Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Find a Happy Place! (or "Writing Spaces or Lack Thereof")

Something pretty impressive has happened over the last few weeks, everyone.
I have not only made significant progress in my WIP, I think I am actually close to a conclusion.
This will be the first proper book-length piece of work I have finished siiiiiiince 2007? I think? Yes, 2007.
This has partly been thanks to the presence of a writing buddy, and deadlines, however ephemeral they may have been. I've pounded away at significant chunks of this story, and I hope to have it rounded it out in the next week or so.
This has also been thanks to a highly adaptable work space, hence the subject of today's post.
I think writers, as a rule, have some rituals or talismans they hold to in their writing process. Some people will only write with a certain type of pen, others can only write in the wee hours of the morning, basking in the blue glow of their computers. Still others have a favorite cafe they go to to get the creative juices flowing. We're creatures of habit after all.
I used to be a wee-hours-computer writer. I would get up insanely early (in the old days, before I had to be up for school) or I would just not sleep, taktaktak-ing away on my laptop. Then, early this year, my laptop died in a wash of spilled red wine. This left me with a bit of a dilemma. My father very kindly gave me an old IBM notebook from his office, but the machine, while lovely, is unfortunately quite slow, and very clunky. Writing on it made my neck and hands hurt. The story is much the same with the desktop my husband and I own now. It's a great machine (and it works at the speed of light. Hey, Windows 7, where have you been all my life?) BUT the keyboard is at a funny angle on our desk, and no matter what I do, I can't make it comfortable for long stretches of time.
Then there is the problem of the location of our desktop. With a laptop, you have a level of mobility--I would meet my writing buddies at cafes or at each others houses, or I would simply take my laptop to my bedroom for a change of scenery and a bit of peace and quiet. Now, sans laptop, I am chained to my living room, facing a wall, with the television and bookshelves right next to me, and basically a whole host of noise and distraction (like right now, we have Escala's "Requiem for a Tower" playing on the tv speakers and my husband is whistling in the background playing sudoku on the couch and the cat is under my feet chewing on the hem of my jeans). This doesn't exactly make for easy writing.
So I unplugged, and started writing longhand again.
Now, this, from someone who wrote longhand until she was thirteen and discovered she could type almost 150wpm and that was SO MUCH EASIER OHMYGOD, is a rather big deal. I am not the fastest longhand writer in the world, and sometimes it was unbelievably frustrating to have my thoughts several paragraphs ahead of my pen. BUT, it was SO. EASY. to take a notebook anywhere. I wrote on the train to and from work, I wrote at work, I wrote in the cafe around the corner, I wrote in my bedroom, I wrote on the roof deck in our apartment, I even attempted to write while working out on the elliptical (do not recommend). I would write as much as I wanted, and then transcribe onto my computer so I could track word count and page count. If I fell short of my word count goal for the day, I would go back to writing in my notebook until I got where I wanted to be.
So, the lesson of today boys and girls, is that rituals are great when you are a writer, but adaptability also helps, and you can, really, write even without your favorite tools/time of day/location.
And now, if you'll excuse me, it's a lovely day, and the roof deck is calling my name, and I have another few thousand words to write before the day is over.


Friday, August 19, 2011

Look! An Update of the Positive Variety!

It's been more than two weeks since my dog passed away. I am rather astonished that the time went by so fast. I went home a few days after she passed, and saw all of her things--her kennel, her food dishes, those puppy pads we were using for the last year or so because she kept having accidents in the house--in a neat stack by the mailbox at the end of our driveway. "FREE PUPPY STARTER KIT" said the sign stuck to the old kennel. When I asked my mom why, she said she couldn't bear to see Minnie's things unused in her corner of the coatroom, and that what with the economy making it hard for people to keep their pets, maybe someone could use a free crate/box of quality wet food/box of puppy training pads. Her collar is still in the coat room, though. Her "bling" collar, the one my sister and I picked out of her last summer (light pink with rhinestones. My dog was fashionable, people).
So I went home. No dog. It sucked. I miss her.
But you know what? Something good came out of the past two weeks: I have been writing again.
Part of it is just the therapy in the act of writing. It's a shame, because it's often angst-ridden and melodramatic, but some of us simply tend to write more prolifically when we're suffering emotionally. But another part was simply the fact that I got fed up with myself. REALLY fed up.
When I was living at home, if I got exasperated with a story, or got  writer's block, I would take Minnie for a walk. I would rant to the general air, trying out character conversations with the trees, and generally made a fool of myself. I'm certain several neighbors still wonder if I'm completely right in the head. Usually, about halfway through the walk, I would sit down on someone's lawn so Minnie could catch her breath (remember, old) and maybe chase a squirrel. One time, I sat there, bemoaning my stuck story, my inability to write, my general failure at life in general (sound familiar???) when Minnie trotted over to me, climbed clumsily into my lap, and quite literally headbutted me in the face. Bonked me in the chin, to be exact, so that I bit the tip of my tongue.
"Hey!" I yelped, leaning back. Minnie sat back, tail fluttering, and gave me a reproachful look.
oh shut it, she seemed to be saying. Quit talking about it and just do something about it, eh?
Thoroughly chastened, I took her home, sat back down to my computer, and picked my story up again.
So was her passing away another headbutt? Well, no, but it reminded me of that time, and I realized I am basically doing now what I was doing then. And that's quite enough of that, thankyouverymuch.
So I have restarted a project I was doing with my friend Gia earlier in the summer, wherein we gave each other word counts that had to be achieved by a certain date, and to hold each other and ourselves to those word counts, we had to send each other our drafts to be counted.
This actually works remarkably well, because it combines the two things I enjoy most about writing with a peer: feedback and DEADLINES. There is nothing like a ticking clock to make you lock the inner editor in a closet for a few hours and just let the ideas run wild. Because I have to have 5k written by tomorrow, goddammit, this is no time to debate between "the sky was blue" and "the sky was periwinkle."
So in the last two weeks, I've written something like twenty thousand words. Possibly more. My story, which was limping at about 25k and starting to go in circles, is now almost 50k words strong, the plot is moving in a direction I like, my characters are developing nicely (though one remains a bit hysterical for my liking. But that's for the rewrites). But I am writing, people. Writing on a consistent almost-daily basis. It's a good feeling.


Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The furry white muse

I could say something clever about my absence after my last post, but quite frankly I have no clever words.
We all have the things and people in our lives that inspire us, or provide us with great companionship as we go through life. One of my longtime companions, and indeed my first writing buddy, was a feisty little white dog, who fetched stuffed caterpillars, loved to chase falling leaves, and was my walking companion during those many evenings when I restlessly circled my neighborhood, searching for inspiration.
Minnie was 17 years old in June. She passed away today after a long, well-traveled, and happy life.

I am heartbroken.