Sketchy Advice for Writerly Types

This November, I participated in my own version of National Novel Writing Month.  Since I first started writing creatively, at age 14, I’ve been a poetry writer.  Writing fiction for me is like trying to pull a train car down a track with my teeth.  Poetry is like pushing a pick-up truck down a hill – I have to really put my shoulder into it, but once I get it going things proceed swimmingly.  I took a long, long break from writing creatively at all: 8 years.  Now I’m back, and learning how to do it all again has been pretty fun.  As with most things, though, I’m fairly pokey and have some trouble following through on things once I start them.  Working that way, I got about 6 decent poems out in 2 months of work.  Not bad, but not stellar.  Always a sucker for a deadline of any kind, I took November as a kind of mini National Poetry Writing Month (which is actually in April and actually requires you to write 30 poems within 30 days).  I shot for 15 poems, intending them to, at best, be something I could turn into a finished work and, at minimum, give me stuff to cannibalize to make other poems.  I learned a lot about how I work  now (at 26!) and what I’m interested in writing about. Especially, I learned – again – how to churn out stuff that I don’t necessarily like or even think I’ll use or just needs to be completely rewritten de novo.  So, I thought I’d pass on some of the imperfect advice I have for those might need it, or who just want someone to commiserate with.

1) Forgive Yourself

For not writing enough. For not writing more often. For not writing “well enough.” For not being a “real writer.” For not being able to think of the right word. For being too wordy. For taking frequent coffee breaks. For daydreaming. For not being done yet.

One of my rhetoric teachers in graduate school spoke to us once about writing as a process.  He told an anecdote about one of his favorite writers.  The writer, before he started writing, but after he sat down at his desk, used to ask for help.  Not specifically from god, from any deity, but from “whatever happened to be listening.”  Because he felt he needed it.  I found that my version of this little ritual was to immediately forgive myself for any of the classic writer transgressions, and some that are particular to me.  I will go on tumblr to look at pictures of attractive celebrities.  I will get up and pet the cats for 5 minutes every hour or so.  And it’s fine!  I still produce stuff.  It’s all part of my process.

2)  You’re a Human Being, Start Treating Yourself That Way

Repeat as many times as you need to: I am not a robot, I am not a machine, I am not a robot, I am not a machine.

This is good life advice as well.  You need sunlight. You need water.  You need food. You need sleep.  You need to shower.  Do you pick up your pen, scribble things for awhile, then start to feel like shit? Can’t concentrate? Well, ask yourself a few simple questions before casting yourself into a shame spiral or giving up and watching 15 more Law & Order episodes. Hungry? Thirsty? Need caffeine? Need a cookie? Is it after midnight? Feeling antsy?  Feeling tense? Eat a sandwich, get some water, have a cuppa, walk to the store, go to bed, get up and do some jumping jacks.  You already know the answer to all these problems, but it is stupidly easy to not do these things, to ignore your own instincts.  If you’ve done all these things and you’re still having trouble, well, the problem is probably more particular to your own brain than to your basic human necessities.  I have those types of days too!  They suck, but they will pass.

3) Just Because You Love Something Doesn’t Mean It’s Not Work

And don’t let anyone tell you differently.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard something along the lines of “if you don’t love writing/can’t keep yourself away from the craft/aren’t always thinking about it, you shouldn’t be doing it/you’re not a writer/jump off a cliff.”  Here is the thing about passion: no one can define yours for you. I stopped writing creatively for 8 years. In that time, I got two academic degrees, a full-time job, was a radio DJ, played badminton, joined a Finnegan’s Wake reading group, taught college freshmen, and generally learned how to take care of myself post-living with parents.  Now, I still have the job, I read for a literary magazine, work out 4 times a week, and bake and cook for myself.  I make time for the writing when I can.  I started again because I liked it before and had always wanted to return to it as a hobby.  But I also won’t sacrifice the other parts of my life to be chained to my desk writing poems.  I believe that in order to have something to write about, I should also live my life and think thoughts that aren’t about writing.  The alternative just seems solipsistic.  Maybe you are obsessed and can never stop thinking about what you’ll write next and run back to your desk whenever you have a chance, and, let me be clear, that is fine.  That is awesome, in fact.  But that’s not the only way to be a writer.

4) Alcohol Can Be Helpful

AKA “Hemingway’s Law.”

As the man once said, “Write drunk, edit sober.”  My poison is red wine.  It loosens me up, helps me break down some of the self-imposed walls when I write all those first drafts.  Again, though, this won’t and shouldn’t apply to everyone.  I felt like a little bit of a cliche sitting down with my glass or two of red to write, but it did make the process feel more special, cozier.  This effect can likely also be achieved with tea, cookies, whiskey, scotch, a nice blanket, some comfortable pants, a glass of seltzer with a squeeze of lime, or any combination of these.  Give yourself a happy accessory when you write, to put you in a nice place starting off.  Unless you prefer to write while uncomfortable?  To each their own state of mind.

5) Never Listen to Music with Words

Movie scores are good, also classical music!

Maybe this is just a superstitious personal rule, maybe it’s just because I’m suggestible, but.  I can’t read poetry or listen to anything with lyrics when I’m writing.  I just start copying the style, if I do!  But, I also find things like This Will Destroy You and the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo soundtrack soothing.  Sometimes I can watch an episode of something while I write, but that can lead to a dark place (aforementioned 15 Law & Order episodes). I need background noise, man. But it can’t be too like what I’m writing, or I start to feel uninspired.  Right at the end of the month I got a Dean Young book, Fall Higher, out of the library and tried to read it.  I love Dean Young, he’s my absolute favorite poet.  But touching that book, reading the words, felt like kryptonite.  I wanted to cast it from my hands, cross myself, hiss, turn around 3 times and spit.  It was an awful feeling, but it confirmed what I already know: no reading more than a stray poem here and there, and especially no reading it when I’m sitting down to work on my own stuff.

 

Dungeons & Dragons

I play D & D now.  What a nerd!

D & D night was last night, so I thought it might be a good time to check in with some first impressions on the game and on attempting to role play in general.  We’re still in the very early stages  (and had to miss a couple weeks due to various party members taking real-life awesome vacations!).

I was nervous about role playing from the beginning, mostly because I had never done it before, but, logically, I thought I had the potential to be good at it, because I write and am pretty good at making up stories.  In reality it’s very, very different.  As different as writing poetry and writing fiction, I suppose.  I take a long, long time to write the latter (expect my first novel in 2020, oy) while the former just kind of come out all at once when I find a topic I want to write about.  The story never bothers me with fiction, it’s how to express it in fiction form.

I had the same problem in real life, especially when I was a teenager.  I used to sit silent for a long, long time in a group conversation until I finally thought of the “right” thing to say, and how I thought best to say it.  It was always a race with my brain and my self-consciousness to see if I could squeak out whatever comment it was before the conversation around me moved on to something different.  Role playing is, at best, off the cuff.  I can riff with my buddies now for sure, but making decisions and coming up with dialogue and figuring out how you’re supposed to interact with multiple people, NPCs, and the world around you? Well, I’m back to spending a lot of time sitting quietly and figuring out a good way to interject, at least so far.

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Nerdist Podcast Boston – A Lost Episode?

Let me just say, it’s not entirely my fault it’s taken me this long to write up the Nerdist podcast taping I attended back in the beginning of May. No, it has nothing to do with my moving insanity and traveling, naaaahh.  Ok, well, maybe I shouldn’t throw Chris, Matt, and Jonah entirely to the wolves.  Just a limb or two here and there.  For a variety of reasons, this podcast may or may not be “lost” forever to the sands of time.  Let’s just say a lot will have to be edited out, including a reference to a “Junior Seauance,” the revelation of who was REALLY responsible for 9/11, and some other pointed mentionings of someone’s ex-girlfriend.  So, I had been wanting to wait to write this up until the episode went online, so I could link to it, but it turns out I might be waiting forever!  I tweeted at the Nerdist dudes to ask if it might ever be going up, and I’ll definitely go back and edit this when/if the episode goes online.  Ok? Ok.

Anyway, even if they do break my heart and never throw the episode up online, I forgive them, because they’re adorable, charming guys, inappropriate jokes and all.  Just really nice, down to earth people.  I’ve had very good luck meeting my nerd celebrity idols this year!  I was lucky enough to get to ask them a question (Any book authors you want to be on the podcast/who will be on the podcast?) and they answered in probably the most roundabout way possible.  It was definitely the most thoroughly answered audience question that night, though.  That was one part of the show that was a little weird… most people who asked questions did not really get much attention from the guys, they seemed to be caught up in riffing on one another and cracking wise.  I’m not too broken up about that, because we were there to be entertained, right? And it was entertaining, damn straight! For instance, between when I asked my question and when it finally got answered, (the non-boozer) Chris Hardick chugged a carton of coconut water onstage, after a stage hand beered Matt and Jonah with Rhode Island’s finest Gansetts.  Bad for his stomach, good for our jollies!

Going to get meta on you for a second here – it’s hard to write about this kind of event when you’re 3 weeks out from it, and when things have gotten kind of hectic in more areas of my life.  Seeing these guys live and getting to meet them after the show was a wonderful experience, but the feelings don’t feel so immediate anymore, y’know? Anyway, yay Nerdist!  Also, if you’re looking to fill up eight or so minutes of your Mondays, you should check out Chris Hardwick’s All Star Celebrity Bowling.  The guests have been generally stellar so far (Jon Hamm and some of the  Man Men crew! Felicia Day! Etc!), and the show has a great vibe after a rough first episode.

1 Bad Thing and 7 Good Ones

I always get sad between the 2nd week of April and Mother’s day.  This directly correlates to me not having a mom around to celebrate her birthday with (May 7) or take to Mother’s Day brunch (May 13, this year).  Boo Hiss.  As anyone missing a mum or a da knows, these greeting card holidays are especially terrible – you can’t turn on the tv (to watch Law & Order: SVU, which I’ve been obsessed with lately, and is my main gym jam) or walk into the drug store to get your shampoo, or, appropriately, your anxiety meds, without being bombarded with commercials, displays, advertisements, etc. that just remind you of what you don’t have that everyone else seems to have.  I know enough dad-and-momless kids to know this isn’t true, but damn if the advertising industry doesn’t try its best to make you think that for about two weeks in May.  I do think that, of all these made up holidays, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day are two of the most well-intentioned though, so as I say of drinks, enjoy ’em if you got ’em kids.  If you don’t, call another friend, parent, grandparent, stepparent, aunt, uncle, cousin, etc. that you do have and chat for awhile.  Chances are you have someone in your life you can commiserate with, since it’s not particularly rare, so go track them down virtually or in person and distract each other for awhile.   Or, do what I do, and get the hell out of dodge and go on a weekend trip.

Anyway, since I was bumming about this today, I wanted to make a little list of stuff I’ve been doing that’s made me exceedingly happy.  My life is full to bursting (in a good way), and I have even more stuff coming up, so I wanted to appreciate it for a few minutes instead of focusing on the stuff that hasn’t turned out exactly right, which I have a tendency to do.

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PAX East, A Brief Rundown

Opening Ceremonies

Opening Ceremonies

Who doesn’t love a list? Let’s make a list you guys!

(Mostly) INCONTROVERTIBLE TRUTHS

  • No con is perfect. There will be things you like and things you don’t, and at some point (unless you’re some kind of superhuman extrovert power nerd) you will get burned out and want to leave.  This is ok! Just don’t dwell on it, complain overly much about it, or make yourself feel guilty for ducking out early/taking a break for a few hours.  Hell, go home or to your hotel and take a nap for a few hours, if you think it will make you feel TRR for the rest of the day/night.  You’re going to make some panels you want to see, you’ll miss others, you’ll wander into stuff you hadn’t expected, and it will be great, seriously.  The only way you’ll have a bad time is if you create one for yourself.  Or if you get sick (saw someone being ambulanced out on Day 2, poor dude or lady was definitely not have a good time) or stabbed or something.
  • As one of my fellow PE party members said, PAX is magnet for everyone you do and do not want to see.  You will, at some point, run into everyone you want to see, even if you aren’t looking to.  There’s no point trying to avoid anyone, either; just relax, and pray that it won’t be too awkward when you see them.  Of course, if you have my awful luck, you will fail to find the one person you do want to find, Felicia Day! Where were you Felicia?
  • The food in the convention center is too expensive.  Walk to Chinatown! It’s a good break, and there are a ton of options.  Also, pro-tip, on Friday, there are a lot of food trucks kicking around in the South Station area.  They are cheap and fantastic, embrace them.  PS. Gabe and Tycho, more food trucks at the convention center next year! Roxy’s was there on Saturday, but sold out of sandwiches super fast. Having a little food truck food court would be excellent, even if it was only just Saturday or Sunday.
  • You will have fun in the classic arcade games room (or the classic console room). Go!

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Passion Play

I attended a reading of Passion Play by Sarah Ruhl on Monday at the Central Square Theater, put on by the Underground Railway Theater Company, which my actor friend was participating in.  I’m still amazed that I have a friend I can go see on the stage multiple times a year.  I know many more writers than I do performers, and writing seems somehow more private, less performative, so acting is really foreign to me.

Anyway, the reading was grand, and powerful. I’d never been to a bare-bones black box reading before, but it made the play’s language stand out.  This was also thanks to the actors, who were passionate – pun intended, maybe – and funny and sad, for the most part. Ruhl also has some fabulous language in this play, so it took well to reading, it’s definitely not a play that relies on set or action. Plus, it has religion, sex, love, death, miracles both real and fake, giant colorful fish, Reagan, Queen Elizabeth, Hitler, angels, a play within a play, Vietnam, affairs, and multiple village idiots. Yet, it ties all of these things together REALLY WELL.  It reminded me in a way of the structure of Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell (at least the first half of that novel), but even more strongly interwoven, and not at all in a heavy-handed way.  Something like that could easily go cheesy, but Ruhl maintains humor and depth and a deft hand with the references.

The URTC was reading this in order to figure out if they want to put the play on next season (or maybe next next? not sure what their time line is), and I’m really hoping they decide to!  If you have an opportunity to go see this one, or even pick up the play itself, do it.  I bet it would be a pretty good read, in addition to a good performance piece.

Also, just as a side note, I really need to find out the identity of that painting on this cover.  It’s gorgeous.

Album Cover

When you get away from the main aisle in the Ikea furniture pick-up area, the atmosphere gets both more emo and more disturbing.  One of my fellow shoppers on this journey to suburbia suggested this might make a good album cover for a theme record about tragedies that happen in Ikea.  Oh no, they’re all out of Vika Amon! LIFE IS TERRIBLE.