Fiction, Revisions, Writing

Writers as Heroes

How many times have I started a story or a novel that sucked? The despair and depression began as soon as the original spark began to fizzle, the images began to fade, the ideas began to deflate. The narrative lacked some kind of spine or heart, some kind of engine that could carry it through to its resolution. I always thought there was something wrong with me when this happened.

As a writer I had a fight to fight. I wanted to fall in love with my characters and their pain, but words kept getting in the way. I kept pushing too hard, trying to find a point of view that wasn’t really mine.

When this stuff happens (and it happens frequently) I freak out and reach into my bucket o’ anti-depressants. Nothing to do but hit the DEL key and the trash becomes my best friend.

Imperfect memory. Mis-heard voices. Grabbing things as they fly past. I thrive on these. The truth is, I have no idea what I’m doing until I’ve spent days, weeks, months with visions and re-visions, and sometimes they just won’t gel.

But it’s all right. Blame it on the liquid of language we’re all dissolved in, as Modest Mouse says. “Everyone’s a building burning with no one to put the fire out.”

Freaking out and saying good-bye are part of the package. Life is nothing except a series of moments, and writing fiction is a subjective experience, created through our own viewpoint. Although great literature remains timeless and deeply satisfying because of its exquisite descriptions of the human condition, it’s not really a corroboration of direct personal experience. That’s because language is an imperfect transmitter and receptor. So, we have to come to terms with our own experience and trust it because no one else is having it, only us.

That means that in the end we are all our own writing teachers. Being our own writing teachers brings with it freedom, curiosity and wonder. The difficulties of process and any “objective” understanding we claim to have of the world is built entirely from scratch with each story.

What we build depends on the books we’ve read, the people we’ve met, and the experiences we’ve had. It means that although we share the same objective world, we will never represent it quite like anyone else. And this is why it’s self-destructive to think we have nothing “original” to say or to allow others to tell us how we should write. It also lets us disregard extraneous, non-useful criticism.

Subjectivity is primary experience — it is real life, our real life, something each of us builds on top of objectivity in our minds, privately, in order to make sense of it all, and even if no one else reads it, if no one else cares. Each raindrop matters, even if no one notices it fall. This truth could have important implications for us as we develop as writers. In the end we all have to be our own heroes.

Humor, Lists, random thoughts, Words

Things to Think About During Bouts of Insomnia

  • every mistake you’ve ever made that put you in your current situation
  • that remark you made that turns your face 50 shades of color
  • all the stress you’ll have when it comes time to get that job you had to get to pay off that student loan
  • how to spin your perpetual absent-mindedness as edgy risk behavior
  • how you drank too much coffee. Yup, drank too much. Too much coffee. Drank too much. Coffee
  • but you’re not a recluse; you’re just playing hard to get with other people
  • that if we all put our heads together we might figure out where our brains went
  • that you’ve been reading Beckett again. Malone died alone, slowly eaten by cats.
  • the depressing knowledge that instead of that huge dream library you’ll have a Kindle
  • the state of the world and those tweets that prove it, like “YOUR AN IDIOT”
  • you forgot to drink those 32.2 oz of water and now you’re going to die
  • all your neighbors with guns that accidentally go off inside their homes
  • that canned coconut milk product tasted a little off, now that you think of it
  • secretly admit that all cats are girls and all dogs are boys
  • wonder if you forgot to burp your Tupperware
  • how much the word “fizzle” has been part of your vocabulary lately
  • those creepy blackened car windows where you can’t tell who is seeing you (or not)
  • dragging yourself around the grocery store looking for cheap ways to stay alive
  • if you only had one day to live you’d just keep doing the same things

My First Kayak Trip

Today’s post isn’t about writing. It’s about my klutz-style kayaking on the Willamette River in Portland, Oregon. I’ve never gone kayaking until today. My arms feel like they’re going to lift off my body after two hours of steady rowing. Luckily I wasn’t the only one in our group who had never done it before. Before we carried them down to the dock, they sat inside a structure where the guide assigned all fifteen of us a specific kayak. I noticed that only one of them was yellow, with an odd-shaped opening, and was the only one facing backwards. Something told me that was the one he was going to put me in. I was right,  genetically strange and awkward oddball that I am. After we found out which was our kayak, we paired up and hauled one or two down to the dock and the guide gave us a brief and upbeat introduction.

We got them waterborne and I got inside all right, but when I began to paddle I didn’t know how to make the kayak go the way I wanted it to and found myself headed out mid-river and on my way to the sea. People who were still getting in their kayaks were shouting at me to turn around. It was like one of those bad dreams where nothing works the way it’s supposed to, and no one gave you advice about how to do it. As the dock and everyone else got smaller and smaller I began to wonder if getting in the kayak had been a good idea in the first place. Everyone else seemed to be in control of their craft. And why not? It was flat water. I don’t even want to think about where I’d have wound up in white water rapids. I finally figured out the difference between pushing the oar back and pushing it forward. Turning was another matter. You know that feeling when it dawns on you that you made a big mistake. Continue reading