Tag Archives: creative writing

Take a Look, It’s on a Book: Book Title Poem

9 Feb

I was sick last week with a bugger of a cold and gave myself a pass from blogging. I thought I was going to have to wuss out of this week’s post, too, since I had no news, no motivation, and no clue what to write. Unfortunately, this is getting to be a familiar feeling. You remember my New Years resolution to maintain a habit of creative writing? Yeah, not going so well. My Giraffe Story is giving me problems because I can’t decide who’s narrating/what perspective is most appropriate to write from. It’s not exactly writer’s block….more like a split personality disorder. I have–no joke–six drafts saved that are ALL from different perspectives.

We are not amused.

So I’ve abandoned the Giraffe Story for the time being, just until I can sort myself out. Today I played with a horse of a different color. I was really impressed and inspired by Judy Clement Wall’s post This One is a Poem on her blog Zebra Sounds. She wrote a really lovely poem composed almost entirely of book titles. Is that a great idea, or what?

Do you know where this is going? Yes, I totally stole her idea.

It wasn’t easy. In fact, it was time consuming and guilt-inducing. (While going through my bookshelves to collect titles, I realized how many books I own that I have yet to read…) I still haven’t put all the books that I used back on their shelves. (Ugh. Seems like a lot of work.)  But it was fun! You should try it! I like the prettiness of Judy’s poem better–and don’t get me started on my photography skills–but clearly poetry is a window to the soul and mine is trying to get a message out…
(Read the poem in normal text after the photos) 

 

Humor Me:
What should I do with my life?

This is a story of
A girl named disaster
playing with books
becoming a writer
the real pretend

She is
the woman warrior,
the bitch in the house,
the blind assassin
searching for Mercy Street.

Watch her
hopscotch
through
the art of choosing,
blink
away
one hundred demons
blame
the known world
till the cows come home

The funny thing is,
the heroine’s bookshelf
is
a map of the world
a gesture life
a contract with God

Finally,
the plot thickens
the awakening
the 3 am epiphany
when you are engulfed in flames
where the lightening strikes
seeing things
truth and beauty
wild magic
miracles

 

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Lessons From My Creative Writing Class: Art Imitating Life, Girl Imitating Writer

15 Aug

Week 8 of my online creative writing class begins today and I had a d’oh moment last night when I realized that hey, I could have been blogging about the experience from the get-go. (Yes, I did sort of write about it here, but then…nothing.) I’ve been overcome with this hindsight feeling so many times since this blog began that it’s become sadly familiar. I like to think of it as the v8 Blog Effect–Gee, I could have had a blog topic!

Each week of the class has a different theme and prompt relating to writing, story development, craft. One week focused on story openings and first sentences; another, dialogue. When Week 5 hit, I was not feeling the prompt. I didn’t know what to write about, I didn’t have any ideas for characters or plot, and I made the mistake of reading a few classmates’ stories before I wrote mine. This totally intimidated me because:

a) They had gotten their work done so early that they had posted it before I had even started my story.
Perhaps their brains had more throbbing, intelligent veins than mine. Maybe they are genius schedulers who know how to prioritize and do not get sucked into watching youtube clips for hours. It’s possible that when they write, they don’t wail and pause the plot to type THIS IS SO STUPID or ACTUAL GOOD DESCRIPTION HERE into the Word document.

and

b) Their stories were Good.
Enough said.

Anyway, lost and bewildered but determined to turn something in, I ended up writing a pretty true-to-life scene of an encounter between me and a friend I lost touch with several years ago. This meeting has never actually happened, but I’ve thought about this friend a lot during space-outs and daydreams and had already imagined what it would be like if we ran into each other. Basically, the narrator of the story was me, and the friend she runs into was this friend from my past. Oh, I gave the narrator a few twists so that she wasn’t an exact duplicate of me–but the way she talked, the thoughts that floated through her head, her sense of humor–they were all mine.  

I was perusing Ryan Gosling’s imdb page recently (I had just seen Crazy, Stupid, Love and had heard angels singing when he took his shirt off –so of course I had to be a creeper and look him up. See? This is how I get off the writing track.) There’s a quote from him–and it’s on the internet, so it must be accurate–where he talks about the characters he plays and how they relate to him. 

