You are currently browsing the tag archive for the ‘How to Write’ tag.

Moving as writing. Moving as life.

Little by little, progress is made. Some of it is negative progress, to be sure; an absence rather than an addition.

We gather from one place in ourselves to bring to another. We pack ideas into boxes. We remove thoughts from walls. We try to figure out where everything will fit. We create the disorder from which order will emerge.

It’s unsettling, sometimes. Often, it’s just plain upsetting. Nothing is decided. Nothing can be. We do not own ourselves. We do not command certainty. We make our decisions in small moves, one to the next, the Rubik’s Cube on the way to a resolution. One move leads to another; that move to another. We make a mess of things. We hope everything will come out right eventually.

We move ourselves, our hearts, our thoughts. We are wakened by concerns in the impossible hours of night, and not gently. Reality is too much with us. Until we can reside comfortably again, in words, in home, in our heads.

The blank wall is a place between places. Things removed from it, it is empty of us. Waiting, it is a place of possibility. It’s the in-between that sucks.

Advertisements

The principle of Conservation of Energy tells us that energy can’t be created or destroyed.

Where did mine go, then?

Just finished unpacking about a dozen boxes from the ol’ Cruiser, stacking them in the bedroom, hanging some art in the new bathroom, Moving food from boxes and cooler to cabinets and fridge, collapsing in a chair, contemplating the notes I taped in the car on the drive down.

The bathroom is starting to look like a place where an actual human would…umm…reside. Art isn’t final, yet (I am famously fussy about what goes where); no curtains conceal the view from bathroom to river (which is okay, because nobody but heron, woodpeckers and eagles would see into the window anyway.) Stuff isn’t done—far from it. Boxes and boxes remain to be unpacked. Furniture needs to be moved, room to room and house to house. But it’s progress.

Chaos is like water: It flows into every available space. I have traded the torn-up bathroom for a pristine space, but elsewhere madness prevails.

When the madness is resolved, it will transmogrify into another sort of chaos. The internal kind. A space emptied out for echoing thoughts to fill. A book that’s rapidly approaching its finish. Another book to start. A job to find.

One sort of chaos will be traded for another. And, sooner or later, I’ll reach the place of no chaos at all.

And you want to know a secret? A nagging part of my head tells me that I may just miss it when it’s gone.

If you’ve ever worked as a writer in advertising, this is a comment you’ve heard: “Make it shorter.”

Problem is, the comment is rarely ever accompanied with a direction of how much shorter, or which of those hard-won product attributes goes on the sacrificial altar of editing.

Make it shorter. Hmmm. What is the length of a string?

As always in Sky Diaries, one observation leads to another…and it always leads back to writing. In fiction, when is a sentence is too long? How long is too long?

According to Games with Words, a fascinating blog about language, this info:

“James Joyce long held the English record with a 4,391 word sentence in Ulysses. Jonathan Coe one-upped him in 2001 with a 13,955 word sentence in The Rotter’s Club. More recently, a single-sentence, 469,375 word novel appeared.”

I’ve also seen Victor Hugo’s name up there among the kings of word-strings. And Proust. But for those of us mere mortals at the page, what is workable? Or reasonable?

Seems like a no-brainer, yes? The sentence should be as long as it takes to get the thought out, right?

Ah yeah, you guessed it, another question rises.

What do we owe the reader? What do we owe to the question of what readers will actually—and literally—sit still for in this Byte-bitten age? When is what we demand of a reader too much of an ask? When is the über-long sentence an adventurous literary device, and when is it just a self-indulgent gimmick? And, more importantly, should such questions be entering our minds at all?

Okay, okay. What about this? If long can be too long, can short be too short? In my quest to express passages that reflect innermost thought, I make liberal use of fragments. Single words. This is the way we think, no?

As always, in this space, these are questions without answers. I have asked the question I started with, about the length of a string. Writing as a Zen koan. Solutions to be plucked out of the universe.

Isn’t that what writing is?

Gene Kelly danced in the rain. Enjoyed it, yes; celebrated the finding of love in it, yes. But he danced despite the rain, not because of it.

For some of us, we write to the virtue of grey.

Writing in rain. How much easier it is for some of us to write under grey skies than sunny ones. That lowered sky holds our thoughts close-in; keeps our words nearer to us than if we were to think them under a canopy of infinite blue.

The grey sky contains us; it is much more like the roof we see on the inside of our heads. Grey is the color of the melancholy infused into our DNA. The part of us that sighs even as it smiles.

Which raises another question: Do we write from a place of melancholy or joy?

