Sunday, December 21, 2014

Selfie Finishing a Novel


Why don’t more writers take selfies? Ah, because this is what we look like. You’ll only see writer-selfies at awards ceremonies. If I set my computer to take automatic pictures of me while I’m working, you would see a whole bunch of photos of me frowning at the screen. Sometimes, my brow might have a bit more furrow to it, but otherwise, identical pictures.

However, because of all those hours of frowning, I’m going to finish my novel…SOON! I figure I'm down to less than 50 pages. I’ve got an outline, so I know what’s coming, and I’m zeroing in on that ending like Santa on the last brick of peanut brittle at the last house in the world.

I’ve hit that point where everything looks very bad for the protagonist, many things have been tossed at her, and it seems as though there’s no way out. I’m writing the fallout from all those crises and heading toward that sweet denouement.

And this is what it looks like to be completely absorbed at the end of a major writing project. Footie pajamas in the middle of the day, unwashed hair, coffee gone cold, writing in a closet. To me, this is an Inspirational Selfie. I’m giddy at finishing a draft of a novel that was just an idea a little over a year ago. Heck, I’m giddy that I get to wear this to work! Perhaps to you, however, this selfie belongs in the Treasury of Cautionary Tales for Children. (Hey kids, don’t be writers, get your MBA instead, and you’ll always have clean hair and real clothes.)

But whatever you think of this photo, I wish you the most comfortable finish to your own projects.
Footie pajamas rule!
 

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Surviving the Holidays Through Writing

It’s not that I dread the holidays, not completely. I’m fresh off a weekend of merry-making with the hubs and progeny. Cutting down ye olde tree, decorating while Brenda Lee rocks out in the background, baking gingerbread, for Cripes’ sake! Clearly, I am not a person who poo-poos Christmas.

The part of the holidays that make me breathe into a paper bag is the part where I get thrown into a roomful of people so different from me in so many ways that I may as well be speaking Urdu. My family. And I’m not adopted. I once thought, maybe, but we look so darn much alike.

Today, I’m sharing ways to survive these family get-togethers without large quantities of your mom’s secret stash of amaretto. All those angry feelings bubbling up at the dinner table? Those might go into a journal, if you keep that type of thing. I’m not so much a diary-writer anymore, but I am an idea-gatherer. I’m a fan of the freewrite. I do this on my computer (because my handwriting is atrocious, and I sometimes can’t read it). If something happens to me that I can connect to something else, bigger than me, I might have an essay on my hands. And so I write those thoughts down.

The notes might be raw and hurtful and contain multiple expletives. Now, we don’t show these notes to anyone, right my dearies? No, we do not. That would be the equivalent of drunk dialing, and it is bad. We simply sit on the notes until the moment passes, days or weeks, or a decade, later, then we take a look and see if there’s anything worth writing about more formally. If not, there’s a little thing called the “Delete” key.

But, there’s something even better to do with difficult people. Make them into fictional characters. Just be sure they are different enough that no one will recognize them. If you’re writing about a man, take a tip from Anne Lamott in her fabulous book, “Bird by Bird,” and give him a “teenie little penis” so he won’t ever sue you.

I digress. The point I really want to make is that it’s incredibly hard to see things from another person’s point-of-view. For me, this becomes especially obvious this time of year. It’s something I struggle with on a daily basis, as a person. But as a person who is also a writer, I’m not half bad at it, and getting better. The first novel I wrote is about a woman who, when I started the project, seemed to have very little in common with me, but, through the years of crafting her story, I can tell you I understand her. I love her even, though she and I don’t agree on many things.

I’ve lived in her skin. I have found more similarities between us than differences. I have to. For a character to be successful (and not just the stage-hogging protagonists, but every minor character as well), she or he must be well-rounded. That’s a big old writing workshop term, but it’s true. No cardboard characters, please. They must be complicated. My character changes her mind about certain things that she never thought she’d change her mind about. She refuses to budge on others. She is…human.


And in creating her, I’ve found myself opening my mind to opinions like hers. I don’t need to adopt those opinions, but I recognize that characters, as well as flesh-and-blood people, arrive at their personal beliefs through such very twisted paths.

What a gift, writing. Though it hasn’t brought me fame or fortune, what a gift to sit down and create a world and populate it, to live as another person for a portion of the day. Real people will always be harder to understand, but writers are lucky because when things get to be too much to bear at the big family get-together, we can always retreat to the guest room and dive into another universe. The trick is, to not remain a hermit (I know, this from someone who writes in a closet…) but to exit that room more open to understanding the real people around you.