Posted by: mew | June 7, 2010



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?

Posted by: mew | May 25, 2010

how to kill your momentum

“There’s no such thing as perfect writing, just like there’s no such thing as perfect despair.”

~ Haruki Murakami (Hear the Wind Sing)

Well, I’m obviously a bit behind on the weekly check-in for the Creativity Workshop.  Our internet connection was down for several days, and so I did no posting during that time.

Because I had no internet with which to waste time, and because I actually finished my last freelance assignment a bit ahead of the deadline, I was able to pick up the writing pace for the workshop.  In two days, I’d churned out freewrites about both characters’ backgrounds (to attempt to correct last week’s problems with not knowing my own characters intimately enough), plus 3,700+ words on the first three scenes of the story.

Then Wednesday morning I decided to reread everything I’d written.  This anxious first draft reread is the kiss of death for me, and I know it well.  As soon as I’ve read it, I’m convinced it’s horrible, and the whole thing must be immediately rewritten lest I die of shame.  So, of course, that is what I did.  I rewrote the entire thing, and then edited it.  The new version was just shy of 3,400 words, so some of the first draft got cut.

And then I went back and reread and edited the first week’s output.  I decided I liked it better on a first rereading — but still, it needed a lot of work.  It was full of dialogue tags and wandering introspection and info dumps.  So I edited that one, too.

Then I tried to resume the week-two story right where I’d left off.  Only I had no momentum left.  No storytelling juju.  Every sentence seemed as dry and flaky as mica — and as brittle.  Every idea was liable to break into unusable pieces mid-paragraph.  I made it, crawling slowly, back to the summit of 3,800 words, but just barely, and by then I was ready to throw the story into the shredder.

I hated it that badly.

But I knew not to reread first drafts yet.  That act is a dangerous drug, and destructive this early in the game.  Why did I do it anyway?  I could tell you that my curiosity was overwhelming, or that I gave in to temptation, or that I was bored and had no overflowing e-mail inbox to distract me from my inherent evil tendencies.

I suspect it was something more like this:  I got going too fast and the writing was going too well, and I got scared, so I slammed on the brakes.

Why would I get scared by writing going too well?  That sounds just dumb.  And it is, in a way.  But also in a way, it totally makes sense.

For a big chunk of my 20s, I didn’t write at all, after having allowed my ex-husband’s harsh criticism to silence me completely.  Then when I tried to write again, it was like that time I went to give blood right after my Emergency Swimming exam, which required, among other insane tasks, four laps in an Olympic-sized pool while wearing my clothes — well, all except my jeans which were first used as an impromptu flotation device for extra points* — and keeping my shoes handily tied together and ready so I wouldn’t hurt my tender feet should I actually reach land (the whole ridiculous exercise of course dependent upon my first having miraculously survived the plane crashing into the water.)

Ah, the things I’ve done for college credit.

Anyhow, the Red Cross nurse stuck a needle in me, and the blood came out like sludge, really just barely flowing, and she was about to ask if I was unusually dehydrated for some reason when I passed out cold.

That was how the writing flowed once I decided, “Okay, I’d like to write again.”  My writer self/artist child was angry and moody and had really made quite a nice little place for herself there in the basement where I’d relegated her for so long.  She didn’t much appreciate being hauled into the light and asked to perform.

So I got used to writing being tough, to it feeling like work, or worse, like opening a dehydrated vein.  And frankly, it still makes me quite nervous when several thousand words just slip from the end of my pen with ease.  Clearly, I’m my own worst enemy, and I really do need to join Perfectionists Anonymous (or found it, if such an organization does not already exist).

That 6,000-word goal was in reach.  The story may not have been perfect, but no writing is.  All that time and energy when I could have been moving forward, I moved back and recovered old territory.  Now I could just kick myself.

So this week my goal is simple:  do not reread.  Do not print out rough drafts.  Do not even go over the last few paragraphs when I sit down in the morning to continue.  Just move forward.  Looking over my own artistic shoulder is a surefire way to kill my momentum.  During week four, the artist and the editor must be sent to their separate rooms, and the perfectionist gets to use a Q-tip to clean the grout between the tiles in the basement.

*Yes, this does work, and I now always wear jeans when I fly overseas.  You know, just in case.
Photo of Moroccan traffic sign via Stockvault.  Photo of American traffic light via yours truly.
Posted by: mew | May 16, 2010

almost perfect (or close enough)

The title just about sums it up.  As does this picture of a wild rose on the edge of the woods that surround our home.

