Archive for October 2010

Blogging Brazen? Showing Drafts Daft? Nanowrimo/Blog Quandary

October 31, 2010

Posting a Brazen Act?

Still trying to figure out how to handle this blog during November, National Novel Writing Month (Nanowrimo.)

As any regular follower must perceive, I am a person of routine inconsistency.  That is, I post pretty much every day (that’s the routine part), but the posts are all over the map, in terms of content and quality (there’s the you-know-what).

I’ve stuck to daily postings (despite the stress) because the commitment helps me to bypass some of the negative self-judgment that blocks any writer.  (If you publish every day, you can’t worry if your writing is worthwhile.  You just do what you can.)

Nanowrimo works on some of the same concepts; once you decide to do it, you simply have to hurry up and do it.

The problem for someone like me (who is lucky enough to also have a paying job!) is that two such driven activities are a bit much to conduct simultaneously.

Here are my choices:

  1. Let the blog go for a month.  (A relief to followers, perhaps.)
  2. Forget about Nanowrimo this year, as I did last year.  (A relief to myself.  I really don’t have a clue about what novel I might write.)
  3. Try to post something pre-written on the blog while doing Nanowrimo on the side.

I have been planning to opt for number 3, posting an old Nanowrimo novel called Nose Dive.

Nose Dive is a teen novel, and yes, a bit embarrassing.  I chose the story because it was silly and fun enough that I could write the initial draft quite quickly.  However, the same silly/fun factor has made the novel hard to satisfactorily revise.

The question of posting the draft Nose Dive now raises an interesting concern:  publicly showing one’s work (even as a blog) turns out to be an amazingly brazen activity.

When one publishes through a publisher there’s a shield of third-party endorsement.

When one self-publishes, or even just shows a piece to a friend, this shield is not available.  Given the rapidly-changing-to-avoid-demise-face of publishing, this is less of a source of embarrassment than it used to be.

Even so, a fairly high temperature blush arises simply from the fact that you are putting yourself on the line (even online).

And even though you say that your work is quick, rough, in draft form, there you are–risking criticism, ridicule, and (perhaps, worse) disinterest.

So.  (Confession.)  My concern is that if I (deep breath) post excerpts of Nose Dive, which is quick, rough, and (still) in draft form, I will feel so immediately regretful that I will have a hard time focusing on a new novel.

And yet, there’s that routine part of me, and that brazen part that has learned repeatedly–nothing ventured, nothing gained, and, more importantly (swallow) nobody’s perfect.

I guess, I’ll see what happens tomorrow (or later tonight.)

Hope you come back to check.

Still Sheepish on Halloween

October 30, 2010

Sheepish About Halloween

In honor of Halloween and under pressure due to the upcoming Nanowrimo (Novel Writing Month), I direct your attention to a post I wrote last year about my conflicted feelings about Halloween, and my all-time favorite homemade costume, depicted above–my daughter as a sheep.

As a side note, congratulations to Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert for bringing off their rally.  Congratulations to counter-terrorism operatives for finding Yemeni explosives.  Congratulations to all of us for getting through more than two years since the fall of Lehman Brothers and all that followed.

Happy Halloween.

Wearing Obama Heart On Sleeve

October 29, 2010

In the last few weeks, the news of the elections has been so dispiriting I resolved simply not to care any more.  My external groan was ‘what will be, will be,’ but internally, I felt too disappointed with the muddled message and mission of Democrats, and even President Obama, to feel very motivated to defend them.

A part of me told myself that at least I have no children in the school system, that maybe I’d enjoy buying stuff with tax cut dollars, and that, at least, I’d probably die before the planet was destroyed.

But watching President Obama’s interview on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart yesterday, reminded me of why I love, respect and support him.

The guy is smart, articulate, practical, honest, careful, thoughtful, realistic.

Yes, conditions in this country are terrible.  But people forget how much worse they were when he took office.

As Stewart emphasized, many voting for Obama feel that he has not brought promised change, but the fact is that we live in a very conservative country that has been going through a gut-wrenching crisis.  While a crisis may potentially bring opportunities for change, it raises an immediate panic that clings to the known.   (In the middle of a torrential rain storm, everyone wants the roof to be patched, few want it to be dismantled and replaced, and only the most calm and foresighted welcome a discussion of solar panels.)

A lot of persuasion is needed.

Which takes me to my point:  in our channel-changing, gotcha culture, aura often takes the place of substance.

Obama has substance.  But all the badmouthing, falsehoods, and difficult compromises have tarnished the glow that enveloped him at the time of the election.  This tarnish is difficult for Obama to dispel simply by being measured, intelligent and dignified.  (Especially while being dignified.)

