Welcome to my world and beyond...

A collection of snippets of the books I write and, occasionally, my life and the things that inspire my writing...

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Ramblings on Writer's Block

Sitting outside last night, looking at the glorious moon-- and the stars paled in its light, I thought about an essay I had written a few years ago.  It was while I was wrangling with writer's block.  I went in search of it, found it, dusted it off and am posting this evening.  It might help someone...once they get past my rambling--which was clearly an attempt to follow advice and write through writer's block. Since this post, I have read opinions of writer's block ranging from ways to break it, to those who believe there is no such thing.  I am inclined to believe that there is... <smiling> and those who think there is not?  Well, bless their hearts...hope they never discover that there is...
September 7th, 2007
After sitting through three hours of class, I walked out into the evening air.  It was so thick with humidity and warmth I nearly had to brush it aside to walk through.  I put the top down on the car.  As I drove home, enjoying the barrier removed between the world and me, the night air was full of late summer cricket and cicada's songs.  There is something otherworldly about their relentless voices calling out from the trees…and yet, strangely comforting.
This night was not to be missed…
The roads that I traveled on the way home were roads that I traveled at my first job after high school. It was at a lighting store. There I waited on customers, retail and contractors alike…wiring lights and installing them for display.  Hmm, as I drove I thought that I have worn a lot of hats over the years…and some were no more than baby bonnets compared to the hat that I wear now.
Where am I at in life? Somewhere in the middle, still finding my way, still asking questions...still living.
Off of the city streets, through the traffic signal, I headed down the winding two lane-- originally a narrow cart-way following old Indian trails. Up hills and down hills, across streams in shallow places, unlike the railraods that came through the area.  They followed every stream and creek, utilizing the gentle grade. 
I drove down into a deep valley and felt the cold envelope me…the cold that has drained to the lowest point possible.  Here was the "Sleepy Hollow" ice cream stand when I was a kid. The guys used to bring their hot-rods and line them up in the parking lot…
I smile recalling some of those fellas and some of their cars.  They left a lot of rubber on the road in front of the ice cream stand.
Inhaling deeply, I glanced up  at the stars.  This is living.  You know, I had my 68 cutlass rag-top when I worked at that light store… and I am sure that I used to think that ‘this is living’ when I drove home from work then too.
Living?  Hmm, here my thoughts went again…back to living and life?  Where am I in life?
Tonight, my teacher shared a few thoughts that he had on life…on getting old.
For people over fifty, if, when  you wake up in the morning and you do not have aches and pains, it is because you are dead!  Eat right, exercise and die anyway?  Well, yes.  Die later perhaps…but more importantly, the quality of your life will be greatly improved by eating right and exercising.  And then he added a few words that nearly mirrored my own thoughts… "I want to live until I die."
Yep, that is me…I want to live until I die.  What I mean is that a whole lot of people stop living a long time before they die. I know a couple of them…and have made it my personal mission not to ever be either of them.
So many years  have passed between the time that I drove that yellow convertible, and the red convertible that I drive now… and I have learned much.  There is still so far to go, but I am an old-timer compared to that girl in the yellow car.
I turned off of the curvy, Indian trail, two-lane, onto back roads.  It was very dark and there were places where the trees over-hang the road. The noise of the insects was so loud it was nearly deafening. 
Life is good, I thought.  And the stars hung in the sky above me.  The same stars that have hung above me for 47 years. 
Tonight they shined down upon a girl who struggles to compose more than vague ramblings…  That reminds me… today one of my former bosses came to see me; just showed up beside my desk and asked, "So you have written a couple of books?"
I nod yes, while I quickly add that they are "just for fun", and that "I am 135 pages into book number three and have developed this horrible writer’s block".
He is a very smart fellow who has never  failed to generously share his knowledge no matter what the question (I have ALWAYS had lots of questions).
He encouraged, he taught, he motivated… and then he moved on and I had a new boss…  Hmm… I am rambling...aimlessly so it would seem …sorry, I have NOT been drinking… but that is where this little story is leading to: how to break writer’s block.
So he stood by my desk and talked about literary devices and about how to break writer’s block. If it is the "white screen" writer’s block… then drinking is the answer <laughing at this> but he swore that a good drunk would make it or break it.  The other type, the plot convergence, when the author has worked their way into a place in the story where action is required and the reader’s expectations are high… and suddenly the mind goes blank…indecision.
"Which one do you have?" he asked.
"Must be a little of both," I laughed as I answered. "I understand where my story is at, and someone must die. It is just time."
"Well, the indecision," he suggested, "can be written through. Just write it different ways with different outcomes. One of them will grab you. You will feel it is right."
He nodded his head and patiently listened to me whine about how I have given birth to these characters "They are my children."  And he nodded in agreement that killing off a villain gives only a few pages of righteous "he had it coming!" sentiment from the reader…and then it is done.
"But… whew! Kill off a character that you have painstakingly developed, revealing their quirks, their insecurities, their flaws, their love, their sorrow, their fears, their pain, their selflessness… and exposed their very soul to the reader? Now that lasts.  That makes a reader throw the book across the room in anger!That is where I am at...and the real problem here is that I am a 'happily ever after' kind of girl who knows that reality is not like that, yet hates to abandon that in fiction."  
He nodded sympathetically, while I am sure he thought,  Go on then, Teresa, just write silly-arsed fairy-tales for grownups.
But instead of saying what I am so sure he must have been thinking, he said, "Write something, anything. Write something everyday, even if it is just acknowledging that you are still having difficulty trying to write.  Analyze the struggle when you write. Write about something else. Write a description of the view out your window. Write about your best birthday ever. Write about your children, your pets.  Place a flower in a vase and write a detailed description of it...then give it a personality and detail that.  Open a book to a predetermined page and write something about the third paragraph on the right-hand page. Write something."
He is right; I need to write something… maybe a bottle of wine will do the trick?
After turning into the lane and driving back a half mile, l I got past the old homestead’s patch of woods. I could clearly see the stars…
Turning off the headlights, I look up.  My cell phone rings. It is a friend returning my call.
I shut off the car right where I am sitting and have a nice chat… under a black velvet, star-spattered, sky.
After the call has ended, I hated to go. I sat for a few minutes more…listening to the creatures of the night and looking out at those stars.
They humble me…very much.  Ancient things that they are. I am less than a flicker of a thought in their time-frame.  Ageless… and timeless.
Starlight and the sanctity of inner thoughts…as soft, warm, winds lifted the hair away from my eyes.… where am I at in life?   I am 20, in a yellow convertible and the stars are shining down on me, and in less than a heartbeat, I am 47 and the star dust falls on the shoulders of a woman seated in a red convertible… blink again?
I am that stardust falling…
I am fine, that is where I am in life--a place called "just fine".  And this writer's block? It comes, it goes...not to completely disregard the suggestion of a good bottle of wine.  Make mine white, sparkling and sweet. :-)

