Things I didn’t do today because I sat in front of my computer and worked on boring book revisions (and made awesome progress).
1. I didn’t make hot fudge sundaes with caramel and hot fudge sauce and think about my Grandpa, because hot fudge sundaes always remind me of him.
2. I didn’t go to the overcast and windy beach and get sand in all the wrong places.
3. I didn’t read books to my kids and see how the latest Lumberjanes turns out. Man, I love that series.
4. I didn’t fool around on the internet and feel fascinated but then emerge hours later from a fugue state vaguely recalling that there had been a cute dancing baby rhino, maybe.
5. I didn’t watch videos of people making fun of Trump and Hillary since this election year is my Olympics.
6. I didn’t go to that secret hammock down the street and eat all the half-moldy and forgotten strawberries and then take a nap.
7. I didn’t stare at my kids and be absolutely perplexed by how perfect they are in being themselves and how absolutely lucky I am to get to be one of their creators.
But, I got to make my own weird world where strange and cool things happened, so there’s that.
One of the ephemeral pieces of creating oneself as a writer is noticing and finding the stories you want and need to tell. Eventually, if you write enough, you start to notice that story is all around you, seeping into your coffee and stabbing you in your sleep. But it takes a while to notice it. So, here are some places I go to look for story when I need it.
1. Misheard randomness at the coffee shop.
This is from some notes I took at a cafe once, and I have no idea what this person was talking about, but I love it: I am never looking back. I am so glad I’m never looking back. I cheated and am on the moon now.
2. Bad news that is enraging.
Flint Michigan poisoning all its children with lead because their unelected city manager changed their water source to the Flint River and didn’t treat it properly. This makes me so mad and my mind starts to spin off into ways those kids might someday enact revenge on the city manager, or more positively how this could be the root for some kind of big grassroot’s campaign for justice.
3. Deranged listicles and the bananas culture of the clickbait world.
I mean, really. That edge of pop culture is so surreal. You could just take the headlines and write something near future and rad.
4. Mythologizing your own past.
Have you read Among Others, by Jo Walton? It’s her autobiography. It’s also the story about a twin girl who battled her evil mother and teamed up with faeries and what her life is like after saving the world.
5. Walking through the world quietly and observantly and seeing what happens.
If it’s good enough for my friend Walt Whitman….
True Fact #1 : I’m the administrator for the Clarion West One-day Workshops that take place nine Sundays a year at the University of Washington Book Store.
True Fact #2: I’m the administrator for these workshops because I think they are damn brilliant at giving writers shortcuts in their writing. By shortcuts, I mean cutting down some of those 10,000 hours to writing mastery.
True Fact #3: They do that by focusing on a specific part of writing: plot, character, visceral details, the spark of creativity, etc. When we write, we try to do all the things at once, ie tell a great story, and it is really hard, for most writers, to slow it down and practice one thing for a full day. That’s what these workshops do, and I highly recommend them.
Check them out at: https://www.clarionwest.org/workshops/oneday/
Obligatory adorable picture from when I went to Clarion West:
It occurred to me as I was working on my WIP (work in progress) this last week that there is a way in which I am rewriting the same stories with the same central stories that I wrote when I was a teenager: who am I going to be in the world and how am I going to help the world change?
Back then, a quarter century ago, I was just starting to get glimpses of the injustice in the world, contextualizing my own wounds within the power structures of my society, and raging about why the world wasn’t a better place.
Truth? I’m still screaming and asking that in everything I write, and most my protags are teenagers, because that’s the moment, I think, when you choose to spend your life trying to change the world or not. Oddly, I’ve also been writing some adult main characters lately, and they are all super-old immortals. I have a guess this is because I find myself at this moment in life of feeling both really old and really young, but not, you know, my actual own middle age.
Did you have the most fantastic idea for a book and now you are 30,000 words in and staring longingly at the ending and wondering how the heck you are going to get there? Here are some things that might help.
- Go on a walk without a phone or any device except a pen and paper. State to yourself, in as simple terms as possible, the problem of what you are stuck on. Example: Casey and Allison need to get back into the city and get caught. How do they get into the city and how do they get caught? Think about your questions hard for the first five minutes of your walk, and then let it go and enjoy the great outdoors, smell flowers, and stop for some coffee. Drink coffee and scribble out some notes. I almost always get the answer to my questions at some time on these walks.
- Tell someone about the place in the story you are stuck. Tell them they have to listen to all your ranting and then, when you are done, they are only allowed to ask questions.
- Write down six different things that could solve your problem. Don’t worry if they would all be terrible. Write down a seventh one. Stare at it. Now doodle all over your paper. It’s fine if it’s phallic: that happens. Then crumple up and the paper and throw it in the trash and then take it out again, if you want.
- Think of the most complex way to solve the problem of your story. This may include guns. Think of the easiest. This may include people being way kinder than they would ever be in real life. Think of the weirdest way you could solve the problem.
- Draw the picture of this part of the story. Map that shit out. It can be a really ugly map. It can be any definition of map you have. It can be the worst map in the world.
- Write a love letter to this part of your book about all the things you’d like it to do and if this letter ends up looking like a serial killer wrote it that is totally not a problem for the book but it might be a problem for you but let’s not worry about that right now.