Friday, March 26, 2010

Blog series! Where stories come from: from the time you get the idea for a novel to the day you first put your fingers to the keyboard, how does the story come to you?

Right! Let’s look at what Anne Lamott has to say on novel writing prep and where stories come from. This post is going to be kind of low on advice on how to plan stuff. You know, with a nice tidy plot that does what you tell it to, performing all these perfect, synchronised dances down to the last millimetre. That’s because Bird by Bird isn’t that sort of book. Some of the best preparation we can do, is, in fact, not to prepare too much. We might know where we’re going, we might not. Either way, everything will be ok.

You remember those Polaroid cameras that everyone used to have? How they’d take a picture and spit it out, and it would start off as a blank blur, but then the image would slowly appear? With a Polaroid, you can never start off knowing exactly what the picture would be; instead, it’s something that drifts into view gradually.

And finally, as the portrait comes into focus, you begin to notice all the props surrounding these people, and you begin to understand how props define us and comfort us, and show us what we value and what we need, and who we think we are.

You couldn’t have had any way of knowing what this piece of work would look like when you first started. You just knew that there was something about these people that compelled you, and you stayed with that something long enough for it to show you what it was about. (p.40)

It’s useful to bear in mind that we can work on stories even when we’re not sitting down writing them. Not in an 'Obsessing Endlessly and Agonising and Trying to Force Things to Turn Up' kind of way, more through keeping things open. Lamott carries index cards around, so she can jot down ideas. At the moment I carry a small, fat spiral notebook, which is starting to fall apart from being shoved into small handbags and scribbled in so many times. I keep eye an out for new stories, and compelling images, and solutions to problems with existing stories, and strange conversations, and random words that sound nice together. And other things too. This is a great way to prepare:

And then, unbidden, seemingly out of nowhere, a thought or image arrives. Some will float into your head like goldfish, lovely, bright orange, and weightless, and you follow them like a child looking at an aquarium that was thought to be without fish. Others will step out of the shadows like Boo Radley and make you catch your breath or take a step backward. They’re often so rich, these unbidden thoughts, and so clear that they feel indelible. But I say write them all down anyway. (p.136)

In a way, we are our own best subject matter. Our stories come from ourselves, from what it is to be who we are:

The greatest writers keep writing about the cold dark place within, the water under a frozen lake or the secluded, camouflaged hole. The light they shine on this hole, this pit, helps us cut away or step around the brush and brambles; then we can dance around the rim of the abyss, holler into it, measure it, throw rocks in it, and still not fall in. It can no longer swallow us up. And we can get on with things. (pp.197-198)

A great way to come up with stories is to remember. My memories are something I often completely take for granted, but rereading Bird by Bird always reminds me how sacred they are. The good ones, the brilliant ones, the ugly ones, the awkward ones. All of them. Why? Our memories define us: they draw a map of who we are and who we’ve been. And they’re also an excellent source for material. Lamott recommends mining all of them. Not all of them meaning all of them except, you know, that dark ugly stuff we don’t like thinking about much. All of them especially that dark ugly stuff we don’t like thinking about much. When stuck for material, Lamott urges us to delve into our childhoods, into the school lunches we used to eat, our families and how they compared with other people’s families, into our memories of holidays long past.

Writing is a way to make our past as alive for others as it was for us when we lived it, and it’s also a way of defeating all our old monsters, all of the stuff we try to forget. Our memories can be shaped and transformed and sung out to the world.

You are lucky to be one of those people who wishes to build sand castles with words, who is willing to create a place where your imagination can wander. We build this place with the sand of memories; these castles are our memories and inventiveness made tangible. So part of us believes that when the tide starts coming in, we won’t really have lost anything, because actually only a symbol of it was there in the sand. (p.231)

We could let our anxieties and jealousy and despair stop us from writing, or, like our memories, we could use them as fuel for ideas too:

You can be defeated and disoriented by all these feelings, I tell them, or you can see the paranoia, for instance, as wonderful material. You can use it as the raw clay that you pull out of the river: surely one of your characters is riddled with it, and so in giving that person this particular quality, you get to use it, shape it into something true or funny or frightening. (p.11)

Lamott also recommends having a clear and strong picture of the worlds our characters live in. When we don’t have memory to guide us, use research to build up the details of a character’s world. Lamott writes about calling people and asking them to give her details that she would not otherwise have access to about gardens her characters have planted and houses her characters have lived in. When we sit down to write, it’s good to know what our characters are surrounded by every day, and what this is like for them:

