I’m hanging out in downtown Kitchener, testing out coffee shops for writing capability. I was in Kitchener once several years ago, and unimpressed with the gathering of adult stores and shops filled with hooker boots (I’d have to hem them, alas) – things have really changed in the past few years and now downtown Kitchener, though unsettlingly filled with students talking about how they game their assignments and a higher proportion of malnourished hipsters than most places, is a charming, accessible, and funky place. This coffee shop, Misty Mountain, hangs out next to a strange adventures shop, filled with taxidermic animals and beanie babies, skeletons and a cystoscope. When inspiration runs dry, a stumble next door should help.
The coffee is good, the seats are comfortable, there’s a fake fireplace that glows unenthusiastically. It’s all quite marvellous.
I’m fighting the urge to sleep after lunch at Cheesus Murphy, all the grilled cheese sandwich combos you can imagine.
And in a few hours, I’m off to the Christkindl market to wallow in German goodies and Christmas spirit, thus putting a fun deadline on writing.
Time to put pen to page…
I spend a lot of time NOT writing.
It frustrates even me. I vowed to focus on writing from September to December and see what I could get done in that time period but I’m flagging already and it’s at least another 2 weeks to December.
My plan was to end up with the start of several things to revise, things I could work on in the gloomy months of January to March before springing springlike into the publishing world in April.
See, these plans are just not working.
When I write, and I get immersed in my little world, I’m amazed what comes out of my head. Some of it seems actually okay. Most of it needs heavy heavy revision.
But my resistance to getting started is growing by leaps and bounds.
It doesn’t help that I live surrounded by many many books I want to read, all of which are better written than I could do.
It doesn’t help that sitting for prolonged periods isn’t great for me (or anyone else), or that it usually sends me off to sleep, perchance to dream, but definitely not to type.
It also doesn’t help that the thought of all the fiddling around to get published doesn’t appeal. The query letters, the sending books around on visits, the waiting, the editing, the fussing. I don’t think I have the interest anymore.
I wish I did.
But it seems wasteful, sometimes, when there are many other things I want to do.
I know I can be a powerful writer. But perhaps there are other ways to use this. I’m writing for Amnesty again on December 10th, for example. I can and do write letters to the editor, comments to the CBC, letters to elected officials.
But the other stuff feels like dithering, and I’m boring myself. I sit at the computer to write, and lose focus almost immediately. I’d rather be exercising or rug hooking or doing anything that involved my body, rather than my head. Or immersing myself in the writing of others.
There’s so much still to learn and know.
But am I simply resisting what I should be doing?
If so, I’m getting pretty darn good at it.
Excellent post by Jane Friedman. Writers should subscribe.
Goshens I am sick of the Rob Ford debacle. I wish someone would have advised him that he should have stepped down the minute he mentioned drinking and driving (he’s just said he told other councillors caught for DUI that it was okay and helped them “move on”). Breaking the law as an elected official is a bit like abuse by priests. Yes, it’s terrible whoever does it, but it is more terrible when people in a position of trust do it.
It’s just f#%^king wrong, as Mr. Ford might say, in front of kids.
It’s particularly wrong when those people enable others in positions of trust to commit the same crimes.
It’s all completely disgusting and in the middle of it all, there’s Mr. Ford’s mum saying that Robbie’s only trouble is his weight problem. And his brother saying he should have done his drinking in the basement. The guy has an addiction problem. Someone should get him to get help. I can’t believe the complete denial of the problem – it speaks to the covering up of addiction problems generally. Why can’t we admit there is an alcohol problem, that abuse of alcohol causes innumerable evils in the world, and that people addicted to it need help?
When writing bad guys in fiction, it’s important to make them nuanced, with good parts and bad. But sometimes when I write these characters, they take over the narrative, and do more bad things, badder things, more heinous crimes than what I originally planned. It’s like the character takes control of my pen or keyboard and commands me to make them more evil. Occasionally, they get out of hand and I have to go back and rewrite them, give them a better balance, erase a few missteps.
If only Mr. Ford could do the same thing.
I foolishly rented a 14th story apartment for the view. Often it’s glorious – the harbour opens invitingly out of my bedroom window, and lake MicMac winks at me from my den and living room windows. I often while away non-writing hours watching the rowing shells draw circles and figure eights around the islands in the middle of the lake, take a fantasy ride along with them, curse with them the motorboat people doing doughnuts in the middle of the lake.
But for the past two days, the fog has been so thick I can’t even see the trees reaching their arms up to me. Birds flying by appear suddenly, like fish in a curved aquarium. The cat startles, unsure of how these pigeons are appearing. My apartment is shrouded in grey light and I am compelled to descend and walk on the earth to prove to myself it still exists, solid and still autumnal.
I haven’t had a winter in my aerie yet, and I wonder how winter storms will feel here. The last time I was this high in winter, I was living in Ottawa in my first year of nursing, sharing an apartment with my dear nursing buddy and two cats. We’d gone house hunting together and, both not wanting to offend the other, had agreed on higher and higher apartments as they were offered. We each thought the other wanted to live higher up…
And so we spent many evenings carrying two protesting cats down 20 stories after the fire alarm went off. The place where we lived had a resident who would set off the alarm to get the cigarette butts people would leave behind while the alarm got shut off. We’d all be outside for half a cigarette or so, and she could gather up the leftovers as we rushed back in from the cold.
We didn’t smoke, thank gods, since we often had to climb back up the 20 stories or else wait hours with struggling cats in the lobby.
There’s something oddly disconnecting living shrouded in fog. Down lower, you have the shadows of buildings, trees, cars, people. Up this high, you can go for hours with nothing visible out of the window. It’s isolating, sound is muffled, you have no idea of the time, until the grey goes darker…
In the midst of the fog, I’m drifting through a nanowrimo novel. I’m following my character around, watching with bemusement as he talks to people, does different things, makes love, creates mayhem. The path forward is as foggy as the view out of my window, but I’m liking the experience of drift. It’s fun being surprised by what he does, what other characters do in response.
So I’ll take the fog for a while longer.
“Manichaeism taught an elaborate dualistic cosmology describing thestruggle between a good, spiritual world of light, and an evil, material world of darkness. Through an ongoing process which takes place in human history, light is gradually removed from the world of matter and returned to the world of light whence it came. Its beliefs were based on local Mesopotamian gnostic and religious movements.”
Ever have one of those days where, for some reason, words appear in unusual frequency, words you’ve never heard of before? This word, Manichaean, passed through my life with odd frequency yesterday – first through a FaceBook posting by my cousin, then in a book about the Origin of Satan I was reading. The book, “The origin of Satan: How Christians Demonized Jews, Pagans, and Heretics” by Elaine Pagels, is a clear, fascinating, and eye-opening look at the Gospels and early Christianity. I was sent it by a dear friend who knew I was writing a story about evil and Satan as part of my 3 novella series.
But be that as it may, the confluence of Manichaeanism concepts yesterday played into my writer’s mind in a variety of ways. The writing inner editor, who either groups writing into “ooh, great!” or “this sucks”, who tells you you are a writer or a hack, who does not allow for greyness but insists that every single word be perfect and therefore freezes the writer into immobility…
And in terms of characters, the tendency to describe bad guys as totally bad, good guys as totally good, instead of allowing the chunks of overlap that makes characters worth reading about.
It also struck me yesterday because I’ve had to give up another task I took on because of my MS getting worse. At these times, I do a bit of grieving, and I tend to get unreasonable. I see things in black and white, in Manichaean terms. I am either healthy and able to contribute, or I am meaningless and merely using up spare oxygen.
Of course, in my reasonable mind, life is full of grey spots. Writing can be good enough. First drafts in particular can be rotten but good enough – ideas get put down on paper, your creative mind is engaged, progress is made. Characters are multidimensional, not all or nothing. And my MS isn’t ruining my ability to do anything – just changing the parameters.
I hate letting people down, most especially myself. I seem to be doing that a lot lately. So it’s time to readjust and set my goals in areas of grey. It’s a wide field, and there are colours underneath the gauze.