We write from an ecstatic place, sometimes. And, sometimes, from deep sorrow. We write hope and fear and loneliness and gratitude. We exorcise nothing—we merely share it. Often, we magnify it in the remembering. We dance in rain, despite ourselves.

Ah, but grey.

Grey flattens contrast. Grey lays gauze over the vision that pops. Grey is a soft foundation. A lack of challenge. A fill-in-the-blanks. Grey does not insist that we be happy. Grey-with-rain gives us permission to sit in a chair and ruminate.

Grey is not an extreme. In the seesaw between joy and  sorrow, grey balances us somewhere in between. And that is the perfect place from which to reach for everything.


As good Caleb scrapes around in the bathroom, grouting Friday’s tile, the sounds through the wall remind me of something that the music-less, TV-less room tell me every day.

Writing is a solitary act.

I’ve tried to write in company (advertising aside—the ad biz is an industrial work floor for many companies nowadays, with worker-bees in cube farms that permit no privacy whatsoever). I’ve tried to write with dear K in the next chair. Mostly, the attempt is an exercise in going through the motions. The real stuff, the deep, rich stuff, happens only in solitary silence; in the absence of any sound but the sounds of Nature and the singing of the words.

Makes me wonder why.

The people-being-around impossibility: Is it an issue for me as a writer, me as a female, or both?

As women, we are socialized from birth, it seems; raised to be gracious and accommodating, with one eye eternally canted to the comforts of whoever else is in the room. We are compasses fixed on the magnetic north of Other. We find our places in the world by where our companions are.

It makes writing difficult. Hell, it makes it impossible.

Do male writers feel this? Are guys as overly-socialized as we are?

Writing is tough enough. The brain looks endlessly for excuses to come up for air. That next cup of coffee to make, the fingernail to file, the fallen houseplant leaf to discard, the load of laundry to get started, the plant to water, the nosh to munch—there are days in which we’ll do anything to put off the slow climb down into the deep wells of ourselves. We don’t have the good sense to set the damned thing aside and walk away for a bit. We don’t have the sense to come in out of the rain.

That’s the toughness built into solo-ness. Add another breathing being and the problem is multiplied exponentially.

Silence is my treasure. In an otherwise open-handed life, I share it reluctantly. This gift of quiet alone-ness is one I give myself and the work. The product of Solitary is part of being the writer I am.

 

You wait, holding your breath. You wait, telling yourself to accept with an open heart. You wait hoping. You wait afraid.

When a friend you love and respect delivers the verdict about what he/she thinks about the book you’ve spent your soul writing, your creative life flashes before your eyes. The greater the love for the commenter, the greater the respect, the deeper the emotional jeopardy is. And if a considerable amount of time has passed between the read and the comment, the tougher the anticipation becomes.

Waiting for a biopsy result isn’t a whole lot tougher, trust me.

Balance-in-the-waiting is hard to come by. Perspective is out the window. If your friend hates what you’ve done, what then? The friendship won’t be abandoned…but will it change? Will your feelings remain the same if the answer to “will you respect me in the morning?” is no?

If your friend likes—or even loves—what you’ve done, it’s a whole different ballgame. Life is sunshine. One sincere, substantial, favorable assessment, and we look up the steep and impossible cliff face of the work with a renewed will to scale the thing to the top. We find our joy again.

This, a realization from Salon last night. A lesson learned in every talk and every email exchanged with the folks I so dearly love: We are the classrooms of ourselves. Our very smart, very creative friends and us, we school one another. We learn from one another. We grow one another. We borrow and we steal from one another, and we do it celebrating.

In these difficult, anticipatory moments we find buried treasure. From the reactions to the work come the things that improve it; that make us want to do more and do it better.

That the comments of friends could carry such profound emotional weight? Who’dathunkit?

Packing books. As distressing as it is, this disturbance of my catlike life, there is a lesson in it. A reminder. Of the building blocks that have made me who I am, writer and person.

I love libraries, those repositories of possibility. I love the opportunities there. I even love the smell of them. I lived in libraries when I was a kid. Had the shelves memorized. Found a refuge there. Found revelatory worlds.

Then I grew up.

The book-love stayed with me. But where it lived changed.

I loved to buy books. I still do. I love having them, carrying them, keeping them as long as I want to. I love knowing that my hands, my eyes are the only ones that have caressed them, my personal, intimate one-on-one relationship with the author. I loved having uninterrupted time to linger over them on the subway rides to an from work in NYC. I love what they mean when I’m finished with them. My apartment in Brooklyn had seven bookcases. Seven. Floor to tall ceiling. All of them were full. I had read every book there.