Just as everyone is a walking advertisement for who he or she is, so every room is a little showcase of its occupants’ values and personalities. Every room is about memory. Every room gives us layers of information about our past and present and who we are, our shrines and quirks and hopes and sorrows, our attempts to prove that we exist and are more or less Okay. You can see, in our rooms, how much light we need – how many light bulbs, candles, sky lights we have – and in how we keep things lit you can see how we try to comfort ourselves. The mix in our rooms is so touching: the clutter and the cracks in the wall belie a bleakness or brokenness in our lives, while photos and a few rare objects show our pride, our rare shining moments. (pp.74-75)

So. There’s no amazing and straightforward plan we can draw up before we start that takes us through everything with speed and ease. For Lamott and for me, writing isn’t driving on the motorway; it’s taking the weird side streets and the gravel roads. It’s about discovering what happens as it happens, about seeing where we end up. We remember old things that happened to us ages ago, we learn new things that happened to other people, we watch the world, we take notes. And sometimes this magic happens, and things shine out, then find their way onto the page. And the best way to be prepared is to be patient, and keep a pen close at hand, because the glowing stuff can turn up at any moment.

This is my last post for the writing process blog series. It’s been fun, and writing about Bird by Bird has been all kinds of awesome, and reading other people’s thoughts on other books on writing has been all kinds on awesome too.

In the meantime, it’s late at night, and Josh is already fast asleep. Just now, my cat leapt on top of my chest of drawers, then looked down and gave me a concerned look. What you should do is go check out the other posts, and maybe win a prize. And if you do win a book on writing, I strongly recommend you try blogging about it.

However, right now, I’m afraid I’m going to have to go to sleep. It’s after 1am, and I don’t want the cat to worry.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Road Trip Wednesday: Which author's career would you most love to emulate?

When I first looked at the question, my brain immediately gave me all these wildly successful people. Like, wildly wildly successful people. J.K. Rowling! Stephanie Meyer! And then it went into all the various things I would do, if I had their money. I would buy a beautiful villa in Ponsonby! I’d pay for a cleaner to come every week and do all my housework for me! I’d have enough leftover money that I could buy Greenpeace a whole new ship! And also I could set up some kind of literacy program for disadvantaged kids! Yes! However, I would not be one of those obnoxious rich people who goes on and on to the sales assistant with the faded top and the scuffed shoes about how much money I have, how I’m taking my children on holiday to both Athens and Venice and then skiing, because yeah. I know what it is to be that sales assistant.

And then, once I was over that whole train of thought, with all the money and the lack of financial worries and did I mention the money, once I was over that, I thought to myself, do I really want to be Stephanie Meyer or J. K. Rowling? And the answer was a resounding HELL NO.

Why?

Because I don’t want to be surrounded in hype. I like having time to myself, and doing normal daydreamy Leila things, like walking down the road and admiring the trees. If you put me on a red carpet, I would have no idea what to do. I’m not particularly photogenic. You’d end up with lots of photos of me smiling awkwardly, like a newly hatched alien with strange teeth.

But more than anything, I don’t want to be Rowling or Meyer because I don’t want to write just one astronomically successful book or series, a Harry Potter or a Twilight or a Da Vinci Code to weigh me down for the rest of my career. I love the Harry Potter books dearly, but I can’t even begin to imagine the pressure a writer like J. K. Rowling is under. How on earth do you follow up the success of something like Harry Potter? I don’t want to write this one thing that takes off so hugely that it shadows all the rest of my writing forever. I don’t want wild success. I want stable success. I want something constant and lifelong. So if I could have anyone’s career, whose would I go for?

Ursula Le Guin’s.

She’s prolific; she’s written a wide, wide range of stuff; her writing is consistently wonderful with everything she does. And she’s been going at it far longer than I’ve been alive. She’s highly regarded by writers and critics from all ends of the spectrum. She has written a few books which are particular standouts, but they don’t overwhelm everything else. You don’t go buy an Ursula Le Guin book saying, dammit, this had better be like Earthsea or else. At least, I don’t. I buy an Ursula Le Guin book saying, I know with sureness that this will be a highly crafted work of great beauty. And that’s what sells her books. She’s a successful writer, but it’s a quiet, constant sort of success. It’s not a world consuming explosion; it’s something slow burning but unfailing. It’s not one particular book, one particular series. It’s her writing itself. And that is exactly the sort of writer I would like to be one day, if I could choose.