There were so many hundreds of wild roses this spring that the plants were bound to miss perfection on a couple of tries.  And actually, that is how I’m trying to think of this week’s progress in the Creativity Workshop.

I got 5,641 words done on the first story.  This falls short of my word-count goal of 6,000, so my perfectionist says “failure” — but I say wait just a cotton-pickin’ minute, missy!

That number is impressive when compared to my typical fiction output, especially lately when my motivation had fizzed.  So instead of saying, oh, I managed only 5,000+ words, I think I should probably be saying this first week resulted in an unbelievable 5,000+ words of fiction written, plus the usual blogging, an article rewrite, about a thousand words of pre-plotting the next three stories, and some memoir freewriting exercises.

Maybe I should even celebrate that somehow.  That’s a lot, for me.

However, on the definite downer side, I hated the way the story developed.

About halfway through I thought, “Oh, no, I don’t really even know my main character.  Do I even like her?”  Uh-oh.  I’d have to write some serious backstory for her before I came back to this story — if I even want to at all.  She seemed totally inconsistent and most unwilling to follow the plot I’d outlined for her.

Tossing and turning the night after my revelation that I’d botched the characters, I had a vision of myself carefully positioning a Barbie doll and talking very loudly to the other girls in the room.  This kind of thing:  “And now she’ll go and meet the hero, but she thinks he’s a big jerk at first.”


(Although I admire my brain for communicating so clearly via imagery, especially since I never owned a Barbie doll as a child, and may only have played with one once.  Still, once was evidently enough to store that experience away and use it to get the important point across.  Much more effective than saying, “Meredith, you’re being dictatorial with this story and the characters are coming out as fake and puppet-like as a Barbie.  Oh, and you’re telling, not showing.”  How cool is it that my brain resorted to showing, rather than telling, to make sure I grasped the idea?)

Also, the first historical setting was difficult for me.  I couldn’t find my lovely Writer’s Guide to Everyday Life in the Wild West, and I decided it was too risky to start doing internet research — because then I’d just sit there looking up period costume and other fascinating details and not get the actual writing done.  The truth is, I don’t really need that much detail, either.  It was, after all, a short story.  But my confidence in the story was not increased every time I typed another [insert appropriate period detail here].

Now, that last part makes me look forward to next week, when we time travel (in a manner of speaking) to the Regency.  The Regency happens to be when my historical romance novel in progress is set, and I also read a heck of a lot of fiction set in that era and/or written in that era.  So I should feel quite at home.

Oddly enough, the future setting (the characters move back into history starting a couple of centuries from now) was my favorite part of the writing, and that’s made me wonder if I ought not to flesh out that world and see where it takes me.  That part of the story was definitely the most humorous, too — which was unexpected.

The whole point of this series of stories is to write humor, for once.  And what did I do?  I managed about 500 words of truly funny stuff, very near the opening, and then dragged us back into melodrama pretty quickly thereafter, with a killing and a vengeance kidnapping.   So next week’s motto is:

Lighten up, dear.

Back to the wild rose motif for a moment, I think my satisfaction with this week comes down to a question of steady productivity.  One wild rose alone, after all, would be so insignificant hardly anyone would notice it — even if it were the most pristine, perfect rose ever to have bloomed on the planet.  A couple dozen wild roses, though, make a powerful and beautiful statement in the landscape.

If this week was one, imperfect rose, the lesson may be that I need to keep on opening flowers, five-petaled or otherwise, and in a couple of years it’ll look as though my writing work bloomed all at once, putting on a magnificent, spontaneous show.

With as many critiques as I can make of my progress this week, the fact is that these are the kinds of writing weeks I’d like to have. Yes, par for the course I had bored, slow hours with lots of resistance.  Yes, I had plenty to do and distractions galore fighting for my attention.  Yes, sometimes the writing was flowing like toxic-waste sludge.

But also, sometimes the writing was a rippling mountain stream, so clear I could see both the texture of the smooth stones on the bottom and the trout’s scales flashing in the sunlight.  And some nights I was so proud I’d shut the office door on those distractions and demanded a thousand words of myself, no matter the quality.  During some of those bored, slow, resistance-filled hours I was even able to laugh at myself a little bit — and get on with it.

So what if I don’t like the first story?


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