Here’s a little cheese…

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I am a failure as a writer.  I have yet another crappy first draft of a novel—this time it’s my MFA thesis—and yet I am no closer to finishing a decent draft than I have been in the past 5 or more years since I decided to “get serious” about being a writer.  I attempted Camp and made it 6000 words in which is the NaNo goal tracking equivalent of the 6 hours I spent editing.  In an entire month.  I do have an excuse.  I had a shitty job that left me exhausted and wracked with anxiety so bad that I spent my days sitting in my cubicle waiting to throw up.  Yes, I did finally quit that one around the end of Camp.  Unfortunately, now I’m unemployed and I’ve spent even less time writing since I quit than I did while working—I think…  On top of that, today Facebook has been an outpouring of success from all my other writer friends.  All the kids I started my MFA program with are posting praising end of semester evaluations for all the major work they accomplished this semester while I’ve been busying moving between three different states, starting jobs and quitting them, and watching a lot of TV (on the up side, I have been doing a lot of reading as well, I’ve finished 22 books out of my 30-book goal for the year, but I doubt many, if any, will count towards the 15 I’ll need to read for next semester).  Not to mention that my cousin, whose life I already envy, mentioned in her blog today that she got a book deal.  Apparently she got this a while ago, the news just hadn’t reached me yet.  The post was all about how hard she’s working to make her dream come true.  All the while, here I sit in a house that needs painting on the air mattress I’ve been sleeping on for three months, unable to move any farther in my book because I just don’t know how to fix it and that overwhelms me so much that I would rather sit around and watch TV and play games on Facebook all day than try to deal with the problem.  I have quite a lot of friends who came into grad school in the same place as me: maybe an idea for a book, maybe not, more or less education in writing, but now they are ready to embark on their final semester and finish their novels and walk away with their degrees while I finished my first draft more than five months ago (ahead of most if not all of them) and I have no idea where to go next, so it really doesn’t matter how quickly I got that bit done because slow and steady wins the race and I am far from steady.  Plus I still have to deal with the Long Critical Paper, which really should’ve been finished last semester, and the Teaching Practicum which comes with an equally formidable essay and needs to be finished this coming semester along with the LCP AND I have to get out a decent enough draft of my Thesis that I can finish it in semester 4.

I keep telling myself that even though I know it’s hard, I must continue because this is the only thing really worth doing.  But I don’t know how to do it.

J

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The Final Countdown

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This is it, one more sleep before I head off to Vermont for Residency #2.  I’m nervous and worried about residency and the semester for all the reasons I’ve discussed before, but I’m also very excited to meet up with my friends again and for all the cool workshops and everything else.  The drive will be at least 8.5 hours according to Google Maps; hopefully the weather will clear up and the traffic/construction won’t be too bad so I make decent time.  I mostly just want to be there and settled before dinner which is 6-7, but I don’t have to be checked in until 11am on Friday, so I’ll be fine whatever happens.

Here’s to the new semester and new adventures!

J

In Memory Of…

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In Memory Of...

Kenneth Raymond Polk
January 16, 1927 – September 27, 1976

My grandfather joined the Marines at 17. He fought in World War II, Korea, and Vietnam. He died in 1976 and was buried at Arlington National Cemetery, honored with a 21 gun salute.

I never had the chance to meet him, but I know he was a great man. He had seven children, the youngest of which was my mother. He loved to cook and played the ukulele. He served in the Marines for decades, both at home and abroad, sacrificing personal comfort and time with his loved ones to serve his country. He defended the rights and freedoms of people he would never meet and worked to make this country and this world a better place.

Thanks Grandpa for keeping us free.

J

“it’s all material.”

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“That’s why I write, because life never works except in retrospect. You can’t control life, at least you can control your version.”

Chuck Palahniuk

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“Bad things don’t happen to writers; it’s all material.”

Garrison Keillor

Life is hard.

The universe often throws things at us that we don’t know how to handle.  Sometimes we wonder if we’ll even survive the latest torment.  At least as a writer, I can make something good out of these trials.  When I’m powerless in my circumstance, I have a way to deal with it because I can put it to paper.

And life goes on.

J

Sleep

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“Writers do not have the privilege of sleep. There is always a story coming alive in their heads, constantly composing. Whether they choose it or not.”