So, how about you? For more answers, check out YA highway!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Blog series! Deepening your characters: what is at the heart of a complex character?

This week as part of our blog series about the writing process, we’re looking at characters, and the many things that can make them real and complicated and interesting and messy and spectacular. (More information and prizes and interesting stuff over here!) I’m looking at Anne Lamott’s advice on character in Bird by Bird. And, as always, I kind of just want to quote the whole book, because it’s that sort of book.

Just don’t pretend you know more about your characters than they do, because you don’t. Stay open to them. It’s teatime and all the dolls are at the table. Listen. It’s that simple. (Bird by Bird, p.53)

 Characters come from everywhere and nowhere at the same time. They reflect us, and the people we know, and the people we want to know, and the people we don’t want to know but know anyway, and the people we’ve watched walking down the street and eavesdropped on while catching the bus. Character building is more complicated than self-consciously grabbing a bunch of things that you’ve found and quickly finding some kind of glue to stick them together, and then attaching strings so you can put on a puppet show.

Character building is more about character uncovering, because characters are mysterious. They leap up from some murky subconscious place. As you write them, you gradually find out new things about them, and they wander off and do things that you didn’t expect them to do, and say things you didn’t expect them to say. Getting to know them is also getting to know ourselves. You probably won’t know them until you’ve spent a lot of time writing their stories.

Lamott tells us not to worry if we don’t know everything straight away. We can test out the details, we can set situations up and see what our characters do. It’s best to let them make mistakes, to find their flaws, to make sure that there are important things at stake. Sometimes a character turns out not to be the person we first assumed they were, but someone far more interesting. And yeah. You can’t flick a switch and have everything light up. Like everything, it’s all about patience:

We start out with stock characters, and our unconscious provides us with real, flesh-and-blood, believable people. My friend Carpenter talks about the unconscious as the cellar where the little boy sits who creates the characters, and he hands them up to you through the cellar door. He might as well be cutting out paper dolls. He’s peaceful; he’s just playing.

You can’t will yourself into being receptive to what the little boy has to offer, and you can’t buy a key that will let you into the cellar. You have to relax, and wool-gather, and get rid of the critics, and sit there in some sort of self-hypnosis, and then you have to practice. I mean, you can’t just sit there at your desk drooling. You have to move your hand across the paper or the keyboard. You may do it badly for a while, but you keep on doing it. Try to remember that to some extent, you’re just the typist. A good typist listens. (pp. 71-72)

And what’s the best way to find out more about our characters? Dialogue. There is no better way to reveal characters, for both our readers and ourselves:

You need to trust yourself to hear what they are saying over what you are saying. At least give each of them a shot at expression: sometimes what they are saying and how they are saying it will finally show you who they are and what is really happening. Whoa – they’re not going to get married after all! She’s gay! And you had no idea! (p.66)

I can’t even begin to describe how much I relate to this passage. My characters always have a habit of mentioning things in passing that are actually Huge Important Things That Change The Whole Damn Story. I think they sometimes forget that I don’t already know.

Dialogue is the way to nail character, so you have to work on getting the voice right. You don’t want to sit there, though, trying to put the right words in their mouths. I don’t think the right words exist already in your head, any more than the characters do. They exist somewhere else. What we have in our heads are fragments and thoughts and things we’ve heard and memorised, and we take our little ragbag and reach into it and throw some stuff down and then our unconscious kicks in. (pp.67-68)

Lamott also talks about characters being engaging and likable and reliable, people who make for compelling company, who aren’t trying to lie or manipulate us. Sure, this might be fiction, but when it comes to characters, it’s all about truth:

A writer paradoxically seeks the truth and tells lies every step of the way. It’s a lie if you make something up. But you make it up in the name of the truth, and then you give your heart to expressing it clearly. You make up your characters, partly from experience, partly out of the thin air of the subconscious, and you need to feel committed to telling the exact truth about them, even though you are making them up. (pp.52-53)

I did a couple of writing papers at university, and seriously, I think if you presented this idea to one of my writing classes, they would probably have argued it down and then beaten it with sticks and then argued it down some more. There’s the whole movement of writing where fiction is all conscious about itself being fiction, and there’s lots of messing around with truth and what truth means, if anything. And this absolutely endless obsession with unreliable narrators. Nothing in the world is shifty and postmodern like an unreliable narrator. And there’s definitely lots of fascinating territory to explore in that sort of thinking*.

