Posted by: mew | June 7, 2010

switcheroo

Whew!

No, I have not fallen off the face of the earth, nor had an accident or injury that prevented me from continuing the Creativity Workshop.  I did, however, lose the means of keeping in touch with everyone.

I must apologize to everyone for not keeping up with you in this space, nor even keeping up with announcements about what was happening.  We had major DSL woes — and I’m still not convinced they are over, because every time a technician from the phone company has told me my troubles are over, it was merely the calm before the storm.  The first time things got “fixed,” within a few short hours the line was dead again — and stayed that way for several days.  And unfortunately, the pattern became rather repetitive.

In the last two weeks, we’ve spent more time disconnected from the internet than connected.

And because I live in a teeny tiny town in a rural area, the nearest Starbucks where I could sit down and get a signal is in the university town — where F. would normally be going much more often during the school year.  But dammit, we just got a slight break for the summer.  (That is, he doesn’t have to attend quite so often.)

At the local library, I could wait in line to log on at one of their old-fashioned computer stations — and of course bring my photo disks with me and be ready for some slow load times.  I didn’t know dial-up was still legal.

Kidding.  (Well, sort of.)

The whole thing has been a bit depressing and isolating.  And dealing with the huge megacorporation that provides the only decent internet service in the area (competition is hard to come by with a customer base of only a few thousand, apparently), well, let’s just say I was shocked by how difficult it was to speak to a human being who would take responsibility for his company’s abysmal performance and do something about it.

The apathy, day after day, from employee after employee — because of course I wasn’t allowed to speak to the same employee twice, no matter how often the problem recurred* — was disheartening and frustrating to say the least.  I’m hoping that the experience turns into good writing material in the long run.  Maybe one day soon some angry, bitter, jaded employee will come out of his cubicle in my subconscious and go into a riff about the end of empire, and it will be brilliant.

Apparently, it was decided in some divine committee that I needed a crash course in patience.  But I won’t write about that here.  I’ve blogged about the DSL woes sufficiently at the other blog.  (I still view that blog as my main blog responsibility, and so when I would have service, I wrote there first… and usually promptly lost service again.)

This means I am pitifully far behind on all of your posts, and I plan to take the next 48 hours to try and catch up as best I can, to see how everyone is progressing.  Meanwhile, I’ll go ahead and divulge my own progress on the last two weeks , so you’ll know where I stand.

These past two weeks, I got into trouble with my Creativity Workshop progress due to what I am naming the switcheroo.

Fellow participants will probably recall that for the first month of the workshop, I’d decided to attempt four “short stories” that really probably ought to have been classified as novellas.  And this is where I believe I got myself into trouble.

Already by the second week, I was having difficulty switching over to brand new characters, a new time period, and a whole different story concept.  At the time I put this down to a lack of flexibility and attributed this to the fact that I wasn’t used to writing short stories.  At the changeover to week three, however, you could practically hear my gears grinding, and I was forced to wonder whether something else might not be going on.

I wrote slowly, practically forcing the words out, and the characters for the third story, set in the Medieval era, felt stiff, like paper dolls or stock background characters waiting in the wings, ready to be used in a daytime drama.  In other words, the story was a mess.  And I was so disappointed!  Several years ago, I wrote about 2/3 of a novel set in that period of human history, and so I felt this week’s time travel would be the easiest to pull off, that I’d need very little research, that I could easily drop down into the setting and go with the flow.

Instead, my poor beleaguered brain kept sending me scenes from the first story.  I’d be trying to force something to happen in Medieval, or desperately writing backstory on my protagonist when nothing was coming out of the pen… and up would pop this lovely, exquisitely detailed scene from the Wild West story that I never finished in week one.

The key to all of this, I figured out after some time, was that “never finished.”  I’m not sure that I can easily jump around to new stories if I don’t at least sketch in the bare bones of each story.  Otherwise, my brain just whirrs and whirrs, confused, and the subconscious seems to be stuck in the wrong gear, sending up its creative bits to match what it thinks needs doing, i.e. whatever is incomplete.

