Fear of Blogging, part V

My blog. I’ve been at it well over a month now. In addition to posts I’ve actually posted, I’ve got posts I’ve thought about posting, as well as posts in progress. The distinctions are fuzzing up and I realize it’s inevitable. At some point I’ll inadvertently repeat myself. I don’t want to do that but don’t see how to avoid it. Maybe I could convince my kids to read each post before I publish it. They’re so good at detecting my repetitions.  We know, Mom. (Is eye-rolling allowed in the blogosphere?)

Unknown and Unread…?

In 1967 Delacort published a novel by Patricia Cooper called In Deep. Ever heard of it? Probably not. I read it waybackwhen, remembered liking it, now I’m re-reading.  It. Is. So. Good.  My Dell paperback reprint wants to portray it as a sex romp through swinging Manhattan. Actually it is an edgy and suspenseful family drama, full of wit, insight, and memorable turns of phrase. As far as I can tell, this is Cooper’s only novel. She may have written a couple other, non-fiction books. (She doesn’t have much of an on-line footprint  and there may be more than one author with her name.)

Wonder why she stopped writing fiction. Hope it was because she was done, not thwarted or demoralized. It can be hard to distinguish between done  and done in. I hope she didn’t give up.

As I write about her, I think about me, and I hope I don’t give up. Twenty years between novels makes me a first time novelist twice over. And the publishing world of the early ’90s was so different that memories of it can be liabilities today. But I’m not done. So I’ve decided to believe that Cooper pulled a Harper Lee and stopped because she had said what she wanted to say.

Now I had better sign off to go get some writing done.

Blogging Feels Wrong

Warning. This post won’t be fun to read.

December 14, 2012 was a terrible day for the human race. It feels wrong to blog about it, to tweet or plurk or Fb it. Sure we all need to talk about what happened in Connecticut (and in China) but I am finding our social narcissism so disturbing. Worse though are those who keep blithely updating profile pictures or talking about weekend eating plans. I understand I have no right to judge how another handles stress. Grief.

I am mad at everyone but especially, perhaps, myself. I feel no hope that the United States can make the changes in societal attitudes that will reduce the number of such killings. Intellectually I’m thinking I should be out organizing for change. The rest of me retreats to a dark private corner where I can pretend I am not involved.

So many kids die all the time at the hands of adults with guns, but they die one by one and largely unnoticed, the car crashes to yesterday’s plane crash. If I were the parent of one of those other kids my usual sorrow would explode with the new distant grief yet chill with resentment that my own child died with so much less attention.

Every time there is a terrible public gun tragedy I think surely now- after this -it will be impossible for them to deny the connection between easy gun access and gun tragedies.  Every time I am wrong. 

Maybe we could start small. Maybe we could ban ammunition.

Gun advocates, please don’t point to the knife slayings in China as some kind of twisted indication that guns are not the problem.

On the internet I savor the opportunity to meet and get along with all sorts of folks and so I usually avoid discussion of politics or religion. Today that feels hypocritical: I can’t avoid mention of gun control to sidestep discovery of who is pro or con.

Life with Writer’s Block

It was comforting to read Tennessee Williams’ essay on writer’s block and its sibling, procrastination. (And how wonderful to discover any similarities with his writing!) He talks about stalling daily, about his collection of “the shortest, sharpest pencils” imaginable. Apparently he had the Block throughout his life.

Unfortunately, he didn’t share his techniques for getting around it. Over the years, I have employed several. I’ve self-parented:  not allowed myself to do X, Y, or Z until the day’s writing was done. I’ve reduced self-delusion by setting a daily page quota and keeping an “anti-cheat sheet” where I daily recorded how many pages I had completed. I’ve forbidden myself to change – or even re-read! – the previous day’s writing, and thus eliminated my tendency to rewrite incessantly in order to avoid facing a blank page screen.

My most successful technique was neither controlled nor intentional, however. I developed an overbooked life with only shards of time available in which to write. While I still squander plenty of time, write right now or write not has proved more persuasive than any of my other methods to get the words flowing.

“If you want something done, always ask the busy man.”*

I’m interested to hear how others have dealt with Block — and whether there are any writers out there who never have the problem? It’s a big world so I assume there must be at least a few writers who never experience writer’s block – but I’m guessing they are very much in the minority.

* an observation from Preston Sturges’ master comedy “The Palm Beach Story”.

Fear of Blogging, part III

Damn, I really thought I was on a roll and had figured out how to incorporate writing-a-daily-blog-entry into my life. Now, two days in a row, life (and especially the stupid old day job) have interfered.  Here I am at bedtime with no energy or ideas or clarity. Which probably means I shouldn’t be typing and yet here I am.  Today’s blog has become symbolic of the larger struggle between life’s obligations versus the things that make life worth doing in the first place. I have always been too bound by obligations. I need to do better at eating dessert before I finish the veggies.

You Can Talk About Writing – Too Much

If I talk about what I am writing – or planning to write – I make the writing more difficult and put the piece at risk of getting set aside, ne’er to be finished. It doesn’t matter what the listener’s reaction is – enthusiasm or boredom, support or disdain – sharing the ideas damages my process of converting ideas to fiction.  After I talk about writing, I simply feel less urgency to get it done.

Seems like it would be fun to brainstorm with other writers or use them as sounding boards. But  I’m not sure I could even talk to the cats without jeopardy. Maybe I could talk to a mirror? Never mind about that. Creepy.

Am I the only one in this situation? That doesn’t seem possible. Other writers, which side of this fence are you on?

You Can Think About Writing – Too Much

I do a lot of planning for every novel. I have the whole thing roughly laid out before I start writing and I decide what I want to accomplish each day before I begin. And yet, I never sit down to think about my writing. All my best ideas come when I am brushing my teeth or weeding the garden. Then, when I do sit down to write, the unplanned, unanticipated bits are so often the best products of any writing session. Furthermore, if I need to solve a particular writing problem, I can’t sit down and stare at the screen or the page.  I have to take a hike instead, or do some housework, or go to sleep.

All of which makes me conclude that my un-, sub-, and super-*conscious brain is a better writer than my conscious one. And I speculate that all the planning and the structure are craft equivalents of brushing my teeth: they give my conscious brain something to do while the rest of my brain gets the real job done.

*Damn, now where did I get that phrasing from? “Un-, sub-, and supernatural forces” I think that is how the original went … something by Stoppard, I believe… Rosencrantz?

I am a Populist and This is My Time

I have always been a populist.

Populist: represented or connected with the ideas and opinions of ordinary people. (Cambridge)

Populist: a believer in the rights, wisdom, or virtues of the common people. (Merriam-Webster)

(Actually those definitions seem distinct and different to me – and there is a separate issue about how I balance populism with curmudgeonry – but don’t let me distract myself.)

How do I know I am a populist? As a film student, I wrote my thesis on Frank Capra’s populist masterpiece Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. Watching an interview, I’d rather hear from the man-on-the-street than a celebrity.  And so forth.

This is such an exciting time to be a populist – consider just these few examples of ways that populist movements are changing our world:

  • The Occupy kids started discussions that now infuse mainstream politics.
  • The Arab Spring is still toppling governments.
  • Self-published books have an escalating share of the publishing industry.
  • Open-source software expands coding in so many directions.
  • Popularity bred by browser clicks has become so important that people now tout their expertise with “viral marketing”.
  • And – sustaining all the above and more – social media give voice and influence to everybody.

I can’t wait to see what comes next.

P.S. What else should be on my list?