Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Take that, Writer's Block!

When in doubt, write on a big piece of paper.  

Apparently, the cure for my case of just-can't-do-it was to crouch down on the ground and write.  There are a few reasons why this was the best idea ever:

1.  The big piece of blank paper doesn't have the internet.  The internet is the biggest procrastination tool in my box.  Take it away (Really far.  Like a whole different room.) and I can get a whole lot done.

2.  The big white piece of paper feels like a brainstorming tool.  It totally tricked my brain into thinking I was just brainstorming, not actually writing, like I do when I write in notebooks.

3.  The big white piece of paper doesn't have lines.  I could have written in a circle had I wanted to.  The possibilities are endless.

4.  It was really uncomfortable writing while crouching.  I was cold.  The floor was uncomfortable.  Both of these things motivated me to write faster.  This time, rather than bumping up against the writer's block in my head moving slowly and sedately, I charged at it going 60mph.  I blew the whole thing down. Best. Feeling. Ever.

Dear Writer's Block, It's Me, Dee

Because as it turns out, we're out of macaroni...

I have a confession:  I'm stuck on my story.  I've made it 3/4 of the way through a crappy first draft, and it's time to write an ending to the damn thing.  Really, really time.  I'm itching to go back to the beginning with some idea of where I'm headed and begin re-writing.  Maybe then my story won't read like a bungled version of Days of our Lives meet the Addams Family.  (Oh wait--that gives me an idea...)

Anyway--back to the present.  I'm good and stuck.  I don't really know why, though I know that this is the point where many authors have doubts and fears and want to turn around.  Most of their advice reads something like this:  keep going.  I'm not an idiot--I know I have to keep going.  That much is glaringly obvious.

But how?  What if I stare at the story, and the feeling of being stuck has overwhelmed the point of me having a clue of what I'm doing?  I need a plan.

I welcome suggestions, but until then, here are a few things I haven't tried yet:

1.  Writing a hundred words a day.  This, my common sense tells me, is a reasonable option.  Either I'll get into it and keep going, or I'll eventually, after a few months, have something done.

2.  Attempt to channel a spirit who will tell me what to write.  This has the added bonus of me not having to take responsibility for any of the words I write down.  Also, it could open up the new-age market.

3.  Writing out an ending on a piece of toilet paper.  I have a theory that I do some of my best writing on toilet paper and restaurant napkins.

4.  Glueing macaroni to cardboard in order to spell out words.  At least that would make me seriously consider what words I used before I wrote--the time, glue, and thought of starving children in Africa would raise the stakes.

5.  Dictating words into a tape recorder as I try to tell the story to my roommate's cat.  Maybe if I had someone to listen to my story, it would help.  Also, that cat is a tough critic.

Whew.  That got a few ideas out of my head.  Off to find a tape recorder...

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Alternate happily ever-afters

I've been thinking about weddings lately.  It might be that my brother is planning his wedding.  It might be that my husband and I still talk about our wedding and how much fun we had throwing it together.  But I really think it's that I just read maybe the longest blog post of my life at Amanda Palmer's blog, where she discusses her marriage to author Neil Gaiman.  It's beautiful, and if you have 30 minutes to kill, and/or are obsessed with either Neil Gaiman or spontaneous weddings, I highly suggest you check it out.

What really surprised me the most was how much she thought about whether or not she wanted to marry Neil, and if so, how to do it.  She didn't assume that the happily-ever-after had to look like a wedding, or that it had to involve a marriage license.  I like to think that I'm independent and strong and a feminist, but I look back at all of the Disney fairy tales I watched and know that I'm still discovering ways in which they shaped me.  Don't those stories always end with a wedding?  Usually a princess wedding in a castle with carriages and things.  

My husband and I skipped the gigantic blow-out bash for our wedding--we announced it and planned it in three weeks after two years of engagement--but we never really stopped to consider the institution of marriage itself, or what other possible forms our happily ever-after could take.  Could we have been happy without the marriage?  Yes.  Most of the perks of marriage are the same as the perks of having a great long-term relationship.  I think the differences from before and after the wedding have been subtle for us.  There's the feeling of permanence, of knowing that we made a life-long commitment to each other.  There's the swell of pride I get when I introduce him as my husband.  There's the mind-boggling warmth of having someone who knows me inside and out and still wanted to spend his whole life with me.  

Wow, this post is getting more gushy than I thought it would.  Anyway, the point is, in spite of my current marital bliss, I wish there were more alternate happily-ever-after stories out there.  Most of the ones that I know of exist in small indie films--not the movies that shape our children's perception of an ideal world.  What if we taught children that it's OK for them to wait to get married, or to choose never to get married at all?  What if we taught young girls that the epitome of happily-ever-after is not a fairy-tale wedding, but a strong sense of self and a stable relationship?  What if we taught children that stable relationships take work, and actually taught them the skills to be kind partners?   I wish there were fewer stories out there about guy-gets-girl and more stories that show what happens next--the part with jobs and dirty dishes and in-laws.  Maybe that's why I love movies like Date Night and Undercover Blues--there's something about seeing marriage as a living thing rather than a destination.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Judging books by their covers

(Note, this work does not belong to me.  However, I would definitely recommend this author and this book--one of my favorites of 2011.)

When someone asks me what kind of books I read, I used to have a stock answer:  everything.  That wasn't necessarily true, however.  When I walked through bookstores, I used to deliberately avoid the romance section.  One look at the covers of women swooning into the arms of scantily clad men made my cheeks flush in embarrassment.  I wouldn't have been caught dead reading one of those, especially with titles like "Chasing Amelia" and "Love in the Saddle."  I used to think that romance novels were as dumb as their covers and titles seemed to advertise.  The words "trashy" and "romance" seemed intertwined.  If someone had asked me if I would ever have written a "trashy romance novel," I would have laughed at them, or considered it something along the lines of a really easy way to make a buck.

Anyone reading this who is currently slapping your forehead and shaking your head:  I know.  Wow, was I clueless.  And I would probably still be clueless today, if it hadn't been for the Romance Writer's of America (RWA).  I joined RWA because I felt like I needed to join a writing group, and they were the only organization I could find in my area.  I joined not really believing that I had much interest in writing romance, but I figured I could fake it, and at least I would be around other people trying to publish.  Right?

Well, on a vacation, I decided that I really needed to at least pick up a romance novel, since I was going to be joining this writer's group.  I found a copy of one of the Nora Robert's Stanislaski books.  That was the end of my vacation.  I tore through it.  And then I read the next one.  And the next.  Rather than insipid and weak, the heroines were strong.  Some were fierce mothers, others independent career women, business owners, accountants.  The dialogue was funny, the images vivid.  I realized that my prejudice had blinded me to a branch of literature that not only was well-written, but also deeply satisfying. I didn't have to worry about my favorite characters dying, and frankly, the women in the romances were a hell of a lot tougher and smarter and more capable than some of the characters in the male-dominant fantasy I'd trudged through.

It was like coming home.  While I can't say that all romance novels are perfect, or that I necessarily enjoy being seen in public with a book that has a close-up of a man's chest, I wish I hadn't been so stubbornly ignorant.  Now, when I hear people scoff at the romance genre, I smile and try not to laugh--odds are, they haven't actually read a romance.  If they had, they'd know that they are a hell of a good time.  And I wonder where I would be and what I'd be writing if I hadn't had the crazy notion to join the RWA.  Not only have I gained humility, I gained a writing community and a trove of good books I finally feel comfortable exploring.