But that stuff has never been my territory. I like my characters honest even when they’re trying to hide; I like closeness and intimacy. I’ll never forget the summer when Amber and I became best friends, or the weeks after I first fell in love with Josh. When you find someone who is a true kindred spirit, in the full Anne of Green Gables sense of the phrase, there are always so many things to tell each other, so many confessions to make. You learn the other person piece by piece. And the more you learn, the more you realise there is to learn. That’s how I like things to be with characters. I love the gradual unfolding, and my god, I love falling in love with them.

And that’s why I’ve reread Anne Lamott’s writing on characters so many times. For me, it describes the frustration and joy of getting to know my characters perfectly.


*Janet Frame did it wonderfully, for one. Go read Living in the Maniototo!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Blog series! Getting Into the Zone: What goes into the creative process of writing a novel?

This is my second post in our writing process series. For more information and prizes and, best of all, many, many interesting things to read, I shall point you in this direction.

Ok! Here's Anne Lamott's take on the creative process of novel writing in Bird by Bird. Or, more accurately, my version of Anne Lamott's take on the creative process of novel writing, which is not quite as elegant as hers. Except, you know, when I quote hers.

There’s this daydream. It involves a bunch of things at once: being published; never having to deal with any job other than writing; having famous writers you have loved forever say nice things about you, including how they want to come to your birthday party; having a large, well lit study with a desk and ten bookcases and a couch and an espresso machine and a stereo system and a grand piano. And part of that is this idea that, eventually, writing will always be blissful. We will sit down, and then we will unleash magic rockets straight into the page. It will explode with excitement and literary goodness, like a muesli bar ad but tastier. In fact, we want that magic now, right now. And as we wander through days of self doubt and headaches and writing things that sound forced and crossing them out and then writing things that sound even worse, we start wondering if we’re doing something drastically wrong. And we long for the day when we’ll know the code off by heart and own all the secrets, and writing gets to be this wonderful and effortless explosion of stuff, all the time. You know?

It’s just a dream, folks.


People tend to look at successful writers, writers who are getting their books published and maybe even doing well financially, and think that they sit down at their desks every morning feeling like a million dollars, feeling great about who they are and what a great story they have to tell; that they take in a few deep breaths, push back their sleeves, roll their necks a few times to get all the cricks out, and dive in, typing fully formed sentences as fast as a court reporter. But this is just the fantasy of the uninitiated. I know some very great writers, writers you love who write beautifully and have made a great deal of money, and not one of them sits down routinely feeling wildly enthusiastic and confident. Not one of them writes elegant first drafts. All right, one of them does, but we do not like her very much. (Bird by Bird, pp.21-22)

There is no amazing secret to creating a ‘zone’ to write in. There are things that are definitely useful. You create a habit as best you can, sitting for a long time, day after day. And it might be an uphill battle, but persevere long enough and eventually something will happen from this. You keep at it, and you do your best to hear the voice in your head that is the story amongst all the other stuff going on.


You try to sit down at approximately the same time every day. This is how you train your subconscious to kick in for you creatively. So you sit down at, say, nine every morning, or ten every night. You put a piece of paper in the typewriter, or you turn on your computer and bring up the right file, and then you stare at it for an hour or so. You begin rocking, just a little at first, and then like a huge autistic child. You look at the ceiling, and over at the clock, yawn, and stare at the paper again. Then, with your fingers poised on the keyboard, you squint at an image that is forming in your mind – a scene, a locale, a character, whatever – and you try to quiet your mind so you can hear what that landscape or character has to say above the other voices in your mind. The other voices are banshees and drunken monkeys. They are the voices of anxiety, judgement, doom, guilt.
...

Yet somehow in the face of all this, you clear a space for the writing voice, hacking away at the others with machetes, and you begin to compose sentences. You begin to string words together like beads to tell a story. You are desperate to communicate, to edify or entertain, to preserve moments of grace or joy or transcendence, to make real or imagined events come alive. But you cannot will this to happen. It is a matter of persistence and faith and hard work. So you might as well just go ahead and get started. (pp. 6-7)


But how do we get started?

