The completed essay is now here. Thank you for reading.
The past five days have involved everything but writing. While frustration overload threatened many times, a lot of good has come from Life stomping on the pause button without my permission.
Day Eight will happen. Eventually.
Meanwhile, I am toying with a few ideas that might help me organize and propel this story forward. A visual tool of some sort might be best… a storyboard, maybe. The more I think about employing such a tool, the more I like the idea. Especially after a particular breakthrough that came while on the phone with a friend Thursday night. Something she said made me realize that a huge hangup I have with the story is that I keep trying to justify Holly’s actions.
This is a ridiculous, time-consuming, wasteful, distracting endeavor. Her motivations and the end results don’t require justification — I just need to tell her story and get over my personal inclination to interject reasoning. If I do this storytelling thing right, her motivations should be clear enough to keep readers interested.
That critical eye…
Perhaps the most difficult part of writing — once I have actually gotten the words on the page — is being able to use a critical eye appropriately. I have a tendency to hyper-focus on all the wrong things, and thus, miss the most important issues that an objective reader will immediately notice.
It never fails that I read over a piece eleven-seventy times, declare it ready, hit the send button, read through again and yelp, “ARE YOU KIDDING ME?”. Never fails.
When will this stop? Seriously.
Writers often advise other writers to just get the words on the page—hammer it all out, don’t worry about format, grammar, whatever. Hammer it all out, and don’t bother reading until the story is done. I am incapable of this.
Regardless of the type of project, be it an academic assignment, a poem, an email, I mentally compose a few lines,write a few lines then read them back, then edit/revise, then write a few more. My writing is a task of fits and starts.
The index cards have been shredded. At least two notebooks are full of messy strike-throughs and scribbles, and I have added all of one thousand words to the word document begun on Day One. Now I’m rewriting half of what was written on Day One.
That first person present is still nagging. I’ve worked out a tentative plan to soften the worst of that, but there’s still the problem with lack of setting and those sweet little details that flesh out a character. Holly doesn’t like those, and I am so set in my ways that I can’t stop rereading and worrying over the flow.
Thank God I have this place to come to, where I can whine, bitch and moan in print, because no living person wants to listen to me. Even Oliver, my trusty pup and bff is hiding under the bed with his paws over his ears. I probably over did it with the apologies to him after writing a brief but gruesome, heartbreaking scene in which Holly discovers a child has been gnawing on the family pet. Oliver doesn’t want to listen to me prattle on about my writing projects anymore.
That first five hours of magic and stunning word count production is a thing of the distant past. The Second Project was rudely interrupted by LIFE, and now I am having a difficult time getting back into it. I sat down late Saturday evening, once supper had put the rest of the household into a nice quiet coma, and tried to ease back into the z-fic rewrite. It was then that I was brought face to face with one of the problematic issues of this story that nagged at me way back when: First person, present tense.
This is one of three stories that “came to me”, in the main character’s voice. I am not pretending to be clairvoyant, nor am I attempting to convince anyone of mumbling creative guru nonsense when I say such things. I am speaking with plain honesty, regardless of how ridiculous it might sound to experienced writers out there—I literally heard, “My name is Holly, and I have a bizarre story to tell”.
Okay. Enough of defending that. It is what it is.
Holly is not real big on descriptive details. I like descriptive details. I like texture, nuance. I am fond of the waxing poetic. I want to know about the guy who calls her Holly Girl. Who is that, he seems so dedicated and sweet while she treats him like a thorn in the side so I ask who what where and why, and Holly says shut up and keep moving. I want to know more about the raspy, lyrical voice of her grandmother, and Holly says listen to the words, shut up and keep moving. I want to explore the origin of her killer instinct and correct her on some the cliches she’s prone to spout and Holly says we’re all going to die, shut the fuck up already.
I’m stubborn, and after all, I’m the one writing this stuff, so I explore anyway. I discover some amazing things which I believe are vital to the tale and I begin interjecting. But Holly’s first person present tense isn’t really flexible enough to do all the things I want to do. Reading back passages of the story, I hear clanging noises.
So, I am awake at 4 a.m., wondering how to fix all this. Let’s ask Google. Google points me to a Writer’s Digest article entitled “The Pros and Cons of Writing in Present Tense”. I expect to find solutions to these problems in this article written by knowledgeable writing writers. What I find is the declaration that only the immature writer insists upon first person. First person is somewhat faux pas. And one of the few ‘pros’ to writing in first person is that it simplifies the handling of the twelve tenses. Twelve?
How many English courses did I take? About twenty thousand dollars worth. I do not have any memory of twelve. No one is going to give me a refund. How disappointing.
I guess I’ll go do what Holly tells me.
Ramshackle Houses, my collection of poetry and creative nonfiction that I have been prattling on and on about for the past couple of weeks, has been completed and submitted. After all that prattling, after my reading friends put up with a half-dozen rewrites and all my bitching and moaning, and after pounding away at this thing for three solid weeks determined to get it done for a specific submission, I almost didn’t go through with it.
I’ve stayed low the past thirty-six hours or so, mulling over the absolute lack of relief. I should have felt relieved, right? Instead, I let the manuscript lie around here since Tuesday, refusing to look at it, wondering why I didn’t feel good about finishing my first major writing goal.
Then I woke up at 4 a.m. today and said, Fuck it.
I finished the damn thing, might as well do with it what I intended. Yes, it was an emotional journey (that began more than three years ago). Yes, I am grateful for the free time to finally work on it. Yes, I did expect to feel a great deal of relief and pride, and the intoxicating effects of accomplishment. Whatever. It’s time to get over myself and write something else.
Rejection, or acceptance, can be expected in about thirty days.
