality time with John, who misses me. And then there's the rest of the weekend, which involves scrimmage Thursday night, a mix-up bout on Friday, and the rematch home bout against the Shrap Nellies on Saturday.
I guess normality and sober dailiness will have to wait for next week.
Higglety Pigglety, Hexasyllabic'ly
John and I are fond of double dactyls. They're our favorite form of doggerel, and certainly more exacting than limericks. We got to talking about them while riding the train home from Winter Park yesterday. And talking about them leads, as day leads to night, to composing them.
Or failing at composing them, as they may be more exacting than we realized. According to Patrick Nielsen Hayden, who cites a 1967 text called Jiggery Pokery, you don't just have to have a nonsense phrase in the first line and a hexasyllabic word in the sixth--you've also got to have somebody's name for the second line, too. So maybe we're disqualified on a technicality (except for John's most awesome contribution on the topics of feminism, oral pleasure, and a friend of ours from Gen Con... but that's another story that will be told at another time). But this was fun to put together anyway:
Swallows are swifting
And swooping around
Where you've stopped at a light
Turning on wing-tips, they
Dive-bomb your windshield in
Reading Deprivation, a.k.a. ARRRGH
I've been working my way through Julia Cameron's The Artist's Way lately. Today is Week Four, Day Two.
Why am I doing this? Mainly because it's been a long time since I could truthfully say, "I write every day." And that bothers me. At the very least, an honest effort to pursue Cameron's 12-week course will mean doing daily "morning pages" for at least 84 days straight. Morning pages may not be art, they may not be salable, they may not even be writing (Cameron says not; she says writers have the hardest time with her course because they do try to turn their morning pages into "writing"). But they are productive exercise. They're me thinking on the page, which is worthwhile; for having such a nonstop hamster-wheel of a mind, I have a tendency to avoid my own thoughts.
I'm trying to make a good faith effort on the weekly exercises, too. Stuff like "Describe your childhood room. Now describe your current room. Can you add anything to it from your childhood room?" and "Time travel: Imagine yourself at 80. What have you done since you were 50?" I often avoid these because they feel too twee, or because I'm sure I did them last time I went through the book (in, what, 2002?) and nothing's changed since (O RLY?). Or, worse, because I'm certain there's nothing there. I had a good childhood. My parents raised me to pursue my creative bliss. When I showed signs of wanting to be a painter, Mom bought me acrylics and canvas; when I started saying I was going to be a writer, Mom brought home a Fisher-Price typewriter. My teachers were all supportive and taught me how to submit fiction to paying markets. I've got a loving and well-paid husband who is happy to support my writing habit and likes me to read him my stories. Surely I have no "childhood enemies" stifling my craft, no super-ego foe planted by adult disapproval, no current environment devaluing my efforts. Surely?
Except that I haven't written or submitted much since coming home from Viable Paradise back in October 2006. Clearly something's going on. And Cameron's course feels like a method of self-discovery I can have faith in. So I go through it in the spirit of play and, occasionally, surprise myself with an insight. "That voice in my head that wants perfection all the time, that needs to have its expectations met. Why's it there at all?" "Why do I so often say to myself in my morning pages, 'Yesterday I was a good girl; I did X, Y, and Z like I ought.'? Do I feel guilty about something? About having fun, maybe?"
And of course there's positive affirmations. One thing the student is supposed to do is listen for the Censor's "blurts" in the morning pages and come up with "positive affirmations" that counter the blurts. So if the Censor says, "Why do you even bother starting? You know you've got no ideas worth pursuing," I can grab that blurt and devise an affirmation: "I am a prolific writer. I write new stories every day. There is no end to the flow of story ideas." Then I can write it down five times in a row. Does it help? Maybe. It's too soon to tell. But it doesn't hurt, and it gets me closer to the end of my three daily longhand pages. So why not?
Do note that if you're the sort to scoff at exercises and "tricks to get you to write" that, y'know, real writers don't need, don't bother telling me about it. I don't particularly care.