Those on the more liberal side have contributed to this loss of aura by their contempt for the doable, fortifying the notion that ther eis no difference between parties and candidates.

Unfortunately, the adoption of this type of hopelessness is a gateway for a longterm series of abuses.  (See e.g. Berlusconi in Italy.)

So, how about some enthusiasm, people!?   Does anyone really want to play the role of angry Prom Queen whose suitor got the corsage but not the limo?

And, of course, vote!  Even if you are not thrilled by your choices, make one!

PS  – I want to send out best wishes to Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert for their rally.  I really wanted to go but alas my old dog Pearl is not allowed on Amtrak and is a little too frail right now to be left behind, even with a good friend.

Trying To Plan A Novel? (For Nanowrimo?)

October 28, 2010

Three days and very very few hours until November and Nanowrimo begin and I still haven’t spent a moment mapping out a plan.

Nanowrimo, as you may know, is National Novel Writing Month–a month in which any one of the writing persuasion is justified in caving in to all anti-social, anti-utilitarian, and Auntie-Mame tendencies in order to pound out a novel (or 50,000 words) in thirty days.

Technically, you are not supposed to put a word to paper (okay, screen) prior to 12:01 a.m. November 1.

Planning is allowed, however: outlines, mapping, character sketches, thinking.

(The deadline is self-imposed.  No would actually know if you cleverly converted outlines into written text… a week or so before November 1.)

But here I am.  Not planning anything yet, because, in my ManicDdaily way, I am grappling with personal and professional issues that feel in the instant like matters of crippling importance.  (In fact, it’s probably the feelings that are crippling, the matters less so.)

Enough said.  What do you do when you don’t have a plan for a novel and you really really want to write one anyway?

First of all, be honest.  You say you don’t have a plan, but is there nothing kicking around your cranial closet?  What about an old plan, discarded plan, some plan that seemed at one point impossible to you?

When you come up with that old plan–and seriously, just about everyone has one–think about whether you could commit to it for a month.  More importantly, could you have fun with it?

Don’t pass over a plan because you think it’s stupid or impossible, but only because you are genuinely not interested.  And even then, think twice.  (The novel loves narrative–it really is helpful to have an idea for one.)

If you can’t come up with a plan, you can always try just writing.  Start with a scene, a place, a person, a feeling, relatively random words set down upon the page.  (The human mind’s love of narrative is so strong that a story is likely to take over even when using this method.   Eventually.)

But take care.  This kind of writing (which the Nanowrimo staff calls writing “by the seat of your pants”) can feel emotionally satisfying at its inception (like therapy) but can sometimes bog down (like therapy), especially if it wanders too much into the territory of a roman a clef.

Which brings up another important point.   Whether you are a “pantser” or a planner, try to let go of the angst. There may be a nobility to enduring suffering, but few people want to read pages and pages of how you have endured yours.  Whining tends to be very hard to shape.

Besides, what fun is it avoiding the trials and tribulations of your personal life for a month if you’re going to spend your whole time writing about them?

(The lady doth protest too much, methinks.)

Pearl Makes Distinction Between Egg and Light Bulb

October 27, 2010

The last couple of days I’ve posted somewhat abstruse poems about mistaking eggs for a light bulbs.  Pearl, however, has not been confused.

More Thoughts On Eggs And Lightbulbs

October 27, 2010

Egg Head?

Yesterday I posted a villanelle mistaking an egg for a light bulb.   I was thinking about that today on the subway and came up with this poem.  Perhaps, I should say, draft poem.   Any suggestions are most welcome.

An Egg is not a Light Bulb

An egg is not a light bulb.
An apple is not an orange.
A square peg does not fit
into a round hole.

Actually, an apple is a lot closer
to an orange or even
to a round hole
than an egg
to a light bulb.

Though an egg can
have a certain luminescence.
In a pitch black room, for example,
an egg would be better than nothing
(especially if hard-boiled).

Except that a hard-boiled egg
has a blank crustiness
about its shell, like rough
plaster, or better,
gesso stuck insistently
to what would otherwise be
a relenting stretch of raw canvas,
while an uncooked egg, be it white
or brown (truly a dim peach),
has the iridescence of a pearl,
a tear, a newly-hatched idea,
which is represented (typically)
by a light bulb hovering
just above, or even inside,
a human head.

So maybe, thinks the head,
this thing called life
is possible.

An Egg Is Not A Light Bulb

October 26, 2010

An Egg Is Not A Light Bulb

You make mistakes sometimes.  (If you are like me, you may wish to substitute the words “often” or “frequently” or “constantly” for the temporal element in that last sentence.)

