Saturday, December 31, 2011

Excuse Note 12/31/2011

Please excuse Sheila from working on her novel today as she is spending her New Year's Eve clearing the decks for the upcoming year.

Friday, December 30, 2011

The Ugly Handsome Man

So I was doing my Three Daily Pages (most folks might know them as Morning Pages, but I'm not always up that early) and this strange and crazy thing poured out that I'm transcribing here for future reference.

If you've ever done any kind of serious writing, it's a safe bet you've had to deal with The Thing In Your Head That Keeps Stopping You From Writing.  There are a lot of names for it--Resistance, the Inner Critic, the Shitweasel.  I sometimes call it the NoMonster.  When I was writing this, the thing took on a persona I described as The Ugly Handsome Man.  (I picture him as a blond guy in a suit with a face that's just a little too . . . tight, in some way.)

This is a speech given by said Ugly Handsome Man, laying out the strategies to my various gremlins for stopping me from working on my current novel.  I suspect these strategies may not be unique to my inner battles.
I suggest a three-pronged strategy. Three lines of defense. I'd prefer she not make it past the first, but we should have the extra lines ready in case she does.

The first line of defense is, of course, to keep her from the page at all. Suggest that she should wait until she's in the mood. Tell her she should finish more important things first--things like cleaning the house, doing things she hates, getting the last word in on Facebook arguments. Distract her with a quick glance at her usual Internet time sinks and keep her hooked with the threat that if she stops, she'll have to quit for good. This will trigger her to gorge herself on such things even if, as it turns out, she never does stop for good.

Convince her that the page is a reward that can only be touched after all the vegetables have been eaten. Convince her the page is a burden that can be borne later when she has the strength for it. Remember, the arguments against sitting down and doing the work don't have to be
consistent; they just have to be effective. Have her wait Just A Moment and let those moments stretch out as long as you can.

If, however, she does sit down, all is not lost. If we cannot stop her from working, then we can still minimize the damage done. The moment she gets anything down, assure her that it is sufficient for today and more can be done tomorrow, when she feels more inspired and more ready. If she persists, try slowing her down by telling her how terrible it is and who on earth is she kidding. If you can keep her writing and rewriting the same sentence endlessly, the battle is half-won. If she does plow forward and promise herself to fix it in the rewrite, make sure you make the experience as unpleasant as possible so she'll be less inclined to return to it the next day.

After a successful--or, rather, catastrophic from our perspective--round of writing, you may think the war is lost, but we still have our third line of defense. One is to chide her for enjoying herself too much. Remind her that there are people out there suffering in
real jobs and she shouldn't expect people to hand her money for having fun like that. Tell her that even if you did everything you could to make the process hellish. Remember, the only consistency we're interested in is keeping her away from the work; it matters not that the arguments we use are contradictory. Once she's done, have her read over what she's written and remind her it's not enough. What she's done isn't relevant. We must tell her it's not enough and thus discourage her from doing any more.

After that, we rebuild our defenses for the next round, by telling her that she's already won, she's ahead of the game and that a day off will hardly hinder her progress. Once you've staved her off from working for a few days, the old hardened habits can resume and she is again rendered harmless.

The main thing is to keep her from the page for as long as possible. When she does make it to the page, our job is then to minimize the damage. You all know her well enough to know what triggers and buttons to press. Go to your work.
Yeah.  This guy kinda scares me, too.  But it's also really fun to piss him off.

I've decided to resume the practice of excuse notes for my current work in progress, and I'd best get something done so I won't have to write an excuse note for today.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

On Being a Writer

There's a riddle I learned from a book or a magazine when I was about eleven years old.  Goes something like this:

A truck driver was going the wrong way up a one-way street.  A policeman saw him, but didn't stop him.  Why?
The answer hinges on a couple of bits of linguistic sleight-of-hand.  One is the careful ambiguity of the verb--you can substitute the word travelling for going but cannot use the word driving.  Because the answer is, of course, that the truck driver was walking.

The second bit of linguistic sleight of hand hinges on the nature of titles that are derived from verbs.  Truck driver is a job description and thus one can be called a truck driver even if one isn't actually driving a truck at the moment.  Truck drivers also do things like eat, sleep, watch television and, occasionally, walk places in between the business of driving trucks.

To be known as a writer is a good deal more glamorous than to known as a truck driver.  When somebody asks you the ice-breaking question of "so, what do you do?" if you answer "I'm a truck driver" the best you can hope for is an empathetic nod and a remark that it must be hard work.  If the answer is "I'm a writer" the questions that follow are numerous but tend to veer towards tactfully phrased versions of Are you rich?  Are you famous?  Have I heard of you?

Being a Writer punts you to the top of the Geek Hierarchy.  Being a Writer means you can look the gods of literature in the eye and talk shop with them.  Being a Writer means your name can potentially endure long after your death.

Or, at least, that's the popular myth of Being a Writer, a myth that dazzles people to the point that Being a Writer is more important to them than the act of writing itself.  People who want to Be Writers don't always write--they talk about the great ideas they have for novels, they compose acceptance speeches for awards in their head, they do everything short of actually sitting down and facing the blank page and putting words together.  Because that's when the hard part shows up, when the brilliant ideas come out crushed and mutilated in the transition into words.  Or, worse yet, seem brilliant at first and then reveal their clumsiness as one's skills improve with practice and the Dunning-Kruger Threshold is crossed.

My brother-in-law, Peter David, once received an angry missive from a young man who was furious at a certain plot point that Peter had introduced into a comic book series he was writing for.  The young man said that his dreams of "being a comic book writer" had been dashed because his brilliant notion for some particular character was now ruined by this revelation.  More recently, Quentin Rowan was found to have plagiarized nearly his entire debut novel from other works and confessed that the fame of being a writer was more important to him than making the effort of writing his own words.

As I write this, I have not yet ascended to the ranks of the professionally published.  (Give or take a couple of poems in anthologies and, oh, yeah, I have this ebook thingy.)  I have a virtual trunk of unpublished (and mostly unpublishable) novels.  Am I qualified to claim the title of writer?  I honestly don't care if I am or not.

The verb matters more than the noun to me.  I write.  It's what I do.  I'm a lot happier writing than I ever could in trying to Be a Writer.