This was an attempt to write through writer's block...

Blink again, it is August, 2011, and the writer's block passed long ago.  I have written nearly half a million words in the last year.  And never raised a single glass to get it done ;-)

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Censored: Cusswords, the Profane, Vulgar or Downright Base.

As a writer, I am often confronted by the choice to add the "bad" words, or not to add them.  In the real world, I occasionally use them.  I do take my audience and the situation-- professional or casual for instance, into consideration. 

Of late, I have read several discussions about Young Adult fiction and the language it contains.  I think it is a whole other question, though, when we consider books for adults.

I take my approach in the written world, just like in the real world, and consider the target audience and my characters, then determine just how potty mouth they will be. 

I ask this question: Does it serve a purpose? Does it lend believability to the story, or make the character more alive to the reader?  Otherwise, I can leave it out; profanity for the sake of profanity  doesn't work in my writing.  But, I also think of the opinion shared by a good friend and University professor, Cemil Tarhan, that there are times when  profanity is called for; times when it affirms the authenticity of the moment, conveys the harshness of the exchange or thought, truly brings home the anger, incredulity, or even humor in your character's situation.

There are times when no other word suffices, and if you omit the profane, or substitute a lily-white word, your written work is diminished by the censorship you inflict on your story.

There are a couple words that I just don't use when I write. A personal preference? Perhaps. But, mainstream fiction is full of bestsellers whose authors had no such hesitation. 

Let me say here, on my facebook profile, it does list "truckdriver" as  one of the languages I speak...even so, I am keenly aware of context when using  base language in a story.  Sometimes, even though a word might be anatomically correct, it taints my opinion of a story--even my opinion of an author.  And there are times that base words fit. An example of what I mean--Audrey Niffenegger writing in The Time Traveler's Wife  her protagonist after giving birth "...and my cunt hurt."  A book that I thought was pretty good, but would much prefer she had used another term, and have wondered why she made the word choice she did.  After speaking to others, I realize that my reaction to her choosing to use that particular word is not an isolated case.  It has tainted my opinion of her and might even affect my future Niffenegger book purchases.  BUT...in Sarah Gruen's Water For Elephants, when the protagonist said the word, "fuck", it fit, it worked.  I thought it was critical to conveying the emotion of the moment.

I don't think that there is a formula, or a rule of any type to determine word choice. For me, it  comes back to knowing your target audience, and what will be well-received.  And working toward an  impression readers take away from your work--either leaving them with a zeal to read more, or driving them away.

But, <smiling> if any of you have rules by which you govern profanity in your writing, please share.  I never stop trying to learn.

If you  have an opinion-- supporting or counter to my own expressed here, please share your thoughts.