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Writing 100 words a day is more of a distraction than an exercise to improve the flow of words. I have been dabbling with it ever since the new year, when my friends Roy and Laurie convinced me to share the experience with them. As far as I know this month neither of them are participating, but I guess I am hooked because here I am writing my first entry for April. However, like Word Mojo Gold, it delays my concentrating on my manuscript. Funny how I can find many excuses to keep from doing something I love so much.
Making writing a part of their lives has different effects on different people. My friend, who has several published works under her belt, calls it a lonely, stringent process. I was stunned to hear her say that. I have always envied her because she has a house all to herself to write with no interruptions. I have to steal time where I can, in the midst of my family, at a computer that sits in the busiest area of the house. And then I can disappear into my writing and lose myself completely. Getting into the writing space is heaven.
It has been said that the greatest discipline of novel writing is to keep the story going where you want it, rather than letting the story take control of you. It is true that your characters start to come alive and seem to act as if on their own accord. You originally want them to do ‘this,’ and when the time comes you realize your character simply has to do ‘that’ because ‘this’ is something they would never do. But either that character, or another character, must do ‘this,’ or the plot will not unfold in the way you planned.
I am writing on the theme of writing. For my first two months on 100 words I wrote on themes – ‘Christmas holidays’ for January; ‘birthdays’ for February. I even announced a theme for March – ‘motherhood.’ But then my friends Roy and Laurie convinced me to take part in an ‘exquisite corpse’ exercise. So it is easy to see how easily one can be diverted from one’s path when writing. For some reason I have written mostly of my own memories and experience on 100 words. I have other creative writing projects I do not want to be diverted from.
How do I talk myself out of something I love? I enjoy writing and you would think I would shirk other activities in order to get in front of the computer. Instead I find all sorts of excuses for not doing it. And when I finally sit down, I usually delay my writing with at least a half an hour of mindless computer games. Right now I am unemployed and I planned to further the progress of my current manuscript. I should have had the first draft done by now. I have been out of work for over a year.
People assume your writing is autobiographical. You could mention methane storms on Venus and friends would comment, “I didn’t know you had been to Venus.” It is amazing what people think I have done based on my writing. True, a lot of it is based on my experiences. I say, I didn’t actually do that, but I would not have been able to write it if I had not lived the life I did. There are situations I have written about that actually happened, but they are so fictionalized and embroidered that they barely resemble the real event.
You would think of all the arts that writing would be the one in which the creator has the most control. After all you are spelling it out; putting it down in black and white. However, it is surprising the number of ways in which people can interpret your words. They are capable of deriving meanings you could have never foreseen. Depending on their personal agendas, they will take whatever message they want to hear from what you have written. Do not try to be an evangelist, you could end up being an emissary for something you do not like.
For me writing is a sensual act of transformation. I become the characters, I feel the emotions; I am submerged in the story as I write. I experience a current flowing from the centre of my being, down my arms and through my fingertips as I type. I am driven to do it, no matter what the outcome. It matters not who reads the words or whether they are ever published. The act of writing provides me with an addictive rush. Often when I read my work later I hate it. Other times I am amazed by my own genius.
Writing is all part of my love affairs with words. I get the same sensual thrill from reading as I do from writing. The actual act of uploading information through my eyes provides me with a pleasurable stimulation. Not only do I enjoy reading and writing, I enjoy the words themselves. I love to read about the history of words. I do crosswords in the newspaper daily, and the games to which I am addicted on the computer are word games. When I speak a word it lights up in my brain – the spelling, the roots and the keyboard fingering.
If I could I would probably communicate in writing all the time. Not by quick, spontaneous email correspondence, but by drafted letters in which every word is considered and weighed. In spontaneous conversations I either put my foot in my mouth, or I cannot think of the appropriate response. I hate it when, hours later, the perfect comment comes to me, and I wish I could go back and hold the conversation over again. When I write an important letter, I always let it sit as long as possible, tweaking it from time to time until it has been perfected.
Can one be a born writer? I think probably some of us are wired that way. From an early age I made up stories for my sister’s entertainment – at first narrating them to her after the lights were turned out at bedtime. Later, when we got separate bedrooms, those stories would be acted out in my mind lying in bed in the dark – I was driven to compose them even without my sister’s presence. I would write them out and present them to her in ‘books’ that were stapled together. Writing is definitely an innate drive within me .
I saw a show on TV Ontario, called “The Empire of The Word.” It is about the history of reading, and how it grew from an almost a magical art into a widely practiced skill. I was struck, in fact, that they referred to it as the ‘art’ of reading. But I suppose, going back to my thoughts on how writing can be understood in different ways, if something can be interpreted, it takes artistic skills to do it. An analogy might be a symphonic conductor. But would a person viewing a piece of visual art be an artist, too?
I think many writers have a goal to express ideas in as many words as possible in long descriptive sentences. My goal is to render truisms in exquisitely distilled phrases with a twist of words that makes one gasp in recognition. Maybe that is why I have gotten addicted to 100 Words. It forces you to be succinct. One of the most amusing aspects of writing here is the pruning one must do after the first draft has been laid out. I find most of the time the meaning and intent of a passage improves when words have been removed.
A certain amount of description makes for a richer read. It is helpful to get a good picture of the characters and setting. But for me, too much description feels like ornamental padding. I find my eyes glaze over and I skip to where the action starts up again. For that reason, I keep my descriptions to light sketches and let my readers fill in the image as they like. I think that is the only respectful way to write. Who wants to have every little thing dictated to them? Although some of my readers have complained they want more.
Yesterday I was at the Burchfield Penny Gallery in Buffalo. Prior to that I had not been aware of Charles Burchfield, although he is an amazing and celebrated artist – he has an entire gallery dedicated to him, after all. They have an extensive collection, even down to little doodles on scrap paper, because he saved everything for posterity, thinking people would be interested in seeing them later. I guess I write like that. Although, in truth my expectation is that I have a very small audience. For instance, I doubt anything I am posting on 100 words is being read.
I have kept a diary since I was 11 years old, when a friend gave me a journal so when I got back she could read all about a year-long absence because my father was temporarily transfered to Nova Scotia. Then I just never stopped writing. I saved everything for posterity, but I am sure those diaries would bore future readers to tears. When I was writing my novel I dug out the ones for my teenage years so that I could get the idioms right for the voice of my adolescent protagonist. It was tedious plowing through them.
It’s back again. My well-travelled manuscript has come home to me. I keep telling myself it is the difficult subject matter. Once, for a brief while, it looked like I might have a buyer. A publisher expressed interest, but his board nixed it. I should have canned it years ago, but a friend read it and said I must persevere. So I took it through another couple of drafts then sent it around again. There will be no more re-writes unless I sell it. But I am not sure how many more trips it will go on.
I am always conflicted about whether to accept distortions of language when they become common usage. After all, the current rules of grammar only came about once our language evolved on its own to a certain point at which scholars decided they should attempt to set down consistent laws. It can be difficult to decide whether to embrace a change or to be horrified at the mutilation of the language. There is a lot of dumbing down of language in popular media, but if we stubbornly insist on clinging to old formalities, we would still be using thee and thou.
The dumbing down of language really bugs me. I want to scream when I see an ad that reads ‘there’s many….’ rather than ‘there are many…’ And the use of ‘less’ rather than ‘fewer,’ where there are numbers concerned. These things really make me cringe. My friends Roy and Laurie already know I cannot tolerate it when somebody writes about ‘laying down for a nap,’ rather than ‘lying down.’ When I was younger I fell into that trap myself, but an older writing mentor cautioned me, “Hens lay, humans lie.” I love the double entendre of that mnemonic, too.
In spite of my tendency to be meticulous about grammar and spelling, I am not good at proof reading. I find it very hard to remember what I am doing because I get caught up in the content and begin reading for the enjoyment. I end up missing things. Consequently after five or six drafts my manuscripts are still full of errors. I suppose I can comfort myself, however, that the book I published still had typos in it when it went to print. That was even after a both style editor, and a copy editor, had gone over it.
I feel fortunate to live in the age of technology. Computers make writing incredibly easy. When I was a kid I was always frustrated because my thoughts raced on faster than I could keep up using pen or pencil. I would start a sentence, and forget where it was going because my mind was already paragraphs in advance. Then I would go back and reconstruct the sentence, and consequently forget the nuances of where I wanted to take it all. Even typewriters could not go fast enough. There were many times I ended up with all the strikers locked together.
I actually really love to type. I groaned when my mother insisted that I take it in high school, “for something to fall back on.” But once I got going I discovered I enjoyed it a lot. Just the act of typing, feeling the words flow out through my fingertips. When I think of a word, the keystroke fingering flits quickly through my mind. I can input text on the keyboard while holding a conversation – it just comes that naturally to me. I type quickly (100 wpm) and accurately. There is great satisfaction that comes with doing something really well.
There was an article in the paper recently about authors who write in coffee places. I often wish I could do that. There is something to be said about escaping the distractions of the household. It is necessary for me to have my surroundings organized to a certain degree of harmony. Therefore I can convince myself I cannot write until the kitchen floor is clean. I wonder about those who leave the comfort of their home to write -- assuming, perhaps, their homes are not very serene. For me, however, that disorder would follow me, in my mind, to the café.
I showed my last entry to my friend, Laurie; her comment was that people who write in public are poseurs. I definitely share that sentiment, and might have mentioned it in that entry, except I could not fit it in. But those who drag their laptops to wi-fi cafes do seem to be making an exhibition of themselves. I replied to Laurie that it is a wonder why the owners of cafes put up with those people, taking up tables and nursing a coffee for hours. I guess the owners must believe it gives their establishment a certain cachet.
Is there a cachet to writing? As I was opining in an earlier entry, writing is now easy with the benefit of computers. There is an explosion of writers out there these days. Ironically, in a time when publishing may be dying, due to the access to written material on the internet, there is a flood of manuscripts overwhelming publishers. Everybody and their aunts are sitting down to write the ‘great American novel.’ Even teens are cranking out fantasy novels. Often people go the route of self-publishing. That, too, is easier and cheaper, thanks to computers and the internet.
There are stories of success in self-publishing. One that comes to mind is ‘A Shadow In The Wind,’ by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. A manuscript for which he could not find a publisher, so put out himself and it became a worldwide best-seller. But one would have to be doggedly persistent, following up with one’s own publicity campaign, and that can be a draining experience. It is not something I am good at, I know that much for sure. I am not one of those ‘author personalities’ the publishers are looking for nowadays, whose charisma sells their books.
The only reason I have thought of self-publishing is because my first novel did have some avid fans. They were genuinely interested in hearing about the further fate of my protagonist, Joan. I already had my idea for the second manuscript, and originally it did not include Joan, but then I realized I could very easily fit Joan into the puzzle. The story is not a sequel; it stands alone, but those who read it will know what happens with Joan’s life. Ten years later, however, with no publisher in sight, I guess that knowledge stays with me.
Today I sit and look at the blank space that follows after I entered 04/28 on the document I set up for my April entries on 100 Words. All I can think is, “thank goodness April is over in a couple of days because this theme is getting old.” The best way to approach writer’s block is to just start writing, and that is what I am doing – simply recording my current state because it will get the juices flowing. Yes, that is what I am doing. If I just keep blathering I will make my word count.
I saw on the news last night that some blowhard politician, known for drawn-out speeches, is now on Twitter. People were chuckling that it would be hard for him to keep his texts to 140 words. Hah, I thought, someone should tell him about 100 Words. I am not on Twitter, but I was wondering, do people do creative writing on there? Are there masterpieces of 140-word authorship doing the rounds on Twitter? In a fast-paced world, will there be serial novels in 140-word chapters? It rather meshes with my aspiration for the perfectly distilled phrase.
Now I look like a complete idiot, having been informed by my friend, Roy, that Twitter allows 140 CHARACTERS. And I am not allowed to go back in and change my entry from yesterday – so my ignorance of Twitter has been recorded for posterity. Really, is there any worse torture for a writer than to be forbidden to edit? That is the flip side of the glow of publishing. Your words are now literally carved in stone, you cannot take them back, you cannot amend or add to them. Suddenly what you were so sure about previously seems possibly mistaken.
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