Lamott suggests breaking things down into small pieces, which she describes as ‘short assignments’. Things are easier to conquer when they’re bite-sized and easily doable, rather than when they’re big and vague and unwieldy. You could sit down and go, ok, time to begin my epically epic novel about epically huge stuff, about what happens when humanity are enslaved by ravenous geese and there’s a slave girl and she falls in love with a fallen angel vampiric werewolf wizard*. Or you could sit down and go, I’m just going to write this one scene, the one where the main character buys a new hat from a moose at the side of the road, and he warns her that the geese have been acting a bit strange recently.

These chunks fit together to make up a ‘shitty first draft.’ I love that she calls them that. Because god, yes. When you are in the middle of fighting with everything, and you’re sure you are that what you’re writing is complete rubbish and unworthy of ever being read by anyone in the whole entire world ever ever ever, it is great to be able to say, yes. This is a shitty first draft. It is full of diabolical sentences and plot holes and Things That Need to be Fixed**. But it is also necessary. Sometimes you have to write bad stuff – sometimes a great deal of bad stuff – in order to work out what the good stuff is. And you have to be free enough to let the bad stuff come tumbling out onto the page, wasting trees or making Microsoft Word blink at you grumpily or whatever, because more often than not, there are the seeds to awesomeness buried in all that compost. But in order to get to the awesomeness, you have to produce the compost too.

Rereading can be handy. It’s a good way to put things into context, and to gain some sense of direction when starting anew for the day. Also, having a good long think can be a good thing too. Lamott emphasises moments of hesitation as useful, the moments where we sit caught between the story and the blank page. That doesn’t have to mean being stuck. We reread, we think, and we find a pathway in:

This is how it works for me: I sit down in the morning and reread the work I did the day before. Then I wool-gather, staring at the blank page or off into space. I imagine my characters, and let myself daydream about them. A movie begins to play in my head, with emotion pulsing underneath it, and I stare at it in a trancelike state, until words bounce around together and form a sentence. Then I do the menial work of getting it down on paper, because I’m the designated typist, and I’m also the person whose job it is to hold the lantern while the kid does the digging. What is the kid digging for? The stuff. Details and clues and images, invention, fresh ideas, an intuitive understanding of people. I tell you, the holder of the lantern doesn’t even know what the kid is digging for half the time – but she knows gold when she sees it. (Bird by Bird, p.56)

What’s funny is that since I’ve started working on following Lamott’s advice, in accepting that the ‘zone’ is always going to be unstable territory, I’ve found it a lot easier to find my way into it. The fight will be hard some times and glorious other times, and god knows, there’s so much bad stuff I have to write in order to get to the good stuff. But in writing with that awareness, in giving myself permission to write badly, I’ve found it a lot easier to write well. There are good stories there, always. Sometimes it’s just a matter of getting out of the way.

*Yeah. I am totally writing that novel, in case you’re wondering.

**I always start lists of these things that I have to go back and fix up, then forget what I did with them, then start new lists of new stuff. I sometimes come up with as many sentences that need fixing as there are sentences, but anyway.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

The first in a blog series where I get to write about writing about writing

So, people! I signed up for a blog series, started by the wonderful Cory Jackson. We’re blogging every week about books on the strange, agonising and miraculous process we call writing, and we’re each focussing on a different book on the writing process. I chose Bird by Bird, by Anne Lamott, because there is no book on writing in the entire universe I love more, and because I’m constantly quoting it on the internet anyway. So now I can, like, quote it some more. Each week we’ll be looking at a different topic and how the books approach it. Also, if you do some blogging of your own about your take on things and leave a link in Cory’s comments, you could win a book on writing.

Now, on to this week’s topic! We're looking at writers as artists: how do you define yourself as a writer? Are genre writers artists?

Let's begin with lots of quotes, because quotes make the world go round.

Writing taught my father to pay attention; my father in turn taught other people to pay attention and then to write down their thoughts and observations. His students were the prisoners at San Quentin who took part in the creative-writing program. But he taught me, too, mostly by example. He taught the prisoners and me to put a little bit down on paper every day, to read all the great books and plays we could get our hands on. He taught us to read poetry. He taught us to be bold and original and to let ourselves make mistakes, and that Thurber was right when he said, “You might as well fall flat on your face as lean too far backwards.” But while he helped the prisoners and me to discover that we had a lot of feelings and observations and memories and dreams and (God knows) opinions we wanted to share, we all ended up just the tiniest bit resentful when we found the one fly in the ointment: that at some point we had to actually sit down and write. (Bird by Bird, pp.xii-xiii)

A writer is somebody for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people. (Thomas Mann, Essays of Three Decades, 1947)

In Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott never once writes about writers as a closed, exclusive society that only a select few can join. Anyone can be a writer. You just have to watch the world carefully and keep collecting details that might be useful, to enjoy good writing whether it is yours or someone else’s, and also you just have to write even when you would rather die a slow and painful death. Lamott writes about the neuroses of writers with unflinching and hilarious honesty: about the panic that sometimes sets in when you’re staring a long project in the face and realising just how difficult it’s going to be; about being paralysed by perfectionism; about sending your work out into the world and the crushing fear of rejection that comes with doing so.

Being a writer, or an artist, is nothing glamorous. In fact, it’s the opposite. Art isn’t about some fancy definition. Art is in facing the perils and joys of creating, both on the days when things fall into place easily and on the days when there are a thousand voices in your head telling you why every single word you put on the page is wrong, when the sea is full of waves and you’re starting to wonder whether you’ll ever get anywhere at all before you capsize.

Lamott doesn’t discuss genre, but I write genre and I’ve been rereading this book for years. As far as I’m concerned, it’s no different. It can easily be as much agony writing about magic as it can be writing realism*. Also, my best friend Amber, who got me onto this book, is a visual artist, and the other day she was talking about getting it for her boyfriend, who is a musician. What I’m trying to say is, it covers all sorts. Regardless of what you’re making, art is perseverance. Art is hanging on on the days when you’re not sure quite what you’re doing, let alone why you’re doing it. It doesn’t matter whether you’re creating an installation piece with three dimensional images and small plastic dinosaurs**, or whether you’re writing a novel about a girl trying to deal with having the most dangerous magic in the world***.

But if writing and creating is so hard, why do we bother at all? Well, it's also about having stuff that we have to say, stories we have to tell, things that will sit around and nag at us if we don't find a way to let them out, much like my cats when I accidentally leave a door closed.

And then there are also the dogs: let’s not forget the dogs, the dogs in their pen who will surely hurtle and snarl their way out if you ever stop writing, because writing is, for some of us, the latch that keeps the door of the pen closed, keeps those ravenous dogs contained. (Bird by Bird, p.26)

Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness.  One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.  (George Orwell, Why I Write, 1947)

Yeah. My cats can be very forceful.

Like Lamott, I write because it’s what I’m driven to do, because it’s what keeps me glued together. It can’t save the world, but it can render it luminous. The thing that makes a writer is the drive to write. Sometimes the drive to write is a glorious thing, a thing that makes us move and write at a million miles an hour and happy about the whole world, and sometimes it's a burden that life would be so much more straightforward without. You know, if we could go home after work when we're all tired and weary and just, you know, watch some bad TV for a bit, and not have words to put together and characters to argue with and plot logic to make sense of.


One of the many things I love about Bird by Bird is that it celebrates both parts of being a writer, or a person who creates, the part where it's easy, and the part where it seems almost impossible but we still try anyway, even when the writing is bad, even when we can only handle one small step at a time. Because we know that while writing may be a struggle sometimes, but it’s also the thing that makes all the struggling worthwhile.



*Actually, as far as I’m concerned, fantasy is realism. Just a different sort. Which is stuff that requires a post all of its own, because otherwise I will go on and on and derail this one. Remind me to write it at some point, ok?

**True story, actually. When I was flatting with Amber in Sandringham, we had a lot of plastic dinosaurs around for a few months while she worked on her final art school project. And the end result was spooky and quirky and wonderful.

*** My thing that I spent, like, almost all of last year doing.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Road Trip Wednesday: How I Procrastinate

Although the better question is how don't I procrastinate?

So. Here are some of the ways I put off writing.

I Will Just Quickly:

It goes something like this.

I will just quickly cook a complicated curry with lots of ingrediants. Then I will write. I will just quickly clean up the aftermath of cooking complicated curry with lots of ingrediants. Then I will write. Actually, I'll just quickly feed the cats, because they're meowing loudly, and I will just water the plants, because they would be meowing loudly if they knew how to meow. Then I will write. Wait. I will just quickly look for a note that I wrote down earlier about the dream I had last night, because there was something in it that might be relevant. Then I will write. Honestly. But the night news is on. I have no idea why I'm suddenly so interested in the night news. I will just quickly watch, like, five minutes of the night news. Then I will write. I will just quickly make myself a hot drink. Then I have to do writing. I should just quickly check the internet though, in case anything has happened on the internet really suddenly that I should know about. I will just quickly brush my teeth, and then I will just quickly go to bed. Then I will write while I'm asleep.