By week four, it was a fiasco.  I had three stories begun, none finished, and the first one was clearly on its way to being a novel — if only in my mind.  So many ripe, beautiful scenes were popping into my head that I was attempting to ignore — and that is something my Muse does not appreciate.   I actually ended up in tears of frustration at one point during the week, and then I simply gave in, abandoned all attempts at the switcheroo, and started writing the scenes I was given as they came, dropping the Jazz Age story like a hot potato.

Now I’m really excited about the story from week one.  It’s practically writing itself, under the hideously cliché working title “Game of Chance,” and I cannot now imagine how I ever hated the characters in it.  Obviously I just didn’t know them well enough yet.

This whole adventure has me asking several questions of myself.

One:  Can I write short?

I haven’t managed to do so since I was 15 years old, more than half my lifetime ago (okay, more like 22 years ago).  I guess we’ll find out in the second month of the workshop.  All of the stories I’d planned for this section are teeny, just sketches, really, and I don’t see myself getting ready to write a novella about any of them.  But on the other hand, I don’t really feel excited about them, either, and I wonder what the point is of writing a story when the mere idea of it doesn’t make you sparkle — or at least twinkle a wee bit.

Two: Is there not some way to compartmentalize a story/idea in progress so that the subconscious stops providing its services to that idea and moves on to another, at least temporarily?

I ask this with full awareness that I have never yet learned to force the subconscious to follow any particular track, or to do anything according to my schedule or dictatorial whims.  It is its own master, usually.  Still, I’m able to work on nonfiction or blog posts and put them aside in draft form while I process other things, so it seems I should be able to manage that.  And yet the reality is that in fiction the work of the subconscious is vitally important.  Necessary, even.  A blog post can be written without engaging the guys in the basement too much; you know?

Three: Do I process things too slowly to switch gears every week?

I hate even asking this question because it makes me feel old and creaky to consider.  I worry about lost flexibility in my joints, but usually not in my mind too much.  The only way I realized I’d lost a little mental ground was when attempting to learn F.’s native language and finding the tasks of vocabulary memorization and pronunciation monumentally more taxing than learning a language was in my teen years.  Now I wonder if I’m being forced to face the creeping slowness in my writing life, as well.

However — and this is important — I cannot discount the fact that my natural pace for everything is slow and gentle.  That’s how I live life, and no amount of exposure to the American lifestyle of speed and busyness has been able to force my constitution to alter over the years.  I move slowly, sink deeply into the moment, have trouble pushing myself to be in a rush for anything much.  I’m a meditative soul, and maybe I’ve always dwelt on my stories one at a time, going into them as deeply as I can, taking my time.

Questions, I’ve got.  Answers are so far in short supply.  I need time to ponder, obviously.

Coming very soon, an analysis of the first four weeks of the workshop…

*Until I totally lost my temper day before yesterday. That was when I told the supervisor that I would not hang up until he found me someone who would take responsibility and stay with us until the problem was solved to our satisfaction.  Apparently you have to get into a right emotional state to get some results from such companies.  Sigh.

Another switcheroo ongoing is my recent fascination with abstract photography.  I’ve always loved abstract art, and made my own versions in various media — but only recently realized some of the possibilities for making my own with my beloved camera.  This week I’ve been playing with light and reflections.  It’s pretty exciting, even if it forces me to ask one more question:  Did I really need to find another medium with which to express myself?

Advertisements

Responses

  1. That pesky subconscious! Thinking it’s helping by giving you information you don’t want right now. I agree that it’s dangerous to shut out the muse when it’s giving you something, anything! Shut it out enough, and it won’t come when called. I wish you good luck in your efforts to get it all down on paper.

    My natural pace is slow, too, but it sounds much nicer the way you put it! I married into a family of vigorous doers, and though I love them all dearly, when we get together their pace of life is a strain on me. I need much more quiet and down time than they do. It took me awhile to realize there wasn’t something wrong with me–I’m just different from them.

    • I can’t believe you used the word “pesky.” F. just discovered this word this week, and has been using it regularly (once I gave him a working definition). Cool coincidence!

      Be-ers and do-ers sometimes don’t quite get one another, I know that. I can totally sympathize with your situation, Kathy. My Dad and I were the be-ers, generally forced to sometimes toe the doing line in my family. My Mom and sis used to have trouble even sitting down. For me the issue might be the opposite, standing up. 😉 (Don’t worry, I’ve become more balanced over time.)

