Alex the Scribe

Exploring the craft of writing. Sharing resources for writers.

Category: Uncategorized

Not Quite Write

Writing should be fun

F*ck anything that doesn’t make you happy.

I’m a writer who doesn’t quite write, who isn’t quite right. I claim it’s my passion, but dread the white screen, the blinking cursor, my inner editor. I abhor the discrepancy between my vision and my skill. I understand what my writing needs to do to be engaging, but I can’t make it do what I need it to do.

Here is my problem. I’m impatient. I want the first draft to be perfect. But that doesn’t happen. I need to rewrite. But even then, I still see a difference between what I aim for and what my writing does. Yet I haven’t rewritten a piece more than once.

Go figure.

I’m so focused on the craft that I forget to have fun. I’m not writing stories because it’s daunting, and not amusing. I’m not smiling at the keyboard anymore.

It’s not quite right that I don’t write. Because I’m writing right now. But I’m not writing fiction anymore. Only journal entries. The only thing I can do with words right now, it seems, is to spill my guts  grind them across the keys for a while and lament the mess on the screen.

Pretty.

I reread some stories I never finished. That was some good stuff. It was engaging and vivid, the words and images popped right off the page.  And my first thought was, “Wow! I wrote that? How am I gonna pull this off ever again?”

But then, I remember how I did it in the first place.

I was having fun.

I was writing with no holds barred, just chomping away at the keyboard during NaNoWriMo, trying to nail that word count by the end of the day. And all I had was this vague beginning of a story and a couple of scenes, and all I wanted the story to do was to be ridiculous, funny, unexpected.

All I wanted was to have fun coming up with the randomest stuff happening to my protagonists.

No theme. No plot. No character arc. No problem.

Just fun.

For me.

Damn. *Lightbulb* That’s how I took the fun out of writing stories. I wasn’t writing for me anymore.

I was writing for the reader, the publisher, the editor.

And that’s why I was only able to write journal entries. Because that was the only time I was writing for myself.

And it goes right back to my theory of genius. Some of the best creations of humankind were either happy accidents (the genius was recognizing the applications of the discovery), or borne out of play, or of a childlike wonder at the universe.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to get back to playing pretend with my imaginary friends.

Advertisements

Summer Daze

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Jefferson_Memorial_Forest-Bee_Lick_Creek.jpg#/media/File:Jefferson_Memorial_Forest-Bee_Lick_Creek.jpgIn the shade of an elm 
A lone daisy beside me 
Fireflies on the wavelets at my toes
Yellowing grass prickling my palms
The breeze cooling pearls on my forehead 
An ant tickling my ankle

Time flies

I am alone
Did you leave my side?
A cloud blots the sun
The clover remembers the curve of your hip
The sand, the arch or your foot
The perfume of you hair

Where? When?

I remember the future
See you then

My Life is not my Own

I sell my soul

My life is not my own:
I rent my hours for a living;
I whore my body to feed it;
I sell my mind to free my soul
(or is it the other way around?).
I spend my time building lies,
confabulations to appease
the growing unease,
the dissonance between my needs and my wants,
between expectations and commitments.
Past decisions have left me disowned,
owner of my cat’s life,
of garden-grown produce
and growing debt,
but my home, like my life,
is not my own.

Synchronicity

Take the time to watch the video above. Thirty-two metronomes are set to the same beat-per-minute rhythm and started at random so that none of them click at the same time. They all sit on the same mobile platform. After a couple of minutes, all 32 metronomes click at the same time.
They synchronized.
Could it be an analogy to the creation of life? Molecules swim in a common medium and, given enough time, synchronize. And order comes out of chaos.
It could also be an analogy to the singularity that caused the big bang. Space-time is the mobile platform, energy and dark energy the metronomes. In time, it all synchronized into a singularity. A synchronicity. And kaboom. Universe, stars, supernova, star dust, planets, water, life. Roughly in that order.
It’s a self-organizing universe, organizing towards complexity. But in the end, entropy will win.
Because, given enough time, the metronomes stop.

Secret

Write
to make
the uncomfortable
comfortable,
and to make
the comfortable
uncomfortable.
Write
to bother,
to jar,
to rattle yourself
and the other.
Share
your intimate self
with a perfect stranger.
Write
in the nude.
Reveal
what can’t be unseen.
Unveil
your broken soul,
a mirror,
a mercurial calamity
all our own,
the gossamer reality
gone in a flash
of heat and
crimson.
If the world
has spurned you,
Dearest,
its still-warm ashes
will soothe you.

