The munchkin has been up coughing a lot with one cold following shortly after the last this past month and I‘m too tired these days to read a well written and thought-provoking book, let alone write one. The way I write is to imagine a scene fully then put it down on paper. Right now? If I stopped long enough to do that, I’d fall asleep. Things that would normally inspire me just aren’t. It takes a major shock, or some serious immersion, to get my brain into gear and make sense of anything.
Here’s the odd thing, a little sleep deprivation can actually help turn off that pesky internal editor. Yesterday I picked up a simile worksheet and my brain actually started firing some semi-original thoughts.
As dark as midnight in a country room with the shades drawn down.
As dead as the remains of a carcass on the highway that has been run over five hundred times.
As high as a meth addict shooting up with his two year old daughter in the back seat of the car. (Actually saw that one in the news the other day.)
As tall as the shadow of Abraham Lincoln’s reputation.
As mad as my mother when she found the metal handle of a fly swatter I broke by bending it back and forth, back and forth, even though she’d told me not to do so, and hid under her dresser. (I should have known she’d clean there. She cleaned everywhere, relentlessly.)
As blue as the notes of the last jazz song on the closing night of a club.
As nervous as a starving feral cat stealing food from the bowl on the back porch.
Growing like a zucchini when the gardener’s away for the weekend.
Along with the worksheet on simile which, unfortunately, I have no idea where I got, I found a number of other interesting items I saved over the past couple of years.
There were several inspirational pieces. One was Neil Gaiman’s pep talk from National Novel Writing Month a couple years ago. He talks about having waded into the writing of a novel and having gone from imagining that “glittering, brilliant, wonderful novel, in which every word spits fire and burns, a book as good or better than the best book you ever read” to seeing what you’re working on as something “you no longer remember why you imagined that anyone would want to read it, and you’re pretty sure that even if you finish it it won’t have been worth the time or energy.” He talks about simply moving forward, putting one word after another.
Which leads right into a wonderful interview with Khaled Hosseini, author of The Kite Runner, in the July/August 2013 Writer’s Digest where he gives the most useful metaphor for revision that I’ve ever heard. He likens it to moving into a new house, dragging all the furniture in. Once it’s all in, you have to spend the time deciding where everything should go, rearranging it until you find the perfect spot for each item.
Those two things together really create a pretty good framework for the writing process. You get a great idea and it sounds perfect. You start writing and the fire burns low, turning into embers that are covered in ash, but you keep writing as your fingers get cold. Then, you’ve finished a draft and you can put it aside for a bit or start rearranging the bits into something recognizable. I like it.
There are other wonderful things in the interview – Hosseini talks about how his writing has grown to include more multidimensional characters and he also addresses the crises of confidence and episodes of self-doubt inherent in writing a novel. It may be one of the most useful things I’ve found in Writer’s Digest recently but I will admit I love memoirs by writers. I find them often inspirational and instructive.
Another funny item I came across was the editor’s note at the beginning of the Winter 2013 issue of ForeWard Reviews. Julie Eakin shares a book of historical writer criticisms, Rotten Reviews Redux: A Literary Companion in which Rudyard Kipling is lambasted for not knowing “how to use the English language” by the San Francisco Chronicle and The New Yorker calls Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom!, “the final blowup of what was once a remarkable, if minor, talent.” I’m sure there are people today who feel that way about Kipling and Faulkner but the vast majority of readers consider them major talents of the past. It really helps to drive home the point for a writer that not everyone is going to like your writing, no matter how good you are. It’s reassuring, in a backward way.
So, where does all that leave me? I’ve been reading a lot of light stories the past couple weeks to refill the creative well, mainly Jennifer Crusie and Dorothea Benton Frank. I’m still working on story one of my four short stories. I’ve gotten little bits on it this past week but it’s been slow going. I’ve been thinking more and more of how I’m going to attack the research and re-write on the novelization of Biomalware. It’s still out there but I swear it’s getting closer. It will be re-written this year. (Heck, it hasn’t even been a year since I wrote the first draft.)
I just need to maintain my focus and write a little every day. I’m getting there. I don’t care how long it takes, and I really can’t foresee how I’ll get there, other than plugging away. I never imagined a tornado would kick start the renovations on the family farm house that I always wanted to do. (Seriously, I’ve been planning them since I was about 12 years old.) Who knows what wild and wonderful, though potentially painful, ways the Universe will move me forward if I just do my part? Only time will tell.