Sunday, June 30, 2013

The Muse Outside

I spend a lot of time with my back to the computer and its blank screen, staring out my office window. I'm convinced that sitting atop one of the trees in the distance is the becloaked Muse that Zeus assigned to torment me. She is always outside, always in profile, always refusing my invitations. When it's windy outside, she appears be be rocking back and forth, doubled over in laughter. 
So... do you think it's time for me to see someone? A trained specialist? Someone who has dealt with people who see animal shapes and perhaps Abe Lincoln and his stovepipe hat in cloud formations?

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Fear and/of Writing

This article in the New York Times on Writing and Fear hit a nerve. Don't write what you know, the author advises, write what you fear.

It got me to thinking: What if the things you fear are wrapped up in the writing process itself? To wit:

Blank pages. First drafts. Scenes that plop themselves on the page like a flatulent uncle at a family gathering. (Which reminds me: cliches.) And the first five pages. And those few final sentences before The End. The submission. The silence.The calendar. The odds. The next one.

What keeps your writerly mind cowering beneath the sheets?

Sunday, March 10, 2013

The Voices in My Running and Writing Head

Today I downloaded a iPhone app for my outdoor running. It uses gps to track the running route, distance, time, etc etc. All the gizmos. Looked cool. Beautiful day. I decided to give it a try.

As I soon discovered, a pleasant-sounding, non-judgmental feminine voice interrupted my running music every five minutes to inform me on how short a distance I've run, how long it's taken me to cover such a pitiful distance (in tenths and hundredths of a mile), the average number of minutes and seconds and hundredths of a second per mile that I was logging (which seemed to increase with every report), and the number of calories I was burning during this paltry effort.

About midway through my run, I was getting this digital running coach's voice mixed up with  the internal editor's voice I hear when I'm writing--the very voice I'm trying to escape when I go for runs.

"You have  been staring at the computer screen for fifteen-point-zero-zero minutes."
"You have typed zero-point-zero-zero characters."
"You have written zero-point-zero-zero words ."
"You have burned zero-point-zero-one calories." (Turning on the computer, I s'pose.)
 "Your average is currently (pause) zero-point-zero-zero per minute."

So... along with my musical running buddies and the internal writing editor who never seems to leave me alone, I now had this running coach yapping in my ear, insinuating--what a laugh!--that I'm older and slower than ever.

Time to run to the Delete App. Soon as I catch my breath.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Writing to Distraction

I used to think that heaven was having all the time in the world to devote to writing fiction. Just me and my Smith-Corona, later Kaypro, then Mac, now Dell. I had a chance to experience that situation last year. Along with millions of others, my work had slowed. I had more time on my hands. There were days when time was all I had. Nothing to distract me from my novel-in-progress.

It was hell.

My experience is similar to the one described in this great article by Benjamin Nugent in today's New York Times. When there are no distractions, when there's nothing to occupy the mind but the fictional world trying to take shape in one's head and on the screen or paper, the results can be disastrous. In my case, I'd spend days--literally--working on a single paragraph. And later I might decide that it needed to be cut. Doubts crept in. Self-esteem took a dive. I'm pretty sure my wife and kids would say I grew considerably crankier than usual.

This is not to say, of course, that paying close attention to the craft is dangerous. And the monomania, the pathological focus on one thing that Mr. Nugent describes in his article, may work for some writers. But not for me. I need the interactions and the distractions. I need to focus intently on fiction for only a set period of time, and then move on to something else. I've learned that it's in the "something else" that I often find the answers to the problems I uncover during my moments of monomania.

You? Isolation tank, limited engagement, or complete immersion in the world? What makes you most productive?