Writing Update: Quarter 1

I think I’ve decided that having a quarterly check-in about my writing goals would be a good idea. Perhaps I’ll change my mind before too long, but for now that is what I’ll do.

March is very quickly ending, thus the first quarter is as well. I don’t have good news, unfortunately. If you have read my previous posts this year, you may know that I did okay in January, although not meeting the daily goal for the whole month, but hardly wrote anything in February. This trend continued in March. I could detail the reasons that I didn’t have the time, talk all about the circumstances I’ve been dealing with lately, but it is really just excuses. If I’m being completely honest, I think I haven’t been writing because it takes a lot of discipline, a conscious effort to MAKE time for it. Apparently, I haven’t been doing that.

The minimal word count I did complete (only a few days of writing out the entire month) consisted of blog posts and work on the same Sleeping Beauty retelling I have already talked about. For a while I was quite stalled on that story, but I decided to go back to it and move on to the more interesting parts, and figure out that whole post-exposition, pre-action section in the next draft. Or perhaps all of that is exposition.

I’m a little worried that I’ll finish it and determine that while it has points of interest, as a novel it will not be of great interest to readers. I mean that the people who read it will enjoy it a lot, not that a lot of people will read it… I think that I have a bit of a tendency to stick to my original story ideas as far as plot goes, where I should be learning to make better adjustments so that it’s just a better story. This can sometimes result in a story saying something very different than what you originally intended. Sometimes that’s a problem, and sometimes it’s okay.

I have a few days left in March and I do plan to get some writing in, but the most urgent thing right now is some spring cleaning. I’ve got much to organize, throw away, and clear out. I’m very, very behind in the 365k challenge, in terms of what my total word count should be. In February I didn’t mind this, but now it’s been going on much too long.

Would it be  so terrible if I don’t make the 365,000 word goal at the end of the year? No, not really. Not finishing would not affect my life much, really. But it would most certainly be fantastic to meet that goal, or even exceed it. Finishing would affect my life, even if only in the sense of developing better writing habits. I think that’s worth the effort.

Books that Inspire

I’m currently reading Neil Gaiman’s Stardust. I find myself wishing that I had read it as a child–not because it’s written for children (I don’t know if it was) or because I would have enjoyed it more then than I am right now. I wish I had read it when I was younger because it is so well-written and such a wonderful tale that I know it would have been one of those books that I read over and over, one of those that inspired me as a writer.

As I read I’m comparing the book to the movie that came out a few years ago, and I am surprised at the amount of differences in just the first third of the book. This is definitely a case of the book and movie being almost entirely separate stories (I mean, in the movie, Yvaine never says “fuck”). So, although I have some idea of how the story goes, there are enough differences that I get to have that feeling of wanting to know what will happen next.

I would say the story has many typical elements of fairy tales and the fantasy genre (that is, before urban fantasy became popular). The details, though, are unique enough that I don’t feel like I’ve read the same story a thousand times. Since every basic story has been told already, as they say, it’s all in the way the story is told, and this one is told brilliantly. The way that details are revealed allows for just the right amount of suspense, in my opinion. I have a somewhat low suspense threshold and when it’s crossed, I get bored, so I’m happy with just enough to keep it interesting. And the language, oh my. It’s not news that Neil Gaiman is an excellent writer, but there is something about this book in particular… the quality of the writing fits so well with the setting of the Faerie world. In my opinion it’s quite ethereal, a little surreal, but not insubstantial or unbelievable in any way. Maybe I would still believe in Faerie if I had read this book when I was younger.

Last night I was reading this instead of going to sleep and I was reminded in a way that rarely happens these days that I am supposed to be writing. Of all the other interests I have cultivated, nothing makes me feel as satisfied as writing, and there is no other medium through which I can express myself so well. If I didn’t have bills and student loans and all that to worry about, I would just write full time starting NOW.

An Unnecessary Post

Just now, my life is feeling very bland. I’m not devoid of creative inspiration for writing, but I don’t feel a particular urge to create. I want to spend time with my friends, do something fun, exciting–but I also want to just have time alone, possibly lying in bed staring at the ceiling while listening to music.* I want to get lost in reading.

I have two thoughts on this. One is that my creative energy needs time to build up. None of our creative wells are quite bottomless, and if it hasn’t rained enough lately, they’re bound to be very low.

