Sunday, October 28, 2012

How Important Is It?

I don't know about you, but I am easily distracted. Not that I don't do a certain amount of writing every day--I do (usually). But it's alarmingly easy for me to find other things that "demand" my attention and take me away from what I should be doing.

Right now, and for the past several weeks, I have been revising the first draft of my novel. I enjoy this process. I finally know how everything's going to turn out in the end--something I didn't know for sure until I got there--and now all I have to do is go back to the beginning and tighten everything up. I have to remove anything that detracts from the story I'm telling. I have to strengthen everything that helps get the characters to their final destination. There are scenes I need to add to emphasize or deepen certain aspects of the story. There are scenes I have to delete because they lead the characters in the wrong direction.

A change of emphasis here. A dash of humor or pathos there. A sharpening of the dialogue to better reflect what the characters need to say.

It's all very enjoyable. The hard work is done.

So why do I find myself doing other things? Why, when I'm determined to sit down at the computer and write for four hours does the session become three hours? Or two? Or one?

There are many demands on my time, of course. Like most people, I have different kinds of activities every day:
  • Things I must do. 
  • Things I like to do that enrich me. 
  • Activities that are nothing more than guilty pleasures  
Here is a list of "Must-dos". I always do these first. (As a child, I ate my vegetable first, before my meat). Some of these are daily. They are all at least weekly.
  • Completing a workout.
  • Undertaking marketing efforts to sell my work.
  • Running errands.
  • Tending to my Siberian huskies, Sunny and Storm.
  • Keeping appointments.
  • Doing housework.
  • Preparing meals.
  • Paying bills
Here are some of the activities I enjoy doing. I usually get to one or more of these every day.
  • Spending time with my guy.
  • Visiting with friends.
  • Reading about a writer, actor or artist I am interested in.
  • Looking at houses I might want to buy.
  • Finishing a novel I'm in the middle of.
  • Visiting galleries.
  • Seeing movies.
These are guilty pleasures that I engage in every day. (Not all of them every day, but at least one of them every day):
  • Reality TV shows (No, I won't name the ones I watch!)
  • TV dramas I'm addicted to like "Dexter," "Homeland" and"The Good Wife."
  • Chocolate orgies featuring Ben &Jerry's ice cream or See's Candy.
  • Afternoon naps


Why isn't it on List #1: Must-dos? It should be. In a way it is. Except I figure I have to finish the other must-dos before I get to my writing. 

Does that mean writing s on List #2? The activities I enjoy? No. Because writing isn't always enjoyable and I certainly don't do it to relax. IT'S MY WORK!

Ditto for List #3, Guilty Pleasures. IT'S MY WORK!

In a way, writing exists in its own category. It doesn't fit any of the three. And that's why I don't get as much writing done as I plan to every day.

There are a couple of solutions;
  • Put it at the very top of the Must-do List.
    • Dogs can wait, dust can gather, more meals can be takeout.
  • Cut back on lists #2 and #3 (Or at least #3)
    • Are you kidding me?!
Here's the thing: I can't seem to change the way I do things. I've thought about this before and tried to change--mainly by shortening List #1. 

It doesn't seem to work.
I seem to be stuck with myself. But hey! It isn't all bad. The stories get written in the end.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Being Sick

For the last week or so, I've been sick. Not desperately sick, just sick enough to get up in the morning and wish I hadn't. Just sick enough to go back to bed for long, lingering naps. Just sick enough to feel and look lousy.

There are a few benefits to being sick:
  • I can skip my workouts with a clear conscience.
  • I can let chores go without feeling guilty.
  • I can indulge in forbidden pleasures like reading all day.
  • I can work on my novel instead of taking care of other, more pressing duties.
But there are some distinct drawbacks beyond the obvious one of feeling lousy.
  • I have no real interest in anything I read or see.
  • I become grumpy.
  • I feel sorry for myself.
  • If the illness lasts for more than a day, I become convinced I have a life-threatening condition.
This week I thought seriously of putting my affairs in order.

  •  I remembered that I need to update my will, and decided I would need to take care of that loose end very soon. While I still had the wherewithal to sign my name.

  • I decided to bring my loved ones to my side one by one to bid them each a loving farewell. Since there are quite a few, I figured I'd better start the procession to my deathbed very soon. Immediately in fact.

  • I thought carefully about what I hadn't finished yet and realized there was just my current novel, now in the process of revision. I decided I'd have to keep myself going long enough to finish revising it.
As you can see, I am a drama queen. Big time!

Nor do I suffer in silence. Anyone foolish enough to get near me when I'm sick will hear me moan piteously about my condition and my impending demise.

There is a serious side to all of this: Apparently my attitude goes all to hell the minute I do not feel up to par. What does that say about how much control I have over my thoughts and emotions? Or for that matter, my perceptions of the world?

There's a big truth in here somewhere about how we are all limited by our attitudes, beliefs, emotions, biases. We all look at the world through lenses distorted by how we feel--not just physically--but emotionally too. There's a great big world around us. We only see the part that affects us. Which is the tiniest sliver of what is there.

Moreover, we only see that sliver through eyes biassed by our experiences, hopes, fears, wants, and dislikes.

When I got over my illness, I no longer believed I was dying. I no longer felt irritable and self-pitying. Life was beautiful once again.

But how do I get over the distortions I'm not even aware of? How do I take my tiny sliver of the world and see it clearly and without bias? 

An even bigger question--how do I take my tiny sliver and expand it to take in more reality? 

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Telling the Truth

When I write a story, I try to tell the truth. Not the literal truth of course--I'm not interested in reporting facts about what happened to me or people I know--but the essential truth, the truth about what it's like to be alive, to be human.

But do we all agree on what that truth is? Do we see things the same way?

Ernest Hemingway used to say that his ambition for each day's writing was to write "one true sentence." I think what he meant was that he wanted the words to perfectly reflect the emotions and state of being of his characters. He believed if he got the words just right, the reader would  know, feel,  understand exactly what he wanted them to.

T.S. Eliot called this the "objective correlative." The writer, in his view, should not describe emotions, or mention them by name, but should find the exactly right objects(s) in nature to evoke the emotion. Everyone, he believed, will associate certain emotions with specific objects. A red rose, for example, might evoke romantic love. A black widow spider might evoke evil intention. The writer's task, in other words, is to show a state of mind through the right selection of images rather than tell the reader what a character is feeling by way of a narrative.

But what if we don't all share the same associations with certain objects? What if a red rose makes me think of thorns and the pain of pricking my finger? What if I had a pet black widow spider as a child and I think of spiders with fondness?

I'm all for showing instead of telling. It's one of the fundamental lessons beginning writers receive when they join a critique group or send their early pieces to a reviewer.

"Don't tell me Susie is sad. Show me she's sad through what she says and does."

That's good advice because telling me how a character feels rapidly becomes boring and the story turns heavy and flat.

However I also know that, while we share a universal arsenal of human emotions, we don't all see the world the same way. Hemingway and Eliot, I think, believed that we all respond to certain images, certain words, certain situations, the same way.

We don't.

So when I try to tell the truth, I have to limit myself to my truth, knowing full well that your truth might be quite different.

I really have no choice.

  • If you grew up on a farm, you feel differently about slaughtering a pig than I do.
  • If you're from Asia you feel differently about dogs than I do.
  • I may assume that $100,000 a year is a huge income. You may see it as middling.
So, really, my task is to show you my reality and make you believe in it. And to do that, I have to familiarize you with how my characters see the world. And that goes beyond finding the exact right words to convey a feeling. Because I can't assume that my words mean to you what they mean to me.

So truth is never THE truth. It is always A truth.