Posts Tagged: how-to-write books

the bad poetry method

When I’m stuck in writing or don’t know what to write in my notebook, writing short lines that are lyrical and/or angsty and vaguely like song lyrics or bad drippy poetry usually works. By “works” I mean that at the end of a page or two I feel unburdened and maybe a few tiny ideas have trickled in about what’s coming up in whatever I’m working on. And maybe I’m laughing at the ridiculous emo of it, but kindly. Sometimes I mix in the actual song lyrics I’m hearing if I’m listening to music, or phrases from overheard conversation.

Here’s a sample. The middle part is noodling over my next bit of nanonovel. And Leif Erikson is the name of a local trail.

[redacted]
what does she think
of me what do they think of me
a v of geese flying away
or maybe just to the next golf course
the wild cry is the same
we’re the same
wild playing candy crush
wild on the bus
wild eyed
yesterday, combing 24 hours
finding so little. Wasn’t I supposed to find more?
working on something alleviates this.
why are these dinner tables
so explosive?
Because these people wouldn’t, and don’t usually, eat together.
There are expectations.
Hey Mel. So this tutor will be kind of a big deal.
Unless she or he is a flake and you conceal it.
Someone who knows lots of professors.
Maybe a Quest editor.
Or another faculty brat, but an older, tenured one. A library rat. A lifeguard.
Burping into my Emergen-C like an aquarium.
Staedtler non-photo blue pencil from Blick’s.
near the Chinese Garden.
Thursday?
So fucking tired of this already chores
and where to stash the car and what
can we do with no exercise
I want to walk on Leif Erickson
maybe Sunday

It isn’t worth much, and yet it inched me forward. I think I like this method because it has just a little more breathing room than “the pen must not stop moving” freewrites. And it can switch mood on a dime, and whatever came before is left behind more completely because of the line break. It feels more emotional yet I feel in less danger of being carried away.

It’s something I do that I’ve never run across in a class or a book, and I guess I like that too.

Five from 24 in Fifteen

This morning I kept Sanguinity company on the early bus to downtown. She’s going to Seattle on Amtrak today. After we parted I walked to campus, and decided to try writing “5/24/15”: think about a five-minute period within the last 24 hours and take 15 minutes to write it down. Even if you end up ranging beyond the five minutes, there’s freedom from having to catch everyone up from the last time you wrote, or write only about important things.

(I can’t remember for sure where 5/24/15 comes from, but it may be Heather Sellers’ Page After Page. Which, now that I look up the link and read excerpts, has excellent advice about love, writing, and time.)

Anyway, here’s what I got.

As Thanksgiving weekend unspooled, I started thinking more and more frequently, “I have nothing on the calendar for Sunday. I can have all day just to write and putter!” It was like having money in the bank.

Then it was Sunday morning and I was on the couch with the coffee and the internet, and an email came in from Refgoddess wanting to borrow a Messiah score, and did Sanguinity and I want to take a walk with her and her dog when we made the hand-off?

Why, yes, and pretty soon we were chez Refgoddess while D wandered around getting ready for church, going to put a belt on only to find he was already wearing one. And then the rest of us were out the gate with Carbon and realizing we didn’t have to trace the same route we take on our commuting walks! We made a rambly loop around the neighborhood, and just as we were solving (retrospectively) the Thanksgiving Napkin Etiquette Disaster, Sang’s phone rang and it was Bookherd calling her back to arrange meeting up at a movie, and Sang asked me if she should bring Bookherd home for a visit afterward so I could see her too, and

Reader, I panicked. Standing in Refgoddess’ driveway where she has made a labyrinth in gravel. Days do not stay empty! A piece is waiting to be written and it’s due at the IPRC class on the 6th and then there is laundry. Sunday night blues started on Saturday night, this week.

There was still plenty of time, not that I used it well when I was on my own. (I resent using it well! I just want it to be there!) Bookherd came over for leftovers while I finished dealing with the turkey stock and carcass that Sang and Fourgates had got going Thanksgiving night. When the dog gave me his Meaningful Look, I glanced at the clock to see if it was eight o’clock (his suppertime) yet, and it was only six! I was so happy. You wish, little boy, I told the dog.

My relationship with time is really kind of fucked up. (I don’t want a relationship! I just want it to be there!) It was still a pretty good day.

