Struggle and the Writer

Went over to Ali’s today and we had one of those nice, long chats that you can have with truly good friends. Those chats tend to jump from subject to subject and somewhere along the line we talked about writing and struggling.

On these blogs (see the bulk of them at right) we talk about writing and page counts and goals and words. When we talk about having a hard time, there’s a whiny quality to it.

Ali said that’s what it’s supposed to be. Writing isn’t easy–so when we write about writing and the effects we want to create with it, we should not always be “Damn, that was easy.” Because it isn’t. Sometimes we say dumb things. Sometimes we flub an example we’re trying to make. Sometimes our clearly don’t come out thoughts. Yep, that’s what I said.

So here’s what I’m whining about:
1. My pages are not done and what I have done is not in order.
2. I’m tired.
3. I don’t have time.
4. I’m blogging instead of writing the ‘actual’ pages that I need to finish if I ever want a completed novel.
5. My house is a mess.

Now that I’ve done my whining, I’ll shut up and do what I need to do anyway. But maybe the load will be lighter now that I’ve unburdened myself.

For those of you who wish to unload as well: My comment box is always open.

The Puzzle Pieces

Right below my feet (I’m sitting on a barstool, at home, not at a bar…) is a notebook containing FJR. It’s broken out into chapters, marked by those divider thingies you get from office supply stores. And I’m working on reivising the thing.

It’s interesting work because I’m not really doing it in order. I figured that I needed to revise about 50 pages or so for the month and looked to see where the 50 page mark was. I rearranged a couple chapters, rearranged them back, added in scenes, expanded scenes, cut pieces of scenes. Here’s the cool part.

I finished Chapter Two last night. But I still haven’t typed up my new Chapter One and I’m halfway through Chapter Three and have not touched Chapter Four (where the 50 page mark should hit, assuming I have not cut too very much).

It’s like a puzzle. I’m seeing how the pieces fit together. Now I’m just concerned that if I keep doing it in this random order: Will it make sense?

Only, knows I God don’t sure.

A Genius Question

Recently, on Ali’s blog, she posted a question about what to do when you realize that something you’ve written/are writing has been done before…and by people who are probably better than you.

I have come to the conclusion that you should go ahead and write it anyway. But only if you are aware of what has been written before (hence, as writers, you should read…because you may find your ‘original’ ideas are not so much…). Then put your unique spin on it.

I feel this way because I think that there are two different types of genius.

The first is the innovator…the one who seemingly creates something new and fresh. I say ‘seemingly’ because everything is a built, at least in part, on stuff that has come before. Literary innovators, to me, include the following:
1. William Wordsworth: created a new form and school of poetry with his buddy Coleridge. The idea was to recreate an experience ‘in tranquility’ and use forms to reflect/expand upon that. Basically, it’s the first lead-in to free verse poetry…though he only used verse…but he used it for a different purpose. Hence, originality.
2. Dante: Took religion to a whole new level…or depth, I should say. Opened up the possibility of creating a new kind of view of religion (yeah, the idea of limbo…it ain’t in the Bible…that’s Dante).
3. Tolkien/Lewis: Created completely other worlds. The first real escapades into the fantasy realm (Wells and Verne arguably the original geniuses of Sci Fi).

The second type of genius I consider “The Finisher”–where the original concepts (like the ones above) are taken by a talent and finished so completely that it’s difficult for others to follow up. For example:
1. Walt Whitman/Emily Dickinson/T.S. Eliot–finishers of what Wordsworth started. No one after them has really touched their level of expertise. A lot of contemporary poetry is just cheap imitations…they can’t top these particular three (though arguable Frost and William Carlos Williams could).
2. Milton: Basically finished Dante’s work. Name another person who 1. wrote a eulogy after him and 2. wrote another religious interpretation anything like Paradise Lost. Yep, he’s responsible for the apple idea.
3. Tough to say who has ‘finished’ Tolkien and Lewis because they are so new. Generally I would think that it takes decades for inovations to percolate among the generations. But Rowling is a fair-game kinda finisher. Hard to top Harry Potter. However, because this particualar genre is so new, she could be counted among the innovators…and a strong one at that. Only time will tell.

Based on this, I don’t think a writer should be shaken by the idea that a writer has ‘done it before’. You never know if your take on an old idea will be the definitive take. So I say go for it. Just read what’s there and put your own spin on it.

Thoughts? Opinions? Am I way off base? (Naaahhhh)

Jane Austen and Stuff

For my hundreth post, it only seems fitting to chat about a literary great.

