Friday, November 23, 2012

Like squeezing blood from a stone, sometimes.

A weekend or two ago, I took Lizzie to see our college's production of A Midsummer Night's Dream.  Two of my fiction writers were seated in the row behind us, and one of them commented that "We've been talking about it, and we have no idea where you're getting the time to write so much for Nano."

I made a joke (which is what I do): "I just don't grade your stuff." That was a joke because I do grade their stuff.  Sometimes it seems that all I do is grade stuff -- and that week, in fact, I'd collected assignments in all three of my classes, and slogged through them with regularity if not with vim and vigor.

"Yeah," one of the fiction writers said.  "We figured as much. Because you're not getting our stuff back to us til late." 

The professorly hairs raised on the back of my neck.  The fact is that I pride myself on getting assignments back no later than a week after I collect them, and I always, always, make good on that promise.  By late, these women must've meant that instead of passing back the fiction exercises the day after I collected them, I'd passed them back two days later.  Or, at most, three.  That is hardly "late" in the grade scheme of college, I wanted to snap.  In fact, that is damn admirable.

The fact of the matter is, though, that it's hard to find time to write regularly.  Since it's sometimes a difficult business to write in the first place, especially when there is no one demanding that I do it, no deadlines that I have to meet except those that I set for myself, and because I don't have a reader waiting to respond to what I've written, it's easy to "forget" about this obligation.  After all, I'm only doing it for myself. 

For the past month, I've been making at least 30 minutes every day for this Nanowrite.  And I've felt pretty good about it, though I've also felt a bit naughty (which is a good thing, at least for me) because it usually means that I'm setting aside some homework that I feel I should be doing, or ignoring my family (as I'm doing right now -- and note that my family at present includes my mother, who is visiting for Thanksgiving), or not working out.  Or not walking the dog.  Or not putting the clothing in the dryer.  Or not nagging my daughter about her homework. Or grading a batch of essays, fiction writing exercises, or reading responses with alacrity.

Perhaps the best thing about Nanowrimo is that it activates my competitive nature, and I want to "beat" myself, "beat" the less motivated writers, and churn out those 50,000 words as if they mean nothing in the grand scheme of things, as if they are just a miniscule chip off of my "genius."  As if the demons of self doubt and guilt and insecurity are not, right now, nipping at my metaphorical heels.

By the way -- the novel that I'm writing?  It sucks.  And when I say sucks, I mean it flat out stinks to high heaven.  It has major plot holes, the characters are fairly flat, and the metaphysical details of the world I'm creating are iffy at best.  And when I babbled about it to my husband the other day, while we were walking around the track at the Y, he suddenly peeled off to go to the bathroom and when he came back, changed the subject so effectively that I haven't brought it up again.  In other words, the novel is so bad that just talking about it gives Dave the shits. (If this sounds like whining, that's because it is.)

But I keep going because I don't want to be a quitter.  And because I like to "win."

Nano word count, day 23: 45.032

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Stats are weird and make me feel all squooshy

I've been away from Mac Attack for a long time, and now that I'm back I find that the Blogspot gurus have changed a bunch of things -- for good or ill, I'm not yet sure.  One of the things that's new is that whenever I log in, I am immediately shown a graph of how many people have viewed my page each day.  This data is graphed onto a chart that looks like the ticker tape from a heart monitor.  For instance, about 6 people saw the first post I put up and the next day 32 people logged in and then 37 the next day and then only 5 the day after. If I click on yet another button, I can see another kind of graph that breaks down the information even differently -- I can see not only how many page views per day but also how many hits each entry got. 

And I'm getting a little annoyed and turned on by that information.  Oooh, all these people are reading me (feels good).  Wait, only 8 people checked in to "The Dead are Annoying"?  Are they already getting bored of me?  They MUST be getting bored with me (frustrating though expected.)  In other words, I feel pure ambivalence about these pesky heart monitor graphs.  I want people to read my page.  But what if they're spam bots?  Then I want them as far as possible from my electronic space, with their "Hello you are good writer I have many fantasy want to meet me whoops perhaps you are already married big guy" comments or their offers of penis enhancement. 