Coco J. Ginger

In honor of the ZERO hours of sleep I got last night.  Unfortunately, the lack of sleep was due to the stress of all the many things I have to do today to meet my deadlines, not because the muse was whispering in my ear.

J

Forests of Inspiration

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Forests of Inspiration

There’s no better inspiration than writing in the woods. Trees make forests; Words make stories; it’s the magical circle of life.

Muses are happiest in nature.

In the forest, anything is possible…

J

High on Writing

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This evening I spent two hours completely rewriting 3 pages of creative work I sent in with my last packet.

It was a scene for my superhero story, the moment when Isaac embraces his power and becomes a hero.  I’ve had the idea in my head for a long time, but I never got around to writing it, even with all the writing I’ve already done for his story.  In my grasping at straws to find a thesis, I thought maybe I could work with him, work on his backstory a little bit, so I wrote that scene and turned it in.  The scene was crap.  Sometimes I think something’s pretty good, and it’s really not, but this time, I knew full well it was crap when I turned it in.  It was a horrible first draft throwing in the ideas and outlining the event.  I haven’t written Isaac in over a year, so I didn’t have his voice at all.  I’d been playing around with first person, present tense for a couple of my other pieces, and his story is 3rd person, past tense, so the switch was very hard for me and I did a bit of wiggling around between tenses.  On top of that, there were plenty of problems with the scene itself, things were unrealistic, even for a superhero story.

As I said, the original was close to 3 pages, more like 2.75, not that that makes that much of a difference.  My advisor’s response was: “Not much to go on here, in terms of quantity or quality (not an insult—I just mean that the drafts are obviously quite rough).”  [Note: I turned in about 6 pages total of creative work that packet—as opposed to the 20-30 in previous packets.  The other three pages were Sarah.]  He marked up the 3 pages like nobody’s business, confirming my suspicion that it was crap.

This time, rather than let it go and move on because I’d already lost interest in attempting Isaac’s story, I decided to do major revisions and see if I could make it better, decent even.  Regardless of whether or not I continue to write this story, I wanted to use it to improve my craft.

This leads me to the 2 hours I spent on it this evening.  I basically wrote it from scratch.  I checked the original a few times to make sure I wasn’t making any of the same mistakes again and to get the gist of the original idea, but I kept maybe two lines of the original.  The rest is all new.  It was an intense experience.  I drew on everything I’d learned about the craft in my recent annotations and I sat down and wrote that scene.  It was hard work—golly, writing is hard work?  Who woulda thunk?—but I came out the other side with at least a half page more and the scene feels much, much better than the original.  I don’t know if it actually is that much better, but it feels like a good scene to me and I’m proud of it.  The whole experience—getting so wrapped up in the process and the triumph of completing a good piece of writing—gave me such a high.  It was awesome.

So now, I have two other—longer—pieces of creative work to edit before I mail Packet 4 on Monday.  I don’t know that I’ve got the energy to keep at it, but I’ll give it a shot.  At least I’ve got one thing to be proud of in this packet—I hope.  At least these are new scenes, so it’s okay if they’re crappy.  And they’re not as bad as the original Isaac scene, so I’ve got that going for me.

So, off to write and/or procrastinate.

Over and out.

J

Grad School is Making Me Fat

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Apparently that whole “Freshman Fifteen” thing they all talk about applies to grad school, too (although, my first semester of college I actually lost the 15 rather than gaining it because I was too stressed to eat).

My essay/creative writing routine goes as follows:

Open document.  Stare at blank page.  Eat candy.  Start a draft.  Get blocked.  Eat candy.  Check Facebook.  Check email.  Look at draft again.  Eat candy.  Write some more.  Eat candy.  Get stuck again.  Look for food.  Eat frozen dinner because I’m too burnt out to cook.  Eat candy.  Return to draft.  Eat candy.  Realize it’s oneinthemorningandI’mtiredandbraindeadandyetstillnotdone: Eat candy.

It’s no wonder my jeans are tight and I only wanna wear baggy clothes.  If I actually get dressed…

Too bad the gym’s upstream and it’s been way too cold to leave the house.  Maybe I’ll at least get better about the exercising part now that the weather’s warming up, but once it gets over 80, I won’t want to leave the house anymore.  I can’t give up candy; I’d probably go mad without my fix.  It’s all good stuff anyway: chocolate covered almonds—some of them even dark chocolate—so it’s all protein and vegetables etc.  Yes, chocolate is a vegetable.

