It’s a Mad World – In the Real and Fictional World

Last week I finished the rough draft of my latest WIP; it’s a total mess. Today was a doctor’s appointment for the kidlet, meaning I had to drive into town, braving the idiots on the road who clearly place a higher value on their own time – and lives – above all else. Then I check out Yahoo news and there are articles about a school selling an art text book for $180 that has no pictures, and the now-defunct company, Zellers, looking for a new home for their mascot, Zeddy. Oh, and don’t forget the woman who was arrested in Texas for letting her kids play outside.

Lego store in the Disney Marketplace in Orlando, Florida – taken by me, August 2010 – art imitates life?

Looking at this, just how bad can my fictional world be? Or, how confused and bizarre does it have to be if art imitates life?

Oh, sure, in my initial revision notes I have questions like: “define her species here,” and “assume by this point that hero is completely unlike what he was supposed to be at the outset.” But at least I can change and revise – and make that world have an order and logic.

The real world doesn’t seem to want to play by those rules. Or maybe we just take too great an interest in the surreal and the bizarre – which means this is what we make note of, what makes it into top news, why people report on it in the first place.

Which leads back to fiction: do we have a need to find order in fiction? If we’re writers, to create that order? Are we searching for it in our reading? Should art reflect life, or does it have to be something else, possibly something better?

I wonder if perhaps this depends on where you are in your life and what you read. I love happy endings and romance because I’m not entirely convinced that happens in real life. I don’t want to read about horrible things continuing to happen to people until they finally succumb because I can turn on the news or read a newspaper to hear about that – and unfortunately, those people can’t be saved in revision.

What do you think?

Thanks for reading. Have a great week.

Lighting the Fire: On Realizing Yourself and Your Potential

I like to use the tagline “True Love, Know Thyself” because I believe that true knowledge of self – and understanding of self – is necessary before we can ever hope to really join ourselves to another in love. Sure, this knowledge continues to evolve – as we do – but how can we claim to know anything if we don’t even know what lies in our own hearts first?

It’s autumn, and I’m nearing the end of a terribly plotted WIP that will probably need a lot of time to be untangled in further drafts, which means I’ve also been a bit down – on the world, myself, you name it. And in a round-about way, this is what led me to this article at the Huffington Post:

“HuffJammach: Becoming Who We Already Are” by Omid Safi

Please, go read the post yourself, but it kind of got me thinking how this could be applied to writing and the journey towards becoming the best writer we can be – truly realizing our potential.

Now, I think it’s easy for us to start to wonder: do we have what it takes? Am I a writer? Am I any good? Which almost inevitably leads down the trail to: “My writing isn’t any good.” (Or at least, that’s how it is for me – if this doesn’t happen to you – please share how!).

Anyway, I think that our writing – just like any lousy first draft – is always in a phase. And if we really, truly want to be successful and for our books to be the best that they can be, we have to reach deep to find our real potential, to find and hone the ability, not settling for “good enough” or “it’s the best I can do” when that isn’t true. We all have the potential for greatness within us: that’s not a gift doled out only to the precious few. BUT, I think that only a few of us actually get to the point where we reach – and potentially exceed – our potential.

I’ll return to the first draft kind of example, but let’s try the example of a child first. When you first hold your child in your arms, that tiny baby that the world has not yet imprinted with anything, really – no negativity, perhaps not even a name – that child could do, become, achieve anything, absolutely anything. As they start to really interact with the world, it will become obvious that there are strengths and weaknesses – we all have those – but still so much potential, and they could overcome those weaknesses, certainly – they’re still young. Then they hit their teenage years, maybe they mess up, maybe those strengths and weaknesses are more engrained, more obvious. Sure, they can still overcome – they still have fantastic potential, but it won’t be as easy to make those changes now, maybe the window of potential is starting to narrow. By the twenties or thirties, “decisions” about life seem to be expected, and they should be well on their way to achieving what potential is still left to them – after all, some doors are closed, right? They had better be achieving that potential by their forties and fifties. And by the time you reach sixties and above, well really, what time do you have left? Potential was either reached, enjoyed, or never will be. What massive potential there was at the beginning is either miniscule, or perhaps “used up” entirely, like a box of tissues.

Why? And why do we seem to view our writing the same way?

When we first start out, it could be anything, it could be the best book we ever write, it could be the start of so many wonderful things! And then you hit the second draft, and you can still fix the problems – it will still be fantastic! Third draft, well, this is it, get it cleaned up, some problems may be there to stay, but it doesn’t ruin it, does it? The next book will be even better! Fourth draft, well, time to send it out into the world; it’s good enough. Not perfect, not the best book ever, but good. Then it keeps getting rejected, and soon every time you look at the thing, the writing is insipid, horrible – why did you ever imagine you could get anywhere with this?

Whether a late draft or an old man, why is there any less potential? Why is it somehow “used up”? It hasn’t gone anywhere, because all that potential always lies within us. It doesn’t go away. It never vanishes – just our ability to see it, to want to access it. Whether we’re 8 or 88, we always have potential – and so does our writing.

All we have to do is keep fighting for it, and always, ALWAYS, keep believing in it.

Thanks for reading. Have a great week!

Beware the Bad Habits: Or, How Do You Hold Yourself Back?

