Category Archives: Writing

I will not fear death

Somethings must pass in life. A loved one, a moment, an eternity. We live our lives thinking that the day to day is all we know, not knowing that there are tiny and large moments that become the paragraphs, chapters and novels of our lives.

I was privileged the opportunity to explore the last chapter of a great building in Hamilton, before the new novel is written.

These are her words.

Pull up and have a seat, dear one.
Stay awhile.
Do not trouble yourself, there are paths everywhere.
Make good friends and they will treat you like gold.
I am ugly, but I am also beautiful.
They know not what they don’t see.
But you have eyes and ears, so I will tell you this story.
Even the secret ones. But maybe not all of them.
There is activity going on. We are preparing for a new phase of life.
Be careful.
There are dangers here.
And new to you, but old familiar friends, as well.
Try not to touch the buttons.
And may your travels be safe and filled with light.
Take a souvenir. The exit is by the gift shop.
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Reading in Polish

I began reading in Polish once I finished the English books I brought. Half the books I brought were actually already read by the time I got here. I read them inordinately fast, as though I wanted to be done them as quickly as possible. The first time I saw a secondhand bookstore in Wroclaw I couldn’t stop staring at all the undiscovered (to me) writers in the window. Names that I had never heard. Titles I had never read. All the mystery lay before me like a cave of treasure.

daffy

Eyeing my aunt’s collection once my books were done, I landed upon an old familiar title. I’ve read Eat, Pray, Love already. I even watched the movie on cable a few years ago. I knew this would be a good introduction. A familiar story in different words is a perfect transition to a new language. I’m over a hundred pages in and the task of reading in Polish is no longer such a task. The words flow freely most of the time. There are still hiccups when I come across unfamiliar words or phrases. Polish isn’t exactly the easiest language to read. There are a lot of S’s and Z’s. But, like all things that start out hard and build with momentum, my ability to read is improving.

It’s a lesson that will serve me well in life. Sure things start off hard when they’re unfamiliar. Sometimes you need to give it a try more than once. This is not the first book I have attempted to read in Polish.

Sometimes you need more than one try at something. But once it clicks, the horizon looks bright and beautiful.

Practicing

Practice makes perfect. It’s an old saying that has stuck around for so long because it’s true. You’ll never become good at anything unless you practice. And really what’s the point of being good anyway? It’s to become great at something.

Often I see people post videos on Facebook of child virtuoso’s. These pint-sized Pagininis are musicians, an achievement that is best unlocked through practice.

Yet the majority of us don’t want to practice. I’ve never been good at playing an instrument because I have never been good at learning how to play an instrument. In various times of my life I have expressed a desire to learn, but the habit of practicing has been hard to grow. Maybe instead of teachers teaching us how to play they should teach us how to practice? They teach us the method so that we can go home and practice. And a select number of us end up practicing while a whole bunch of us don’t and we never really learn. Those of us who don’t do it lack that self-discipline to follow through.

commitment

Habits are formed through practice. When I sit down in front of a piano or keyboard to practice my playing or writing I get uncomfortable. The discomfort is greater in front of the piano than it is in front of the laptop because I have more practice hours in front of that machine, but nonetheless it’s still there, which is why my blogging output is so meagre.

So what do you do when you’re trying to motivate yourself to keep practicing, long after the mood you made that commitment within has left you?

A friend of mine, Chris Hercules, has a great method of self-motivation, and it’s wonderfully simple. He counts. He counts the number of minutes he practices the piano and flute. He counts the number of pieces of poetry he writes. He counts. And when you count for a number of times, you end up with a number that’s either greater or less than the one you hoped for. You see all the work you’ve done in the past to get to where you are now. It’s not hard to see it because it’s a number.

Chris and I challenged each other this week with a series of goals, some that involve counting and others that do not. I like that we’re helping each other to stay motivated because sometimes you need a friend to put a fire under your ass to get going.

One of my goals is to write two blog posts in one week. So here is the first one! And I’ll continue to challenge myself with this writing goal for the month of October because a writing habit takes more than one week to form.

B is for Brobdingnagian

Brobdingnagian: adjective; come to describe anything of colossal size.

When you’re faced with writer’s block, writing about anything feels like a brobdingnagian task. That’s a million dollar word for you. It’s terribly ostentatious and speaks largely to a person’s knowledge of literature (or supposed knowledge–it’s a term that comes from Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels, which I have not read.)

Writing about writing helps. But eventually one has to branch out past one’s inhibitions and begin writing again about the things that matter in a person’s life. What matters in a person’s life? Itemizing can feel like a brobdingnagian task, too.

The act of creating something takes effort. Not monumental effort, mind you, just small, everyday effort. It all builds up to a wonderful crescendo as time passes and you can see what notes you have lain down to get there. Slowly, surely, one step at a time. A life’s work does not come out of you all at once. That’s why it’s called a life’s work.