There's an immense sense of urgency and productiveness, without any actual productiveness at all. You're always on the thing before writing. Hell, it's just one step away. Once you have finished the thing that you are doing. Then you will sit down, and you will write, and it will be easy peasy. It's like perpetually wandering over to a door without ever actually walking through it.

Making Mocha in a Massive Mug by Mixing Hot Chocolate Powder With Decaf, Then Sitting on the Couch And Watching Medical Dramas:

I actually have no idea why I do this. I don't even like the sight of blood. 

The Infinite Internet:

I have a lot of beloved people who I am only in contact with via the internet. And that means google groups and facebook and forums and twitter and reading blogs and emailing*.  To a certain extent, that's actually justified. If the internet is your only way to hang out with someone, and they happen to be awesome, then you have to hang out on the internet in order to hang out with them. You know? So I think as procrastination excuses go, it's fairly legit. The problem is how you look at the clock after a while, and start wondering if it's wrong, because it says that five hours have somehow passed, and you were just sitting down to check up on things for five minutes. And now it's time to go to bed.

Also, there's househunting on Trade Me Property. I am a chronic househunter. I hunt for houses even when I have no reason whatsoever to move house at all. I hunt for houses I will live in when I one day have money, like actual money like other grown up people seem to have, houses I might live in next time I move, and houses that my friends could live in, and houses that my characters could live in. I hunt for houses I would live in if I was abandoned and penniless, and houses I would live in if I was swimming in money like Scrooge McDuck.

I love houses. Looking at people's homes is sometimes the closest you can get to looking inside their heads. Some people get to know their characters by filling out questionnaires about their favourite colour and all that stuff. I get to know mine by imagining where they live. So househunting is a somewhat justified form of procrastination, sometimes. Or it would be, if I spent less hours househunting on the internet and more hours actually writing.

And there's Wikipedia. Oh, Wiki. I could totally date Wiki, if I wasn't engaged. You know, you're about to start writing, then you quickly decide that you want to just look up this one article on Wiki. Or maybe two. Just quickly, just to make double extra sure you're being accurate and all your characters are being mentally ill in exactly the right way and the tropical cyclone doesn't have unrealistic details that a weather geek might call you on one day. And then all the articles have links, and the links are interesting. So you go from reading stuff that's closely related to writing to stuff that's vaguely related. Then you notice links in the vaguely related articles, and they all look very interesting too. And then many hours and many links later you realise that you've somehow gone from cyclones to the Norwegian royal family, and you're not quite sure what happened, except that it definitely wasn't writing.

Finally, I can't talk about the internet without talking about YouTube. Because YouTube has so many opportunities for an eager procrastinator, and seriously, it can eat up hours effortlessly. I love investigating beautiful music, and watching tv shows that I can't track down DVDs for right at this moment, and watching stand up comedians being wittier than I am, and watching vlogbrothers.

Maybe one day I will be efficient with time. Actually, I'll be efficient with time right now. Immediately. That is, once I've reread a few chapters of a book I've already read six times, and played some spider solitaire, and researched my future wedding dress. Ok? Immediately.

Never put off until tomorrow what you can do the day after tomorrow. (Mark Twain)

Also, you should go find out about how my fellow highwayers procrastinate. You know, if you get around to it.

*I'm abysmal at emailing, actually, and procrastinate far writing an email far worse than I ever procrastinate working on a story. You know, in case you're wondering why you sent me that email way back in the day and never heard anything. Never fear! It's not because of you. It's because I'm an idiot with an irrational email aversion!

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

In which I am a bit of a fangirl

There are a few defining moments in a writer's life. The 'I've Finished A Novel' moment, the 'An Agent Actually Likes Me' moment, the 'My Novel is Going to Be Published for Shizz!' moment. And one of the best of them is being able to share the official cover of your debut novel for the first time.

So I am delighted to share the cover of my friend Kirsten Hubbard's novel, Like Mandarin. Isn't it pretty?  I love the intensity of the girl's gaze, and the sunset colour scheme. Also, I have a real thing for covers that use white space well. See how simple and striking it is? You need to commit this cover to memory and look out for it in 2011. And then when you see it in a bookshop you need to buy a copy for every one of your friends, because Kirsten's writing is beautiful.