Torrents of electrons
Find vent in steel
Fast as hummingbird hearts
Drive the needles’
Find homes in skin
Permanently etched in
This is how I remember you.
Sad tonight, up way too late with nothing to write, I read the old journal...
"Observe the ups and downs of your own life, and you have not yet lost the Way...Observing their lives, cultured people are blameless...To observe their own lives is to observe the people at large...They observe their lives because they do not yet have piece of mind."
"When I'm forty, I'm going to meet some 24 year old girl and she's gonna ask me what I did when I was her age, or something, and what am I going to tell her? "I tried to get back into a university for the fourth time" or "I worked my ass off so I could buy a car and travel across the country for six months until I ran out of money in Portland" Which sounds better to you? The fucking latter, I'll say."
So here I sit, looking at some guaranteed undisturbed wee hours. Pandora rocks my headphones, cranking out Sissy Boy Radio... perfect conditions for writing... But the story is done.
I've finished my little experiment: How to Write 18,000 Words in One Winter Break, or How to Be
a Sort-Of Author in Three Weeks--From Home!
The Rationale: I'm going to be in school for the rest of my life. I am a writer who wants to be published. NaNoWriMo is impossible because November is FINALS, PEOPLE! HELLO?!? Ahem. Sorry. While in school, I have weeks at a time where I'm not working 24 hours a day at stuffing my brain (NOT in November *cough*). I have the option of three months off every year. Writing (well) takes time, hours a day, in fact. I have that time. So.
The Method: During winter and summer breaks, I will work on novel-length pieces, pushing as far forward as possible during the days I have "off." I realize that I will soon be a wife and mother, and soon those "off" days will be filled with all sorts of things that aren't writing. Hell, they already are. But. During winter and summer breaks, I will write diligently on one piece the entire time. Spring break, well, that's going to be our anniversary week, so all writing deadlines can kindly fuck off. Spring breaks are for WOO and nobody can take that away from me.
During the semester, I'll write shorter pieces of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. I need to feed my brain, but also leave the creative writing field way open. During this past semester, I finished a short story in about two weeks, and I know I can do that again. It wasn't the best short story in the freaking world, but it was solid. Most importantly, it was done. There will be papers and papers and papers to write and eventually to read, so I need to keep my commitments relatively low and my deadlines relatively short. I will probably crank out lots of fluff, and I'm going to forgive myself for that. Dealing with esoteric points of literature and grammar might make me a little crazy, so steam will need to be blown off. On the other hand, school offers me the unique opportunity to research to my heart's content. This semester, I'm taking an ancient history class. Do I really need to say anything else? I mean, really? Has anybody read any fantasy? Besides a class in Medieval history, nothing could be better. Next I want to take something about Westerns or the Victorian era. OK. I digress.
The Nutshell: Winter and summer breaks are for writing like the devil's after me. School sessions are for collecting crazy literary and historical minutiae and then producing short stories and nonfiction and poetry from it.
It's working out pretty well so far.
18,000 words, not to shabby, right? That's 62 pages in MLA format, you know. Maaaaybe... a third? of those words were written in 2004. But I get points for revamping them because that shit is some work. Also, with that estimate, about 12,000 of those words are new. NEW, bitches. NEW. And that's exciting.
I've come to an interesting place in writing. I've learned some stuff during my "dry years" that is helping me now.
I've learned most of the niceties of grammar and mechanics. I feel confident in the tone of my writing, and how to manipulate grammar to influence tone. For example, I know when to use short sentences and when to use long. I understand that short sentences can up the drama, especially after long. I understand that some characters' voices naturally consist of short or long sentences. I also understand the grammar that underpins long sentences, and how to make them read smoothly. I'm starting to get a feel for what the sentence needs, as far as phrases and metaphor and all that frippery.
I have also (wonder of wonders) begun to get a handle on dialogue. I'm developing a feel for how real people talk, and how to translate that into letters and spaces and punctuation. Dialogue format is particularly confusing. Do you start a new paragraph when someone new is talking? Do you need a tag? Do you need a comma? Why is Microsoft Word putting that stupid green line there? It's ridiculous. My unsolicited advice for other writers about the correct form for dialogue: pick a book off your shelf and look at how the published writers do it. Then copy it. That's how I did it, and it's working pretty well so far. I suppose, if I ever get published, someone will correct me if I'm wrong. Deciding how to format dialogue and sticking to that format has freed me up to pay attention to what the characters are actually saying, which is the important stuff, after all.
