The Green Eyed, Pen Wielding Monster

green-eyed abyssinian

I'm battling the Green Eyed Monster...No, not this one... Image via Wikipedia

I’m fighting the Green-Eyed Monster this Monday morning, my friends.

A person I went to high school with, who may have been mentioned previously, has been published. She’s a self-proclaimed theater geek, someone who loves the production side of putting on plays. I have no idea how long she’s been writing, what inspired her to write, or when her first two books were accepted. I wasn’t there for the journey, just the facebook updates.

The latest facebook update, that her third book is being published, was met at first with a wonderful rush of good cheer and congratulations. I love it when people are achieving their goals and moving forward in life. I’m the type of person that can be happy for other people, even when my life is worthy of a good flush and a few floral scented sprays from an aerosol can. I’m happy when my friends are happy.

But then, a soft, insistent voice began speaking in my ear. “But, why isn’t that you? You’re a great writer. You’ve ALWAYS wanted to write for a living. She’s living your life, and you’re happy for her; that’s cool. I don’t understand it, but whatever floats your boat, right? But when’s it going to be your turn?”

I try to tune it out, but the thing is, the Green-Eyed one has a very attractive voice (he should really consider a career as a voice over artist). He’s also very observant. He’s seen me at my computer perfecting piece after piece. He’s seen me send out three separate pieces and receive three identical rejections. He knows exactly which emotional buttons to push to get this writer all riled up.

But I’m fighting him off with work. I’ve done two marriage kit interviews in the past week. I’m knee deep in work on this college preparatory course (to be turned into possible eBook). I’ve set goals for myself to send off one piece and finish a chapter of another. I’ve been reading. I’ve been reading inspiring quotes and blog posts and listening to empowering messages. Yet, somehow I still feel I’m on the losing end of this battle.

As hard as I’ve been working with all of these blogs, the readership is still low. Even with fresh, well-executed ideas for new content, design tweaks, promotion on Facebook and Twitter, guest posters, a full digital recorder, and most of my creative energy and positive thoughts focused on it, the readership still hasn’t grown much. Despite giving these endeavors my best, I’ve made little to know progress. How, then, can I expect my fiction and memoir writing to make any waves in a much bigger pond?

This morning, I’ve been tired. I’ve filled as much time as I could taking in post from other writers, gathering to myself suggestions to shake up my writing life, but I still feel bereft of any real motivation to write anything. Instead, I just feel a weak pulse of jealousy mixed in with fear of rejection, insecurity, and discouragement. My writing self is on life support…

The Green Eyed Monster is about to claim another victim.

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Rusty Water

Habitat For Humanity volunteers constructing a...

I'm Building Me a Home... Image via Wikipedia

During my lunch hour yesterday, I pulled out a couple sheets of lined paper. I wanted to write something during my lunch hour, so I pulled out the digital recorder and played the first thing that came up.I listened to a recording of possible chapters for the memoir I’m finally beginning to work on. While nothing really stood out to me, I decided to make some notes, then try to recall details about that particular time. For some reason I decided to write part of the “Building a House” chapter.

I began detailing the fact that when I moved back to Michigan, Habitat for Humanity was building a house across the street from me, next door to my half-great uncle (another long story). I meandered into my previous experiences with Habitat for Humanity, and ended up at my aborted Spring Break trip to Slidell, Louisiana to rebuild houses after Hurricane Katrina my junior year.

All of a sudden, I had a flood of images to work with and all of these different directions to go in. My pen was moving faster and my mind had found a groove. The various lunchtime noises around me–a microwave running, another microwave beeping, Contessa on MSNBC, chatter amongst my coworkers–began to fade as I fell deeper and deeper into the writing. When I looked up, I was alone except for a co-worker checking Facebook on her phone with a bored expression.

This is what I learned about writing: you could say writing is like riding a bicycle or starting your car on a cold morning. You never really forget how to ride a bike. If you let your car warm up a bit, it runs the same as always. But what I would say is that writing is like a faucet that hasn’t been turned on in a long time in an old home. There’s still good water there, warmed and ready to be used, you just have to turn the tap on. When you do, some of the water will come out brown from rust and unusable, but if you let it run long enough, it will clear.

I’ve been writing nothing but blog posts (and plenty of them) for weeks, and I must admit my other writing skills are still a bit rusty. The goal is to continue to let it flow until it’s clear again. Some of what I write will be disjointed, littered with sloppy transitions and poor word choices. Some of it will be so bad I’ll question if there’s anything usuable in me. But the point is to continue until the writing is fluid and life giving again.

I keep seeing this quote on my twitter feed exhorting me  not to worry about writing well; just write. I’ve always had a problem with crappy first drafts, but I’m trying to take that advice. The longer I keep writing, the cleaner the writing will be. I can clean up the mess later.

I have no idea how I’m going to get back from Slidell to Michigan, nor from Christian college students building homes on Spring Break to college students building Habitat homes into the bitter cold of late autumn. I have no idea how I’m going to “build” this literary “house” either. But what I do know is that I’ll try to enjoy the journey, and that brick by brick I’ll build the literary powerhouse I want to be.

How do you get back in the creative swing of things? How do/did you come back to writing after a hiatus? Any tips or suggestions?

Pick Up The Pace!

Freytag's Pyramid, which illustrates dramatic ...

