It’s True, I Suck

Or that is what my self loathing side says at times like these. I took a two week vacation and then not two weeks later, took a four day weekend with my girlfriends in Chicago. Not much writing has been done in the last four weeks. Okay, actually? None. And it’s amazing how much further away I feel from the whole process. Like I’m on the shore and my ambition is on a raft floating further and further away… If I don’t dive for it soon, it might just fade over the indigo horizon…

And there are things in the way…many, many things. Work, for one. They seem to expect me to actually, like, do stuff. Go figure. And school. Not mine, two new schools for two very little kiddos. I know I should enjoy the discovery of all things new with them, but part of me looks forward to big kids who are just a tiny bit jaded, who don’t need to have me explain thirty times about what their new schools will be like, who their teachers will be and how many pencils they’ll have in their book bag. I know. I suck. I told you that.

On the up side, once the whole school thing is hammered out (should be getting smooth by mid-September…), I will be back in the groove, I think. I have, literally, six different projects in mid-stream. I need to choose one and focus, and then move forward.

And despite feeling like an almost complete failure lately, I just got notice that a story I wrote a while ago is live over at The Rusty Nail. Check it out!

Writing WHO You Know

How do you create characters? This has always been an interesting question for me. When I was little, maybe out of some kind of loneliness — but more likely just because I was a weird little kid — I used to write character sketches. I liked to create whole people, noting down everything I could think of about them. I liked to pretend that I knew these people, and thought it was exciting to play God with them, to get to decide every little detail about them (right down to the part where they thought I was the coolest deity ever!) I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was basically practicing for building out characters for my later stories, and I still use a lot of what I discovered was useful back then.

That said, I still struggle sometimes with realizing my characters — keeping them rounded and fully dimensional. We’re users, as writers. We create characters often because we need them to do something, to move the story forward, to be a certain thing and serve a greater purpose. And when I’ve built someone and used them in this selfish way, sometimes I drop them like yesterday’s fish dinner, forgetting that they must go on to some degree to be believable.

So here’s the question — or the thought at least. And be warned, it isn’t exceptionally original except that I’ve only just thought of it myself in the context of my own work:  Do you write people who you know in real life?

Here’s why I’m really asking. I’m in a creative tornado right now, where I am filled with ideas and keep starting lots of things, some of which I’ll continue to work on, and some of which are useful only in their own moment. One of these things is a middle-grade story that would be interesting to my own kids. Starring? Two boys who mysteriously share quite a few character and personality traits with two other little boys who I know quite well. Coincidentally the two boys in the story are brothers. Okay, it isn’t a coincidence at all. It’s an experiment to see if the characters I base unabashedly on real people are more lifelike and multifaceted than those who I create from thin air. These boys are older than my own, because my two year old still doesn’t express himself too clearly and having a lot of dialogue where the younger brother says things like, “A hafta shaff go nuff POO!” would probably not keep readers engaged.

Have you tried this before? How did it work for you?

Does Every Sentence Sing?

I was doing some actual writing yesterday (hurrah!) and some revision (hmph.) And as I was doing each, I was thinking about something that I often find myself thinking about lately. It kind of goes along with my initial hesitation in writing anything at all — the thing that kept me from even really officially trying for about 30 years. Does every word, every sentence, need to be lyrical and impressive? Does every sentence need to sing? Or is it okay to just tell a good story?

I think I get a bit of both. Now and then I come across a sentence I’ve written and think, “wow, who wrote that? That’s great!” (Perhaps these are the darlings I’m supposed to kill?) But more often, I am reading for the story more than for the words. The language sort of disappears behind the storytelling, except in places where things are awkwardly phrased or there is an obvious error, and in those places I rewrite.

I’ve been thinking back over some books that I’ve really enjoyed reading, and trying to remember if I enjoyed them because I spent the duration of the book thinking, “oh what lovely phrasing, ah what nice alliteration!” And I don’t think I do much of that. Instead, I am happiest when I can lose myself in a story — shouldn’t the author’s voice be secondary to the tale they are trying to tell? (With obvious exceptions, maybe, in poetry and some narrative?) The books I’ve liked most, I think, are those where the story just seems to tell itself. And that’s a gift, isn’t it? To be able to push and pull language to act on its own, to use our tools to deliver something interesting and rich to the reader without making it obvious that we’re doing so? Sometimes I stumble over sentences where a writer has clearly worked a bit too hard, tried to force something that just didn’t work.

I guess my question is this: where does the art really lie in writing? Is it in the ability to tell a story clearly, compellingly, with the words flowing well and unobtrusively so that the reader doesn’t have to stop and re-read? Or is the writer’s job to play with language, to make it cry and sing and whine, to demonstrate their mastery over it?

Maybe a little of both, I suspect. But I think most writers do more one than the other. And though I began with poetry, I think I’m pretty squarely in the category of the former at this point. I just want to tell the stories, and entertain the reader. Where do you fall?