My other thought is that I’ve become engulfed in necessity (chores, bills, etc.), and the energy that requires just puts me in a mindset that is not conducive to writing.

From my past experience, I have to advise myself that the best way to fix this is to just start writing something.

But I need to complete this editing work first. And many other more “necessary” things.

But what could be more necessary to a writer than writing?

I am awash in dilemmas of adulthood.

 

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*Current music selection would probably be Deftones, Oh Land, or something very new age/experimental with no vocals.

Imagination on Vacation (I Blame Television)

Like the vast majority of Americans, I watch a lot of videos of various kinds. Tv shows, movies, and a huge variety of videos (although few actually original) of different lengths and subjects abound all over the internet. And since wi-fi is everywhere these days, you could quite literally spend all of your life, or at least your free time, in front of a screen.

Well, so far I’ve stated the obvious. Now I’m about to sound like your grandparents (or even your parents, probably):

When I was growing up, things were very different. We had a television, of course–everyone had a television–but at my house, we just had basic cable. A lot of people I knew just had basic cable, while many others paid for premium channels. Now, it’s essentially impossible to only get basic cable. They simply don’t offer it anymore. Granted, I don’t know what the cable options are because I’ve never had to sign up for it myself, but I think “basic” cable no longer means the major networks on channels below number 10 and the local access channels in the teens.

I had access to the fancy cable at friends’ and relatives’ houses, and although I particularly enjoyed the golden age of Nickelodeon shows, I never felt like I really needed it. I spend much of my time reading, drawing (badly), or playing imaginative games, often by myself. There is certainly a place for sitting and doing essentially nothing in all our lives. The Italian term “dolce far niente,” although probably not intended to mean being a couch potato, captures this idea nicely. But then, we also need engaging activities that inspire and motivate us–and where is the place for that sort of activity when there are more movies available than we could ever watch in our lifetimes?

I am not denying the artistic merit of some films and shows, or the value of visual storytelling. When it comes down to it, sometimes words are not enough to really capture the image or concept. As a writer, this is something that frustrates me constantly and makes me wish I were able to draw well. So various lengths of cinematic material have their place in quality entertainment. The one thing that is generally true of all movies, shows, short films, etc., though, regardless of their level of either quality or inanity, is that the role of the viewer in the entertainment/observer relationship is passive. In order to watch a video, all you need to do is press play, look at the screen, and not interrupt playback. This is not to say that film cannot make you think, of course. It can.

Reading is an active pursuit. I suppose it would be possible to read a headline or a short phrase by accident, but in order to read a book, a short story, a poem, even a full sentence, you have to make a conscious decision to be engaged in the activity. Your own mind is responsible for picture the words create. Reading cannot simply happen by staring at an open page. You have to make your eyes move from word to word. If you’re reading a physical book, you have to turn pages. If reading an ebook or an online article, you’re often required to scroll, click, or swipe to continue reading the piece. And so, regardless of the quality of the content (or whether the book is better than the movie), the act of reading must be purposeful.

I’m trying to get back into the habit of reading. I do not do it very much anymore. I most often read for no more than two or three hours in a given day. I never stay up late into the night lost in the words of a book. In fact, I rarely read more than fifteen pages at a time without stopping to take a break, most frequently to mess around on the internet. When I was young, I used to spend entire days reading. There were many books I re-read (so I have not read as many books as most people I know who love reading), some many times. I read Lloyd Alexander’s The Arkadians probably ten times in my preteen era.  (I highly recommend it.) I got such a rush from reading. It would spark my imagination. All that I read fed into my store of images and stories, blending together and transmogrifying into new ones, like a personal mythology. When I decided I had to write, ideas would flow freely. Tales would play in my head and I would do my best to copy them down, not generally suffering from any hesitation or writer’s block.

I used to watch a little tv and do a lot of reading. Now it’s pretty much the opposite. It was sometime in my teen years that I really started to watch tv much more frequently, and that only increased as time went on. And since somewhere around the age of fifteen, I have not generally spent so much time working on my writing. As I said, I will not claim that there aren’t good stories to be watched, or that writers cannot get ideas from the cinematic medium. However, I can’t help but notice that when I’m not reading, my urge to write usually disappears. When I do pick up a book, particularly one that is especially creative or simply resonates with me either in its content or style, my imagination comes alive. I think that the active nature of reading motivates me to be creatively active, in a way that the sit-and-do-nothing feeling of watching television or movies just cannot achieve.

