Saturday, November 28, 2009

ten minutes

You can write a lot in ten minutes. That's how long I'll give myself to write this post.

(So now my mind is blank).

I started the story sparked by my dream. I went a couple of different directions with the idea and think I've found two or three characters I like enough to let talk. Tomorrow I'll carve some time to return to one of the starts and see where it leads.

Sadly, my writing has not been as consistent or focused during the last couple of weeks. I'm subbing for a sophomore English class and prep time and grading have eaten at my (near) daily writing habit. Instead of two or three pages of story at a stretch, I've been managing one or two. And somedays, none. Yesterday and today I've been antsy to sit down with my notebook - which means that tomorrow I will.

The subbing experience has taught me a few things. One: Teaching really can wear your creativity down. Or rather, I spend my creativity differently. My mind is busy, but not on my writing. Well, perhaps even that isn't entirely true. I do jot notes about story lines or characters. I think about the story I am telling, even if I don't have time to sit and write.

I take my writing time as it comes.

Today I listened to NPR's Selected Shorts and think that I'll load my iPod up with more. I want to hear how others tell a story.

But I'm still considering a novel for my Book in a Year project. You'd think I still had a year left. Perhaps I'm just waiting to meet the character who says Ten pages isn't enough. Thirty won't even get you halfway. Maddening.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

from a dream and a memory

I woke up from a dream last week and thought: there's a story in this. In my dream, a woman I know (but not very well) told me her engagement story. After nagging her boyfriend about when exactly they were actually going to get married, he exploded, "Four years from today!" And then I woke up. I thought: What if four years from today is a Tuesday?

I kept grabbing at the dream, hoping that there was something more that I'd missed in my groggy good-morning-warm-in-the-sheets-first-minute-of-the-day. But I couldn't find anything.

Later I sat down to write that idea. "Four years from today!" I can easily see some exasperated boyfriend yelling at his impatient girlfriend, maybe lying about having a ring - all of that - just to get her to shut up about getting married already. But what if she holds him to it? Or what if he holds her to it?

In college, I had a guy say, "Maybe in ten years..." he could see us together. It was an awkward conversation and in college ten years is eternity and I skipped ahead to someone else. But those ten years are up now so I do find myself wondering what if? Not because I'm interested in him anymore (a fiery, brief infatuation I kept mostly to myself), but because I am really curious. What if I took him at his word? What if I waited around for ten years until he was done with medical school or graduate school or traveling the world or whatever he needed ten years to do?

The truth is, I am (thankfully) a very different person than I was then. So what would have happened if I had waited a decade and then stood before him, asking, "How about now?" Story possibilities abound.

I started writing from my dream and met a couple of characters who might work. I think I need to aim for a repeat of my Wham Bam story experience. Just write it. So now I've got some good background on my characters, which I may or may not use, and I actually did a loose outline before I wrapped up my writing so that I wouldn't forget a few of my better ideas for the two. I might take the dream idea and my own college experience and smash them together, see what happens.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

writing group

Last night I met with two other writers, each of us with different projects but all of us agreeing that meeting regularly to read and talk about our writing would motivate us to keep on.

Writing groups need boundaries so that trust is kept. So taking a line from Fight Club, one of the women suggested that the first rule about writing group is: don't talk about writing group.

So there you have it. I'm part of a secret writing group. I think it'll be wonderful. Only if we come up with secret handshakes and rituals will I write a tell-all memoir and cash in, right? Well, that would solve my book in a year dilemma.*

*Yes, I'm still not sure what I'm doing. The October deadline - decide, already! - is past and I'm a little fearful that if I commit to a short story collection, I'll end up repeating myself and recycling characters. And I'm fearful that if I commit to a novel, I'll get bogged down on page 342 and quit. Do I have three hundred and forty-two pages in me? And I'm fearful that if I commit to an essay collection, I'll get tired of my whining. Wait, I already am.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

wham bam

After feeling mopey and hindered, I sat down to write yesterday and just made myself do it. At the top of my page, I wrote:

1. A wife dreams her husband's affair and hates him for it

I didn't need a 2. I'll need to come up with a 2 and 3 and 4 and 5 eventually, but I didn't need to at that moment because I could write about that situation. So I wrote and it felt so good. I didn't overanalyze, I didn't stop to think too much. I even used the names that popped into my head first, Karla and Ian.

I was interrupted by the fire alarm which was directly above my writing desk. A horrible shock of adrenaline and I was scooping my baby up from her nap and down the apartment stairs. Nothing burned down. Someone was probably smoking in a stairwell.

I returned to the story this morning. Sometimes when I leave off, it's too easy to quit and start flailing around for another idea. I'd left off mid-sentence, something I hate doing. I reread "Karla sat down without saying anything. She took" and I wasn't sure what came next but again, I made myself write it. What came next was good. I concluded the draft and immediately typed it. It's short - less than five full pages typed - but it is by far more authentic than anything I've written in the last couple of months.

And for that alone, I am so very grateful. Just the little boost I needed to know that, yes, it is worth writing. I do have things to say and I can say them in an authentic voice.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

writing around

Lately I have felt like I've been writing around the story I really want to tell. I also feel like it's time I throw out a few ideas that have hindered me:

1. I took a class on Fitzgerald, Faulkner and Hemingway in college and after reading Fitzgerald's short story "Winter Dreams" and comparing it to Gatsby, my professor said that Fitzgerald once said something like: Every writer has just one story and they spend their lives retelling it. I know I forgot loads of other quotes and interpretations but I can't shake that idea that I have only one story to tell.

2. My mom will hate whatever I write if there isn't a happy ending. I don't know that that's actually true. And if my mom doesn't hate it, my dad will, or my brother or my sister or my best friend or my high school English teacher or my in-laws will. The thing is, when I sit down to write and they are crowding my head, clucking disapproval or not speaking to me again because I embarrassed them with my sham of a story, it is really difficult to write anything.

I know a lot of writing books devote time to dealing with the "editors" in our heads. I try to remember that when I sit at my laptop or at my open notebook. Sometimes I feel very choked and think that perhaps I should put off writing anything until everyone I know is dead.

3. I don't feel ready to write about some things. I really want to write about teaching and what I learned from the six years I spent in the classroom. I also really want to write about my two years in Colombia. Sometimes I want to write about church camp because it's a place that can strengthen or weaken a young person's faith and I have mixed feelings about my own week there each summer. But I am not quite prepared to write about any of these things yet. Maybe church camp. I could write about that. Really, I could write about teaching and Colombia too and not worry about everything being correct yet. I could write my memories and revise refine later, double checking journals. Maybe it would feel good to put these things on paper since I've been saying No, not now to them for awhile.

So there you have it. I need to let go of that comment my professor said, quit worrying about what anyone will think if my words actually find their way to the published page, and write what I want even if I'm not sure I'm telling it the right way yet. Well, that sounds easy.