Oddly, the resulting embarrassment, shame, recrimination can be just as intense with small mistakes as big ones.

After all, caught in the wallop of a catastrophic misjudgment, you may feel that fate, or at a minimum, genetics, have conspired against you, while little stupidities seem all your own fault.  Or worse, your brain’s fault–your decaying, ill-functioning, brain.  Even worse–your not-decaying, but lifelong-faulty, brain.

I read a confirmation code to someone today that started with the letters HTO.  It was only after he said “that’s easy to remember, like water,” that I realized that I’d been repeatedly saying H2O.

And believe me, that was the least of it.

Computers compound one’s natural propensity for error–the screen providing a sympathetic gloss for the most flagrant typo; the automatic replace function exponentially upping the ante.

All of the above leads me to the reposting of a villanelle.  (I’m sorry if you’ve seen this one before, but perhaps, if you are like me, you’ve forgotten it…)

Villanelle to Wandering Brain

Sometimes my mind feels like it’s lost its way
and must make do with words that are in reach
as pink as dusk (not dawn), the half-light of the day,

when what it craves is crimson, noon in May,
the unscathed verb or complex forms of speech.
But sometimes my mind feels like it’s lost its way

and calls the egg a lightbulb, plan a tray,
and no matter how it search or how beseech
is pink as dusk (not dawn), the half-light of the day.

I try to make a joke of my decay
or say that busy-ness acts as the leech
that makes my mind feel like it’s lost its way,

but whole years seem as spent as last month’s pay,
plundered in unmet dares to eat a peach
as pink as dusk (not dawn), the half-light of the day.

There is so much I think I still should say,
so press poor words like linens to heart’s breach,
but find my mind has somehow lost its way
as pink as dusk (not dawn), the half-light of the day.

For more villanelles, or info on how to write them, check out that category from the ManicDDaily home page.

Need An Excuse To Write? – Nanowrimo (National Novel Writing Month)

October 25, 2010

One week until Nanowrimo (National Novel Writing Month) begins.

I confess that I am writing about Nanowrimo mainly to steel myself to actually do it.

National Novel Writing Month, in case you haven’t heard, is a month in which you try to write a novel (or 50,000 words) in the month of November.  You and a zillion other people.

Yes, it’s arbitrary.

Why not write a novel during the month of August?  Or from mid-January to mid-February?  (Better yet from mid-January to mid-December?)

And why make the effort to write so public?   With so much hoopla?

Many of the good (and silly) reasons to try Nanowrimo can undoubtedly be found, somewhere, on the very comprehensive website–

One of my favorites is the excuse Nanowrimo provides–the justification (good for at least a month) to put your writing first.  Here is how it works:

“Clean the fridge?   Yes, I did notice that green sphere (too furry for cabbage), but I’ve got to get to work on my Nanowrimo.”

“You say we need new sheets, towels, glasses, winter coat, blender and they’re all on sale this Veterans’ Day?   (But I’m only on Chapter 3!)”

“You expected Turkey?”

PS – sorry that the video is not exactly up to snuff!  I really don’t have the hang of it yet, still don’t have camera, and don’t have a clue about editing commands, or uploading, and it takes forever.  Agh.

Blocking Writer’s/Editor’s Block – Major Restructuring? (Maybe Focus On the Laundry)

October 24, 2010

A bit of a dreary Sunday.

The good news:  This morning, I finished a re-write of an old Nanowrimo novel.  This does not mean that I actually finished re-writing it, but that I finished another complete round of revisions.

The bad news:  I haven’t done my laundry yet and the laundry room here gets really crowded Sundays.

The good news:  This afternoon, I started another round of revisions on this same old Nanowrimo novel, going through it one more time.  For a while, the whole thing just seemed to work.

The bad news:  Then, I ran into a chapter that I seem to have over-edited my last time through, trying to break up the scene.  Now I think I have to seek out some of that old deleted material.

The good news:  I have a bunch of laundry to do.

As I’ve mentioned before in posts on writer’s block, my block does not arise in my initial writing, but in the editing and revising.

Part of my problem is that I sometimes want to make the manuscript to take a shape it doesn’t want.   I will try a major restructuring, hoping that certain kinds of manipulation–flashbacks, changes of view–can supply the momentum and drama that the plot is lacking.

This type of re-organization may work for some writers.  I’m not sure I’m not one of them.

Please understand that I am not saying here: “first thought best thought.”  I strongly believe in revision and editing.  (Except perhaps on this blog–sorry!)

But, for me, the editing sometimes works best on a sentence to sentence basis.  Or, even better, through cuts.   (One can get very enamored of sections that don’t move a story forward, especially when you’ve heavily re-written these sections on a sentence to sentence basis.)