In any case, I'm seeing real, tangible results in my "productive" (read: salable) writing. I'm rewriting and submitting again. Tomorrow evening, "The Impact Of Snowflakes" gets critiqued by my semimonthly writing group in Denver. And a few days ago I took the time to read through every version I have of "The Day The Sidewalks Melted" and began making mental notes toward a revision. I hope to submit both to commercial markets Very Soon. Also, I've been uploading to Constant-Content articles in my "Awaken to Dreams" series--and someone came along and bought the right to publish five of them on their website today. Which is another $50 in my pocket. Which is nice!
Only here's the snag. Week 4 in The Artist's Way is the infamous Reading Deprivation week. No reading. At all. No drowning out your creativity with the soporific effect of other people's words.
Sounds... easy enough. Well, it sounds painful. Reading at night is how I get to sleep. Reading blogs is how I stay in touch with communities I cherish; it's also my primary means of getting news of the world. But it sounds doable, right?
Except... I'm planning a series of pro-vaccination articles to make available for sale at Constant-Content. But if I can't read, I can't research.
Except... I was going to rewrite "Sidewalks," but I can't if I can't have the text-to-date open in front of me.
Except... there's also email! Instant messenger! Physical mail, including utility bills! Volunteer reading for AINC! And so forth! And so on!
So, I compromise. Today I wrote a rough draft of the pro-flu-shot article ("Ten Excuses People Give For Avoiding The Influenza Vaccine"), and it's full of red "[look this up later]" notes. I'll keep writing rough drafts all week, and next week I'll do the research and finish them. And the fiction rewrites can wait; I'll write new fiction this week and do the rewrites next week. And as for the reading that's necessary for daily communication... well, I'm not going to neglect my friends and loved ones by not reading their communications. And I'm not going to stint on the work I've committed to. But I'm learning that there's a lot more reading than I realized that can simply wait.
Truly this is the age of information. Written information. One can't get away from it entirely. But I guess one can take long walks, listen to music, knit more, and meditate.
And play more Puzzle Pirates! Right? Right?
(Seriously. Playing more YPP shortly. I've been a very good girl today. I deserve some fun time.)
Presenting A Picky Prompt Thing
So I used "Planning a picky prompt thing" as my search phrase. That got me rather a grab-bag of topics, including two pages about planning weddings and one about smallmouth bass fishing.
And the words are...
The Florida panhandle raced by like a movie, the kind of movie that maybe stars Geena Davis and, oh, I dunno, Linda Hamilton maybe, in a cute green convertible with money flying out of the back seat, hundreds of twenties hitting the breeze, 'cause they just robbed a bank and now they're trying to escape the state. That's how we went through Northwest Florida. Not like gorgeous actresses portraying bank robbers, though that would have been nice. Like the scenery whizzing by unnoticed while the camera focuses on the driver's impertinent bare feet kicking the side-view mirror. Foreground: fire-engine red on seashell toenails. Background: indefinite blur of green and concrete gray.
School was out, and we were headed to New York. By car. From Mississippi. I-10 to whatever went north when we were sick of I- 10 or ran into the Atlantic, I dunno, don't ask me, we never got there. We got about three small towns East of Tallahassee. That was the problem.
By now my sister's probably had her wedding. It was perfect in every detail: a fine fall of snow for the flower girls to make angels in, sparkling icicles catching the camera eye but not quite outshining the diamond on her left ring finger, jazz music at the wedding reception, our father standing on a chair to make a speech. He'd be wearing the tie with the penguins on it. So will all the groomsmen; my sister is infatuated with penguins. She's probably got the album on the mantlepiece. She hopes that visitors will shyly ask to page through it. She hopes they'll notice something missing. They'll close the book (she hopes) and then they'll say, "But didn't you say you had a younger brother? Which one was he?" Knowing her, she'll have the speech ready to go.
And nowhere in the speech will she say, "He was supposed to get here in time to stop me marrying this bastard." She probably won't even admit he's a bastard--not that she won't have noticed it herself, that is. I mean, that was the one detail she neglected when she planned her wedding. Getting the husband right.
It should have been Ronnie. But Ronnie and I never had much success getting out of the south. This trip was no different. I had thought maybe we'd turn north at Jacksonville. We still might, one day, if we manage to get out of jail.
We're working on that.