Marie recently posted about Jane Austen. She asked the question Why do we look for the brilliance in the writer’s life?

I have a similar question, especially as it regards Jane Austen: Why do we try to imitate their brilliance. There are many, many sequels and points of view novels (written from a minor character, or Darcy’s character in particular) that seek to continue her tradition. But here’s the thing: Jane Austen, the ain’t. I am also no Jane Austen.

But, as a writer, and I’m gonna play a little harsh here so others can take opposing views if they wish, why would you imitate someone else? All you will be in history is a pale, pale imitation. Perhaps a shadow–if you’re lucky. Now, I’m not talking about books like Jane Austen’s Book Club…which uses the Austen oeuvre as a structure…I’m talking about books that flat-out use her characters and her settings.

I would say fan fiction is included in this, but somehow it seems different when you’re using such commercial characters to begin with.

But taking Dickens, or Shakespeare, or Austen and putting their characters in new stories and situations. Giving them children and telling stories about their children. Well, it shows that these writers have read. Their writing says that they are talented. So why not create your own places? Your own memorable characters? Knightley is Austen’s. Darcy is Austen’s. And Scarlett O’Hara is Magaret Mitchell’s (don’t even get me started there!).

I think if you want to be a great writer, you have to do you’re own thing. As an exercise in memorability, I tried to remember a single author or a single title out of the Almost Austen Collection…and there are a lot…and I couldn’t remember a thing.

Top Chef and the Bronze Medal

Last night I was watching Top Chef, a show that I love for many many reasons. One of the reasons I love it: The people are talented. “Reality” shows like Big Brother, where it’s Joe Blow and his cousin Dotty Rotten sitting around trying to jack with each other don’t impress me. Show me people who have trained, who have learned their craft and then throw them in a room together and let them show who is the best…now that’s great. (I wish they could find a way to make writing seem like an interesting television endeavor…but we don’t get to use knives or fire that often.)

So the final three were chosen last night. There were two, Stephanie and Richard, who have been kicking butt fairly consistantly throughout the show. The other two were Lisa and Antonia. Now, I love Antonia but she made a mistake…and one mistake on this show (in this case some beans were a little too chewy…yeah, it’s that close) sends you packing. Unfortunately, Antonia was sent home for a bean error. This irked me because I really admired her. A single mom. Opened her own restaurant. And has made it this freakin far! I mean, wow. Overall she’s impressive.

When she left Stephanie and Richard were sincerely bummed to see her go. They’ve gone through weeks and weeks and weeks of cooking torture and tests. She was their buddy. And in their sadness at seeing her go, they forgot to congratulate Lisa on the fact that L. was gonna be going ahead on the final challenge with them. And Lisa called them on it in a very rude fashion. Something along the lines of “I know you don’t want me here but a congratulations would have been nice.”

Then Richard, in one the asides, says, “What? She wants a congrats for winning the bronze? Congrats.”


But I think it’s a legitimate point. You came very far and you did a good job. But it’s hard to remember the person in third place, in anything. In publishing, the fact that your manuscript was the editor’s third favorite pick means the difference between being published period.

And then there’s the winning gracefully. I mean, there are two people who are missing their friend. Give ’em two seconds before reaming them for not saying “Hi, glad you’re here. We’re gonna kick you ass next week.”

Critiquing, and again

I have read so much this week that words blur before my eyes in my sleep. I hear narrative when I’m not paying attention.

At the last Underground meeting, John made a good point: critiquing helps you become a better writer…so do it or get kicked out of the group. Okay, he was a bit more eloquent than that and made the argument that you can’t half-ass stuff and become better. I’m paraphrasing, but still.

So, here is what I have learned from the reading so far:
1. It’s nice to read the ‘new guy’s story but I’m still not a fan of present tense.
2. Sometimes people make long sentences when they should make longer paragraphs.
3. I’m at my sharpest in the evening.
4. Length, whether short or long, creates different demands–I had the pleasure of reading our shortest submission right next to our longest submission and, wow, it made me change my mindset midstream.
5. Exposition is important.
6. I like to play with titles.
7. I learned that if you have a lot of things to do you have to organize and realize that, if you want to be a better writer, you have to be willing to do more than the next guy. I did a lot of the critiques during my lunch hour while my co-workers, well, at lunch. I wanted to do a good job on the critiques because I am about to jump into my own revision and I wanted to be sharp. We’ll see if it works.

Because in the end, you can see other people’s problems but it’s hard to be honest about your own.

I’m trying to keep in mind that the things I critiqued people on the hardest are probably the things I need to work on myself.