On the bright side, my method works:  Today I finished two annotations and my second short critical paper, so I’m done with the critical work for Packet 4.

And now, sleep….

J

“No writing? Yo…

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“No writing? Your muse isn’t speaking to you?”
“She rarely does. International cell charges and whatnot. Besides which, she’s flighty and nearly impossible to understand. And she says I always misinterpret her intentions.”
“Muses. What can you do, right?”

Kiersten White, The Chaos of Stars

“Dear Diary”

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I have been struggling to find a thesis—the novel-length work I will have to write and edit in order to graduate—and nothing as yet has inspired me enough to spend two years writing, enough to complete.

A few weeks ago, a character came to me.  Her name is Sarah and she is a depressed and suicidal teenager.  As I began to write her, I was forced to relive many painful memories from my own teen years.  I wanted more than ever to tell her story, both to help this shy, sweet, broken girl, and to give hope to others out there who struggle with depression in their young adult years.  But after a few scenes and a few days of writing, I ran out of things to write.  I didn’t know where the story was going, so I didn’t know how to get her there.  My advisor said not to worry about it, just get to know the character and let her lead me where the story needs to go, “Let her surprise you.”  I stopped trying to determine the ending and the story arc, but this did nothing to inspire new scenes.

A little over a week ago, I started Camp NaNoWriMo.  I wasn’t planning to participate this time, but NaNoWriMo has been great in helping to force the words out of me, so I thought maybe it was the kick I needed to get Sarah’s story written.  It started well enough, and then I ran out of words again.  I usually write speculative fiction for NaNo and you can always come up with more when there’s magic involved, but I’ve spent very little time writing literary fiction; it’s much harder to force more scenes when you have to stick with reality and can’t invent weird things to happen.

A few days later, I had another breakthrough.  In pondering over my time as a teenager, I remembered that I had been very dedicated about keeping a diary.  Sometimes this was the only place I could be honest about my feelings and deal with what I was going through, and it occurred to me that Sarah must keep a diary as well.  So, I began writing her diary.  It through new insights right away and I felt like I was finally doing as my advisor advised and getting to know my character.  Seven entries later, I am floundering again, but I still think the diary is key.  I considered telling her entire story as entries—I’d already attempted first person, present and third person, past—but now that the entries have fizzled and become repetitive, I feel like that’s not the answer either.  Now I’m looking at alternating between brief entries and real-time scenes using a different narration style.  I don’t see her story working in first person, past tense—at least not outside her diary—but that still leaves me a couple of other options.  As much as I hate present tense narration as a general rule, the state of the character and the content of the story would make it appropriate for Sarah’s story, so most of the scenes are written in this manner.  At the same time, I sometimes like to take a step back and work in the third person.  I already have her diary, as plain and intimate as you can get about a person, so maybe distance would be good for the actual scenes.  A benefit of third person is you don’t know the ending; she could succeed in killing herself and we won’t know, so it builds the tension.  Stories written in first person are very unlikely to end with the protagonist’s death, so the other method creates more tension and the distance is fine because we have her diary to deepen the intimacy.

Deciding on the narrative voice is all well and good, but it seems to do nothing as far as moving the story forward and giving me more to write.  I’m still stuck and building random bits of crap scenes just for the sake of writing something, which seems to be getting me nowhere.  I’ve toyed around with a lot of stories in my first semester as I’m looking for a thesis (I’m supposed to decide by the end of my first semester, but it’s not looking good for that), but this one is one that matters to me.  I just don’t know how to write it.  I don’t know how to write a story for depressed teenage girls when I saw no hope at that age and all I can offer is that: You’ll get stronger; you’ll learn how to deal with it, if you just “hang in there.”  Maybe more important than finding a solution, than fixing it and making the pain go away is knowing that you’re not alone.  You’re not the only one who feels this way.  You’re not a bad person because of it; sometimes people are just depressed.

I’m still trying to write this story.  I think it’s an important story to send out into the world.  But at this point, it’s not looking good.  Another story option has opened up and I’m pursuing it, but I’m keeping Sarah in for my Camp NaNo goal—for the time being—so that I have motivation to continue writing her story.  Come on, Sarah, give me something…

J