Archive for the ‘writing’ Category

Bloglily tagged several people to explain how they plan, especially how they plan their writing lives.  I can make this very simple:  Plan?  I need a plan?  Who said anything about a plan?

For a while when I was little, my mom worked while my dad was trying to go to school, so my dad also took over many of the household duties.  I remember him making up the weekly plan on the calendar that hung in the kitchen.  It was fairly simple, but even so, all I remember is the meal planning.  He planned out every meal at the beginning of the week and printed the menu on the calendar.

It was probably part of his officer training, because my dad loved plans and planning.  He made charts and graphs and had separate notebooks with color-coded tabs and plastic inserts and different colors of ink and on and on.  He made little organizational things on 3×5 cards (and no one on god’s green earth has ever loved a 3×5 card quite as much as my dad did), laminated them, and pinned them to his cork board.  I think my dad was always a little sad that he did not have to plan a major invasion of a country involving fifteen different military powers, marine forces, a navy, and artillery.

Here’s the thing, though: he liked the planning much better than the execution.  That nifty menu calendar?  We followed it for maybe two weeks, while he continued to make the plans for another two before he tossed it out in frustrated depression.

So, with that model, I don’t trust plans.  I think plans are the tools of the devil.  As a teacher, I should be very good at plans, but, luckily for me, as a college teacher, I do not need to hand in lesson plans to anyone.  Instead, I have my syllabus, which lists everything we are going to read but allows me a lot of space for contingencies.  The world revolves around contingencies.  Things might happen.  Things might not.  You have to be flexible, ready to roll in a different direction at a moment’s notice, and I, winging it without a plan, can do just that.

Take today.  In my American Literature class, we are finishing up the semester with Emily Dickinson.  Instead of assigning specific poems, I told my students to read through most if not all of the poems in the anthology and choose some that they wanted to talk about.  Because of this, I had to be ready to talk about anything and everything.  I prefer to work it that way, though, where I can rely on my background training to get me through the class without too many crashes.  And the class went great–one of the best in the semester, in fact.

My writing follows much the same path.  i know where it is going, and I may even go so far as to make a little list of all of the things I want my writing to accomplish.  If it’s an academic article, I’ll list the main points I want to cover or the salient points of my argument.  I call this an “outline,” though my outline is to real outlines what a one sentence synopsis is to an entire novel.  Maybe I would be a better writer (and certainly a more disciplined one) if I wrote from a more detailed plan.  But I just can’t do it.

I know I promised the 7 weird things meme, but for some reason, I’m getting stuck.  At one moment everything about me seems completely weird but in the next moment it all seems completely bland and boring.  I’ll keep thinking about it and post it soon, though.


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More Whining

My writing is gasping.  My teaching is imploding.  My cycling is flatting.  My reading is lacking in adventure.  Essentially, nothing has gone at all well for the last three months.

Deep breath.  I took everyone’s advice and did what I knew needed to be done.  I gave up, perhaps temporarily, on book #2 and started book #3, which I guess means that book #2 is no longer book #2 because book #3 is book #2.  I hate this, but it is probably the right thing to do.  Book #3/2 terrifies me.  I know that I will either finish it or it will kill me in the process.  Never before, not even writing my dissertation, did I ever feel so much anxiety about writing something while simultaneously feeling such a compulsion to write.  So I started the next book today, and I don’t know if it will work, since it is such a deep, close subject and the thought of messing it up nearly paralyzes me.

Teaching.  One student has boundary issues.  Needs a filter.  Tonight she shouted, “No, you’re wrong!” when I was trying to explain a point about how Poe creates his characters’ psychological states.  When I try to stop her long look-at-me answers to my questions, she ignores me and keeps talking, even if I have gone on to the next point.  Talking to her after class has not helped, so thank you anyway for the suggestion.

Cycling.  One ride in two weeks.  Legs:  flat.  Lungs:  not interested.  Heart: not in it.  Bike: noisy.  Roads: squirrel-infested.  I nearly crashed twice because of suicidal rodents darting in front of my bike.

Reading.  BO-ring.  I can’t get into anything new, so I’m back to re-reading old King novels that I have already read ten or more times.  The thought of going to a bookstore makes me cringe.

What happened to me?  I don’t recognize this person writing right now, and I can’t find the real me anywhere.

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My writing is dead. I’m hoping this is a temporary condition, as I have to write as part of my profession, but for the moment, my writing is just lying there in a corner, not moving, and I see some big old vultures circling overhead. I haven’t touched this blog in over a week. Why? I have a lot to say, I think, but just can’t make myself write.

My attempts to get my second novel going are meeting with intense resistance. The first thousand words took well over a week to write, and if you remember my progress last year (nearly two thousand words every day), you know just how bad it is. Right now, it’s on life support, sucking oxygen through a tube, and just sucking in general.

I think at least part of the overall suckage of the second novel is that the third novel is getting impatient. As I was finishing up the first, I figured out what the second and third would be about. Book #2 appeared in my head more or less complete, and I knew where it would go and how it would get there. But book #3 is troublesome. It has been rumbling in some darkened nook in my mind for more than twenty years, and I think it’s threatening to explode. But I don’t want to write it now. It scares me. It worries me. I don’t think I’m big enough to do it. But in the meantime, book #2 has become so terrified by the noises book #3 has been making that it trembled and collapsed into catatonia.

At the same time, I have gone back to my dissertation and figured out a way to take it in a new direction and write something based on those ideas but bringing modern popular culture into the mix.  This project could have both popular and academic appeal, and I like the idea of writing for a general audience as well as my specialized academic audience.  I’m not all that worried about this book, though, since almost half of it is already drafted in one form or another and the other half would be both fun and easy to write.  For this book, though, I would need to find a publisher first and then write it, and the thought of sending out more queries right now make me queasy.

All of this has worn out my writing muscle. I need a good muse massage.

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Five Writing Strengths

I was tagged for this meme by Charlotte, and I am, like everyone who has done it, more than a little afraid.  Deep breath.  Jump.

The meme is self-explanatory: you name five strengths in your writing.  Self-explanatory, yes; easy, no.

  1. I write quickly.  Although this might not sound like any kind of strength at all, I think it is.  When I have a clear writing goal in mind and a few minutes of time, I can easily compose 1,500 words or more in an hour.
  2. I write synesthetically.  When I write, I can feel the words–their textures, their shapes, their tastes.  A really good sentence fills my mouth the same way the first bite of thick, chewy, fresh from the oven brownie fills it.  I can feel the words melt together and each ingredient–the butter, the flour, the melted semisweet chocolate, the eggs–contributes something to the sensation.
  3. I write fairly clean copy.  I do need to revise, but my first drafts are usually strong.  Major revisions–the tear it down and toss it out sort–are relatively rare.
  4. I try to be true to my voice.  To go back to my cooking metaphor, I know that I am baking brownies or chocolate chip cookies and not Roasted Scottish Langoustines with Lemongrass Melon Velouté, Cured Lomo, Minted Yogurt Dressing.  I’m not even sure what a Velouté is, but I am sure that a brownie is probably better for me.  My voice is my voice, and I like it.
  5. I know enough to let the guys in the basement do their work.  A little less than a year ago, when I was just getting going on my novel, I thought about Stephen King’s notion that the guys in the basement–or the unconscious–do a lot of the heavy work of creating, hauling ideas around, banging out metaphors, forging figures of speech, and welding symbols.  I try to let my basement guys drag a lot of the stuff out into the light before I get them to step back and let the guys upstairs do their magic.

And that’s five.  If you have not done this meme yet, consider yourself tagged.

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