So. I've learned some stuff during my "dry years" that is helping me now. But all that just led me to the boundary of what I don't know. I don't have to worry too much about grammar, self-editing, format, detail, etc. So what do I worry about? Plot.
I find myself in this place where my tools are good, maybe too good. I can write my characters into any situation I can dream up. Lovely. But what situation do I create? Now I have to look at the bigger picture and decide what best serves the plot. They can go there, but should they go there? Is that melodrama? What is melodrama?
It's tough because I'm also writing the fantastic, so I can't just ask "Would that really happen?" Yes, characters react like humans even in fantastical circumstances, so that question has helped me. But it doesn't always work.
I also have the "house of cards" problem. It's like this: Once I start fucking with one scene or plot point or story arc or whatever, the whole thing falls apart. I start questioning, and it's very hard to stop. I can work myself into a frenzy of "what if"s, and pretty soon I've convinced myself to stop writing altogether. I'm not joking. That's really happened. More than once.
I realize that this is just another stage in the process of becoming a better writer. I have to allow myself to write crap and veer into melodrama, etc, so that I know what it looks like. In a year I'll look back and say something like what said at the beginning of this entry: I've learned some stuff, but it's just led me to the boundary of what I don't know. Which is, I suppose, the point of writing.
"Why wouldn't you write to escape yourself as much as you might write to express yourself. It's far more interesting to write about others." ~ Susan Sontag
So I've decided to pick up writing again. I'd stopped writing stories for myself when I started writing papers for professors. I used to feel bad about that, but I've realized that it needed to happen that way.
Here's how it did happen: I took Creative Writing 101 this past semester, and it fired me up again in a vague way. I got to write some poetry, some nonfiction, and a short story. I got reintroduced to the writer's life (only this time plus college, minus the heavy drinking and drug use). I really enjoyed rediscovering poetry. It's not just something that 16yo me and other people write. The nonfiction wasn't thrilling, but it was necessary; I do think I have some things to say about my own life. I realized that poetry and nonfiction go together in my head, and started slow (like coral building reef slow) work on a long nonfiction/poetry piece about my mother. The short story reassured me that I still have it, and not just because of professorly praise. I was really proud of creating something that had blood running through it, did it's job, and then finished cleanly. I am proud of the clean language in the story. I'm very proud of the clean language. That's the fruit of my labor, right there.
But then that story was done. It was way past done. And my papers were done. And then the class was done. I read my Guilty Pleasure Fantasy Trilogy (Kushiel for the win!) during those first disorienting winter break days... and then I got restless. It took me a while to figure out what I wanted to do. I fell back into my old addiction and trolled IRC (text-based RP, for teh n00bz) servers for some kind of game. That right there should have showed me that I just needed to fucking write already! But no, I am stupid.
It took reading, duh. I found the old story that I wrote in Portland after (during?) writing "Seven Hells," AKA Ethan book. (I'd been kicking around the idea of editing that, but then I read the first chapter again and recoiled in horror.) It started off as a terribly yaoi, overwrought, self-indulgent dark chocolate bonbon of a story. But then... I realize that there's some jewels there. And, wonder of wonders, the story is actually... kind of... commercial. This could work for me. Now, before you get your panties in a Marxist wad, I'm not thinking "Ooh, I'll bang out a quick vampire cyberpunk dark fantasy novel and make a million dollars!" Give me some credit. I was mostly thinking that it was accessible. And if I could use my new tools to smooth the edges and really make it solid and realistic.... wow. This could work.
So. That's what I'm doing, for those of you who care. I will probably be turning to the interwebz to bitch and moan about the process from time to time. This is, after all, also about refining my process. I'm not just dusting off this particular story; I'm relearning how to write fiction for publication. I'm refining my process so I can keep doing this for the rest of my life and eventually have something to show for it besides AA and lung cancer. ;)
In honor of All Souls Day, here are some pictures that we took in the cemetery in downtown Nacogdoches.
OK so we didn't do much for All Hallows Eve because Josh had to work and I got sick. I ended up on the futon watching Ghost Hunters LIVE and other assorted scary-esque shows.
But here's my "costume." (If cat ears and black clothes that you've had forever count as a costume.) I wore it to school. I almost voted in it, but decided at the last minute not to. I don't want to be counted as part of the "furry" constituency. ;)
And here's a picture I took at school. I kept seeing this all day and it made me smile.
Josh dressed up as his younger self, giving me a WTF look.
Anyway, hope everybody's Halloween was spooktakular! Love!