All my characters are me. I’m not a good enough actor to become a character. I hear about actors who become the role and I think ‘I wonder what that feels like’. Because for me, they’re all me. I relate to these characters because aspects of their personality are like me. And I just turn up the parts of myself that are them and turn down the parts that aren’t. 

This is how I feel about the characters I make up–thus, I’m pretty sure it’s a sign that Ryan Gosling would find me fascinating and familiar and probably witty and beautiful. Every perspective I write from, every character I try and create, has to have a little bit of me in them or else it’s like I’m swimming against a really strong current. (And I’m not a very good swimmer.) 

That said, this Week 5 story character was so me–even with the little details I gave her that had nothing to do with my life–that I was basically writing a fantasy staring myself. And when I posted my words to the class board, I failed to consider what it would be like to read my classmates’ and teacher’s comments about a character that was me.

“You capture the subtle boredom and desperation and confusion in the narrator’s life nicely,” one person said. And I thought Huh, I guess I am subtly bored and desperate and confused…sometimes not so subtly.

The teacher was particularly  interested in the narrator’s voice and sensibility. “She has a super high degree of self–consciousness,” he observed, “which leads her frequently to comment on and critique her own behavior. Lively, self–deprecating, ironic, rueful—the voice is at times all of these things, and it’s hard not to feel some warm feeling toward her.” Well, I’m glad somebody feels some warmth towards me. But aw man–am I basically characterized by a high degree of self consciousness? I wonder if everybody finds me insecure. Do they? DO THEY?

Another person suggested that I further establish the “unreliability” of the narrator. “I’m not getting enough subtext between the narrator and [the other character],” she said. She advised that I go ahead and acknowledge that the narrator’s memories of the friendship are significantly flawed and full of regret and doubt. Woah, this is getting weird.

It was a little surreal to read other people’s reactions to and interpretations of my personality and insecurities. It was like anonymous therapy with well-read therapists who majored in English. I read through all the comments on this story that could have been my life and I sat at my desk thinking about protagonists and writers, and art imitating life and life imitating art. I mean, wouldn’t it be weird/neat/interesting, if someone wrote an unfiltered “me” character and submitted it to a class just to see what other people thought about the hot mess of strengths and weaknesses that that person lived with every day? And actually, wouldn’t that make a great story? (DIBS!!! I CALLED IT! YOU HEARD IT!) It would be a little like the film Adaptation and a little like the recent A Midnight in Paris–one of the best movies I’ve seen lately, even if it didn’t include a shot of Ryan Gosling’s abs. But it also would be completely different. Get it?

Do you hear that? That’s the sound of the wheels in my head spinning.

If I had to define the lesson I got from Week 5 of this creative writing class, I’d say it was something about characters as reflections of authors/real people. What? I didn’t say I would define it well. Okay, I guess there’s also a lesson in there about the evolution of plot ideas. There, are you happy? Two (vague) lessons. 

If any of you are working on writing projects of your own, I hope (but don’t expect) this was helpful. Really, good luck. If you’re like me, you’ll need it.



I’ll Take My Criticism Sandwich With Extra Cheese, Hold The Pickles

6 Jul

So, the online Creative Writing course I signed up for right before the apocalypse-that-wasn’t started last week. It’s an interesting experience, taking an online class. Though there is a system and certain expectations, I can log in as my schedule allows and post when I have time. The other students are eager and enthusiastic and, in general, a good deal older. That last distinguishing fact means that they seem to have a a good grasp of their abilities, goals, confidence. And they write!

