Sunday, December 30, 2012

6 Pieces of Advice: Confessions From an Inefficient Writer:

Do as I say, not as I do

Phil Gerard, one of the mentors in my MFA program, once said, “writing an essay or story is like designing a church, whereas crafting a book is akin to building a cathedral. “ His message is as writers we need to be good at building smaller stories before we can expand our horizons.

Some days I’m a total failure.

Like today. I am stuck in a scene in a library where I know I crafted some great interior monologue about my protagonist’ relationship and history with libraries, but I can’t find it. My organization system is an ADD mix of stuff I write on the computer, late night scenes or passages scrawled on one of the many notebooks next to my bed, notes created in a mini notebook in my purse, passages tapped out on my ipad in Pages, and things scribbled on random post-it notes.

I have tried organizing by outline, forming a skeletal structure on which to build my tale, but I deviate to the point my frame collapses. I try to be systematic ad organized, and envy friends and family who have a place for everything . I’ve tried to be neat, but I get very nervous and feel an ureg to mess things up.  I can’t write when things are too neat. It suffocates me. A coworker once described my methods as anal explosive. Yet I know where everything is, (except my library scene) and miraculously, I have written several novel, a memoir, and countless stories and poems. I do not recommend my methods. . 1. Find an organization system that works for you, and helps you get the job done..  

2. Make backups. One of my classmates had to add a semester to her program when her computer crashed, thus eating up her thesis. She had no back up. This was in the days before the web, where you couldn't send ginormous files over the internet. And she had not printed up or backed up her manuscript. At the time, (remember this was the Dark Ages of the 90’s) I saved mine on floppies and kept a set at work, another at my father’s house, and set in my briefcase. Now I email updates of files myself and save on flash drives.

3.  Don’t lose your credit card. You will waste time looking for it, fretting, and eventually calling the bank, just to find it later in the seat cushions of your couch. Don't even get a credit card if you can help it. Writers don't make enough to pay the balance anyway

(One good thing was when looking for my credit card I found a flash drive I had earlier misplaced.)

4. Check for typos. There is no I in potatioes.  My friend Elizabeth loves my typos. Just today I said I may have lost the credit card in the sofa cushions, but I typed spa cushions.

5. Don’t shovel snow for an hour, then spend five hours at the keyboard. It’s really hard on your neck and back. Luckily I have a terrific shiatsu massager which I have used gratuitously these last couple of days, yet I can’t write while my back is pummeled to and from from the shiatsu thingie.

Here is a piece of advice of something I did right:

Change point of view My MFA thesis was a memoir, a terrible piece not fit for your eyes not fit for publication. There were scenes in there concerning my mother’s death I found difficult to write. One of my thesis advisors, Lisa Knopp, suggested I write the scene in third person, stand outside and narrate. I did, and it worked. I still but the altering viewpoint lifted the gate and let me take note of what went on.

Overall, find out what distracts and derails you, manage it, and write.

Happy Writing

p.s. I did find the library scene. It wasn’t as good as I recalled, so wrote a new one.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

When Characters Attack

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42000 words into nanowrimo, three days away from the November 30th deadline, I decided I could not go on. I was sick of words, sick of staring at the computer screen for hours and not being able to see anything clearly for at least a half hour after finally walking away from my laptop. I had had enough.

But, dammit.

Shelly, one of my characters, forced me back to the keyboard. She insists on revealing her darkest secret to Michael, the protagonist. In turn, Michael also shares his ugly secret.

But I have work to do, I tell them. Papers to grade. Sleep of which to partake. I’m tired. I just want to clean my house, sweep the cat hair out of the corners. Do a load of laundry. Cook a meal. Be a person. Your problems can wait, characters

No, they can’t, Shelly and Michael bellow. We are on the edge of something crucial, you moronic, self centered writer. We might slip off, become covered in mud. Or worse. Crack under the tension and do something stupid like break off our relationship. So get your giant ass in a seat and help us tell our stories. Yeah, you’re a crappy hack, but you’re all we have right now.

Ugh! I hate you people. I mutter some expletives under my breath.

Feeling’s mutual. Now get over to Starbucks, order your latte, and open that laptop. Plug in your headphones so you won’t get distracted. We’ve met you and your ADD, “Oh look at the pretty sunshine, is that a cardinal?” ways. We like instrumental music, by the way. The soundtrack from Slum Dog Millionaire works. So does the one from The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. Sort on an Indian fusion vibe that rocks. No words. You need to concentrate on ours. Focus.

So for the next two days, every spare moment, these two characters hold me captive. They invade my dreams when I try to ignore them, wake me in the middle of the night like shrieking children. By 7 pm on November 30th, a Friday, after I had worked with sixth graders all day, I lookeat my word count. I am about a thousand words short. Shit. I can't see. My eyes burn and I just want to rest.

Yeah, so do we, but you have to move on. It’s a nice day for a picnic lunch of bread, peanut butter and wine. We have to have that long conversation Shelly has been promising Michael these past few weeks.

You owe me I say.

Yeah, yeah. Whatever.

So I hunt and peck more of their story. 50,835 words of it. But it’s not even close to being done, I whine.

They laugh. Yeah, ironic, huh? Hey, you chose to be a writer. 


How did YOU survive the nano experience?

Happy REwriting.