And what if the people who are just reading in order to figure out ways to make fun of me?  (Yikes, this paranoia is pure middle school.  That's a great place to be, mentally...) 

On the other hand, stats are a great motivator for the Nanowrimo writing project.  I love to update my word count after each writing bout, and see how many words I've written for the day, as well as where on the graph my output fits -- it's like getting an A. 

Yes, this is not a facet of my character that I'm proud of -- I wish I could write only for myself, to lose myself in the work, and not care where I stack up next to anyone else -- but it's a facet that's a fact.  So I might as well acknowledge it and use it to keep myself going.


Nanowrimo word count, day 11:  23,694
Words today:  2125

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Writing on the walls

I miss the days when I could fall into a novel as if into a deep well and lose myself there, completely leave my ridiculous (adolescent) life behind.

I also miss the days when I could put a sheet of paper into the typewriter and bang away until that same ridiculous (adolescent) life disappeared into the mists.  I wasn't very good at writing stories back then (and it's questionable that I've gotten very much better, though I have become more confident after having years of captive audiences in the classroom -- listening ears and eyes that can't escape me) but I very much enjoyed the process of writing, the magic of losing track of "reality."

But the last thing I miss is THOSE DAYS.  Sometimes I think my writing was and is spurred by the need to escape an oppressive domesticity.  In other words, like the unnamed narrator of Perkins Gilman's "The Yellow Wall Paper," I work best when I'm being driven mad by the need to (metaphorically) breast feed.  So I'm fueled by a need to ignore that demand, as well as the demand itself.  That's when the white page and the words I manage to put on keep me on the right side of the knife's edge of sanity. Suffering creates "art," or at the very least raw material.

The problem is that I'd have to be a real bitch to think that I'm living an oppressive domesticity now.  (Wait.  Maybe I am a real bitch. :0)

I observe my daughter, who also has the creation bug, writing stories, drawing cartoon versions of a haunted self, and wonder if we're doing her a serious disservice by being such attentive and "understanding" parents.  After all, would I have kept up the writing through college and beyond if Dad hadn't been such a complete controlling prick?  If Mom hadn't dithered in the void of that marriage for year after year of emotional abuse, leaving me as her self-designated witness -- someone determined to "have it out" with the world, to throw that emotional baggage out every window I could find, busting it open on the metaphorical lawn for all of the metaphorical neighbors to see?

But then I read what she's written and think, Damn. That's, like, MIND BLOWING.  And I didn't even strip her of any good feelings she might have the bad luck to express aloud, or accuse her of doing the very things that the world is not allowing her to do.

And here I am again, getting lost in the work, losing track of time, while the laundry churns away in the washer.  And I have a good life.  And the wallpaper is not only NOT moving, it's been removed (with a lot of swearing and elbow grease) -- a long time ago.

I'll have to come up with a new theory, I guess.


Nanowrimo word count, day 10:  21,569
Word count today: 2473

Friday, November 9, 2012

Wherein the author denies you.

I've been keeping up with Nano writing, and I have to tell you that it feels damn good to be writing every day.  There are certainly moments -- and sometimes they string together into minutes -- when I have no idea what I'm doing, and when on an underground level I'm fairly sure that what I'm writing is a steaming load of crap.  BUT.

But, the good (best) thing is that I'm writing, I'm not thinking about being my own stupid self.  In fact, I'm having an out of the body experience.  And, given the state of my body at this point in time (aching lower back, trashed knees, a rogue pain in my left hip that shoots down to my groin, these damn itchy spots that, like chicken pox, keep popping up on me and not going away for weeks that turn into months -- and this is just the short short story, because I could go on), that's an excellent effect.

Today I figured something out.  I set myself the task of trying to describe, in a nutshell, how the Dead operate.

So I created a bit character to tell Shannon about it.  But I discovered that this bit character couldn't tell Shannon much about the rules of the Dead because to do so would, or might, break some unwritten or unknown rules of the Dead, and result in some horrifying form of punishment.  (Not that Dahlia didn't deserve some punishment, because she -- like every Dead person Shannon will meet -- treats the Lifers like crap and is, down to her transparent and nonexistent bones, a hater.  Also, in Life she was a Philosophy grad student, given to making sure that everything she bothered to say to another human being, when she bothered to communicate, was nearly incomprehensible.)

So the character who was supposed to have answers just brought in more questions.  And she made Shannon have this frustrating conversation outside on a park bench, in November, in Pittsburgh, where the cold is always damp and gets into a woman's (living) bones.

But Dahlia informed me and Shannon of a few things, despite herself:


I started writing down this really great specific list of information (if I do say so myself), and got to number 6, on a total roll, and then realized that if I give it all away here, you'll never pay to read my book.

So there's that.  I have to be stingy.


Nanowrimo count, day 9:  19, 096
Words written today: 2914

Monday, November 5, 2012

My fictional alter ego is the bad ass I always wanted to be

I just finished my words for the day and then, after the very satisfying task of updating my word count on the Nanowrimo site, read the "pep talk" waiting for me.  I usually don't read the emails from Nanowrimo (deep dark confessions).  Actually, I treat them the way my students have told me they treat voicemail messages from their parents -- they ignore and then delete them.  But today I felt like dipping into that untapped pool, and I'm glad that I did.

The message was from Kate DeCamillo, the author of The Tale of Despereaux, (no, I haven't read it, but I suspect it's good, because it's a Newberry winner and it's been converted into a 3 star film).  In any case, Kate writes about her first job in what sounds like an warehouse, getting books down from acres of dusty warehouse shelving, and dealing with a mean coworker she names "Bob," who acts as her inner critic, telling her that her two pages per day are not going to make her famous.  "What's your Plan B?" he keeps asking.

Instead of getting into her head and deranging her, as inner critics are wont to do, she used her anger at Bob to further fuel her 2 pages per day.  She set her alarm for 4:30 in the morning and wrote 2 pages every day -- pages to SPITE Bob.  And we all know how the story goes:  she is now famous and Bob is probably slowly killing himself with resentment and booze.

So, Kate tells us, write for yourself.  Write for revenge against all of the naysayers in your life, the resentful and jealous Bobs who see you actually doing something with your life and who want to destroy that.

I think that's pretty good advice, both parts of it.  We should write for ourselves.  We should write because, like talking to a good friend over coffee, it makes us feel good ... and sometimes like the star of our own show, rather than the pathetic side kick.  We should write because, for those two pages, we're not stuck in our stupid "real" lives, being our own stupid selves.  We can become anyone we want. (Like a woman who can see and talk with the Dead, ride a Harley, and tell people who piss her off to get stuffed ... and not feel a lick of guilt over it.)  And we should also write to kick our emotional enemies -- those frigging vampires, the ones who suck the joy and action right out us, if given a sliver of a chance (and we have to invite them in, remember) -- in their metaphorical nuts.

There's a certain happy violence to writing that I want to wallow in for a while.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

I promise to light a candle on writing's altar every day this month

The days are getting shorter, colder, and the trees are nearly all bare.  This kind of weather makes me a bit desperate, and restless.

That's why I'm glad that this daily "need" to write (competitive and juvenile as it is, making the writing of something a game that I can "win" at the end of the month) is pushing me to the page every day for a while.  The more I write, the more my mind unlocks a little, gets out of this vaporized, frustrated gridlock.  I hope that, like last year, my dreams become more vivid, if oddly unsettling (and sometimes gratefully escaped.) As long as I remind myself that I'm not doing it for any other reason than to do it, I should be able to keep going.

I'm still meeting the word count goal, which is nice, but I can see some rocky days ahead when, as the days get even shorter, and the nights colder, and the dog keeps pursuing her goal of taking begging to an inescapable art form, I won't want to do anything but feel as sorry for myself as I can.  Writing will seem to be a slog again, as it often is in my imagination -- like working out.  Like figuring out what to make for dinner.  Like having to read and grade a batch of essays.

Funny how things are often better in the imagination than in reality. These freeze dried, salted edamame, for instance, that I got at Target today. They looked rather interesting in the bag and tasted pretty good in my imagination, but in reality they're dull and papery. The best I can say of them is that they're a "natural" way to bring salt to my lips and don't make me feel as guilty as potato chips.  And don't even get me started on romance and its consummation ...

Writing is the opposite.  In my imagination, it looms like a chore that I will do anything in my power to avoid -- I'll even mop the kitchen floor.  In reality, however, once I get going (five minutes is sometimes all it takes) I get swept up into the experience of that alternate reality and disappear from this one.

What I'm saying is that writing is always better in reality than in imagination.  So why haven't I thrown myself on its altar every day of my waking adult life?


Nanowrimo Day 4
Word Count:  9667

Saturday, November 3, 2012

The Dead are annoying.

I'm actually really liking my main character (Shannon Stark) a lot this time around.  Last year, I sort of despised my character, because she was a whingey version of my own whingey 16 year old self.  Mostly, I hate dealing with my 16 year old self -- she's neurotic, self obsessed, needy, and awkward beyond belief.  (What?  I'm still like that?  Shut up.)

In contrast, Shannon is sassy and outspoken, and doesn't take shit from people.  Also, she doesn't care if people like her or not.  And she asks pointed, nosy questions without feeling guilty for them.   She's unapologetically liberal.  She pursues social justice -- I mean, actually does stuff to try to make the world a better place, and not just to make herself feel smugly better, but because that's just what you do.  Furthermore, she doesn't feel any crushing sense of guilt or strange "responsibility" for other peoples' happiness. She doesn't get into life-sucking friendships with emotional vampires, just because they seem to "need" her, and she doesn't bother to forgive her parents for their wretched lack of parenting or their evil prejudices.

Also, I've discovered that the Dead in my novel are annoying and self obsessed.  They have lost their "personality," for the most part -- they don't even have names, per se, anymore, and they don't like to be called by their Lifer names.  They not only refuse to be helpful and don't answer direct questions but they tend not to have a sense of humor.  Does death obliterate the sense of humor?  Does death erase love and connection?  Not sure.  I'll have to ask the same question a few days from now, when I'm more deeply into the thing.

Also, the Dead, like the living, are caught up in us-them reasoning, making tribal judgements and divisions.  In other words, they're just as mean-spirited and exclusionary as Lifers.  The ones who will deal with Shannon are stuck in the Lifer Land for as long as it takes to finish their business, which usually means that they lived less than effective or helpful lives and are "punished" with having to stick around until they finish whatever it is that they've started -- or are witness to the devastation wrought by their bad lives.  Or else something traumatic happened to them before they could do something crucial, and they are allowed to hang back with Lifers long enough to try to address the problem.

At least, that's what I think right now.  I'll have to figure out what I think tomorrow, and the next day.



Friday, November 2, 2012

There's no story in nice.

I'm on day 2 of Nanowrimo, my second attempt to write over 50,000 words in a month.

I found this "widget" on the Nanowrimo site and I don't know how to embed it into a page... I suspect that I will actually have to create my own webpage, and since I don't know quite how to do that, especially on Facebook, and since I suspect that playing with widgets constitutes a crazy time wasting strategy akin to suddenly feeling and acting upon the desire to rearrange all the furniture (and deep clean at the same time), I'm going to avoid that pressure.

Instead, I'll use this forum to post my after-writing buzz and my ongoing word count.

In the 3 (?) years that I've been absent from Mac Attack, they've totally revamped the way that this composer looks, by the way.  The last entries I made were about stuff I was reading years ago.  It's like finding a time capsule to read old blog entries.  Is that why we write them?

My novel doesn't have a title, other than Something About Ghosts, and it features Shannon Stark (before you say anything, just know that Shannon is a badass Harley riding English major turned into freelance journalist who doesn't appreciate Ironman jokes), a woman who spends 3 months and 1 day in a coma and then wakes up with the surprising and mind blowing (ha) ability to see and converse with the dead. With ghosts.  They have something important to warn her about (aside from their perpetual focus upon their own tangled issues) that they can't speak about directly.  Somehow, the rules of communication in ghostland follow the rules of communication in dreamland -- everything has to be approached sideways, backwards and upside down, in a strange unconscious code.

I gave Shannon a sassy gay brother, a bitchy socialite mother, and a stern, distant neurosurgeon father.  I also gave her a dead fiancee.  Do you think that I'll allow her to talk with her dead fiancee, seeing as she can communicate with the dead?  Of course not. That would be too nice.

And authors are not allowed to be nice.