I was not a hoarder. I was a Reader. A Reader who wrote. Or a Writer who read. Same thing.

When I moved from that Brooklyn apartment after so many years, I thinned the collection. I gave a lot of the books away. Sadly, I admit that I even threw some out. And at a time in which I’m more and more inclined to streamline and simplify, I have a hard time releasing those volumes that have meant so much to me. Giving them away would be like giving away a friend. Or a pet.

As I pack them once again, these books are a mini-movie of my life. A photo-album of what I’ve felt, what I’ve known, what has made me curious, who I’ve been, who I knew. The books I read again and again—and the books I keep for reasons I no longer understand—they mean something. They are memories. Molecules in the head. The evolution of a being. A sampling of ingredients in the recipe of the writer I am. A living thing in the living organism of Me.

That is one of the best things a writer can hope for: to continue to mean something to the person whose head you’ve shared from cover to cover. A moment of we-are-one. An emotion we knew together. A memory we made. A truth we found. An idea we shared.

Writing is not merely the shallow need of wanting to be read. It is the desire to connect. For a minute or for a lifetime. And that is the truth of books; of the writer who reads, and the reader who writes.

I am writing to the sound of thunder. Rain falling. Release.

After weeks of bone-dry, seemingly endless days of drought—inner as well as weather—this is a joy. A relief. A cleansing. A return to normalcy.

Writing is like that.

For weeks we live in the parched landscapes of ourselves. We do the rain dance in our heads, to a universe that is not listening. We wander the desert of our desolate selves, hoping for the oasis to appear on the horizon. We don’t have a clue of the right direction in the shifting sands of our thoughts.

Then it rains. Maybe for a minute. Maybe for an hour. Suddenly the air is easier to breathe. The view is cleaner. The sky is interesting. The land exhales green. The river dances with raindrops. The billowing clouds are a percussion section. Even the birds sing a happier song.

And for that moment, possibilities are glorious. We stand in the joy of it, heads upturned to catch the downpour, our clothes sticking to us, hair dripping into our eyes, glad beyond measure to be part of it all. Everything is possible. For as long as it lasts.

We wait for rain. We accept it when it comes. We can’t make it happen by force of will. In weather, so it is in life, in writing.

Seed the clouds. Do the dance. And have the rain barrel waiting. We can’t afford to let a single drop of inspiration get away.

Woke to the sound of thunder. Went out and stood in the rain, like someone who had never seen the stuff (sadly true.) The grey of the sky is beautiful in its rarity; a sky that is, for a while at least, not a dare.

The day is a metaphor for what I face on the page, that desire to look at a bigger sky; the realization that I can. My own writer-advice has been tough to follow. Look at the bigger theme of the chapter, I tell this blogspace. Use the overall import/impact of the chapter to drive you. Write to the idea, not the individual word.

Follow your own advice, Lynn.

When the ground upon which one walks is uneven, one tends to fix on the space that will receive the next footstep—to stay steady, to keep one’s balance. The page is like life, that way. Losing the greater meaning, the direction, is too sadly easy when one stands on uneven life-ground. And stepping back for a better perspective: impossible.

The character…it’s me. The plot, my life. The perspective, mine to find. For now, there is a small, welcome joy in this grey day. A day different than the one before, different than the one that will come after. The sky as a metaphor for my life.

We don’t know how anything will end. Not in our lives. Not in our careers. Not even in the book-in-progress.

We move through the stations of our days. We don’t always choose the path we travel toward a destination we can’t guess. We do what we can.

Some days of not-knowing bother me more than others. I like being settled. I like surrounding myself with a certain amount of order. I like having a plan—even if it’s one that I choose to ignore. Facing weeks of “what’s next”, looking down the barrel at the end of a book that remains elusive, not the tomorrow I would have chosen for myself.

That sense of imposing order—even a little bit of it—upon chaos: I know what that’s about. It’s the illusion of control in a world that, to borrow an analogy from David Emory in The Spiritkeeper, is like standing at the edge of a diving board in the dark. No way to know how far you might fall, no way to know whether the pool is empty. Living for the moment is a wonderful thing. But not always.

In the chaos, an occasional gift of perspective. A knowledge that, in the book as in the jumble of boxes and the piled-up possessions, order can and will emerge. Eventually. Things will sort themselves out. Ideas, like physical objects, will be where they belong. The elements that make up my life will be findable again.

But for now, I am stuck in the boxes and tape and what-the-hell-comes-next. The ending I’m looking for isn’t in sight.

The trick is not minding it.

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 674 other followers

Advertisements
%d bloggers like this: