Friday, November 30, 2012

"Angry Birds helps me think" and other fallacies

A few months ago I had an interesting experience.

I awoke at 5:30 fuzzy-brained and ready to seize the day (not so much a virtuous act on my part; I find seizing the day by its coat-tails is the only way it can drag me out of bed that early to write).  After sitting down to the computer and slapping myself in the face to wake up, I opened my manuscript and read a bit from the know--to sort of get me into the story again.
65 pages later I was still reading and feeling pretty good about myself as a writer. I thought to myself, "Boy, you've certainly earned a little break after all that," and so I decided to "see what was going on in the world."

Well, according to the internet news agencies, there was a frickin' boatload of things going on.

And I watched them all.

Oh yes, that story about the sad lives of lottery winners?  When I win powerball, I won't make their mistakes.

The couple arrested for giving their horse shots of scotch?  I'm sure that will help me as a writer someday.

That monster cold front that was going to set records in Oklahoma later in the week but won't come near Connecticut? That was going to come in handy

And then of course there were the video clips. They usually are shown with the tagline: "You won't believe what this pug/kitten/baby/hamster can do!" or "You've got to see this!!!" I can't remember what clips I saw, the dancing pug or maybe the surfing flamingo--I'm sure they were amazing. 

But, forty-five minutes later, as the familiar sounds of waking children signaled the end of my writing time and the beginning of the day, I closed my manuscript, unable to talk my way out of the truth that I had wasted an entire morning on nothing.

How did this happen?

Well, I'm sure it would be easier on my ego if I just said I've got writer's block and went about my day, but it is not writer's block. I know what writer's block is: that awful self-inflicted disease of the creative juices that makes you second guess every sentence you write. But this is not writer's block.

The truth of the matter is this is something worse.

As any artist can attest, art--like most worthwhile things in life--doesn't always come easy. Sometimes it is hard and often (very often at 5:30 in the morning) it can feel very much like trudging through brambles, and it's amazing how good the human brain is at finding easier paths.

So the problem isn't writer's block but more a matter of honesty.
The first lie is the term "news". When did dancing pugs become news? And should it really be of national interest why a couple fed their horse whiskey? There are a lot of people and animals and celebrities (yes, they are another species) who do things that the news agencies tell me I've got to see, and just because their website has "news" in the title they expect me to set aside something as important to me as my writing and watch?


You see it's really a brilliant rouse when you think about it. The online "news" agencies get their money from what? ADVERTISING. Which means the one thing they want you to do when you go to their sites is to do what?

Spend as much time there as possible.

Now this would be a lot harder if these sites just stuck to real news. But instead they turn to stories that are aimed at grabbing your attention rather than informing...and I just don't have any time for that anymore.

I remember when I was younger, the big fad (addiction would be more accurate) in school was the "Guinness Book of World Records" and I would have gladly exchanged any of my bugle boy pants for a chance to see the fattest person in the world or the woman with the longest beard adorning its glossy pages. My mother, however, told me,"the book is not the type of thing I want you to spend your time reading." I didn't understand until much later what she meant. "Life is too short to drink bad wine," was a magnet she kept on the refrigerator at our house and our mom intended us to live by it.

The second lie, unfortunately, is with myself. I told myself that watching the internet news is important, that Angry Birds gave my mind a much-needed rest and so on. For writers, using our writing as an excuse for doing things that are a waste of time or harmful to us is nothing new.

In short, the only way to keep the creative juices flowing sometimes is to tell that annoying part of the brain which is searching for an easier, more entertaining task, to shove off and remove internet "news", Pinterest (Oh yes, ladies, we're on to you), and computer games from the list of acceptable activities when we are at work writing. Becoming a writer is hard enough without letting your brain sabotage your own efforts.

But before you go, you've got to see this!!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Okay...let's duke this out like, er...writers...

Boxing training
This week marks the approximate  halfway point for DL Hammons' fabulous WRITE CLUB!

For those unfamiliar with it, the contest is a cross between Jane Austen and Joe Frazier, with each week pitting two authors' best 500 word submissions against each other. Yes, that's right--two go into the ring but only one comes out alive...sort of like sorority girls at a Cole Haan on Black Friday...except with higher IQs.

The first few rounds have been quite the learning experience and a lot of fun if you overlook the devastation that one-on-one combat like this leaves behind. It's always fascinating to see what type of entries appeal to a wide audience. Many of the voters leave comments or critiques and it is always a difficult task to weigh each critique against that inner voice which tells you which critiques are hogwash and which ones should be followed. One of the best bits of advice I ever heard was from Patricia Lee Gauch at the Highlights Children's Book Writers conference in Chautauqua. She is probably the most knowledgeable children's book editor I've ever heard whose critiquing skills I would gladly kidnap her for. (No really, if she weren't so likable I would, without hesitation, impersonate her mailman, pack her into a customized padded mailtruck and keep her trussed up in my attic, exchanging a daily foot-long sub for honest critiques whenever I needed them.) Hmmm....I probably shouldn't have written that... Anyways, she spoke of the importance of being a confident writer: one who knows when to follow rules and when to break them. It is a difficult thing to do, turning off that I-am-a-crappy-writer-and-everyone-knows-so-much-more-than-me-and-probably-laughs-at my efforts-behind-my-back part of your brain and listen to that small squeaky voice that says "but I really think it sound better this way...."

This is one of the benefits of the Write Club experience.  You get a larger pool of book lovers to read your work and from the responses you can often see similarities in some of the critiques and thus learn whether you are being confident or clueless...all this without the inconvenient daily trip to Subway and the expense of renting a postal truck.

Womens Boxing
Hats off to DL Hammons for putting such a lot of work and effort into this blog contest, and if you haven't visited his site yet, click here and get ready to inhale the sweat and blood as two writers duke it out old school.