If others have had a similar experience, it implies quite a bit about the effects of too-available television and the importance of reading. Of course, this could just be my own weird head’s response to different forms of media. So you tell me: does television give you creative energy? How about reading? I want to know.

Five Things Friday: January 17, 2014

Three creative things I want to do RIGHT NOW. But seriously, literally right now.

1. Write for a really large block of time and finish at least one short story (that’s been in the works for a pretty long time now). In addition, make some progress on the novel I was writing that I was going to work on a bit in December, and then didn’t because I’m just too lazy to ever be productive.

2. Get paints and brushes and DIY the cardboard boxes I use as storage bins so that my room can be pretty and not just a complete mess.

3. Totally reorganize my room. It doesn’t sound like a “creative” thing, but it would have to be to figure out how to make everything fit nicely in my room.

Two reasons I’m sure I won’t do these things.

1. Chores and errands and adult things like that. It’s often tempting to forego responsibility for awesomeness, but at some point the concept was ingrained in me that if you do that you end up with a mess that’s harder to deal with later. So I try. Sort of. But I also waste a lot of time watching tv shows, so what’s the real problem here?

2. Currently editing the longest manuscript ever.  EVER. Aside from, like, encyclopedias or whatever. And because of time and deadlines and stuff, I’m going to have to work quite a bit this weekend, because otherwise we might have problems.

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It’s 2014! When you have fewer life changes, it feels like time is just passing you by and making you older. I HATE it. I feel so stuck right now. Not fun. What’s my goal? Where’s my end point? I need these things in order to actually function.

First five things Friday of the year–and the first one for a few weeks. I remember my original intention to do this every week, somehow missing the fact that Friday nights are usually spent hanging out with friends and way too tired out from the week to have clever, coherent thoughts… I am the tiredest.

I’m having major life issues right now–mostly, realizing that I don’t think the skills from my current job are really transferable to any other jobs, which is something that’s probably going to work against me in the future. Unfortunately,  further details can’t really be given on the internet, so I guess I’ll just have to be vague.

My birthday is approaching. I’m about to be 27. It’s both still young and too old. You know what? I blame the internet. If I didn’t hear so many stories about people who are super successful in their 20s, I’d probably be much more ok with where I am in life. (Or at least marginally more ok with it…)

I think that I sound awfully boring right now. It’s so bad that I almost want to delete this whole post and not blog at all right now, but, well, why not.

Helen: First Installment

This is what I’ve written so far. Not as much as I would have hoped, but enough to post anyway. Most passages from novels I post here will be essentially unedited – point out any grammatical errors you might find, and all constructive criticism is welcome. This will be different from most other Trojan War novels, as it actually is about Helen.

Chapter 1

Anticipating Tyndareus’s return from peace negotiations in Troy, his daughter barely slept all night. Her legs twitched and bounced into the early hours of morning, and by the arrival of dawn she was certain that she had not slept for a second. Now, knowing that her nurse would be in to start readying the princess for her father’s return as soon as the sky had turned thoroughly pink, she saw no reason to spend any more time trying to sleep. She threw her silk bed covers off and ran out to the balcony.

In the gray light of dawn, the sea was still dark blue. She liked it best when the water was clear and green and she could look down from her high balcony and see things swimming below. She imagined that they were nymphs, mermaids, or sirens, even though she knew that sirens only lived in the deepest sea. She would fantasize about being a siren, and at the first sight of sails she would hum quietly, imagining that it was her father’s ship that she drew to her with her song.

Sometimes, she thought that if a siren were to beckon her, she would follow the voice creating the most beautiful music, as she had always heard it told, and live in the ocean with them, singing and playing.

She climbed up on the wall, her legs dangling over the side, to watch the sky and sea grow brighter. She closed her eyes for a moment, letting the salty breeze and the early morning sounds wash over her. But for the gentle waves breaking against the cliff above which her bedroom sat, the world was quiet. The sun, growing warmer on her face by each moment, told her that this would soon change.

And just as she thought; very faintly, she could hear evidence of movement in the kitchen. Cooks and servants would be getting everything ready to begin meal preparations. In order to feed everyone who lived and worked in the palace, they would have to work all day.

The water rippled with the sun’s reflection, causing the young girl to squint. No sight of a ship yet. No song of sirens either. She started to hum tunelessly, stringing random notes together as if they were a familiar melody. He’ll come home, he’ll be home. She peered down the cliffside at the brightening water, deciding that the amorphous shadow twisting below the surface was a dolphin. She waved to it.

