Friday, May 27, 2011

On Writing

This is a several-months old post I originally shared on another journal.

I had a bit of an epiphany about myself and my writing the other day.

I'd spotted a flash fiction anthology forthcoming from a very small, independent publisher and thought "Hey, I can write werewolves/zombies/vampires" and decided to scribble up something new to submit.

Well, in the process (and I was making fair progress, I had the scene—because you don't get much more than a scene with 500 words—vividly visualized) I got distracted (the day job) before I could finish drafting. So, now, I feel like I may be missing something vital, but I'm not sure what. The pacing? The flow? Something about the narrative.... I can't pin it down.

And, as often happens when I'm having a tough time getting the words to come, I started feeling a bit hackish.

(People tell me I'm not a hack writer, but sometimes...well.)

Anyway, to console myself, I did some blog hopping and reading, and stumbled onto a post that brought me to the aforementioned epiphany.

The epiphany was simple: I am a writer.

I don't give myself enough credit for this.

I'm a writer because that's what I do. It's who I am.

I write, not to make money (though that'd be nice too), but because...I can't not write.

I wrote fiction, as a kid, when my audience was non-existent or consisted only of my parents.

I wrote fiction and blogs as a teenager and now as an adult with an audience that has been fluid and ever shifting, consisting of (largely) strangers on the Internet with a few exemplary ones who stop long enough to send me wonderful and encouraging comments and critiques.

And...I make a living as a writer.

This is something I never really bothered to examine before and I think it's because what I'm doing in my day-to-day work is not my first writing love (which is fiction). But 80-90% of what I do for my day job is writing (the other 10-20% is research, editing, and miscellaneous).

And I enjoy it.

Because I like crafting with words and creating a cohesive story even if it's not necessarily my story.

I make a living doing something that I enjoy.

I make a living as a writer.

There's something else, too. I hadn't thought of it until just now.

When I was a kid, people would ask me what my dream job was and my response (after a few years and a few false ideas that consisted of everything from ice skater to veterinarian) was: a writer.

There you go.

Silly child-me, I just forgot to specify the type of writer I wanted to be. (Eventually I'll learn to get more detailed in my wishes.)

I do still get the passing "Oh, wouldn't it be wonderful if I could make a living writing fiction" synapse.

But, in all honesty, that was never something that was on my radar as realistic. (Granted, I'm never going to give up on the idea that maybe, one day, possibly...)

Most creative writers don't make a living on their fiction writing. Some do really well and can nicely supplement their income. Some can afford a treat through their earnings, a couple of times a year. Some sell only one piece every few years. It's only a handful of people who can quit their day jobs (unless they have some kind of patron, whether that's in the form of the Government via a grant, or a University via sabbatical, or even a spouse).

All of this goes to say that, henceforth, I will not quell my first thought when someone asks me what I do: I'm a writer. (Incidentally, an instructional designer.)

And when they ask me what I've written—because, invariably, people do ask that and sometimes it's a question that is actually geared toward what you write but other times it's geared toward "are you published?" because writer has (for some reason) become synonymous with author—I will disabuse them of that notion.

And then explain what a writer is.

Inspiration for the epiphany came from this blog post. From this section in particular:

So before you give in to the I’m-not-really-a-writer blues, remember:

  • If your queries are coming back with form/silent rejections, you’re a writer.
  • If your WIP is refusing to come to a satisfactory end and you kind of hate your protagonist right now, you’re a writer.
  • If your neglected spouse suggests you take up something more lucrative and less time consuming, like making a model of the Taj Mahal out of toothpicks, you’re a writer.
  • If you’re questioning your worthiness to call yourself a writer—welcome to the club.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

100 Word Challenge: The Hungry Hour

3 a.m. and she’s still awake, lying in the dark, in the too big bed, listening to the sighing hum of her own breath.

It’s about this time of night that he would shift, half-awake and seeking, bring their thighs to meet, brush sleep-purposeful fingers against her belly. The hair on his chest would tickle between her shoulder blades and his breath would burn the back of her neck.

It took years to get used to.

It will take more for her body to forget.

And the incalculably cool space on his side of the bed gnaws at her spine.

This is for Velvet Verbosity's 100 Word Challenge. I stumbled on it today and thought I'd give it a shot... It was especially tempting as I'm currently editing/QAing for the day-job and my poor brain needed a break from the technical side of things.

Scribbles: A Morning Story

The bedroom seems quieter than the rest of the house; the closet hinges scream when I open the door; wooden hangers rattle like bones as I pull down pressed black pants and search for her favorite blouse. It isn't in the closet. Or the dresser. I even rifle through the dirty clothes hamper.

And then I spot it, folded neatly across the reading chair next to the bed; the Maya-blue button down with a Siamese cat winding sinuously around the collar.

I pick it up.

And it's like she's just passed through the room.

The spice and sweetness of sandalwood and rose surround me and I stumble back to sit on her bed.

I don't realize I'm holding the shirt to my face until I feel the material grow damp and cling to my cheek.
- A Morning Story

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Tangential Tuesday: The Dark Knight

Welcome to Tangential Tuesday! (There's that alliteration thing again.) Wherein I ramble a bit about female characters in The Dark Knight. (Spoiler warning if you haven't seen the movie.)

