Thursday, January 28, 2010

Sad About Salinger

I've just heard about the death of J.D. Salinger. Frannie and Zooey is one of the reasons I continue to strive towards becoming this thing we call a writer (I was actually thinking about writing a comment on it yesterday, about the time that he passed away). I can only say that his genius will be sadly missed but will live on in the immortality of his words on the page. Very sad news. Very sad day. Must worker harder to deserve what he has given us. J.A.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Working Is A Good Thing

Well, Folks. When I promised to finish something I guess I lied (wait did I ever really promise anyone anything?). So far, I've kept to my goal and finished at least 1,000 words a day. Some days have been much much better. The goal to finish something remains, but for now I'll continue to settle for production.

I've done a terrible thing and started something new, again. I had a flash of overwhelming creation at the gym, while mindlessly chugging away on the elliptical. It was so visual and strong that the second I got to the car I took out my voice recorder and started describing images as quickly as possible (I always do my best work at the gym or in the shower). It has been over a week now and it's still going strong. I can't get away from the obsessional phase of writing. I love new ideas so much that I allow them to consume me and to become my only focus. What's more, I've switched into a genre that I've never tried before and worry that my idea is perhaps cliche. In the interest of growth, I'm allowing myself to explore this to its end (wherever that may be), but at some point I'm going to need to talk to someone or read something that either confirms or denies my suspicions.

Mayer, who actually writes very nearly in this new genre, says that there are never cliches only formulas and that simply by writing from your voice and prospective you will never duplicate someone else's work, even if you are influenced by it. He's a strong proponent of formulaic writing, which I am not. It is fun though, a bit like 'choose your own adventure', where you fill in the details. I'm going to let it run it's course and see where it leads, though I may just be spinning my wheels in self-gratifying writing. J.A.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Finish Something, Already!

Over the last several days I've been writing vigorously on many different projects, though have yet to be able to finish the one I started to focus on last week. Message to self: MUST FINISH SOMETHING! Still the fact that I've been consistently producing anything is a good sign. Writer's block in never fun and as long as the words keep coming, it somehow all seems worthwhile.

It has made me wonder why I'm so shy about showing my work to others, especially my husband. That fear of criticism or maybe more plainly rejection is probably what is holding me back from finishing anything in a meaningful way. Editing is a long process, I know that. You can't ever expect to write something that others are meant to read without receiving a healthy dose of alteration and amendment. I just don't know if I'm ready to share all this stuff yet or whether maybe it should remain mine.

Books are like babies in a way; every mother sees her child's flaws, but god forbid anyone should point them out. I feel that way about it at least. Right now, when my ideas are being put to page, all I want is to survive the birthing process, but the hardest part seems to be letting go of the product. I can't seem to get it all out of me for fear that it will fly away. Criticism is just that: critical and to allow someone else, especially someone I value to view the worlds into which I retreat is scary and difficult. Maybe strangers is a better way to go. At least it won't so that detrimental to my family life. J.A.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Murdoch & Harpers

Yesterday was a solid start, not great, but solid. I've been reading a book on writing by an ex-Green Beret called The Novel Writer's Tool Kit. He suggests that one of the main secrets of successful writers is constant reading and analysis of other novels. Though I'm not only interested in novel writing, it is something I'm working on so I say great! I love reading and I've spent the last decade lost in critical analysis, so here we go.

Today, I'm reading two wondrous tomes of literature: Iris Murdoch's The Green Knight and Harper's Magazine. Laymen may wonder why I hold Harper's in such esteem, well to put it bluntly, they are one of the few remaining American magazines that regularly pay for works of fiction. So their Reading section is one of the places I'm going to send my work (someday). I say aim high or don't bother bringing your gun to town, so it's important to size up the competition. Harper's won't be the only place I'll try, of course, but they're one of the big names that some regular people actually read.

My other favorite that I'm dishing about today, is Iris Murdoch:

Like me, Murdoch spent the greater part of her formative years at Oxford and met her husband there, as did I (Sylvia Plath did the same at Cambridge, but that's a story for another day). So, on New Year's Day I started reading The Green Knight for the first time and I'm blown away by the twists and turns in plot. More than anything, Murdoch demonstrates an amazing ability to juggle an unbelievably expansive cast of characters, popping them in and out of scenes with a mastery and complete understanding that I personally find impossible. At present (the point where my bookmark is currently seated), she has brought forth twelve main characters (including a collie), who all have interwoven backstories and complicated mannerisms. This does not even include all the minor characters that I am sure will be coming to the fore soon.
What I find most impressive is that none of these terribly complex individuals would be distinct without the use of impressions from the other characters. In short, it is not clear who the main character is or even which of the characters is the intended protagonist (for they are all so faulty that I don't really want to delve too far into any of them). Normally, this would make me want to stop reading, for surely there should always be at least one character that you side with, but the interactions are all so wonderfully interesting that I'm afraid I find it hard to put down.

In Tool Kit, Mayer writes that there is always one scene or image that was the origin of a story and as a writer you should try to track that key moment of inspiration down. I can only assume that Murdoch's first image was either of two boys playing a game affectionately referred to as 'Dogs' or of a small ugly man trying to beat a lovely looking man to death with a baseball bat. Either way, the story that evolves from these two incidents (both of which are only related either in passing or flash back) is heartbreaking and confusing, but entirely compelling. I take away from it a need to find a purpose for my writing; a message that is unexpected by the reader. Murdoch shows that it is not simply plot or characters that drive a story, but a skillful combination of the two. Otherwise, you are left with a shell of a novel and let's face it no one wants to read fluff all the time.

On another note, I finished 1,500 words today and have almost moved on to the editing phase of a short story I started over Christmas in England. I'm at a crossroads, however, in that too much of the story is taken from real life and I'm not sure the characterizations will be favorably received.
So what do you think? Should I do the smart thing and mask my characters a bit better or should I stick by the original idea? Maybe a bit of both? As always tips, feedback and suggestions are very welcome. J.A.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The Goal: One Year To Follow A Dream

Hello Ladies and Gents,

After a solid year of unemployment, I'm allowing myself 1 year and 1 year only, to follow my dream and become a real writer. For years I've toiled away in silence, writing for me, myself and I, but no more! The goal is by year's end to have published something, anything, anywhere for pay. Even if it is for a tuppence, I will be published or I will throw in the towel and take a job at First Data (like my mother has suggested). Each day, I will write at least 1,000 words and begin to send out submissions to magazines, newspapers, literary agents, etc. until someone hears my call.

Most people might find this daunting or extreme, but after four years in college, three years in graduate school and two years of attempting to get by on pitiful excuses for academic employment, I now find myself a year into what looks to be a lifetime of unemployment so I figured what's the harm in trying to get paid for something I love. I won't post my writings on here (that somehow feels a step too egocentric), but I will chart my journey of success or failure for you each day (or so). By the end, if nothing else I will have a how to manual for how not to get published.

In the meantime, I am very happy to hear from any of you who might have thoughts or suggestions for my journey to publication. I'll be doing a lot of research into the business of writing (something I know very little about) and will feed that back through if I find anything helpful or interesting. Till then, I'm off to writing land for the day! J.A.