I have to be mindful of that. So many times I have robbed myself of the joys in creating something because I’m too impatient, too interested in having instant gratification. We’re all like that to a certain extent. Why else would smartphones exist? But when you take the time and effort to build something over time you will be infinitely more satisfied with what you have created rather than what took less time to make.

My father was a woodworker. He exemplified that belief that it doesn’t take brobdingnagian effort to create something. Slowly he built up his own workshop and through time built lovely things for the whole family, as well as friends and people in the communities that he lived in. I see it in my sister who’s garden flourished this year. Her green thumb gets greener each year as she learns about what works and doesn’t work in her patch through trial and error. I see it in my boyfriend who makes each meal a challenge for himself to create something complex and flavourful rather than the same old boring meal time and again. He’s built our pantry into a spice haven.

All this to say that life is about the small things, not the big ones. We all face colossal moments, but they aren’t the only ones that define us. It’s the smaller tasks that we enjoy and master that define us in the end.

And then I realize…

I’m writing Young Me into a story.

Okay, who am I fooling? I already knew I was writing Young Me into a story. The whole story came out of a desire I once had, plus a particularly nasty experience.

So why is it so hard for me to write Young Me?

Is the character too close? Do I not want to remember how foolish and niave Young Me was so when I’m trying to write her all I see is the bland nice things and none of the dark shadowy things that made Young Me interesting?

That’s the problem here. I’m writing Young Me and she’s as boring, dry and er, crusty as a bowl of day-old oatmeal. She’s utterly unexciting. She has none of the pinache, none of the off-the-cuff ridiculousness that Current Me exhibits (usually).

What am I doing wrong? Should I be writing Young Me? Shouldn’t my character be separate from me? Every where I turn, I keep learning that you need to know your character as well as you know yourself. You’re writing her, after all. So what the fuck, Current Me? Why you no write good no more?

Maybe it’s because I have other things on my mind. Big things. But this is what I’m doing right now to keep Current Me sane. I’m writing. I’m writing about Young Me. Young Me and the stupid ideas that she had that got her hurt and molded her into what eventually becomes Current Me. But…not really, because this is supposed to be fiction. The lesson that Young Me learns won’t take her years to figure out like it took me. By the way, I’m calling her Emily in the story for now. She’s gone through several name changes in fact, including at one point STEALING her sidekick’s name, can you believe that? What a fucking hussy.

What’s her lesson? That there are bad people in the world and they will steal your innocence. But you can come back from that hurt stronger and smarter than you were before. You just have to stop trusting people.

It’s kind of a sad lesson, isn’t it? Yeah, well. I had to learn it as well. And I’m trying to teach it to my character, but how can I teach it to my character if I can’t even define her?

Here we are. We’ve made it to the point where I am doubting myself. I’ve written well over 17,000 words in the first draft, plus MUCH more in my character sheets and outlines, and I’m at a point where I think: holy fuck, I know nothing. I know LESS than nothing about writing and I’m trying to write a story. What the fuck was I thinking? Clearly I am in way over my head.

Earlier today I began thinking about starting it all over again and the thought alone is so insurmountably depressing that I can’t think of it any more. So I’m going to step away from the computer and do other things to occupy my time until the urge to delete the first draft that is only half-finished (wow, is it already half-finished?) subsides.

Throwing Out Pitches

Sometimes I get bogged down by the amount of advice that I consume on the internet. It feels like a weight that presses down on me. I get advice and I can immediately see where I can use it to improve, but then there’s more advice coming at me, and I start to lose my grip. Maybe it’s less like a weight pressing down on me than a conveyer belt bringing along fresh products that need to be put into a box quickly. I lose control of my rhythm because I get confused and I start stuffing information into my mouth to make it disappear because I can’t think of where else it can go. Then my brain shuts down.

Lucille in the Chocolate Factory. She knows what's up.

Lucille in the Chocolate Factory. She knows what’s up.

Can not compute.

I know I have a lot of stuff to learn about this whole writing business. I don’t want to get bogged down by all of this advice, though. It stalls me. It makes me think that I’m no good at what I do. It makes me forget all of the progress that I’ve made.

Lately I’ve learned to be more patient. A lot of my stalling out happened because I wasn’t patient. And I think part of this comes from the overload of information I would give myself. I would spend a day mindlessly consuming information and I would be left with a whole lot of confusion at the end of hte day because all of that advice came with actionables and I didn’t know what to turn to first. Which actionable should I do? To the point where I wouldn’t know what to write about anymore.

So I’ve been more mindful of that lately. I want to succeed and I’m understanding now that, while advice is good, it’s the getting shit done part that actually makes things happen. To that end, I use my time in different ways now. I’m mindful about it. When I decide I want to do something for a set amount of time, I set my mind to that task and that task alone (with the occasional Facebook or Twitter break, of course. Come on, I’m only human.)