Looking up again, she frowned. Dark clouds were just beginning to drift in, far to the right. If they moved into her father’s path, they would delay his arrival, and they had already been expecting him for six days. She took up her tune again, willing the ship toward home and the storm away.

The door opened and then shut. Her nurse’s light, quick footsteps – the most efficient she had ever heard – made their way to the bed, which, of course, she found empty. Immediately, she would look to the wood-framed arch leading out to the balcony. Through the half-drawn gauzy white curtains, the seven-year-old on the stone wall was easily visible.

“Come eat breakfast, Helen,” the nurse requested sternly.

She swung her legs back on the balcony side of the wall, jumped down, and ran to her nurse, who led her by the hand to the round table. Bread, fruit, and olives waited on a plate for her hands to search for the pieces that looked best to her. Beside it sat a painted clay cup full of fresh milk. Helen climbed into a chair, folding her feet underneath her, and stuffed her mouth full of bread.

“I’ve told you not to dangle your legs over the wall like that, it’s very dangerous,” the nurse chided her. “And I wish you  would wear your sandals when you walk outside, even if you’re only out on the balcony.”

“I know,” Helen said, between swallows. “I forgot.”

“Never mind for now. I have to mend your dress before you can wear it, I’ve just found a tear. I don’t know how you manage to put holes in all of your clothing.”

“The one with the gold threads? Does that mean that he’ll definitely be home today?”

“Your father will surely arrive before the night.”

Bursting with happiness, Helen sprang from her chair and skipped about the room, shouting with joy.

“Helen, calm down! Finish your breakfast! You shouldn’t skip around so. Behave like the princess you are.”

But Helen’s radiant good mood would not be quenched, nor would her energy. She picked food from her plate as she passed by, taking bites and crying “He’s home, he’s home!” between chews. The nurse shook her head, smiling, and sat down to mend her charge’s dress.

Helen ran back out to the balcony, still barefoot, and leaned over the wall. She peered hard out over the water, hardly moving, until she at last spotted sails. She smiled widely. Because she liked and feared the god of the sea, she quietly said, “Poseidon, let them arrive safely today.”

She saw, or imagined, a swirling pool of light some way off, a phenomenon she had seen or imagined many times before – a sunny ray that seemed to emit from the ocean, turning the water nearest to it a pure emerald color. She thought of it as Poseidon waving to her, indicating that he had heard her. She pushed herself off of the wall and ran back in to tell her nurse, “Poseidon will not delay their arrival anymore. My father will be here today.”

“That’s nice. It’s time for your music lesson, Helen. Put on one of your day dresses, and you can come change into this one before the King arrives. I shall finish mending it before lunch, and I doubt they will have docked before noon.”

She laid out a lightweight white dress, with which Helen obediently dressed herself. She ran out the door while still tying the white cord around her waist, chased by a shouted request to wear her sandals. She did not go back for them, but hurried to the room of the music tutor in bare feet.

A Real Live Writing Blog?!

While my most recently created blog (started last August and hanging on by a thread) was intended to be used in a literary way at least part of the time, I have never had a blog devoted to writing alone. I recently decided that the best way to get myself to write more, and possibly get feedback from complete strangers on pieces I post, would be to get one. WordPress was the obvious choice. Now, after a week of contemplation, here it is.

None of the writing I share through this blog has been published. Most of it is first or second draft, ripe for comments and critiques, both of which I welcome happily. I want readers, and I want to know their opinions. If I’m writing something – story, novel, flash fiction – and no one seems to like it, that tells me that it’s either time to scrap it or rewrite it. But if I have no outside opinions to work with, how do I know to do either? I don’t. I write for me, but I also write for you. Other than Emily Dickinson, I can’t think of a writer who kept their words hidden from foreign eyes (although there must have been a few others). I made this blog to be clear: yes, I am a writer. And I am here to find an audience for my work. I want to spread like Nutella on a freshly toasted waffle. I want to be the book you borrowed from a friend, which they had borrowed from their friend, and so on. So if you like what you read, tell a friend or two. Or ten.

P.S. I write what I write and I don’t apologize for it. I don’t try too hard to be tactful, but I don’t try to be offensive either. If you take something in my writing personally, that’s more about you than me. I’m just a writer like everyone else…

Creative Piece Coming Soon