First and foremost, The Dark Knight is, without a doubt, on my list of all time favorite movies. The cinematography, the dark, gritty noir feel of Gotham, and Ledger's Joker just do it for me. Every time. I love it. I was exhausted after the initial theatre viewing; I don't think I took my eyes away from the screen for a second and when the movie was over, I felt like I'd been the one running around Gotham's streets and alleys.

However... (This is really a "but." Isn't there always a but? And I don't mean this "but" to negate what I've said previously. Because it doesn't.)

Once the honeymoon period wore off, I was able to take a step back and look more at the production of the movie. Though my love still stands, every time I watch The Dark Knight, I'm annoyed by the lack and under use of female characters.

Not only is the movie an ultimate failure of the Bechdel test, but the Refrigerator wins. Again.

There are four--count 'em, four--female characters of much import: Rachel Dawes, Judge Surillo, Anna Ramirez, and Barbara Gordon.

Rachel Dawes seems to only exist to help move the plot along, to help motivate the main characters. She has nothing to do. She has one good stand-up moment with the Joker and then she's blown into the fridge to make room for the full birth of Two Face and the trial and "success" of Batman.

Judge Surillo is killed soon after she's introduced; she's pretty much a non-entity.

Ramirez, the one female cop we see, turns out to be corrupt. Her motives are understandable; we feel sympathy for her. But the fact the fact that she's the only female cop we see...and corrupt? Kind of a poor show.

And then there's Barbara Gordon, who has little more to do on screen than mourn her (not) dead husband and be afraid for her children. And may I mention the fact that they didn't give her any lines in the hostage scene? Other than the phone call to Gordon? We never see her make more than a whimper, never see her try to reason with Dent or say something in defense of her children, even something along the lines of Gordon's "punish me/shoot me." This kind of thing is what I'm talking about when I say underused female characters: Barbara Gordon exists as little more than a distressed damsel to set the stage for her husband's, and Batman's, heroics.

Further: Would it really have been that difficult to stick a few more women in roles where they aren't made invisible/overshadowed by the men in their lives and/or don't end up in the fridge?

You know, the mayor could have easily been a woman. The host of Gotham Tonight could have been a woman. Even the little weasel of an attorney, Coleman Reese, could have been a woman. Women do make up half of the population and seeing them in more roles would be realistic; seeing them in more main/named roles would also help solve this issue of being invisible that seems to afflict female characters in movies, particularly movies of certain genres.

The fact that the source material for Batman dates back to a certain time period and thus is populated with largely white, largely male characters doesn't mean they have to continue being cast that way.

But, all this aside, I think the thing that bugs me most is the treatment, or lack thereof, of Gordon's daughter.

Nolan may never have intended to introduce the idea of Batgirl in this film, but with the focus we get on Gordon's son, Jimmy, in his questioning of his father about Batman and in his place as "most loved" in the final scene, it certainly feels as though we're being set up for a possible "Robin."

But even if that wasn't the purpose...

I really wonder why the story couldn't have gone the other way? We've seen the boy-and-his-father dynamic time and again. It's old hat. And the fact that so much else is re-envisioned for these movies, and that Nolan put so many little original twists and touches on things, speaks to the fact that he could have stepped outside the box given a nod to comic canon, and provided us with a fresh, new on-screen dynamic instead of leaving the daughter to hang out in Distressed-Damsel-Town with her mom, just as invisible as the other women in the story.

As commenter Eileen, on an old thread at the Hathor Legacy, says:

This one could have been about a girl and her father -about a girl and her fallen male role model. Without changing a single line it could have made the entire ending scenario fresh. The pacing was so good and everything else about that ending was so satisfying that the change from boy to girl would have been the thing that made it into something nobody had ever seen before.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Sleepless Writing

When I was younger, the idea of insomnia seemed somewhat romantic. Of course, it was, more particularly, the idea of insomnia fueled by a burst of creative passion that just couldn't wait and would keep me up 'til all hours penning wonderful prose.

As I got older, I realized how ridiculous that was.

My mental faculties are, more often than not, equivalent to an overused dishrag when I'm suffering from a lack of sleep, complete with random plots, characters, and words--that were too gristly to do more than chew once and spit out--stuck to it.

Which is unfortunate, considering my internal clock is running about four hours slow right now, leaving me a number of hours to lie in bed staring at the ceiling or contemplating the random night noises of the apartment complex.

...However. If I think about it and attempt to unearth some silver lining (which is not part of my M.O. typically, but I digress), I could spend the hours that I can't sleep writing said bad prose because that would, at least, get the ideas down on paper.

Which is step one in completing a piece of writing, fiction or non.

One of the first "writing rules of thumb" I was introduced to is the concept of the "Shitty First Draft." And, really, they don't get much shittier than writing on 24 hours-awake-fumes at 4 a.m. when even the cats have decided it's time to pass out.

And I know, from experience, that shitty first drafts can be polished into something worth reading. (You'd think after having this experience time and again, the fear of a blank sheet of paper or a blank word processing screen would pester me no more. Unfortunately, it seems to be like jock itch.)

I just need to, as Anne Lamott writes, "trust the process--sort of, more or less," and get the story down, complete with all of the extra characters butting it, the awful word choices, stagnant descriptions, and wooden dialogue.


"Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts. You need to start somewhere. Start by getting something -- anything -- down on paper. A friend of mine says that the first draft is the down draft -- you just get it down. The second draft is the up draft -- you fix it up. You try to say what you have to say more accurately. And the third draft is the dental draft, where you check every tooth, to see if it's loose or cramped or decayed, or even, God help us, healthy."
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