  2. I love these photos…

    I really get what you’re saying with numbers two and three. I found that my 3rd story really wanted to stay, even as I moved on to the 4th. And then there were other ideas that I felt like I wanted to pursue and I couldn’t figure out a way to remember them without working on them and thus not working on the stories that I originally had planned.

    I’m glad you’re back…hopefully the issue will be mostly resolved. Sorry you have to deal with such sucky customer service.

    • Alisha, I really think this corporation is so huge now that the right hand doesn’t know what the left is doing.

      I hope you’re doing better with moving on now that we’ve switched topics. I’ve actually found my week going a little better — because it’s a totally different scenario. Maybe that’s the trick? If the story ideas are too similar, even in theme/genre/style terms, the subconscious gets confused? I wonder. We’ll see how it goes from here.

      Wishing you luck! I’m still so thrilled you joined in so I can have an old buddy along for the ride.

      • Oh, and p.s. thanks for the encouragement on the photos. I like them, too… full of light. 🙂 I am creating a whole series of abstract, light-filled shots that seem to help me meditate or clear my mind, and thinking about posting them somewhere, like flickr, for easy viewing. I’ll let you know if/when I do!

  3. It sounds to me like you have had a revelation about how you work best, Meredith. And I hate to be the vehicle for interrupting your flow!

    If this isn’t working for you, don’t force it. If you need to complete something before moving on, well then that’s how it is. Even if you just brainstorm ideas each week, but keep moving forward on your story, that’s fine. You have to write the way that works for you.

    The purpose of the workshop is not to force participants to work in a certain way; I just want people to think about how they work, consider other ways and find techniques to improve their creativity, productivity and focus.

    Also, I love your abstracts 🙂

    • You definitely did not interrupt my flow, Merrilee! I should make that clear right now (sorry it wasn’t obvious in the post).

      This week’s story is just tumbling off my fingertips, and I really do think that’s because it’s a totally different scenario. It’s not genre fiction, not romance for sure, and it’s kinda dark and violent and from a male p.o.v., so of course the guys in the basement were handing me all kinds of images and stuff, as usual. I think that they do get confused when the story ideas are too similar or connected, maybe. We’ll see as this unit progresses. The only thing three of the stories have in common is a male protagonist, so that’s going to help. 🙂

      You’re doing a great job with the workshop! I still can’t believe you’ve offered your expertise and kindness so willingly to us all. And I still say that the goal-setting section would have been worth paying for, it was so helpful to me, personally.

  4. I used to have a hard time (and admittedly, still do on occasion) switching my brain from “long” to “short”. In high school, my short stories always came out sounding like a first chapter to a novel. It can be difficult to force your mind to make that switch; sometimes I think I haven’t even begun to master it and I envy those who have!

    • Chibi, I haven’t undertaken a short story since high school — which is so long ago I may have forgotten the knack, LOL. (Sorry, must laugh at old self after traumatic birthday on Monday.)

      Okay. That said, how exactly do you narrow in on a “short” idea and write it short?? Any suggestions for me? I’ll take them for sure. I actually wondered this afternoon if my first short story of this section wasn’t morphing into, well, the first chapter of a novel. 😉

  5. I know what you mean about switching gears too quickly. I do worry a tad that I’m not giving myself enough to these workshop stories because I know I’ll be switching to another in a week.

    Still, for me I think it’s a good exercise to try different themes, genres, approaches that I’d never feel like committing to for a long period.

    • Natasha, it sounds like you’ve been doing quite well so far… but I hadn’t thought of the superficial angle, that it’s easier to do it because we don’t have to commit for long. Yet as you point out, when in our everyday lives do we ever make time to explore these areas in our writing that we’re curious about — but not able to be deeply committed to? (Terrible with the prepositions, but it’s almost midnight, and you get the idea.)

      It’s so lovely to have the support of Merrilee, the helpful posts, and the group of writers participating, to be able to forge ahead to previously unexplored territory!

  6. You are a wellspring of creativity, Meredith. I like floating on the edge of it.

    • Thank you so much for those kind words! And float on by anytime. 🙂


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Categories

%d bloggers like this: