Tag Archives: writing well

November 30, the end of Nanowrimo 2011

“Write a little every day, without hope, without despair.” 
― Isak Dinesen
 When I started out this month, my aims were  small. Well, small-ish. I wanted to follow Dinesen’s advice, and work my way through a variety of writing projects, submit to a bunch of contests, finish my novel. I’ve done most, and have hopes for the latter (there are still a few hours left). I’d fallen out of the writing habit. Like exercise, writing takes regular application of self, and, like exercise, there are so many things that could be done instead.
Knitting for one.
I’ve done a LOT of knitting.
I never understood knitting until recently and now it is an addiction. A foolish one, perhaps, but at least it makes things.
It’s a lot like writing. Each stitch, or word, leads you towards the finished project. In both, as soon as you start to feel confident, you drop a stitch or lose the word or write drivel or knot the thread.
Which is why it’s important to do the “without hope, without despair” thing.
The other thing about Nanowrimo is that you become intimately aware of your procrastination techniques. In fact, you disgust yourself, as you dust the underside of shelving, iron your underwear, tweeze all the hairs from whatever part of your body you can reach, all simply to avoid the keyboard. You come to laugh at yourself, to understand that a lot of procrastination is that you don’t have a clear pathway to proceed and that if you take your little flashlight of creativity and head down that dark path, you might instead surprise yourself with something marvelous or scary or even totally grey and discardable, but still a step along the path to the finish.

Although it is embarrassing and painful, it is very healing to stop hiding from yourself. It is healing to know all the ways that you’re sneaky, all the ways that you hide out, all the ways that you shut down, deny, close off, criticize people, all your weird little ways. You can know all of that with some sense of humor and kindness. By knowing yourself, you’re coming to know humanness altogether. We are all up against these things. We are all in this together. (Pema Chodron: Start where you are: A guide to compassionate living)

Pema Chodron has another saying that initially drew me up short.

If we’re willing to give up hope that insecurity and pain can be exterminated, then we can have  the courage to relax with the groundlessness of our situation.  This is the first step on the path.
It’s a good thought to have when writing. It is all uncertainty, this writing bag.  We are forming new ground, laying a new path, creating every step of the way. We uniquely form these stories – two people with the same map will come up with completely different trips. If we can relax and let the process take us, maybe we can achieve the goals we desire.
And, since it is the end of the month and the end of many people’s novels and the start of endless revision, and coincidentally as it is Mark Twain’s birthday, I think I’ll end with a quote from my favourite master:
Anybody can have ideas–the difficulty is to express them without squandering a quire of paper on an idea that ought to be reduced to one glittering paragraph.
The time to begin writing an article is when you have finished it to your satisfaction. By that time you begin to clearly and logically perceive what it is that you really want to say.
– Mark Twain’s Notebook, 1902-1903
Ah, how right you are, Mr. Twain. And so I go, into the dark dark hole of revision…

Hugh Laurie and how I wish I were a polymath…

Hugh Laurie has just released an album of American Blues, called “Let Them Talk”. I am madly driving around in my car with it on my CD player just so I can listen to it and drive. Blues are great driving music. Heck, they are just great music, especially when you are listening to a fantastic pianist, and the crew of blues experts Laurie has gathered around him to play. I’ve always liked New Orleans Blues, and I’m thrilled people will get a chance to hear them, with the star power Dr. House can bring. Perhaps people will actually start listening to them again, and the Ottawa Blues Festival will ditch the need to include pop and screamer rock in their line-up…sigh.

But I am beginning to feel despair. Here is the lovely Hugh Laurie, multi-talented artist, rower, father, actor, writer, and musician. Is there anything he CAN’T do? (Well, other than shave, apparently) And here am I, struggling to write a single book, teaching myself ukulele because if I play it badly (as I do with all the instruments I try) it won’t much matter (though thanks to James Hill and the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain, this is no longer a safe claim), knitting misshapen squares and sewing angled straight edges. While I try everything and scrape by, he tries things and brings grace, humour, and humility as well as expertise to them.

We are about the same age, he and I. I feel so unaccomplished.

I think it must be the education one gets at Oxford. Or something. The utter brilliance Brits that come from that system show is wonderful, broad, esoteric, polymathic (which doesn’t mean they know a lot about math). I think my narrow education in the US followed by my nursing education has left something to be desired. My kids seem to feel that need, too, expanding their studies into the why’s of things as versus just the hows and whats. I hope it helps them. Already two of them have accomplished more than I, and they are half my age. And the third is gathering strength for the fight. They astonish me.

It also makes me feel urgent about accomplishing something well. Recently I’ve been entering lots of writing contests as a quick and dirty way to give me deadlines and force my hand into the writing position. So I crank out crappy stuff quickly and can assuage myself that I am at least writing. I signed up again for the three-day novel contest, and got well into a story when it occurred to me I’d had quite enough of writing fast stuff with little redeeming social value. I need to devote the time to writing well. To the dreaded revision, to looking at my stuff with the eye of someone who does have some writing chops to bring to bear. It’s no longer okay for me to do “well enough”.

Of course, this gives my ability to procrastinate full rampant control, but it’s September now, and my brain wants a challenge. It’s time.

So I’m going to put on some Hugh Laurie and his crew, some Muddy Waters and Louis Armstrong and Ray Charles and Long John Baldry, and get my sorry arse to work.