We are reading Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird as a class–no hardship, since this is one of my favorite books and never fails to be inspiring and reassuring. One of the most re-readable parts is about the writer and self-doubt:

Typically you’ll try to comfort yourself by thinking about the day’s work–the day’s excrementitious work. You may experience a jittery form of existential dread, considering the absolute meaninglessness of life and the fact that no one has ever really loved you; you may find yourself consumed with a free-floating shame, and a hopelessness about your work, and the realization that you will have to throw out everything you’ve done so far and start from scratch. But you will not be able to do so. Because you suddenly understand that you are completely riddled with cancer.

and later…

Many of [my students] have been told over the years that they are quite good, and they want to know why they feel so crazy when they sit down to work, why they have these wonderful ideas and then they sit down and write one sentence and see with horror that it is a bad one, and then every major form of mental illness from which they suffer surfaces, leaping out of the water like trout–the delusions, hypochondria, the grandiosity, the self-loathing, the inability to track one thought to completion, even the hand-washing fixation, the Howard Hughes germ phobias. And especially, the paranoia.

The class’s first writing assignment was due today and of course, I decided at midnight to completely rework the story I had mostly finished. Part of what makes midnight the witching hour is that at that time, horrible, deformed, delusional ideas seem like good ones. Your common sense is infiltrated by insidious what-ifs that have all the charm of a used car salesman and the diabolical temptation of a second cookie. When I had a roommate, I could occasionally be talked out of creatively suicidal actions like last-minute writing makeovers. Left to my own devices and stuck in my own brain bog, I become tangled in good intentions and panic.

It doesn’t help that I’ve had one successful eleventh hour idea. The night before my senior thesis presentation, the world aligned, the matrix grid decoded itself, and I saw a way to organize my speech to be more thoughtful, clear, and engaging.  It was a crazy plan–why not just go with the perfectly fine version I had prepared? But no, never! Perfection flirted with me (the saucy minx) and I had to pursue it.

The final copy of my speech was better. Was it worth the agony? Yes. Well, probably. But the horrible puce lining was that after this one success story, late night ideas are harder to suppress. It’s like when someone fixes a couple up and it happens that the two click and make a nice go of it. It could have been a fluke or a lucky guess, but it doesn’t matter–now, that matchmaker will try pairing people off like a busybody Noah.

So I started over last night, trying to approach my idea from a different angle. (The first draft was round, and I wanted it sharp, if you know what I mean.) Then, I decided that some of the sentences or paragraphs from my first draft should be kept so I started copy-pasting. Then, I got confused about which version had which background. Had I copy-pasted a section on eating without ever mentioning that the characters were having dinner? Was a character talking, having a big dialogue-y moment, who was never introduced or explained? Had I cut out the scene that had been my inspiration in the first place?? Hysteria bubbled up around 1 am, my brain started twitching soon after. 

I ended up wrestling my short story into something resembling a short story and turning it in (posting it) this morning. I wasn’t at all satisfied with it, and not just in the I’m-never-satisfied-with-my-writing sort of way. I knew I had botched up my naive attempt to make my draft better but I couldn’t stand it anymore and had to turn it in before I went crazy (okay, crazier). So I closed my eyes and clicked “post,” and then ran away from the computer.

Then, the responses started coming in. Well, okay, one response. Critiques are an essential part of the class and for that matter, a vital part of the writing process. That said, when I read my classmate’s comments I was like a raw collection of nerve endings, the Phantom of the Opera’s less stable sister, a woe-is-me maiden from the olden days–all rolled into one. I know,” I thought. It’s terrible. It’s not my best work. Yes, you’re right, it doesn’t flow. No, that part doesn’t make sense to me either. Yes. Yes. Of course. Yes. Stop! Stop reading! Don’t look at it! Avert your eyes! Save yourself!”

“The good news,” Anne Lamott says, “is that some days it feels like you just have to keep getting out of your own way so that whatever it is that wants to be written can use you to write it. […] And often the right words do come, and you–well–‘write’ for a while; you put a lot of thoughts down on paper. But the bad news is that if you’re at all like me, you’ll probably read over what you’ve written and spend the rest of the day obsessing, and praying that you do not die before you can completely rewrite or destroy what you have written, lest the eagerly waiting world learn how bad your first drafts are.”

The good news is that I completed my first assignment and received straightforward, constructive criticism. The bad news is that I sort of miss the elementary school days of gold stars and compliment sandwiches, and I’m still learning not to mutilate my first drafts.