Do You Dream of Them at Night

Do you dream of them at night
humming through the walls

Are they waiting there outside
waiting for your call
listening for the glittering
slicing through the bark

Expose the innards of your rings
exclamation mark

Writing and coffee

Writing is a lot like brewing coffee. There are many ways to brew coffee. All methods have their staunch supporters. Some brewers swear by their method and will try to convert every brewer. They hold their method as the one true way to get the best coffee, and any other method is flawed for some reasons or others.
But every brewing method is different. And each yields coffee, in the end. But the aromas and tannins and bitterness will differ.
Some methods are simple and require basic skills and equipment. Turkish coffee, for example. Pour boiling water on fine coffee grounds straight in the cup. Voilà! Strong gritty coffee.
Others ask for a bit more time and equipment. The ubiquitous percolator comes to mind. The coffee grounds go in a filter. Water is heated to 95 degrees, then dripped on the grounds. The water flows through the grounds, filters through the paper, and cascades in the pot. The filter absorbs some of the essential oils of and tannins the grounds. The result is a gritless coffee with more body and less bitterness.
Then comes the art of brewing. The barrista, artist of coffee, uses the espresso machine like a painter uses his brush. They grind the grounds, press them just right, and set it in the machine. They precisely set the water temperature, and the machine will push the water through the grounds. Done right, this process results in a small cup of a strong, aromatic coffee topped with light crema.
There are countless other ways to brew coffee—stovetop, French press, and mesh filters come to mind off the top of my head. And let’s not forget to factor in coffee bean roasting and place of harvest. They are key components of the taste of the hot beverage you will enjoy.
Like I said, every brewer will have a favorite method, by preference or habit. But all brewers will gain a better understanding of their art if they explore the various methods. Even if, in the end, they stick with their favorite method, they will be more rounded brewers for having explored the art.
In the end, the artist must take pleasure in the process and share the product with those who will appreciate it. Not all will like it. To each their own. But some will be grateful to have discovered something new and unexpected.

Words and Beads

According to various sources, all I have to do to be a writer is to write between 300 and 1000 words every day.

So here I am, writing.

Is this how it feels like to be a writer? If so, the writing life is fraught with uncertainty.

Is this how you do it?

A writer whose work I enjoy reading once wrote:

Quote by Neil Gaiman“This is how you do it: you sit down at the keyboard and you put one word after another until its done. It’s that easy, and that hard.”

Stringing words like beads on a necklace is easy enough. And it’s easy enough to end up with a decent piece of jewelry.

But to get a piece that will wow some beholders, or at least get them talking, you need hard work, know-how, and lots of time. Or, like Hemingway said:

“There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”

You can always tell which pieces were given a bit of time and which the artist bled over. Anne Lamott wrote in Bird by Bird that the writer needs to give his best in each work, to give his all to the current work in progress without holding back, without keeping anything for the next piece.

In other words, she recommends using all the prettiest beads on your current project.

Because you’ll always find more beads, just as pretty and nice, for your next piece.

Getting punched in the neck by writer’s block

Where yours truly gets stuck in a rut midway through NaNoWriMo, questions everything, and rants about it

F*ck this is useless. I’m writing complete drivel.

This is not art. It’s barely a story. And a shoddy one, like a rusty bucket with holes punched in it that can’t even do its job right. You had one job, damn it! One job! And you messed it up. All you had to do was to come up with a story. An interesting story. The story you want to read. The kind of story you enjoy, that sticks in your head, the kind of story you want to tell others about, that you want to share with family and friends and strangers.

But this. This is lame. This is lamer than a feetless duck.

The dialogues are everywhere, and insipid. They fall flat and drag on forever. The characters show the emotional range of a newt. Flatlining doesn’t even begin to describe it. It’s the great Canadian plains where you can send your dog running for the horizon and still spot him with a good pair of binoculars three days later. Well, of course by that time the dog will be dying of thirst and exhaustion and exposure.

I don’t even know where I’m going with this.

I read and heard tales of the wall of writing block that hits the writer midway through NaNoWriMo. But this here, this is ridiculous. I had a story to tell, but now it all seems so pointless and is becoming such a drag. Where is my fire?