Freytag's Pyramid the "arc" of a story. Image via Wikipedia

One of the hardest things for me as a writer is pacing my stories. Have you ever been reading a great story and getting really involved with the plot when all of a sudden, the author slows the momentum down with a bunch of description? Sometimes, you just skip over to more dialogue or action suffer through it. I find sometimes that it’s information that I need, I just wish it wasn’t there, slowing down the action.

That’s not the aspect of pacing that I have a problem with in my own writing (or at least it’s not the aspect I’m talking about today 😉 ). I’m talking about the pace of the story in general–keeping the plot moving along and not letting the story drag in parts (OK, well I am talking about the situation I just mentioned–only, while that interruption is necessary, if ill placed, what I’m referring to is not.).

I find that the longer a piece is, the harder it is to keep the story moving along at a good pace. Either it comes across too rushed, or it is too lackadaisical and has the consistency of molasses. I want to have a fluid story, but not Niagara Falls for hundreds of pages.

How do you change the pace in your work? Is it all about the verb tense to you? Is it the placement of descriptive passages as opposed to action and dialogue? Do you work through rising action, climax and falling action by chapter to keep each chapter moving? What techniques do you use to set the correct pace for a piece?

For me, I try to keep the longer descriptions before the major action, usually at the beginning of a chapter. I will describe a room the main character is in, for example, before another character enters and begins talking. I use the beginning of a chapter to set the scene (as quickly and concisely as the piece allows) before jumping back into the fray. However, this doesn’t always work, and I’m curious to see how other writers handle this issue.

Painful Honesty

Image of a stylized eye

The eye that looks inward allows good writing to flow outward.-Me! Image via Wikipedia

I had a story published in Prize Papers, an anthology my high school gave to students to show them models of good writing. They would refer to different types of essays found in the book when teaching, giving an illustration to students how to write well.

I never would have gotten this honor had it not been for Mrs. Jackson. I was in a memoir writing elective class called Self-Portraits. This was my first writing assignment for the class, and I wanted to make sure it was good, so I wrote it a week early and gave it to Mrs. Jackson to read when she had study hall duty in the dorms.

I’d never seen so much red ink in all my life. What is this? I thought. I’m a good writer. I don’t make many grammatical errors or spelling errors. What all did she find that resulted in this massacre? It looked like the beaches of Normandy had exploded onto my personal essay. Never being shy when it comes to my writing, I asked her.

She went over all of her notes with me, pointing out all of the things she didn’t like about my essay. Her main critiques kept coming back to the main issue–it was surface layer writing. I didn’t use sharp enough descriptions. I glossed over how it felt. I didn’t stimulate the reader’s five senses or prick their hearts. It was a good idea for a paper, but not if I didn’t write it well. She said something like If you don’t want to dig past the surface, don’t write it.

After I got over being angry (she obviously had no idea what she’d just read; everyone knows how great I am at writing), I thought long and hard about the story I was telling. It was a true one, as far as that went. I’d faithfully recorded all the pertinent details, but I had to admit to myself it was a little flat. It was like the cold rough surface of a piece of coal; you know there’s a diamond inside, but how do you get to it?

While that realization was painful, her words are not the painful honesty of the title. The essay was about me in elementary school. I had a crush on a boy, and through a series of unfortunate events, he was told I was telling people he liked me. Not only did he disabuse me of this notion, the encounter ended with me being hit with a mud-filled tire, walking home soaked and muddy. It had crushed all of my self confidence, affecting all of my subsequent relationships with family and friends, and I couldn’t get away with chronicling it as if I’m telling you what I had for breakfast.

So I started over. I had to return to that moment. I wrote and I choked on tears. I paced my floor. Why am I saying this? Why am I putting this out there on display? I wrote honestly, crossed it out, wrote it in again. I went back and forth like a seasaw.

When I turned it in, my teacher was amazed. She chose it to be the first thing we critiqued. That wasn’t what I had planned. Everyone couldn’t read it! But they did, and they thought it was amazing. I was relieved. Then she told me she was nominating it for Prize Papers.

Since it was the first semester and they choose Prize Papers at the end of the year, I forgot about it. I’d been nominated before and hadn’t won, so I didn’t put much stock in my ability to win. I was sitting in the principal’s office (someone had opened an orange in class and I’d gotten sick; yes, I’m allergic to oranges) when in strode the best English teacher on the faculty (so I’d been told; I’d never taken a class with him, except a quick AP English Exam prep session). He saw me and put his hand over his heart (no joke). “I just read your piece for Prize Papers,” he said (he was on the review board to choose the winners). Uh-oh. “It was so beautiful. I really related to it. It connected to…”

And that’s when it hit me. All of the choking and pacing and worrying, the struggle to be honest, the great care in choosing words to convey exactly how it was–all of that was so someone could read it and say “she’s writing about me! I’ve been there and done that.” When you write a piece that speaks to people and relays basic human truths, it’s going to hurt a bit. It forces you to look at yourself and make judgments. Whether it’s creative non-fiction or not, it has to be true and genuine and deeply felt.

I read a blog yesterday about finding the lie in your writing. The first essay didn’t work because I was lying, trying to make the whole thing seem like it was no big deal. I was attempting to distance myself from the incident, and ended up distancing myself from the essay.

How do you find the lie in your writing? How honest is too honest? Have you ever wrote until it hurt?