This is the notebook where I’ve been scribbling and writing away on my book. The big chunk of it resides on my computer (and backed up on my Google Docs cloud drive, because if god forbid my computer crashes and I lose it, I’ll have to be committed), but I’ve found that keeping a notebook on my bedside table is helpful late at night, when the best bursts of inspiration appear. I got into the bad habit of saying, “I’ll remember that in the morning,” and inevitably I never did. So, enter Moleskine. I’ve had it for a few months and it’s been immensely comforting. Sometimes nothing beats pen & paper, despite all of the technological advances we have. I don’t always use my dad’s Mont Blanc I inherited (by stark contrast I mostly use a cheap ballpoint pen I took from the Hilton in Paris last year), but when I do the whole thing just feels reverential and, dare I be so bold, divinely inspired. I mean, it probably does nothing for my actual creativity, but it makes me feel fancy and connected to my dad a bit, so there’s that.
I thought I had the whole story down, with this great linear trajectory of New Year’s to New Year’s, and I mapped out the first six months of the year, developing side characters and story lines and beautiful (in my opinion) bits of dialogue…and then I ended up scrapping it. It’s for the best, the story makes more sense but it’s also pretty much drastically changed from what I thought it was at the beginning, and it’s jarring. Writing is weird. It’s like the story existed out there all along and I’m just a translator for it, an archeologist getting it down on paper, and I was shining my flashlight at only one part of the wall all this time. That might be the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever written.
What are you guys up to this weekend? Tomorrow JAMAL and I are playing mini-golf and then taking my Mommom out for dinner for her birthday. She turned 88 on Tuesday! Sunday I want to throw the windows open and spend some quality time with that notebook. Have a great one, kiddos.
Part of being A Very Serious Writer involves reading. A ton. Reading anything I can get my hands on, voraciously, distractedly, constantly. Writing can’t operate in a vacuum, and words are meant to be read. Consuming the written word makes you a better writer the way eating tons of fast food makes you fat: the language sticks to you and fills you up and gives your brain something to pull from. That’s deep, yo. ARE YOU LISTENING, NEW YORK TIMES?
I recently came across the repeated insistence of other writers to stop using said bookisms. You know, those words you substitute for “said” after a line of dialogue, and I’m going to pretend I knew that’s what they were called all along. They look like this: “Watch out!” Mary screamed. “I love you,” proclaimed Alex. “I’m waiting in the basement to watch you while you sleep,” giggled the man who lives in my basement and watches me while I sleep. Those. Anytime you use a word other than “said,” it momentarily jars the reader’s brain, pulling them ever-so-slightly out of the moment in the story. Stephen King brings it up in his book “On Writing,” that “said” is always the best choice because of its invisibility. If the dialogue is written well enough, you don’t need to tell the reader that a character yelled or was crying or avoiding something. You can add a qualifying descriptor after the word “said,” if you have to. “I love you,” Alex said quietly. “I love you,” Alex said sarcastically. Alex is kind of a dick, what can I say.
And that was your little writing lesson for today. Any examples from something you’re reading right now? I’m almost finished “Gone Girl” (I started it on Tuesday) and while I’m not reading it for its great literary value, it’s definitely engrossing.
Having a 4 day weekend is just about the most glorious thing in the universe. I slept past 10:30 three of the days, and generally lounged around in sweatpants until the mid-afternoon, at which point Boyfriend would scrunch up his nose at me and suggest, ever so politely, that maybe I’d like to join the world of the living and tend to my stink. I ate well, probably too well (or too poorly, depending on how you feel about gummy bears for breakfast), and spent a lot of time hanging out with friends and family. Thanksgiving was the highlight, and the day capped off with some cuddling on the couch with my nieces, watching Madagascar 3 in 3D. How was everyone’s holiday & weekend?
