Monday, 29 October 2012

Oh Nooo! it’s NaNoWriMo


Kudos to all the brave and energetic souls preparing for this year’s NaNoWriMo. I'm not one of them. Not this year. I participated in one NaNOWriMo and 21 days into it, I hit 50K+ words and decided that if I kept going I’d DIE. I don’t remember most of what I wrote but I know it was bad. Bad! Bad! Bad! It’s funny though how much to the material I've been able to revisit, revise and use in other pieces. Like I tell students ‘It’s ok to write bad’ to start with. When you have material to work with you can fix it later; you cant edit a blank page. And to prove that I'm leading by example, I'm posting this small snippet from my NaNoWriMo piece to show you how truly bad it was. I must have hit a wall and this is what ensued-a conversation between the characters and the writer. It won’t make a lot of sense because the plot line is absent (and sadly always was) but I hope it gives those of you attempting the feat a good laugh and a little encouragement:  

 The thought This is turning out to be really good! leads suddenly to a new thought and the NaNOWriMo writing goes on:

‘But what isn’t turning out so good is the quality of this writing,’ Melody said.
‘I know,’ Jenny said. ‘We should go and talk to Mrs. Gilbert in the library and see how it can be improved.’
‘I doubt its possible’ Caroline said. ‘It started off badly and it just got worse.’
‘Well, whoever is at the keyboard really has a lot to answer for.’
‘Yep. The writer has made us stereotypical and one-dimensional.’
‘Why did she always insist on writing about teens? She knows nothing about that.’
‘Not any more,’ added Caroline.
‘Maybe what she should do is write a story like that. As if the characters are speaking to her from the page and she’s the writer. It has an odd merit to it.’
Melody butted in. ‘How much of idiot has she made me look? I can’t think for myself, I can't defend myself. I’m a complete wimp and what physical features do you know about me? Zilch! So much for five senses.’
‘God she’s bad hey?’
Caroline shouted from the page, ‘hey how about making us more real? You should map us, you idiot. I’m mean, poor old Mel her goes from being sixty to being seventeen and in between she gets to be a porn star and a sex maniac. What the hell is the plot here?’
‘There isn’t one,’ the writer typed back defensively. ‘I’m not saying I’m good at this, but I’m trying!’ The writer pouted. ‘Some people won’t even attempt this.’
‘Ha! Maybe you shouldn’t have either,’ character one said. The other two characters high-fived her.
;Well if you’re so smart, speak to me,’ the writer countered. ‘Tell me who you are? How can I get to know you?’
‘Firstly, start with what you know. You’ve been young. You know what it’s like.’
The writer scratched her head. It was a long time ago. She came from an age before text messaging. If I wanted to see you later, that’s what I had to do. I had no way of telling you I’d ‘c u l8r’.
‘Yeah, you’re hilarious,’ character two said drolly. ‘Look you need to lift your game. What about those MRU things that you go on about?’
‘Motivational Reaction Units?’
‘Yeah you know, action reaction and visceral responses. All that shit. You write in script mode all the time.’
‘I love scripts!’
‘This is prose, hell-o!’ interjected character three, ‘You are so bloody frustrating!’
Well, I think I write better from a place of experience.
‘Then if this is it, you must have had some bad experiences,’ characters one two and three laughed in unison, holding their sides.
How’s that?
‘Bloody awful.’
‘Maybe I should delete it all and start again?’
Are you kidding and kill us off? That’s typical. When it gets too hard you give up of go and make a cup of tea, or eat a biscuit or do some housework.’
‘You need to commit!’ shouted character three from the page. ‘We’re worth it. Think of us as your kids. You need to get to know us and nurture us.’
‘Yeah. Besides, I want to know if that Melody character gets back to being a porn star.’
‘Hmm. She’s in her sixties when the story opens. I don’t think it would be a good look.’
‘But it could be interesting,’ character one argued. ‘Let face it there’s no subject matter like that around, is there?’ She turned to character two who shrugged.
The writer stopped typing. Instead she drummed her finger s on the desk. ‘It’s too bloody hard.’
‘We know!’ chorused the characters.
‘And what about me?’ A strident voice piped up.
The three characters looked around. ‘Who said that?’
‘Down her, over here, under there, up here!’ The voice gave confusing direction, which strained the characters necks.
‘Whose IS that?’
‘I’m the setting! I’m as dull as a blank page.’
‘Hey, that not fair,’ said the writer. ‘I've devoted lots of words to you.’
‘Yeah. Dumb one like she was in the office. At the school.That’s not setting that’s just putting something in.’
‘I could ignore you all together, which frankly I’m tempted to do at his stage. I've already got characters screaming at me for attention,’ said the writer.
‘Don't forget me,’ pipped up a thin voice.
The writer groaned. ‘Now what?’
‘I’m plot and I need sustenance.’
‘Bloody hell. How much energy do you guys think I have?’
How much do you think the readers will have if they are stuck with this drivel? ‘They’ll never get past Melody putting lipstick on her mouth. No offence Melody character.’ All three characters said ‘none taken’ and looked at one another.
‘See?’ character one said stepping forward, ‘we’re indistinguishable from one another. We aren’t finely drawn were just slapped on and we’re all the same except for names.’ The other characters agreed by pouting.
‘Never mind that!’ yelled setting again. ‘I’m butt naked and I need a bit of dressing.’
‘That pointless if I’m not sorted,’ said plot.
‘What do you think?’ Plot turned to dialogue.
‘Hey, I think I’m doing really well. I got most of the action. Can't complain.’
‘See? I’m okay at dialogue,’ the writer said, buoyed by the support.
‘Not necessarily, said character one. You're just dumping words there and they have nothing to do with each of us.’
‘What does those mean?’
‘We all sound the bloody same. Our words are interchangeable. And don't even start me not the way the parent characters and teachers speak. What did you go to school in the sixties?
‘As a matter of fact I did. And this bit is set in the sixties so it works.’
‘Lazy cow!’ Chorused the characters.
‘What about me? screamed Setting again. I’m still waiting for my clothes!’
  As I said…Truly, sadly, deeply bad but one helluva lot of fun. Good luck all.


Monday, 22 October 2012

Just so we're clear

It’s funny how spooky little coincidences come your way to highlight whatever is going on in your life. I had a string of these recently. First, I was having trouble with my eyes. I couldn’t seem to focus and no matter which way I held my book or my head, all the words were an irritating blur. Off I went to the optometrist who announced that my eyesight had in fact improved and as a consequence I needed new glasses. Hmmm… Then the television picture played up. It was fuzzy, lacked definition and pixilated like crazy. Many technicians and several complex network interventions later, the screen came into sharp focus like a new set minus the expense. Lastly, on my wall hung posters; originally calls to bright holiday destinations. In these, the print had paled to deathbed grey, the names of the locations obliterated by years of sun exposure. As I’m wont to do, I mused on the common theme in these events. I realized that they were reflections of a wider problem, not just being unable to see things clearly but of also being unwilling to so. It made sense, because once you see a problem clearly you're compelled to fix what you can or risk just talking about ‘the problem’ forever and never sorting it out. But change is uncomfortable. That’s why most of us avoid it. It took some action to get back the sharp television images, the bright hues of the new posters and the well-formed letters on the page. Then it took some getting used to.

I decided that there are things for which we need always keep our eyes open: our behavior and its consequences, the quality of our relationships and friendships, our role in making the world a little better, our work and its contributions. When those images become fuzzy and ill-defined, it’s time to step up and make changes. Hard as it is, sometimes we need the paradox of improved eyesight first before the subsequent new glasses. When the image before us stops breaking up, we realize that hanging too long in the same space does nothing to get us to our destination, instead we risk becoming faded and jaded. So we fix and we cull and we edit and we change and in that uncomfortable continuum things become clear once more.

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Spring cleaning my head

There are cupboards in my home into which I shove things that are too hard to think about. Consequently, I live in fear of opening the doors in case I'm avalanched by the enclosed mess. Now that the closed doors of winter are being thrown open to the warm spring air, I've been thinking about the many things to which I need to apply the notion of ‘spring cleaning’—besides my cupboards. One of these is my writing. Like many, I suffer from winter blues. The lack of light and the cold sap my motivation and energy. There are days I can’t put my fingers to the keyboard or pen to paper; when the doona seems life’s best option. The last few weeks have been particularly difficult. A perfectionist by nature, I bring to the blank page the weight of my expectations. Before I've even begun to write, I'm worrying about whether the work will be good enough, who will care and what if I can’t do it? It’s easy for all these thoughts to spiral quickly into what’s the point? After that kind of thinking the search for the doona begins in earnest.

In response, I started to explore these creative downs. Through reading the work of Eric Maisel, I discovered they are not entirely seasonal. He makes the point that both creating and not creating provoke anxiety in creative people—it’s intrinsic to the creative process. Taking one of Maisel’s ideas, I’m employing a new strategy which is to document my writing anxieties by keeping an ‘anxiety awareness journal’ for the next month. While I seem to be unable to produce new work at the moment, I can certainly bleat about the fact, even if I'm my only audience. Given that creative people live with anxiety for many reasons and at many levels, this method aids in identifying and challenging the specifics of what is behind the procrastination, fear, blues or any other word you want to give the ‘not writing’.

I recognise the irony of writing a blog about not being able to write. Perhaps acknowledgment does start the road to recovery. So, that’s my plan but before I begin, I need a cup of tea, a biscuit and an hour or so to edit my cupboards...Hey, at least I'm in writing metaphor mode.