It took me a long time to realize this is how I need to work to get shit done. And thus far it’s proven a good method. For instance, I’ve written over 12,000 words in my novel thanks to this method. I set a goal of 500 words for myself. And just recently I decided that this would be a daily goal. Instead of waking up each morning with a cup of coffee and an hour on Facebook (please don’t judge me) I’d wake up with a cup of coffee and a half hour on Facebook, followed by 500 words. I’d been stalling on the book lately because I haven’t been making it a priority and I want to complete this book. I realized though that I wasn’t giving it enough of a priority on my to-do list. It was there, but it was often at the bottom of the list and it was rarely crossed off. That and updating my mailing address on my credit card; these were two tasks that I just keep putting off and having to write them each time my to-do list gets too full and I need to write a new one. Now it’s going to get crossed off each time I write a to-do list and then I’m going to write it back on because it’s a daily task. It’s not a once-in-a-while task. The mailing address thing, I’ll get to it eventually.

Back to the pitches. Seeking advice used to be a task that I would spend mindless hours on and I would quickly get bogged down by my desire to learn. I can’t do that anymore. If I want to learn from these experts, I need to do it the same way that I do my other tasks: mindfully. If I want to read articles, I will put them on my to-do list and cross them off when they’re done. And while I’m reading them, I’ll take notes of what I want to learn from them. And then I’ll use that information in the most useful way I can. I have to stop mindlessly searching for advice like that. And I know it’s hard. Half of my Twitter feed is advice for writers, but I can ignore it or save it for later when I know I’ve got the time and energy to read it.

At the end of the day it just comes down to time. How much time do I have to devote to learning versus time I have to devote to the actual task at hand? Right now I’ve got a good amount of time I can dedicate to my career. I have a boyfriend and a good social circle of friends. I don’t have a child, though, which is the number one factor that will cut my time in half (or even a third). A lot of my friends are having children right now. It seems a week doesn’t goes by that I don’t hear about someone having a baby. It’s made me think a lot about my own desires to have children and how they’ll impact my desires for my career. Yes, I want kids. Yes, I get pangs when I hear about others having babies. No, I wouldn’t rather trade places. I’m glad I have this time. I need this time and I’ll use it to learn and do. Because who knows how long I’ll have this time for and if i don’t use it wisely, it’ll be time that I’ll never get back.

First Draft, Second Draft, Third Draft, Go!

There’s something satisfying about writing my first draft by hand. Obviously that doesn’t always work. I can’t write a whole novel by hand and it boggles my mind how one must have done it before the typewriter or computer was invented. Obviously it happened otherwise we wouldn’t have Dickens, Austen, or even Homer or Ovid.

But luckily I live in a time when I don’t have to worry about ink stains and sharpening quills to the right width for my preferred writing style. I do suffer from a distraction when my pen ink runs too thin or not fluidly enough, though.

Despite that, sometimes I need to get off this machine and write by hand. It forces me to think in a different way.

Just now I finished the first draft of an article about fashion designer Lucien Matis for PRODUCT. I transcribed our conversation on the computer and printed out the pages as I often do to highlight the good quotes. But then I was struck by a desire to stay off the machine. I wanted to write this story by hand without the usual aids that I turn to when I get stuck. For instance, I’ll often go looking for a detail while I’m mid-sentence or thought so I can finish it completely. But because I wasn’t on the laptop, I couldn’t find that detail just yet and so I had to force myself to rephrase it. And it doesn’t lack anything without the detail, it’s just a detail after all. I can go in and add it in later of course.

Then there’s the quotes as well. For sometime now I’ve been trying not to write and add quotes at the same time because it makes me lose my thought. I’ve begun to see quotes as devices to use as emphasis, not as driving forces for the story, as I used to. It’s been a good exercise and I feel like I’ve gotten better at structuring my thoughts without those pesky quotes flying around me like little butterflies, waiting to land on the paragraph.

The idea of that came to me when I began writing my novel. At the same time I was reviewing a manuscript for a friend and I noticed that his work contained a lot of dialogue. It wasn’t always needed, though. So I began to see dialogue as something I could use for emphasis, not as a driving force. Perhaps I’ll learn later on that it can be used as a driving force. I don’t think there’s only one solution to writing after all. But this was something that came to me most recently.

This whole writing business, now that I’ve embraced my love for it and have stopped fighting against the tide, is a learning process that is constantly giving me new inspiration and creative fodder. I used to see stories in everyday life. I still do! But now I have the confidence to know that I can write something good because I’m learning how to do it. It’s empowering. Galvanizing. Really fucking cool.

I must get back to Lucien. His second draft is waiting.