Tuesday, June 27, 2006

More questions than answers

The room in front of me is littered with exactly the kind of colorful plastic toys that I thought I would disdain once I became a mother...you know the kind...the styling, thin, boho, artistic, attachment parenting-sort of mother.

Instead, if I am honest, I am fairly conventional, far from hip, coffee swilling, searching, plastic-toys-and-a-swing kind of mother. I am one bad morning away from a playpen. Maybe one bad half hour.

But Madam is actually my wellspring of joy lately. It’s not her fault that she’s as fascinated by the laptop as I am.

I just spoke to an old friend. I can feel how our friendship has suffered a tidal sea change since I had Madam. We are moving in such different directions in our lives, and our searchings are opposite...although now that I think about it, not exactly. We’re both desperate to find a way to do our work, whatever that work will entail. Of course, she is further along in the process...it makes me a little sick-green to remember how much free time I had, and how little I did with it. Oh, sure, I have a couple of drafts to work on (novel and screenplay) but how much more I should have done! Short stories and poetry and learning photography and possibly writing a play entirely staged in bamboo trees, where the monkeys all speak Middle English (I’ll let the audience decide what it all means).

The Mamaphonic book talks again and again about not being tied to the idea of having “time to write” or to the ritual of daydreaming on the page until you find your topic. That’s why I have become such a fan of writing prompts like Sunday Scribblings, although they can feel like cheating. I don’t have time to stop to think, I just barely have time to write. Forget editing. Forget even really re-reading. I write and I write and most of what I write is, well, crap. Wait, I don’t really believe that. Most of what I write is not fiction, is not something I could really work with and craft and take seriously.

I thought I had gotten over this issue I have with fiction.

I guess when you tell people you are a “writer” (something I never really do) you need to have some sheaf of papers to show them, a story, or a novel, or SOMETHING. Otherwise, how is what I am writing different from the grocery list?

I feel as though it’s different. I do feel like something that is happening here, happening with me, matters. That it will change me, that I am laying the groundwork for something new to enter my life. That I need to clear all of this brush—squeamishly turning over every sodden log of my history and facing every bloated grub that lives there. That I need to somehow name my normal, and see if it’s something that needs to change. And to see if there is anyway TO change it.

I need to learn not only to take myself seriously (because honestly, I do take myself seriously as a writer now. I am not sure when it happened, but like I said, this all feels important), I need to get everyone else to take me seriously. OK, maybe not everyone else. Maybe just TEG. I need for him to admire me again...to see me as someone who has potential. He swears that he still does, but I sense a certain dismissive attitude that just was not there before. Is this the way relationships evolve after you get to know the person and move past the honeymoon phase? Or is this a symptom of something larger—a certain boredom, a barely hidden disappointment?

Now what? At what point do I say enough? At what point do I claim myself again and face what needs to be faced? At one point do I realize that I deserve to find people who believe in me and give me tangible support? And why does it feel like "cheating" (there is that word again) to acknowledge that I DO need to find fellow travelers on the journey? Why do I think the only way to make it real and important is to solder on alone?

Onto a different subject—the process of crafting a long work itself. I wish I could go join a medieval guild and apprentice myself to a master because I am overwhelmed here. I read the books and try the exercises, but I guess what I am looking for here is the physical dailiness of working on a longer piece. Do writers start each day with a topic related to the larger work? How do you come up with all of the scenes you need, and keep them straight? How to maintain a consistent tone and voice? How to rearrange your scenes while rewriting? Just lay index cards on the floor?

I know everyone has a different process, but I need some sort of a model to follow, if only so I can have a starting point.

What works for you?



Blogger deirdre said...

Again you've asked the questions and opened doors to my own insecurities...what if I'm no good, or am I a real writer if I don't have something bound and titled to show for it. I can't answer anything about a longer work. I'm working on something now and struggling not to get lost. An apprenticeship might be just the right thing. I kind of think of blogging as daily practice, and comments as balm for my needy soul.

12:45 PM, June 27, 2006  
Anonymous Marilyn said...

Your honesty cuts right to the heart of the matter. You ARE a writer if you SAY you're a writer. Period. No explanation--or justification--required. Many of us who keep blogs think of ourselves as writers even if we don't say that aloud. That's why so many of us love the blogosphere so fiercely...here is where we find those kindred souls who know of which we dare not speak. The last part of your post is exactly why I don't attempt to write fiction. I simply wouldn't know how--nor do I care to learn. Maybe that's my problem: I have no patience for CRAFT...I just want to WRITE. :)

1:47 PM, June 27, 2006  
Blogger Ally Bean said...

Why do I think the only way to make it real and important is to solder on alone?

I ask myself this too. I have no answer, but feel the same way as you do. If you find the answer, please let me know.

You bring up valid questions, but I suspect that the answers lie within you somewhere and will manifest when you are ready and able to implement them.

3:16 PM, June 27, 2006  
Blogger la vie en rose said...

i once had someone give me a very simple definition of what a writer is. he said, "Writers write." and you are a writer...a beautiful, honest, struggling writer. i think the struggle is part of the beauty. it keeps it interesting and real and alive.

4:41 PM, June 27, 2006  
Blogger Laini said...

I'm really glad to hear you're taking writing seriously and that it feels important. You are so talented, and I can't yet fathom the time commitments of having a small child, but whatever you need to do to give yourself undisturbed writing hours daily, you must do it. As for feeling like you have to have something to show to say you're a "writer," I know what you mean. For artists and writers, getting to that point where you can calmly and unabashedly call yourself that, it's hard. But funny, now that I think about, I have myself felt I had to be published in order to tell people I'm a writer, whereas not so much to say artist. I don't know. And if you're not writing fiction, you can always tell people -- with the utmost seriousness and a look that dares them to question you further -- that you're a MEMOIRIST. haha. As for your questions about process, I feel like I developed such a bag of tricks working on my novel, and that each day, depending on where I was at with it, called for some different trick out of my bag. One of my biggies is the 'what if' game -- having these long rambly conversations with myself (in writing, of course) that examine every possible way the plot might unfold. That's the way I get things to click with plots, by what-iffing them to death until I feel that thing I called the "snick" (of a puzzle piece fitting into place). I don't do index cards, personally, but have ocasionally done outlines, which always changed drastically. Mostly I just write in a "working document" in the most plain language, to try to remind myself what's going on and what I'm trying to do, and think of ways to make it happen. And THEN I have to write it, and there are more tricks! I always look forward to reading your writing, and would love to be part of a writing "community" with you!

5:08 PM, June 27, 2006  
Blogger Laini said...

(wow, that's really long!)

5:08 PM, June 27, 2006  
Blogger fern_leaf said...

I was so happy to read this entry. I love that stregnth in your tone, the confidence. I feel like you're on the brink of something great and eye-opening, and Im so excited for you!

I can totally relate to what you said about feeling more important when you go it alone, I suppose it's more romantic that way...I always read in books about how people make it "against all odds". I'm SO not one of those people. I need support wherever I can find it, I think it's terrifying and lonley to go it alone. But does it make the end any less sweet? I don't think so.

I'm sorry I can't advise you on anything writing wise, but I'm so happy you're acknowledging that your writing is a very serious thing.

8:22 PM, June 27, 2006  
Blogger Becca said...

I think it's sad that society forces us to think unless we produce some tangible, consumable product, whether it's cars, or computers, or books, we're not "successful" in our chosen work. I love what Anne Lamott says in her book Bird by Bird - "If you are writing the clearest, truest words you can find and doing the best you can to understand and communicate, this will shine on paper like its own little lighthouse. Lighthouses don't go running all over an island looking for boats to save; they just stand there shining."

I've been reading some of your posts, and believe me, you are already shining! Keep it up!

9:02 PM, June 27, 2006  
Anonymous Ginny said...

I don't have a good process for long works. The one "long" piece I wrote I basically did chronologically, one chapter after another. Though it is technically "finished" it needs extensive revision and I have yet to muster the courage. I feel ya. This week I'm TA-ing at a writing camp to help keep my juices working.

9:03 PM, June 27, 2006  
Blogger January said...

I have a hard time telling people I'm a poet, because I have to own it and sometimes I'm not ready to really own the title. For you, I think you're a writer if you believe it. Everyone else will follow you if you lead.

Issues with time and family seem to be a common theme, but I remind myself of Toni Morrison and all the other mothers who manage to write and publish while raising a family and working full time. It can be done! Also, it helps to have a supportive community to support you along the way.

Looking forward to reading your posts. (I'll have to check out the Mamaphobic book.)

9:28 PM, June 27, 2006  
Anonymous krista said...

My husband is a writer. I take that seriously. But he probably thinks I don't take it seriously anymore. It's that sometimes I find it frustrating.

Being a partner to a writer (or aspiring writer, however you want to see it) is hard sometimes. Writing is a time consuming thing and the rewrads are anything but instant gratification. So it takes patience. On the part of the writer, and the spouse. So the support and enthusiasm kind of come and go, ebb and flow.

Maybe your partner feels a little like me in that regard.

6:42 AM, June 28, 2006  
Blogger Jessie said...

The thing about being a writer, in my opinion, is that whether your married or not--it is a solitary endeavor. I love my husband dearly, but ever since we get together (4 years ago) there has been a steep decline in both the quantity and, in some ways, the quality of my writing. He is a writer also and so he both values and understands the writing life--but, still, he is a distraction. His needs take energy from my need to write. I sometimes get frustrated with this--but am trying to learn to give myself the space I need and to be strict about it with him. Strict is a weird word, maybe I just mean that I try my best to hold my ground. It is difficult.

I do, however, believe that it is very important for you to be around people that support your endeavors, your passion! I think it's a good idea to have a life outside of marriage so that you have something to bring home TO the marriage. I know this is much more complex than any silly, naive suggestions I might make...
But DO know that I support you, that all of us reading your blog support you.

It seems to me that you are on the verge of something, something incredible. These are the growth pains your feeling. And I have a feeling it is going to be worth the discomfort.

10:22 AM, June 28, 2006  
Blogger Jessie said...

I've been thinking about the last comment I left and I just wanted to add that it's not just about having something to bring home to the marriage, but to YOURSELF. Just wanted to clarify that. ;)

11:26 AM, June 28, 2006  
Blogger Alexandra G said...

Sometimes I have wondered if I should buy myself a big barber chair with cables that lock me into it for two to four hours a day and only leave my hands free to write. It would have a timer you set and it won't release the sitter beforehand. I know Laini has posted the quote by someone-"I hate writing. I love having written." Isn't it so easy to think it must come easier for others? the time? the writing itself? (Well, some do have a lot more time!)
One thing that maybe is helping me is reading about other writers' habits. I'd like to be someone who can write in cafes but I know that usually I need total quiet, at home, no distractions because I'm so easily distracted. I almost always read a bit beforehand something inspiring who makes me feel maybe I can do that too. Most of all, I just try to give myself full permission to write the worst stuff I've ever written, which unfortunately, I usually proceed to do! But!, it is a better feeling than not having written at all.
Most of the time anyway. I like what others have said too. A writer is someone who writes, and we do need to welcome our own precious selves into this club.

4:12 PM, June 28, 2006  
Blogger Mardougrrl said...

Hmmm...thanks for the advice and commiseration. And thanks, Krista, for reminding me to look at another perspective...TEG's.

6:21 PM, June 29, 2006  

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