Other than university assignments, a dribble of poems submitted to online venues, and a handful of stories written for another (member’s only) online venue, I have never finished an honest to goodness writing project. For more than three years now I’ve been toying with the idea of publishing a collection of my poems and nonfiction pieces. Back in 2012 I actually got close to pulling off a self-pub. Close.
The cover art was easy. The title easier. The compilation? Notsomuch. Therein lies my yet insurmountable obstacle. I envision a crisp chronological order that I cannot achieve.
Back in September I stumbled over a potentially perfect home for this incomplete collection of mine and vowed to work on it diligently to make the deadline. The deadline is February 28. Today is February 12, and I am nine pages short on content. I haven’t even attempted a Table of Contents or Acknowledgments page.
Twenty-five poems, thus far, and five creative nonfiction/memoir pieces… and I’m nine pages short! Over the past two days I have done some fairly spectacular editing and revision of older work. This morning, I lopped more than 500 words off one of my best and I think it’s now amazing. I’ve patted myself on the back and done a little happy dance for that.
The potentially perfect home for my collection offers a modest cash prize and printed copies of the winner’s submission, but that’s not really the true prize. The true prize, if I do this freakin’ thing is the knowledge that I actually FINISHED SOMETHING. That I actually finished THE THING!
Moments after I spun my last spin in that happy dance, I realized something. It’s painfully disappointing to admit, but I have developed a terrible habit. For school writing assignments I would do research for weeks, take notes and type out stingy, disconnected paragraphs for weeks. Then I would do everything but write the final draft for weeks—power wash the porch, plant flowers, shop for flowers to plant, reorganize my bookshelf, watch crappy reality TV shows that I never used to waste time on, do online searches for Christmas gifts in June …
Then! Two days before deadline, I would start on my final draft.
This is a terrible habit that was often awarded several A+ grades. And, it is apparently ingrained in my DNA. Or something.
As negative as this reality is, I taste optimism in the air. I can almost see the light at the end of the tunnel. I am going to finish.
I am a day-planner junkie and failed perfectionist.
No one really notices, unless they read between the lines of all my bitching about my messy house, or my ridiculous schedule. Most people probably think I’m just a slob who has no real sense of time or direction, who only beleaguers lack of order and style because she envies all the other women in her life.
A friend of mine theorizes that society has put way too much pressure on people (women in particular) to do it all, and to do it all stylishly without breaking a sweat. The dangerous end result of giving in to this societal demand, one might imagine, is a population of haggard, exhausted, self-loathing women, of which I might be one.
I don’t exactly fit into that category of people who feel the need to meet societal demands, though I do recognize (at least from soccer mom talk shows and runway ads) that such strictures exist and have horrifying impact. Truth is, my society is rather small. I am, admittedly so, a very self-absorbed person that doesn’t really give a fig about the latest decade of trends concerning How To Have The Perfect Life.
After a very long time of personal examination, it’s apparent that the only one putting demands on my time is me. With at least two exceptions. One being the exception of modern day reality… you know, that difficult choice of whether to work outside the home for a paycheck or subsist on congealed ramen noodles and imaginary cable TV in a poorly insulated refrigerator box living room just behind a dumpster. I have to work. If the fact that I want an apartment with carpeting and a dishwasher and a wireless flatscreen TV makes me materialistic, so be it. That’s the least of my problems.
Another exception is the fact that I chose some years ago to marry. And, as some of you might also have realized, when one lives with a spouse that spouse occasionally makes demands on personal allotments of time. This can be enjoyable… or annoying. It depends. Even if that spouse is undeniably adorable and has been a great help in acquiring carpeting and a wireless flatscreen, one might feel on rare cloudy days the need to go buy a bus ticket to the edge of the planet for just a few freakin’ days of solitude. Maybe. It depends.
Yes, I married for love and not for money. See how unbound I am from societal demands?
There was a time when we lived on fast food and chose, mind you, chose, to hang black trash bags over our windows because we slept during the day and thought it ridiculous to waste perfectly good pizza money on unnecessary things like real matching curtains. Hubby came home one day, shortly before my thirtieth birthday to discover that I had gotten a day job and celebrated by buying fabric remnants that I made into matching curtains. I really don’t know what came over me. The next week I bought a vegetable steamer and a crock pot.
Ten years later, I woke up with stories in my head, a job I hated, a new hometown I hated, a perfectly lovely yard that I loved, and a severe craving to go to college. Here begins the ridiculous schedule. Since 2009 I have juggled work, school, housewifely duties, puppy care, amateur writing, occasional home care of a relative or two, and every year, my mind gets cluttered with more and more Things I Want To Do.
I want to host dinner parties, visit the siblings every other weekend, go back to college full-time on campus after I finish all those applications for scholarships and find a way to pay off a ton of student loans of which I am sure there is a way if I would just sit down for days and do the research, read every classic novel I haven’t yet read, publish all my stuff, babysit my little sister’s toddler weeknights because she is an absolute delight, go to the movies with hubby every weekend, help moderate a writing community, redecorate the apartment, keep my new car clean, take the puppy to the vet and on weekend jaunts to the dog park, actually spice up my tumblr and twitter and blog and make regular posts, dig up my old camera and start photographing landscapes, or maybe do weddings again, learn how to cook an amazing casserole and the perfect ribeye, find an affordable grill and patio furniture, get Grandma Carmen’s paintings properly hung, have my lip waxed and nails done once each month and find that terrific lotion I used to buy out west because these are all things that make feel delicious, find some decent walking shoes, go walking everyday after work, master spreadsheets, watch all the seasons of Californication, Orange is the New Black, Justified, and Game of Thrones, clean the oven because good lord, finally go visit the local museums, see a play, that play, plan a real summer vacation, set an appointment for a physical, and get up each morning at 4 am so I can write for 90 minutes before the MIL needs her meds.
What I really want to do is write.