What about the dog? or the Writer’s Friend: Why? and What if?

Needless to say, I’ve been stalled lately, not writing, not even writing blog posts. I’ve been thinking a lot about writing, but never able to get a firm grasp on the story, until this morning.

The tools to pull myself out of this slump have been there all along. I’ve known about them since I first started writing, but in the midst of other things going on in my life, I somehow forgot about them.

I just needed to start asking myself the questions. Why? What if?

Usually the what ifs come first. What if there was a girl named Beryl who … ? Then the whys come, a natural progression in the process of asking what if.

In this case, since I know the basics of the story, since I know its quirks and turns, I started asking myself the whys today, bigger whys. I won’t give you a list of them because it would give the story away. But as I answered the whys, more what ifs emerged.

I will give you one example:

The dog must move the story forward or there is no point in writing some lovely prose about Beryl finding a dog. So why is there a dog in this story? What role does the dog play? How does it move the story forward?

The crazy thing is I haven’t answered that question yet, but I’m doing the what ifs, in my head, even as I write this. I know that the dog is important, important to Beryl, hence important to the story. And to me.

Now I have to figure out why.

Finally, or I’m Not Such a Lame Writer After All

You all know I have a love/hate relationship with NaNo and anyone who asserts that “real writers” write every day. I abhor the idea that “real writers” have discipline and can crank out a novel a year. Those tenets are judgment calls and patently not true. Or at least that’s what I tell myself. But even though I don’t believe that putting 1667 words a day to the page makes you a writer, at least not a good writer, I internalize those concepts. The idea that I’m a failure if I don’t get on the writing treadmill haunts me.

Until today.

This morning, while laying in bed [read as: being lazy on a Sunday morning], I read Storytelling, Slowed Down: On Writing Vertically which in turn pointed me to Gestation of Ideas: On Vertical Writing and Living. And an emotional light came on. I’m not such a lame writer after all. I have a process that works. For me. And I’m not the only one. Someone famous, someone considered a “real writer” wrote like I do.

Both articles point to a writing style used by Andre Dubus who cleverly, and eloquently, summarized my method of writing, long before I ever stated writing.

Dubus writes an idea in a notebook, and then leaves it alone: “I try never to think about where a story will go.” Planning is an act of control, and “I will kill the story by controlling it; I work to surrender.” Ever the Roman Catholic, Dubus first sees “characters’ souls.” Faces appear next, and that “is all I need, for most of my ideas are situations, and many of them are questions.” Only when Dubus sees the first two scenes is a story “ready for me to receive it.” Then he writes.

I don’t necessarily write an idea down, although I do have a small notebook that follows me around and has become a place for ideas about the story I’m working on.  But many times those ideas are left behind, replaced by other ideas as the characters develop in my head.

During NaNo last year, 2013, I tried to make myself write, and I did, write that is. But instead of creating, instead of enjoying the process, I wrote, and I was miserable. What I wrote was miserable. One night I wrote the requisite 1600+ words, and you know what happened? My character, Sinclair, walked around. For 1600+ words, my character wandered around noticing things. It was crap. Because I didn’t know him, because he hadn’t formed yet. [I stopped after that, BTW, didn’t even try to finish NaNo.]

My characters tend to, like Athena leaping fully formed from Zeus’ head, only reach the paper when they are sure they want to exists. I don’t force them into situations. I create the idea of them in my head, and then I let them decide what they want to be, where they want to go, how they want to tell their story.

Good, bad, or indifferent, my writing style is like that. Now I know that I write vertically.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA And I suspect many writers do the same even though most of us are afraid to admit it because modern thought says if you write every day you are “good” or “real”. I don’t make those judgment calls. I don’t hold myself up as a shining example of the “good”. And it infuriates me that many do. I’m a real writer, and I don’t want to fit in a box. I don’t want to be like everyone else. I don’t want my writing to be another clone.

If writing every day works for you, that’s great, but it doesn’t make you a better writer or more real of a writer than someone who doesn’t. Just sayin’.

I’ll leave you with a long passage from Nick Ripatrazone’s post, Gestation of Ideas: On Vertical Writing and Living:

The folly of horizontal writing is that it convinces writers that fiction writing operates on a production model. If they simply sit at the desk and pound out page after page, the story will come. That might be true, but Dubus argues that such forced work creates a lot of “false” fiction. Curiously enough, by seeking to undermine the stereotype that writing is the result of inspiration, writers have fallen for the other, no less romantic opposite: that writing is factory work, and daily devotion is rewarded with final drafts. Both approaches are magical thinking. Vertical writing is no less work, but it is better work, work at the right time. It requires patience in the willingness to wait for a story to feel ready to be written, as well as the attention and focus necessary to inhabit the story once gestated.

ReBlog: Influenced by Kurt

I posted this on my old blog back in early 2012, for the anniversary of his death, I think. Anyway, I thought it was worth reblogging. Kurt Vonnegut is still one of my favorites.

~ o ~

I’m also reading Sirens of Titan by Kurt Vonnegut.  I had forgotten how much I love his prose, his wit (the dark humor), and the way he constructs sentences.  I read Cat’s Cradle and Slaughterhouse-Five way back in high school (and yes, they did have printed books back then — on paper, not stone).

Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., photo dated April 8, 1992. Doug Elbinger, Elbinger Studios.

I suppose that Kurt V has been somewhere in the back of my head, all these years, setting an example, pushing the gallows humor that sort of pops up in my work, but the thing that really got me thinking about it was, while reading Sirens, I kept thinking I would write that sentence exactly like that. Now that I’m reading him again, I realize–and I’m going to test this theory, by re-reading Cat’s Cradle and Slaughterhouse-Five just to make sure that the prose is similar–that he, not Bill (Faulkner) influenced my style of writing.  I write very much like Kurt Vonnegut. Well, my style is like his. I won’t say I’m as good a writer, because that would be stupid.

Needless to say, I’ll be studying his books to see how to improve my own writing.

I’ll leave you with a few quotes.

From Cat’s Cradle:

–  Anyone who cannot understand how useful a religion based on lies can be will not understand this book either.

–  Beware of the man who works hard to learn something, learns it, and finds himself no wiser than before… He is full of murderous resentment of people who are ignorant without having come by their ignorance the hard way.

–  Of all the words of mice and men, the saddest are ‘It might have been.’

From Slaughterhouse-Five:

–  All this responsibility at such an early age made her a bitchy flibbertigibbet.

–  The skyline was intricate and voluptuous and enchanted and absurd. It looked like a Sunday school picture of Heaven to Billy Pilgrim.

–  And Lot’s wife, of course, was told not to look back where all those people and their homes had been. But she did look back, and I love her for that, because it was so human. So she was turned into a pillar of salt. So it goes.

–  Like so many Americans, she was trying to construct a life that made sense from things she found in gift shops.

And from Sirens of Titan:

–  The bounties of space, of infinite outwardness, were three: empty heroics, low comedy, and pointless death.

With that said, how can you not enjoy an author who can invent the chronosynclastic infundibulum. I’d urge you to read Sirens of Titan, but just in case you don’t, this is from A Child’s Cyclopedia of Wonders and Things to Do:

“Just imagine that your Daddy is the smartest man who ever lived on Earth, and he knows everything there is to find out, and he is exactly right about everything, and he can prove he is right about everything. Now imagine another little child on some nice world a million light years away, and that little child’s Daddy is the smartest man who ever lived on that nice world so far away. And he is just as smart and just as right as your Daddy is. Both Daddies are smart, and both Daddies are right.

Only if they ever met each other they would get into a terrible argument, because they wouldn’t agree on anything. Now, you can say that your Daddy is right and the other little child’s Daddy is wrong, but the Universe is an awfully big place. There is room enough for an awful lot of people to be right about things and still not agree.

The reason both Daddies can be right and still get into terrible fights is because there are so many different ways of being right. There are places in the Universe, though, where each Daddy could finally catch on to what the other Daddy was talking about. These places are where all the different kinds of truths fit together as nicely as the parts in your Daddy’s solar watch. We call these places chronosynclastic infundibula.

The Solar System seems to be full of chronosynclastic infundibula. There is one great big one we are sure of that likes to stay between Earth and Mars. We know about that one only because an Earth man and his Earth dog ran right into it.

You might think it would be nice to go to a chronosynclastic infundibulum and see all the different ways to be absolutely right, but it is a very dangerous thing to do. The poor man and his poor dog are scattered far and wide, not just through space, but through time, too.

Chrono (kroh-no) means time. Synclastic (sin-classtick) means curved towards the same side in all directions, like the skin of an orange. Infundibulum (in-fun-dib-u-lum) is what the ancient Romans like Julius Caesar and Nero called a funnel. If you don’t know what a funnel is, get Mommy to show you one.”

Fresh Start

Lately, I’ve stalled in my writing efforts. I’ve let lots of things get in the way, including a soul-sucking 9-5 job, but I’m coming back. Not as quickly as I’d like, but this new website is an indication that I’m starting to build steam again. For the past couple of years, I’ve told myself that I’d put together a website, more than a blog, and I kept putting it off because it seemed like such an effort.  But I did it.  Over the past week, I’ve built a website that I hope represents me.  The theme is elegant grunge which sort of sums up my whole personality.

I’ve also been writing some of the back story for my new novel [working title: the twins]. And I believe, after several iterations, that I have finally developed Beryl’s voice. Part of my hesitation is that with An Untold Want, I went through several re-writes, changing the tense or the PoV. This time, I want to know if Beryl is going to speak or if the story will be third person, before I write a majority of the book. And it’s looking like this will be a first-person/past-tense story which is totally different than An Untold Want.  This book will be more like Couillon in style, a little more fast paced than An Untold Want, but still falling into the literary genre.