Friday, March 22, 2013

Language Is so Punny!

These are thanks to my son's English teacher, who thought they were a necessary introduction to understanding Romeo and Juliet. Don't ask.

Happy Friday. :)

A bicycle can't stand on its own because it is two-tired.

A backward poet writes inverse.

If you don't pay your exorcist, you get repossessed.

Reading while sunbathing makes you well red.

Does the name Pavolov ring a bell?

When two egotists meet, it's an I for an I.

Show me a piano falling down a mineshaft, and I'll show you A flat minor.

He had a photographic memory, but it was never developed.

Every calendar's days are numbered.

A group of chess enthusiasts checked into a hotel and were standing in the lobby discussing their recent tournament victories. After about an hour, the manager came out of the office and asked them to disperse. "But why?" they asked. "Because," he siad, "I can't stand chess-nuts standing in an open foyer."

Two hydrogen atoms meet. One says, "I've lost my electron." The other says, "Are you sure?" The first replies, "Yes, I'm positive."

And... my favorite:

Mhatma Gandhi, as you know, walked barefoot most of the time, which produced an impressive set of calluses on his feet. He also ate very little, which made him rather frail and, with his odd diet, he suffered from bad breath.
This made him a super calloused fragile mystic hexed by halitosis.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

About Doubts

Pam Houston posted this on facebook today and I wanted to pass it on:
About the heavy doubt: it's normal; it's the territory, the province, the wallpaper in what Jim Dickey called the cave of making. It is your talent itself that produces it. So write through it. Do the work. If you let it stop you, if you let it make you hesitate, you're making the first and most elemental mistake, and you're acting like a dabbler, an amateur. This day's work. Each day. ~ Richard Bausch
Richard Bausch was one of the authors my advisor turned me on to last year - a master at writing short stories. One might be able to teach a class called, "Everything I learned about writing I learned from Richard Bausch."
This hit home so close today because I've been struggling with two things lately. Firstly, of course is doubt about my writing.  Is it good enough? Especially through my first drafts, this doubt plagues me to the point of paralysis if I don't put blinders on, stop reading what I'm writing, and just plow through.
But the other thing is doubt about writing as a career. I made an off-hand remark to my husband the other day that every job I want to do doesn't pay much. And his off-hand remark back, which I'm sure he meant no harm by, was that if it doesn't pay, it's not a job, it's a hobby.
And that made me wonder if I'm really a writer, or if writing isn't really just a hobby. Something I spend an inordinate amount of time doing, but really no different than say golfing or scrapbooking.  
Maybe in the end it doesn't matter if I am a hobbiest or a professional. Maybe it only matters that I don't let those labels stop me from doing the work, every day.
What do you think? Does it matter how you view yourself?

Monday, March 11, 2013

A Matter of Trust

Why is it so hard to trust our instincts in writing? Is it because we secretly believe there is some trick, some fool-proof method to writing that, if only we were privy to it would lead to our certain success, but without it we are doomed?

I question everything. My words, my sentences, my plots, my characters. I find myself wanting to thrust my chapters in others' hands and ask, "Is this okay? Does this work?"

It's been nearly six years since my critique group formed. For a long time we exchanged work every time we finished a chapter. Chapter by chapter, page by page, I worked off feedback. I think really I just needed to hear every few pages someone say, "This is going great!" so I had the confidence to keep moving forward. Because, inevitably, even with all the critiques and comments and correction, that was what my group almost always ends an email with.

Then I went to school and worked with Pete as an advisor and everything was always NOT working. I'd think I'd have something down, I'd send him the 20 pages or so, and he'd email back his extensive comments which I'd always interpret as something along the lines of, "See all that stuff you thought you were doing? It isn't working."

And he was always right.

If I'd left that way, I guess I'd have reason to question my ability to write, but I didn't. By the end, Pete told me I was ready to strike out on my own. That I had the tools and ability I needed to write well. He tried to say I could trust myself on my own.

I didn't believe him.

I've been leaning on people so long, depending on others to tell me what works in my writing and what doesn't, that I've paralyzed myself.

I realized that this weekend when I was re-working the opening chapters of my old novel. After two years of working on that thing, and a year in a drawer, it felt stale and old and tired. I love the idea of it. I love the characters. But the writing just wasn't me anymore, so I began with a blank document. And what ended up on the page was first person present tense.


I'd written this in third person past before, kept it that way, for a very specific reason. This book was too personal - too close. There are some nasty things that happen to the character, awful things she sees, and I, as the author, needed distance. I needed to not be in those dark places with her.

But now - I can see the piece is better for being in her words rather than mine. Seeing it through her eyes makes it more powerful.

But as the words spilled out, all I could think was how first person present is the kiss of death for writing. How many contests I've seen that complain about the over-use of it. How some agents have said flat out they hate it, won't look at queries for stories written that way. And the flood of doubts came back.

I thought about emailing my critique group. But I knew what they'd say: "Go for it!" They are adventurous and supportive that way. And they implicitly trust that I can pull off anything.

I thought about emailing Pete, but that felt weak. Like returning to an old crutch. I googled the topic, found out there are a huge amount of great books out there, including Hunger Games, are written that way. I'd totally not noticed that was in first person present.

I thought about emailing Pete again. Pete is brutally honest, and I knew if he thought it was a bad idea, he'd say, "Stay away from that," the way he's told me to stay away from writing about dead babies for a while. And if he said, "Go ahead, be bold and try the scary way," I'd trust him that it was okay.

I am pathetic.

The only thing that saves me from being the most insecure writer in the world is that I didn't actually email anyone. I finally said to myself, "Heidi, you are pathetic. You've been writing your whole life. You went to graduate school for two years. You have a pack of people behind you that you KNOW would say you can do this. You know that many, many books get published and are wildly successful in first person present. You are not doing it because it's a trend or because it's easy; you are doing it because it's what the story needs, despite all your insistence otherwise. You need to stop asking everyone's opinions and just trust yourself. Just write."

This isn't to say I won't have other eyes look at it when I'm done. I'd be a fool not to have my critique group read it. But I realized this weekend I need to stop expecting someone to hold my hand through the process, encourage me along the way. I need to just do it. Trust that I've gained enough experience and wise advice along the way to just write.

Am I the only one? Do you have others read what you write as you write, or do you save it all up until you're done?