Wednesday, August 5, 2009

be inspired: now


I have no idea what to write about. I sat down with my notebook today and managed a short page of nothing and thought: let's try the laptop. Magic keys. Maybe the tap tappity tap will let loose a story my pen couldn't keep up with. Maybe just sitting in front of this shiny magic laptop, fingers dancing lightly on the keyboard - maybe a channel will open and I'll be inspired. Now.

Not so.

Last summer I was pregnant and my husband and I couldn't agree on a girl name. We didn't really agree on a boy name either, but Justin gave up resisting my choice after awhile. Still, we were stuck for a girl name. I asked my mother if she had any ideas.

"I've always liked the name Claire," Mom said.

Claire didn't sound bad to us either.

So today I said to Mom, "What should I write a book about? Your nomination won last time. Maybe you'll win again."

"I don't know, Sarah," she said.

Neither do I. And I think that this could become a problem. Not yet, not quite yet. But if I don't figure out what I am going to write an entire book about soon (like, tomorrow), how goes the whole project of actually writing a book!? What if it takes me a year to think of something I want to commit two or three hundred pages to telling?

So here is what I am deciding, to give myself a little peace: I need a book idea by October. Or rather, I need to choose a book idea. I've got gobs of ideas but they all fall flat because I also have gobs of reasons why none of the ideas are worth developing. By October, I need to know.

This reminds me of a writing exercise I've used many times. (I think this is from Natalie Goldberg's Wild Mind or Writing Down the Bones, both excellent books). Halfway down your page, draw a line. Write, write, write until you get to that line. Just pour it all out. When you hit the line, stop. Write "What I really want to write about is ___" and finish that. Then go finish your page with what you really want to write about.

I think that's what I am doing now with a book idea. I'm freewriting. Just dumping a bunch of ideas in my notebook and on my laptop and hoping that something sifts to the top. Hoping that I see that flash in the pan and look closer. Come October, I should have a much clearer idea of what I really want to write about.

Or maybe I'm just still too chicken to get started.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

words on paper

In May and June I started telling close friends and family that I was going to write a book this year. This next year. Meaning this next school year. I will have time to write then, I thought. Time to write a book that might not be spectacular or publishable but will be written nonetheless.

Through the month of July, I thought about this book I am going to write. I thought about when I should actually start writing this book and what it should be about. Memoir? Novel? Short story or essay collection? Did I have to have to know what my book was about before I could write it? Should I just start?

And now it is August. Eeps.

When I was in college I spent a couple of semesters leading a poetry writing workshop at a juvenile detention center. This was a great experience that ended horribly and maybe someday I'll tell that story too. But the guys that I worked with showed a lot of raw emotion in their poems and sometimes I'd get home and cry because what they wrote made me sad or angry or feel very hopeless. I enjoy teaching poetry but not always as much as I did then because once in my own classroom, I found that a lot of students were more concerned with whether or not this poetry exercise had a point value attached. Meaning: was it really worth doing? The guys at the detention center weren't like that. They earned the privilege of attending the Sunday afternoon sessions and if a writing exercise didn't work well for them they didn't freak out about their grade or grow apathetic and scrap the whole stupid idea of writing a poem.

Early on in my Sundays, a few of the guys were having a difficult time with the writing exercises. I might say, "Let's come up with a concrete image of Anger or Love or Sad." And they'd write a bit but weren't sure if they were doing it right. "Don't worry about being 'right,'" I'd say. Then one Sunday afternoon a young man read what came out of a ten minute freewrite. "It's just words on paper!" he said. And that became our refrain. At any given time on those Sunday afternoons, one of us might say, "Hey, it's just words on paper." That made the whole business of actually writing something seem manageable.

So that is what my book is, at least right now. It's words on paper. It is just writing it out, getting it down - in my notebooks, typed on my laptop. The whole idea of writing a book seems much more manageable if I think of it as just words on paper.

But even so, those words won't write themselves.