Monday, February 28, 2011

Just Another Excuse

I seem to be looking for reasons to not write. As I became caught up in giving comments for a group member who turned out to be more focused on the message, the act of writing itself started to make me angry. Today I discovered a book on how our entertainment culture is a flashing neon Joe's-Bread-and-Circus sign of the crumbling of America. I bought the book.

Instead of contributing to viable socio-politcal discourse, I can let my novel shrivel rather than become part of the distracting of America. There must be barricades around here somewhere...singing The anger won't dissipate in sarcasm, of course. There is something uncomfortable about having someone else's ideas colonize your head, thinking about someone else's project with the same impotent irritation with which you view the political games being played. When there is a similar pretense of input, irony gilds the needle.

I dislike didactic fiction. Stories about certain topics will remain, at best, unread and unloved, if not actively anathematized. Careless gender classification (e.g., women's fiction) is the same as stereotyping. When do I lose my gender because of what I read (or think)?

Most often, it's not my job to bring these topics up; however, as part of a writer's group, they do come up. It is rarer still to encounter a political discussion that leaves me hanging over the side of the desk, vomitting ambition and story ideas and any hope for the future. Perhaps I'm allergic to fervor.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Stuck with Frito in Trotter's Field

I gave that first draft permission to suck, provided it was finished. I let the conflict off on the theory that I could backfill that in later. Then I gave myself permission to have a bit of time off from the draft, then a little more.

Suddenly, I'm staring at a draft with vanishing characters, double-named characters, misplaced conflicts, language that rises to self-parodying heights, yet more avoidance of conflict, and, finally, an ending that consists of a full stop without a resolution. Draft itself seems a rather formal designation for this shaggy mess of a fantasy that stole its setting from someone's sci-fi bedroom, all flashing lights and fake planets printed on cheap sheets.

A tiny voice is emanating from the draft. "Fix me...fix me," it squeaks. I could put it back in the drawer. No one has to know. There isn't anyone looking for this draft. No price is set for its redemption.

If it was fixed, if it was released...what would it say? Is it a forgiveable, much less a worthy, action to put something into the pool of ideas that has not much to say to the good of humankind? What if by some mischance it contains a bad idea that I don't recognize and that propagates forward?

I'm in a plywood headspace, a not-yet-finished place. Work is lurking around my ankles.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Recovering, Part II

Yet again, I'm back at the keyboard after a bout with something that pretends to be a cold but which I'm sure is working on moving up to flu or bronchitis. It could have been getting out in the cold (unusually so for Texas) or for going on a dusting binge in between getting out in the icy weather; however, it resulted in a relapse that I think I'm finally shaking off.

I've finished Tom Shippey's The Road to Middle-earth (TRtMe) and am working through another book on fantasy literature and trying to coddle my brain back into writing mode. TRtMe was fascinating in the specific linguistic discoveries and speculations that according to the author form the basis of the development of The Lord of the Rings and other Tolkien works. I came to this book through the Tolkien Professor podcast and am alternately grateful and jealous that students have the opportunity to take classes on these subjects.

In the filing that I finished recently there were entirely too many papers left over from my own university days and I was embarrassed to see in them the marks of the bored and uninterested student that I was at the time. Doubtless, I would not have benefitted from interesting classes when my brain was caught between the parental "study to get a paying job" and the personal "study so that you can get paid to work at something that interests you." As it turns out, neither came to pass.

Which doesn't bring us neatly up to date, but at least brings the maundering to an end. It's the cold, I'm sorry. More accurately, it's the lingering cold that won't move out of my lungs for love or money. At least it has brought my fussing with drafts to a end for now. I don't have any opinions at this point, just a childish craving for McDonald's. At some point, I'll have to wean myself from my need for fries. Perhaps after opinion starts to reassert itself and I manage to get a few more pages done.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

The Yogurt Lies Bleeding

The tiles are covered with yogurt gore, the remains of strawberry preserves and a few white smears where the spoon bounced to a stop. I caught the plate before it could fall to the ground and shatter, which is enough excitement for my recovering lungs. This past week I've been sleepwalking from the couch to the futon as I tried to sleep my way through a chest cold while watching endless hours of Hercule Poirot.

Today I am both vertical (yea!!!) and ready to speculate on whether I'm becoming too intemperate in my desire to rip first drafts to shreds or whether it's simply rude to ask for a critique of a first draft in the first place. In such a debate, of course, I would be condemning myself as much as anyone else, for I am certainly guilty of submitting ill-advised drafts for comment.

In these cases, I have found myself at a deadline point with something that I could have withheld and submitted later but found myself unable to resist trolling for comments and giving myself permission to further delay working on my draft while "waiting for comments." Instead of thinking of the time that my group would be wasting on doing for my draft what I should have done myself and of the violence that might be done to my story by letting a committee have a crack at revising it, I opted for the easy way to revision. Let someone else do the thinking.

My writing suffers every time I let this happen. For one thing, it gives me a wealth of similar comments that amount to the fact that I undertell a story in the beginning. I leave too much of it in my head and don't transfer enough of the logic to the page. This is good to know, but it is something that I might have discovered on my own as I worked through the drafts on my own. I also could have become more familiar with my own voice as I worked through the draft stages, rather than becoming familiar with other peoples' preferences for my work.

Early draft submittals are a shortcut to feedback that breaks down the author's own thoughts on how a story should go and may do violence to character development and story development. If a first draft is presented and the feedback is appropriate to the draft stage, the author may be tempted to stop working on an idea or redirect a story in ways that he or she may not have intended or wanted and may thus lose something of the drive and random creative energy that makes first drafts so exciting for the writer. If the writer doesn't maintain enthusiasm through the first draft, how will he or she maintain it throughout the difficult process of revision?

Revisions and multiple drafts can be a challenge. Understanding that drafts are necessary and that change may happen to the story as a result is a learning process that many writers have to go through. It has been difficult for me to get here and I've had some excellent example of hardworking writers from whom I could learn by observing their drafts. Early drafts and first drafts are the writer's imagination covered in muck cheerfully making castles in the sand. Later drafts are perhaps tree houses more suitable to welcoming other people to see the sturdiness of the writer's creation.

And if you wrote up your last D&D campaign...stick it your memory book and wait 20 years.