But changes that involve fitting the manuscript into a different framework, or inserting a… device… tend to be less successful for me.

A good test of whether structural changes are useful is whether you can actually carry them out.  If, as you go through the manuscript, the changes feel increasingly hard to write, they are probably not helping you.

Again, I’m not saying that re-envisioning of a manuscript is not sometimes important.  Filling in blanks or making blanks can help you find your voice and your audience; it can feel both creative and compelling.

The key word is “compelling”.

Good writing does not re-write itself, but if it becomes too much of a tussle, you might consider a return to your initial, rawer, vision.  This at least will have a certain energy and drive.

Here’s the point:  be realistic about the true nature of your first draft.  If you have made an amuse-bouche, don’t try to stretch it into a full course meal.  If you keep trying to inject further substance into it, you may end up with something that can hardly be chewed (much less digested).

Now, about that laundry….

Questions of the Placement of Man (And Woman) In the Grand (or not so grand) Scheme of Things – Tea Party/Here and Now

October 23, 2010

At a kind of center

Dashing across Broadway to the corner of Fulton, late for work, and thinking about my next blog post–an off-shoot of “Lord Help Us!”, about the Tea Party’s doubts in man-made climate change.

One major distinction between Tea Party types and students of science and history is their view of Man’s place (especially the place of American Man) in the whole big scheme of things.

Swing past the thick green posts at the top of the train entrance, the heavy iron scrollwork now muted by a zillion and one paint jobs; to my left, a T-Mobile (I think) store, petals of yellow ad flash in the darkly reflective glass.

Tea Partiers, pattering down the stairs, especially those who identify themselves as Christians (with a capital “C”), believe that Man (particularly American Man) is made in God’s image, the apple (only not the apple) of His eye.  As a result, creation revolves around Man; the Earth is at his disposal.

By American Man, I also mean Woman. I grimace in frustration as I slow for one carrying a baby carriage.  (I usually do offer to help women with carriages but this one is already mid-stairs, and taking up the whole stairs too–no way will I get past her.)

Few serious students of science or history can truly believe this.   Scientists tend to be conscious of the fact that the Universe (and even the Earth) have had a long life span that didn’t include Man in a starring role, and also that it’s possible for Man to write him/herself out of the future script.  Serious historians, for their part, cannot truly believe that all of human history has been one big build-up to Sarah Palin.

I chuckle inside, feeling suddenly energized by snarkiness.  But now I see with absolute certainty, even though just from the corner of my eye, the dull sliding silver of the train.  Still moving, meaning it’s pulling in, but there’s that baby carriage and mother, and now an older lady too, and it’s a narrow entrance, but there are three turnstiles–THREE!–the rectangular lights of the train windows slow–

If all of the Earth is supposed to be FOR man, how can we wreck it, thinks the Tea Party–

I really don’t want to be rude, but oh come on–train doors opening–I jog to the left of the baby carriage, the mother, the older lady in black wool coat, slightly bent, carrying a bag, Christ–got to get around that too–determined not to discombobulate them,veering to the farthest turnstile that I never use–what did someone say the other day?–that that turnstile didn’t work, no, that the closer one didn’t work?  Random notes of random sentences depress the fervor of my Metrocard slide until the green “GO” magically appears and I push the heavy slots (it’s one of those floor to ceiling turnstiles), galloping towards the bright rectangular squares at the end of the dim concrete–

Ohnoohnoohdamn.  On hands, ouch, knees, face burning–I really should never wear a scarf–this purse–did I break anything?  The older bent lady in the black coat alarmed–I try not to think about how my hands sting and what kind of germs are crawling onto them, looking up  around tangle of neck–

The doors are still–open–I scramble upright, lunging stiffly, mumbling apologies to the old lady–oh no, my necklace unclasped, my lucky necklace, about to fling itself–grab it with one hand as I stumble into the white light of the car, the other holding open the door, turning back to those left behind.   The mother with the carriage hasn’t yet gotten through the turnstile, the old lady at the far edge of the platform–

“No no.”  She shakes her head with a smile.  I can’t tell if she’s wise, or heading for a whole different line.

I let go of the door, reclasp my necklace, resettle my scarf, wipe my hands on my pants, then don’t wipe my hands, then–ah–sit down, pretending that no one is looking at me.

Head in the clouds, theories, egocentric snarkiness, leads to–scraped knees, stinging hands, I bend down over my notebook.

Wait–that’s my stop!  Already??!!!

(Isn’t the “here and now” part of what science is all about?)

Hurry hurry hurry out the door.