I think we all have bad habits; part of the human condition and all that. For writing, I think we have a whole separate set of bad habits. Some of the ones that drive me bananas usually have to do with using the muse as scapegoat, and giving into writers’ block, or crumbling beneath fear. I think (hope) I’m pretty good at avoiding the first two (I control my muse, not the other way around … and I generally try to take care of him, and I’m not a huge believer in complete writers’ block but do believe in fatigue).

Which leaves fear … that stinky little guy who sneaks up on you and leaves you quivering and terrified, convinced that everything you do is terrible, that only rejections await in the mailbox, that nothing good will ever happen to you.

And indeed, we can look at statements like those above and think, “yeah, right, that’s not me, I’d never believe nonsense like that” … except when we’re locked into that cycle and trap of fear and we think exactly ridiculous things like that.  This becomes a bad habit if first, you give in to it rather than just recognizing it for what it is and moving on, and second, if you try to ignore it until it sneaks up and gets you anyway.

The  latter is my bad habit. I try to ignore the fact that sending out countless queries, etc and getting back plenty of rejections (along with the actually-worse non-responses) isn’t a big deal. That it doesn’t eat at me a little every time, making me wonder is it me? Is it the work? What am I doing wrong? Instead of sometimes looking at the fact that usually the answer is a bit more complicated than personal failing (it’s the “usually” that gets me).

Anyway, this kind of fear response can end up holding you back, not writing, and altogether, becoming completely useless, since it could lead to a bout of depression and feeling down on yourself all around. I know better, and yet I seem to come back to this cycle again and again anyway. It’s predictable that at first, I’ll love my story. When it’s finally ready to send out (and after coming to hate it through revision), I simultaneously start submitting that story and writing a new one. The next step is that I love the new story … and feel that it’s so much better than the one that’s being submitted, clearly this is why I get poor response.

So that’s my bad habit, what’s yours? Can you recognize it? And better yet, can you prevent it?

Thanks for reading – have a great week!

Cheers for the Survivor: Or, Ode to the Clunky Piano

I think we all hope that we’ll be the survivor; that no matter how hard things get, we’ll be the one who makes it through. And in so doing, we often compare ourselves to immovable or long-lived objects, as though they serve as some kind of inspiration. For me, I refer to my piano: the ultimate survivor, and one of my favorite pieces in my house.

As one well may imagine, being a survivor doesn’t necessarily make you all that pretty. The very act of surviving means that there are likely scars and dents – the sort of thing that on a

The old girl herself

person you might not be able to spot, but more than visible on an old wood carcass. The wood possesses an unusual kind of striping that you can see in the sun, and which I like to fancy a kind of tiger wood or exotic maple, but which may in actuality be the result of my grandmother using too harsh a cleaner when she decided the old thing needed a polish. The keyboard holds the worst of the wounds, including pink felt-marker lines on a few of the keys when as a child, I was trying to teach myself piano, and I marked the keys that I needed to play my own rendition of “Happy Birthday.” These same keys are a bit more yellowed on one end, perhaps the result of being pushed out of not one, but two separate fires, and maybe that’s part of why the highest key sticks.

Enough, though, on the old lady’s wrinkles, and more about the essence of her, and why she’s so important to me.

We think, from a bit of research when my grandparents were thinking of selling it, that it’s a relatively common and inexpensive honky-tonk piano from around 1898. It entered our family already second hand when my great-grandmother purchased it. I’m not sure if she wanted to play, or perhaps if she wanted her daughters to, but regardless, it was a part of their home by the 1930/40s when the big house (of which there are no pictures) burned down after some failure of the massive battery cells in the cellar that provided electricity. Somehow or other, someone decided to push the piano out of the house. From there, when my grandmother married, she took the piano (again, I’m not quite sure why … perhaps no one else wanted it.) Their first house, which was evidently small and which grandma refers to as “the shack” caught fire when my uncle and my mom were very young – grandma claims grandpa was doing something with oil on the stovetop. Anyway, whatever the case, once again, the piano was pushed out of the fire and saved from another destructive fire which burned the house to the ground.

After all this adventure, I suppose, the piano led a rather uneventful life for the next few decades when my mom and her siblings were taught to play, and when I used to delight in “playing” (read: pounding on the keys) when my uncle was sleeping down in the basement (grandpa consequently locked the piano using his jackknife since the key is long since lost.)

And then I built my own home. And I knew grandma and grandpa were talking about selling that old piano because maybe it would bring a few dollars, and I knew it was worth so much more – to me, at any rate. And so I pleaded with them to hold off, promised that I would take it, that it HAD a home since I knew where it would sit even as my home was only in the blueprint stage. Then it was 2009, a year after we’d begun the house, and finally, finally we arranged the piano mover who would take the piano out of the city and my grandparents’ home an hour west to my own. And then it was here, in it’s place, where it always belonged in my living room, a piece of my family, a piece of my history.

Today, it remains in it’s place of honor. Friends tinker on Christmas carols in the holidays, and my daughter, now 18 months, adores playing. She’s already learning that the highest key on the right sticks, and that we’re gentle with this dear old lady, with this survivor.

And some weeks, when things seem to be going no where, and I’m frustrated with every thing in my life, I can consider this piano, this survivor who has come through fires, who waits patiently and lovingly, and hope I can do the same.

Thanks for reading, and have a great week.