How to Tell If You’re Lazy

I grew up lazy, and I’ve stayed lazy. I’ve always liked to eat ice cream and cake, and the line of least resistance for me has always been close to the border of sleep. When I was nine or ten, I kept an enormous mound of comic books on the floor of my bedroom, and my favorite thing was to burrow into my mound, find myself a comfortable position there, and in this wonderful swamp, which was also readable, I would reach a state that fell exactly midway between reading and napping.
Wallace Shawn, “Myself and How I Got Into the Theatre”

This post title and quote have been sitting in my drafts folder for a few weeks. I even drew a mind-map on 9″x12″ newsprint in an attempt to figure out what to say. “Lazy” is in a circle in the middle. There are other Wallace Shawn quotes, questions, phrases, reminders of anecdotes, solid lines and dotted lines all over the page to connect them.

It’s all an artifact of a couple of days when everything I thought of seemed to connect to everything else. If it had all come together, wow, what a great essay that would be. But it didn’t, and now I’m pretty sure the moment has passed. (Maybe because…I’m lazy?)

So I thought I’d just post it now, because I love the quote, and because I’m still wandering around in the fog, trying to think about discipline, willpower, schedules, rebellion, whining, stress, fatigue, time, failure, change, and laziness. And then trying not to think about them, because none of it seems very useful. I guess I’ve had a week of mostly failure. Writing time comes, and I sit there doing whatever I was doing. The hour for writing shrinks to the half hour, then is gone like the last bits of moisture from a cast-iron pan when I dry it on the stove. I just want time to stop. I have difficulty wiping my mind clean and focusing. I resent the things that steal my time, but considering they’re things like “earning a living” and “procuring food,” who do I think I am that it should all be handed to me? And when I have a chunk of time to write, I am not writing anyway!

You see how it goes, round and round. “Fighting tofu,” Writing Down the Bones calls it. (Hmm, in 1986 Natalie Goldberg felt it necessary to explain that “tofu is cheese made out of soybeans.”) I feel worn out with making myself do stuff, and with fretting. I feel like that horse in Glen Balch’s Midnight Colt that’s too high-strung to race. (Hee– the remedy for that was making him walk and walk and walk around an Idaho ranch all day, never allowed to run. He wore out three halter ropes with all his fidgets and fussing, then became a solid racehorse and won it all! Woo hoo, sign me up! Oh.)

Next week I am going to nail 12 hours of writing. I may not reach my ultimate goal of 21 hours/week until after next month’s 50-mile race. Because oh boy am I behind on that too. On Saturday I pulled on my running clothes in slow motion…sat on the couch and did nothing…filled my water bottle…sat…couldn’t force myself out the door until noon. I think I felt defeated already, and didn’t want to go through the pain and make it real. But then I did 20 miles with no knee trouble. Go figure. Now if I can just do some hill work in the next couple of weeks…

After a long stretch of kidlit and YA, it was jarring to open China Mieville’s The City & the City (the last “M” book in my alphabet project!) and start in on a murder-mystery opening much like The Black Dahlia, with a murdered woman’s body providing everyone’s investigative fodder. Not sure how I feel about that genre convention. Still, I liked some of his descriptions of police work:

Corwi did not try to disguise her police clothes because that way those who saw us, who might otherwise think we were there to entrap them, would know that was not our intent; and the fact that we were not in a bruise, as we called the black-and-blue police cars, told them that neither were we there to harass them. Intricate contracts!

And, more simply, of the lab at the station, “There were notice boards on the walls, from each of which grew thickets of papers.” Ah yes.

How to Write a Lot

I have what Anne Lamott might call a teeny little addiction to how-to-write books. Yes, I am aware that many of them strongly resemble each other. But the one I’m reading now is different, and it’s fun! It’s How to Write a Lot, by Paul J. Silvia, Ph.D. The reason I don’t roll my eyes at the degree in the byline is that it’s published by the APA and written for academic writers in the social sciences.

I skipped a few sections, like the chapter on style and the overview of the different parts of an empirical article, but the main thrust of the book, i.e. how to write a lot, applies perfectly to me. What’s more, unlike hand-waving books that make similar points, this one backs up its claims with inline citations. So appealingly nerdy! The author even tracks his writing time in SPSS. My day job is with social-work researchers, but this book is the first thing that’s actually made me want to learn SPSS.

In case you don’t share my quirks and don’t read this book, the message is simple: make a writing schedule, then carry it out. That will pretty much solve your problems. There are tips on setting goals and priorities and staying motivated, but they won’t help you if you don’t make a schedule and stick to it.

How to Write a Lot is more bossy buddy than anything else, but sometimes that’s just what I need. I appreciate the cheerfully opinionated: “Instead of writing review articles, people who don’t outline should drive to the local animal shelter and adopt a dog, one that will love them despite their self-defeating and irrational habits.” (Awright, a puppy! Just kidding. I outline…sort of. Sometimes.)