I had a silly idea and ran with it. It was fun for a while. Maybe I’m starting to take myself too seriously. Aren’t I the one who keeps repeating that art, whatever the medium, is the most poignant when it’s not serious? When it does not take itself seriously? Think for a second of the artists you admire. Neil Gaiman. Terry Pratchett. Douglas Adams. Black Keys. Jack White. François Pérusse. San Antonio. Fred Pellerin. Dédé Fortin (oh man, just think of Belzébuth!). All the artists, all their art that has moved me and made me laugh, the beauty and humanity through it, those works of staggering genius.

Of course these works were the culmination of years of hard labor and sweat and blood and tears. And before getting there, these artists first had to produce a lot of garbage. I mean, a lot of garbage, piles and piles of worthless paperweights and more ugly and useless and misshapen things. And then, finally, after a lifelong of learning and mistakes and exploration, lots of hard work went into those masterpieces.

But they all stemmed, I am sure of it, from playfulness.

A masterpiece is born when someone plays with their material, be it words or canvas or clay. When an apprentice (because we are all apprentices, all the time) explores what he is working with, great things are bound to happen.

Playfulness and exploration are the cornerstones of creativity and great art.

There is no better way to make serendipitous discoveries (or to have a stroke of genius) than by not thinking too much about what you are doing. Let the mind and the subconscious make links that you would usually inhibit yourself to do. Playfulness and exploration and curiosity and fun allow the artist to get out of his own way. That is where and when the magic happens.

Is this what’s bugging me? The fact that I’m not exploring, that I don’t feel like I am being playful in my project? It started playful enough. The ideas were funny. They actually made me laugh. I had to share them with friends, with my wife, if just to see her face of “What-the-hell-are-you-talking-about-this-is-crazy-you’re-nuts”, and then see her indulgent smile.

That might be it.

I’m sticking too much to the “I-have-to-write-enough-words-to-win-this-thing” mindset, of word-churning, and not enough on the playful exploration of the situation my characters are in. Not enough on the playful exploration of my characters. I should just write them into impossible situations and watch what happens and what they do as I write it. Let them surprise me in playful ways.

See, I write all this, and it sounds great. Yeah, good pep talk, you could even share it with fellow Wrimos to give them a little boost in the wordcount.

But here is the thing.

I’m not feeling it.

Not tonight anyway. I feel like a dried up well that gave its last drop of good stuff long ago. Well, like yesterday. Too much stress? Not enough sleep? Not enough physical activity? Not enough socialization? All of the above. Definitely.

It reminds me of the time I was depressed, actually. Not times when I was “under the weather” or a little down. I mean full blown depression. Getting up from bed was a feat. Taking care of myself was a drag and an inconvenience and a burden. Going through the motions every day was like letting myself be dragged by the current of a river, and it was all I could do to keep my head above water.

Writing this, all of this, even these very words, feels exactly like that right now, like trying to swim in jello or pudding or thick mud. It is slow going, it is messy, it is not pretty, it is far from elegant and as gracious as a boulder in a tutu.

Why am I feeling like this?

I have lost sight of my goal.

Which is: to tell a story.

I know I am a good storyteller. I know it. I have discovered it when I was a camp counselor improvising stories for the kids sitting around the campfire. And when inventing bedtime stories for my boys. They listen enraptured when I’m nailing it. When I’m not nailing it, they keep interrupting with their own tidbits and tossing “and then” left and right and center.

I have to be doing more than hitting a wordcount. Speed writing works fine IF I have something worthwhile to write. Otherwise, it’s just wasted whitespace and lost time.

Maybe, just maybe this isn’t just a gigantic pile of crap.

Well, it probably is.

But on today’s manure will grow tomorrow’s grass.

The Cliff

We meet on the plain not far from the cliff. We talk a bit. She wants to walk with me, but I say I have to go.

I meet her there again a few years later. She was waiting for me. We talk some more. We start walking. She tells me she did walk with others while hoping for my return, but she never got too close to the edge.

Walking the edge between friendship and love with her is exhilarating. It’s beautiful. It’s scary. It’s dangerous. It’s exciting. Not knowing if one of us or both will fall. Not knowing what will happen if we do. Will we crash or fly?

Free fall.

Then flight.

Then lazy gliding to the valley below.

We settle. And now we’re setting our little explorers on their own paths, to find their own adventures. We’re thrilled and worried. A bit scared, too.

Then we remember that we were explorers too, once.