I also made some serious progress on le book. I schlepped my computer desk into the guest room so I could write undisturbed, though Fitz didn’t really seem to take the hint and preferred to sleep curled up on a ball on the chair right next to me just in case I decided I wanted to play with him. The desk won’t stay in there forever, as it doesn’t really fit, but for now it’s nice to soak up all the Parisian inspiration. I’m up to a whopping 16 pages now (I’ll be expecting a New York Times book review ANY DAY NOW), and yesterday I got so absorbed in the storyline that I actually lost track of time. It was a pretty magical feeling. Though I’ve said it before, writing is honestly 20% research, 10% writing, and 70% sitting there staring at the screen. The percentages can fluctuate, but I’m slowly learning to accept how frustrating the whole process is and just surrender to it.
Also, my list of place to visit in Paris in March for “book research” is growing.
The highlight of my very nerdy week is always the Sunday New York Times. I technically got a subscription for Boyfriend for our anniversary, but I get just as much enjoyment out of it as he does. Thankfully we never go for the same sections (I take Real Estate, Sunday Styles, the Book Review, and Arts & Entertainment, and he takes the front section, Business, Metropolitan, and other snooze-y sections), and this weekend while we were eating breakfast, I flipped through the Book Review and found this hilarious and charming cartoon at the back. Given that I’d spent most of the weekend holed up writing (or, err, trying to, anyway) I found it especially fitting.
I really got a giggle out of the Unnecessary Punctuation Ribbon. So I did what any dork would do: I clipped it out of the paper and framed it (I happened to have one of these frames laying around, obviously. My house is like an IKEA auxiliary warehouse). It’s hanging on the wall in my bedroom as inspiration.
My friend Iain is a published author and I was picking his brain at a party we went to a few weekends ago for any advice he had for someone starting out. “Check your ego at the door,” he said. He also gave me a terrifying (but realistic) timeline of how this is actually going to play out: “This is a five or six year process.” Oh. I explained to him that I was really having a problem with the act of actually writing and he said that the book is truly written in the rewrites, so the best thing I can do is just bang out a first draft to work with. I’m trying. It’s coming in spurts and single sentences that strike me when I’m in the shower or about to fall asleep, but it’s nonetheless coming. I think there needs to be a Patience Award in that cartoon.
And for a bit of levity, I’ll leave you with this amazing tweet my friend Tom sent a few months ago. Really puts things in perspective, doesn’t it?
How was your weekend?
It’s so funny, maybe not funny ha-ha, but I barely wrote a single word of fiction for 8 years and then one day last week it’s like I flipped a switch and now it’s all coming back to me, how much I love writing fiction and how exciting the whole process is. It’s all consuming and overwhelming, trying to figure out exactly how to translate into words the snippets that are playing in my head. The story has exploded into something much bigger than I originally thought was there, and I am honestly having such an amazing time working through it. I’m so happy, even though sometimes it is so frustrating to sit down at my computer with a cup of tea and know there is so much I want to say but can’t get the words right. So I dug out a book I’d bought in high school, back when I was writing a short story a week and battling bouts of insomnia with scribbling away in notebooks, “Beginnings, Middles & Ends” by Nancy Kress (I also found a faded post-it stuck inside the cover with the number of a high school boyfriend, what up!). Yes, I’m the dweeb who bought books on writing fiction. It’s actually a really helpful resource, and totally gets at what I’ve been feeling. Kress writes, “[t]here’s always a gap between the story as you imagined it –compelling, insightful, rich with subtle nuance– and what actually ends up in the manuscript […] because stories must be written, and read, one word at a time, with information accumulating in the reader’s mind to create the full picture. This slow, linear accretion of impressions can’t ever quite equal that perfect flash of inspiration in which all the parts of the story –action, meaning, nuances, insights, all of it– burst into the brain all at once. Words, unlike movies, are not a multi-sensory event.” When it’s explained that way, it assuages my terror of not being able to do the story justice. It will get there, the trick is not to be discouraged. I have 6 whole pages (totally out of chronological order); at this rate I’ll be done next year, and that’s okay.
I was talking to Aidan, my best friend since 6th grade, the other night at the Florence and the Machine concert and when I told her I was writing a book she said, “I’m so happy! I always knew you’d be a writer.” Which is funny considering when we met, our life aspirations including dressing up like the Spice Girls, ahem. With the exception of 3 creative writing courses I took in college, and this blog (which I don’t consider the same thing), I’ve taken about an 8 year break from writing. It feels so, so good to be back.